If it wasn't obvious, Greece is my favorite country in the world. Five years ago, I fell under the spell of the Greek Islands, and it's become a place I return to year after year - it never gets old. If you haven't visited, now's the time. The country has become an increasingly popular holiday destination, and for many an affordable alternative to the South of France and Amalfi Coast. I've put together a guide to five of my favorite islands in Greece, a mix of popular tourist spots, as well as off-the-beaten path gems: Corfu, Crete, Mykonos, Paxos & Antipaxos and Santorini. With careful planning, it's possible to visit all five islands in a single trip (I've done it), but just as amazing focus on two or three if time is limited. In the travel guide below, I've included sights to see, itinerary ideas, where to stay, what to eat, photo locations, things to do, travel tips and details on transportation.
One of the cutest churches in the Greek Islands is Paraportiani Church, on Mykonos.
It may not have the notoriety of Santorini or Mykonos, but Corfu has plenty to offer as a destination. In fact, I was so captivated by the island in 2017 that I visited again just a couple years later. Located in the north Ionian Sea off the west coast of mainland Greece, Corfu is a place to be treasured - an island rich in history that boasts the most charming Old Town, home to warm and welcoming locals, as well as colorful Venetian corridors, delightful boutiques and outdoor dining that spills out onto the picturesque pedestrian boulevards. But it's the incredible coastline that keeps visitors coming back - quite possibly the prettiest in all of Greece. Crystal clear waters surround Corfu and give way to soaring sea cliffs, dazzling grottos, secret beaches, sea caves and secluded coves. There's a lot to see, so I suggest a minimum of five to six nights on the island.
WHAT TO DO ON CORFU
CANAL D'AMOUR BEACH
Located in northern Corfu, Canal D'Amour Beach is a stunning stretch of coast riddled with natural bays, canals and mini sea caves. Also known as the Channel of Love, it's a lovely place to spend a summer day. Join the sunbathers and lay out on the picturesque beach, or the adventurers who use the smooth stone shelves for cliff jumping.
CORFU OLD TOWN
If staying in Old Town isn't an option, then make the historic heart of the island a destination during your stay. It's a captivating place to explore on foot, and it's particularly vibrant in the early evening - get lost in the colorful labyrinth of alleys; admire the Venetian influence of Old Town; dine outside at one of the vibrant restaurants; and shop the little boutiques that line the charming pedestrian corridors.
Spend an afternoon sunbathing in Garitsa Bay, an idyllic spot to relax located at the base of Old Town's city walls. I've spent many happy hours here soaking in the sunshine. There's a little beach, sunbathing rocks and ocean swim ladders, all with sweeping views of the Old Fortress.
An outdoor beach bar that overlooks the island's most stunning cove, La Grotta is probably my favorite place on Corfu. That said, it's no hidden gem. Plenty of people know about it, and it gets busy. If you want to experience it both with and without people, I suggest arriving right when the bar opens in the morning. Chances are you'll have the place to yourself for a couple of hours. Use the time to take photos, cliff jump, hang on the diving board and swim in the sparkling cove before the afternoon crowds start trickling in. Then, grab a drink and soak in the good vibes. And if it's too many people for you, just make your way down the rocks to one of the small coves and claim a quiet rock for sunbathing.
PORTO TIMONI BEACH
It's a bit of a hike to reach beautiful Porto Timoni, but the coastal trek is scenic and relatively mild. You reach this hidden gem from Afionas - we parked our scooter in the village, and then it was a 30-minute hike to reach the beach. Porto Timoni is actually two mirrored bays separated by back-to-back beaches, and the views from above on the walk in are stunning. Make sure to snap a photo! The beaches don't have much shade, and there are no facilities, so pack plenty of water, as well as snacks and a picnic if you plan to stay more than a couple of hours.
