The 9 Best Greek Islands For Hiking: Trails On The Aegean

Best Greek islands for hiking
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis
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Dust down the boots, ready the OS map, prep the compass, because this guide to the best Greek islands for hiking is all about hitting the trails in the home of feta cheese and saganaki. We’ll be taking you to the heights of the Cretan mountains, where snow dashes the slopes in the midwinter, and down to the secret pebble coves of Ithaka, for dips in secluded bays that only ramblers can reach.

Greece isn’t just for soaking up the rays on the sand, you know. The country is actually a hiking haven. It’s a mecca for those who want to hit the paths because many of the islands are completely covered in old donkey trails and pilgrimage routes, which are, at least for the most part, very well maintained.

For our selection of the nine best Greek islands for hiking, we’ve tried to get a good mix of options. We’ve got hardcore trekking options where you can undertake full-day expeditions into UNESCO gorges and more easy-going hiking isles which offer respite at whitewashed villages and beaches as you walk. Ready to set off? Let’s begin…

Crete

Hiking on Crete
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

There’s no doubt about it in our minds that Crete is island numero uno for hikers. It’s the largest island in the country, which means you’ve got plenty of hinterland to explore. But there are even more superlatives than that because Crete is basically mountains from tail to tip. It even hosts the highest peak of any of the Greek isles, at the 2,456-meter-high top of Mount Ida.

If we had to narrow it down, we’d say that the little south-western region of Sfakion is the best place to go to lace up the boots and get walking. It’s rugged and wild, beset by hulking ridges of limestone and a series of coastal plateaus that are carved by mighty canyons. It’s one of the best places to launch expeditions up the UNESCO Samaria Gorge, for example, but we almost prefer the remoter Aradena Gorge, home to a three-hour hike slash scramble that ends at glorious Marmara Beach.

The proper highlands of Crete are also tempting. Where the Lefka Ori and White Mountain ranges soar to over 2,000 meters in the heart of the island, you can trek to Pakhnes and Rousies to see places that look more like Tibet than southern Europe. Alternatively, there’s an awesome trail in the company of goats to the blazing lagoon of Balos for those who prefer to stick to the coast.

Hydra

Hiking on Hydra
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

Hydra often gets mentioned for its chic seaside bars and historic association with artistic luminaries like Leonard Cohen. That’s cool and all, but there’s more to the finger-long isle at the base of the Saronic Gulf than just mojitos and moody music, you know?

We’d actually go as far as to say that’s it’s one of the best Greek islands for hiking. That’s mainly because it’s 100% walkable. In fact, you couldn’t even drive a car here if you wanted too, since they are banned. Donkeys remain the most hi-tech form of public transportation, or maybe it’s the water taxis. Either way, you’ll be hoofing it on Hydra more than anywhere else in the region.

There are two walks that are pretty special. The first takes you along the northern coast on a well-laid mule track under some Venetian windmills. You can actually hike that the whole length of the island, to beaches that get progressively more deserted and wilder as you go. The second is the more challenging day-long hike to the summit of Mount Eros. It passes a mystical Orthodox monastery on route and finishes with you gazing south to the Cyclades islands in the heart of the Aegean – is that Milos in the distance?

Ithaka

Ithaka
Photo by Irena Kefala/Unsplash

The mythic home of Odysseus, hero of the Trojan War, Ithaka is but a pinprick on the map of the Ionian Sea, the westernmost part of Greece. However, it’s a doozy for walkers because it’s compact enough to let you get pretty much anywhere without having to hop in a taxi, of the water variety or the land variety.

We think that the best place to bed down is in the town of Vathy. It’s the main harbor of the island and gets the bulk of the ferry links to and from the mainland and other Ionian islands, most importantly next-door Kefalonia. But it’s not just a boat terminal. It’s also a gorgeous spot with charming fishing cottages converging on a promenade that runs east and west into remote pebble coves washed by see-through waters.

Anyway…back to the hiking. Ithaka is covered in a maze of old horse and donkey trails that link all the best beaches. One of our favorite hikes is to Paralia Piso Aetos cove via the intriguing Cave of the Nymphs, a long-lost cavern up on the hillsides above Vathy. We also love the walk south to usually-deserted Talaros, a beach that shimmers perfect white beneath scrub-clad hills – even the yachters don’t often go there!

Sifnos

Sifnos
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Wedged between Milos and Paros in the midst of the ever-popular Cyclades islands, Sifnos is a truly gorgeous place that’s worthy of the travel brochures. Only, it’s pretty happy to remain out of the spotlight, with its sleepy main town in Apollonia ticking over to chilled and rustic rhythms from its bowl in the inland valleys.

The peaks stretch all the way from the southern cape to the northern shores here. They aren’t terribly high but do come draped in a web of extremely well-maintained walking paths and bridle routes known as the Sifnos Trails. They include a series of marked out hikes, including the meadow-fringed Pilgrimage Route to Agios Simeon, and the Route of the Mines down the coast to Agios Sostis. There’s a new path for every day of a week-long holiday, so don’t worry about variety.

When you’re not hiking in Sifnos, we’d recommend taking some time to explore the hidden coves and beaches. The most photogenic are around Paralia Panagia Poulati on the east coast, where a white-painted church sits before a boulder stack in the Aegean.

