Dreamy beaches, jaw-dropping sunsets, fresh and approachable food, and hospitality that won’t quit all make the Greek islands an enviable family destination. But which island to choose? The possibilities number in the hundreds and span a fairly large geographic area.
First, get your bearings. Starting from the west of the Greek peninsula are the Ionian Islands. Nestled in the Ionian Sea, they include Corfu, located farthest north and close to the coast of Albania, as well as Zakynthos. The Cyclades, the group of isles in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey, are often the spots that pop to mind when you hear “Greek islands.” They include Santorini, Mykonos and Naxos. The Dodecanese (meaning 12) Islands, including Rhodes, are farther south, closest to the Turkish coast. Islands such as Crete, floating due south of mainland Greece, stand on their own.
Nicknamed the Emerald Isle, the lush surroundings of Corfu score high for families thanks to easy flight and ferry access, a quaint UNESCO-protected old town, beautiful beaches and enough natural and modern attractions to entice kids of all ages. This favored Ionian island has beaches for days, including popular Porto Timoni Beach and Paleokastritsa Beach, a soft, sandy respite in an inlet lined with rocks on both sides.
Other stunning natural features include the picturesque Canal d’Amour near Sidari and the breathtaking Cape Drastis at the northern end of the island. Make sure to leave plenty of time to enjoy Corfu town and the Old Fortress, which are connected by the Esplanade (a long green square) and Liston (an elegant arcade designed in the style of the Rue De Rivoli in Paris).
To explore the beauty of the island from a different vantage point, families can opt for an excursion on a glass-bottom boat from Corfu town or take a day trip to the nearby island of Paxos to see its famed Blue Caves and the Tripitos Arch.
For history and archeology fans, Corfu has tons to offer. The village of Palaiokastritsa is said to be the Greek mythological site of Scheria and the last spot Odysseus visited before returning home. Dating back to Byzantine times, the Palaiokastritsa monastery is open to the public and sells olive oil that the monks press onsite. Another monastery worth checking out is Vlacherna, a recognizable Corfu landmark positioned on its own tiny islet. For those with slightly more modern tastes, Achilleon is a neoclassical 19th-century palace designed for Elisabeth of Bavaria; its interior and gardens are open for tours.
For a complete change of speed, Corfu also offers the Aqualand water park (one of the biggest water parks in Europe) and Hydropolis water park in Archaravi.
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Ionian island Zakynthos is known for its beaches, water activities and focus on marine life. Also known by its Italian name of Zante, this island is a haven for future marine life experts due to its loggerhead sea turtle habitat and efforts toward the protection of monk seals.
The iconic Navagio Beach, also known as Shipwreck Beach because of the freightliner that ran aground there, makes a memorable treasure hunt for any vacation day. (Note: Navagio is only accessible by boat.) Xigia Sulphur Beach is also popular for the healing properties of its Sulphur waters. Other beaches that bubble up on the list are chill Alykes, Porto Azurro cave and beach, and Tsilivi. The latter is also home to a popular water park.
Zakynthos town is another top destination, and the nearby ruins of the Venetian castle perched on the hill make for an interesting outing with fantastic views over the Ionian Sea to boot.
Compact and charming, Naxos is decidedly less crowded than its Cyclades neighbors Santorini and Mykonos. It boasts a delightful old town and family-friendly beaches, many with shallow water. Don’t miss the Naxos Portera, a picturesque landmark that is part of the Temple of Apollo, and a fantastic place to watch the sunset.
With pride of place in the Aegean, the alluring beaches of Naxos include the dazzling Agios Prokopios as well as Plaka and Agia Anna. Naxos is also famous for its traditional mountain villages, including Chalki, Philoti and Apeiranthos (marble village). The Eggares olive press museum is another Naxos gem where families can see — and taste — how olive oil is made.
There’s a reason that Santorini is often the first Greek isle that comes to mind: stunning whitewashed scenery and sunsets that warrant crowd applause. Families looking to explore will have plenty to choose from on Santorini, including the beautiful, hilly towns of Fira and Oia (particularly special at sunset) and discovering the island’s volcanic past that many believe holds the ancient city of Atlantis.
