Travel / Travel Guides

7 under-the-radar Greek islands to visit this European summer

A friend’s birthday in Crete a few years ago proved to be the gateway trip to my lifelong obsession with the Greek islands. I’d only ever visited heavyweight party islands like Corfu and Ios as a late teen (booze cruises and late-night gyros hardly count), and upon returning to Europe to live in 2019, I momentarily forgot there was a world outside Italy to explore in the summer months. I’ve since realised the error of my ways. 

The Greek islands have all the makings of a perfect holiday: crystal-clear, blue waters; quaint villages; hikes through ruggedly beautiful nature; perfectly simple, fresh food; crisp house wine that is sold at tavernas by the kilo and only marginally more expensive than water; and tanned elderly inhabitants who congregate in shaded town squares to swap stories in the afternoon heat. Not to mention the heavenly trifecta that is an early morning swim, spanakopita and a freddo cappuccino. 

While Santorini and Mykonos attract the masses every year, there’s a world of unspoiled timelessness to be explored on lesser-visited, out-of-the-way islands. From the otherworldly peaks of Amorgos to the glass-like waters of Koufonisia, here’s the Dodecanese and Cyclades islands to keep in mind when planning your European summer… 



1. Sifnos, Cyclades 

Sifnos was one of the first islands I visited and one of the few I’m willing to break my ‘no-return’ policy for. (There’s 227 inhabited Greek islands to see in this life, I can’t be wasting time). The culinary gem of the Cyclades, Sifnos is known as much for its flavourful and innovative take on traditional Greek cuisine as it is for its atypical Cycladian architecture and rugged natural beauty. Local chef Nicholas Tselementes is chiefly responsible for the island’s foodie reputation, having returned from upscale kitchens in New York and Vienna to write Greece’s first cookbook in 1910. Cantina, Omega-3, Bostani Bar and Nus epitomise this experimental take on Greek food, while To Steki offers a more classic taverna experience right on Platis Gialos beach. Don’t leave the island without trying Revitháda (baked chickpeas), a Sifniot staple traditionally cooked overnight in communal ovens each Saturday to fill hungry bellies after church the next day. 

If you can drag yourself away from the table, there’s plenty of swimming to be done on the island, too. Sifnos is where my niche bathing preferences were born: jumping off smooth, flat rocks into impossibly deep azure blue waters with a white-washed, blue-domed chapel in the background. (There are 360 churches on Sifnos, one of the 9 taxi drivers on the island tells us, the best ones to swim next to are: Chrisopigi, Seven Martyrs and Panagia Poulati). Cheronissos and Vathi are standout beaches if sandy dips are more your style, and both are ideal places to flop and drop all day thanks to their beachfront tavernas, Cheronissos Fish Tavern and The Tsikali, respectively. 


To Eat: Cantina, Omega-3, Nus, The Tsikali, To Steki

To Drink: Loggia Wine Bar; Botzi 93 Sifnos; Way Cup Roastery
To Swim: Chrisopigi; Seven Martyrs; Panagia Poulati; Cheronissos; Vathi 

To Do: Walk from Platis Gialos to Kastro; Stock up on sweets at Theodorou's Sweet Shop; Take in the sunset at Kastro’s Loggia Wine Bar; Pick up some pottery to immortalise your trip from Ceramic Psaraftis or Atsonios Ceramics; Get lost in the winding streets of Artemonas and Apollonia; Watch the mesmerising sea-meets-sky views from your balcony at the elegant Verina Astra 

To Stay: Verina Astra



2. Leros, Dodecanese  

Part of the fun (and at times, frustrations) of island-hopping in Greece is navigating the jigsaw puzzle that is the ferry system. That is how friends and I found ourselves on Leros, a tiny island in the Dodecanese, geographically closer to Turkey than it is mainland Greece, and architecturally more like Italy than its neighbouring islands. It’s a short 45-minute ferry ride from Patmos, from where we’d just come, and Kalymnos island is so close you could almost reach out and touch it. Leros feels like a world away from both. 

The island has its fair share of lively local tavernas, most of which are located at Panteli Beach and offer feet-in-the-sand dining, however the culinary pièce de résistance is the family-owned Mylos Fish Restaurant & Terrace Bar. Eating here merits a visit to the island itself alone. Run by two brothers, the restaurant serves up an elevated take on taverna food and overlooks the calm blue waters of the Aegean sea, a photogenic windmill vying for attention in the foreground. Book an early seating and you’ll be rewarded with astonishing sunset views. Overlapping shades of dusty pinks and violent oranges appear as if exploding across the horizon; take them in as you feast on fish so fresh you probably shared a swim with that afternoon. The island’s Italian influence is best showcased in the restaurant’s spaghetti alla bottarga.

