Three underrated Greek Islands without the crowds

The island of Santorini – renowned for its whitewashed villages dotted with blue-domed churches – was created by a cataclysmic event. Around 3500 years ago there was an eruption so violent that it blew the top off the volcano, forging a sunken caldera.

Nowadays, another seismic shift is impacting this glitzy Greek isle with an explosion of more than 2 million tourists each year. The glamorous village of Oia, Santorini’s crown jewel, tumbles down the cliffside with a backdrop of endless Aegean blue. A day into my visit, I was photobombed by beauties in floating dresses as they clambered over rooftops, dodged my way through multiple marriage proposals and sampled souvlaki at a restaurant with prices as breathtaking as the views.

Golden hour struck. Panicked crowds jostled for position to witness the legendary sunset. Sardined in the ruins of a 15th century Byzantine castle, I watched as the fiery-red sun slowly dipped beneath the horizon. It was a sight so beautiful I almost fell for the Santorini fantasy. Seconds later, I was elbowed in the face by an influencer.

With more than 200 inhabited islands in Greece, surely there’s somewhere else that deserves its time in the sun? Side-step the Santorini crowds by visiting three of its lesser-known neighbours in the Cyclades chain of islands.


M6YF6T Beach and volcanic rock formations at Sarakiniko on north coast, Sarakiniko, Milos, Cyclades, Aegean Sea, Greek Islands; Greece; Europe Alamy image for Traveller. Single use only. Fee applies.

Sarakiniko on Milos. Photo: Alamy 

The crescent-shaped, volcanic paradise of Milos has been dubbed the next ‘it-island’. Change will come as fast as the northerly Meltemi winds, but thankfully, you haven’t missed the boat.

Milos’ dramatic coastline is what sets it apart, with 70-plus beaches. The white, lunar-like landscape of Milos’ most popular beach Sarakiniko was sculpted by wind and sea over eons. Sunbathers in colourful bikinis speckle the surface like sprinkles on a meringue, whilst cliff jumpers make a splash in the shimmering water below.

“Even if you come in August, you can still find secret beaches you can have all to yourself”, says Pol Lagogiannis who’s at the helm of Polco Sailing’s ( fleet of catamarans and sailboats that take groups or private charters on beach-hopping itineraries. The only way to access all the best swimming spots is by boat, including the coves of Kleftiko, a former pirate’s lair – the name is derived from the ancient Greek word for ‘thief’. These electric blue waters are some of the clearest you’ll find in Greece.

Milos’ original claim to fame is the statue of Venus de Milo, which now resides in Paris’ Louvre. The masterpiece was unearthed by a farmer in 1820 near an ancient amphitheatre, a stone’s throw away from the island’s most picturesque fishing village, Klima. A brightly-painted row of two-storey fisherman’s houses, known as syrmata, hug the shoreline. Most of the huts remain unchanged, but some have been converted into Airbnbs.

All the snorkelling adventures work up an appetite. Medusa restaurant ( sits above the quiet fishing village of Madrakia. If you see octopus strung along the windswept waterfront, you’ve found the right spot. Tuck in to swordfish souvlaki with lemon sauce, washed down with ouzo.

End the day exploring the cobbled streets of the hilltop capital Plaka. Snag a table at the Utopia Cafe terrace at sunset to enjoy showstopping vistas over the Gulf of Milos with a cocktail in hand. Yamas!


Kastro and its small Harbor, waves during a sunny day, Sifnos, Greece iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted.

The medieval citadel of Kastro. Photo: iStock

Greece’s gourmet island of Sifnos has all the ingredients of an idyllic Greek getaway to be savoured at a deliciously slow-pace. The moment you step off the ferry at the port of Kamares the scent of herbs – sage, thyme, mint, marjoram – carries on the sea breeze; a hint of the epicurean paradise to come.

