For those looking to explore a side of Greece most visitors don't get to see and take a trip to an unknown Greek island summer destination, we recommend the following five options, for you to experience Greece like a local!
Greece is a country that has more than 5000 islands and islets floating in the seas, surrounding its mainland. With more than 200 of them inhabited, there is a wide range of options capable to satisfy even the most demanding traveler. In this article, we aim to introduce you to some of the less-known Greek islands that promise you a travel experience of a lifetime.
The port of Paxos, Gaios - credits: aa-charter.com.com
Located at the western part of Greece, in the Ionian Sea, Paxoi consists of two main islands (Paxos and Antipaxos) along with some other, uninhabited islets. The main port lies at the largest island of Paxos and it is reachable either from the port of Igoumenitsa or from Corfu. For those traveling from Athens, there are buses that make the trip to Paxoi in case you don't have a car of your own. Unlike the popular, bustling island of Corfu, Paxoi are characterized by their tranquil atmosphere, the seclusion of a small island and many wonderful beaches for you to choose from. In ancient times, people believed that the islands of Paxoi were originally connected to Corfu until god Poseidon struck the end of the island with his trident to create an island-retreat for his beloved wife Amphitrite. Despite its small size, many significant events in Greek history took place there, such as the naval battle of Paxos between the Greeks and the Illyrians in 229 BC. After Byzantine times, the island was continuously attacked by pirates, seized by Crusaders, and included in the Venetian rule in the 14th century. Paxoi were ceded to the rest of Greece in 1864 just like the rest of the Heptanese Islands.
By the time you reach Paxoi, you will find yourselves at the small port of Gaios, which according to tradition took its name from the pupil of Apostle Paul who introduced Christianity to the island. Spare some time to walk around the picturesque village of Gaios with its characteristic Italianate architecture, common to this part of Greece. For those that want to have the next step, swimming to the small island of St. Nicholas is something you should definitely not miss. Just 50 meters away from Gaios, the islet of St. Nicholas stands as the guardian of the port, ensuring its security. Appropriately, Paxians dedicated it to St. Nicholas, who according to Christianity is also the patron saint of sailors. At the highest point of the island, you are going to explore the castle of St. Nicholas, once overlooking the area of the port. It was built by Adam San Ippolito in 1423, to protect the Paxians from pirate raids and the continuous attempts of the Ottoman fleet to control the island. In 1814, the castle fell under the rule of the British Empire, up until the unification of the Heptanese to the New Greek State.
Within the port of Gaios, you will find the charming Museum of Paxoi, a neoclassical building hosting antiquities from prehistoric and classical times, to historical manuscripts and artifacts of the WWII. Enjoy your stay at Paxoi, a densely forested island offering you the chance to swim in emerald waters, explore caves, hike to some spectacular locations and lose track of time in the most relaxing environment. Do not miss the chance to pay a visit to Antipaxos with its 20 inhabitants and enjoy some premium local wine brands close to the seaside.
Symi or Syme is located at the southeastern part of Greece in the Aegean Sea, next to the island of Rhodes, less than 8 km away from the shores of Turkey. A jewel of the Dodecanese islands, Symi is thought to be the birthplace of Charites (Graces), the ancient Greek deities of charm, beauty, nature, human creativity, and fertility. The island is accessible by ferry from the port of Piraeus or from the nearby islands. Symi is surely a unique island in Greece with interesting architecture, stunning natural beauty, and charming beaches. Arriving at the port of Gialos, you will witness first hand the neoclassical architecture of the houses, painted with vivid colors, contributing to the particular aesthetic standards of Symi. The economic boost of the 19th century with the formation of a middle class that surpassed in wealth even the neighboring Rhodes and the interest of the Symians in trading is evident throughout the island. Large houses following the Neoclassical architectural trend, with influences from Marseille, Trieste, and Athens, are scattered throughout the port and the main settlements of the island. Do not miss the chance to visit the Castle of Symi just above the port. A fortified location since ancient times, today’s visible ruins come from the 15th century and the time of the Hospitallers Knights.
Nowadays, Symi proves to be an up and coming tourist destination which offers a unique summer experience. With a vast history, beautiful villages and towns, lots of activities for every traveler and dozens of beaches for every taste, perhaps you should consider the island of the Graces as your next Greek destination.
