10 Secret Greek Island Getaways for Those Who Want to Get Lost
These islands were once Greece's best-kept secrets...until now.
Lose the cell phone, drop the tablet, pack a towel, your favorite swimsuit, some sunblock, and a great book. It’s time to disconnect: Prepare to go barefoot in paradise. Peaceful, remote, and barely on the map, these 10 Greek islands are perfect for those of you who just want to get lost. Everyone’s heard about the wild parties on Mykonos and the spectacular sunsets of Santorini. And yes, we’ve all got a soft spot for Zakynthos and its powder-soft sandy beaches. But with 6,000 islands to choose from, why not go under the radar in Greece?
Imposing lava formations, wild beaches, natural hot springs, and an active volcano make up Nisyros, one of Greece’s best-kept secrets (and worth the journey into the middle of the Aegean). Nisyros’ dramatic landscape, Spanish gray stone footpaths, and volcanic craters look like something off a movie set. This is as close as you can get to the divine. Explore on foot, enjoy some homemade soumada , and just surrender. It’s all yours as very few tourists travel this far into the Greek Archipelago.
Donoussa is the perfect place to go solo and leave with new friends (or even a new lover). This no-frills wonder in the Cyclades has one supermarket, a couple of cafes-cum-bars, a few tavernas, a handful of beaches. Spend your first day exploring and by day two you’re part of the family. Everyone says “hi” and treats you to whatever they have for the day–some wine, a cheese pie, a piece of homemade bread for your beachside lunch. Here, the good life takes on a whole new meaning. Additionally, Donoussa is plastic-free so your relaxation won’t be disturbed by straws and other beach litter. It also boasts one of Greece’s best protected stray cat communities and is perfect for wanderers–well-marked trails will take you to sheltered beaches and crystalline waters.
A tiny speck of an island minutes off the shores of Southern Crete in the Libyan Sea, Chryssi means “gold” in Greek and is a mini paradise complete with tropic-style waters, windswept sand dunes, and a protected juniper bush forest. Also known as “Gaidouronissi,” Chryssi is easy to explore thanks to its size—three whole miles, basically a walk around the block. All the lazing takes place along its very own “Golden Coast,” a.k.a. Belegrina Beach, and the magic begins when you take a closer look at the pinkish sand under your feet. Don’t bother bringing clothes or shoes or phones. Life on Chryssi is back to basics: No running water, no shade, no amenities, just Greek nature in all its glory. You’re overdressed if you’re even wearing a sarong. As for food, the day’s catch, some eggs, and a sip of island spirit, raki.
Home to the last Dwarf Elephants some 4,000 years ago, this tiny island in the Dodecanese is a must for nature lovers, geology buffs, and hikers, not to mention if you’re into fossils. Majestic mountains, running waters, verdant valleys, stately houses, crystal clear sea dips, and four traditional settlements make up Tilos. A walker’s delight, Tilos is lush by Greek standards, wild with untouched beaches, with no umbrellas or sunbeds in sight. Hit the trail to its many chapels and fortress-like Mikro Horio, a deserted village in the hills. It takes about day (17 hours) to get here from Athens, so your best bet is to fly to Rhodes and from there travel by boat. It may be far off the beaten track, but the trip is worth it because you’ll be visiting the first Mediterranean island wholly powered by renewable energy, which explains the numerous charging points for electric cars and bikes. Catch the sunset at Agios Antonios and who knows, you too may be one of the many loyal fans who now call it home.
Genuine, peaceful, and welcoming, prepare to walk along time-worn stone trails that take you to lone chapels, secluded bays, and ancient sites. Swim and snorkel in crystal blue waters and be inspired by the spectacular vistas. Three quaint villages and their whitewashed little houses, 61 churches, a sleepy harbor and lots of wine are what you’ll find on this Cyclades island which lies between two of the trendiest isles in Greece. And yet very few stop here, and thankfully so, making Sikinos the idyllic hideaway. It will take about nine hours to reach this secret haven, which up until recently was unreachable by boat. Life here is slow. So, sit back, indulge in some local wine and cheese, and gaze out into the big blue.
