Lesser-Known Islands to Explore by Ferry

Santorini is the Greek island supermodel—its cliffs and whitewashed villages are instantly recognizable. It’s no wonder it tops bucket lists everywhere.

But you can avoid the throngs of cruise ship passengers and selfie sticks by staying away from the main village of Oia. Wine lovers can enjoy a quieter tasting experience at a local vineyard, while history buffs should head to Akrotiri, where the site of a Minoan town was obliterated in a volcanic eruption three millennia ago.


The soaring caldera cliffs and charming white-washed villages of Santorini make it a popular Greek island to visit. However, if you venture off the beaten path, you’ll find that other islands in the Cyclades have just as much to offer, with less crowds and more local flair.

Spend your days exploring a series of secluded beaches on the volcanic island of Milos, a renowned snorkeling destination. The eerily beautiful Sarakiniko Beach is one of the highlights, with its unique sand that’s black and red from pulverized volcanic rock and a cove surrounded by soaring, white cliffs.

Other must-see beaches include Kleftiko and Papafragas, where you can see remnants of pirate hideouts in the form of bollards carved into the rocks. You can also go exploring on a hiking adventure to discover the old sulphur mines, or explore the 3 interconnected underground catacombs in Tripiti village that were once Christian cemeteries. And be sure to stop by a local winery for a sunset meal with earth-shattering views.


Sikinos, the smallest island in the Cyclades, is often overlooked by travelers. But it offers a collage of natural beauty, tranquility, and proud traditions. The island is rugged, scented with thyme and herbs, and has only three settlements: Alopronoia, the port village; the hilltop town of Chora; and the ruined monastery of Episkopi.

Take your time on the island’s few beaches, relax with a good book and enjoy the slow pace of island life. Or go hiking and visit the ruins of vineyards that once covered most of the island’s landscape. One winery remains, offering an interesting tour and tasting. It’s on the way to Episkopi from Chora.

Visit the Church of Pantanassa in Chora, or walk up to the Moni Zoodohou Pigis (Zodochos Pigi). This fortress-like nunnery resembles a castle and was used as a shelter during pirate raids. In addition, several historic icons can be admired in the churches of the island.


A rugged island with sweeping views, Folegandros is less-visited than its neighboring islands and perfect for those who want a peaceful and relaxing trip. Spend a day exploring the main town, Hora, which teeters precariously on top of a cliff, and take in stunning seascapes while roaming its pedestrian-only center. At night, taverna tables fill and honeyed raki flows as locals gather to chat and enjoy the view.

A striking white path zigzags across the mountains to a special Folegandros landmark, the Church of Panagia. This remarkable example of Aegean ecclesiastical architecture has three domes and contains a silver-dressed portable icon of the Virgin that is carried to every house on its feast day.

Don’t miss a visit to the family-run Manalis Winery, where you can taste their famous reds and admire the sunset from the vineyard. The island’s pristine beaches are also not to be missed, where you can soak up the sun and enjoy crystal clear waters.


One of the most cosmopolitan islands in the Cyclades, Mykonos has long been a favorite for celebrities, models, and other VIPs looking to enjoy a pampered getaway. While sand and sea are the main draws, there are plenty of bars, restaurants, and shops to keep visitors entertained.

Mykonos Town’s iconic Kato Mili windmills are the highlight of the town, and it is also worth visiting Little Venice for its quaint churches and boutiques. Rent a scooter or car to explore the island’s countryside and coastline. Ano Mera village is a good place to experience the island’s traditional lifestyle, while the rocky viewpoints near Kalafti are perfect for sunsets.

Mykonos’ famous beach, Platys Gialos, is an insta-opportunity for sun-worshippers who like to windsurf and yacht. It is crowded during the summer, but you can find secluded patches of sand at Agios Stefanos and Ornos. Glitzy Jackie O’s Beach is another popular option, and its rowdy beach bars and umbrella-lined beaches make it a good spot for people watching. A short hike up to the ruins of a Venetian castle is an excellent afternoon activity.


Naxos is Greece’s largest island and often a less-visited alternative to Santorini. This is a place to soak up the sun on secluded beaches, hike goat tracks, swim off volcanic beaches and breathe in island life at low-key tavernas steeped in local history. You can also soak up the scenery and culture by taking in impressive landmarks, museums and a Venetian-era castle.

One of Naxos’ most famous landmarks is the Portara—a massive marble doorway on Palatia Islet that was once part of an unfinished temple dedicated to Apollo in 530 BC. This is the first thing you’ll see as you approach Naxos by ferry.

Another must-see is the imposing Kouros of Apollonas, a giant statue made of light gray Naxos marble and once one of the most important symbols of the island. It’s located in the quiet north of Naxos and is a popular photo motif on island exploration tours.