Backpackers often wonder which Greek island to visit when backpacking Greece. Greece has over 6000 islands and islets scattered around the coast. From the more well-known backpackers islands of Mykonos and Santorini to the hidden gems of Naxos and Astypalaia, there are endless choices when backpacking Greece, and it’s a hard decision.
The islands are packed with varying amounts of picturesque beaches, diverse landscapes and rich history and culture, not to mention world heritage sites.
I asked some top travel bloggers for their recommendations on which islands to visit when backpacking Greece based on their experience to compile the ultimate list of the best islands in Greece for backpackers.
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A beginners guide to backpacking in Greece
Backpackers usually travel between the Greek islands by ferry (the cheapest option) via Athens. Athens is seen as the ‘Gateway to the Greek islands’ and is the start of many trips backpacking Greece, and it’s islands.
Most ferries depart from Pireus port although there are also two smaller ports near Athens – Rafina which mainly has services to the Northern Cyclades and Lavrio which mainly has services to Kynthos and Kea. View ferry schedules and prices here.
It’s also possible to fly to the Greek islands from airports across Europe. Athens international airport has the most flights available, usually by air-bus. Many Greek islands such as Naxos and Paros have airports with flights only departing to Athens.
Well, known and populated islands such as Zakynthos, Rhodes and Crete have airports serving flights from all over Europe. View the latest flight prices and deals at Travel Supermarket here.
The Greek Islands | Travel Guide
There are five groups of islands in Greece based on geographic locations. The Cyclades are the most widely known group and include the likes of Mykonos and Santorini as well as the lesser-known islands of Ios, Milos and many others. The Dodecanese are next to to the Turkish coast. The islands can be reached from Athens (15 hours) or from Marmaris in Turkey.
The Saronic islands are located near Athens and are possible to visit in a day-trip. However, they also make a grand island-hopping itinerary! North-Agean islands are also a short ferry ride from the mainland and include the likes of Samos and Lesvos as well as many others.
The Ionian islands include six islands on the East coast of Greece. If you wish to travel to the Ionian islands by ferry, you must depart from Killini on the west coast of mainland Greece. If you’re hiring a car to visit the Greek islands, then it’s easy to drive from Athens to Killini. There’s also a bus from Athens (30 Euro), or you can take public transport to Parta then take a taxi to Kyllini.
Best Ionian Islands For Backpackers
The island of Corfu is situated in the Ionian Sea on the north-western side of Greece. It is the second-largest islands in the Ionian Sea after Kefalonia. The island has a history of Venetian, English and French rulers before being declared as a part of Greece.
The influences of the previous rulers are highly visible in the city centre of the town. The island is flanked by large Venetian style fortresses and has a French-style Portico. The city centre with its winding streets will definitely remind you of Italy as the island is about a 2-hour ferry ride from Italy’s southern region of Puglia
Corfu is known for crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches and lots of history. The island is not as popular a tourist destination as Santorini and Mykonos. Hence it is not expensive to visit the island. The most beautiful beaches on the island include the Paleokastritsa beach, Myrtiotissa beach and Agios Giorgios Pagi. The nightlife of the island is also quite happening. In the centre of the town, you will find clusters of pubs, clubs and restaurants for those looking for a fun night out.
How to get to Corfu
The island has its own airport. So you can easily reach Corfu by air or by the ferry from Italy as well. The island is well connected by a bus service that is affordable and on time. It is also possible to rent out a taxi or a scooter to explore the island at your own pace.
Submitted by Merryl, Merryl’s Travel & Tricks
Backpackers looking to get off the beaten track will delight in Lefkada. Despite being connected to the mainland by a bridge, Lefkada is not well known to the masses and boasts some of the best beaches in all of Europe. Beaches dot much of the coast of Lefkada with the western beaches being a picture of paradise with their huge bleached cliffs, white sand, and turquoise waters.
Some of our favourite beaches were Mylos Beach and Porto Katsiki Beach. Both of which are stunning and secluded. If you are an avid windsurfer or if you would just like to chance your hand at the sport then Vassiliki Beach is the place to be. It is one of the top windsurfing destinations in Europe and has a host of restaurants, bars, and shops.
