Greek Islands holidays

Experience Greek Islands

Experience [destination]

Best Places to Visit

The sheer number of Greek Islands can be a little bit bewildering – there are no fewer than 6,000 islands scattered throughout both the Ionian and Aegean seas, of which 227 are inhabited. From the party island of Corfu to the historical behemoth that is Crete, Greek Islands holidays tick every single box, no matter what kind of break you’re looking for. From delicate Tilos, described as ‘a speck of land adrift in the Aegean’, through to the Colossus of Rhodes, this collection of eclectic, eccentric and unique islands promise liquid sunshine, astonishing history, delicious food and drink, the warmest of welcomes – and a surprisingly large number of donkeys!

It’s easy to pick your Greek Island holiday destination simply by closing your eyes and sticking a pin in a map of the region – no matter where the pin lands you’re guaranteed azure blue waters and whispering groves of gnarled olive trees. But by narrowing down your choice, you can get so much more from your holiday to the Greek Islands. Laugh, dance and smash a few plates at a traditional Greek taverna on Lesbos, visit the home of the Gods on Ithaca, or gaze at one of the most beautiful and romantic locations in the world; the dazzling island of Santorini.

Getting around will depend on which island you visit, but on the larger islands it’s wise to rent a car when you arrive. However, to really experience the perfumed delights of the mountains leave the hire car in the car park, lace up a pair of walking shoes and hit the hiking trails. Along the way you’ll smell the wild thyme and rosemary that grows throughout the islands, and see tiny lizards scuttling in and out of the rocks or basking in the sunshine.

Rhodes is one of the key Greek Islands holiday destinations for thousands of visitors every year. More laid back than Corfu or Kos, its stunning harbour and cobbled streets hark back to an older time. This is an island filled with monuments and sunny beaches - the perfect blend of ancient and modern culture that appeals to anyone looking for a Greek Island holiday experience that promises lazy days on the beach coupled with gentle exploring at a relaxed pace.

By contrast, Corfu is definitely a party island, with strong Italian influences as well as that distinctive Greek feel. Orange groves butt right up to the bars on the front at Ipsos, while Corfu Town is filled with cobbled squares and medieval alleyways that haven’t changed in hundreds of years.

Top Landmarks

The best Greek Island landmarks will truly depend on which island you visit. Crete, Rhodes, Kos and Santorini are probably the top four islands that most visitors will head for on a Greek Island holiday.

Crete has a unique identity that’s very different from mainland Greece. The biggest of the Greek Islands, its Minoan culture is still clearly visible in exceptional heritage sites like Knossos, the Minoan ancient capital. However, don’t overlook smaller sites, such as the fascinating Hagia Triada; a beautifully preserved ancient villa dating back to around 1550BC. For a more in-depth guide to Cretan culture, check out Heraklion Archaeological Museum, which is filled with genuinely breathtaking artefacts.

Rhodes city’s Mandraki Harbour, site of the Colossus of Rhodes and protected by a stunningly preserved fort, juts out into the sea. In the early morning you’ll see local fishing vessels heading in filled with everything from huge, bright red starfish to nets full of octopus and squid, which will probably be served to you just hours later in the restaurants and tavernas along the front. Faliraki is the island’s party hub, while the Castle of Monolithos is well worth the slightly hair-raising drive up some winding and very narrow dirt roads.

Kos is one of the larger Aegean islands and has a strong Turkish influence. It’s main attraction is its numerous and immaculate beaches, but this was also the home of Hippocrates. A famous doctor of ancient times trained at Asclepeion, the temple of Asclepius.

Santorini is picture perfect, and best known for its dazzling white buildings that turn an incredible rose pink as the setting sun bathes them in golden light. Santorini’s biggest landmark is Santorini itself! This is a truly beautiful and unforgettable island.

Entertainment

Holidays in the Greek Islands really are ‘all things to all men’. No matter what you want to do – swim with dolphins, discover ruined civilisations, climb up the slope of an active volcano (and possibly climb back down again slightly quicker!), you can do it in the Greek Islands. Holidays here are all about doing what you want to do, when you want to do it.

