Greek Island fans who’ve not yet ventured further north will love the lush green scenery of the Aegean Islands: Samos, Chios, Lesbos, Limnos, Ikaria and Thassos. Most are fairly mountainous, creating dramatic landscapes that are perfect for exploring on foot or by bike.
Limnos is said to have the best beaches but Thassos, Samos and Lesbos have pretty special beaches too. And bear in mind that if you’ve not heard of some of these islands, it’s because they’re not so well-known on the tourist trail yet. So now’s an ideal time to get in there before your friends discover them.
Getting there/around the Aegean Islands
One of the reasons these islands are less busy in summer is that they’re a bit harder to get to than favourites like Corfu and Rhodes. But it’s worth the journey. There are charter flights from the UK to Lesbos, Samos and Limnos from Manchester and London Gatwick or you can fly to Chios or Ikaria via Athens.
There are numerous ferry and hydrofoil routes between the island chain and the Greek mainland. Fly to Athens and head for the Port of Piraeus. Or fly to Kavala and take a ferry from there or nearby Keramoti for Thassos.
There are daily ferries between Ikaria and Samos, Chios and Lesbos. Ferries operate less frequently between Lesbos and Limnos and Chios and Samos. Lesbos is also connected by air to both Limnos and Chios. The larger islands have bus services, tourist bus services, boats for hire and taxis.
Aegean Islands beaches
InLimnos you don’t need to venture far from lively capital Myrina to find a picturesque beach – there’s one on either side of town. Further afield, beaches include Thanos and Platy on the west coast, and Keros, which attracts wind surfers.
On Lesbos, Skala Eressos, Skala Kalonis and Anaxos are where most package holidaymakers head. To escape the crowds, visit locals’ beach Tarti, or the island’s longest beach, Vatera.
Samos’s best beaches include Kambos, shingly Tsabou and Kokkari, Potami and Psili Ammos (which is frequented by naturists). On tranquil Thassos, head to Makriammos, Chrissi Amoudia, Paradiso, Alyki and Skala Potamias.
Aegean Islands sightseeing
Samos is the birthplace of mathematician Pythagoras, so if you’re old enough to have put the trauma of those maths classes behind you, wandering around this pretty World Heritage-listed town is well worth it. Highlights include the ruins of Aphrodite and the Eupalinos Tunnel built in 524BC.
Lesbos is famed for its scenic hiking trails which meander around mountain paths in the north and south of the island – Vatera-Yera and Petra-Lapsarna are two popular ones. The hot thermal springs at Therma Yera are perfect to ease any aches and pains afterwards.
On Thassos, visit the old Roman market place, temple of Athena and acropolis at Agora, or just wander around the ancient Thassos Town.
Family attractions on the Aegean Islands
There’s nothing specific like water parks or theme parks for children, but the Aegean Sea is generally very calm, making the beaches safe for children.
Day trips from the Aegean Islands
In summer months, you can take a ferry from Samos to the popular Turkish resort of Kusadasi just three kilometres away. Kusadasi is close to the ancient Roman town of Ephesus with its superbly intact amphitheatre and other buildings.
From Chios you can also visit Turkey, Cesme is just across the eight-kilometre wide Chios Straits.
Eating out on the Aegean Islands
Many of us are familiar with Greek mezze specials such as hummous, taramasalata, tzatziki and garlic-infused olives. Fishing is still a major industry in the islands so the local tavernas serve delicious fresh fish and Mediterranean vegetables. Try the aniseed-flavoured ouzo or the unusual pine-resin flavoured retsina wine.
Aegean Islands nightlife
These islands don’t have the kind of lively nightclubs and bars that you can find in more popular Greek resorts like Faliraki and Kavos, although Thassos’s Golden Beach comes close. That’s fine though as most holidaymakers come to these islands because they are quieter and less touristy than other Greek Islands.
But the Greeks are a party-loving nation and celebrate numerous festivals, especially during the summer. Samothraki’s Dance Festival is from July 21-24 2007; the Sardine Festival of Skala Kaloni in Lesbos is in the first week of August every year, and there are many more, especially during religious periods like Easter and on Saints Days.
Aegean Islands shopping
Pick up some delicious olives, olive oil, honey, herbs, feta cheese as well as straw baskets, brightly coloured rag rugs and pottery. Chios is famous for producing mastic gum, said to stimulate the immune system, and reduce blood pressure – you can buy it in lotions, soaps and chewing gum form.