Ferrying Through Time: Historical Landmarks on Greek Island Routes

Famous for its Minoan civilization, Crete is a history lover’s paradise. The Palace of Knossos and the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion are must-sees.

Naxos offers a fascinating blend of ancient Greek and medieval ruins. From the Portara to the imposing medieval castle ruins of Monolithos, the island is a feast for history-lovers.


The main town on Naxos is home to the largest castle in the Cyclades and an impressive collection of pre-historic Cycladic figurines. On this tour, walk with a guide along the charming cobblestone streets of Naxos’ old town while learning about the island’s history and mythology. Visit Melanes Kouros, a 19-foot statue discovered in the area, and discover the sanctuary of Dionysus, the patron god of the island. You’ll also learn about the legend of Persephone and Hades from a local expert as you witness Portara, the grand marble gate that stands outside the Naxos port.

Archaeological discoveries show that Naxos was inhabited during the Neolithic era. Around the 4th millennium BC, the island was influenced by mainland culture but developed its own distinct cultural identity as evidenced by the minimalist standing figures of the Cycladic period.

During the 7th century, Naxos was dominated by Ionians and it prospered with sea trade. The island’s central location in the Aegean Sea and rich soil encouraged important developments. In the 12th century, Marco Sanudo took over the Cyclades and established a duchy, including Naxos. He built the impressive castle that stands above the old town and founded schools and a merchant academy.

Explore Naxos’ countryside and visit a private donkey farm during this half-day excursion. You’ll interact with farm animals and enjoy nature walks through olive groves before enjoying a delicious meal at a traditional Greek restaurant.


The mastic-producing island of Chios is famous for its UNESCO-recognized monastery, mountain villages, and historic ruins. But you’ll also find plenty to do off the beaten track, including a visit to a mastic distillery that dates back to 1896.

Like Samos, Chios is home to a great School of Sculpture, and some of the best Greek sculptors of the classical period trained here. In the 7th century BC, the island was a center of trade, and its inhabitants were considered the richest in Greece (note 2). Following the naval Battle of Salamina, the island became independent and free of the annual tribute to Athens.

In the 14th century, the island came under Genoese rule until it was recaptured by the Ottoman Turks in 1566. The Greeks resisted for years, but eventually succumbed to the new regime.

The architecture of the island’s towns was influenced by the Turkish style, and many old houses have sgraffito façades—grey-black geometric patterns of circles, diamonds, squares, and crescents—recalling Islamic decorations. In the 6th century BC, the open-air sanctuary of the goddess Cybele was a center of worship in the area. The sanctuaries at Daskalopetra and Vrondathos were also dedicated to her. The worship of the goddess was a common practice among people of all religions in antiquity.


During the 6th century BC Samos was one of the most prosperous and influential cities in the Aegean, with thriving shipping and mercantile activities. It was here that the philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras was born, and the renowned historian Herodotus lived and wrote. The fabulist Aesop and the astronomer Aristarchus are also associated with classical Samos. The Heraion sanctuary and the colossal statue of the Giant Kouros are among the most important archaeological sites on the island, and both have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Polycrates, who ruled Samos from 550 to 522 BC, elevated the city-state to unprecedented wealth and power. He founded a fleet that conquered the entire Aegean Sea, ordered construction of the Eupalinus water tunnel and encircled Samos with walls 4 miles (6 km) long and up to 15 feet (5 m) thick. But in the battle of the Sea of Marmara he was defeated by the Persian Achaemenid forces.

Samos was occupied several times during the Peloponnesian Wars, and later came under the dominance of the Romans, Venetians and Genoese. In 1821 the island was a part of the uprising during the Greek Revolution against the Turkish yoke, and became a semi-independent state tributary to the Ottoman Empire until 1912, when it became part of today’s Greece. Samos’ beautiful beaches, traditional villages and historic landmarks make it an appealing destination for travellers of all ages.


Like the rest of the Ionian Islands, wooded Zakynthos was inhabited from the Middle Palaeolithic era and ruled by successive Greek rulers from the Athenians and Spartans to the Macedonians and Romans. A pristine natural landscape, including a series of secluded coves and beaches, earned it a mention in Homer’s Odyssey.

The mild Mediterranean climate and plentiful winter rainfall endows the island with dense vegetation. The principal crops are olives, grapes and citrus fruit. You can take part in olive oil tastings and wine-food pairings on the island. There are also discovery tours that detail how organic fruit and vegetables are cultivated.

Zakynthos Town/Chora is the commercial heart of the island and a great place to start exploring. Stroll along Saint Markos Square—the site of a 1797 rebellion against inequality and exploitation—and then head down gorgeous Roma Street, where you’ll find every kind of shop you can imagine on Zante.

Further afield, a handful of monasteries are worth a look. Most notable is Kiliomeno, home to fifteenth-century frescoes. The island is an important loggerhead sea turtle nesting area (Caretta caretta) and you can see females laying their eggs at sunset, especially at the Bay of Laganas. Uncontrolled development threatens these important beaches.