12 Under-the-Radar Greek Islands for a Secluded Summer Escape

Sidestep Mykonos and Santorini in favour of these 12 lesser-known Greek islands, promising art deco architecture, majestic mountain trails and pine-scented beaches

The Greek islands have a unique draw: blue waters, whitewashed houses, unparalleled seafood and bronzed septuagenarians playing backgammon in the afternoon heat. A little-visited, unspoilt island is the Holy Grail here - and something that's increasingly hard to find. Give Mykonos and Santorini a breather and try catching the ferry out to one of these lesser-known Greek islands this summer.

12 lesser-known Greek islands for a summer getaway

Samothraki, Greece


Best for: getting back to nature

Anchored in the northeastern Aegean, rugged Samothraki is a laid-back enclave of sleepy villages with panoramic views. Pack hiking boots as well as a bikini: the island is crisscrossed with numerous trails that wind along rocky gorges, passing waterfalls and natural pools. Mount Fengari (meaning "moon") is one of the highest peaks in the Aegean and, according to mythology, the spot from which Poseidon watched the Trojan War. Various routes of different difficulties trace the peak's foothills, many passing vathres (lakes) that are perfect for mid-hike dips. Don't miss the natural hot springs at Therma, either.

Where to stay: The Fig Tree House

Kythira, Greece


Best for: the all-round island experience

Lying opposite the southeastern tip of the Peloponnese peninsula, Kythira's rocky canyons, sea-gazing cliffs and beautiful beaches tell the island's history (and mythology) in the historic ruins that are scattered between its hidden coves and high, rugged cliffs. Aphrodite is said to have been born on the island - fitting, given its paradisiacal beauty. Once the crossroads for Mediterranean trade, Kythira has an eclectic mix of Venetian and Aegean architecture. Rent a car to explore, spying hilltop Venetian castles and Byzantine monasteries from the road, before stopping at a secluded pebbled beach for an afternoon laze. The idyllic capital of Chora is packed with higgledy-piggledy artisan shops. Souvenir shopping? Take home handwoven fabrics, locally gathered sea salt and fatourada, the local liqueur.

Where to stay: Hidden Retreats

Kythnos, Greece


Best for: holidaying like an Athenian

Kythnos' name comes from the Greek word meaning "to hide", which is fitting, given that it's arguably Greece's best-kept secret. Athenians guard this Attica coast island closely - it's a summer retreat they're reluctant to share with tourists. Small and low-key, the islet wears all the typical colours of classic Hellenic beauty: think sun-parched mountains ringed by green-blue waters and plentiful shoreside tavernas studded with blue-shuttered windows. For a culture hit, head to Panagia Kanala, one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the Cyclades.

Where to stay: Cape Suites

Lefkanda, Greece


Best for: a local experience

Connected to the Greek mainland by a long causeway, the Greek island of Lefkada has the unique claim of being the only Greek island you can drive to - but we'd suggest taking the ferry from Kefalonia for a more relaxed, two-and-a-half-hour journey. Visiting the island is like going back in time: traditional village life plays out on the streets, where inhabitants sit on doorsteps from dawn to dusk, sipping strong coffee in the lazy morning light, before switching to local wine in the cool evening breeze. It's a far cry from the summer humdrum of Mykonos or Corfu. Stumble across forgotten villages and centuries-old wells dotted among ancient olive groves, then hit the beach. The best coves are on the rugged western coast.

Where to stay: Bohèmian Boutique Hotel Lefkada

Ikaria, Greece
Photo credit: Tom Jastram / Shutterstock.com


Best for: increasing your life expectancy

Named after Icarus, the doomed youth who flew too close to the sun, this wing-shaped Aegean island is known for its vivacious silver-haired population - residents live longer than almost anywhere else in the world. Rumours abound at what keeps Ikarians so lithe, but general consensus is that a diet of primarily vegetables, olive oil and herbal tea is responsible for their glowing disposition and high birthday count. The late-night domino games and blousy red wine might help, too. What's certain is that the mountain terrain - butter-yellow and rocky - has ensured most islanders live an active lifestyle. Get involved by lacing up your hiking boots and heading out on the paths that crisscross the interior. Not unexpectedly for an island with an ageing population, tradition is highly respected around here. Try to visit during a panegyris (saint's day festival), when there's feasting and street dancing until dawn across the island.