Go primitive here as you trek through lush forests over jagged cliffs to discover one of Greece’s tallest waterfalls, invigorating natural springs (“vathres”), hidden hamlets, and pristine white-sand beaches with emerald green waters. You can’t go farther off the beaten track than this. Getting to Samothrace means traveling all the way to Alexandroupolis in northern Greece, and from there taking a ferry. Minutes after setting foot the mystical energy hits you. This Greek island is believed to have healing powers as it was once the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. Myth has it that the king of the gods, Zeus, watched over the happenings of the Trojan War from here. A perfect camper’s getaway, Samothrace also attracts climbers thanks to the towering Mt. Saos, the Greek islands’ third highest mountain at 5,285 feet. It is on this island that one of the world’s most famous ancient exhibits was found: The marble statue of “Nike” or “Winged Victory of Samothrace,” today on display at the Louvre in Paris.
Untouched landscapes, lovely Greek villages steeped in tradition, amazing food, and cherished age-old customs are what you’ll find on this lesser-known island, which hosts one of the craziest Carnival celebrations in Greece. Little has changed over time on Skyros and it’s palpable in the aura of the beautiful Hora with its traditional architecture built inside a Byzantine fortress. Meet the unique-to-the island miniature horse, the Skyros pony, and the exquisite Byzantine-inspired wood-carved chairs and trunks. Strike a yoga pose on one of the many uncrowded beaches, gather inspiration for your art, and unwind immersed into the Greek island way of life. It’s no wonder Skyros is one of the country’s leading wellness destinations and its tranquility lures writers and poets from all over the world. It’s easy to get here by plane from Athens or ferry from the mainland city of Volos.
Seeking a serene escape? This is the perfect place to get lost. This faraway Aegean Sea getaway dotted with fig trees, cedars, and pines off Leros is not one but 24 dreamy (and protected) islets all in one place. Start your day with some local “ladotyri” cheese, thyme honey, and freshly baked bread, pack a picnic lunch and water, and set off from the one and only settlement of Hora to discover dozens of hidden inlets and amazing caves. You can have a beach all to yourself here. If the sparking waters on Lipsi and its untouched seashores don’t win you over, don’t fret. You still have dozens of smaller islands to visit in this tiny archipelago. Lipsi is the place to recharge, eat organic, and make new friends. Make sure to visit the island winery where the local sweet red wine is made. Word has it that Lipsi wine was sent to the Vatican to be used in Holy Communion. It’s a long voyage out here, some ten hours from Athens, but you can always fly to one of the nearby islands and from there take a local ferry service. You won’t regret it. Odysseus didn’t and he stayed for seven years in the embrace of the nymph Calypso.
Municipality of Lipsi
This bit of paradise in the calm waters of the Ionian sea near Corfu and off mainland Epirus is like a crayon-colored artwork calling out to you like a mythical siren. A protected pine forest and wild olive trees slide into the water on Antipaxos, which the god of the sea, Poseidon, created as a love nest for his later-to-be wife, the nymph Amphitrite. No cars, no noise, no worries. It’ll be just you, your towel, and the white pebble or velvety sand beaches—it doesn’t get more private than this. This two-mile getaway usually goes hand in hand with its (big) sister island, the glamorous Paxi—a summer hangout of the rich and famous, including the likes of Angelina Jolie and Keanu Reeves. After a swim or some snorkeling, don’t forget to make a wish on a white stone and leave it under the “wishing tree” at the taverna on Vrika Beach (“vrika,” by the way, means “to find”). And if you’re lucky you might even run into a lounging Mediterranean seal or the rare caretta sea turtle doing her thing.
Dubbed the “Seychelles of Greece,” the Lichadonissia are the astonishing remnants of a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. Until recently, only divers knew about this mini complex of islets off the coasts of central Greece and northern Evia. Take your pick of seven bijou islands with white sand shores against a tree-covered backdrop in the middle of the sea. Today, the largest, Manolia, hosts a beach bar, umbrellas, and sunbeds, while the second-largest, Megali Stroggyli, hosts a historic lighthouse. Every day two glass boats offer tours with views to the dwelling of seabed creatures and a Roman-era aqueduct which sunk after an earthquake. The boat leaves you on the island of your choice in the morning and picks you up at sunset. Don’t be surprised if the isle you’re chilling on appears to be smaller, the Gulf of Euboean is known for its regularly changing tides. The Lichadonissia’s waters are a must for underwater fishing lovers and divers seeking adventure thanks to a 25-meter (82 feet) WWII shipwreck that’s now home to colorful marine life.