Leros is also home to Agia Marina, one of the most picturesque and remote beaches in the Greek islands. The path to the beach succumbed to a landslide a few years back, so unless you’re a fan of forging your own track through spiky shrubs and over cliff faces under the scorching Mediterranean sun, the best way to get there is to catch a boat from the nearby Dios Liskaria. The captain speaks zero English yet exudes buckets of charm. Important to know on a practical level: he also mans the grill at Restaurant Vareladiko, and so shouldn’t be relied upon too strictly to collect you at the agreed return time in case his services are required elsewhere. We weren’t phased by the extra hour or so that we spent on the beach waiting for him to finish the mid-afternoon rush — it truly is paradise — but good to keep in mind when packing snacks, water, and, most crucially, sunscreen (there’s barely any shade on the beach). 


To Eat: Mylos Fish Restaurant & Terrace Bar; Prima Plora; StisAnnas; Artemis Taverna; Ta Kroupia 

To Drink: Harris Bar; Zephyros 

To Swim: Agia Marina; Panteli Beach; Paralia Agia Kioura; 

To Do: Hire a quad bike and zip around the entire island, exploring unmarked beaches as you go; Walk up to the Windmills Pandeli from Panteli Beach; Learn about the complicated history from a local 

To Stay: Archontiko Angelou 



3. Amorgos, Cyclades 

Amorgos has a special energy, with its rugged mountain peaks and untouched authenticity. Its magic lies in the combination of wild elemental beauty, including many perfect swim spots (refer to above preferences), and bohemian-chic atmosphere, from the bustling Chora to the tree-shaded bars of Paralia Egiali. It’s the perfect island for naturists with a hearty appetite for good food and adventure. 

When I visited in 2022, friends and I decided to split our 10-day stay between two areas, slicing up the island into two mini trips so we could see as much as possible without spending too much time on the road. I was clearly feeling brave when booking the first Airbnb: a barebones dwelling in the tiny town of Vroutsi, home to only a handful of residents and a sickly donkey who would welcome each new day with laboured grunts at the base of my bedroom window. Spontaneity and a sense of discovery are hard to come by in the Instagram and TikTok-era of travel, yet this is exactly what we found in the anachronistic Vroutsi, where the slow rhythms of village life are on full display—from YiaYia’s shelling beans on their porch of an evening to the tribe of shaggy goats we’d encounter on our ambles down to Ancient Arkesini. It was unanimously agreed by all that the town’s mini market-slash-restaurant turns out the best hot chips in the world. (On reflection, it is possible that our judgement was impaired by the litres of house white wine we consumed during the 1.5 hour wait for them to arrive). Our second hotel, Pano Gitonia, was perched above Paralia Egiali beach, offering incredible value for money, charming interiors, and sweeping views out to neighbouring Donousa, best appreciated over sunset beers and oregano-flavoured chips.  


To Eat: Tranzistoraki; Mouros Taverna; Moschoudaki Cafe Restaurant; Limani Restaurant; Prekas 

To Drink: Botilia; Jazzmin; Seladi; Disco The Que 

To Swim: Agia Anna Beach; Mouros Beach; Nisida Gramvousa (You can catch a boat over from Kalotaritissa Beach); Nikouria Beach 

To Do: Hike! (The island is a hiker’s paradise with well-marked paths, our favourite walk was from Paralia Egiali to Stavros Holy Church); Hire a quad bike and beach hop, making sure to check out the Shipwreck of Olympia; Walk to the beautiful 10th-century cliffside Panagia Hozoviotissa Monastery; Sip on a freddo under the dappled shade of a tree in the Chora 

To Stay: Pano Gitonia; Vorina Ktismata 



4. Astypalea, Dodecanese  

Astypalea, known as the ‘Butterfly of the Aegean’, is an alluring mix of rugged remoteness and low-key elegance. Here, mountains are strewn with wild saffron, decision-making is reduced to whether to pick lobster spaghetti or grilled fish for dinner (why not both!) and nights tend to culminate with a cocktail in one of the winding, cobblestone alleyways of the Chora. When I visited, each day on the island would begin with a swim and coffee at Paralia Livadi (or the nudist Tzanaki Beach if we were willing to venture a bit further), before a steep climb back up to our hotel, Kalderimi Traditional Houses, for a delicious homemade breakfast with local baked treats and the kind of expansive sapphire blue views I mentally return to during the long winter months in Amsterdam. Within easy walking distance of both Livadi Beach and the Chora, the family-run hotel is the perfect base for laidback days spent exploring the island, and the embodiment of quintessential Greek hospitality: generous, friendly and warm. 