You’ll need a week if you want to explore all the best beaches in Lefkada. However, one of the great things about them is that you don’t need to rent a beach chair or umbrella to relax on these Greek beaches. They are great for the budget traveller who would prefer to rock up with their own towels and snacks.
Submitted by Oksana & Max, Drink Tea & Travel
The ‘pearl in the Eastern Mediterranean’, Zakynthos, also known as ‘Zante’ is one of the Ionian islands on the West coast of mainland Greece.For decades, the island has been attracting package holiday tourists to its beautiful caves, dramatic coastline,e and perfect beaches.
It’s also a popular destination for young clubbers, flocking to Zakynthos to experience the legendary Laganas strip, attracting DJs worldwide. Zakynthos is a lesser-known backpacker destination but in my opinion, it’s a must-visit.
What makes Zakynthos worth visiting?
- The famous ‘Shipwreck beach’ is one of the most identifiable images of Greece.
- A taste of Greek culture by seeing Zakynthos inland with its vineyards and olive oil factories.
- The blue caves and Keri caves with amazingly blue water.
- The legendary nightlife of Laganas strip.
To read in-depth about things to do in Zakynthos, read our post on ‘Things to do in Zakynthos’
Backpacking Greece | Zakynthos for Backpackers
The majority of backpackers hire a car to get around Zakynthos. Busses can be slow and unreliable. The other option is to stay in a bigger resort such as Laganas or Argasi and book tours. You can view tours in Zakynthos here. To really get a feel of Greek culture then I would recommend staying in Zakynthos town. However, if you’re looking for a lively atmosphere at night then stay near Laganas strip.
If you want to stay longer in Zakynthos, why not volunteer with Archelon, Greece’s sea turtle protection society. Volunteers monitor the nesting activity, protect nests and hatchlings, and contribute to public awareness in the major breeding sites in Greece and the Mediterranean. Volunteers live on a campground in Kalitero near Zakynthos town.
- Most projects require a stay of at least 4 weeks.
- Projects run from May to Mid-October each year.
Best Cycladic Islands for Backpackers
Donousa is one of the tiniest of the Cyclades Islands with only 13.75 square kilometres of extension. It is only 16km away from Naxos and is on the route to Amorgós, but from Athens, you’d have a 7-hour journey, which will pay well off in the end. Donousa is a hidden gem in the Aegean Sea with less than 200 inhabitants and basic touristic structure.
We went there last summer in search of a calm and luminous place to recharge batteries. In search of silence, the traditional Greek food, and crystal clear sea. We found way more than we expected.
Donousa is perfect when backpacking Greece because it is kind of wild and charming. It is suitable for people who like nature, long walks and appreciate simple things. Do not expect trendy or luxurious bars, restaurants, or hotels in Donousa. There you have (still) the authentic experience, which makes you feel a traveller, not a tourist.
There was excellent food everywhere although in some restaurants the views are better. We stayed at a studio with a sea-view that made us happy instantly when waking up. At the end, We left Donousa nearly crying because we realized one week is such a short time to enjoy paradise as we deserve.
Submitted by Sofia, Trip Trip Now
#5 Backpacking Ios
Ios is an island in the Cyclades, nestled between Paros and Santorini. Many sailing tours include it on their itineraries, and it is fast becoming one of the most popular islands for backpackers and younger travellers.
Ios is a hilly and rocky island that used to be famous for its pirates; now it’s famous for its parties. The narrow cobbled streets, designed to misdirect marauders, twist and turn between rows of traditional whitewashed houses up the hillside. Shops, cafes, and bakeries can be found around each corner (as well as the occasional sleepy cat).
Wander the streets, enjoy the relaxed vibe, or head to one of the many beautiful beaches along the coast. Once the sun goes down, Ios is transformed. No longer are the streets empty – they are now full of revellers, music pumping out of every second doorway.
Shops are open, with their colourful wares spilling into the streets, people are dancing in the laneways and the smell of gyros is everywhere (not a bad thing).
There are over 100 bars and clubs on Ios, each one unique. Many of the bars give out free singlets or t-shirts if you buy a certain amount of drinks, like the grown-up version of a Happy Meal Toy – try to collect them all! Start out at the ‘FunBar’, which opens early and is full of games to start you off, visit the famous ‘Slammer Bar’ (you slam a drink, then get slammed), ‘Flames’ – you guessed it, things get lit on fire – or the Silent Disco bar (strange experience but super fun)!
