Best Greek Islands for beaches
With 200 inhabited islands in Greece, it comes to no surprise that you still have a big question mark on what are the best Greek islands for beaches to visit on your next trip.
I lived in Athens for a while and I have been visiting Greece on a regular basis for the last 25 years.
In this guide, you will discover all my findings to help you choose the island that has the best beaches base on your type of holiday
This could be a family trip with kids, a couples’ getaway, a party holiday or a relaxing and possibly secluded stay, of course next to the most beautiful sandy or pebble beach.
Without further ado, let’s dig into it.
In this guide you will see
- 1 Best Greek Island for beaches, sandy or pebble ones – in a nutshell
- 2 Best Greek Island for beaches to holiday
- 3 Best time to visit the Greek Islands for beaches
You can read also
- Crete Travel Guide (including the best beaches)
- Mykonos Travel Guide (best beaches to party)
- Corfu Travel Guide (best areas to stay)
- Best beaches of Astypalaia
- Best Greek Islands for couples
Best Greek Island for beaches, sandy or pebble ones – in a nutshell
- Best Greek Island for sandy beaches: Crete is probably my favourite with its amazing and spectacular sandy beaches. You can find even a palm beach, unique in Europe. Or take the boat off to Chrissi Beach for the lovely contrast of turquoise water and white sand. A close second is Naxos, with long and wide sandy beaches, easily reachable from the Old Town, either on foot or by bus.
- Best Greek Island for quiet beaches: Alonnisos in the Sporadic Islands, has probably the most relaxing beaches in Greece, very quiet even in August. Sifnos is a fantastic alternative if you are looking for a typical Cyclades Island with a lovely Old Town, whitewashed houses in a maze of small lanes. It may be busy in the first two weeks of August, however, avoid that and you will find some of the most relaxing and quiet beaches south of Athens.
- Best Greek Island for snorkelling: Zakynthos is the only place in the Mediterranean sea where you can easily spot turtles during your snorkelling, a must. Crete, on the other hand, has an amazing coastline in the south only reachable by boat and ferry with plenty of fish and cave formations.
- Best Greek Island for beaches and food: Food is amazing everywhere you go and honestly it’s hard to make a choice in this category. I personally love the traditional Greek food, I usually gain a couple of kilos every time I travel to the Greek islands. In saying that, I like to mention Crete for its progressive cuisine. Towns like Rethymnon and Chania have restaurants that cook traditional Greek food with a real twist, using ingredients as local cheese, grains, honey and fruits. All mixed to give the unique Cretan cuisine taste. Really something different.
- Best Greek Island for beaches and nightlife: this is an easy choice. Mykonos has the best nightlife in Greece and one of the best in Europe. It’s also becoming quite popular with celebrities, models and Hollywood stars like Leonardo DiCaprio. Mykonos has also some of the best sandy beaches in Greece, with beach clubs and DJs that start in the morning with some chill-out music meanwhile you have your first frappe or cold late on the sunbeds. Around 4 pm the beach transforms in a big party venue and you will find yourself dancing till the early hours of the morning. A good alternative, however in a much smaller scale, is Paros with some amazing beaches around Naoussa and a great nightlife vibe late at night.
- Best Greek Island for a beach holiday: if you are looking for an island that has everything, but not in excess, then Naxos has to be, the perfect overall holiday destination. You will find a lovely and characteristic Old Town with whitewashed houses, some of the most amazing Greek beaches (of which one walking distance from the old town), historical sites, good trekking possibilities including one to a waterfall and there is also some nightlife, not on pair with Mykonos or even Paros, but still, a nice scene, not the loud and excessive one.
- Best Greek Island beaches for couples: Mykonos has amazing beaches that work great for young couples. You will find a nice party vibe throughout the day, starting with chill-out music in the morning and more electronic tunes in the afternoon. And you can still find much quieter beaches for those hangover days. Corfu is another island, much quieter that works better if you want to have a relaxed time. There are lovely sandy beaches as well as pebble options for great snorkelling. Astypalaia is the most secluded option, with much fewer people and a romantic Old Town. You will find relaxed beaches and a very chill-out environment with the possibility to drive your car or scooter to isolated beaches that you will probably share with nobody else, a real castaway experience.