Santorini, for example, has some of the most extraordinary beaches in the Greek Islands. Take the Red Beach/Akrotiri bus from Fira and then get all adventurous by clambering along some rocky trails to get to one of the best beaches on the island. The sand really is red, thanks to the iron-rich rocks, and the contrast with the vivid (and crystal clear) blue water is an artist’s dream.

On Ithaca, home of the Gods and a rugged and beautiful island, you can hire a boat and explore the many inlets and deserted beaches that are only accessible from the sea. Alternatively, take a guided walk through the hills, or join in with one of the many "panigiria" open space local festivals. These celebrate the food, music and culture of the island, and are a great excuse for sampling the local Ouzo.

If your chosen Greek Islands holiday destination is Mykonos (best known for its rows of traditional windmills), then you’ve landed on the shores of one of the main party islands. The Mykonos Summer Festival is a cultural extravaganza of art, music and dancing, while the gay-friendly island also holds its own Gay Festival every year.

Dining Out

Greek food ranges from the truly traditional (such as goat kebabs) through to the tourist friendly ‘Full English’. Every island has its own specialities, although if you’re a fish and seafood lover then you’ve come to the right place, as all of the Greek Islands make particular use of the sea’s bounty in their menus. Fish, prawns, squid and lobster are popular on Kos, while in Crete the menu is much more focused on fruit and vegetables, with lots of olive oil. Crete has a great cheeseboard on offer too, and don’t just restrict yourself to feta cheese, either, as there are plenty of other variations to try, such as Graviera - a hard cheese that can be quite spicy, or mild and soft Anthotyros.

On Zakynthos look for traditional Greek dishes such as baklavas, stifado, and briam. In many of the family-run tavernas be aware that there probably isn’t a ‘menu’ as such – just what the chef has decided to cook that day. Meals are washed down with plenty of local wine, fruit juice and the ubiquitous Ouzo.

If you’re out at a bar (especially in the more tourist-focused areas) then a word of advice – you may notice that many bars have two shelves of identical bottles of spirits. Always make sure that your drink comes from the top shelf, as the bottom shelf is often stocked with ‘bomba’ – a generic alcohol base that’s been flavoured to taste like well-known brands.

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Need to know

Need to know [destination]

Language

The main language you’ll hear on your holiday to the Greek Islands is… English! Although Greek is the official language of the Islands, the vast majority of islanders in the more popular resorts speak excellent English. However, if you go further inland then Greek is far more common. Italian is widely spoken in Corfu, while Turkish can be heard in Kos. Other European languages such as French, German and Spanish are also spoken, and due to the number of refugees coming through the Greek Islands you’ll also hear Syrian, Afghani and even Persian spoken on the streets.

Currency

The Greek currency is the Euro, and despite some major problems in 2015, the exchange rate has now stabilised somewhat. Bureau de Change exchanges are common particularly in larger cities and in major resorts and hotels. Traveller’s cheques are also still quite popular and a good way to carry currency safely during a Greek Island holiday. ATMs are reasonably common in towns and cities, although they can run out of cash quite quickly particularly during weekends. MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted, although American Express is not as popular as other international credit cards.

Visas

Greece is a member of the EU, and as such visitors with European Passports or EU ID cards can move freely throughout the islands with rarely so much as a check. Visitors from outside the EU may require a visa, which should be arranged with the Greek Embassy or Consulate before travelling. Your passport must be valid for the duration of your holiday in the Greek Islands, but unlike some destinations you don’t need the extra six months validity after your departure date.

Climate

Climate variations in the Greek Islands are as dramatic as the scenery. Coastal locations will tend to be more moderate during the hottest summer months, and during the winter temperatures in the more mountainous regions of the larger islands such as Crete and Rhodes can drop dramatically. Rainstorms on Corfu during March and April can be truly biblical in nature, so pack a waterproof if you’re planning an early spring holiday.

Main Airports

While Greek Island holiday flights still arrive at Athens and then connect to the various island by boat, some of the larger islands now have their own airports, including Corfu, Crete, Lesbos and Kos. There are five major international airports: Athens, Corfu, Heraklion, Kos and Thessaloniki. Be aware that at Kos there is no public transport, so you will either need to arrange a hire car or ensure that your Greek Islands holiday includes transfers to and from the hotel.

