It’s easy to romanticize Santorini and Mykonos because of their iconic white domes and swanky beach clubs, respectively, but there’s much more to Greece than just two islands. Our picks for Greece’s most underappreciated locales range from little towns famed for their black wine to a significant metropolis that many visitors pass by without seeing.
Do you recall those winding, cobblestone streets and the bright marina? Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried’s fictitious Greek island of Kalokairi from the first Mamma Mia! film was filmed on the picturesque island of Skopelos, which can be reached by boat from the adjacent island of Skiathos. Byzantine-era monasteries and whitewashed houses with orange tiled roofs fall to the water’s edge in the picturesque main town. You may go swimming at the island’s pebbly yet entirely peaceful beaches, or you can go along the island’s hiking paths lined with walnut trees. (The only place on the island to ever become crowded is Kastani, located on the western shore and became renowned thanks to a movie.
Despite its proximity to Mykonos, this rugged, 75-square-mile Aegean isle is much less well-known than its more well-known Cycladic neighbors. However, there is much to discover here, including a burgeoning food scene (such as small-scale beekeepers producing local heather honey) and rolling vineyards, such as Domaine de Kalathas, which produce natural wine. While Livada Beach’s rough sands may not be the most comfortable for your feet, its crystal blue waters and lack of visitors make it an ideal swimming spot. Bed-and-breakfasts and inns are the mainstays of the accommodation options.
Kythnos, the first stop on the ferry journey to the Western Cyclades from Piraeus, is a far cry from the overcrowded Instagram paradise that is Santorini. It’s worth your time to get off and go exploring; we recommend renting a scooter and taking a leisurely tour of the island, stopping to see the rejuvenating thermal springs in Loutra and the beautiful whitewashed mansions and cave dwellings in Messaria. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, you can go to one of the many beach tavernas on the island (Byzantio is a favorite) frequented by both islanders and sailors. South of the island, on the coast, you’ll find some of the island’s best beaches, including the extensive sandbar known as Agios Dimitrios.
Folegandros, a craggy island in the far southern Cyclades, is sometimes cited as the archipelago’s most “Greek” locale. Chora, the principal settlement, is often regarded as the Cyclades’ most photogenic destination—a bold claim given the proximity to Santorini to the southeast. Many of the island’s beaches are only accessible by boat, and tour operators may take you to secluded coves and caverns. Just steps from a picturesque pebble beach, the five-star Anemi Hotel has a stunning infinity pool and chic apartments with pools that view out to sea.
Because of its closeness to Italy, the indigenous culture on the Ionian Islands has a distinctive Italian flavor that sets it apart from the rest of Greece. To find adventure away from the crowds (i.e., beyond Corfu), consider visiting Paxi, the smallest island in the archipelago. It is home to underwater caverns, rolling green hills, and beaches that fall into the coastline like fjords. Paxi, which consists of the islands of Paxos and Antipaxos, is laced with olive orchards, picturesque settlements nestled in pine woods, and miles of hiking paths. Visit Antipaxos and relax on Orkos Beach after sampling the local “black wine” produced by tiny, family-owned vineyards (one of the most beautiful sands in the Ionians). Plan your trip to coincide with one of the several summertime music events held on either island.