Greece’s Tiny Islands: 14 Small Summer Paradises
One village, a few (incredible) beaches, a handful of tavernas and bars. Holidays on Greece’s smaller islands are all about the beauty of simplicity.
Paulina Kapsali | April 20th, 2018
Greece’s Tiny Islands: 14 Small Summer Paradises
Sometimes small is beautiful and simplicity is sophistication.
If you want to get away from the crowds of tourists and the hustle and bustle of the nightlife at some of the more famous summer destinations like Santorini, Mykonos, and Rhodes, there are countless other options(Greece, after all has over 100 inhabited islands).
Greece’s smaller islands are amazing getaways for those looking to slow down and enjoy the simpler things, along with the sun and the sea. Small means less tourism, more authentic experiences, and locals who are eager to show you around. And each island is unique.
Below are 14 of our favorite tiny islands in Greece. Take your pick.
1. PAXOS & ANTIPAXOS – A PARADISE IN GREEN AND BLUE
Within a cluster of little islands in the Ionian, about an hour away from Corfu, you’ll find Paxos. Only 13 kilometers across, with three picturesque villages and only 2,300 permanent residents, this is a truly small place. You can easily visit all three villages, Gaios, Lakka, and Loggos, in one day, but you’ll want to stay forever in each.
The gorgeous port of Paxos’ capital, Gaios, is protected from rough seas by the two little islets of Panagia and Aghios Nikolas, creating jaw-dropping green-and-blue scenery. The islets are home to a monastery, and three little churches. In Gaia, you’ll find many shops, restaurants, and cafés. For the most serene settings with gorgeous beaches nearby, stay in Lakka or Loggos.
If you want to feel even more like Robinson Crusoe, you can take a boat to Antipaxos, an even smaller island that’s effectively uninhabited, and covered mostly with vineyards. It only takes 15 minutes. You won’t find hotels here, but you can spend the day hiking up the green hills and snorkeling in the clear turquoise water.
Get to Paxos with ferry boat or hydrofoil from Igoumenitsa, on the mainland, or from Corfu. Fast passenger ferries and hydrofoils from Corfu take about an hour, whereas ferries carrying cars can take over three hours. Corfu can be reached by airplane or by ferry from many major Greek, Italian, and Albanian ports.
Tip: Rent a boat and discover all the pretty coves, sea caves and beaches around the two islands.
© Giorgos Simos
2. KOUFONISIA – A FISHING COMMUNITY TURNED TOURIST HAVEN
Koufonisia is a cluster of three islands; Pano (Upper) Koufonisi, Kato (Lower) Koufonisi, and Keros. They used to be a secret summer paradise only a few knew about. Now they’re bustling with tourism, but the small island charm lives on.
Pano Koufonisi is the only one that’s inhabited, with close to 400 year-round residents. The other two islands, reachable by a small boat daily, are great for swimming excursions and camping. Kato Koufonisi is popular with nudists.
The village, Chora, bursts with Cycladic charm. It used to be the home of mainly fishermen and their families, as fishing was the main trade here before the tourists found the islands. Today you’ll find plenty of places to stay, eat, and drink.
Reach Upper Koufonisi by ferry from the port of Piraeus (about 8 hours).
Tip: You’ll find some of the most beautiful beaches you’ve ever seen on the eastern side of Pano Koufonisi.
3. KASTELORIZO – RED CASTLES AND BLUE CAVES
The bright colors of the amphitheatrically built harbor town of Kastelorizo will take your breath away. While small and remote, Kasterlorizo’s fame is far greater than its size. It’s that pretty. It’s also where the film Mediterraneo was shot in 1991.
There are plenty of things to see. Visit the Lycian Tomb – a 5th century BC grave built into a rock face, the churches of Aghios Kostantinos and Aghia Eleni, and the 14th-century castle Kastello Rosso which gave the island its name.
A true must see is the blue cave. It is said that the famous deep blue color of this cave, which is created by the sun’s reflection in the walls of the cave through the water, has to be experienced as it cannot be accurately captured by cameras. You enter in a shallow boat (you’ll find boat operators to take you there in the port) through a meter-high opening, although note that you can only visit when the sea is calm.
Get here by ferry boat (about 4 hours) or plane (25 min) from Rhodes.
Tip: If you have a sweet tooth try “strava”, a local version of baklava.
4. AGISTRI – GREAT BEACHES WITHIN REACH
Easy and quick to reach from Piraeus, you would expect this island to fill up to the brim with weekenders all year round. It doesn’t. While it does get a lot of both Greek and foreign tourists in the summer, you won’t notice it as soon as you venture out of the little villages of Skala and Milos.
It’s a green island, with dense pine forest that often leads all the way down to the sea and provides welcome shade in the heat (a fact which makes it popular with campers, although no legal campsite exists on the island). The villages offer plenty of options for meals and drinks. The main reason to visit Agistri however, is the amazing sea and beautiful beaches.
While many tourists find the sandy beach in Skala to be the most convenient, it is more than worth it to visit some of the other, incredibly beautiful beaches of the island. Greeks often come to Agistri on day tours, knowing they’ll have a perfect swim in crystal clear water.