WEST COAST (BY PRIVATE BOAT)
One of my favorite adventures on Corfu was renting a private boat for the day to explore the secluded coves, sea caves and soaring cliffs on the island's west coast. This was the best decision of the trip. The boat gave us the freedom to stop where we wanted, as well as access to secluded places that were only reachable by water. Boat rentals are available at agencies up and down the west coast.
WHERE TO EAT ON CORFU
Avli is a delicious dinner option on Garitsa Bay that serves up a fresh selection of seafood, and classic Greek cuisine. (ADDRESS: 3 Alkiviadou Dari Garitsa Bay, Corfu Town; PHONE: +30 2661 031291)
Pasta is a must while in Corfu. After all, the island has Italian roots that can be seen throughout Old Town. La Famiglia sits tucked away on a charming alley, and offers a delicious selection of homemade pastas, bruscetta and lasagna. (ADDRESS: 26 Arlioti Maniarizi, Corfu Town; PHONE: +30 2661 030270)
SPATHIS CAFE GELATERIA
My favorite spot in Old Town to pop in and grab a scoop of gelato. (ADDRESS: Vasileos Georgiou A 24, Corfu Town; PHONE: +30 2661 777337)
WHERE TO STAY ON CORFU
We made the decision to forgo luxury because we wanted the experience of staying in Corfu's Old Town, home to just a handful of small boutique hotel options. If you're looking for something a bit more luxurious, I recommend doing research on TripAdvisor. There are upscale properties located in Dassia and Moraitika.
BELLA VENEZIA HOTEL
A neo-classical mansion filled with history, Bella Venezia sits on the edge of Corfu's Old Town. The rooms are small and a bit dated, but everything is clean, and the location is perfect. From the hotel, we were able to walk to everywhere in Old Town - the beach, restaurants, shopping and cafes. (ADDRESS: Napoleontos Zampeli 4, Corfu Town; PHONE: +30 2661 046500)
SIORRA VITTORIA BOUTIQUE HOTEL
This mid-drange boutique hotel is just a short walk from Bella Venezia. We stayed here as well, and found the experiences at both experiences very similar. The dated rooms at Siorra Vittoria were neat and tidy, and the hospitality was wonderful. Again, the location at the edge of Old Town was perfect. (ADDRESS: 36 Padova Stefanou Corfu Town; PHONE: +30 2661 036300)
HOW TO GET AROUND CORFU
If you have plans to visit anywhere outside of Old Town while on Corfu, you'll need a car or scooter. Our hotel connected us to a rental agency that delivered a scooter to the property, and we kept it for our entire stay on the island.
HOW TO GET TO CORFU
Similar to most Greek islands, Corfu is accessible by both land and sea. The international airport offers flights to several destinations in Europe and the Middle East, while the ferry ports connect Corfu to the mainland, as well as other Ionian islands. We reached Corfu via a short flight from Athens, and from there moved onward to Paxos via ferry. I used a local tour agency to arrange our ferry tickets to Paxos, and for all our other ferry routes in Greece, I was able to book with Ferry Hopper.
Chilling on the iconic diving board of La Grotta.
Renting our own boat was the best decision we made on Corfu. My favorite adventure was swimming from the boat and climbing these seacliffs to this dreamy moonscape.
We got a little lost enroute to Porto Timoni, and stumbled upon a cafe serving up the freshest juice on Agios Georgios Beach.
Sunbathing on the rocks of Garitsa Bay with these views of the Old Fortress.
Chilling at the base of Old Town's city walls.
Found the perfect rock for sunbathing - the way to do it in Greece.
The first of many stops at Spathis Cafe Gelateria, my favorite treat on Corfu.
Jumped off our boat and swam to this secluded beach - such a fun way to explore the island!
Quiet corridors in Corfu's Old Town.
