Exploring the Islands of the Northern Aegean

Melina Thalassinou
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Table of Content
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Key Takeaways

  • The Northern Aegean islands offer a peaceful and authentic Greek experience, with beautiful natural scenery, traditional villages, rich history, and delicious cuisine.
  • Despite not being heavily advertised on social media or tourist magazines, the Northern Aegean islands offer unforgettable experiences and memories.
  • Each big and small island in the Northern Aegean complex is distinct and unique, with its own wild beauty and rich heritage.
  • Chios, Ikaria, Lemnos, and Lesvos are four of the most interesting and beautiful islands in the Northern Aegean, each with their own attractions and things to see and do.

The beautiful natural scenery, the crystal clear waters, the traditional villages with stone houses, the rich history, the delectable cuisine,  the dense vegetation, and the forests with the gurgling springs, transform all the Northern Aegean islands into the most ideal holiday destinations for those looking for a peaceful yet quintessentially Greek experience. 

Here, you’ll find islands that are not usually advertised on social media or talked about among people who lean on tourist magazines to find their holiday haven. Regardless of being on the down-low, however, and maybe even because of that, the Northern Aegean islands will offer you everlasting memories and unforgettable moments you will treasure for the rest of your lives. 

The Northern Aegean complex consists of the big islands of Ikaria, Samos, Limnos, Lesvos, Chios, Thasos, andSamothrace, and the small islands of Agios Efstratios, Agios Minas, Antipsara, Thymaina, Oinousses, Samiopoula, Fournoi and Psara.

Despite all of them belonging to the same complex, each big or small island of the northern Aegean is distinctly different from the other one, and today we’re here to reveal the wild beauty and rich heritage of each and every one of them! 

Chios; the most interesting of the north Aegean islands

Daskalopetra, Chios, Greece - credits: Constantinos Iliopoulos/Shutterstock.com

The timeless island of Chios is one of the most popular in the Northeast Aegean, famous for its naval history, shipping development, and the uniquely flavored resin called ‘Chios Mastic’, a product produced only on this island, which comes from Mastic trees and has more properties beneficial to human health than one can count.

According to Greek Mythology, Chios is considered the homeland of Homer, the ancient Greek writer famous for its epic poems that describe the Troy War and the adventures of Odysseus. As a very historically and culturally rich place, in Chios, you can find many museums you can visit, such as the Archaeological, Byzantine, and Maritime Museum, that will help you get insight into the island’s past.

The museums house remarkable collections of artifacts, heirlooms, documents, and other ancient finds that will make all of the island's historical tales, myths, and legends come to life.

The old buildings of Chios in combination with the modern city and the rich vegetation that prevails create a magical setting of calm and relaxation that really captivates the hearts of visitors.

Thankfully, for that reason, Chios has managed to establish an excellent tourist infrastructure. It offers many choices in regard to accommodation, such as hotels, rooms to let, apartments, and studios for any type of holiday you’re after.

chios pixabayChios - credits: pixabay.com

Some of the accommodations are even open all year round, offering the opportunity for visitors to admire the beauties of Chios at any time, even during the off-season months.

On the green island, you will find beautiful sandy coasts ideal for swimming and relaxation. There are also many interesting areas worth visiting, such as Kardamylla with its impressive neoclassical buildings, and Emporios with the beautiful black beach all paved with black pebbles.

For lovers of nature, the area of ​​Mesta is ideal for exploration so that they can appreciate the striking landscapes. What’s more, at a distance of around 37 km from the city of Chios is Volissos, where one can admire the Byzantine castle built by General Belissarios; a sight that is worth both the time and effort. 

If you plan to travel to Chios at Easter, do not forget to visit the seaside village of Vrontado where you will live a unique experience. One of the most intense traditional Easter customs there is "the war with fireworks" that is launched between the quaint villages of Agios Markos and Panagia of Erythiani. Easter in Chios is one of the most impressive in Greece and the show that is connected to it is nothing short of spectacular!

Ikaria; the alternative star of the Greek islands

Nas Beach, Ikaria, Northeastern Aegean Islands, Greece - credits: NDT/Shutterstock.com

Ahh, the place where time stops and anyone who visits returns again and again. Ikaria got its name from the Ikarian Sea that surrounds it. According to Greek mythology, Icarus, the son of Daedalus, a famous architect, craftsman, and artist of ancient years, wanted to fly as high as he could in the sky.

