Eight of the best Greek islands you’ve probably never heard of

Forget Santorini and Mykonos – if you’re seeking a slice of heaven with a secluded twist, pack your bags for an unknown and underrated Greek island. From serene beaches and old pirate coves to historic churches and archaeological gems, these one-of-a-kind destinations are diverse and unique – perfect for an island-hopping escape that’s as cultured as it is captivating.

Plaka town on Milos, Greece. Image: iStock/Poike
For sensational views and a volcanic setting: Milos

A truly dramatic natural setting characterises Milos, where tall volcanic rocks paint a vivid picture of orange, red and white. The attractions are varied and almost endless here: head off the beaten track to visit the Old Sulfur Mines at Pilorema, wander through the Catacombs that date back to the first to fifth centuries, seek out former pirate coves from the Middle Ages, and enjoy the sensational sea views from the Venetian Castle of Milos in Plaka.

Naxos, Greece. Image: iStock/Freeartist
For a well-rounded Cyclades sojourn: Naxos

The largest of the Cyclades Islands, Naxos still retains its idyllic charms by way of its ultra-scenic beaches, impossibly high peaks, and fertile green landscapes peppered with fruit and olive trees. Come here to enjoy a well-rounded Greek island getaway, and don’t leave without sampling local meats, vegetables and cheeses – from the salty and spicy kopanisti cheese, to chips made from richly-flavoured potatoes. Naxos Town’s Portara, doorway to the Temple of Apollo, is a must-visit – as is the Archaeological ?useum of Naxos, showcasing artefacts from the Late Neolithic period to the Early Christian times.

Village of Naousa on Paros, Greece. Image: iStock/Poike
For quiet harbour town relaxation: Paros

For something upbeat but no less relaxing, try the many thrills of Páros. Its capital Parikia sits in a bayside location, and offers a pretty port, water sports opportunities, and plentiful shops and restaurants. Try Kolymbithres Beach for soft gold sands lined with surreal granite rocks, visit the incredible Byzantine church of Panagia Ekatontapiliani for your fill of history, and soak up the scenic Cycladic architecture that surrounds you as you spend an evening at a lively beach bar or club.

Kythnos, Greece. Image: iStock/Charalambos Andronos
For wild beauty and deserted beaches: Kythnos

Set in the Western Cyclades, Kythnos is an enchanting island which offers a wild, golden landscape of rugged mountains and petite but pretty beaches – Kolona Beach being the most scenic, comprising a stretch of sand bordered on both ends by the sea. Soothe your body and soul with a trip to the island’s healing hot springs, visit the town of Chora for a quaint setting within which to enjoy a meal or drink, and explore the many churches that light up its small squares – should that leave you with an appetite for more, the sea-facing Church of Panagia Kanala is also well worth the uphill climb.

Samothrace, Greece. Image: iStock/evgord
For a secret getaway loved by the locals: Samothraki

A quiet destination loved by local tourists, the island of Samothraki (or Samothrace) is over a two-hour ferry ride from Alexandroupolis on the mainland, and offers up all the archaeological splendour and active pursuits you could want from a Greek escape. History buffs can uncover the secrets of the Thracian Sanctuary of the Great Gods, intrepid adventurers should make the challenging climb up Mount Fengari to soak up the most rewarding sea views, while those simply looking to recline and top up their tan can find paradise on the popular Agios Georgios Beach.

Folegandros, Greece. Image: iStock/milangonda
For historic villages in a rugged setting: Folegandros

Couple dramatic cliffs and secluded beaches with traditional, history-rich villages in Folegandros, one of the southern Cyclades Islands where the views are as mesmerising as they come. You’ll find a trio of villages ripe for exploring here, from the old medieval town of Hora with its tight-knit architecture, to Karavostassis with its bobbing fishing boats and pebbled beach, to Ano Merià with its stone walls and cultivated fields. For an unforgettable experience filled with religious history, walk the zig-zagging path up to the Church of Panagia – a brilliant white against a stark, glowing hillside setting.

Tinos, Greece. Image: iStock/saiko3p
For religious history and tranquil beaches: Tinos

A half-hour ferry crossing from its world-famous neighbour Mykonos, Tinos is a true contender for breath-taking cultural and natural sights, as well as pared-back rest and relaxation. One of more than 200 Cyclades Islands, it’s known as a religious pilgrimage site for its imposing Lady of Tinos Marian shrine. It’s home to a quaint town of gleaming white cubist architecture, as well as a rugged rural landscape bordered by tranquil beaches – the most famous of these being Agios Ioannis Porto and Agios Sostis.

Othonoi, Greece. Image: iStock/pacaypalla
For unrestrained seclusion in the Ionian Islands: Othonoi

Stretched across almost 11 square kilometres and housing 13 small villages, Othonoi is the most western of the Ionian Islands and is perhaps best known for its fishing and olive cultivation. Remoteness is key here, whether you’re kicking back and relishing the crystal-clear waters at Aspri Ammos beach, hiring a boat to venture into the depths of the nearby Calypso Cave, or taking in the views of Corfu island and the Albanian coast from the active, 19th-century Kastri Lighthouse.