Where to stay: Anemoessa Luxury Villas

Lakki, Leros, Greece


Best for: an unexpected art deco streetscape

Greek, but with a distinctly Italian feel (it was ruled by the country between the world wars), the Dodecanese island of Leros doesn't get the footfall of its glamorous neighbours, Kos, Rhodes and Symi. For something a little different, though, we'd head to the island's southern town of Lakki, where eucalyptus-lined squares are home to churches, clock towers, theatres and schools in a strange mishmash of art deco, Bauhaus and Renaissance styles. This strange infrastructure - labelled Italian rationalism - arrived on Leros during the Italian occupation, when the Italian army transformed the small town, then called Portolago, into a military base. Today, a local movement to preserve the unique buildings is underway.

Where to stay: Leros Windmills

Spetses, Greece


Best for: a post-city escape

Accessible from Athens' main port by a (rather slow) ferry, car-free Spetses is where Athenians head for summer. So, we'd arrive in September to skip the urbanite crowds but still be in time to make the most of the seasonal tavernas. This pine-scented Attica island is incredibly proud of its history - it was the first Hellenic outpost to raise a revolutionary flag in 1821, and a key figure in the war of independence, Laskarina Bouboulina, hails from here. You'll spot remnants of this history across the island: cannons ring the old harbour and a statue of the woman admiral sits pride of place on the waterfront. Buff up on her story at the tiny Bouboulina Museum, then hire an e-bike to explore the island, stopping at pebbled beaches for secluded swims.

Where to stay: Poseidonion Grand Hotel


Best for: a romantic break

This tiny island (a mere 32sq km) is spectacular: picture emerald-green water, deserted beaches and an undulating landscape, all heady with the scent of wild thyme and oregano. The medieval capital of Chora sits on a clifftop, making it one of the most striking towns in all of the Greek islands. From there, walk up to the white church dedicated to the Virgin Mary - the best place from which to watch the sunset.

Where to stay: Anemi Hotel


Best for: getting away from it all

Six hours by ferry from Athens, this rocky island is where to head for some detoxing. Amorgos is known for its cliffside monastery, Panagia Hozoviotissa, an ecclesiastical eyrie set some 300m above the Aegean that's visible only from the sea. If a monastic escape seems too drastic, we'd take to the trails: the challenging 11.5km Palia Strata route starts from the main island town and ends at the blue waters of Aegiali Bay, an area that's graced the silver screen in Jean Reno's Le Grand Bleu. Stop by a taverna for some typical Amorgos seafood: grilled red mullet and a skorpina (scorpion fish) soup.

Where to stay: Villa Halkios Amorgos


Best for: making like Meryl Streep

With its rolling hills, clear waters and pretty churches, Skopelos is so picturesque that Hollywood came calling: Mamma Mia! was shot on the island. Fortunately, its time in the spotlight has not resulted in hordes of tourists making their way to its shores, and island life remains fairly unchanged. Sunburnt landscapes, quiet tavernas and cobbled towns are yours for the taking - just don't start singing.

Where to stay: Evlalia Studios & Villas


Best for: wannabe marine biologists

A visit to Alonissos should include plenty of time in the water: the island's National Marine Park is the largest marine-protected area in Europe. Back on dry land, this is a lush, verdant destination. Head to the old town of Chora to stroll streets sprouting with flowers and fruit trees. In the evening, when day-trippers have left, the distinctive scent of jasmine floats on cool sea breezes. Before you go, grab a packet of sweets from the Women's Agrotourism Cooperative of Alonissos - actually, considering the four-hour boat-ride back to Agios Constantinos; grab two.

Where to stay: Villa Mirothea Alonissos


Best for: an undercover bohemian escape

Sound familiar? Pink Floyd fans might know this place as "Castellorizon", the title of the Grammy-nominated song inspired by Dave Gilmour's jaunts on the island. Of course, it comes with all the secluded, pine-fringed shorelines you'd expect from a Dodecanese idyll, but the main village, a dusty riot of pink, yellows and green neoclassical buildings that hug the bay, is the real draw. It might be the largest island in an archipelago of the same name, but ferries to Kastellorizo only run a few times a week, meaning it has remained a highly exclusive destination.

Where to stay: Villa Zoe

This article was updated 28 February 2023. It contains affiliate links, which means SUITCASE may earn a small commission if you click through and book.

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