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The Greek Islands

Few people realise that the Greek Islands are made up of over 6,000 islets and islands, yet only 227 of them are inhabited, and only 78 have more than 100 people living on them. With so many islands to choose from its often difficult to know where to start, yet every year many people flock from all corners of the world to “island hop” staying a couple of days or weeks on a few of the islands with for some the aim of covering the whole archipelago one day.

The Seven Groups

The Islands fall into seven distinct groups: The Saronic Gulf Islands close to Athens in the Saronic Gulf, the Cyclades in the central Aegean Sea, the Dodecanese between Crete and Turkey in the southeast, the Sporades off the coast of the island of Euboea, the North Aegean islands close to the coast of Turkey and the Ionian Islands located in the Ionian Sea to the west of the mainland. Crete in the Aegean Sea forms a group on its own because it is the largest and also the most popular as a tourist destination whilst Euboa, 60 miles from the mainland is the second largest. Lesbos and Rhodes follow in third and fourth place with all of the other islands being two thirds of the size of Rhodes and some even smaller.

The Saronic Gulf Islands

The Saronic Gulf lies just off the Greek mainland. The largest island in the group is Slamis Island famed in history for the Battle of Salamis, where the Persians were defeated by the ancient Greek navy. Many Greeks have holiday homes on the Saronic Islands because of their close proximity to the mainland. There are 31 islands in this group with the most popular being Spetses, Aegina, Anigistri, Hydra and Poros. Many mainland Greeks have vacation homes on one of the Saronic Islands, which have frequent ferry connections from Piraeus and the Peloponnese.

The Cyclades

The Cyclades located in the Aegean Sea to the southeast of the Greek mainland they are the picture postcard image of deep blue sea, sandy beaches and quaint white buildings that conjure up most people’s image of the Greek Islands. The 220 islands that make up this group are also part of the mass of islands making up the Aegean archipelago. Many of the smaller islands are deserted with no inhabitants, but the most popular in this group are Santorini, Naxos, Mykonos, Paros, Ios, Kea – popular with locals from Athens for yachting trips, Kynthos and Tinos. Most of the islands were formed from submerged mountains, but Santorni and Milos are actually volcanic islands. This group with its mild, dry climate is famed for its wine, fruit, wheat, olive oil and tobacco production. You can reach many of these islands with direct scheduled flights from Athens or by catching the ferry from Piraeus.

The Dodecanese

This group of islands is made up of 164 individual islands, but only 26 are inhabited. The name Dodecanese means literally "twelve islands" so named because there are 12 large islands in the group, which historically were the most important. This group is located in the Aegean Sea o the southwest of Turkey.  This group has a wealth of history with many Byzantine churches and medieval castles. Rhodes is the most famous island in this group as far as tourism is concerned although Kos and the wealthy island of Kalymnos attract their fair share of visitors. 

The Sporades

The Sporades run along the east coast of the Greek mainland, to the northeast of Euboea in the Aegean Sea. It is a small archipelago made up of 24 islands, five of which are inhabited namely, Alonnisos, Skiathos, Skopelos, Peristera and Skyros. The Sporades Islands do not carry the archetypal image of the Greek Islands although they are home to some of the best beaches in the Aegean. They consist of good agricultural land and rich pine forests, craggy, barren hills housing impressive cubist villages more in keeping with Northern Greece than the islands. They are easily accessed from Athens by a combination of bus and ferry from Agios Constantinos port. You can even take your car over on the ferry.

The North Eastern Aegean Islands

Some of the islands in the Aegean Sea belong to neighbouring Turkey, but those of Greek nationality lie predominantly to the north east of the region although there is no distinct connection.  The most popular islands in this group are Samos, Ikaria, Chios, Lemos, Imbros and perhaps the most visited Lesbos. This group consists of reasonably big islands, rich in fertile land and vegetation and many wonderful beaches. They can be reached by ferry from Kavala and Piraeus on the mainland.

The Ionian Islands

The Ionian Islands were once known as the "Eptanisa"or Seven Islands after key islands in the group and today this archipelago is often referred to as the Western Greek Islands because of their location in the Ionian Sea along the west coast of the Greek mainland. This group consists of many key tourist spots including Zakynthos, Keffallonia, Paxos, Ithaki and the possibly the most popular of all Greek Islands Corfu. For many decades many native Ionian islanders emigrated to the mainland in search of work, however the growth of tourism has repopulated these areas improving the infrastructure and bringing much needed employment.  


Whilst Crete is not really a group of islands, it is classed separately as it is the largest of the Greek Islands and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is also one of the 13 administrative areas of Greece and has a thriving economy. It is one of the most scenic of the Greek Islands and at 260 km long and 60 km wide it is almost as big as Cyprus. It has a superb infrastructure and is culturally very rich as well as having all of the sought after tourist amenities like wide sandy beaches. With its temperate climate it has attracted many holiday makers and property buyers from Northern Europe especially the British.