Wanting to make his son’s dream come true, Daedalus constructed wings from feathers and wax for both of them, gifted one pair to his son but warned him to not fly too close to the sun as the wax would melt and the wings would come apart.

Despite agreeing at first, Icarus got too excited and flew too close to the sun, which caused him to fall into the sea and drown. Since then this sea got its name and was named Ikarian Sea.

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Despite the unfortunate death of Icarus and the tragic story that has been associated with the Ikarian Sea, Ikaria is the ultimate mood enhancer. A lusciously vegetated place with beautiful landscapes, wild waters, and a way of life so unique and incredible, that visitors cannot even grasp, Ikaria has in recent years developed into one of the most popular holiday destinations despite its location being almost 8 hours from Athens.

Ikaria is frequented by both young and older crowds who want to have fun and enjoy the authentic and unspoiled landscape. Ikaria’s beaches are magical. In the southern part, you will find the areas of Magganitis and Seychelles while in the northern part, you can visit Armenistis and Gialiskari. A personal favorite, however, is the infamously wild beach of Nas, with big waves and strong winds adding to its mesmerizing vibe.

ikaria Lemonakis Antonis shutterstockIkaria - credits: Lemonakis Antonis/Shutterstock.com

Another interesting spot that is worth visiting is the port of Evdilos which is surrounded by beautiful picturesque bays. With picturesque cafes and traditional taverns scattered across the bay, it is one of the best places you can go to enjoy a meal.

Additionally, Agios Kyrikos is the main port and the island's capital, built amphitheatrically, with beautiful traditional houses and picturesque streets for walks.

Ikaria is also known for its hot springs and thermal baths for this and many visitors come from different parts of the world to Ikaria to swim in its waters and cure their various ailments. The most famous resort for thermal baths is the area Thermes, an ideal place for rest and relaxation in the beauty of nature. 

However, the ultimate reason why people visit Ikaria -except for its natural beauty- is its famous ‘panigiria’, the festivals that celebrate the patron saint of the region they are held at with traditional Greek music, lots of dancing, and large amounts of food. They last from early in the night till almost midday of the next day and they’re an experience everyone should indulge in at least once in their lifetime!


Lemnos, Northern Aegean islands, Greece - credtis: Heracles Kritikos/Shuttestock.com

Lemnos is a place of incredible beauty with wonderful greenery and unique landscape variety. From olive groves to dramatic coastlines, Lemnos serves as travel inspiration even for the most demanding travelers.

Homer mentions in his texts that Lemnos is the home of Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire and metal, which is why, since ancient times, Lemnos has been popular for the quality and talent of its blacksmiths.

The island's capital is Myrina, a city of peace and quiet. The picturesque coves with their soft sandy coasts and the green hills in combination with the arresting villages create a unique setting.

egremni beach pixbayGreek beach - credits: pixabay.com

Travelers arriving in Lemnos should pay a visit to the Archaeological Museum, where remarkable findings from prehistoric times are exhibited. What’s more, they should also consider visiting the island’s castle, an 11th-century Byzantine building, and the Roman Port, which locals refer to as the ‘Roman Glass’.

During the hot summer months, you can enjoy the island's endless beaches with crystal-clear sea seas. Some of our favorites include the great beaches of Riha Nera and Avlona located near the city of Myrina.  

Of course, one cannot forget to visit the areas of Kotsina and Moudros, which were old ports of Lemnos. Once you get there and take in the magical ambiance that prevails, you will immediately understand why Lemnos is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination year after year!


Lesvos, Northeastern Aegean Islands, Greece - credits: Nejdet Duzen/Shutterstock.com

Lesvos -or Mytilene- is one of the largest islands in Greece, of immense natural beauty, and one of the most popular destinations for visitors from all over the world without adopting the cosmopolitan character of the Cyclades.

In Lesvos, everyone who visits can enjoy the magic of nature, the wonderfully lush scenery, the crystal clear waters, and the delicious local cuisine with dished that have a full taste of Greek goodness. Here is a tip if you want to discover Lesvos like a local: The island combines history, beauty, and tradition that you can help but stumble upon, even by accident.

Lesvos is allegedly the homeland of Pittakos, one of the seven wise men of antiquity. The island's history is also connected with the story of the well-known poets Alkaios and Sapphous who were supposedly a couple -despite rumors wanting Sapphous to be the first lesbian of antiquity- and praised their love through poetry.