PAXOS & ANTIPAXOS
Yes, off-the-beaten-path still exists in the Greek islands - and Corfu is the gateway. It's only an hour by ferry to reach the island of Paxos, but with only a few small vessels a day during high season, it isn't the most accessible place. If you're lucky enough to make the journey, you're in for a treat. The laid back island is just 10 km long and 4 km wide, home to a refreshing mere handful of port villages, beaches and swimming spots. Life moves at a much slower speed here, making Paxos perfect destination to tack onto any visit to Corfu. And thanks to its tiny size, you really only need three nights to see everything, but stay longer if you can to embrace the island's go with the flow pace.
WHAT TO DO ON PAXOS
ANTIPAXOS (BY PRIVATE BOAT)
The highlight of our visit was exploring both Paxos and Antipaxos by motorboat. Similar to how we did it on Corfu, we rented a boat from Paxos Thalassa Travel, located in Loggos. Cost for a full day was 75 Euros, plus fuel. Our destination was Antipaxos, a tiny island located 3 km south of Paxos, and the journey to get there was incredible. I was amazed at the clear blue water as we explored sparkling coves, blue grottos, a collapsed sea cave and breathtaking Voutoumi Beach. With stops, the roundtrip journey to Antipaxos took us a full day, so I packed water, snacks and a picnic lunch that I bought for us in Loggos village. (LOCATION OF BOAT RENTAL: Loggos; PHONE: +30 2662031662)
This little cove in Gaios is calm, quiet and there are plenty of spots for sunbathing. A perfect place to spend an afternoon on the Ionian Sea. No facilities, so bring water, food and an umbrella if you want shade.
EXPLORE THE ISLAND ON SCOOTER
Paxos is small, and we didn't have much of a plan when we arrived. Instead, we rented a scooter for the duration of our stay and used it to explore the island - stopping to visit little villages, gorgeous beaches and charming ports.
WHERE TO STAY ON PAXOS
PAXOS BEACH HOTEL
Lodging options on Paxos are far and few between, but that's part of the island's charm. We opted for the Paxos Beach Hotel because it has a private beach, and I liked the property's location in Gaios. Rooms were definitely dated, but clean. (ADDRESS: Gaios; PHONE: +30 2662 032211)
HOW TO GET TO PAXOS
Paxos is a small island, accessible via ferry from Corfu. Once on Paxos, you can visit Antipaxos as a daytrip by private rented boat or with a tour group.
Similar to Corfu, we rented a private boat on Paxos and spent an entire day exploring the island, as well as neighboring Antipaxos. One of our favorite discoveries was this collapsed sea cave that we swam to from our boat.
We anchored our boat at this idyllic sea cove for our picnic lunch and an afternoon dip.
Sunbathers on Voutoumi Beach.
The dreamy Ionian Sea.
The blues of Voutoumi Beach on Antipaxos are surreal.
Tourists cooling off along the rocky coast of Paxos.
Paxos is definitely off-the-beaten-path. If you're looking to escape the Greek Island summer crowds, this island is perfect.
Midday nap on the bow of our boat.
If you're looking to spend a few days on a quintessential Greek island, Mykonos is the one. Situated in the Cyclades, the tiny island is completely iconic, packing in Instagram photo opps around every corner. Mykonos Town is particularly lovely with its white-washed stone alleys, charming blue shutters, scenic windmills, picturesque churches and scores of outdoor dining. Whether you're there to party or to relax, you'll leave Mykonos wishing you had more time on the island. Some visitors stay just a couple of nights, but I recommend at least four for enough time to see the town, the beaches, go sightseeing and enjoy some R&R.
