The Greek Islands are full of gems just waiting to be discovered. While the popular Santorini and Mykonos have their own unique charm – there is nothing better than stumbling upon a dreamy little islet that you can enjoy all to yourself in summer. In this travel guide, I will be revealing the 10 best hidden gems of the Greek Islands that you should add to your list. You may be familiar with a few but other ones will take you totally by surprise.
Before I get started, let me introduce myself so you know my history in the islands and why you can trust me to provide recommendations on these beautiful destinations. My name is Anisa which in Persian means “trusty friend”. I was born and raised in Crete. However, my origins are from Iran. I have lived in the capital Athens for the past four years where I have worked for a non-governmental organization (NGO) that helps refugees.
While at university, I started saving in order to travel and when I took my first trip the experience changed my life. It opened me up to the possibilities the world has to offer. Since then, I have yearned to travel and have new experiences. Because I was born in Crete, I didn’t travel much around the Greek Islands when I was young. But as I got older, I moved to the Greek mainland and had more chances to visit the islands.
The first island that captivated me was Ithaca. This mystical and mythical island is located in the Ionian Sea and it enchants you with its beaches. Now, in 2022, I have visited 34 Greek Islands. I definitely prefer the quieter islands, or hidden gems as they are called, but I also love the popular ones as well such as Milos and Santorini. Every island in Greece is stunning and deserves to be visited in its own right – whether it’s popular or not.
My Favorite Greek Island: Tinos
The secret ingredients that make the Greek Islands so spectacular are the following things: sunny weather, beautiful beaches, crystal-clear water, traditional villages, great local food, a bit of nightlife, friendly people and amazing landscapes. From the Cyclades to the Ionian islands, from the Dodacanese to the Sporades islands – each archipelago is perfect for a summer holiday in the sun. You can’t go wrong wherever you opt to go.
My favorite island is Tinos. This Cyclades gem is home to lovely villages like Pyrgos where you can find marble sculptures on every corner and Volax where you will see countless round-shaped rocks which are a phenomenon created by volcanic activity. Tinos also has tasty food and great beaches such as Kolympithra Beach and Malli Beach. Above all, Tinos has retained its integrity and authenticity – which is by far the biggest appeal.
10 Hidden Gems of the Greek Islands
1. Tinos Island (Cyclades)
Located just 20 minutes from Mykonos on the fast ferry, Tinos is a must-visit on any island-hopping trip through the Cyclades. This island has stayed under the radar with travelers heading to Greece and in turn it has kept its authentic charm completely intact. Visiting Tinos means you won’t be jostling for places to capture the sunset (like in Santorini) or worrying about waking up early to reserve a spot at the beach (like on other Greek Islands).
The island has five main attractions: villages, churches, beaches, trails and food. Tinos is one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Greeks and there are hundreds of churches dotted around the island. The Church of Panagia Evangelistria (Megalochari) in Tinos (Chora) is a magnificent sight to behold. There are dozens of sleepy villages to explore as well as some stunning beaches that you will pretty much have all to yourself.
2. Ithaca Island (Ionian Sea)
Ithaca is known as the “Island of Odysseus”. This figure was a Greek king made world-famous by Homer’s poem, The Odyssey. Not only will you learn about myths and legends on this Greek Island but you will also get to immerse in natural beauty every step of the way. Ithaca is a small island situated off the northeastern coast of Kefalonia in the Ionian Sea. The island is blessed with beaches, cyprus trees, mountains and hiking trails.
3. Alonissos Island (Sporades)
Alonissos is part of the Sporades island group and it’s one of the best hidden gems on offer in the Greek Islands. As soon as you arrive in the alluring Alonissos harbor, you will sense this unique tranquility and serene atmosphere that is incomparable to any other place on the planet. Not many travelers make it all the way to the Sporades, let alone to Alonissos island, so you won’t be bumping into too many tourists as you explore.
Nature is the main attraction here with a stunning coastline to see, empty beaches that take your breath away and hiking trails winding their way through picturesque landscapes. Foodies will also appreciate the cuisine on offer which comes in the form of dishes like tuna, lobster and pasta. A couple of local delicacies to try are “soultana” (sweet pie) and “fouskakia” (a Greek doughnut that you won’t be able to stop munching on).
4. Koufonisia Island (Cyclades)
Koufonisia is made up of three islands: Keros, Kato and Pano. The northern island, known as Pano (Upper) Koufonisi, is the place where travelers should head because the other two are largely uninhabited. There are a series of secret beaches located in Pano that you will be able to travel to by foot or boat – and they are spectacular (to say the least). If it’s crystal-clear waters you are after then head to Koufonisia for a good few days.