Aponisos is perhaps the most famous destination. It is actually a tiny islet in itself, privately owned and organized, and connected to Agistri by a little bridge. Many birds and animals roam free here, and the dramatic view towards Methana (on the Peloponnese) across the sea is breathtaking. Dragonera is another popular choice a little closer to the villages. Chalkiada, an non-organized white stone beach on the opposite side of the island, offers an adventure in that you have to do a short hike over a hill and wade through water to get there. The latter is great for snorkeling.
To get to Agistri, take a ferry or hydrofoil from the port of Piraeus, direct or via the port of Aegina. It takes less than an hour to get here from Pireaus, and 10 minutes from Aegina.
Tip: Rent a scooter and see the whole island in less than a day. Stop at the village of Limenaria for a traditional meal at the local taverna.
© Vangelis Zavos
5. THERASIA – A SECRET SANTORINI WITHOUT THE CROWDS
The charming settlements that are carved into the landscape on Therasia are home to only 250 permanent residents, and most tourists that come here only visit for a few hours. Being easily accessible by boat from Santorini, it’s the perfect destination when you need a serene spot to take a break from the busy streets of Oia and Thira. Stars like Brad Pitt and Angeline Jolie have stayed here – a clear sign that this is a great private place to get away from the crowds. The island only has a handful of tavernas and shops.
As you hike through the volcanic landscape, you’ll get a taste of what Santorini was like before the overwhelming tourism, and if you get bored, you can always hop back on the boat to the big island.
Get here by shuttle boat from Ammoudi, Santorini.
Tip: There are only a few rooms to rent on the island, so make sure you book yours in time.
6. ANAFI – CYCLADIC ARCHITECTURE AS YOU ALWAYS IMAGINED IT
With fewer than 300 inhabitants, this Cycladic island is serene first and foremost. Only a couple of shops and tavernas can be found in the single village, called Chora, and there isn’t much in terms of sightseeing. What you will find are wonderful hiking trails through the rocky terrain, and great beaches.
If you’ve visited Anafiotika in Athens, and know the history of how builders from Anafi created the neighborhood to remind them of home, this is a great opportunity to see where the inspiration came from. The picturesque capital of the island clings to the rock behind the village like Anafiotika does to the Acropolis. It’s a great example of Cycladic architecture, with whitewashed houses, labyrinthine alleys, and flowers everywhere.
Get here by ferry from Piraeus, or via Santorini.
Tip: If you’re a rock climber, the rock of Kalamos is a must-visit spot.
7. SYMI – NEOCLASSICAL BEAUTY
This little island in the Dodecanese island chain can be visited on a daytrip from Rhodes, or serve as your main destination. Symi has about 2.500 residents, but the number increases during summer, and the main industry here is tourism.
The port of the town of Gialos is beautiful, with brightly colored neoclassical mansions built on the slope around it. The port street is dotted with traditional cafes and fish tavernas. From here, you climb 500 steps to get to Ano Symi, or Chorio, which is the island’s capital. The view from here is magical.
For a day excursion, visit the 18th-century Archangel Michael of Panormitis Monastery, in the village of Panormitis.
Get here by ferry boat from Piraeus (approximately 17 hours) or via Rhodes with hydrofoil (50 minutes) or ferry boat (1.5 hours).
Tip: Take a ride on the traditional boat Poseidon, which takes you to the best beaches.
8. HALKI – QUIET CHARM
This is the smallest inhabited island in the Dodecanese. Once, it was home to thousands, and its main trade was sponge-diving. Today approximately a little over 300 people live in the only settlement, Emborio, by the port. But while the community is small, it is also welcoming, and accommodating all tourists in every way they can.
The little town is pretty, with Venetian mansions sharing the streets with small traditional homes, all painted in various earthy colors. Since there is almost no traffic on the island, it is quiet, calm, and perfect for relaxed strolls along the harbor. Even the clock in the clock tower stands still here – on purpose, as it was found to be too noisy.
Get here by boat from Rhodes. It takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Tip: Visitors say that the fishermen in the port will gladly take you out to catch some fish, for a small fee.
9. KASOS – AUTHENTIC TASTES
One of the southernmost islands in the Aegean, near Crete, Kasos has an area of just 49 square kilometers, and a population of just over a thousand. Yet it is quite mountainous (the highest point is Mount Prionas, 550 meters above sea level), so hiking means amazing views. There are five villages to check out: Fry (the capital, pronounced ‘free’), Agia Marina, Polly, Panaya and Arvanitohori.
A great reason to visit Kasos is the food. Influences from all around the Mediterranean have shaped its cuisine for hundreds of years, resulting in some characteristic and delicious dishes that are commonly copied around Greece, but never taste as good as here. Tiny vine leaf rolls with minced meat and rice are among the most popular. Roikio is a wild green that’s preserved in brine, so that it may be enjoyed all year round. When stewed with tomato it is referred to as Roikio Giachni.
Get to Kasos by ferry boat from Crete or Piraeus, or by air via Karpathos.
Tip: Also try the handmade “makarounes” pasta with the characteristic Kasian cheese sitaka, and fakorizo: lentils with rice.
