The island of Skiathos is the gateway, as along with its glorious beaches, historic old town and hip nightlife, there’s an international airport offering direct UK flights. Perfect to explore these Aegean island gems and enjoy the authentic Greek lifestyle without the crowds.
Dreamy holidays: Skiathos
Known as the Mykonos of the Sporades because of its hip beach bars and chic cafes, this cosmopolitan island has the region’s only airport.
Skiathos has countless stunning beaches lapped by clear waters. Pick of the crop Koukounaries has pine-shaded sands backed by a picturesque lagoon where flamingos and endangered wildlife, including turtles, can often be spotted. Boat tours will whisk you across the water to Kastro, the island’s medieval walled castle whose atmospheric ruins are also accessible via bumpy goat tracks on a thrilling jeep safari. Or explore on foot: Skiathos’s pristine interior can be discovered on a network of walking trails – you’ll also find fabulous secluded spots with amazing views of the Aegean.
To learn more about local traditions, pop into fascinating folklore museum Skiathiko Spiti or pay a visit to the house museum in Chora dedicated to famous Greek novelist Alexandros Papadiamantis. Wandering the town’s cosmopolitan paved streets, you can spot cute white houses with red tiled roofs and colourful gardens. The lush Bourtzi peninsula, where you’ll find a ruined Venetian fortress and fantastic views of the archipelago, is a particularly romantic spot.
At sunset, make a beeline for the port to dine on fresh seafood and glass or two of tsipouro. This punch-packing distilled grape spirit will give you plenty of energy to dance until dawn in the bars and clubs of Skiathos’s lively main town.
Movie star: Skopelos
Fans of the film Mamma Mia! will love exploring this lush and lovely island’s seascapes on a film-themed boat tour: highlights include a visit to pine-shaded Kastani beach, where many key scenes were shot.
Another beach that’s well worth a visit is Milia, also surrounded by pines, covered in tiny white pebbles and, according to many, the best on the island. Also deservedly popular is Panormos, with its unusually dark blue waters.
Skopelos is an island crisscrossed with scenic hiking trails that will take you via ancient landmarks to stunning archaeological sites. Sendoukia, a clifftop eyrie with ancient graves carved into the rock, is said to be the final resting place of marauding pirates.
Soak up some traditional island life in the hilltop village of Glossa, where taverns serve freshly caught seafood. Alternatively, wander the winding streets of Skopelos Old Town to discover innovative restaurants where chefs are reinventing local flavours with panache. You’ll also find picture-perfect courtyards, Byzantine churches and a medieval castle with sweeping views of the Aegean.
Undersea Parthenon: Alonissos
An hour’s boat ride from Skiathos, Alonissos is a magnet for divers who come here to explore Greece’s first underwater museum – dubbed the Parthenon of shipwrecks – at the islet of Peristera, where spectacular exhibits include the remains of a 5th-century BC merchant vessel.
The best way to explore the pristine waters of this atoll at the heart of the Northern Sporades’ National Marine Park is by traditional wooden trehantiri boat. Gliding over sparkling seas, you’ll discover hidden coves loved by monk seals, as well as the deserted islet of Gioura, where only Alonissos’s endemic longhorned goats roam.
Back on land, hike dusty donkey paths to explore the cobbled streets of the ancient capital, Hora, or cross the island via winding pine-forested roads to sample its best seafood in family-run harbourside cafes, which surround the pretty fishing port of Steni Vala. Travel in time through Chora’s old town, past ancient churches and traditional stone houses up to its medieval castle, pausing to marvel at the far-reaching views out to sea. And make sure to visit the island’s liveliest spot, Patitiri – the harbour town is worth seeing for its beautiful stone-paved waterfront alone.
Beach lovers will be delighted too, as Alonissos is dotted with secluded sands that offer unforgettable moments of peace and serenity, such as Megalos Mourtias, Steni Vala, Milia and Marpunta.
Wildlife and other wonders: Skyros
Home of the endangered Skyrian horse, which can be petted in farms across the island, Skyros is the largest and wildest of the Sporades. Indeed, its best feature is its distinct landscape; the green north is dominated by lush pine forests while the south has a wild yet compelling beauty.
Immerse yourself in the island’s cultural side as you shop for ceramics and other souvenirs in the steep maze of streets leading to the capital Chora’s Byzantine castle. There’s also an open-air stone theatre, which hosts summer events such as the Skyros Festival.
When you’re feeling peckish, make a pitstop to sample frumenty rice-and-cheese stuffed teropitaria pies. Then you’re all set for a scenic hike, following a network of well-signposted tracks that lead across the island’s forested spine to the Bronze Age city of Palamari, also one of the Aegean’s most important Neolithic settlements.
There are seafaring adventures to be had here, too: near the port town of Linaria’s harbour lies a cluster of stalactite-filled marine caves that can be explored on a boat excursion. Or sail to Sarakino Island and the gorgeous Glyfada beach.