Written by Alice McLeod on 16 / 06 / 2023
Gap Year Advice
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, at some point you’ll have seen a tiktok or a reel of people island hopping in Greece. It’s rocketed in popularity, giving the traditional interrailing routes of old a run for their money. Read our guide below on the best ways to island-hop your way around Greece this summer – sun-drenched shorelines await.
The Greek islands are stunning all year, but here’s a few things to consider: June to August is guaranteed hot weather, but you’ll also be sharing it with the masses, paying top dollar, and competing with the crowds for hotel accommodation and restaurant reservations. If you go in winter then many ferry routes stop running, and hotels and restaurants shut for the low season. Ideal times to visit are between Orthodox Easter (usually April) and the end of May, or from September to around mid-October. You’ll get nice weather, crowds are thinner, and pretty much everything is up and running. It’s definitely also worth checking the local calendars for panigyria — Greek summer festivals. These can be great fun to see and join in with, but might also affect ferry schedules, opening hours of attractions, and produce big crowds.
Before you touch down in Greece you need to know that the Greeks are known for their laid-back attitude. Arriving and expecting every ferry to leave bang on time is setting yourself up for disappointment. Whilst we think you should arrive with some sort of plan, you also need to be prepared to go with the flow, ferry schedules are always subject to change, even if you’ve pre-booked and pre-paid for the journey. Anything from windy weather to worker strikes can mean delayed or cancelled ferries so make sure you have some flexibility in your schedule. But remember, whatever happens it will be a fun story when you get home.
The choices can be overwhelming, especially with islands going viral on social media. The best place to start your journey though is Athens. You can often find relatively cheap flights there from the UK, and it’s the perfect hub to start your journey. There’s also plenty to see there, so make sure you give yourself a few days to take in the sights and history of Greece’s capital. It can be tempting to attempt too many islands, so we’d recommend sticking to one island group, also easier as many ferry lines service one specific area so it can make logistics easier too. It can also be worth catching a domestic flight from Athens to a specific island group, this can save time and money and means you won’t spend your first few days simply trying to get to your starting point.
We’ve put together three itineraries exploring different island groups to get the ball rolling and ideas flowing:
Start your journey by flying into Athens, then catch a ferry or flight into Mykonos, Greece’s answer to Ibiza, with beautiful beaches and a vibrant clubbing scene. The island boasts 25 beaches, so whether you're looking for a secluded cove or wide stretch of sugar-white sand, you’ll find something to suit your needs. Partygoers can expect beach clubs and beach parties galore. There are of course other things to do other than beaches and parties, you can lose yourself in the narrow, bougainvillea-lined streets of Mykonos Town, where you can find casual fashion, jewellery, and of course some tacky souvenirs. If you're able to then you can travel out to some of the small traditional villages away from the hustle and bustle of the coast.
Don’t miss a day-trip to Delos, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the mythical birthplace of Apollo and Aphrodite. Daily boat trips leave from the pier in Mykonos Town.
From Mykonos to Naxos, the biggest of the Cyclades islands. Much like Mykonos, Naxos has some fab beaches, the most well-known ones being on the west side. Make sure you visit the ancient monument of Portara, a huge, 2500-year-old marble doorway on an islet connected to the mainland by an artificial causeway. The perfect spot for sunset photos! Naxos also boasts isolated beaches, atmospheric mountain villages, and ancient sites. Naxos’ most impressive sculptures are out in the open air and are some of the most popular attractions on the island so make sure you keep your eyes peeled for the colossal, half-finished statues of young men you can spot in a garden at Melanes and overlooking the coast at Apollona.
