How to Explore the Greek Islands

Most traveling around Greece tends to focus on the Greek Islands and for good reason—they’re beautiful, cheap, relaxing, exciting, and did I mention beautiful? It’s always been a dream of mine to spend a summer slowly moving from island to island, getting to know the character of each while also working on a great tan. This summer I’d planned on doing just that, but like all best-laid plans, it didn’t work out and I only got three weeks around the Cyclades island group. Still, three weeks on the Greek islands isn’t too bad of a deal (and I did get a good tan!) I visited four islands: Ios, Paros, Mykonos, and Santorini.

The beautiful landscape of the island of Ios
As you know from my last post, I spent most of my time here. I fell in love with the people here and simply couldn’t leave. While the island isn’t the most beautiful of the group, it is the cheapest. Since the majority of people coming here are young travelers on a limited budget, you easily find cheap food (two-euro gyros), accommodation (10 euros a night), and drink specials (one-euro shots, two for five euro drinks). There’s only one main town on Ios, and it’s easy to walk around, taking only about 10minutes end to end. However, even if hanging out with backpackers doesn’t appeal to you, Ios has the best beaches out of all the islands I visited. All of them are wide, white-sand beaches and on the opposite side of the island, they’re deserted.

The lush green fields on the Greek island of Paros
Outside of Ios, Paros was my favorite island. While there are a few ruins, a cave, and a boat trip you can take, overall, this island is for those who simply want to relax. There’s no nightlife, no crowds, no cruise ships docking at the port. It’s quiet. Tranquil is the word I’d use. More importantly, I thought this was the prettiest island in the group. The mountains and valleys had more color to them, the towns looked nicer, and the views were spectacular. The island was simply striking and serene. My favorite part? The port of Naoussa. Besides having delicious and inexpensive seafood, it was a simply stunning place to walk around. There’s a small beach, and you can go out to an old fort. Sitting on the breakers watching the fishing boats going in and out is a great way to spend some time.


The building on the water on the expensive Greek island of Mykonos
One of the main tourist destinations in Greece, this island attracts cruises, families, and honeymooning couples. It was the most expensive island I visited. The night I went for seafood the going rate was 75 euros per kilo for fish! On Ios, you can get a whole fish for 30 euros. The clubs charge a high cover (20 euros), and the drinks are about seven to eight euros. Even a light dinner of pasta and wine cost me over 20 euros. While I thought the island was pretty, the real highlight was the town. Out of the four islands I visit-ed, Mykonos had the most beautiful town, with its quiet, winding streets and small alleys lined with whitewashed houses overlooking a beautiful harbor. Mykonos is famous for its “Little Venice” which, though beautiful, is nothing more than a row of houses on the water. It was a beautiful place, but I’m not sure I’d go back.

The blue roofs on the island of Santorini which is famous for its volcano and Caldera
Like Mykonos, Santorini is very famous, sees a lot of older tourists, and is a frequent stop for cruise ships. The cliffside towns of Oia and Fira are the two main towns on the inner side of the island. Both towns overlook the famous caldera. Both these towns offer great sunset views and angles to get photos of blue-topped churches and blue-rimmed houses. From either town, you take the day trips to the old volcano, do a donkey ride, and relax in the hot mud baths. Near the beach area of Perissa, you’ll find the bars and hostels that the younger travelers frequent. The beach area gets a lot of visitors and sun but has black sand, not white sand. Santorini has the best restaurants out of the four islands, and I’d gladly come back to explore the ancient ruins and cliffs more.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see some of the other islands I’d hoped to see like Naxos, Rhodes, Crete, or Kos. But one day I’ll return to explore them. As a history lover, I’m especially interested in seeing the Minoan ruins on the island. But for now I’ll settle for what I saw. The Greek islands may look the same on the surface, with their white buildings and similar landscapes, but each island is different—there’s something for everyone.

For more information, visit my page on backpacking Europe or my guide to Greece.

  1. Scott

    The islands sound beautiful, and Los sounds the most attractive with their budget prices. 75euro per kilo of fish on Mykonos? Crazy!

  2. Amazing the price difference. That’s reason enough for me to steer clear of Mykonos. I spent about two weeks on the island of Chios which was very chill, cheap, and a great place to relax. Highly Turkish influenced as well as its only a 45 minute boat ride away.

  3. Pythia

    As a Hellenic Pagan, I’m dying to visit Greece and seeing all the temple ruins. It’s definitely in my top 5 must-visit locations.

  4. I never made it to Mykonos, I always got distracted by Ios as well. Maybe it’s a good thing with those prices, but I’d still like to check it out. I also really enjoyed Paros. We took a schooner cruise to a place called the Blue Lagoon(i think), it was the clearest, deep blue water I’ve ever seen. Stunning! We camped there by the foreshore and had such a fun time. It was my first introduction to the Swedish Gods and Goddesses walking around. The bathroom area was eye-opening as they all chose to freely walk around without clothes on- very common in Sweden apparently. Might have to put that on my travel list.

