Home Europe Greece The 11 Most Incredible Greek Islands to Visit From Santorini

The 11 Most Incredible Greek Islands to Visit From Santorini

Greek islands to visit from Santorini
Photo credit: JRF/The Surf Atlas

Santorini is unquestionably one of the most bucket-list isles in the Aegean. It magnetizes travelers of all sorts – honeymooners, photographers, hikers, foodies – with the promise of one of the most startling terrains on the planet. Come to encounter soaring volcanic cliffs, whitewashed villages topped by blue Orthodox church domes, and some of the most epic sunsets ever. But there are also other Greek islands to visit from Santorini

Yep, a trip to this iconic spot in the heart of the Cyclades chain shouldn’t be only about Santorini itself. There are a whole host of surrounding islands that are within a quick (and perhaps not-quite-so-quick) ferry journey. They include the rugged shores of Milos and the party isles of Mykonos and Ios, but also the lesser-known destinations of Folegandros and lovely little Anafi.

Interested? Read on. In this guide we’ll list 11 of the top Greek islands to visit from Santorini. We’ll cover the crème-de-la-crème of the day-trip options and offer a few suggestions for other isles that could be that next stop on a cross-Aegean island-hopping itinerary. Prep the passport. Let’s dive in…

Thirasia

Thirasia
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You can’t miss Thirasia – it’s the rugged rock that sits in the heat haze just west of Santorini’s main caldera ridge. Once upon a time, it was a part of Santorini itself. But that was before it was wrenched from the side by the eruption of the ancient mega volcano in 1,600 BC. Today, the isle is a famous daytrip destination from Fira, offering a vision of a sleepier, altogether less touristic corner of the Cyclades.

You’ll probably arrive into Agia Eirini. It’s the small wisp of white-painted cottages and windmills on the northwest shore. It’s a great place to launch hiking expeditions through the countryside. Walking from one end of Thirasia to the other takes little more than an hour each way, and you get to see cute churches and canyons carved out by lava flows.

The town of Manolas is the one center of the island. Like with the villages of Santorini before it, it clings to a jagged ridge and offers seriously gorgeous views, only this time they are looking back at the volcanic caldera from the west – better for sunrise than sunset!

Mykonos

Mykonos
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Oh, Mykonos. Next to Santorini, this is arguably the most famous member of the Cyclades chain. Just a mention of the name is usually enough to conjure images of sun-splashed vacations by the crystal-clear Aegean Sea. Its rep as one of Greece’s R&R meccas has been further bolstered in recent years, as Mykonos has become a favorite holidaying spot for A-list celebs and movie stars.

Life on Mykonos largely happens on the west coast. That’s where you find the windmill-topped streets of Mykonos Town, all laced with cool cafés and chic drinking establishments, not to mention arguably the best fine-dining Greece has to offer. Move from there to find the handsome walks of Little Venice, a cluster of salt-washed tavernas and bars right by the water’s edge. Or, go south to the likes of Paraga Beach and Paradise Beach, where the drinking and chill-out tunes are typically in full flow by 2pm.

The route from Santorini to Mykonos has to be up there with the most traveled of the ferry routes in the Aegean. There’s a whopping four or five boats that do the connection each day in the midsummer months. The trip takes just over two hours from start to finish on most ferries.

Milos

Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

Famed as the erstwhile home of arguably Greece’s most iconic ancient statue, the Venus de Milo, this C-shaped speck in the western Cyclades remains one of our favorite pitstops in the Aegean Sea. It’s just that it looks a whole load different to most of its counterparts. How? Well, the coastline is whittled into glowing white stone recesses and inlets, where turquoise lagoons form and grottoes carve deep under the cliffs. Cool, eh?

You should spend some time on a boat trip on Milos to really take in the majesty of the shores. Some of the most jaw-dropping areas are Sarakiniko in the north and Kleftiko in the south-west. We’d also recommend leaving time to delve into Milos’s ancient ruins – there are catacombs and even a Roman-era amphitheater close to the enchanting little hill village of Trypiti.

Getting to Milos from Santorini shouldn’t be very difficult. The connection is popular among travelers doing east-west island hopping from places like Rhodes back towards Athens and the Saronic Gulf. We’re talking a couple of ferries each day at least.

Folengandros

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Just a touch east of Milos, around midway to Santorini, the outline of Folengandros is one you can hardly ignore. The 8-shaped isle lurches dramatically from the water in a mass of rust-tinged stone and sheer-cut cliffs. Agricultural terraces carve into the monoliths here and there. Other times, the mountains break into bands of pinkish rock that cascade straight down to boulder-dotted beaches. Amazing stuff.