Getting to Ios/Getting around Ios
If you want to keep the party going, a stay at Far-Out Beach Club is a must. Many backpackers stay here, and there is a range of accommodation to suit all budgets. Parties run at the beachfront property all day and all night and do beach/water sports and other activities.
There are also many other hostels and hotels across the island if you want a break from all the partying. Buses run across the island, which is cheap (though they run on GMT time – ‘Greek Maybe Time’) and tickets are bought on the bus. They can be crowded, so taxi’s are also an option, though there are not many on the island.
To get to Ios, take a ferry from Athens, or if you are visiting a few islands,s ferries run from Santorini, Paros, and Naxos and others depending on your route. Ferries vary in price depending on where you are departing from/returning to and have options from basic through to private cabins.Tour companies, such as Busabout run flexible hop-on-hop-off itineraries through the Greek Islands, including Ios.
Ios is a fantastic destination for backpackers – beautiful beaches, cheap (delicious) food, unlimited nightlife.Cheers to new friends, free t-shirts, and partying until the sun comes up! The main age for visitors is 18-27, so you will be in good company!
Submitted by Jenna, I Know the Pilot
Read More | One day in Ios | A day trip Itinerary
#6 Backpacking Naxos
Naxos is a backpacker’s dream Greece destination, with its combination of endless summer days, cheap accommodation and incredible, budget-friendly food. The island is easily accessible from Athens (4-5 hours) and provides a host of activities for all types of travellers. We spent a week here in August, and barely scratched the surface!
Beautiful beaches, and beach clubs for the party-lovers. A mountainous wilderness interior for the outdoor adventurers – climbing Mt. Zeus is a highlight, and is free. Incredible local cuisine to divulge in and nicknamed the bread-basket of the Greek Islands, Naxos is most known for its dried meats, fresh produce, and its legendary cheeses. A cheese tasting at KOUFOPOULOS in Naxos Town is a must. And that’s just to name a few.
Getting to Naxos
Due to its position, Naxos is a major ferry port. You can access almost all the other Cycladic islands and Crete from here. This also means the ferry prices are fairly affordable. Because of its size, Naxos has a large array of accommodation options, making it one of the cheapest Greek Islands to visit. However, if you visit in August (along with all of mainland Greeks) your budget will be out the window.
Airbnb’s are your best bet for cheap basic accommodation ($25-$50/night), however, there are tent campgrounds if you are going uber-budget. Dorm-style hostels are not plentiful, so make sure to travel with a companion or two to keep the costs down.
Like all of the Greek Islands, Naxos is explored easiest in the summer months when backpacking Greece.However, it is significantly cheaper. The shoulder and winter seasons see a dramatic reduction in ferries, accommodation, and bus routes.
Where to stay in Naxos
If you want to explore the island the best thing to do is to base yourself out of Naxos town. Use the extensive bus system to take day-trips everywhere. This is what we did. If you just want to chill and hang out on the beach, base yourself anywhere along the island’s west coast, south of Naxos town. Countless beaches stretch for miles.
Submitted by Ryan, The Nutty Trekkers
Read More | Agios Prokopios Naxos Resort Guide
#7 Backpacking Milos
The island of Milos in the Cyclades is one of the lesser-visited Greek islands, despite being magnificently beautiful and relatively cheap! This is what makes it an ideal spot for backpackers. You can not only lounge on glorious Greek beaches, soak up local culture and visit photogenic villages and landscapes, but you’ll avoid the mega crowds that are known to take over famous islands like Mykonos and Santorini.
Aside from the plethora of sandy beaches, one of the true highlights of Milos is the moon-like rock formations at Sarakiniko. This beach is quite unlike traditional Greek beaches. The white landscape here was formed by the erosion of volcanic rock which makes for an unusual yet stunning backdrop. This beach is also the spot if you want to try some cliff-jumping (a backpacker favourite). There are rocks of various heights surrounding coves of deep, crystal-clear water that are begging to be enjoyed.
