The Sporades, comprising Skiathos, Skopelos, Alonissos and Skyros, are ideal for those who crave a relaxing Greek island holiday without the hordes. The beaches are pristine, and the local villages have retained their traditional charm.
Skopelos gained international fame in 2008 as the main location for the movie Mamma Mia, while Alonissos has a natural reserve that has yet to be touched by tourism.
1. Skiathos Town
Skiathos is the welcoming party of the Sporades, with a buzzing harbor and beer bars dancing over the water. The island itself is a paradise of pine forests and postcard-worthy beaches.
It’s also a great base for exploring the rest of the island, especially if you rent a car. Start your day by tackling the gnarly ridges of Mount Koraki and then take in the seascape from the ruined castle at Kastro.
The town itself has a lively energy, though it’s less clubby than places like Ios and Mykonos. You can find a good mix of tavernas, cafes and shops in the backstreets and around Plakes. You should also make time to check out the home of author Alexandros Papadiamantis, where you can see his ascetic way of life and his desk on which he wrote many Greek classics. It’s just off the main street in the town. The entrance fee is only EUR2.
2. Ambelakia Beach
The Sporades Islands are a Greek island-hopping destination for the true explorer. Located in the centre of the country and on the Pkgasetic Gulf, they are easily accessible from major mainland ports including Thessaloniki and Volos. There are also direct charter flights from Athens during the high season.
The main reason people go to these islands is for the pristine beaches and pine-clad landscapes. However, the islands also feature a variety of interesting attractions to explore. Legend has it that the gods tossed colored pebbles into the sea, which is reflected in the verdant hills and sapphire blue waters of the Sporades Islands.
On Skopelos, hikers can take on the old town trail for spectacular views over the picturesque houses that line the streets. Visitors can also visit Kastani Beach, which was made famous by the movie Mamma Mia! Those looking for something more secluded can head to Koukounaries Beach, which is a quiet cove surrounded by emerald green waters. It is a favorite spot for snorkelers. The island of Skiathos is livelier and has a lively main town that cascades down to a boat-bobbing harbour in a flow of dancing tavernas.
3. Xanemos Beach
The emerald islands of the Sporades, straddling the northern Aegean Sea off Greece’s mainland, evoke a magical feeling of make-believe. They include celebrated Skiathos, renowned for its dazzling beaches; Skopelos’ hills of rustic fruit farms and pine woods; and far-flung Skyros’ cathedral-buttress peaks and whitewashed villages.
The island’s main town, Skiathos Town (AKA Chora), is filled with lovely red-roofed houses and narrow streets, including Papadiamanti Street, which was named after a beloved Greek poet. The old harbour has restaurants, bars and nightclubs to explore as well as a smattering of churches.
A trip to Skiathos wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Koukounaries Beach, where the bright white pebbles contrast with the blue sea and create a postcard-perfect scene. Other famous beaches on the island include Lalaria, known locally as Banana Beach, a fun party beach that’s also nudist-friendly, and Strofilia, where you can spot wildlife, including endangered monk seals. Boat trips from Skiathos Town will often take you to these stunning beaches. You can even take a trip to the uninhabited island of Tsougria or out to fantastic sea caves on the rocks around Skiathos.
4. Kalamitsa Beach
The northern tip of Skopelos, Kalamitsa Beach (sometimes spelt Aheronas or Acheronas) is a long swathe of shingle fronted by tavernas, villas and a windsurfing center. It’s also home to a well-preserved stone sarcophagus and an upright Doric column.
This is the quieter of the northern Sporades islands and a nature lover’s paradise. There are countless hiking paths in verdant pine forests, and pristine beaches backed by crystal-clear waters.
The 24 islands that make up the Sporades seem a world away from Athens yet remain within reach. They’re a cosmopolitan mix of rich history, gorgeous beaches and lovely forests and boast their own USPs – from the gleaming white pebble beaches on Skopelos and the filming location of Mamma Mia to far-flung Skyros’ cathedral-buttress summits. Island hopping is the best way to experience this wonderful region, and Skiathos’ international airport makes it an ideal starting point. There are plenty of ferries, buses and rental cars available to get you around. If you want a more relaxed way to explore, book a tour that combines sightseeing with activities such as kayaking and snorkelling.
5. Kalamitsa Cave
The Sporades Islands are the perfect base for a Greek island-hopping adventure, with quick connections to Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonissos. The archipelago is so small that it’s possible to linger on each island and experience something genuinely unique and authentic, but they’re also incredibly close together, allowing you to hop between them in just a few days.
The party capital of the northern Sporades, Skiathos is a cosmopolitan delight. The island’s famous beaches, including Koukounaries, are framed by luscious pine forests and crystal-blue waters. But this island has a lot more to offer, from the sprawling capital to the Evangelistria Monastery and the house-museum of writer Alexandros Papadiamantis.
Known for its spectacular marine biodiversity, Alonissos is home to a gaping cave that’s cut out of the north coast and glints with perfectly blue azure water. The best way to explore this treasure is on a boat tour that drops by the ‘Blue Cave’ and other snorkelling spots around the shores of Peristera and Rovies. The inland hills are also worth exploring, with gnarly mountain peaks and lush forest where you can see the native Skyros pony.