The Telegraph presents the best Greek islands for families, whether your children are after sandy beaches, wild water sports, unspoilt island life or history and culture.
The complete list of the 14 best Greek islands for families:
1. Rhodes, Dodecanese
If you’re after a bit of R&R, Rhodes’s east coast has a 30-mile stretch of well-maintained golden-sand beaches with warm, shallow water down its eastern coast. One of this coast’s big modern hotels, with their all-inclusive packages, should be just the ticket: everything is on your doorstep – kids’ clubs, water sports facilities, babysitting, wellness, restaurants and cafes, so you can switch off and truly relax. If you do venture out, don’t miss the magnificent Unesco-listed Rhodes Town on the island’s northern tip, which will take you back through the centuries, with its medieval fortifications and car-free cobbled alleys.
Europe’s oldest civilisation built palaces decorated with magnificent frescos and enjoyed the curious sport of bull leaping on Crete from 3000BC to 1400BC. The Minoans’ capital, Knossos, was partially (and controversially) reconstructed by early archaeologists, making it unusually accessible to children. Finds from Knossos, such the bizarre Snake Goddess, are displayed at Heraklion Archaeological Museum. Kids will also love visiting the (slightly spooky) Dikteon cave on the Lasithi Plateau, which the ancients considered the birthplace of Zeus, with its stalactites and stalagmites.
3. Corfu, Ionian Islands
Make like the Durrells and head to Corfu for a spot of swimming and sunbathing on one of its varied beaches: sandy Glyfada, on the wild west coast; nearby Paleokastritsa, with its sheltered pebble coves; or Sidari on the north coast, with its peculiar rock formations and warm shallow sea. There’s also Aqualand water park in the island’s lush green interior. Popular with Brits, thanks to frequent direct flights from airports across the UK, your family will feel at home in Corfu – it was under British protectorate from 1815-1864 and in the lovely Unesco-listed old town, you’ll even find locals playing cricket. After dark, kids will relish the open-air summer cinema (films in original version, with Greek subtitles) and ginger beer (a Corfiot speciality).
4. Paxos, Ionian islands
One of the least commercial Ionian islands, Paxos (pop 2,300) is loved by wealthy Italians and yachties, hence its outstanding seafood restaurants. Measuring just seven miles long and three miles wide, this is your archetypal Mediterranean island hideaway, with amazing turquoise sea and lovely white pebble beaches. The pace of life is slow and leisurely in its three small towns, Gaios, Lakka and Loggos, which are connected by marked trails. Chill out on the east coast beaches – Monodendri is the best – or hire a boat and explore the limestone cliffs and caves along the west coast. Antipaxos (pop 20), a tiny island two miles to the south, has two lovely white sandy beaches and is served by regular taxi-boats. To reach Paxos, fly to Corfu, then take a ferry, hydrofoil or taxi-boat to Gaios, Paxos’ main port and capital.
5. Zakynthos, Ionian islands
If you want to avoid the crowds of an all-inclusive, but have teens who need to mingle, head to the Peligoni Beach Club on Zakynthos. The island’s dramatic coastline will thrill your family by day – Navagio (Shipwreck beach), a blissful cove backed by plummeting limestone cliffs, is unmissable – and Peligoni Club offers families with teenagers round-the- clock activities – and options for socialising in the evenings. It has a cafe-restaurant, pool, tennis court and gym, and a series of decks leading down to the sea, for sunbathing, swimming and organised water sports, including sailing, windsurfing, SUP, water-skiing and wakeboarding. After dark, they stage barbecues, parties, live music and quiz nights. And for families with younger offspring, there’s a kids’ club (ages 4-14), a crèche and in-villa babysitting. Base yourself on the pine-forested Vasilikos peninsula in the south-east, most of which has been protected from large-scale development because of the loggerhead turtles that breed on beautiful Gerakas beach.
6. Lefkada, Ionian islands
Due to its position on the Ionian and its topography, Lefkada is Greece’s top water sports destination. Besides having a large marina in Lefkaka Town, used as a base for dozens of yacht charter companies, Lefkada is a prime spot for windsurfing. Vasiliki Bay, in the south, is exposed to local thermal winds, creating conditions perfect for beginners in the mornings, and more experienced surfers in the afternoons. It’s also possible to try sea kayaking in Vasiliki. Meanwhile, back in the north, near Lefkada Town, you have kite-surfing at Milos (aka Agios Ioannis). And then there are Lefkada’s spectacular west coast beaches, including Kathisma and the must-visit Porto Katsiki, which has just re-opened following damage in the November 2015 earthquake.
