Greece and its Islands are amongst the most popular holiday destinations in the world. Of the 227 inhabited Greek islands, there are maybe a dozen that draw much of the tourism their way.
Crete, Rhodes, Mykonos, Naxos, Santorini and Lesbos all boast of mesmerising locals, sandy beaches, and historical sites that continue to enthral tourists from around the world.
But for the adventurous soul, Greece has a lot more to offer.
From the island chains of the Sporades to the Cyclades, and the Dodecanese to the Ionian, we’ve dipped deep into the lesser-known Greek destinations where you can find not only secluded beaches and cobalt seas but also the perfect amalgamation of culture, cuisine, history and hedonism.
A collection of nine small islands, the key to Oinousses’ fame can is in its name, which is thought to come from the Ancient Greek word for wine. The islanders are incredibly proud of their wine heritage and continue to produce an excellent vintage to this date. A must-try for connoisseurs, the local wine goes rather well with seafood.
Elsewhere among the islands are quiet coastal coves and desert islands, protected as part of the Natura 2000 Network. And reflecting the seafaring tradition of the region is the Mother of Oinousses, a statue which forever waves to her children as they sail away.
To learn more about Greek history, the Maritime Museum offers varied artefacts from the local shipping industry.
Amongst the best places in the Greek Islands to be surrounded by nature. While on Alónnissos, tourists have a chance to go for long hillside walks and visit the National Marine Park. It’s the perfect place to watch dolphins, turtles and the locals’ beloved seals at play. If you visit at the right time, you might even get to see seal pups on the beaches!
To take a break from all the exploring, rest upon Patiri’s stone waterfront. Over here, indulge in some fouskakia, which are traditional Greek doughnuts, and hamalia – stuffed sweets.
To discover more of the island’s beauty, head inland to Hora, an old village, which additionally boasts of a medieval castle and traditional churches.
Another island with a strong naval tradition, Spetses is best known domestically for its contribution to the 1821 War of Independence. As such, it’s an ideal place to learn more about the country’s recent history.
Indeed, even outside its museums and historic buildings, tourists can witness the weight of tradition in the open air. If you’re there in September, there’s the Armata, a truly impressive recreation of a naval battle which has been happening annually since 1931.
Athletic events are also frequent, including the largest triathlon in Greece, fondly labelled the Spetsathlon.
Surprisingly, Tinos is yet to be discovered by tourists in higher numbers since it’s considered by many to be Greece’s most significant religious destination.
Twice a year, pilgrims from all over the country make their way to Panagia Megalochari (the Blessed Virgin Mary), a church uniquely important to both Catholic and Orthodox worshippers.
But the island is also rightfully proud of its renowned marble sculptors, whose work can be seen especially in the architecture of Pyrgos (while two museums gather further historical examples).
Also, worth seeking out is the tiny settlement of Volax, whose houses are atop the region’s monumental rocks themselves. A folklore museum provides additional information for the curious.
There is something special for gourmands in Tinos where small family-run eateries serve the most delicious local seafood in tiny streets and courtyards. Expect a lot of fine wine, cheese, fresh salads, and traditional Greek comfort eats.
Famed since antiquity for its main product, Chios is still the only place in the world which can legally provide mastic – a unique tree gum, used in both medicine and cuisine.
But beyond this, there are several reasons to explore this quiet island just off the coast of Asia Minor. The Byzantine Museum is housed in a converted Ottoman Mosque and is a great way to learn about the often-dramatic history of the Greeks and their Asian neighbours.
Finally, there’s the fortified village of Mesta. With one entrance into the compound, the sturdy stone houses are best explored by walking across their roofs.
Found in the chain of islands called the Dodecanese, Tilos is among the sunniest corners of the country. This climate is why it is a part of a large protected ecological area, with many rare birds and 400 distinct species of flowers and herbs calling it home.
Of course, humans also have a long history here and, inland and uphill, visitors can find old churches, fortresses and monasteries. Hiking the paths from these attractions deeper into nature is among Tilos’ greatest charms. And as recommended by TUI, a spare pair of appropriate shoes are a must for such expeditions!
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