We’d actually say that a sunset up at the high-perched Church of Panagia on Folegandros is one of the true bucket-list experiences of the Greek Aegean. Everyone on the island – like, everyone! – climbs up there around 6pm in the evening to enjoy the fading light. The views are nothing short of spectacular, as the horizon turns a haze of yellow and ochre and the white village below descends into shadow. Might it even beat Santorini at the golden hour? Big words. We’ll leave you to decide.

One thing’s for sure, getting from Santorini to Folegandros shouldn’t be too hard. There are regular ferries that go multiple times each day from the port in Thira. They typically take about one hour from start to finish. It’s probably wise to book yours in advance if you’re planning on going anytime in the high season months (May to August) – this route gets busy.

Anafi

Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

Ana…where? Yep, we know. We didn’t even believe this was a place, let alone one of the most popular Greek islands to visit from Santorini. Then we went there. And…wow! How the mega crowds haven’t yet descended upon little Anafi is an enigma to us. Still, we’re not complaining, because there’s serenity and natural beauty by the bucket load. Oh, and it all sits a mere 14 nautical miles from the eastern shoreline of Santorini.

Anafi and Santorini actually look pretty darn similar. They are both of volcanic origin, which is why you’ll find similarly dramatic cliffs and rugged landscapes of rock-ribbed mountain peaks shooting straight out of the Aegean. Little Anafi also has a Mars-like backcountry of crumpled, brown-paper stone, dotted now and then with the shimmering wisp of a traditional whitewashed village.

What Anafi can offer that Santorini can’t is twofold. One, it’s way quieter than its pal the west. Two, it’s got beaches; pristine, sandy beaches. We’d say Kleisidi Beach is the best of the bunch, but there’s also gorgeous Agios Nikolaos (great for snorkeling) and Agioi Anargyri, which is watched over by what we think is arguably the most romantic church in all of Greece!

Ios

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There are as many as three or four ferry crossings from Santorini to Ios every day during the peak summer months between May and August. That makes this one of the most popular Greek islands to visit from Santorini. And we can see why it’s the obvious next choice after enjoying the clifftop villages of Oia and the sunsets from Thira

Ios has a rep as the wildest party destination in the Greek Aegean. In that sense it’s a little like Mykonos, but the shindigs here are less chic, more off the hook. So, the crowd tends to be 18-30s, not A-list celebs. The action is spread between the open-air terraces of Mylopotas Beach (where the drinking starts early) and the center of Ios Hora (the main town). Nights typically end in one of the mega-clubs – Sweet Irish Dream and Rehab are two of the most popular.

Bear in mind that a jaunt to Ios doesn’t have to be about boogying until sunup. The trio of Mylopotas, Maganari Beach, and Yialos have established themselves as watersports meccas. Go to those to whiz on jet skis or practice your windsurfing skills. The inland Mount Pyrgos is also a draw for hikers who want to beat the hangover with a bit of exercise. It hosts the mysterious monastery of Agios Ioannis and a speckling of smaller Cycladic churches besides.

Naxos

Naxos
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Cue the largest of the Cyclades: Naxos. Yep, this is one of the more obvious choices among the Greek islands to visit from Santorini. It’s not only big – several times the size of, say, Ios – but it’s also right next door to Paros, which is considered the main ferry hub of the central Aegean. The upshot? It should be a cinch to reach. In fact, there are direct ferries from Thira port to Naxos throughout the summer season, taking around 1h20. Easy.

The first port of call on Naxos is likely to be Hora town. It’s the main harbor, but also much more than that. It buzzes with life, tooting cars, and coffee-clinking tavernas. It’s got just a hint of Athens about it, and far more energy than many of the smaller marinas throughout the island chains. There’s also history, thanks largely to the ruined Venetian castle up on the cliffs overhead (look for it poking through the whitewashed Greek cottages).

Daylight hours are typically spent cruising between Naxos’s high-quality beaches. The best of them roll along the south and southwest shorelines. We particularly love Agios Prokopios (Caribbean-esque azure seas, hello!) and Mikri Vigla, which has cove swimming but also watersports. More adventurous travelers might want to challenge themselves to conquer Mt Zeus. It’s the highest summit in the Cyclades and the hike to the top station at 1004 meters is particularly wonderful.