- Best Greek Island beaches for families: Naxos has some of the most kid-friendly beaches in Greece. The island is not that busy too (except in August). You will find a quiet environment with shallow sandy beaches and turquoise water. There are calm and relaxing beaches that work better for small children and you will find other more organised beaches with sports activities, including windsurfing beginner classes, for the grown-up kids. A good alternative, especially for the month of August, is Skopelos. It’s an unpretentious island in the Sporadic archipelago with a good mix of pebble and sandy beaches in a beautiful green environment.
- Best Greek Island for beaches and culture: Crete is unbeatable in this section. The archaeological site of Knossos, easily reachable from Heraklion is a must. The nearby Paliani monastery built in 668AD should be also in the bucket list as well as Spinalonga, a tiny island off the coast used as an outpost during the Venetian era and later as a leper colony to be finally abandoned and rediscovered only in the last few decades. But Crete it’s not all about culture. Crete has some of the most beautiful sandy beaches in Greece, really an unmissable destination. Rhodes is another amazing destination thanks to its unique Old Medieval Town, so well preserved still inside the wide walls, and Lindos, one of the most picturesque whitewashed villages, although very popular with tourists.
- Best Greek Island for spectacular beaches: Zakynthos has probably the most spectacular beach of all, Navagio Beach also known as Shipwreck Beach. It’s mostly a pebble beach with some areas of sand. Take beach shoes and you will be able to explore the shipwreck and have a swim without problems. It’s reachable only with an organised boat trip, book the earliest you can find to limit the crowd because it’s a very popular place, surely too popular in late July and August. By car, you can reach the viewpoint on top, definitely worth the trip
- Best Greek Island for beaches and windsurfing/kitesurfing: there are two islands that are world-famous for the consistent and reliable wind: Paros and Rhodes. This is where the Meltemi wind works at its best. It is usually very quiet in the morning to increase around lunchtime and peak around 4-5pm at around 25-30 knots. Golden and New Golden Beach are the places to be in Paros meanwhile in Rhodes you should book in Ialysos or Ixia Beach.
- Best Greek Island for beaches and shopping: Heraklion in Crete has great shopping right in the centre of town. It’s a big pedestrian area with plenty of options, including souvenirs shops. Unfortunately, Heraklion does not really have a beach. I would suggest it more for a day trip from your resort area on the island. Another good option is Rhodes. Go to the Medieval Old Town for souvenirs and to the New Town for regular shopping. The beaches around Rhodes Town are actually quite good, with options also for windsurfing.
- Best Greek Island for a beach wedding: the island of Zakynthos is a great choice with the Cameo Island, an islet connected with a wood bridge over a lagoon, being the most romantic and spectacular setup you can find. This is a private islet you can rent uniquely for your wedding. Very intimate and very exlusive. Santorini is a good choice if you plan photos in the Old Town, however, this is a very popular destination and it is going to be hard to move around unless your wedding is off-season (November to April). The beaches are also not the best.
- Best Greek Island for beaches and hiking: Crete is a big winner in this section. This island has some of the best trekking in Greece. The famous Samaria Gorge route is a must, start from the peak and finish at the lovely pebble beach of Agia Roumeli. But do not stop there, rent a car or a scooter and drive to the east coast where you will find plenty of gorges where you can park your vehicle and trek down to the beach in a small cove, to enjoy it usually on your own. The trek in the Richti Gorge has even a waterfall on the way. Naxos is another island with some trekking options, although not as spectacular
- Best Greek Island for secluded beaches: Astypalaia and Alonnisos are two islands unknown to the most. There you can find plenty of secluded beaches. A few have accommodations nearby, others are only reachable on a day trip with a private or rented vehicle. I suggest renting a 4WD if you plan to really explore the most isolated beaches
- Best Greek Islands with nudist beaches: Antiparos has one of my favourite official nudist beach, Agios Theologos Beach, walking distance to the Old Town, wide, with beautiful turquoise water and on a calm day you can also swim to the nearby Diplo and Kavouras islets, really spectacular. In saying that you can find many nudist beaches in most of the islands, official and unofficial ones.