Flight Options

During the summer season from May to October, some of the medium sized islands take charter flights. These include Corfu, Kefalonia, Zakynthos, Chania, Heraklion, Mykonos, Santorini, Skiathos, Samos, Kos and Rhodes.

If you’re travelling to Thassos you can fly to Kavala, while Greek Island holidays on Lefkas arrive at Prevezza on the mainland and then transfer by boat. Domestic flights are handled by Olympic Airways, the main internal carrier throughout Greece.

Travel Advice

Charter airports tend to be very small, and usually quite basic, so be prepared to wait for your luggage for quite some time as handlers often wait for two or three flights to arrive before checking and sorting luggage. Factor in these potential delays, particularly if you need to connect to an international flight.

Flights for the Greek Islands depart from most UK airports, including regional locations such as Bristol, Manchester, Leeds and Edinburgh.

Other Transport Options

Airports are often quite a considerable distance from your final destination, so ensure that your Greek Island holiday package includes bus and coach transfer at the very least. Car hire is available in most international airports, although it may be more difficult to arrange at the smaller, seasonal charter airports.

Getting Around

Getting around the Greek islands is easy. Most of the islands are relatively small and while roads may be somewhat ‘basic’ in some places, the main islands have excellent, well maintained highways that take you into the heart of the interior.

Bus

Buses on the islands are cheap, frequent and a great way to immerse yourself in Greek life. Fares are cheap - for example, a journey from Rhodes city to Faliraki will cost a little over €2. Timetables can be ‘flexible’, and buses need to be hailed (they don’t always stop, though).

Car

Hire cars are readily available from the usual main suppliers at international airports, transport hubs such as major stations or ferry ports, or can be arranged by your hotel concierge. An alternative to car hire on smaller islands are scooters and motorcycles, but double check that they are maintained correctly first, and remember that safety helmets are not mandatory, but they are very strongly recommended when riding along the somewhat bumpy Greek Island tracks.

Ferries

As there are no trains on the Greek Islands and limited options for air travel, there are a variety of ferry companies which offer visitors an easy alternative. For those who are looking to hop between the different islands, it may be worth aiming for the summer, as this is when the ferry itineraries are most frequent. There are docks at Santorini and Crete, with main ferry hubs also situated at Syros, Paros and Naxos. For those wanting to explore mainland Greece, there are numerous ports in the much-adorned Athens, linking holidaymakers to Aegina, Hydra and Saronic islands. It's also not always necessary to book your ferry in advance, with most companies allowing travellers to buy tickets on the day. Depending on what time of year you are travelling, it may be worth familiarising yourself with the ferry schedules.

Air

Charter flights can take you to other Greek Islands during the summer season, but it is often easier, cheaper and less stressful to island-hop by ferry and boat.

MAP

GREEK ISLANDS`S WEATHER TODAY

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FACTS

  1. The Greek Islands do experience occasional earthquakes, and a particularly strong quake in 226BC toppled the Colossus of Rhodes, while a major quake in 365AD raised parts of Crete by up to nine metres.
  2. Many Greek Island structures including doors, windowsills, and church domes are painted a vivid turquoise blue called ‘kyanos’. This is particularly prevalent in the Cyclades Islands, and is believed to ward off evil.
  3. Greek names can be spelled three different ways, which can make holidays to the Greek Islands a little confusing.
  4. Greeks do not wave with an open hand, which is considered to be an insult. So to avoid any misunderstanding, wave with the palm towards you.

FACTS

  1. The Greek Islands do experience occasional earthquakes, and a particularly strong quake in 226BC toppled the Colossus of Rhodes, while a major quake in 365AD raised parts of Crete by up to nine metres.
  2. Many Greek Island structures including doors, windowsills, and church domes are painted a vivid turquoise blue called ‘kyanos’. This is particularly prevalent in the Cyclades Islands, and is believed to ward off evil.
  3. Greek names can be spelled three different ways, which can make holidays to the Greek Islands a little confusing.
  4. Greeks do not wave with an open hand, which is considered to be an insult. So to avoid any misunderstanding, wave with the palm towards you.

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