When it comes to beach holidays, few destinations prove as utopian as the Greek Islands. Think long sandy beaches shaded by bushy trees and thatched umbrellas dotted with inviting tavernas serving local specialties. Having swum the shores of well over a dozen islands in the Cyclades, here are my top choices for the best Greek Island beaches.
Serifos: Platos Gialos / Agios Sostis / Psili Ammos
A favorite of the Athenians, and anyone else who reaches its port, Serifos sets an inviting scene of white-washed villages and remote beaches. The cascading hilltop Chora is modeled after a medieval castled settlement. One of the most idyllic beaches is Platos Gialos with a mix of pebbles and sand, overlooked by a lone taverna. The gulf also opens onto two other beaches. Just be mindful of the northerly winds. Named after a church like many of the Greek beaches, Agios Sostis is shaded by tamarisk trees. Not too far from Livadi port, the fine sands and shady trees of Psili Ammos beach make it another top sun-worshipping spot. Nearby tavernas offer home-cooked meals and refuge in case the winds pick up. The remote and wild Vagia beach reveals a complex of miners’ houses converted into eco-friendly lodging.
Where to stay: Settle into upscale COCO-MAT Eco Residences Serifos for sea views and sunsets.
Milos: Sarakiniko / Firopotamos / Paleohori / Tsigrado
For some of the most ethereal beaches in the Greek Isles, look no further than Milos, the birthplace of the Venus de Milo statue. Often compared to a moonscape, Sarakiniko with its white volcanic rock shaped by the waves is the most famous. Within a small bay that houses local fishermen, Firopotamos beach with its convivial canteen exudes quintessential Cycladic charm. The most colorful beach in Milos, Paleohori boasts a backdrop of red cliffs, crystal-clear waters, and a variety of dining options. Remote Tsigrado beach with its sandy cove reachable by climbing down a rocky path is often considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Greece. Bring your own shade and snacks. While a car or motorbike is a must, one of the best ways to explore the beaches of Milos and spend a day snorkeling in paradise, is by catamaran.
Where to stay: End your day sleeping like a Greek god or goddess at White Pebbles Suites in the picturesque port village of Pollonia.
Folegandros: Agios Nikolaos
The island of Folegandros with its three main villages – Karavostasi, Chora, and Ano Meria makes for a perfect escape when visiting the more populous Santorini, just an hour away by ferry. A 40-minute walk from the hilltop village of Ano Meria or a quick boat ride from the port of Agali takes you to one of the most dreamy sunbathing spots. The white sandy beach of Agios Nikolaos overlooked by a church boasts umbrellas and beach chairs scattered between a few shady trees. Protected from the Meltemi winds of July and August, it offers complete serenity. The one taverna just a stone’s throw away provides an ideal oasis when in need of nourishment. One of the island’s treasures is the famed Panagia church whose long zigzagging path is part of its charm.
Where to stay: When in need of a beach break, upscale Anemi Hotel welcomes with an infinity pool, while its 44 villa-style rooms and suites look out onto the Aegean Sea.
Koufonisia: Paralia Pori / Paralia Italida
One of the few islands in the Cyclades that can easily be navigated by foot, Koufinisia is a gem both for its sandy beaches and its vibrant village life. Not to mention its unspoiled landscapes. Made up of three islands, Ano Koufonissi, Kato Koufonissi, and uninhabited Keros, it’s Ano Koufonissi that merits a visit. Stretching out into a turquoise sea, Paralia Pori beach offers an expanse of golden sand and two tavernas. This secluded beach is less than an hour’s walk from the Chora. 10 minutes away at the bottom of a round cliff, discover the more remote pebbled Gala beach. The name translates to milk for its frothy waters. A serene sandy beach safe from the winds on the southern shore of Koufinisia is Paralia Italida, also known as Platia Pounda. Considered a nudist beach, clothing is optional.
Where to stay: Along the same coast, boutique hotel Teal Blue with its six minimally modern rooms is named for the color of the sea.
Amorgos: Mouros / Nikouria Island
Scenes from Luc Besson’s 1988 film Le Grand Bleu come to mind when arriving at Amorgos. After all, this is where part of the filming took place -on Agia Anna beach to be exact. With so many hidden beaches boasting big blue waters, the island makes for a perfect stop for Greek island-hopping adventures. The island’s rustic Chora is one of the most charming of all, and the awe-inspiring cliffside monastery of Hozoviotissa merits a visit. As far as swimming holes go, crystal clear Mouros Beach is worth the many steps down from the scenic taverna overlooking it. Sandwiched between cliffs and without much shade, this pebbly beach is best for an afternoon dip. From Agios Pavlos, hop on a small boat (running every 30 minutes) and discover beach bliss on the small uninhabited island of Nikouria.
Where to stay: The neighboring hotel is recently opened Aqua Petra. For unrivaled views overlooking the Bay of Aegiali, check into 55-room family-run Aegialis Hotel & Spa.
Astypalaia: Vatses / Kaminakia
The butterfly-shaped island of Astypalaia bordering the Dodecanese Islands is equally wild and refined. This is evidenced in the island’s elegant capital where eight windmills, a dozen restaurants, and a beguiling Venetian castle set the scene. To reach some of the most dazzling beaches along the island’s southern coast requires a rugged drive over miles of unpaved roads. With only one beach bar serving light fare, an endless soundtrack of laid-back tunes, umbrellas with lounge beds available for daily rental, and no WiFi, Vatses defines an unspoiled beach paradise. Another remote beach that merits an afternoon of snorkeling is Kaminakia. Stop by the beachside family-run taverna for a feast of local specialties cooked to perfection. For a more bustling scene closer to the Chora, the coastal village of Livadi makes for a relaxing swimming spot.
Where to Stay: Blending in with the landscape is the plushest accommodation on the island, 26-room Pylaia Boutique Hotel & Spa.
Tribe tip: Check out more stunning hotels in the Greek Islands and Europe with private pools here.