- Best Greek Island beaches near Athens: in true honesty, I was not impressed by the beaches in the islands close to Athens. They get very busy with Athenians and they are not as outstanding as in other islands. When I lived in Athens I used to visit Egina, probably the easiest one to reach from Piraeus. It has some nice beaches like Klima beach and Agia Marina beach. They are perfect for a long weekend, however, I would probably not book a week stay there.
Best Greek Island for beaches to holiday
The Greek islands are organised in 6 main groups:
- the Cyclades are world-famous for the typical Old Towns, a maze of whitewashed house and small lanes with blue windows and doors. Mykonos and Santorini are surely the most famous destinations
- the Dodecanese with their typical Medieval architecture and a big influence from the Venetian domination. Rhodes is certainly the most famous destination here, with plenty of history and culture.
- the Sporades are probably the least known, although you may have already seen Skopelos on TV or at the cinema (it was the set for the “Mamma Mia!” movie). I love Alonnisos in this small archipelago.
- the Ionian are much greener islands with lovely beaches, some of them sandy, however the most with pebbles or a mix of both. These are also easily reachable from the Puglia coast in Italy. Corfu and Zakynthos are the most famous destinations, with Shipwreck beach the most spectacular and known beach in Greece.
- the North Aegean, more popular with Greeks than with foreign travellers. You will find more of a local character.
- the Saronic, I would personally not book a week-long stay in these islands, however, they are definitely a great destination for a quick trip from Athens.
Crete is the only island that does not belong to a group.
Here below you can read a longer description for each Greek island I mentioned in the previous chapter.
You will find also a link to a full guide I wrote about the island with suggestions on the best areas, towns and villages to book your holiday
The sorting is based on the island group
Leave a comment in case you need more information. I usually reply in no time and it comes from my heart.
As you may have noticed on the map, Crete is the largest island of all and it’s a group by itself.
This is the island with the most diverse beaches in Greece, the most unique, and in my opinion the most beautiful ones.
But it’s a big island and part of it is reachable only by boat.
If you have just one week in Crete I would suggest focusing on one coast only.
It is not practical to base yourself in one town and do day-trips all around the island. You would spend more time driving than enjoying the beaches.
If you have two weeks you may want to split the holiday into two locations, visiting the beaches in the central-east area in the first week and then move and enjoy the central-west region.
Here below a quick list of the best beaches of Crete:
- Vai Beach: this is the only palm beach in Europe, a really amazing one. Half of it is organised with sunbeds. You could think you are in the Caribbean if it would not be for the Greek food at the restaurants. One of my top 10 beaches in Greece. It’s on the most eastern point of the island and you would need to take your accommodation in the town of Sitia or around.
- Chrissi Beach: another top 10 of Greece in my opinion. It’s actually called Golden Beach and it’s located in Chrissi Island, a tiny beach off the south coast of Crete, however, it’s commonly known as Chrissi Beach. The turquoise colour of the water is just incredible. A must-see. It can be reachable with a 1.5-2 hours boat trip from the small port of Ierapetra. You can book your accommodation in Agios Nikolaos, Sisi or Sitia.
- Elafonissi Beach: a paradise, however quite popular with travellers. It’s a small sandy peninsula with organised beaches on both sides. It is connected with an isthmus to a tiny rocky island, lovely for a walk. It’s a shallow beach, perfect for children. The only drawback is that it gets very busy, even in June. Try to make it as early as you can to rent an umbrella. Reachable with car or bus from Chania.
- Balos Beach: another impressive paradise reachable from Chania, also quite popular. You will remember the intense blue of the lagoon for a long while. You can easily reach it by boat from Chania or by car through a very bumpy dirt road. The benefit of driving there is that you will have a view also from the top of the hilly road. You will have, however, to walk down from the parking area through the challenging path.
- Glyka Nera Beach: on the south coast, reachable with a walk from Loutro or Hora Sfakion. It is quite a unique place because there is a freshwater (“Glyka Nera”) spring just underneath the beach. When you go swimming you can really feel the difference in temperature between the two streams. Dig a small hole and freshwater will come out. So unique.