End your island-hopping in Santorini, with its whitewashed buildings sat above multicoloured cliffs. Fira is the busy capital, which sprawls north into villages called Firostefani and Imerovigli, and this is the area that attracts most visitors. Walk the caldera edge and admire the views of Santorini, taking endless photos along the way of course. If wine is your thing then join a tasting at a local vineyard, if you're into archaeology then there are tours catered to that too – there’s all sorts of agencies that can help with organising tours, trips, and boat trips. Accommodation in Santorini is pricey, and budget options are limited. You definitely need to book well in advance, especially if you want to stay in a spot with the famous views of the blue roofs.
A regular catamaran service regularly connects the Dodecanese islands, and you’ll taste the historical influences of all the cultures that have passed through, from Romans and crusading knights to Byzantine and Ottoman rulers. Start your journey in Rhodes, the largest of the Dodecanese islands. It’s got a bit of everything, from laidback beaches, buzzing nightlife, and culture from past civilisations. The Old Town of Rhodes and town of Lindos are must-sees, Rhodes with its maze of cobbled streets, and Lindos with its ancient Acropolis.
Take the ferry from Rhodes to the less-commercialised island of Karpathos, covered in wild mountains and blue coves. Karpathos hasn’t yet surrendered to mass tourism, so expect a more genuine and authentic feel in comparison to some of the other Greek islands. Hire a car and explore the 160km of coastline dotted with beaches, the twelve villages of Karpathos perched on the mountainsides and by the sea, and cafes and taverns filled with friendly locals. The landscapes are breath-taking, and it’s well worth adding this island to your itinerary.
Kos is the second most popular Dodecanese Island after Rhodes, so expect it to be well-catered to tourists and busy over summer. It’s famous for its beaches, but don’t overlook its historical landmarks, including the Asklepion, a healing centre from the ancient world which followed the teachings of Hippocrates. From Kos you can take excursions to some of the smaller nearby islands like Nisyros or Kalymnos. If you're feeling adventurous you could also travel over to Turkey for an explore of bazaars, stalls, and restaurants.
Expect a slightly cooler climate from the Ionian islands, with abundant forests and countless groves of olives and cypress trees. It’s easy to fly from Athens over to Corfu, where its rich historic past shapes the island’s unique architecture. Explore Corfu Old Town (a UNESCO world heritage site) by walking along Liston Arcade and Spianada Square, taking in the Venetian forts and churches. There’s labyrinth-like alleys to explore in the medieval quarter before moving out onto the coast to explore the pretty seaside villages and beaches. Make sure you don’t miss Canal d’Amour – a natural passage you can swim down, where legend says you might meet your soulmate at the end of it.
Beaches, cliffs, and seas of olive groves characterise picture-perfect Paxos and its little island brother, Antipaxos. These two small islands have legendary white-sand beaches, centuries-old olive trees, and dense vineyards (for beaches look for Orkos on Paxos, and Virka and Voutoumi on Antipaxos). Investigate the coast by boat: caves, grottos, cliffs, and beaches.
From Paxos to the much-loved Kefalonia, known for its beauty, stately towns, and impressive attractions. It’s the largest of the Ionian Islands, and you’re sure to fall in love with its emerald-green mountains and azure waters. There’s a good chance you’ll have seen some of Kefalonia’s beaches on posters or in films, as they're some of the most beautiful in the Mediterranean. The colour of the sea ranges from blue to green, lapping against pure white sand or smooth round pebbles (don’t miss a visit to Myrtos, Petani, or Skala beaches). Whilst you're here you must also pay a visit to the stunning Melissani Cave, which you explore by boat as the sunlight filters in from above – magical.
We’ve given you three little itineraries to get the ideas flowing, but there’s hundreds of ways you could plan your Greek island-hopping adventure, and so many gorgeous places to see. Try not to attempt too much in too short a time as all you’ll end up seeing is the inside of a ferry, but be ready to go with the flow. Island-hopping is a great way to spend a summer, but if you find that you then catch the travel bug and are looking to go further afield then check out our team programmes here. The perfect gap year combines a range of locations and contrasting experiences, so the Greek Islands are a great place to start your adventures!
on 16 / 06 / 2023