The capital of the island is Mytilene, a typical example of tradition and culture, where you will find beautiful stone mansions. Mytilene is home to the famous Nobel Prize-winning poet Odysseus Elytis and the famous Greek writer Stratis Myrivilis.

mediterranean pixabayGreece - credits: pixabay.com

One of the most popular areas of the island is Plomari, which is known for the traditional ouzo it produces, Thermi with its natural thermal springs, and the popular monastery of Agios Rafael.

For swimming, do not neglect to visit the unique beach of Vatera, which is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the Mediterranean. Another area worth visiting on the island is Molyvos or Mythimna as it is known today and is the most well-preserved traditional village of Lesvos.

There, you will find an impressive Byzantine castle and many picturesque streets to stroll through. In recent years, Molyvos has become an "art colony" as artists from all over the world arrive in the area.

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Other interesting areas are Sygri with the beautiful fossilized forest, Eressos, and Kalloni is known for its delicious sardines that the locals fish in the homonymous bays. Another favorite is Agiassos, which is built on a green slope at the foot of Mount Olympus and is famous for its traditional embroidery and textiles. Additionally, the village of Vareia is the birthplace of the popular painter Theofilos, whose works are housed in the Teriad Museum. 

With many major Greek personalities choosing Lesvos as their home, the irresistible charm of the island is undeniable. Whether you want to call it by its official name, Lesvos, or the one most commonly used by the Greeks,  Mytilene, the island is a unique holiday destination for those who want unforgettable moments of relaxation and fun!


Kokkari Bay, Samos, Northeastern Aegean Islands - credits: Pawel Kazmierczak/Shuttestock.com

Samos is a beautiful north Aegean island that has the traditional Greek island beauty its visitors expect when reaching a Greek island. Tall, green firs are spread on the sandy beaches of the island, while among them, one can find peculiar white chapels.

The capital of the island is Vathi, a city built amphitheatrically which retains intact the beauty and traditional style of the past. Vathi is the port where ships arrive, and it fascinates visitors with its calm and tranquility, both of which elements are hard to miss.

At a distance of 11 km from Vathi is the area of ​​Pythagorion, the old capital of the island and -as its name suggests- the birthplace of the great philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras. Although today the area is a cosmopolitan tourist resort, it has managed to maintain its authentic natural beauty.

samos pixabaySamos - credits: pixabay.com

In Samos, there are many interesting sights to marble upon that compared to mainland Greece, such as the ruins of the ancient temple of the goddess Hera and the Eupaline Aqueduct -or ’amphibian trench,’ built by the engineer Eupalino and used for about a thousand years.

When visiting Samos, you will have the opportunity to try some of the famous Samos wines, such as the tasty Samiotiko variety, a sweet yet strong wine that owes its unique taste to the fertile soil of the island and the traditional way it is produced by the locals.  

The combination of high mountains with beautiful sandy beaches creates a unique natural environment that is sure to be engraved in your memory forever! Don’t think twice; visit Samos, and the rest will be history!

Samothrace; the perfect combination of luscious nature and the Aegean Sea

Xiropotamos waterfalls, Samothrace - credits: GoGri/Shutterstock.com

The beautiful island of Samothrace, known since antiquity as the ‘Holy Island,’ belongs administratively to the prefecture of Evros and is 30 nautical miles from Alexandroupolis. The island is dominated by Mount Saos, which is the highest of all the islands of the Aegean Sea.

Far from the crowds, Samothrace has countless natural beauties, important archeological finds, dense forests, and pristine beaches. The capital of the island is -as per usual- referred to as Chora, and is built amphitheatrically, above the ruins of the medieval castle, on the slopes of Saos, with traditional houses and picturesque alleys.

Once you arrive at Chora, it is worth visiting Pyrgos, a remnant of the rule of the Gatelouzes, the church of the Assumption of the Virgin, where the carts of the five martyrs of the island are located, as well as the folklore museum of the island, which consists of a world of cultural memorabilia that will give you an insight into the island’s past, while also helping you understand the everyday life of the locals even to this day. 

Near Chora lie the ruins of Paleopolis and the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, where in ancient times the Kaveri Mysteries were performed. There, in 1863, the famous statue of the Victory of Samothrace was found, which is now on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris. In the area, there is also an archeological museum, which houses the archeological findings of the island, as well as a copy of the Victory of Samothrace.

sea pixabayGreek sea - credits: pixabay.com

At a distance of 5 km from Chora is Kamariotissa, the port of the island and one of its busiest spots, with big hotels, lots of restaurants, fish taverns, cafes, and nightclubs being available to guests from day to night.