Crete has also plenty of small coves and beaches at the end of the many gorges, reachable only with some trekking, another way to enjoy the hidden gems of the island.
And in the evening you can enjoy the amazing local food, especially in Chania and Rethymnon, famous for the local Greek cousin with a sweet twist.
Crete is easily reachable by aeroplane with 3 airports in Heraklion, Chania and Sitia. Alternatively, take a ferry from Athens.
You should check out this Full Guide on Crete that I wrote with all the info about the best areas to stay based on your type of holiday
Mykonos is world-famous for the nightlife, however, not everyone knows that it has also some of the most beautiful sandy beaches in the Cyclades.
Most of them are also a stone away from the Old Town and well connected by public transportation too.
True, there are beaches that you would go only to party and spot celebrities, however, there are also sandy hidden gems for a more relaxing stay.
Here are a few beaches I highly suggest to experience in Mykonos:
- Paradise Beach: probably the most famous of all party beaches. There is a nice energetic vibe, great for both young couples and singles. You will find a few beach clubs with DJs that start mid-morning with some chill-out music. The party begins around 4pm to finish late at night, dancing on the sand and enjoying the lovely sunset.
- Psarou and Super Paradise Beach: both lovely sandy beaches, favourite by the celebrities visiting Mykonos. It’s not uncommon to spot Hollywood actors and famous music stars. Around these beaches, you will find the most exclusive villas and resorts.
- Ornos Beach: another great beach favourite by families travelling with bigger kids thanks to the many available water sports activities.
- Agios Stefanos Beach: for a romantic time with your partner, but still close enough to the Old Town to have a short trip for a crazy night
- Kalafati Beach and Lia Beach: for a much quieter time.
You should check out this Full Guide on Mykonos that I wrote with all the info about the best areas to stay based on your type of holiday
Read Reference Guide to Mykonos
Naxos is a popular island with families and it comes to no surprise with those long and wide sandy beaches, some of the best in Greece.
I heard a few times that the beaches in Naxos are not as spectacular as in Mykonos.
Let me say first that it’s like comparing two diamonds, but is it true?
If you experience both in winter, yes it is true (but who does travel to these islands in the cold season?)
In summer, it’s a bit different.
Naxos becomes the better option, in my opinion, unless you are really in a party mood.
In Naxos, you can still experience the wild sandy beaches without being squeezed between the many sunbeds and sun umbrellas of Mykonos.
In June as well as in August.
The beaches in Naxos are fantastic, the best for families with kids or for a real romantic getaway or secluded quiet stay.
I want to mention here 5 of them:
- Agios Georgios Beach: the best choice if you want to be close to the small nightlife the island offers. The north side, close to the Old Town, has calm water and it’s well repaired from the wind. Walk around 800m south and you can do windsurfing and kitesurfing with the consistent Meltemi wind.
- Agios Prokopios and Agia Anna Beach: the best place for a quiet family stay
- Plaka Beach: drive 8km south of the Old Town and you will find this lovely very long beach, partially used also by naturists
- Aliko Beach: the most secluded of all, real heaven with small coves and sandy beaches with turquoise water. One of the most relaxing places in the Cyclades, even in August.
You should check out this Full Guide on Naxos that I wrote with all the info about the best areas to stay in this big island based on your type of holiday
Paros has some of the best nightlife in the Cyclades, at a much smaller scale than Mykonos, but still very good.
You can find a party mood in the arriving harbour town of Parikia (but no great beaches there) or in Naoussa, probably the best area of Paros for beaches.
From Naoussa, in the north, you can take a boat, a bus or a taxi to amazing beaches as Piperi Beach, Piperaki Beach and Agioi Anargyroi Beach, to mention a few.
The east coast of Paros gets the strong northerly Meltemi wind, with beaches as Golden Beach and New Golden Beach world-known for the amazing windsurfing and kitesurfing environment, from mid-Jun to the end of August.
