It’s best to visit Greek islands within the same group. For example, I wouldn’t recommend visiting Corfu and Santorini on the same trip as they’re on opposite sides of the country. Instead, visit islands in the same island group: the Cyclades, the Sporades, the Dodecanese, the Ionian, the Saronic, and the Northeastern Aegean. For one, they’re close to each other. And two, they have frequent ferry connections with each other. For first time visitors to Greece, the Cyclades make the most natural and convenient introduction.
We are planning to come back at the start of September for 2 weeks to visit different islands for some beach and sun. To give you some background, we loved Santorini, Milos and the quieter / smaller places in Crete (Loutro, Falassarna, Samaria Gorge). We enjoy beach time, some hiking, site seeing, good wine / food and good / buzzy atmosphere at night for dinner / tavernas.
Also, if there are any other suggestions you have in general for Athens and Santorini I would love to hear them. I would like to be able to leave Athens early morning on Day 3 so that we can have almost a full day on our first island. We would like to see as much as we can without feeling like we are running around from island to island the whole time.
Transport between them can be patchy, but a new service linking Zakynthos with Corfu which started this year now brings all the islands (bar Kythira) together. Zakynthos is otherwise linked to Kefallonia with an old-style open deck ‘slipper’ ferry; Kefallonia includes Ithaki on its local small ferry route to Nydri on Lefkada. There is no link (except for the new service) from Lefkada to Paxi/Corfu. Corfu has links to Paxi and its little know satellite islands just to the north. Kythira has an airport with flights to Athens and ferries to Crete (Kissamos) and the Peloponnese (Gythio, Kalamata, and Neapoli).
These groups are generally better connected among themselves than with other groups, so you are probably better advised to target them on this basis. As it’s your first time to Greece, you may want the full-on Greek island experience and you could easily fill your five weeks flitting from one island to the other in the Cyclades. You could start in Kea and work your way down to Milos via Kythnos, Serifos and Sifnos then segue to Paros and Naxos. Dip down to Santorini, up to Mykonos and back to Piraeus. The map will also show plenty of other Cyclades islands to pick and choose from such as Ios, Sikinos, Folegandros, Amorgos, Syros, Tinos and Andros – yes! too many choices, but you will find that sticking to one group it will be easier to get between them. Realistically for a period of five weeks you will not want to be doing more than 6-8 islands.
Zakynthos is an island of certain extremes: beauty and crass, mass tourism of the worst sort. The islands – like all the Ionian islands is lush and verdant and boasts the now famous ‘shipwreck beach’ (Navagio) that many seek to travel to and swim at. Yes, it’s worth it and numerous excursion boats make the run from ports on the west side of the island. Environmentalists and capitalists clash daggers at Laganas where the mass tourism trade is carried out to the detriment of the Caretta Caretta, or loggerhead turtle that loves the beach as much as British tourists on a binge. Read this page for the background. There is an alternative scene to Laganas at Vasilikos over to the east, but it is much more low-key and less busy.
There is a network of ferries that conveniently runs between all of these top islands in Croatia to visit. These ships are certainly not glamorous sailboats, to say the least, but they do get you to the islands at a very affordable rate, allowing you more time (and money) to actually to explore the islands! It is not easy to see them all (like we said), but here is one idea for a week-long vacay.

I think that’s a great plan. Santorini is a must and Milos and Naxos are two islands that have both great beaches and lots to do and see away from the beach. Renting a car and exploring the interior villages of Naxos is a must-do and so is a boat tour around Milos. If you’re willing to cut Athens to 2 days, I would recommend Santorini 5 days, Milos 3 days, Naxos 3 days, and Athens 2 days.
Blaca Hermitage in the south of the island is a must-visit, as well as Vidova Gora Mountain, which is the highest peak on the island, offering you stunning views across the Adriatic and to neighboring islands on a clear day. Brač is also where you’ll find the famous Zlatni Rat Beach, one of the absolute best Croatia beaches (and even in all of Europe) and a wonderful place to spend a day. This all makes Brač one of the best islands near Split, a perfect day trip from Croatia’s second-largest city.
Fabulous site Dave! I am taking my daughter to Greece for 12 days in late May 2017 as a grad gift (yeah I know…, I think my Dad gave me a Timex watch, but I digress) and we are flying into Santorini expecting to spend 5-6 days there then ferrying over to Mykonos (not really sure why?) for a couple days. A couple days there and then flying into Athens for 2-2.5 days to inject some culture into what is otherwise somewhat hedonistic trip. I was wondering, after reading about other islands whether it is worth going to Mykonos. I’d love to go to Crete but it seems to be tough to squeeze that in. The original plan was to go to Istanbul for a couple days but it seems really sketchy right now. So is Naxos a better idea than Mykonos? Should we stay longer in Santorini? Is 2.5 days too much for Athens? Any and all info is appreciated. 

I’m hoping you can help myself and a friend decide where to go. We are hoping to go away around mid August for 10 days-2 weeks. We’re looking for a sunny place and beaches to tan and relax during the day, with some big nightlife and a good strip (the odd daytime activity maybe too). However we are in mid 20s so want to go somewhere with the same age group or older. I’ve been to Zante and although it was super fun at the time (I was about 18) and loved having the strip etc, just don’t want to be the older people there anymore! Money is also fairly tight, so nothing too expensive (was thinking santorini maybe before hearing the price along with it).
Lefkada is an island, but is connected to the mainland by a causeway at the northern tip and its access airport is on the mainland at Aktio (Preveza). It is an island popular with Greeks and mainly European visitors. Italians and Brits predominate. It is green, verdant, has good beaches and facilities and is compact enough to get around easily. Tourism is centred on the east coast around the port village of Nydri. It is low-key accommodation with villas and small family-run hotels predominating. Off-shore from Nydri are a couple of islands worth visiting on excursions: the sizeable Meganisi (car ferries run to and fro’) and the private Skorpios Island which belong to the Onassis family. On your own hired motor boat, you can heave-to on just one private beach on the north side of the island and swim and claim boasting rights to having swum on Aristotle Onassis’ private piece of Greece.
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