7. Paros, Cyclades
Positioned right in the centre of the Cyclades island group, Paros serves as a node for ferries and catamarans sailing the Aegean. It lies midway between Mykonos and Santorini, meaning that both can be done as day trips (50 minutes and 1hr 55 minutes respectively, by catamaran), and also very close to Naxos, which is just a 45-minute ferry-ride away (or 25-minute by catamaran). For smaller islands of the Lesser Cyclades, ferries are slow and infrequent, but you can still visit Iraklia and Koufonissia as an organised full-day excursion from Paros. Easiest of all is neighbouring Antiparos – it’s served by boats that run back and forth across the narrow sea channel from Pounda (journey time 7 minutes) all day long.
8. Mykonos, Cyclades
Mykonos is famous for its flamboyant nightlife, but the island also makes for a wonderful family destination if you stay in one of the quieter resorts, such as Agios Ioannis, with its lovely sandy beach beach, immortalised in the film Shirley Valentine (1989). Days spent by the sea will ensure that young children are ready for bed come sunset, after which you can head into Mykonos Town for dinner, then round off with either drinks overlooking the harbour in Little Venice or even a boogie at one of the island’s glitzy beach clubs. For a moment of calm, take a daytrip to the uninhabited islet of Delos, with its Unesco-listed ancient temples.
9. Milos, Cyclades
Created by underwater volcanic activity, Milos’ coast is lined with azure bays, bizarre rock formations and sea caves. Swim at Sarakiniko, a long narrow sea inlet, sided by a moonscape of smooth white pumice rocks, or head to Kleftiko – cluster of rock formations and caves, rising from the sea, where pirates used to hide – to snorkel or explore by sea kayak. Milos’ longest and busiest beach is Paliohori, complete with tavernas and sun beds – its actually three adjoining beaches, composed of red, pink, yellow and white pebbles, and backed by red cliffs, with warm underwater springs. To see the entire coast, take a round-the- island boat tour, departing from Adamas.
Home to Greece’s most luxurious boutique hotels, Santorini is dramatic, with the cliff-top villages of Fira and Oia overlooking a huge sea-filled volcanic crater. The island’s arid but fertile soil produces some of Greece’s top white wines, as well as flavour-packed tomatoes, white aubergines and fava beans. Supplemented by imported delicacies, these humble ingredients shine in the creative Mediterranean fare you’ll find in Santorini’s gourmet restaurants. Take the kids on trips to the archaeological sites of ancient Thira and Akrotiri, and to Vlychada beach, backed by pumice stone cliffs. The cliff-top village of Oia is a magical place to watch the sun set.
11. Amorgos, Cyclades
Mountainous and unspoilt, Amorgos is popular with Greeks in search of an unpretentious summer escape. In the centre of the island, the capital, Hora, is a huddle of whitewashed houses built around a medieval hilltop castle. A half-hour hike away, the spectacular 11th-century cliff-side monastery of Hozoviotissa stands high above Agia Anna beach, where the French cult movie, The Big Blue (1988) was filmed. Stay at Aegiali, overlooking a sandy beach, close to the hillside village of Tholaria, where old-fashioned eateries serve rustic local fare, and elder folk play traditional Greek music and drink psimeni raki (a potent spirit flavoured with honey, cloves and cinnamon). Feed the kids on wholesome pasteli (sesame-and- honey bars).
12. Naxos, Cyclades
The sandy and abundant beaches are the primary draw to Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades, but its high-quality and largely native produce make for wonderful food (, and the range of activities available on the island is impressive – especially considering the fact that it has none of the major resort-hotel complexes that clog up the coastlines of other parts of Greece. From riding horses on the beach with the British-owned riding school, to windsurfing and pedalo trips at Plaka, the island’s beautiful long sandy beach which is perfectly designed for children young and old, there’s plenty to do. Head to Naxos’s surprisingly lush interior for a break from the heat: here you’ll find 40km of hiking trails through beautiful and ancient-looking hilly farms, and many charming villages – our favourite is Halki, the Venetian-style former capital in the centre of the island.
13. Skiathos, Sporades
While all the Greek islands we’re recommending for families have fantastic beaches, Skiathos, which has more than 60, is the connoisseur’s choice for variety. Best for small children is Koukounaries, on the south coast, a half-mile-long swathe of golden sand giving onto calm shallow sea, and equipped with sun beds, water sports and cafes. For something more peaceful, try sandy Mandraki beach on the north-west coast – it has limited facilities, and is accessed via a 20-minute walk through pinewoods. Or take a boat-ride to the remote north coast, to bathe at Lalaria composed of smooth white stones (kids might want beach shoes).
14. Alonissos, Sporades
The most remote of the Sporades, laid-back Alonissos is a refuge for rare seabirds and the protected Mediterranean monk seal (monachus monachus). Alonissos National Marine Park encompasses Alonissos itself, plus six smaller neighbouring islets – take a boat-trip through these waters and, if you’re lucky, you’ll spot dolphins. Alternatively, explore the sea by kayak, or hike marked paths across the island, and bring binoculars to look out for eagles, falcons, shags, cormorants, and various gulls.