Go south of Paros for more seclusion and a quiet stay like in the town of Aliki with the lovely Agios Nikolaos Beach.
You should check out this Full Guide on Paros that I wrote with all the info about the best areas to stay based on your type of holiday, from an active breakaway to a romantic holiday full of charm
Rhodes is the biggest island in the Dodecanese, close to the Turkish coast.
Thanks to the very southerly east position, Rhodes offers a long warm summer season starting in mid-May.
Rhodes is also one of the best Greek islands for culture, together with Crete.
The history of this island goes back to the Prehistoric Age and moves through a long series of occupations (you can still find elderlies remembering some Italian words from school during WWII).
The medieval old town of Rhodes is the icing on the cake, enclosed in one of the best examples of fortification walls in the world.
It’s so stunningly preserved that it’s really like walking in an open-air museum
Since 1988 it has been included also in the UNESCO World Heritage list.
There are so many places to visit in the old town that it is hard to suggest a single one, however, the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes is surely unmissable.
The New Town, outside the walls, has actually buildings over 400 years old, but it’s much busier, with a modern city feeling and a few shopping areas around.
New Town has some nice beaches around, however, drive down to the beautiful and characteristic town of Lindos for the best ones on the island.
The most lovely beaches are Lindos (Big) Beach, the tiny Pallas Beach, the unique boutique Saint Paul’s Beach and the long Pefkos Beach.
You should check out this Full Guide on Rhodes that I wrote with all the info about the best areas to stay based on your type of holiday and when to visit the island
Read Reference Guide to Rhodes
Only a few travellers know about this jewel, a hidden island in the Dodecanese with a Cyclades soul.
The old town is perched on a hill with a castle on the peak and whitewashed houses all around organised in a maze of tiny alleys, lanes and many stairs.
It’s such a romantic place to be, without the over-tourism feeling you may get in places as Santorini.
It’s an island stuck in the past, with local people actually living in the old town and old ladies seating outside knitting.
In summer, there are only a couple of flights a day landing in Astypalaia, from Athens.
An old man comes to open/close the tiny airport based on these arrivals/departures.
As you can imagine, here you can find some of the most secluded beaches in Greece as Schoinontas Beach or Kaminakia Beach.
But also the local Old Town Livadia beach and Harbour Beach never truly get so busy, not even in peak season.
There is not really nightlife, but still, you can find a couple of cocktail bars and a few family-run restaurants.
You should check out this Full Guide on Astypalaia that I wrote with all the info about the best areas to stay based on your type of holiday.
Read Reference Guide to Astypalaia
Skopelos is a good choice if you are travelling with kids and you are looking for a quiet island.
Although you have never heard of Skopelos, you may have already seen it on the big screen.
It was in fact used as a set for the popular “Mamma Mia!” movie saga.
The old town is so beautiful, perched on a hill with whitewashed houses and a characteristic harbour area with the famous fish restaurants of Skopelos.
At night, it all becomes a huge pedestrian area, perfect for a walk with small kids.
There is a local beach, however, the most beautiful ones are a short bus ride away.
During my stay, I extensively used the public transportation network and I just loved it, always on time and such a great value.
Start your beach exploration with Stafylos Beach, the most beautiful and just 15 minutes from the Old Town by bus.
Every day you can visit a new one, until the most famous one, Kastani Beach, where a few scenes of the movie were filmed.
You should check out this Full Guide on Skopelos that I wrote with all the info about the best areas to stay based on your type of holiday
Read Reference Guide to Skopelos
Alonnisos is in the small archipelago of the Sporades, connected to Skopelos, Skiathos and Volos by ferry.
This is the quietest and most secluded island of all.
Even in August, the island does not get any sign of mass tourism.
Most of the island is National Park, very green.
The beaches are on the south coast, well repaired by the wind.
A few get people in August, however, visit them in June or July and you will share them just with a bunch of other travellers.
The water is so pristine, perfect for some snorkelling thanks also to the amazing cliffs all around.
There is a good mix of sandy beaches, as Chrisi Milia or Kokkinokastro, and pebble beaches as Agios Dimitrios or Rousoum Gialos.