One of the only things that Milos lacks for backpackers is hostels, but like many other Greek islands, travelers can find pretty cheap guesthouses and hotels. If you’re travelling with a friend or as part of a group, will be very affordable. Similarly, you’ll probably want to hire a moped to get around. The island is quite large and public transport is fairly infrequent.
Submitted by Chrysoula, Travel Passionate
#8 Backpacking Mykonos
Mykonos is one of the most popular islands in Greece, and with good reason, as it’s absolutely gorgeous. If you’re into the party scene, you’ll feel right at home here, as the nightlife options are virtually endless. It’s also a very gay-friendly island, with plenty of gay bars, drag shows, etc. Drinking at the clubs can get quite expensive, though. To keep your budget down, try hitting the local bars instead.
And if partying is not your style, that doesn’t mean you should skip Mykonos!The famous windmills, beautiful whitewashed churches, and the houses on stilts that overhand the water in the seaside neighbourhood known as Little Venice are the top things to see and do in Mykonos.The old town (also known as Chora) is full of architectural and cultural delights as well. And history buffs should definitely not skip a visit to the ancient Greek ruins on the nearby island of Delos.
Where to stay in Mykono
Mykonos does get very crowded in summer, so it’s best to go in the shoulder seasons in spring or autumn. Accommodation will also be cheaper at this time of year. Orpheus Rooms in the Old Town has private rooms starting at 50 euros for a double in the off-season. Or to stretch your budget even further, you can stay at one of the two beach-side campgrounds, one of which also offers dorm beds.
How to get to Mykonos
To get to Mykonos, you can take a ferry or a high-speed catamaran from Piraeus in Athens or Rafina. Ferries take longer but are definitely the cheaper option.
Submitted by Wendy, The Nomadic Vegan
#9 Backpacking Paros
When people travel to the Greek islands, it seems like everyone heads out to Mykonos, Ios, or Santorini. We love finding hidden gems, and Paros was exactly that! Paros is an island in the Aegean Sea, known for its beaches, traditional villages and one of the oldest churches in the country. It’s also a great place to party the night away!
If you’re looking to escape some of the more typical ‘backpacker’ islands, this is the perfect place for you! The island is not that crowded, though we suggest going in September when the weather is still hot and the crowds have left.
The prices will also be more backpacker-friendly than if you go during the high-season. It’s also great for backpackers because it’s small enough to get around using only public transportation, from the bus to the many water taxis that hop around the beaches and ports.
While on the island, there are a ton of different beaches you can go to, some even catering to the party crowd. You can take a stroll through Naoussa, a port village, with tons of amazing restaurants to choose from, cute shops and alleys to get lost in. Also, be sure to check out Lefkes, a traditional village on top of the hill, at the centre of Paros. And make sure you end each day with a sunset. The show the sky puts on in Paros is one of the best we’ve seen in the world!
How to get to Paros/Where to stay in Paros
The best way to get to the island is by taking a ferry from Athens, Naxos or Santorini, which are the closest ports. The ferry will drop you off in Parikia. If you’re looking to party, pick accommodations in Parikia, where you just landed with the ferry. If you want a more relaxing stay, we recommend the Naoussa area. Either way, you will find something for every budget.
Submitted by Carine & Derek, We did it our way
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#10 Backpacking Santorini
Backpackers are always treated warmly on Santorini. Wealthy tourists and honeymooners book out the spectacular 5-star accommodation along the waterfront a year in advance. Bars and restaurants with perfect views can have eye-watering prices by island standards. But you only have to venture back one or two streets from the caldera edge and prices drop enormously!
Perhaps the most wonderful part of visiting Santorini is its free experiences – the views, the water, and the unforgettable sunsets. I love going to the supermarket in Fira (the major town on the island) and filling up on local delicacies. Then it’s off hiking all over the island and finding hidden beaches, churches, and views.
And you can experience a magical Santorini sunset from the water by taking a tour over to the neighbouring island of Thirassia for a fraction of the price of a regular caldera boat tour.
The beaches are free, seafood is cheap and accommodation away from the caldera edge and the main towns are beautiful, with large rooms and often swimming pools. Try wonderful villages like Pyrgos, Megalochiri and Akrotiri. And don’t forget to see ancient Akrotiri – it’s the hidden and surprising Pompeii of Greece and even possibly the real city of Atlantis!