10. GAVDOS – THE SOUTHERNMOST GREEK ISLAND
The permanent population in this island below Crete is very low; maybe 50 people live here year round, but tourism raises the number to a few thousand during the summer. You won’t find an abundance of hotels or rooms to let however. Many visitors here are campers, with the island attracting mainly nature-lovers looking to enjoy a bit of off-grid simple living. The locals live in the capital village called Kastri, and in the southernmost village (of the island and of Greece) Vatsiana.
Go here for the long summer, the beautiful coastline, and the virgin sandy beaches.
If you get bored, you can visit the folklore museum near Korfos beach, which displays Gavdian agricultural and shipbuilding equipment, tools, traditional costumes and household items from the island. The Gavdos lighthouse in the village of Ambelos, constructed in 1880, also makes for a nice excursion.
Get there with ferry boat from Paleochora, on Crete.
Tip: The sun here is strong, and there isn’t much shade on the sandy beaches, so come prepared.
11. FOURNI – ANCIENT REMAINS ON LAND AND IN THE SEA
Fourni is the name of a tiny archipelago situated between Samos and Ikaria, as well as the name of the main island. The capital, located on the western side of the main island, is the settlement of Kambos. You can also visit Kambi, about a kilometer away from Kambos, and the fishing village Chrisomilia on the north side of the island (get here by boat).
Several archeological sites, such as the ancient Petrokopeio (quarry), prove that Fourni was inhabited in ancient times. There are no standing structures, but pieces of buildings are scattered on these spots. The sites are not mind-blowing, but the surroundings make your outings worth it. Hiking is a good activity to focus on, as is snorkeling at the many pretty beaches. At Kamari beach, you can spot the remains of ancient houses on the seabed as well, and many shipwrecks around the island make for interesting scuba excursions.
Take a boat from the Fourni harbor to nearby Thymaina island, for a swim at the gorgeous Keramidou beach and a visit to the chapel of Aghios Dimitrios, from where you can enjoy panoramic views of the Fournoi islands.
Get here by boat from Samos or Ikaria.
Tip: Check timetables for the ferry before you head to Samos/Ikaria, or you might get stuck half way.
Kathimerini shipwreck video.
12. PSARA – LOCAL LOBSTER AND WAR STORIES
Approximately 450 people live on this island, west of Chios. Its only settlement, also named Psara, is located on the western side of the island, and carries all the traditional traits of a small Aegean island; narrow cobblestone streets lined with traditional stone houses surround the harbour.
Psara literally means fisherman, and fishing is its biggest industry, so ordering fish and seafood at the tavernas is a must while you’re here. The island is particularly famous for its lobsters.
While you’re here, also visit the house of Kostantinos Kanaris, a great hero of the war of 1821, and the memorial site at Mavri Rahi, on the Paleokastro peninsula on the western side of the harbor – the spot where Psariot warriors sacrificed themselves and took their own lives, refusing capture by the Ottomans in 1824.
Get here by boat from the island of Chios. Chios is about 45 minutes by plane from Athens and 6.5 το 9.5 hours by ferry boat from Piraeus.
Tip: Do not leave before having some lobster pasta.
13. LIPSI – OVER 20 LITTLE ISLETS
Located between the islands of Patmos and Leros, this Dodecanese island may be tiny, but connections are very good, as it’s a natural stop for the ferries connecting the larger islands. It is surrounded by over twenty, even smaller, islets, creating a small archipelago of the same name as the main island. It’s a paradise for swimming and snorkeling lovers with countless coves and sandy beaches to discover. They’re best reached by boat.
The islets provide refuge for seals and turtles, and it’s not uncommon to spot dolphins here as well. While there are hiking routes on the island, you won’t want to go far from the sea.
When you return from your swimming excursions in the evening, excellent sea food is served at the tavernas in the harbor.
Get here with the ferries connecting the Dodecanese islands.
Tip: Try the popular local sweet wine.
14. DONOUSA – WALK EVERYWHERE
You can actually walk everywhere on this tiny island, partly due to its size (only about 13 square kilometers) and partly thanks to the excellent hiking trails, which are restored by volunteers every spring. By following the trails, which take you past all the island’s sights, villages, and beaches, you won’t miss a thing.
Just about a kilometer from the port in the island’s capital of Stavros, you will find Kedros Bay, one of the most beautiful places to swim in the island. Snorkeling and diving is good here, as you will easily spot a shipwreck from the second world war, the German warship Orion, which lies just meters from the shore.
The pretty village of Mersini, which is great for relaxing strolls and a meal, can also be combined with a great swim at the secluded sandy beach Livadia. As you come across the archeological site of Vathi Limenari, stop to see the remnants of ancient tombs and architectural structures. A nice pebble beach is nearby. Beware however, that while the island is small, the trails are tiring in the heat, so don’t expect to see everything in one day.
Get here with ferry boat from Piraeus (6 hours and 45 minutes), or via Naxos. Get to Naxos with ferry boat (5 hours and 10 minutes) or plane (40 minutes).
Tip: Visit the village of Kalotaritissa, which has an excellent traditional taverna and three beautiful beaches.