The Greek Islands are a backpacker’s paradise, whatever your travel budget. Each island has its unique flavour, and backpacking Greece wouldn’t be the same without visiting at least a few of these beautiful ocean jewels. It was a tough choice, but here’s our selection of the best Greek islands for backpackers not to be missed. Let’s go Greek island-hopping!
GREEK ISLANDS FOR BACKPACKERS
Santorini is an island in the Aegean Sea, part of the Cyclades islands 120 miles southeast of the Greek mainland, and it was almost destroyed by a volcanic eruption in the 16th century BC.
Santorini is a quintessentially Greek island, with pristine white houses and blue roofs. There are picture-postcard views around every narrow alley you wander down. For history fanatics, the Akrotiri Archaeological Site is where the remains of the fabled land of Atlantis are being investigated.
The dramatic geography of the island reflects the devastating eruption that created it, and there are plenty of hiking trails to explore it further. The pretty village of Imerovigli is the island’s highest point and offers stunning views of the caldera.
The sunset is the greatest show on the island and the best place to watch it is from the town of Oia. For more modern entertainment we love the Kamari Open Air Cinema, it’s in the middle of a lush forest and is one of the most unusual but also prettiest places you’ll ever watch a film.
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Zakynthos (or Zante, as it’s sometimes known) is the most southern of the Ionian Islands. It’s a magical island that is popular with tourists thanks to its gorgeous beaches and chilled atmosphere.
Shipwreck Beach, known as Navaglo in Greece, is gorgeous. At its centre is the wreck of the V Panagiotis, a ship which ran aground in 1980. Boat trips here are a must-do when visiting Zakynthos; travellers enjoy snorkelling above the wreck and exploring the sapphire blue water of the many coves.
Endangered Caretta sea turtles come to the island to lay their eggs and visiting the conservation centre is fascinating. You’ll learn about the life cycle of these amazing creatures and how we can protect them.
Visiting the Church of St Dionysios is a profound experience. It is thought that the saint it was named after somehow miraculously saved it from a catastrophic earthquake in 1953.
After your saintly experience and before you head back to your digs, visit one of the many local wineries and take part in a wine tasting of some of the 60 different grapes growing on the island.
Corfu is the northernmost Ionian island and the closest to mainland Greece. This proximity meant it became popular with tourists, and this has given the island a cosmopolitan feel. Albania and Italy are also nearby, and they would make great day trips.
Corfu Town is a UNESCO site and is a gorgeous place to spend the day wandering around. There are cute craft shops, two ancient fortresses to discover and lots of tavernas serving great-value food and house wine.
Olive trees are an essential part of the culture and economy of Corfu. The oil that the 4 million olive trees on the island produce have provided nourishment and jobs for generations. There are plenty of olive groves whose owners are happy to give tours, answer questions and provide a meal in return for you purchasing a couple of bottles of their lovingly produced oil.
If you’ve always wanted to visit a Bond set and also love history, the 1685 Vlacherna Monastery is an excellent day out. Sitting on an island just off the coast, the monastery is a peaceful place surrounded by cypress trees, perfect for relaxation. It was also a set from the James Bond film ‘For Your Eyes Only.’
Crete is the biggest Greek island and the fifth-largest in the Mediterranean Sea. More people live on Crete than any other Greek island, and it lies 160km away from the mainland.
Heraklion, the capital city of Crete, is a magnificent city to visit. The highlight is the Palace of Knossos; it is known as the oldest city in Europe as the remains of this enormous edifice are 3000 years old. It is said to be the home of King Minos, the monarch who built the labyrinth which imprisoned the savage minotaur.
Lovers of the great outdoors will relish the chance to hike through the 11-mile-long Samaria Gorge, a breath-taking natural phenomenon that takes six hours to walk. The views are magnificent, and you’ll see unusual plants and flowers plus creatures like mountain goats. The water in the stream at the bottom of the gorge is said to have healing powers, but all we know is that soaking your feet in the ice-cold water after a long hot day in hiking boots is unbelievably reviving!
Diktean Cave is one of the most unique attractions in Crete. The underground cavern, near to the village of Psychro, has been home to people for four millennia. The intriguing rock formations are deep within the cool caves, and it’s an ideal way to avoid the heat of the summer sun.
Kos is a Greek island in the eastern Aegean Sea. It is part of the Dodecanese collections of islands and is very close to the mainland of Turkey, so it has many Turkish influences.
Nisyros is a tiny island that belongs to Kos but is a 60-minute boat trip away. The land you step upon is the remains of an active volcano after its last eruption, and tourists are permitted to walk inside the crater, potentially a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Kos is as incredible underwater as on land; scuba diving and snorkelling in the Eastern Mediterranean are a fantastic experience. If you’re new to diving, take a boat out from Kokina Bay, where there are plenty of dives to suit beginners.
Golden sands, beach cocktails and cooling off in the sea are classic days on holiday to Kos. However, if you’re looking for somewhere a little different to go, Plaka Forest is a quirky day out. Peacocks and cats roam in the cool shade of the towering trees. Hire a bike from nearby Antimachia, grab baklava from the village bakery, and picnic somewhere truly special.