Read more | One day in Santorini | A day trip itinerary
Submitted by Monique, Trip Anthropologist
If you’re planning on some Greek island hopping when backpacking Greece, Sifnos is a hidden gem. It’s a pristine island in the Cyclades island group with sandy beaches and a gorgeous monastery. It may not be as well-known or crowded as some other island destinations, but it has everything you need for a beautiful holiday.
Make sure to visit Chrysopigi Monastery and the beach which shares its name. Not only is Sifnos a wonderful place to explore, but the island is relatively affordable. There is also public transportation with a bus route covering most of the island. It’s easy to get from the ferry platform in the village of Kamares to the island capital, Apollonia. Apollonia is a picturesque enclave in the hills with whitewashed buildings and some fun nightlife.
When we visited Sifnos, we travelled there by Ferry from Athens. The high-speed option takes about 3 hours from Athens to the port village of Kamares on Sifnos. Upon landing in Kamares, we rented a car to explore the island but stayed in a nearby hotel. The island is quaint and manageable with ample nightlife, restaurants, cafes and pubs. It’s not a party destination, but you certainly won’t be bored or run out of things to do. View EXACTLY how to get from Athens to Sifnos here.
Submitted by Derek & Mike, Robe Trotting
Read More | The best beaches in Greece for families
Best Dodocanese Islands for Backpackers
#12 Rhodes for Backpackers
Rhodes is one of my favourite islands of the Greek islands to visit on a budget. Because the island caters mostly to older British tourists and people on all-inclusive holidays, the budget hotels and hostels that are there are happy to have the business, especially in the shoulder season.
You can stay in Rhodes Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and explore the medieval fortress for free. In fact, most Rhodes Town hotels are located within the fortress walls of the Old Town!
When you want to get out and explore the island’s beaches, inexpensive buses provide great intercity transportation. I suggest you head to Lindos, a gorgeous white-washed town set on a hillside overlooking a turquoise bay. Rhodes Town beach is easy to reach, but I prefer Lindos if you want to enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Food can be a bit pricier on the island than on others, so stick to Greek street food to keep your daily costs low. And of course, you can always shop for groceries and make your own meals so you don’t spend any extra money on food.
If you want to explore further afield, Rhodes is the main gateway to smaller islands like Tilos, though there are enough things to do in Rhodes to fill a weekend or two.
Submitted by Stephanie, Sophia Adventures
Astypalaia, or Astropalia, as the locals prefer to name it, is located between Dodecanese and Cyclades, somewhere on the southeastern Aegean Sea. The island’s unusual shape and the beauty of the landscape earned Astypalaia the nickname “The Butterfly of the Aegean”. Typical of all Greek islands are the sun-baked beaches, the whitewashed villages, and the centuries-old history, with Astypalaia not lacking any of those.
What makes Astypalaia worth visiting?
- The unparalleled beauty of (chora). Visitors have the chance to wander amongst the bright white houses and their blue windows or admire the white domes of Agios Georgios and Evangelistria churches inside the imposing Venetian castle of the island’s capital town. After gazing at an amazing sunset from the castle, feel free to head down for some pictures between the windmills.
- Not as crowded as Mykonos or Santorini – you can roam around freely without feeling rushed and enjoy some moments of pure laziness and isolation in the island’s picturesque beaches
- The legendary hospitality of the 1,334 residents of the island
- The delicious local cuisine. Don’t even think about leaving the island without first tasting Chlori (cheese), pouggia (little fried pies stuffed with cheese), kitrinokouloura (local breadsticks) or labrianos (stuffed goat). Make sure you also try Astypalaia’s legendary Thyme honey
Why is Astypalaia ideal for backpackers?
- The island is only 18 kilometres long and 13 kilometres wide at most, meaning that you can move around easily. You can either rent an ATV or use the good ol’ method of hitchhiking
- You can stay at the camping of the islands. Not only you will cut on the accommodation costs but you will also have the chance to hang amongst other backpackers since it is the only camping of the island
- There are plenty of adventure activities, completely free of charge. Spearfishing, hiking, climbing to “Ftera” terrain using more than 20 climbing routes, exploring Negros Cave, at Vatses beach or simply swimming at one of the many beautiful beaches of the island – Plakes, Vatses, Agios Konstantinos, Kaminakia, Agios Giannis, Panormos, Pera Gialos or Pachia Ammos
How can you get to Astypalaia?