5. Anafi Island (Cyclades)
Anafi is another secluded and serene islet situated in the Cyclades island group. It largely goes unnoticed on the tourist trail which is great news for those looking to visit the best hidden gems of the Greek Islands. Catching a ferry to Anafi from the Port of Piraeus can take up to 11 hours, so the easiest option is jumping on a two hour ferry from the nearby Santorini. Although this island is petite in size, it packs a punch in terms of things to see and do.
The Chora has these amazing white-washed houses and alleys where you can get lost for an afternoon, plus a range of fantastic restaurants, bars, shops and coffee houses. Beach-lovers will fall madly in love with Roukounas Beach – one of the largest beaches on the island, accessible on a nice stroll from Chora. The Monastery of Zoodochos Pigi is also worth visiting for a few hours for its stunning architecture and spiritual vibe.
6. Folegandros Island (Cyclades)
Greek Islands just don’t get any more extraordinary than Folegandros. Even Santorini can’t compete with the jaw-dropping cliffs, gorgeous sunsets and charming villages of this Cyclades jewel. The Church of Panagia in Chora is perched on the top of a jagged cliff face. Walking there for sunset (up a winding white path) will be one of the highlights of your island hopping trip. Every night should be spent up here watching the sky transform.
The walk up to the church takes about 20 minutes and the sunsets here are consistently out of this world. The Chora itself is just a marvelous place to wander around. Imagine seeing dozens of white-washed buildings with a touch of blue, restaurants where the wine flows abundantly and friendly locals who welcome you in with open arms. The vibe of Folegandros is so easygoing that you will fall head over heels and won’t ever want to leave.
While Folegandros is definitely still a hidden gem, it’s not certain how long this will last because tourists are slowly realizing how remarkable this island actually is. More people are starting to visit but for now the island remains unaffected by mass tourism. Top tip: try to book yourself a nice little Airbnb or boutique hotel in Chora or Agali Beach. This is one island where you should splash out on accommodation and spend a few days in pure luxury.
7. Kythira Island (Ionian Sea)
A destination technically part of the Ionian Islands but situated between the south of the Peloponnese and Crete, Kythira is a true secret only known about by local Greeks and well-informed travelers. The peacefulness, laidback vibe and unspoiled nature on offer will please anyone looking for a relaxed getaway. The villages of Kythira are what gives the island its style. It’s recommended to spend a good few days on the island to visit each one.
For starters, Chora is full of white-washed streets and mind-blowing castle views. Kapsali is another great place to check out. It has a cool promenade where you can go from cafe to cafe and tavern to tavern eating until your heart is content. Also worth a visit on the village front is the fishing community of Avelmonas. Expect to find secluded bays, local fishermen going about their daily lives and the best beach of Kythira: Kaladi Beach.
8. Elafonisos Island (Peloponnese)
Elafonisos sits between Peloponnese and Kythira, making it a great island to visit while exploring this beautiful region of Greece. Summer is the best time to visit to relax at the beaches and visit the other attractions on the island like the exquisitely positioned Agios Spyridon Church. Some of the top stretches of sand here include Simos Beach and Sarakiniko Beach but there are other hidden gems waiting for you in Elafonisos too.
9. Angistri Island (Saronic Gulf)
Adventure-lovers will have a blast on the small island of Angistri situated in the Saronic Gulf. There are so many awesome things to do here if you like the outdoors such as hiking, horse riding, cycling, sailing, kayaking and swimming. The three villages of Angistri – Megalochori, Limenaria and Skala – are all worth visiting also. At these villages you can relax and enjoy some peace and quiet in lovely relaxed settings typical of the Greek Islands.
10. Ikaria Island (Eastern Aegean)
The final place on my list of the best hidden gems of the Greek Islands is Ikaria. This island is unknown to 90% of travelers but those who have heard of Ikaria may know about it due to its reputation for longevity. One in three locals here make it into their 90s, which is quite an astonishing fact. There is barely a case of dementia in the population and the majority of its elderly citizens are free of any serious disease or life-threatening illness.
When visiting Ikaria you should immerse yourself in the culture to see what causes such a healthy life. Many put it down to the diet while others claim its the weather. Some even say it’s the copious amounts of wine that gets consumed or the time spent playing dominoes. Apart from marveling at the high life expectancy, there are some other interesting things about the island such as beautiful beaches, local cuisine and rural villages.
Tips for Visiting the Hidden Gems of the Greek Islands
My main recommendation for exploring the hidden gems of the Greek Islands is to visit when they have no tourists. For example, at the start or end of summer – June or September are ideal. Of course, the islands mentioned above won’t have many tourists anyway but visiting in the shoulder season will give you even fewer crowds. Don’t stress if you can’t make it during those months because July and August are just as good.
Also, the sooner you book accommodation the better. I suggest reserving your favorite places three months in advance just to be safe. This way you will save money and secure the best rooms. Finally, most Greek Islands require a car rental to get around. Public transport is possible but having a car will allow you to discover the most isolated beaches. Oftentimes they are located down a dirt road but don’t be afraid – embrace the adventure!