Psarra,Chios - credits: el.wikipedia.org
Some miles west of the island of Chios, there is the tiny island of Psara, a small island but with an enormous significance for Greece. Even a whole neighborhood of Athens, Psirri, is named after this small island. Inhabited since prehistoric times, life in Psara had its ups and downs until the 16th century when the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman II the Magnificent, changed everything. He attacked and pillaged the island with his fleet, capturing and enslaving all the inhabitants of the island, resulting in its abandonment. He later on relocated Ottomans from different parts of the Empire on the island but quickly Greeks from Thessaly, Epirus and Chios became again the dominant ethnic group of Psara.
During the 17th century, the last Ottoman landowners left Psara, making it again a Greek island. Its inhabitants quickly involved in really profitable activities of that time, mainly in trading. Many Psarians found their way to different courts of Europe, collecting money and creating a significant fortune and legacy. One of the most famous benefactors of the New Greek State was John Varvakis, originating from this tiny island and responsible for building the Central Market of Athens. Despite its small size, the island contributed determinately during the War of Greek Independence in 1821. The inhabitants relied mostly on their naval power and experience, to tackle the Ottoman fleet and army in many battles. One of the greatest heroes of the War of Independence, Konstantinos Kanaris came from Psara among many others. In 1824, the island suffered from second total destruction by the Ottoman navy. Then, the protectors of the castle courageously sacrificed themselves in the name of freedom.
Today, the island stands as a symbol of virtue and bravery, loved by its people and the rest of Greece. Do not miss the chance to visit Psara, dive into its history, realize its importance for modern Greek mentality and wander around its small picturesque town. Psara is also an ideal destination for trekking-lovers, those enjoying wild nature, and long-stretched beaches offering seclusion and tranquillity. Choose to have a small trip around the island by a local boat, discover locations not accessible on foot and sail to the islet of Antipsara a few miles away.
Located between the islands of Kos and Tilos, the small circular island of Nisyros belongs to the Dodecanese islands region at the eastern part of Greece. Nisyros’ shape gives away its important feature. It is a volcano, still active with a huge caldera of about three to four km wide. According to ancient Greek mythology, Nisyros was formed after Poseidon, during the fight between the Olympian Gods and the Giants, cut off a piece of nearby Kos and threw it on giant Polybotes to prevent his escape. The island is mentioned by Homer in his Iliad as well and has a continuous habitation since antiquity.
Reaching Nisyros is quite a task. During summer months, there is a connection to the port of Piraeus, but the whole journey is gonna take you more than 12 hours. The best way to get there is by plane to the nearby islands of Kos or Rhodes and then hop on the ferry that will take you to this unspoiled destination. For those that want to meet the ancient past of the island, a stop at the settlement of Mandraki is mandatory. There you can find traces of the classical past of Nisyros and probe a bit deeper into the island’s history by visiting the small but wonderful archaeological museum. For nature-lovers, the volcano itself creates landscapes of unique beauty waiting for you to discover them. There is a wide range of beaches as well, beautiful and secluded, offering you the chance to relax and feel in the energy of the island. Do not waste more time and look for Nisyros island, an option that won’t let you down!
Perhaps the most obscure of the presented choices, Kasos is the southernmost island of the Dodecanese region. Getting there is perhaps the hardest thing about your trip if you choose to take the ferry. The journey is going to last approximately 24 hours if you start from the port of Piraeus. Luckily, the island has an airport so taking the plane and reaching Kasos in an hour or so, can prove to be a wise decision.
Kasos is perhaps one of the most unspoiled and authentic destinations you can actually get to. There are five main settlements on the island with the one of Polis and the port bearing the ancient ruins of the past. If you choose Kasos as your summer destination, the numerous beaches of the island, most of them pristine and forgotten promise you the rawest island-experience you will ever get. Do not miss the chance to explore most of them, dive into the culture of Kasos and let this place forgotten in time, enchant you with its mesmerizing, almost primitive beauty.
From the Ionian Sea to the eastern borders of Greece to Turkey, the Greek seas are full of surprises that need more than a lifetime to meet them. In case you are looking something quite different this summer, have a look at the choices listed above, plan your own trip to one of them, or check out one of our Greece tours and our Greek Island Hopping guide.