WHAT TO DO ON MYKONOS
If you're in search of a topside view of Mykonos Town, make the short hike up to Boni's Windmill. The lone windmill is lovely, but it's the sweeping views over the little town that make this one of the best viewpoints on the island. (DIRECTIONS: Located behind town, use Google Maps as a guide)
If you catch them in bloom, the Casablanca shopfront is draped in bright pink bougainvilleas. (LOCATION: Andronikou & En. Dinameon Matogianni, Mykonos Town)
CHORA ART HOME & DECOR
If the price tags put the Evil Eye pillows out of your budget, at least leave Chora with a photo. The shopfront's white-washed facade is absolutely delightful adorned with bright blue trim, paved stones, boho shades and Evil Eye decor. (ADDRESS: 43 Florou Zouganeli Str, Mykonos Town; PHONE: 302289079363)
This charming boutique sits at the conversion of two alleyways, surrounded by white-washed buildings, blue shutters and red detailing. It's a great spot for photos, but the street is heavily trafficked, as it's one of the main streets in town. Best to visit early in the morning. (A: Κούζη Γεωργούλη 40, Mykonos Town; PHONE: +30 2289 022261)
KATO MILI WINDMILLS
The island's iconic windmills are a short walk from the Little Venice waterfront. It's another popular tourist spot, especially if a cruise ship is in port, so I recommend making this the first stop on the day. (DIRECTIONS: Short walk along the water from Little Venice)
LITTLE VENICE WATERFRONT
Vibrant setting where town meets the sea. A great place to visit during the day, as well as at sunset with a glass of wine.
The best viewpoint of Mykonos Town can be accessed via short hike from the waterfront. Unfortunately, there isn't an address or landmark, so directions are a bit tricky. We made our way to the ELTA Post Office, and found a nearby staircase that led to the GPS Coordinates 37°27'00.8"N 25°19'51.0"E.
NIKO’S TAVERNA SQUARE
Outdoor dining spills out onto the spirited square where you'll find red rooftops, a red chapel, red shutters and red trim. One of the only places in Mykonos town where you'll see more red than blue. (ADDRESS: Ag. Moni Sq. near Parapotianis, Mykonos Town)
Gorgeous white church that sits on a tiny cobbled square surrounded by colorful flags and blooming flowers. (LOCATION: Panachrantou, Mykonos)⠀
This is the most photographed church on the island, so arrive early to experience the charm of Paraportiani without crowds of tourists. The white rocky church looks like something out of the Flintstone's, and it's actually several churches combines to look like one single rocky structure. (LOCATION: Kastro-Paralia, Mykonos Town)
SALT & SUGAR
Blue cushions and white tables line a picturesque stone alleyway, but I think the charming restaurant decor is only out during high season. (ADDRESS: End of Matoyani Street, Mykonos Town; Phone: +30 2289 027462)
WHERE TO STAY ON MYKONOS
CAVO TAGOO MYKONOS
It's an Insta-famous hotel, and if you're willing to splurge, it's worth the stay. Cavo Tagoo is home to 83 upscale units, a mix of rooms, suites and villas that have been beautifully designed for the luxury traveler. Like most hotels in Greece, Cavo Tagoo embraces minimalist interiors with white and neutral tones, but they do it particularly well here. The property frequently houses celebrities and social influencers, as it's become a bucket list experience when traveling to Mykonos. The resort pools have become a destination, but it should be noted that the Instafamous cave pools, heart-shaped pool and saltwater infinity pool are all located inside private suites and villas (only those guests have access to them). Cavo Tagoo is located just outside of Mykonos Town, and the property provides free shuttle service for guests. (LOCATION: Mykonos Town; PHONE: +30 2289 020100)
WHERE TO EAT ON MYKONOS
Most people find their way to Kastro's because they've seen photos of the restaurant's iconic white-washed alleyway that leads to the sea. After snapping a few selfies, stick around to eat! The Kastro's menu is filled with loads of fresh seafood options including sea bream, sea bass, salmon, mussels, lobster and more. (ADDRESS: Agion Anargyron 1, Mykonos Town; PHONE: +30 2289 023072)
A wonderful lunch option while exploring Little Venice and its surroundings. Pepper Mykonos serves up authentic Greek cuisine on little tables that line the cutest alleyways. (ADDRESS: 18 str. Kouzi Georgouli, Mykonos; PHONE: +30 228 90 27 019)
SALE & PEPE
The Sale & Pepe menu is filled with handmade Italian pastas, fresh seafood and wood fired pizza. Dinner was so delicious that we ate here two nights in a row - it's my favorite restaurant on Mykonos. (ADDRESS: Lakka Square, Mykonos Town; PHONE: +30 694 437 6776)
HOW TO GET TO MYKONOS
Mykonos is a highly accessible island with an international airport that services dozens of cities throughout Europe and the Middle East, as well as a few domestic routes. For travelers that are island hopping, there are several ferry options to the surrounding islands. I used Ferry Hopper to book our tickets in advance - it pulls the schedules from several of the ferry lines.
