Google “how many islands does Greece have?” and these are some of the headlines you will come across:
“Estimates range from somewhere around 1,200 to 6,000.”
“The country includes 6,000 islands and islets scattered in the Greek Seas.”
“The total number of Greek islands is actually closer to 30,000!”
“Greece has more than 2,000 islands.”
The Best-Known Islands:
When we hear the words “Greek islands”, usually Santorini and Mykonos are the first to come to mind. Images of blue-domed Orthodox churches and whitewashed homes are brought to mind. Beyond these touristed destinations, there is in fact a great variety of other options.
There are seven main groupings of islands in Greece: The Cyclades, the Sporades, the Dodecanese, the Saronikos islands, the North Aegean islands, the Ionian islands, and the Big Two (Crete and Euboia).
Among these categories, a handful in each are inhabited, and typically a majority are without residents. The Cyclades on their own have 200 uninhabited islands, many which have the well-known white houses in Greece.
Does Greece have more Islands than other countries?
Greece has so many islands because it has a massive coastline. Even other larger nations, like India and Turkey, don’t have a coast as large as Greece. Out of all of Greece’s islands, Crete is the largest, and the most visited is Santorini. Some of the best known in each grouping are:
- Rhodes and Kos in the Dodecanese
- Corfu, Kefalonia and Zakynthos in the Ionian islands
- Mykonos, Santorini, Paros and Naxos in the Cyclades archipelago
- Lesvos, Chios and Samos in the Northern Aegean
Many of Greece’s islands, especially those outside of touristed areas, have hundreds of kilometers of untouched coastlines that are freely accessible. In many areas, if you know where to look, you would have the water all to yourself. The beaches of Greece are known for diving, snorkeling, water skiing, sailing and windsurfing.
How many Islands are there, really?
To get to the bottom of this controversy, we had to check a sure source: the Hellenic Military Geographical Service.
Based on their most recent report, the precise number of islands of any size, inhabited or uninhabited, is 29,372.
But how many of these have residents? Not many. Only 446 are more than .1 square kilometers. Santorini, for a sense of perspective, is 76 square kilometers.
How many islands are inhabited?
Greece has 119 inhabited islands, according to the most recent census. 54 have over 1,000 people.
Out of the inhabited islands, 40 of the Greek islands have a population of under 100 people.
What is life like on the smaller islands?
The true gems in Greece are the lesser-known islands with a few locals, often known for their warm hospitality. The lifestyle is often rural and agrarian, and the population in the summertime often is much larger than in the winter months.
Marathi, just east of Patmos in the Dodecanese islands, for example, has only 5 yearly residents. The lifestyle is slow and residents rely on each other to fulfill their basic needs.
Irakleia, in the Cyclades, has 141 residents and is known for its white and blue houses, nature, and history. It is found between Naxos and Ios and can be reached by ferry from Athens.
Many of the smallest inhabited islands have sparse basic services. Pharmacies, banks, ATM’s, and even restaurants are hard to find or nonexistent. The island of Ereikoussa is in the Ionion Sea and is one of the Diapontian Islands, an island grouping just northwest of Corfu. It has just over 500 residents, and only recently did it open a Kindergarten, with a grand total of 2 students!
Planning your Next Visit
The next time you visit Greece, make sure to visit a few lesser-known islands. There are many more options that don’t make it on the top lists, but are certainly worth seeing. See our guide to visiting some of Greece’s smallest islands here.