Choosing sides: the Ionian versus the Aegean islands


Undoubtedly, the islands of the Aegean and of the Ionian both feature exquisite beaches and stunning sights, and equally, both attract thousands of visitors annually.


Are all Greek islands alike, however?

  • Paros

  • Tzia (Kea)

  • Kerkyra (Corfu)

A first major distinction between the islands of the Ionian and the Aegean Sea relates to their climate. The Aegean islands are known for their dry year-round weather. The southern Aegean islands are not forested, but rather their flora takes primarily the form of bushes. There, aromatic plants such as oregano and thyme can be found around every corner and visitors in the summer season can easily harvest their own herbs!


Climatic differences, nonetheless, exist even among the Aegean islands. Indeed, the outspread northern coast of Crete looks sharply distinct from the south, which is characterised by breath-taking gorges and uncrowded, secluded beaches.


Owing to this meteorological variation, the Ionian and the Aegean islands are each frequented for unique activities. For instance, the tender winds of the Ionian in combination with the relatively low sea depths are ideal for the average sailor and offer unique opportunities to families and beginners wishing to explore sailing. In fact, Lefkada is considered the sailing capital of Greece. Poles away, sea activities in the Aegean require a bit more experience and familiarity with the shift wind changes and the exceptional depths of the archipelago.


The looks of Greek islands are further drawn apart due to their preferred architectural styles. The wide-spread image of Santorini featuring white and blue houses has been imprinted on popular knowledge of the Aegean. On the other hand, Venetian architecture dominates the Ionian since Corfu, Zakynthos, and Cephalonia belonged to the Venetian Empire from the 14th century until the late 18th. When entering the harbour of Corfu, one is met by colourful buildings and labyrinthine small streets, and at that moment, Corfu’s resemblance to Venice is beyond doubt.


In comparison, Crete illustrates cross-cultural contact and the architectural style of Chania, for example, is a mixture of Greek, Venetian, and Ottoman influences. There are some notable cases in the Aegean where the diverse history of this unique geo-political crossroad is boldly evident, such as in Syros where the Greek Orthodox church of Agios Nikolas rests on the opposite hill of the Catholic church of Agios Georgios, both crowning Ermoupoli, the capital city.


The history of the Greek islands is very rich. Crete housed the Bronze Age Minoan civilization, whereas the later Bronze Age astonishing Cycladic civilization rose in the cyclical cluster of islands in the south-eastern Aegean, which is known today as Cyclades. The Ionian islands, on the other side, traditionally known as Eptanisa (seven islands), played a great role in Greek mythology and early history, being the home and the final destination of the legendary Odysseus.


Ultimately, either side of mainland Greece has much to offer to locals and visitors: history, marvellous nature, traditional dishes, and exceptional wine. The Greek Island wine is indiscriminately popular, and itself has a rich history. Ionian wines alongside the Cretan Muscat wines were favoured by the British since the early 16th century.


But the grape-bearing vines of Santorini are the most unusual. In response to the volcanic, dry terrain and the rarity of water springs, these vines are shaped into a wreath or basket in an attempt to take advantage of the early-morning dew. The white wine they produce, called Assyrtiko, is high in acidity and is often called the white burgundy of Greece.


In the Greek Seas, one can find over 6,000 islands and islets, from which 227 are inhabited. In any chosen island, you can find clear refreshing waters matched with stunning landscapes, traces of ancient culture, and locals welcoming you with enticing appetizers and a glass of wine.

Compare Listings