Paraportiani Church reminds me of the Flintstones.
Soaking in all the color of Panachra Church in Mykonos Town.
Niko's Taverna Sqaure is one of the few places in town where you'll see red, not blue.
Absolutely loved these views over Mykonos Town.
Mykonos is happiness.
My first sunset on Mykonos was from the heart shaped pool of Cavo Tagoo - such a dream to stay here!
Loved the minimalist design of Cavo Tagoo.
Soaking in the Greek Island sunshine from the Diamond Villa's private saltwater infinity pool.
The little town is absolutely peaceful in the morning before the cruise ship crowds pour in.
The iconic cave pools of Cavo Tagoo are actually private, only accessible by staying in one of the property's Cave Pool Suites.
Chora is one of the most charming shopfronts in town.
Kato Milli Windmills.
The charm of Little Venice.
This is the most photographed street on Mykonos, and the only way to see it like this is first thing in the morning. If you arrive any later, it fills up with shopkeeper tables, signs and tourists.
Greek feast at Pepper, in Mykonos Town.
Mykonos Town is very walkable - no need for a car on the days you're exploring town.
Farewell views over Mykonos.
Santorini is the most famous island in Greece. And everything they say about it is true: it's expensive, it's crowded and it's touristy. But, I love it. There's a reason everyone flocks here, and simply put, there's nowhere quite like it in the world. The white sloping villages built over the island's caldera are some of the dreamiest views you'll see. I visited for the first time in 2017, and I've been back twice since then. It's a place that never gets old. For first time visitors, I recommend staying at least four nights. There's more to the island than just Oia, and three full days is enough time to see Oia, Fira & Imerovigli; sunbathe and cliff jump in Amoudi Bay; and daytrip out to Red Beach, Perissa Beach and Kamari Beach.
WHAT TO DO ON SANTORINI
It's 200+ steps down the caldera to reach Amoudi Bay, and it's worth every step of the 20-minute hike. The charming fishing village is one of the most picturesque spots on Santorini, home to some of the tastiest seafood on the island. And if you continue on past the restaurants, the coastline leads to a popular sunbathing area on the rocks with views of a tiny offshore island where swimmers cliff jumping. It's a fun place to lay out for a few hours, before or after lunch in Amoudi Bay. To return to Oia, it's the same trail of steps back up the caldera. Please, do not pay money a to hire a donkey - the animals are exploited, and completely mistreated. If you walked down, you can walk up. Or, sometimes there are taxis at the village boat launch.
FIRA | IMEROVIGLI | OIA
Chances are that you're staying in Fira, Imerovigli or Oia, and you'll become very familiar with your home village. Take the time to venture out and explore the neighboring villages, all three are beautiful and have such different personalities. Imerovigli takes just an hour or two to visit, depending how often your stopping for photos, while Fira needs a bit more time thanks to all the food and shopping. Oia needs its own day, especially if you include Amoudi Bay.
HIKE TO FIRA TO OIA
It's a six mile hike between the island's two famous villages, and the journey takes two to five hours depending on your speed and stops along the way. The route is scenic, you'll pass white-washed villages, charming churches and sweeping viewpoints scattered along the trail. You can hike the trail in either direction, although going from Fira to Oia is more downhill. During the summer months, best to hike in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the heat.
This wide open beach is located in southern Santorini at the base of the Mesa Vouno Mountain. It's a nice spot to include as part of a larger daytrip around the island. There are several restaurants for lunch, or choose from one of hundreds of sun beds that line the beach.