The most beautiful natural attraction of the island is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the stream of Fonia. Its estuary is dominated by the Tower of Fonias, one of the castles of Gatelouza. The river flows into a lake surrounded by plane trees, having formed in its path impressive waterfalls.

In the northern part of the island, you can find Therma, a picturesque settlement built in a heavily vegetated place. Here you will find thermal springs, which have been known since Byzantine times for their healing properties.

Worth a visit are also the three traditional oil mills in the village of Lakomma, the Wind Farm with wind turbines and the small lagoon of Agios Andreas, and the area of ​​Gria Vathra.

What’s more, on the island, there are many picturesque traditional settlements, with old houses of excellent architecture and plenty of water flowing into the lush vegetation. Visit Profitis Ilias, Alonia, Makrilies, Xiropotamos, Ano, and Kato Karyotes, and indulge in the enchanting beauty of their view. After all, a special feature of the island is its wild natural beauty.

The forested mountains, the rich flora and fauna, the gurgling waters, the impressive waterfalls and springs, the thick plane trees that reach the sea, and the deserted beaches with caves where the seals find shelter compose a scene of awe-striking magnificence.

In addition to the dense vegetation of olives, oaks, chestnuts, and plane trees, the island is home to migratory birds, the Mediterranean seal monachus - monachus, and wild goats, forming a rich ecosystem.

In Samothrace, you will also find many beautiful beaches where you can enjoy the sun and the sea. Our top favorites include the beach of Pachia Ammos, the most beautiful, long, sandy beach on the island, the beach of Vatos, and the rocky Kipou, which can be accessed by boat trip from Kamariotissa or Therma. 

The wild, mountainous, and verdant Samothrace, with its idyllic landscapes, important antiquities, traditional settlements, and wonderful beaches, invites you to escape reality and experience unique adventures!

Thassos; the last Northern Aegean island

Limenaria Village, Thassos - credits:  Yiannis Papadimitriou/Shuttestock.com

The beautiful Thassos, one of the most fertile islands of the northern Aegean, is located just 16 nautical miles from the city of Kavala and 3 nautical miles from Keramoti. It is an island of unique calm and relaxation where the combination of mountain and sea create a magnificent natural setting.

Thassos has a long history and tradition. Excavations on the island revealed that Thassos was first inhabited by the people of Thrace who arrived there during the Neolithic period. Then, Thassos was inhabited by the Parians (inhabitants of Paros) around the 7th century, which contributed to the development of trade between Thassos and the rest of the Greek islands and especially the Cyclades.

To this day, the capital of the island is Thassos -sometimes also referred to as ‘Limenas’-, a very picturesque city with friendly and hospitable inhabitants where past and present come together harmoniously.

thassos pixabayThassos - credits: pixabay.com

Near the port of Thassos is a very interesting archeological site that houses the ancient theater of Thassos, which dates back to the 3rd century BC. You’ll be happy to know that if you decide to visit Thassos during the summer months, you will have the opportunity to catch a performance played in the ancient theater, as it is still very much active despite its old age. I

Other interesting sights of Thassos include the ruins of the ancient temples of the goddess Artemis, Poseidon, Dionysus, and the mythical hero Hercules as well as the Archaeological Museum of the island, which houses findings dating from the 4th to the 7th BC.  

Apart from the island's capital, the traditional villages of Theologos, Panagia, Potamia, Prinos, and Limenaria are also incredible and definitely worth your time. Additionally, the north Aegean Thassos has many beautiful beaches to relax under the hot sun and also to enjoy enchanting and unforgettable sunsets.  And, of course, the island also has many picturesque restaurants and taverns that are waiting for you to taste their delicious local food while enjoying incredible views!

Final Thoughts on the Northern Aegean Islands

cat greek islands pixabayCat on a Greek island - credits: pixabay.com

Just because they have not met the fame of Mykonos and Santorini, it doesn’t mean that the islands of the Nothern Aegean are inferior in any way to the other, more popular, Greek islands.

On the contrary, the number one reason to love the islands that belong to this complex is the tranquil environment and the lack of massive tourism offers.

Just off the Asia Minor coast, in the northeastern Aegean Sea, unspoiled landscapes, not-too-busy beaches, traditional villages, and serenity make for the ultimate recipe of happiness, relaxation, and the most original Greek island experience you can get. 

The islands of the Nothern Aegean may be the furthest from Athens; they are, however, the most addictive ones; if you visit them once, you’ll make a promise to yourself to visit them again in the near future for an island-hopping adventure made of dreams!

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