  5. Yoel

    I love the Greek islands too. Santorini was especially beautiful and I do remember that somewhat awkward donkey ride up the steep climb from the fisherman’s village. The Aegean islands are nice too. Thanks for the post which reminded me of that beautiful place. I can’t wait to go back!

  6. I had a great time in Santorini, and the sunset was indeed amazing. Whenever I think about Santorini, I always remember that the staircase from the port to the town was so slippery that evening I walked back down to the port, because of those thick pile of the donkey droppings. I was slipped and landed on that soft pile!

    My favourite of Greek Islands is Crete. There’s a little town near Chania thhat I love so much because it was very relaxing to be there and the food was great (I ate moussaka every other day). Watching sunset was in every day’s agenda, and if we hardly ever saw any cloud in the sky. So gorgeous. Of course if you go there, you want to visit the Minoan civilization centre Knossos and its museum in Heraklion.

  7. I’ve not been to any of these islands – as my sister lives on Zakynthos I’ve only visited the Ionian islands and a bit of Mainland Greece – there are some really pretty towns on these islands – unfortunately a lot of the old stuff in Zante was destroyed in a big earthquake in 1953, so it’s not a picturesque although the countryside is still as lovely.

  8. john lunniss

    i have been visiting greece for 30 years now and have seen many changes but one thing never changes we always have a great holiday and always good value give it a try

  9. This is perfect! My friend and I are planning to visit Greece next summer and these tips were just what I was looking for. I want to visit a few islands, but I wasn’t sure which ones were the best. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Great blog Mat.

    I am an award winning landscape photographer and have just returned from Kefalonia where I took some beautiful images of the landscape.

    Your readers may enjoy viewing these images of the islands of Kefalonia. I hope you see this is quality and relevant content for your readers. Keep up the great work.

  11. Jessica

    Ekkk..thank you so much for this post as well as your whole website! I’ve been researching and planning out a trip for May…I will be turning 30 (shhh!) and need to relish those days/weeks prior by backpacking in Europe. I’ve always wanted to but never planned it out, lived as a expat in S.Korea and summers studying in South America (Ecuador and Galapagos Islands). I do have a question about backpacking around Europe, do any of the countries require a travel visa (or is this only China?)….we encountered this problem while in SK attempting to plan a trip to China. Just curious! Thank you again for this website :)

  12. brie

    I am so appreciating your information on this site! I think Greece will be our next adventure… any favorite places to stay?

  13. Libby

    This is so great! I’m planning a honeymoon for October and was wondering a little bit more about the cost on Santorini? It seems to be the only place you didn’t really talk about prices. From your description it seems like it has a good combination of what we are looking for. We just aren’t looking to spend a fortune on our trip. I’m just kind of wondering what food, activities, and accommodations are like price wise? Thanks!

  14. Mary

    Thanks for the post, u did a great job! Greece has amazing islands indeed… Ios and Santorini are my 2 fav. islands. In Crete there is also a small piece of heaven on an island called Chrysi, which is about 1 hour ferry ride from the port of Ierapetra. Its got golden sand and clear waters on one side and after a 15′ walk through a sandy path u get pure white sandy beaches and turquoise waters on the other!!! A complete castaway island with only a taverna available for water so for a daily trip its pure paradise!

  15. Nicole

    Hi Matt,

    I am travelling to through Europe and am currently in Italy right now. We just decided to make a last minute decision to go to one of the Greek islands. Do you have any recommendations on the cheapest way to get there from Italy, most likely will be in Rome when departing. Thank you so much!

  16. Hi Matt,

    This is great info on the Greek Islands and reminds me of the trip my fiance and I made back in 2013. We went to Santorini, Milos, and Mykonos and loved each island for totally different reasons. Our trip actually inspired us to start our own travel blog and we’re currently writing some fun stories about our trip to Greece.


  17. Sarah

    Am planning a trip here in about 5-6 weeks, was wondering if it’s better to book ferries in advance or to just wait and pay there?

  18. Katy

    I am looking forward to going to Paros for the tranquility, but just read an article claiming that it was extremely packed and busy… the article was from 2006 but it still made me worried. Has it become more crowded recently?

  19. Neil Moser

    Thanks for the well-written travel tips Matt. I love your website and your travels are inspiring. I’m heading off to Athens, Mykonos, Ios and Santorini in a week and will be taken your tips into consideration :)

  20. Melanie Rabino

    Thanks for the tips! My boyfriend and I will be traveling through Europe in the spring and will be spending just over a week in Athens. Which islands would you recommend we visit from Athens if we are on a budget? Also, where do you look to find the best ferry prices?

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