Santorini is the most spectacular of Greek Islands. The magnificent crescent cliffs of the steep caldera create an impossibly romantic setting, while Santorini's sunsets are renowned worldwide.
White cube houses perch perilously on the cliff top rim of an ancient volcano that was created by a colossal eruption around 1650 BC and resulted in one of the most exotic holiday locations in the world.
Fira, the capital, and its neighbouring villages overflow with bars, restaurants, galleries and boutiques that line the narrow lanes and alleys along the cliff edge. Expect to pay top prices here as locals cash in an almost unending stream of daily tourists that arrive on cruise ships.
The long stretches of hot, black, volcanic sands of Santorini are not to everyone's taste but the main beach resort of Kamari has no shortage of fans while nearby Perissa and Perivolos are increasingly popular.
Highlights are the archaeological sites at Ancient Thira, on a spectacular hilltop location and the dome-covered ancient village of Akrotiri — Santorini's very own Pompeii. The island is famed for its wines and most vineyards offer tours and tastings, while excursion boats leave daily on trips to the active volcanic islets of the caldera.
Holidays in the Greek Islands are all things to all people. Head for a hedonistic party playpen or take in a tranquil backwater with a donkey ride to your hotel. The Greek Islands have an unrivalled array of ancient monuments and a grossly unfair share of outstandingly beautiful sights. Ferries make island hopping easy and there is diving, sailing and water sports galore.
Nowhere caters for so many different tastes in summer holidays than the Greek Islands. And most islands have something for everyone. Even package holiday staples like Corfu, Kos and Rhodes have their share of thrilling windswept sands and modest holiday hideaways.
Add some sensational scenery, beautiful beaches, turquoise waters, friendly people and a rich cultural history and the matter of finding your ideal Greek Island holiday is simply taking the time to search it out.
The Greek Islands fall into seven main groups. To the west are the green Ionian; the central Cyclades have archetypical sugar cube houses while the eastern Dodecanese follow the hot Turkish coast; the Saronic and Sporades hug Greece's east shore and the north Aegean are gateways to the Bosphorus. And, of course, there's Crete — the largest of them all with a culture and style all its own
The closest Greek islands to the UK, the Ionian group lies off the west coast of mainland Greece. Well watered by heavy winter rains, the landscapes here are much greener than other islands. Good sandy beaches and shallow seas also help to make the Ionian chain very popular with families. Corfu, Kefalonia, Lefkas and Zante are the best known of them but the smaller islands of Paxos and Ithaka are also well worth a visit.
The Cycladic islands epitomise Greek island holidays with their sugar cube houses, ancient hilltop windmills and blue-domed churches. Good ferry links makes this a popular island hopping area. Windswept and exposed, Santorini and Mykonos are the most typical of the Cyclades while Paros, Naxos and Ios with their long golden beaches and groves of citrus and olive have their own special qualities too.
Following the coast of Turkey, from Rhodes in the south to Samos in the north, with daily ferry links, the Dodecanese make for ideal island hopping holidays. At the point where east meets west the islands offer a wealth of archaeological treasures, from the medieval streets of Rhodes to St John the apostle's cave on Patmos. Beaches are in no short supply either and variety is the key word for holidays here.
Small in number maybe, but this small clutch of islands off Greece's east coast range more than makes up for it in variety and choice. Island delights range from large, busy, sandy, family friendly beaches of Skiathos to the charming hideaway pebble coves of Skopelos and the pristine natural beauty of Alonissos. Set in a protected marine park the Sporades islands can guarantee the clearest waters in the Aegean.
Scattered widely across the north Aegean sea, these islands tend to be less visited than other groups and will suit those who favour forested mountains, uncluttered beaches and good walking trails through lush scenery. Samos and Lesvos are the big islands in the group with wide rolling landscapes and long, sandy beaches. The increasingly popular small island of Thassos, just off the Macedonian coast, is a great alternative.
The nearest island group to Athens, the Saronic islands are not only easy to reach they also make a great base for exploring mainland Greece. Aegina, the nearest to Athens and within sight of the capital, attracts they attract many Greek weekend visitors along with foreign tour groups and independent island-hoppers. Other nearby islets like Hydra and Agistri offer peaceful pebble coves well away from the crowds.
Crete is so big and diverse it can even be thought of as an independent island group in itself. Crete is not only very long it is also very popular and accounts for nearly a quarter of the entire annual tourist trade of Greece. A backbone of majestic mountains overlooks all variety of beach resorts, from the tourist heavy playgrounds in the north and east to wild, remote and windswept beaches of the south and west.