The Old Town, in the inland, gets alive in the late afternoon with bars, cafes and family-run restaurants opening up in the middle of the small streets, so full of charm.
You should check out this Full Guide on Alonnisos that I wrote with all the info and tips about the best areas to stay based on your type of holiday
Read Reference Guide to Alonnisos
This is a well-known destination that gets quite busy around the end of July/August time, the peak of the season.
Avoid those 3 or 4 weeks and you will find a real gem, a quiet and relaxed island.
Corfu has a good mix of sandy beaches as well as pebble ones, ideal for snorkelling addicted.
Here you also find one of the most picturesque coastlines in Greece with Palaiokastritsa the best spot to be based.
This is a town located on 4 amazing bays and several boutique beaches. A real dreamy destination.
Agios Gordios is a long and wide sandy beach favourite of families with kids, with shallow and calm water.
And if you are looking for some nightlife then you should head to Kavos, famous for its young party vibe.
You should check out this Full Guide on Corfu that I wrote with all the info about the best areas to stay based on your type of holiday.
Zakynthos (also known with the Italian name of Zante) is the island with one of the most famous beaches in the world, so instagrammable and spectacular.
This is Navagio Beach, better known as Shipwreck Beach, a white pebble beach with unreal turquoise water and a shipwreck seating next to it, ready to be explored (watch out for the sharp rusted pieces of metal).
Zakynthos is also famous for its turtles that you can spot from the southern beaches, one of the most unique snorkelling experiences in the Mediterranean sea.
The important recommendation here is to avoid taking a motorboat that would unsettle the female turtles and their breeding.
The most beautiful beaches are probably on the south coast, especially in the Vasilikos Peninsula. Here below a few amazing ones:
If you are planning a special and unique wedding, you may even book your private island, all for you and your invites with even a small sandy beach: Cameo Island,
You should check out this Full Guide on Zakynthos that I wrote with all the info about the best areas to stay based on your type of holiday.
Read Reference Guide to Zakynthos
Best time to visit the Greek Islands for beaches
Crete and Rhodes are the only two islands with a lively scene year-round.
The others usually get empty from October to mid-April, when it gets too cold to stay.
- Best Greek Island for beaches in May: It is quite early in the season and most of the islands are still “opening up”. Crete and Rhodes have usually warmer weather this time of the year being southern than anyone else, with day temperatures that can easily go in the 20-25C window. Take a jacket with you for the night when it gets much cooler. The water may be cold for swimming but it really depends to what you are used to.
- Best Greek Island for beaches in June: this is the best month of the season in my opinion. It’s usually warm (up to 30C) but not hot. It’s the real beginning of the season with hotels not as busy, better service and price too. The water is fresh but perfect for swimming, the beaches are already warm, nice and not that busy. In June I highly suggest Mykonos, Naxos, Crete and Rhodes.
- Best Greek Island for beaches in July: this is peak season and things get busier, especially towards the end of the month. Corfu and Zakynthos are both great options, busy but not crowded. Paros is another great destination, especially if you are into windsurfing or kitesurfing. Naxos works great for families. For a secluded spot, you should check out Astypalaia
- Best Greek Island for beaches in August: things get very busy in August, wherever you go. This is the time year when the hotels charge the most and you may have to wait a bit before seating at the restaurant. There are probably two exceptions, Astypalaia and even more Alonnisos. This is where you can have a quiet time. Skopelos is also a good alternative, busier but not impossibly so.
- Best Greek Island for beaches in September: this is another time of the year I love. It’s similar to June (especially the first two weeks of the month), less busy and with much warmer water for swimming. Any island in the Cyclades or the Dodecanese is perfect. Mykonos is probably the only one still busy, especially on the weekends with Athenians flying in to enjoy the party island. Crete is probably the island with more consistent warm weather, especially on the south coast. Visit Chrissi Beach, a real must, you will share it with just a bunch of people.
- Best Greek Island for couples in October: The weather becomes a bit patchy, with a few warm days but also the possibility of rain. Rhodes and Crete have the longest warm season, with more probability of sunny days.
Photo credits on a few photos in this post