Akrotiri Archeological Museum is a remarkable destination, providing a window into the remains of the massive volcanic eruption that took place on the island more 3,000 years ago. Ancient Thira is another historical must-see. For further volcano exploration, families can tour the crater near Kameni or opt for a boat ride to see the caldera from a different vantage point. Families with teens may even enjoy kayaking in the caldera.
Because of its volcanic past, Santorini is famous for its black sand beaches like Kamari. There are also quaint villages to explore, including Pyrgos and Megalochori. Active families will be swept up in hiking the path from Thira to Oia, water sports like sea kayaking and parasailing, and more. Another kid-friendly way to experience Thira is to take the cable car. For a change of pace, families with younger kids might enjoy the local water park.
TIP: Santorini is filled with cascading stairs, so families with stroller-age children should be mindful.
Mykonos is known for its nightlife, but it still warrants a spot on our family list for its movie-worthy backdrops and world-famous beaches. Families will enjoy exploring Mykonos’ old town, especially the nearby windmills for a quintessential photo op. Among the 20-plus beaches on the island, Platys Gialos and Ornos remain family favorites. Beyond the tranquil waters and white sand, they also offer kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, wakeboarding and flyboarding.
Teens who need a break from the beach and sightseeing might like a trip to the Mykonos Raceland Go-Kart track. For Greek mythology fans, a day trip to the archaeological site of Delos (only 30 minutes by boat) is definitely in order to visit the Temples of Apollo, the sanctuary of Artemis and the Avenue of the Lions.
Part of the Dodecanese islands, Rhodes is perhaps the most important Greek island, historically speaking. Tops on the agenda should be a visit to the medieval city of Rhodes, which is one of the best-preserved such places in the world. Travel down the cobblestone Street of Knights and arrive at the Palace of the Grand Master, a fantastical structure purportedly built on the remains of the Temple of Helios, god of the sun.
To cool off, Faliraki beach is a hit with families for its shallow water and soft sand as well as attractions such as a water park and an amusement park. Faliraki also has jet skis and banana boats. Other beaches to consider are Tsambika and quieter Agathi. For water sports, Prasonisi is the spot for windsurfing and kitesurfing. Spend a memorable day in the quaint pedestrian-only village of Lindos, which also has a pretty beach as well as the nearby unique rock formations of St. Paul’s Bay.
Nature and animal lovers will enjoy the many offerings in Rhodes, from the Valley of the Butterflies to the Marine Aquarium in town and the Farma of Rhodes, with interactive zones as well as ostriches, kangaroos and camels. Other spots to check off the list are the Akropolis and the Oasis of the Seven Springs.
One of Greece’s bigger islands, Crete packs a wallop with its extensive history and sandy beaches. Elafonisi Beach is a favorite with families for its clear, calm waters and the fact that you can wade out to a sandy island. Falasarna, another popular beach, is a great spot for watching the sun set. The Palm Forest of Vai and its beach are also a must for their unique tropical setting.
Chania is one of the biggest cities in the Greek islands and has plenty to offer. Don’t miss the Venetian harbor, the Agora marketplace and the lighthouse. Other smaller towns dotted around Crete that make for good day trips are Rethymnon, the tiny villages of the Lasithi Plateau and the fishing village of Loutro (only accessible by boat).
Knossos Palace near Heraklion is one of the most notable Bronze Age sites in Europe. It is partially reconstructed, making it easier for families to appreciate. In Heraklion itself, families can find further context at the Archaeological Museum. Before you leave, check out the Venetian Fortress of Koules.
Active families with older kids and teens may want to make the beautiful 10-mile trek to the Samaria Gorge or explore the Cretan caves. Be sure to stop at Dikteon Cave, which, according to legend, is where Zeus was born and raised.
As with all the Greek islands, water and watersports feature prominently in and around Crete. Aquaworld is a popular stop for families for its rescued and injured sea creature habitat and hands-on touch pools. Meanwhile, Acqua Plus is an elaborate water park for thrill seekers. Prehistory fans should check out Dinosauria Park near Heraklion, a generous outdoor space with model dinosaurs and exhibits.
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