The 9 Best Greek Islands For Beaches And Snorkeling

best greek islands for beaches and snorkeling
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If you’re searching for the best Greek islands for beaches and snorkeling, then we’ve got you covered. This expert guide has scoured the Ionian and Aegean seas for the finest strings of coastline that the land of feta and souvlaki can muster. We gotta’ say – we don’t think you’re going to be disappointed!

Nope, our selection runs through a whole kaleidoscope of pretty epic beaches and coves. It’s got something for the most dedicated snorkelers, in the form of rock-filled Corfiot inlets where seahorses and sea turtles go to dine. And it’s got pristine sandy bays for the lovers, in the form of pink-tinged Cretan beaches on the Libyan Sea.

We’ve focused on the islands that we think really stand out from the crowd when it comes to beaches and snorkeling spots. We’ve also tried to offer a wide array of locations, both in the eastern Aegean and in western Greece, along with one or two choices that are within an easy ferry ride of Athens.

Crete

Jumping into the water in south Crete
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

No list of the best Greek islands for beaches and snorkeling could possibly miss out on Crete. It’s an obvious choice – as the country’s largest island and one of the largest islands in the Mediterranean Sea besides, there’s more coastline here than you can shake a mezze platter of saganaki and souvlaki at. That means more beaches than you could possibly hope to get through in a single trip!

Crete really does run the gamut. There are all sorts of strands and coves. They can be roughly separated into north and south beaches. The former, stretching between Chania and Heraklion are long runs of sand that slope softly in the Aegean Sea. The latter are more rugged and untouched, with big mountains lurching behind and the warm Libyan Sea lapping the coast.

Some of the best beaches in Crete are:

  • Elafonisi – Wisps of pink-tinted sand made from broken-down red corals await at this stunning beach on the far south-west shoreline of Crete.
  • Balos Lagoon – Balos looks like something out of the Caribbean, with its white sands and turquoise waters in the Chania region of western Crete.
  • Preveli Preveli marks the end of a long gorge that carves through the heart of Crete. It’s a hard-to-get-to-beach with a river cutting through its middle and strange packs of palm trees on both sides.

Snorkelers will do well at any of Crete’s beaches. However, the best spots are probably the bay in Matala and the rugged coves around the headland where Chania Airport makes its home.

Mykonos

Photo by EvanRoss/Pixabay

Mykonos is all about the vibes. Chic beach bars meet millionaire yachts on the shoreline and you’re more likely to be sharing a mezze plate with a Russian oligarch or Leo DiCaprio than you are a bunch of other mere-mortal holidaymakers in these parts. That brings some serious atmosphere to the southwestern shoreline, which is basically a big jet-setter playground, all the way from uber-exclusive Psarou to Super Paradise.

If that’s not your scene then choose the – frankly – prettier and emptier beaches to the east and north. A car rental or ATV is needed to get there, but the reward will be top-notch Cyclades snorkeling and swimming. The best spots of the bunch are:

  • Paralia Kalo Livadi – One of the first beaches on southern Mykonos where you get a taste of the real side of the island away from the crowds. Very nice indeed.
  • Lia Beach – A tiny cove that’s famed for its scuba diving spots.
  • Agios Sostis Beach – Remote north beach under high cliffs, although there can be some waves in the middle of summer because it’s north facing.

Corfu

Corfu
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Corfu lays claim to one of the most varied sets of beaches in Greece. It might not match Crete but there’s everything from small fishing coves to long strands of pebbly sand in these parts. The island also has a long-held reputation for being mega beautiful. Don’t take our word for that; just wait until you lay eyes on the tiara-like arcs of golden sand over in Palaiokastritsa!

There are three quite different runs of shoreline in Corfu. The north of the island is wild and rugged. It gazes out towards the Balkan Peninsula with its fingers of white stone at the Sidari Cape. Down the west coast is where you’ll find the most stunning snorkeling spots (like aforementioned Palaiokastritsa) and the much-photographed isthmus beach of Porto Timoni.

However, most travelers aim for the south and the southeast coasts. The reason for that isn’t so much the beaches but the wild party towns of Kavos and the resort hotels that await there. Still, the sands aren’t bad at all, but they are softer, longer runs, often covered in sunbeds for rent and backed by tavernas.

Milos

Milos
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Milos is a swimmer’s and snorkeler’s dream come true. Sat in the midst of the famous Cyclades chain, it’s known for its unique geological makeup. That sees rugged stacks of pure white stone descending straight into the Aegean Sea on the north coast, and big cliffs beset by rock stacks and grottoes on the south coast.

Most people stay on the western half of the island. There are only really two towns, the small, conjoined village of Trypiti-Plaka and the port in Adamantas. They are both good for reaching the area of Gournado-Fylakopi, which hosts spectacular inlets like Sarakiniko and the craggy Papafragas Caves (snorkeling meccas both!).

To get to the other intriguing parts of the island on the south and the western shores, it’s best to take a boat trip. Pack the snorkels too because there are loads of cool spots on the menu:

  • Tsigrado Beach – Prepare to be stunned by this rocky cove and its surrounding set of coastal caves. A shallow shelf and pure turquoise water makes it a doozy for snorkel buffs.
  • Kleftiko – Sail to this region of carved rock arches to dive into the water off the side of the ship.
  • Paralia Agios Ioannis – A west-coast beach that’s super hard to get to but blessed with golden sands and clusters of white stones filled with urchins and seahorses.

Zakynthos

Zante
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Zakynthos’s Shipwreck Beach is one of the most eye-wateringly awesome sights in the whole of the Med. No matter if you see from the bottom of the soaring cliffs as you approach on a boat (and a boat is the only way to get there!) or sit up top on the lookout points, this is one seriously incredible bay. No wonder it’s often on the front of postcards for Greece!