Sikinos

Sikinos
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There are few islands in Greece as off the beaten path as Sikinos. It’s strange though. This one’s wedged between the hedonistic party hub of Ios and gazes straight southwest towards Santorini. We can’t believe that it’s not really stepped into the limelight and become a major island-hopping destination quite yet. Then again, we kinda’ hope it never does.

See…the joy of Sikinos is just how empty and remote and untouched it feels, especially when compared to its near neighbors. There’s really just a single town, located on the south coast at the marina of Alopronia. That links to the time-stood-still village of Kastro, hidden far up between the olive terraces and dusty mountain ridges inland.

There aren’t any direct ferries from Santorini to Sikinos. Instead, you’ll need to change boats at nearby Folengandros. That cranks up the journey time to just a tad under three hours in total. Still, Sikinos isn’t really made to be a day-trip destination. It’s best to experience it slow: Hiking the backcountry trails, visiting the haunting Greek monastery, tasting the wine – you get the idea.

Rhodes

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Rhodes isn’t close to Santorini. In fact, it’s a whopping 155 miles away at the far eastern end of the Aegean Sea. However, it’s not inaccessible because there’s a long-distance ferry that goes overnight during the high season, leaving about two or three times each week. You’ll need to book that in advance. Limited space means that tickets often go quick.

The joy here is that you get to hit a whole different part of the country. Rhodes is the gateway to the Dodecanese chain, a land on the very fringes of Turkey that enjoys some of the hottest weather in Greece.

Rhodes town is where you’re likely to disembark. Take some time to wander that, as it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site with medieval castles galore. Then, be sure to hit the coast road going south and west, which takes you through the party town of Faliraki and the lovely white village come family resort of Lindos.

Amorgos

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Shaped like a fishhook in the middle of the Aegean just to the north-east of Santorini, Amorgos is one of those places that’s totally stunning and criminally under looked. You come here to escape the buzz of the Santorini promenades and enjoy Greece at a slower pace of life.

Days will be spend hiking the coastal trails to the incredible Monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa, wandering Chora town in search of old-world windmills, and seeking out beaches with rusting shipwrecks. It’s also a cracking locale for film buffs, who should be able to spot locations from Luc Besson’s legendary The Big Blue (1988).

The good news is that, even though it’s not that often visited, Amorgos does have commercial ferry links to Santorini. They take just over an hour and depart up to two times per day in the peak season.

Crete

Photo by Joseph Richard Francis

Crete is a whole adventure in itself. It’s the largest island in the whole Aegean Sea, spreading a mega 160 miles from end to end. Here, you’ll discover a place that’s not quite like anywhere else in Greece. It’s beset by soaring mountains that breach 2,400 meters up, inhabited by hardy, stoic people, and even has its own unique cuisine.

There’s now about one daily ferry from Santorini to Heraklion during the high season months, along with other, less regular, links to the second-city of Chania. The first is the best gateway to eastern Crete, perfect for those looking to party their nights away in Malia and laze on the beach resorts. The latter is a steppingstone into western Crete, where dramatic hikes the Samaria Gorge and exotic beaches like Balos await.

One thing that really helps Crete stand out from this crowd of Greek islands to visit from Santorini is that it tends to have a longer season than other places. You can arrive in early May and still get days in the mid-70s or come in late October and sun yourself.

Greek islands to visit from Santorini – a conclusion

This list of seven of the top Greek islands to visit from Santorini is just a taster of the amazing places you can go to after taking in the ancient collapsed caldera of Greece’s most popular sunset spot. You could also consider catching a longer, overnight ferry to break out to the islands in the far east of the Aegean (Rhodes, Symi, Kos) or to get back to Athens for your fix of ancient history and city life.

Which island is closest to Santorini Greece?

The closest islands to Santorini have to be the small ones that share the same caldera, of which only little Therasia is inhabited. The closest island that isn’t part of the same land mass is Anafi, another volcanic rock with black-stone beaches and whitewashed towns but only a fraction of the crowds, a short ferry to the east.

What islands can you ferry to from Santorini?

You can catch a ferry to oodles and oodles of islands from Santorini. Because this is such a popular stop over on cross-Cyclades island-hopping tours, boats link it to most of the well-known neighboring isles – Mykonos, Ios, Naxos, Folengandros. There are also long-haul ferries that connect Santorini to Crete in the south, Athens in the north, and the Dodecanese islands out east. You shouldn’t be short of choices.