You have to grab the “Blue Star Naxos” ferry boat from Piraeus port in Athens takes around 11 hours and the ticket costs around 65 EUR (with return). Alternatively, you can catch a flight but that will cost a lot more.
Submitted by: Nikos, Miles with Vibes
My absolute favourite Greek island is Karpathos. It is a truly beautiful and authentic island. We took a flight from Athens to Karpathos but the island is also accessible by ferry. Once on the island, it is best to rent a car as the island is quite big. You will need it if you want to explore around. Car rentals on Karpathos are quite cheap. This also will be the only expensive purchase of the trip. View the latest car rental prices and availability here.
Restaurants are quite cheap on the island and it is possible to camp as well. In general, hotels are not that expensive. There are a lot of bed and breakfast. Also no big hotel chains of luxury hotels on the island. It’s Greece as you have never seen it before. Indeed, while many Greek islands are overcrowded and extremely pricey, Karpathos is still an unknown gem!
What you can do on the island is diverse. It is quite famous for kitesurfing as one side of the windy is very windy. You can also go hiking and enjoy the many creeks. Also, the village of Olympos is not to miss. You will feel like you travelled back in time.
Submitted by Amandine, Beaux Voyages
#15 Crete for Backpackers
Crete is the largest Greek island and it’s full of surprises for backpackers. Although it’s certainly famous for history, it’s often skipped by backpackers, which is a mistake given that it’s far more budget-friendly than many other major islands in Greece. Crete is a beautiful mix of scenery from stunning mountains to beautiful hill-top villages to historic ruins (e.g. fortresses and Palace of Knossos) and picture-perfect beaches. Simply, there’s something for everyone from hiking to history and the island is large enough that you can easily spend a week on Crete alone.
Many travellers come to Crete with all-inclusive packages or tours and mostly stay within their own resorts, so if you’re a backpacker, you can stay overnight at some of a cosy B&Bs on the island for a fraction of a cost of accommodation in more expensive destinations such as Santorini or Athens.
Chania, Rethymno, and Heraklion are very cool cities with their own unique feeling, so be sure to give yourself enough time to properly explore each one, preferably long enough to have time to enjoy watching the sunset with a glass of local wine in hand! Going out to eat is generally affordable as portions tend to be generous, most of the ingredients come from the island itself, and some of the best Greek wine comes from Crete itself.
Getting to Crete/Getting around Crete
You can easily get around Crete solely by public transit as the island has an affordable and well-run bus system that is easy to navigate between its major cities whether you’re taking a day trip or moving between cities. Some others opt for a car, but it is not necessary if you’re sticking the major tourist attractions.
Although getting to Crete can be a bit expensive from Athens, there are affordable overnight ferries from Athens and Santorini if you’re looking for a relaxing change of pace!
Submitted by Karen, Wanderlustingk
Greece Travel | Moving on from the Greek islands
As the capital of Greece, Athens is a must-visit for anyone visiting Greece. Athens is home to world-famous sites including the Acropolis, the perfect place to end your trip (or start it) and it will be much cheaper to fly home from too. Athens airport hosts flights from all over the world. Did you know that Athens has some of the cheapest flights to Singapore in Europe? Read our post on things to do in Athens for backpackers to see what else the city has in store!
Exploring mainland Greece
Athens is not just the ‘Gateway to the Greek islands’. It’s a great starting point to explore mainland Greece with the best transport connections. Why not head to the world-famous archaeological sites of Olympia and Delphi or explore the Northern city of Thessaloniki and the Chalkidiki peninsula. For more inspiration, visit our post on the best places to visit in Mainland Greece.
Travelling to Turkey
Being just a stones-throw from the Dodeconese islands by ferry and reachable on a direct bus from Athens to Istanbul.
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Read more on Greece
Have you backpacked around the Greek islands? Do you have any recommendations for other backpackers? Tell us in the comments below!