So you think you’ve done the Greek islands because you’ve ticked off Santorini and Mykonos? Think again. Head off the tourist trail to discover the lesser-known lovelies of the Cyclades, where you can enjoy near-deserted beaches, friendly neighbourhood tavernas, pretty towns and wild sun-kissed hiking trails without another soul in sight. Just don’t tell anyone we told you.
Fancy a trip island-hopping around Greece? Our eight-day small-group adventure starts in Athens, then visits Milos and Naxos before finishing on Santorini for that iconic sunset snap.
Overlooked for neighbouring hotspots Santorini and Mykonos, Koufonisia has all the charms of its world-famous neighbours without the influx of tourists and cruise ships. Koufonisia is technically three islands, including the uninhabited Kato Koufonisi and Keros, but all ferries arrive at the tranquil Ano Koufonisi. Base yourself there for its golden sandy beaches, natural sea caves, hiking trails and upscale restaurants, and pop to the other two for day trips if you’re really craving seclusion.
In Greek mythology, Dionysus, god of wine and pleasure, is said to have hidden Ariadne from Theseus on this remote island in the Small Eastern Cyclades. East of Naxos and north of Amorgos, it’s still the ideal place to get away from it all with just over 100 residents in four tiny villages. Visit for empty beaches, glittering emerald-green waters and traditional white houses as picture-perfect as those Santorini is known for, but without the hordes of Instagrammers posing outside. Explore by boat if you can to visit sea caves including Fokospilia, named after the seals that shelter there.
A little-known secret, Anafi is one of the least visited islands in the Cyclades despite being just 22km (14mi) from Santorini. Greek mythology claims the island emerged from the bottom of the sea to give shelter to the Argonauts, and its wild natural beauty, rocky hillsides and turquoise waters still feel like a sight for sore eyes some 3,000 years later.
At first glance, the small, picture-perfect island of Ios could be its neighbour Santorini. White buildings tumble down a hillside dotted with blue-domed churches, cobbled streets wind through traditional towns and the golden sunsets are enough to stop anyone in their tracks. Yet unlike Santorini, you can have the place to yourself, hiking trails to hilltop towns, discovering deserted beaches or heading away from the coast to explore the countryside. Said to be the birthplace of Homer’s mother and his final resting place, the island has become increasingly popular in July and August, so avoid the busiest months if you prefer solitude.
The tiny island of Kimolos is a godsend for anyone searching for peace and quiet. Just next to Milos, this volcanic island is almost entirely overlooked by tourists but offers both sandy and pebbly beaches, a clutch of museums and churches and the traditional town of Chorio where tavernas spill into sunlit squares populated only by locals. Go for a day trip from Milos even if you’re not staying to glimpse the real Greece without the crowds.
Another pocket-sized island squeezed between Naxos and Ios in the Small Eastern Cyclades, Iraklia feels like stumbling into an idyllic time gone by. Narrow streets snake through the island’s only two villages, while fuchsia bougainvillea blooms at every turn and olive groves carpet hillsides perfect for hiking. Discover Venetian fortifications and bubbling hot springs, or snorkel to spy eerie shipwrecks in crystal-clear waters.
If you’re all partied out from Mykonos, head to Syros for some well-earned me-time. Once an important trade and industrial centre in the 19th century, it’s bigger than many of the overlooked Cyclades islands, but you’ll still be hard-pushed to find another tourist. Instead, take in the island’s ornate Venetian architecture, time-trapped cobbled streets, pavement tavernas and gloriously sheltered beaches all on your own.
Chios is a Greek island like no other. With an extraordinary history dating back to Neolithic times, it claims to be the birthplace of Homer; it is also the world’s only commercial producer of mastic and is famous for its unusual fortified villages. There’s a beach to suit your every whim, too, from the black sand of Mavra Volia to the white sand wonder of Elinta or the historic Daskalopetra, where it is said Homer used to sit on a stone and teach.
A reward for the intrepid, Samothraki can only be reached by ferry from the mainland port of Alexandroupoli, which discourages the majority of Greek island hoppers from discovering this beautiful natural wonder. Those that do can enjoy one of the highest mountain ranges in the Aegean, secret waterfalls, cool clear pools for swimming, natural hot springs and curved white beaches that wouldn’t look out of place in the Caribbean.
It’s not difficult to understand why Luc Besson chose to shoot part of his iconic film The Big Blue in Amorgos. Taking at least six hours to reach by ferry from Athens, this Cyclades stunner is far removed from the island-hopping trail so you can take your time enjoying its deserted beaches, ancient ruins, meandering mountain trails and cliff-top monastery without interruption.
If you’re short on time, join our five-day Mini Trip to Athens and Serifos – and visit this low-key island without the tourist crowds.
Holidaying in Greece on a budget? Read the Culture Trip guide to the most affordable Greek islands that you can visit. Alternatively, check out the best Greek islands that you can fly directly to.
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