If you’re travelling with a willing and fearless driver, hire a 4x4 and take the treacherous track down to Kaminakia — you’ll be compensated with a picturesque pebble bay, its gin-clear waters flanked on either side by dramatic cliffs. An ideal spot for big leisurely swims and Aperol spritzes under the shade, and a sweet reminder that we’re all tiny specks in a big, beautiful world. If your nerves aren’t built of steel, Paralia Steno and Plakes are easier to reach and almost as lovely. One of my favourite things about the island is that on nearly all our walks and drives, the Chora would emerge from around each bend, its white-washed beauty made all the more striking when bathed in sunset hues.  


To Eat: Antikastro; Almyra; Astifagia; Linda’s; Astropelos; Tásos 

To Drink: Apanemiá; Castro Bar 

To Swim: Kaminakia; Paralia Vatses; Paralia Livadi; Tzanaki Beach; Paralia Steno 

To Do: Wander around the shops in the Chora; Test your resolve driving to far-flung beaches; Take the ferry to neighbouring islands, Kounoupi and Koutsomiti 

To Stay: Kalderimi Traditional Houses; Saluti Da Stampalia



5. Syros, Cyclades 

Syros is both the capital of, and an anomaly among, the Cyclades — the ideal spot for those seeking a change from the traditional white-and-blue architecture characteristic of the island group. Arriving by ferry into the 19th-century city of Ermoupoli, you’ll instead be greeted with colourful, neoclassical buildings, palatial mansions and marble piazzas. Referred to as the Queen of the Cyclades, the town owes its grandeur to a wealthy trading past, having once rivalled Athens in international maritime commerce. These days, the history-rich island is home to an artistic crowd, with Aristide Hotel at the centre of it all. Take a break from soaking up all the culture with a dip at the urban Asteria Beach, followed by a cocktail on the hotel’s rooftop or at Theosis Bar. The latter is located in Ana Syros, a quaint, cobbled-together village perched high up on the hill behind Hermoupolis. 

I split my time between Ermoupoli and Kini Beach. The best beaches on the island require an easy hike to get to, my favourite were Delfini and Paralia Armesos. There’s a few notable sights to be seen on the island—the Town Hall, the Apollo Theatre (a replica of Milan’s La Scala), San George's Cathedral—but if I’m being real with myself, long taverna lunches are my preferred way to pass the day. Achladi Restaurant is the place to go if you want to eat right on the water, with resident ducks and geese in concert with the waiter, waddling between tables and being shooed back into the shallow water as you feast. Allou Yallou at Kini Beach offers more upmarket Greek fare with spectacular views. For something low-key, the taverna next door, whose name translates to ‘two cicadas on the tamarisk tree’, features all the classics, cooked to perfection.


To Eat: Achladi Restaurant; Dyo Tzitzikia Sta Armyrikia; Allou Yialou; Ousyra; Laoutari Kafreneio; Plakostroto; Mazi 

To Drink: Aristide Hotel; Theosis Bar 

To Swim: Paralia Delfini; Paralia Armesos; Kini Beach 

To Do: Try local sweets like Loukoumi (Turkish Delight); Beat the heat with a gelato at Django Gelato Syros; Wander around Ano Syros and Vapori; Pick up a jar of capers to take home 

To Stay: Aristide Hotel; Syrou Lotos Apartments 



6. Patmos, Dodecanese 

Patmos is the holy island that attracts the Paris Fashion Week crowd in droves. Each country seems to favour a different island—Rhodes is full of German visitors, the British don’t mind a bit of Thessaloniki—but in this tiny, spiritual island, where John the Apostle wrote the Book of Revelations, it’s chic Parisians who reign supreme. No more apparent is this than in the main square of the Chora in August, where well-dressed, well-heeled visitors smoke cigarettes, drink cocktails and (I can only assume) gossip the night away. We were happy to discover the island’s je ne sais quoi can be enjoyed by non-French tourists, too. 

Having forgotten to book a car in advance and arriving on the island to discover they were prohibitively expensive to hire, we were at the mercy of taxis during our stay. Honestly, I recommend it. Of the 12 drivers on the island, we never encountered the same one twice, and they were all excellent conversationalists who imparted historical knowledge and helpful tips onto us. They also all drove to varying degrees of lunacy that made us glad not to be braving the roads ourselves. One such hair-raising Patmos Drift adventure saw us hurtling towards Paralia Kampos, where we spent the day swimming and sipping on freddo’s, before walking inland to Ela!, a farm-to-table restaurant in a stunning setting, which serves local and imported natural wines. Despite only being a 15-minute walk, we saw both a man machete his way through a field, and hundreds of goats being herded up a mountain by a farmer in traditional dress. Also of note on the island: the 30-minute hike to Psili Ammos is absolutely worth it for a swim in the turquoise waters and a long lunch at the beachfront taverna. 