If you have enough time, I suggest renting a car or scooter to spend a day exploring. There is much more to Santorini than the caldera views and Oia. Red Beach sits on the southern tip of the island, and it's a great place to change things up. The volcanic beach is an epic setting where massive red rocks and boulders meet the deep turquoise sea, a beautiful place to spend a half-day sunbathing and swimming. During the summer, there are sun beds set up on the rocky beach, available for a fee.
WHERE TO STAY ON SANTORINI
As you plan your trip to Santorini, you'll notice that a bulk of the hotel and AirBnB options are located in Fira, Imerovigli and Oia. These villages are the best places to stay because of their proximity to food, shopping and sightseeing - and location is part of the Santorini experience. I'll quickly breakdown the three areas for you guys. OIA: Everyone wants to stay in Oia, it's the most iconic and for many the most beautiful. Lots of options in Oia, but it's also the most expensive. FIRA: Fira is the island's capital city, and a 20-minute bus ride from Oia. While tourists do flock to Oia, Fira in general feels busier to me. IMEROVIGLI: And finally, there's white-washed Imerovigli - also a 20-minute bus ride from Oia, but walking distance to Fira. I loved staying in Imerovigli, it's absolutely stunning, and the views are completely white (unlike Oia which has a few yellow, pink and red buildings sprinkled throughout the village). Imerovigli is the most peaceful of the three, and hotels are probably a tad cheaper.
The island's newest Andronis property is located just outside of the central Oia. It's about a two-minute walk to reach the tourist zone, and the hotel's location could be a draw or a deterrent, depending on the Santorini experience you're looking for. Andronis Arcadia has Aegean Sea views, but no iconic caldera views because it's located on the backside of the village. However, the location is quiet and completely private, unlike central Oia where tourists can watch you swim, sunbathe and eat breakfast on your balcony. Andronis Arcadia is minimalist luxury, everything designed in whites and neutrals. I stayed in a two-bedroom villa, and the space was beautiful - two stories, two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a private plunge pool on the balcony. If you're looking for something a bit more central, Andronis has other hotels in Oia including Andronis Luxury Suites, Andronis Boutique Hotel and Andronis Exclsuive. (LOCATION: Oia; Phone: +30 2286 027392)
CANAVES HOTEL | CANAVES SUITES | CANAVES SUNDAY SUITES | CANAVES EPITOME | EDEN VILLAS | CANAVES OIA VILLA
Canaves operates six properties in Oia, and you can't go wrong with anything from the brand. The white-washed cave properties are absolutely stunning - the quintessential Santorini holiday. Everything from the caldera view infinity pools to the minimalist chic cave suites have been artfully designed with luxury in mind. (ADDRESS: Oia; PHONE: +30 2286 071844)
A midrange option by Santorini standards, but a lovely hotel if you're looking to stay in Imerovigli. The main pool isn't as epic as most hotels on Santorini, but everything else is impeccable. They offer a variety of cave suites, some with private jacuzzis and plunge pools, all designed with white-washed minimalism. Pegasus Suites sits at the south end of Imerovigli, so the view of the entire village is pretty incredible. (ADDRESS: Imerovigli; PHONE: +30 2286 028336)
WHERE TO EAT ON SANTORINI
There are five restaurants that surround Amoudi Bay's port - all serving up a fresh selection of seafood with stunning views right on the water. Grab a table at one of the restaurants and order up your favorite fish, cooked to order.
