Some holidaying families don’t just like it hot, they like it mesmerically tranquil and naturally splendiferous too. Greece offers an immense selection of dreamy destinations to satisfy even the most discerning travelers, so how to choose the best one for you? Here we have selected six top destinations that are perfect for families who prefer the sound of the waves to pumping beach bars, pristine sandy expanses to tightly packed umbrellas and sleepy villages to thronging crowds. Welcome to Pilio, Sifnos, Paxos, Alonissos and Naxos.
Not sure if you want to bake on a beach or escape the summer heat in cool forests on mountain slopes? Why not both? The mountain of Pilio forms a peninsula dividing the Aegean sea and the Pagasetic Gulf, rising almost straight out of the sea to a height of 1,600 meters. A number of glorious sandy beaches fringe the peninsula where it meets the sea, whereas at higher altitudes some of the country’s most picturesque, stone-built villages nestle in forests rich in flora and fauna.
A popular family destination, you will find both organized child-friendly beaches with calm waters as well as more remote locations where you can find plenty of isolated tranquility (and perhaps the odd nudist). When you’ve had your fill of swimming, head to the villages for walks along cobblestoned paths, or to sit in a shady village square where children can play freely as you enjoy a coffee or aperitif. Aside from excellent traditional fare, in some villages you will also find a number of restaurants offering more modern and creative Greek cooking.
Being a mainland destination, Pilio also has the advantage of being accessible without the fuss of a long ferry-boat ride. The best option is to fly to either Athens or nearby Volos airport and rent a car to have the freedom to fully explore the peninsula. While it may feel like a little paradise on Earth, Pilio’s close proximity to the city of Volos also provides the added peace of mind that civilization is never too far away.
There’s something very special about Sifnos, probably owing to its effortless beauty and natural elegance. Think mesmerizing island landscapes dotted with dazzling white sugar-cube houses. It’s a place of laid-back peacefulness, lovely beaches, famously delicious foods with an ambiance of understated boho-chic that makes barefoot jet-setters feel right at home. An ideal destination for families seeking rewarding calm in the heart of the Aegean, away from the cruise-ship crowds of Mykonos or Santorini.
This is an island where you can look forward to lazy days watching your kids play on sheltered, shallow-water beaches followed by leisurely walks along quaint, labyrinthine village backstreets or remote pathways overlooking the sea (there are over 100km of well-marked trails). To eat you’ll find simple, traditional Mediterranean cooking at its finest: crisp chickpea patties, juicy tomato salads and fresh seafood in familial village squares. In the main town you’ll find all the essentials including banks and pharmacies and everything from gaudy beach toys to local and imported foodstuffs. However don’t expect as sophisticated a commercial hub as you’d find on bigger islands.
Sifnos has no airport, and ferry boats from Athens take around five hours on average, which is why it has retained its sense of tranquility and authenticity. Alternately one can fly to neighbouring Milos, and take a one hour boat ride over.
Although it neighbors Corfu and faces mainland Parga – both extremely popular tourist destinations, Paxos has preserved its pristine allure. Its all about the diaphanous azure-emerald sea on Paxos, so if you and your kids are the kind of people who practically have gills, this is the place for you.
Indeed, a classic way to holiday here is to rent a small boat and spend days swanning around, stopping off anywhere and everywhere to plunge into the cool depths, getting your land-legs back just long enough for a spot of lunch before returning to aquatic adventuring. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of child-friendly beaches to kick back on, with sun loungers and umbrellas for rent.
Densely forested with tall olive trees and criss-crossed by a network of well-maintained and signposted mule paths. Paxos is a pleasure to walk too. All you need is a map to combine strolls along shady paths with visits to villages where you can always find a good meal suitable for even the pickiest of eaters (crunchy fish, fresh fries, homemade pasta and creamy moussaka usually do the trick).
As it happens with all of Greece’s most pristine destinations, the pleasant lack of big crowds comes at the price of the place being a little harder to get to. However, Paxos is just a one hour boat-ride from Corfu which has an international airport.
Even if you’ve never been to the Greek islands in the 60s, before mass tourism began to wake up to their awesome existence, you might imagine that they were something like Alonissos is today. It is widely called “the green island” for having developed an ecological profile that goes beyond its abundant vegetation. The island is located in Greece’s largest and most impressive marine park, and is the only island to have banned plastic bags. It is perhaps no surprise that Alonissos is also a hiker’s paradise, and there are several guidebooks directing you to the perfect paths for every level.
It’s the kind of island where children can truly connect with nature, and that’s not all. There is no shortage of pretty, child-friendly beaches, authentic home-style and seafood tavernas and cafes serving full breakfasts and desserts with arresting vistas. In the Old Town, traditional accommodations such as Venetian-style villas with flower-framed courtyards are available to rent.
Often visited by families on day trips from nearby Skiathos or Skopelos, Alonissos is actually a great base in its own right for families seeking a holiday haven where they can fall into the tranquil local pace of life. If you have two or more weeks to relax, combining a few days on Alonissos with trips to the neighboring islands or nearby Pilio can make for an idyllic family break.
What used to be a secret amongst the somewhat Bohemian, beach-obsessed crowd has been out for a while now, and Naxos has gained world-wide attention. Yet it has managed retain its ease and natural beauty. It’s ideal for families for several reasons – firstly there are plenty of rooms and hotels along long, wide, sandy and clean beaches such as those of Aghia Anna and Plaka, meaning that instead of lugging beach paraphernalia in and out of cars every day you can just cross a narrow street in your flip flops and drop your armfuls of beach gear onto the sand. Secondly the food is delicious practically anywhere you go thanks to the large amount of local produced grown in Naxos’s fertile soil. Finally, if after days of hanging out on long sandy expanses you start to get beach-stroke, there are plenty of other things to do.
Being the largest of the Cyclades islands, Naxos is rich in archaeological sites and museums that can make for a pleasant change of scene for all ages. There is also a small but enjoyable Aqua Fun Park that can offer hours of fun (and foam, as they organize foam parties daily). Adventure sports lovers can find several quality groups organizing horseback riding and trekking tours, as well as plenty of water-sports. Naxos attracts windsurfers and kite-surfers to some of its more exposed beaches thanks to the regular meltemi winds, and there are clubs offering lessons for beginners (provided the wind is not too strong).
Reachable from Athens in around four hours on a high-speed catamaran and six hours on a regular ferry boat, as well as by airport (domestically), Naxos is connected to many other islands so can be a great base for an island-hopping adventure.
It’s only in recent years that Andros has gained in popularity as a destination and, atypically for a Greek island, one of its primary attractions is its hiking trails as opposed to its beaches (although these are also great). As the lushest of the Cycladic islands (and the second largest after Naxos), Andros is a great destination for families who enjoy walking along mountains, valleys, forests and hills with plenty of stops at small waterfalls, natural springs and lovely beaches.
In the main town of Chora, over the centuries wealthy shipping families built a constellation of seafront neoclassical houses that rise over an old lighthouse and castle; here you can relax over coffee in the pedestrians-only square or watch a movie in the open air cinema in the evening, have some fish by the sea or explore the swish boutiques.
In the fishing village of Korthi, after a day at the beach, kids can play freely on the street until way past their bedtime, whereas in Batsi – one of the most popular holiday destinations, there are many lively tavernas and a huge sandy beach with shallow water nearby. And those are just the more popular places to explore. Just two hours by ferry from the port of Rafina, Andros is also one of the easiest islands to get to by boat from Athens, being the first stop before trendy Tinos and glamorous Mykonos (where there is an international airport).