Thasos

Thasos
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Thasos is an often-overlooked island that tucks into the northern part of the Aegean Sea. If you check the map, you can see how it’s almost an extension of the Balkan Mountain that carve through the southern end of the peninsula on the mainland, which is why there are so many peaks and valleys to explore, although most of them are clad in thick and fragrant pine and olive trees.

Hiking here can often feel like you’ve traded the Greek islands for the heart of the Alps. Just take the paths that leave from the village of Potamia just up from the east coast. They will weave and wind through bare-bottom evergreen woods onto rocky ridges above the tree line, eventually offering 360-degree panoramas anchored on the white sands of Paralia Chrisi Ammoudia below.

There are a few hidden waterfalls on the western side of the island that sit at the end of more protected hikes. They include Maries and the more dramatic Apostolus Waterfall, great options if the sun is really bearing down – mainly because the paths are well sheltered and there’s a wild-swimming opportunity at the end to help you cool off!

Santorini

Santorini
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We don’t add Santorini here because it’s got backcountry trails for veteran Pacific Crest thru-hikers. It doesn’t. In fact, it’s pretty bare, barren, and boring for walkers for the most part. However, there is one trail that’s so darn fantastic that it means it gets romantic, sunset-kissed Santorini right up with the best Greek islands for hiking.

Cue the 10-kilometer Oia to Fira route. It connects up two of the most iconic Cycladic villages on the island (scratch that, in the world!) with a zigzagging, sometimes-precipitous path that showcases some the finest views the Aegean Sea can muster. Seriously, no exaggeration – this one’s a symphony of shimmering blue water, Mars-like volcanic rocks, and blinding-white churches with cobalt domes on top.

In all, the Oia-Fira hike on Santorini takes about four hours, give or take a little depending on your fitness level and how long you want to stop and gawp at the panoramas. There are plenty of places to stop along the way to refresh and rejuvenate, not least of all the village of Imerovigli, where ice-cream stands and Greek tavernas offer front-row seats of the view. You’ll also want to take some time at the Skaros Rock – it’s especially spectacular at sunset!

Evia

Evia
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Evia is also known as Euboea. It’s the long, dogleg of an island that runs through the Aegean Sea just northeast of Athens. Long a popular escape for city dwellers, many of whom own nice second-home villas here, it’s been an important player on the Greek map since ancient times. However, it’s still not that big for the tourist crowds, despite having a convenient road link to the Greek mainland – you can arrive from the capital in just over an hour.

The central and western parts of the island, along with the southern cape west of Marmari, are among the hotspots for ramblers. Those are regions scarred by high mountains that drop to boulder-spotted valleys, with zig-zag hiking routes weaving to lookouts on high.

The most trodden trail is the one that goes to the summit of Dirfi Mountain. That takes you 1,700 meters above the sparkling Aegean Sea, out of the hardy Agali Refuge to a ridge that gets regular snow coverage in the winter. Evia is also perfect for more adrenaline-pumping sorts of hikes, what with canyoneering and river hiking on the menu to boot!

Amorgos

Photo by Giannis Panagiotatos/Unsplash

The long, thin, fishhook-shaped isle of Amorgos isn’t that well known to travelers. That’s largely down to the fact that it’s not the easiest island to get to. There’s no airport, and only a couple of boats throughout the summer season coming from Naxos and Piraeus. If you’re willing to do the legwork (no pun intended!) then what awaits is definitely one of the best Greek islands for hiking.

The star of the show has to the be the route of the Old Strata. It’s a half-day hike at least and links the milk-white cottages of the Chora old capital to the most incredible religious site arguably in the Cyclades: The Panagia Hozoviotissa monastery. The path there is cut dramatically into the cliff faces on the south coast, with the sparkling Aegean rapping against the rocks below.

Once you’ve tackled that, you’ve got a few more top-class walks to add to the itinerary. They include the Fotodotis walk through the green farms on the north side of the isle, which links up groves of laurel trees and natural springs on ancient donkey paths. There’s also the Pan trail, which culminates at one of the highest lookouts on Amorgos for sweeping views of the central-eastern Aegean Sea.

Corfu

Photo by Erik_Karits/Pixabay

Corfu is an island with something for everyone, from bumping summer party towns (check out Kavos) to romantic beach escapes (head to Palaiokastritsa). There are oodles for those who come with the walking boots and sticks in tow, too, though we would recommend focusing your stay somewhere around the northern half of the island – it’s much more mountainous and generally more expansive on the hiking front.

In that region, we superficially like the route to Nymfes Waterfall through the woodlands from the village of the same name. And then there’s the spectacular coastal path that takes you down the scrub hills to the salt-washed isthmus bay of Porto Timoni, arguably the best beach on the whole island.

And there’s a trump card: Opened in 2001, the simply named Corfu Trail is now one of the few long-distance trekking options on the Greek islands. It connects up the whole isle going from south to north out of Kavos all the way to the rustic hamlet of Old Perithia. It runs for 220km in all and is waymarked by clear yellow signage reading “CT”.

The best Greek islands for hiking – a conclusion

The best Greek islands for hiking are the ones that have the highest mountains and the most accessible paths; places like Sifnos, with its epic web of managed trails, and Crete, where you can scale the tallest peak in the Aegean before delving into shadowy Samaria Gorge. However, there are other spots that prize getting around on foot higher than getting around by car, including the gorgeous island of Hydra in the Saronic Gulf and the smaller Ionian isle of Ithaka, the erstwhile home of the hero Odysseus.

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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.