The whole region thing was really confusing to me at first. I couldn’t pronounce any of the names, I couldn’t understand why the islands were grouped the way they were, and I couldn’t understand why it mattered for my trip planning purposes. But while seemingly arbitrary, the regions do have unifying characteristics. And for the most part, ferry travel is easier and quicker within these geographic regions. You’ll also find that every travel guide, from Fodor’s to Lonely Planet, uses these geographic region names, so just go ahead and learn them. It will make your trip planning easier.
The 7 Geographic Regions of the Greek Islands:
Which Region Should You Visit?
So how do you choose from over 80 islands? Each region and each island has its own distinct vibe. Do you want deserted beaches or a glam party scene? Traditional villages or a luxury resort? Forested coves or wide sandy beaches? Start exploring by reading about the different regions below. Or browse the lists of Greek islands above, grouped by geographic region. There’s also an interactive map of the Greek islands at the bottom of the page, color coded by geographic region. Both options take you to individual island pages as well as regional pages – with image galleries and travel information.
Ionian IslandsWest of mainland Greece in the Ionian Sea, the Ionians are known for their dramatic limestone cliffs, pine forests, deep cyan waters, and Venetian and British influences. Zakynthos and Corfu are the package tour party islands while Ithaca (Ithaki) and Erikoussa are low-key islands not on the main tourist circuit.
Crete is a large island at the southern edge of the Greek Islands. The island and surrounding islets is its own geographic region. Crete was the center of Minoan civilization and is a history buff’s paradise, with several archeology sites and a 4,000 year-old palace. A mountain range runs through the middle of the island, creating valleys, gorges, rivers and agricultural plateaus. Although its capital, Heraklion, has over half a million people, parts of the island are still quite pastoral. The vibe for travelers runs the gamut from mega luxury resorts and charters to rustic family-owned properties in the interior. If you’re looking for warm waters in the shoulder season, you’ll want to head here, where it’s possible to swim mid-May through October. Crete has A LOT of really cute homes to rent through Airbnb and Home Away/VRBO…stone cottages with red ceramic tile roofs and wood shutters. I’ve compiled a list of vacation rentals here. —read more here
Cyclades This is the largest and most famous of the archipelagos. The Cyclades Islands are known for their arid, ochre landscapes with white cube architecture. This is where you’ll find Santorini and Mykonos, as well as islands you’ve never heard of, like Donoussa and Kimolos. There are a lot of islands in this region! If you’re dreaming of island hopping, this would be the easiest region to cruise around and explore.
Sporades This small archipelago in the north is known for its pine forests and wildlife. You can literally smell the pine forests from the ferry as you approach the islands. The largest marine park in Europe is in the waters surrounding Alonissos Island. The island of Skyros is a favorite of mine. Part of the island is forested and green, and the other half has more of a Cycladic landscape, open and arid. Skyros is also home to the rare endangered breed of horse, the Skyrian pony. Skopelos Island is famous for being the Mama Mia! island, and is a romantic, gorgeous place, although there were too many restaurants advertising “British Beans on Toast Breakfast” for my taste. Skiathos is the party island, and although it’s also very beautiful, your ferry ride there will likely have tourists pounding beer at 9 in the morning. –read more here
Northern Aegean Islands Like the name suggests, this archipelago is in the northern part of the Aegean Sea. The islands are closely related, culturally and geographically, to Turkey. The archipelago has both large populated islands like Chios, and artist’s paradise islands, like Lesvos.
Dodecanese Islands, located in the eastern part of the Aegean Sea, south of the N. Aegean Islands and close to Turkey. There are many islands in this archipelago, making it a great place to island hop, and you can find both luxury resorts and traditional accommodations here.