One of the prettiest restaurants on Santorini. Best to experience Athenian House at sunset for the breathtaking views over Imerovigli. Reservation recommended, request a table with a sunset view. (LOCATION: Imerovigli; PHONE: +30 2286 036420)
Lycabettus serves both lunch and dinner, but the restaurant's location over Oia make dinner particularly special (especially at sunset). I absolutely loved the seafood selection - the dishes were completely artful, and delicious. Highlights on their current menu include sea bass with almond crust, spinach & clove; grouper with oyster, fennel & wine sauce; crab with watermelon radish, Greek yogurt and passion fruit; and scallops with pumpkin, citrus, kum quat and cuttlefish ink. The restaurant is located on the Andronis Luxury Suites property. Reservation recommended, request a table with a sunset view. (LOCATION: Andronis Luxury Suites, Oia; PHONE: +30 2286 072041)
HOW TO GET AROUND SANTORINI
For travel between Fira, Imerovigli and Oia, most tourists take the bus and walk. If you're interested in visiting Red Beach and other parts of the island, I suggest renting a car or scooter for the day. We rented a scooter from a local tourist agency in Imerovigli - they're located all over the village, you can't miss them.
HOW TO GET TO SANTORINI
Due to its popularity, Santorini is one of the most accessible islands in Greece. The international airport services dozens of cities throughout Europe and the Middle East, and the ferry service connects Santorini to several other islands. From Santorini, we moved onward to Crete by ferry.
The most iconic viewpoint on Santorini is from the Oia Castle ruins, worth a visit during the day and at sunset.
Cute corners abound wandering the pedestrian alleys of Oia.
Watching the cliff jumpers at the best swimming spot on the island, a 10-minute walk from the Amoudi Bay waterfront.
Breakfast from my balcony's plunge pool at Andronis Arcadia.
My favorite meals on Santorini were down here on Amoudi Bay.
Escaped the crowds of Oia for the empty streets of Fira.
From Amoudi Bay you can see white-washed Oia village at the top of the caldera.
Sunset over Oia.
Perissa Beach is lined with hundreds of sunbeds.
We made the journey out to Red Beach - a side of Santorini I rarely see on social media.
The view over Imerovigli.
Afternoons poolside at Andronis Arcadia.
It's so easy to get lost in Oia's maze of stairways and alleyways.
Another feast at Andronis Arcadia's restaurant Pacman, a mix of Greek dishes and fresh sushi.
Postcard perfect views around every corner on Santorini.
The churches in Greece are so beautiful.
Iconic spots on Santorini.
And last, but certainly not least is Crete, my favorite island in Greece. This was a place I didn't have much interest in visiting - I didn't know much about it, and I assumed it was the smaller Greek islands that I'd be most taken with. It was a last minute addition to our itinerary, and I can't even remember why I decided to include it. But thank goodness I did! I left Crete completely enamoured with the island - the culture, the people, the beaches, the energy, the architecture, the history ... I could go on. It's the largest island in Greece, and I have this dream that one summer I'll visit for an entire month. But, if you're like me and only have a week to spend on your first visit, I suggest focusing on one part of the island. We decided on western Crete, and our itinerary was a dazzling mix of vibrant old towns, stunning beaches, epic gorge hikes and some of the friendliest people in Greece.
WHAT TO DO ON CRETE
Western Crete was a beachgoer's dream. The azure coastline was home to beaches of every shape, size and color - crowds were the only constant, so it was essential we started our days early with the beaches we were most excited to see.
The beautiful swirls of white sand and shallow blues offer some of the most stunning views on the west coast. It's easiest to reach Balos Lagoon by boat tour, but also possible to drive if you have a 4x4, and then hike down to the beach.
It's one of the prettiest Old Towns in Europe, and certainly my favorite city in Greece. Chania weaves together narrow alleyways, pedestrian corridors and hidden squares to create a labyrinth that looks more Venetian than Greek. The colorful streets come alive in the evenings, my favorite time of the day to get lost in the winding corridors lined with charming shops, blooming bougainvilleas, lively bars and little restaurants..
The island's most famous beach sits on the southern tip of western Crete. Elafonisi is stunning, a shallow lagoon of white and pink sand surrounded by shallows that sparkle turquoise when the sun is out. This is one beach where arriving early in the morning is a must. I've never seen a place fill up so quickly. We were the first people to arrive at the beach, and within a couple of hours it was overrun with thousands of tourists.
