Scattered across the Aegean Sea off the coast of Turkey, the far-flung northeastern Aegean Islands are probably Greece’s best-kept secrets. Featuring stunning beauty and virtually untouched by mass tourism, these hard-to-reach islands offer visitors a glimpse into the authentic heart of Greece and will captivate you with their mythological origins.
Located off the coast of Turkey, Chios is also known as the mastic island, thanks to the presence of mastic-producing trees dotting the landscape, and boasts a rich history and culture. Vestiges of the Venetian and Ottoman rule pepper the island, while the collection of Mastihohoria, fortified villages dating from the 14th century, forms the center of mastiha production.
Make sure to visit Mesta, which is home to a few medieval treasures, as well as Pyrgi, known for its buildings adorned with geometrical patterns. Chios, the birthplace of Homer, is a magnificent island where you won’t hear many foreign languages but will have the opportunity to discover a place where myths, history, and traditions reign.
Ikaria, the island where people forget to die, is undeniably one of the most popular destinations in the Northeastern Aegean Sea. Often included among the Dodecanese islands, Ikaria boasts not only stunning beaches lapped by turquoise waters but also a verdant interior where freshwater streams provide a refreshing respite for exploring wanderers. Filled with character and traditions, Ikaria is also a popular destination among locals thanks to its many panigyria, traditional feasts where entire villages celebrate the local saint.
Home of the father of mathematics, Pythagoras, and philosopher Epicurus, Samos is rich in mythology. The island is thought to be the birthplace of Hera, sister and wife of Zeus, goddess of marriage and women in general. But if you find yourself on the island, you will find much more than myths—you’ll discover endless beauty. The island has a tranquil atmosphere and boasts a few archaeological wonders, including the temple dedicated to Hera. Spend a day on the beach, or hike the green inland where you will come across old monasteries, picturesque villages and ample vineyards where the world-famous sweet wine of Samos is produced.
It may take some effort to reach Thassos (also spelled Thasos), but the island instantly seduces its visitors, who often return again and again. A little green jewel off the coast of Kavala, Thassos is perfect for a couple’s getaway far from the crowds or a nature-filled family vacation. The island is home to a collection of inland villages with traditional architecture, while the vegetation and landscape offer you a place to escape your hectic, daily life. Hiking, biking and water sports are the main draws, while a lazy day on a beach, whether isolated or not, is a must for every traveler.
The third largest island in the archipelago, Lesvos, or Mytilini, is another great island worth exploring if you want to avoid more popular destinations. The birthplace of poet Sappho, known for her ambiguous poems on women, gave its name to the word lesbian, which has made Lesvos a top destination among LGBTQ tourists. But the island is also known for having the best ouzo, notably in Plomari, while the thermal springs around the island are a perfect excuse to pamper yourself in a spa. The beautiful village of Molyvos will enchant Instagrammers, while the local beaches with their Caribbean vibes will draw anyone looking for a place to sit back and relax.
Nestled between Lesvos and Thassos, Limnos is ideal for those who love beauty but prefer to stay away from crowded beaches. The eighth largest island in Greece, Limnos is known in mythology as the birthplace of Hephaestus. The island boasts spectacular landscapes, including waterfalls, volcanic rocks, and even a small desert. Its beaches are popular for water and wind sports, while the local gastronomy will seduce foodies.
One of the nation’s best-kept secrets for a long time, the island of Samothraki (Samothrace), where the magnificent statue of the Winged Victory was discovered, is a forested island that deserves to be on your travel list. It will charm you with its postcard-perfect beaches and mountainous interior, complete with plenty of waterfalls—excellent for nature lovers. A perfect getaway destination where time seems to stand still, Samothraki is undeniably a great island should you want to enjoy total relaxation away from the crowds.