To Eat: Livadi Geranou; Psili Ammos Greek Tavern; Benetos; Ela!; Giagko’s Pantheon; Ktima Petra; Trehantiri Taverna 

To Drink: To Thalami; Astivi; Oklacà Restaurant & Bar (not the best service, but the best spot to watch the sunset) 

To Swim: Petra Beach; Paralia Vagia; Livadi Beach; Paralia Didimes; Psili Ammos 

To Do: Get lost in the labyrinth-like streets of Chora; Swim out to Agios Georgis church from Livadi; Watch the sun go down from Paralia Skala 

To Stay: Pagostas



7. Small Cyclades  

The Small Cyclades comprises four islands, three of which I visited and loved—Donousa, Koufonisia and Iraklia—so you’re really getting nine islands for the price of seven with this guide. While each has their own unique character and charm, their compact size and close proximity to each other make them the perfect trio to visit in one go, especially if you’re a laid-back, low-maintenance traveller with a sense of adventure.  

Koufonisia is the most touristic of the three—the island seems to bend to the rhythm of visitors, rather than the other way round. The trade off is really fun sunset bars (our favourite was Sorokos Bar) and boat taxi rides to far-flung beaches (like the neighbouring Kato Koufonisi, where I’d advise you skip the taverna, home to the only bad meal I’ve had in Greece, and head straight to Nero beach where the free-roaming goats will try to steal your packed spanakopita lunch, which you will have purchased earlier that day from Bakery Giorgoula). Koufonisia has the clearest water I’ve seen outside the Caribbean, with my top swim spots being Paralia Finika, Paralia Italida and Paralia Pori. 

From the moment we set foot on Donoussa, the island gives and gives. Loukas, the owner of Makares Donoussa, is there to pick us up from the ferry, taking us to our simple yet elegant accommodation that is so decently-priced we almost feel as if we’re ripping him off. The walk from the hotel to Kedros beach at sunset so beautiful that my jaw quite literally drops. Even though it’s hard to peel yourself away from the main beach, where you can swim out to the horizon or walk up to Yucca for your third coffee of the day, I recommend jumping on a boat to Seal Cove, with its brilliant blue water and technicolour coral, or taking the bus in the direction of Kalotaritissa Beach. There, you have the option of three insanely beautiful bays and the perfect Taverna Mitsos for lunch. After eating simple taverna fare for a month straight, the upmarket ambience and food at Avlidonoussa restaurant near the port makes for a memorable dinner. I probably drink more than I should on Donousa, but it’s hardly my fault when places like Kedros beach bar exist. 

Iraklia feels like going back in time. True happiness is bumping around the island on the public minibus: up to I Drosia for lunch, over to Tourkopigado Beach for a swim, and back to the port town, where ordering one of everything off the menu at Akathi Restaurant feels like the only acceptable way to spend an evening. The tiny island is home to only 148 locals, some of whom appear as recurring characters on our holiday. There’s the Adonis-like figure jumping on the back of a garbage truck while we set out for a run in the morning, later to be spotted swimming at Livadi Beach with his daughter, and then again sipping on a beer at an evening concert in the town’s square. The priest we see in the church courtyard one morning, and then again blessing a cafè near the port the next day. The elderly couple drying figs on their balcony as the sun melts into the horizon in the background. I often fantasise about packing it all in and moving here to document the romantic minutiae of the inhabitants' day-to-day lives. If you can’t find me, now you know where to look.


To Eat: Mixalios Grill House & Finikas in Koufonisia; Avlidonoussa, Taverna Mitsos & Agnanti in Donoussa; Akathi Restaurant & I Drosia in Iraklia 

To Drink: Sorokos & Mylos in Koufonisia; Kedros Beach Bar & Skantzoxoiros in Donoussa; En Lefko in Iraklia 

To Swim: Paralia Finika, Paralia Italida & Paralia Pori in Koufonisia; Livadi & Kalotaritissa in Donoussa; Tourkopigado & Livadi in Iraklia 

To Do: Relax into the slow yet sweet pace of life; Boat taxi to hard-to-reach beaches; Beat the crowds with early morning swims  

To Stay: Apollon in Koufonisia; Makares Apartments in Donoussa; Speires in Iraklia 


Images: Olivia Finch


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