Falasarna sits on the island's western tip, and thanks to the beach's large size I never felt overwhelmed by the crowds. There are bars and sun beds scattered along Falasarna. If you're looking for a quieter experience, head to the peaceful north end of the beach (where the nude sunbathers hang out) and lay claim to one of the secluded sparkling coves.
SAMARIA GORGE HIKE
Our most adventurous day in Greece was inside the Samaria Gorge, the longest gorge in Europe. The famous hiking trail led us down through Crete's most epic mountain scenery, and then straight out to the Libyan Sea. We don't normally do the tour group thing, but it would have been a logistical nightmare to hike the one-way trail on our own. I booked our trip through Elafonissos Travel, and to our surprise, the trek felt very independent. We were essentially paying for transportation logistics, and everything else was on our own (which was perfect). A guide picked us up at 6 AM in a bus that shuttled us south to the Samaria trailhead, located deep in the White Mountains. Everyone hiked the gorge at their own pace with the guide picking up the rear, starting his trek 30 minutes after the group. The trail is incredible - sheer rock faces, gushing blue rivers, ruins and we even spotted a wild Ibex. It's impossible to get lost - the trail leads one direction, straight out to the sea. Everyone reached the coast at different times, we finished almost three hours early - so we had time to grab lunch in the little village, and relax on the beach. We then boarded a ferry that took us up the coast where we then boarded the bus back to Chania. (ELAFONISSOS TRAVEL PHONE: +30 2821 032030)
My favorite beach in western Crete is Seitan Limania, a deep channel of milky blues that open up to a small beach surrounded by cliffs, a. bit like the Calanque d'En-Vau in the South of France and Calo des Moro in Mallorca. Be prepared for a nail-biting, windy ride to the beach parking lot, and an even scarier hike down the cliff to reach the beach. But once you're there it's an amazing place to spend the day. Seitan Limania is a popular spot for cliff jumpers, watch their crazy leaps or join in the fun! And keep an eye out for the occasional wild goat that wanders down the cliffs looking for food. There are no facilities here, so bring plenty of water and food (and an umbrella if you think you'll want shade).
Similar to Corfu, we opted to stay in Old Town Chania. I booked a family-run boutique hotel that was small, charming and perfectly located on a quiet Venetian square. A car is a must on Crete, so check that your hotel has a parking option available. Ours did not, and it was a headache to have to find parking every evening in Old Town's labyrinth of streets.
Great spot for affordable, handmade pasta dishes. (ADDRESS: Daskalogianni 69, Chania; PHONE: +30 2821 114808)
Fogotto Jazz Bar
This iconic jazz bar that sits in one of Old Town's beautiful Venetian buildings comes to life in the evenings with classic jazz, swing and blues. Order a cocktail and settle in at one of the small outdoor tables to people watch and enjoy the music. (ADDRESS: Aggelou 16, Chania; PHONE: +30 2821 071877)
Moutoupaki Taverna Dinner
A lovely restaurant tucked away down a quiet alleyway. Dozens of tables fill an outdoor square with vines, jasmine and lights that hang overhead. Moutoupaki serves classic Greek dishes. (ADDRESS: Porto 60, Chania Town; PHONE: +30 2821 094196)
It's the largest island in Greece, and also one of the most accessible. Whether you're flying or ferrying to the island, make sure you've selected the airport or port closest to where you'll be staying. There are six passenger ports and three airports on Crete.
I love the energy of Seitan Limania during the summer - one of the prettiest beaches in Western Crete.
We used charming Chania as our homebase for exploring Western Crete, and it was such a treat to call Old Town home for a week.
Morning sparkles at Elafonissi Beach.
Floating in the prettiest blue water.
It's so easy get lost in Chania's maze of alleyways and corridors.
Arrive early in the morning to enjoy the quiet of Elafonisi Beach - it fills up very quickly with tourists.