But Shipwreck isn’t the only beach that Zante has up its sleeve. This member of the Ionian chain is a real doozy of a spot for lovers of glorious coastline. The southern shore is pretty soft and easy-going. You can head there to find beaches like Laganas and Kalamaki, which are long and dotted with sunbeds. Then you have the west coast, which is a bout of uber-dramatic coves topped by mighty walls of white stone. That hosts locations like…

  • Korakonissi – A snorkeling haven, Korakonissi is a symphony of clear coastal pools filled with seagrasses and small fish.
  • Porto Limnionas – A very pretty inlet where there’s loads of snorkeling opportunities. Just beware of the ships coming and going to Shipwreck Beach.
  • Plakaki Beach – A tiny and secret beach that’s got super-clear water and comes filled with rocks and boulders.

Marathonisi Beach is also worth a special mention. It tops off Turtle Island a stone’s throw from the south coast of Zante and offers the unique opportunity to swim with those shelled creatures. It’s also been named one of the best beaches in the world by major travel mags.

Skiathos

Skiathos
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Like a lot of people, we have something of a soft spot for Skiathos. It’s not the most dramatic island in Greece but it does have some seriously fantastic beaches. They string along from Skiathos Town all the way down the south coast, hitting a zenith at the pine-hemmed cove of Paralia Mpanana (Banana Beach). There are a couple of clothing-optional locations there, along with a string of rocky coves that are perfect for donning the snorkel gear.

You can also get to some lovely bays if you base yourself in the nightlife hub of Skiathos Town (it’s like a mini Ios in the summer months). They include Paralia Megali Ammos, a long arc of sand that’s great for families, and Tzaneria Beach, a gold-sand cove with wooded headlands that make for calm swimming conditions most of the year.

Paxos & Antipaxos

Antipaxos
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This duo of islands really does come as a pair. They sit together in the heart of the Ionian Sea only 1.5 miles apart. They’re not the easiest to reach but that cuts down the crowds and means there’s some seriously lovely bays to enjoy without the booming tourist numbers of other Greek islands – think Mykonos and Santorini.

The inlands of these two are all soft hills covered in pine trees and olive groves, dotted with the occasional village that has an age-old taverna. But where Paxos and Antipaxos really excel is down on the shoreline. They have pebble coves on one side and some of the most Caribbean-esque white-sand beaches on the other.

You simply have to see:

  • Paralia Vrika – The piece de resistance of Antipaxos, this horseshoe cove has sand as white as clouds and turquoise sea waters. Paradise is the keyword!
  • Mesovrika Beach – You won’t even need the snorkel gear to spot the fishes darting around at the bottom of the water here. The water is super-clear and the sand is, again, pure white.
  • Kipiadi Beach – One of the stars of Paxos, Kipiadi Beach offers pebble-backed waters and headlands topped by pine trees.

Rhodes

Rhodes
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Rhodes simply cannot be ignored if you’re on the hunt for the best Greek islands for beaches and snorkeling. Almost as far as you can go in the Aegean before hitting the Turkish coast, this one’s the gem-shaped hub of the Dodecanese chain. It’s probably most famous for historic Rhodes Town, which boasts a UNESCO tag for its medieval fortresses. However, there is some seriously wonderful coastline to explore to boot.

It’s a tale of two halves. The north and west part of the island is far more rugged and untouched. The beaches there curve and carve their way under the mountains and rarely see big crowds. The south shore is the most popular and for good reason. You get sheltered inlets that have uber-clear H2O and pretty resort towns to their back. The places we’d say you shouldn’t miss are:

  • Lindos Beach – One of the longest and best beaches on the island, Lindos sits below an ancient acropolis and offers loads of watersports.
  • Anthony Quinn Bay – Close to the party town of Faliraki, Anthony Quinn Bay is hailed as one of Greece’s top snorkeling spots. It’s rocky and filled with fish but has a backing of wooded hills.
  • Tsambika Beach – A popular resort beach where you can waterski and paraglide, but also laze around to your heart’s content.

Hydra

Hydra Town
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

Hydra is only an hour or two’s ferry from the main port in Athens. However, it’s a world away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. Like a sleeping giant at the end of the Saronic Gulf, it lurches up hundreds of meters to the summit of Mount Eros, which gazes southwards to the heart of the Aegean Sea.

Unlike the Peloponnesian mainland that’s only a stone’s throw over the strait, Hydra is known for its overly rocky geology. That helps to keep the water around the island super clear, which is why it’s become a bit of a haven for scuba divers and snorkelers.

Today, the whole north coast of Hydra is linked by a lovely, car-free walking path. The hub of it all is Hydra Town, where you’ll be able to see the erstwhile home of Leonard Cohen and dodge donkeys between the seafood tavernas. The best swimming spots are to the west and east of that, many of them little more than platforms before an open sea.

So, what are the best Greek islands for beaches and snorkeling?

It’s pretty hard to pick the best Greek islands for beaches and snorkeling. There are just so many places to choose from. However, there are some that really stand out from the crowd when it comes to coastline in this southern corner of Europe. They include the white-rock coves of Milos, the sandy runs of Rhodes in the east, and the dramatic Shipwreck Bay of Zante in Ionia. And that’s really just a taster!

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Joe has been a freelance travel writer for over nine years. His writing and roaming have taken him from the colonial towns of Mexico to the chowks of Mumbai to the Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not putting together the next epic blog on the best Greek islands or ski fields in France, you can usually find him surfing or hiking – his two top hobbies.