Sifnos’ culinary reputation is largely owed to being the birthplace of Greece’s first celebrity chef, Nikolaos Tselementes. After publishing a series of recipes in 1910, his name became synonymous with the word ‘cookbook’. There’s an internationally recognised three-day Festival of Cycladic Gastronomy held annually in his honour.

Dig a little deeper, you’ll realise Sifniot food culture is rooted in the soil, more specifically the heat-resistant red clay used for the island’s pottery; a tradition that dates back to 3000 BC. Local staples are slow-cooked in earthenware dishes, such as revithada, a chickpea stew typically eaten after church on Sundays.

Sifnos offers everything from family-run tavernas to high-concept restaurants. Limanaki Fish Tavern overlooks the jetty in the port of Faros. The fishing-boat-to-table eatery is owned by George Kakakis, who sets off at 5.30am each day to return with the freshest catch. Try the sizzling squid or the signature lobster pasta. Foodie travellers ought to seek out Cantina ( Don’t let the rustic setting in a secluded cove fool you – this restaurant is cutting-edge. Molecular-biologist-turned-chef Giorgos Samoilis advocates a zero-waste, sustainable ethos.

Base yourself at Verina Astra (, an earth-toned oasis boasting 16 sea-facing rooms that blend harmoniously with the golden terraced meadows and blissful infinity pool. It’s a short stroll to the elegant, windmill-topped town of Artemonas, that charms visitors with its picturesque lanes and bougainvillea framed doorways.

The tiny island is crisscrossed with a 100km network of walking trails etched into the landscape. Hike from your doorstep at Verina Astra to the medieval citadel of Kastro. A wildflower-edged pathway leads to the Church of Seven Martyrs, perched on the promontory surrounded by emerald waters, where bathers swim naked like nymphs. There might be over 230 churches peppered around the island, but this is the one that belongs on a postcard.


Panoramic aerial view of Ermoupoli city with the Saint Nicholas Church in front during a summer sunset, Syros island, Cyclades, Greece iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted.

Ermoupoli on Syros. Photo: iStock

When your ferry pulls into Ermoupoli, you might mistake the sparkling port for the Italian Riviera. If you expect a sleepy Greek backwater, you’ll be surprised to see the capital city of Syros appears more Venetian than Grecian – pastel-hued neoclassical palazzos, marble-paved piazzas and the Apollon Theater; a 19th Century opera house modelled off Milan’s iconic La Scala.

The architectural grandeur hints at Syros’ past as a major trading hub, once wealthier than Athens. Ermoupoli ‘The city of Hermes’ (named after the Greek god of trade) is distinctly cosmopolitan. Miaouli Square is lined with palm trees and open-air cafes. Join intellectual conversations over coffee at art gallery cafe Plastico (, and shop for artisanal ceramics at Chimera Craft ( You’re in for a sweet treat at Korres (, which sells the much-loved loukoumi, similar to Turkish Delight but with a hint of saltiness from the local water. Stock up on the nougat laced with honey, sandwiched between thin disc wafers.

Wander past the heavily-frescoed Orthodox St Nicholas’ Church, where the sound of the choir spills out into the stately streets of Vaporia, known as Little Venice. The neighbourhood is lined with wealthy sea captains’ houses nestled on the rocks.

Syros has flourished into “an island of culture”, according to hotelier and novelist, Oana Aristide, who recently opened a 9-suite Hotel Aristide in Vaporia. The painstakingly restored neoclassical mansion is a welcome addition to the creative scene. Aesthetes will delight in the design-led accommodation decked out with Doric columns and slabs of marble, objets d’art and walls festooned with figurative paintings. The dedicated gallery regularly hosts works by artists in the residency programme.

Aristide’s rooftop restaurant is one of the chicest in Greece. Unwind with a glass of wine from Syros’ trailblazing Ousyra Winery, which specialises in rare Cycladic varieties. Then sit back and soak up some culture by the sea.

The writer was a guest of Verina Astra, Hotel Aristide, Polco Sailing and Cycladic Spaces (

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