The Best Greek Island For Families (It Is Not Crete In My Opinion)
When it comes to planning a family vacation, it’s hard to go wrong with an island off the coast of Greece.
But with 227 islands to choose from, each with its own unique features, it may be daunting to figure out with island is best suited for your family’s needs.
What is the best Greek island for families? Rhodes is the best Greek island for families because it’s easily accessible and offers a plethora of unique activities. Naxos, Corfu, Paros, Santorini, and Mykonos are also great options for families because they offer a variety of adventurous and historical destinations as well as relaxing, safe beaches. In my opinion, Crete is overrated in this regard.
Of course, not every family is the same.
Depending on the age and interests of your family members, some Greek islands may be a better fit than others. It’s a good idea to know what you can expect from each before visiting.
Below you’ll find my assessment of some of the best Greek islands and what they offer families, as well as some helpful tips for planning your trip.
Besides Rhodes, I really like Samos. Read my Samos review post, right here.
Rhodes is The Best Greek Islands For Families
Rhodes is an easy choice because it’s an easy island to fly to and contains resorts with such family friendly amenities kid’s clubs, water parks, and babysitters for when parents need a vacation within their vacation. With 300 days of sunshine, Rhodes has the longest summer of all the Greek islands, making it a great option at the beginning and end of the peak season.
Families can walk through the car-free cobblestone streets of a medieval town, feed and pet animals like ostriches, kangaroos, and llamas at Farma, and walk through Butterfly Valley, a natural forest of sweetgum trees in which thousands of butterflies gather each May. Rhodes Town is divided into Old Town and New Town, and, indeed, offers both ancient structures and modern shops. There are many beaches, each with unique views and topography.
Rhodes is the best Greek island for any family because it offers many family friendly options of different kinds. It’s a great default choice. Different families, however, have different interests, and you might prefer to find an island that is uniquely suited to your family’s needs. Of course, there are many great choices, whatever you’re looking for.
13 Other Great Greek Islands For Families
Samos is a great place to visit and is considered very safe for families. You can often see children playing in the street way past nightfall without needing to be concerned for their safety.
Image Credits: Private Photos from Vacations
Samos has decent beaches, but you need to do some research to find the proper ones, as some of them are in quite bad standing compared to the other ones. The same thing goes for places to stay, do some research and make sure previous customers can recommend the place you are looking to stay at.
Overall Samos is a very safe, cheap and nice place to visit and you will surely have a nice time if you know where to go.
While everyone can enjoy relaxing on a sandy beach, of which Naxos has many, kids can only build so many sandcastles before they need to do something. The island offers many options for all ages, from horseback riding to hiking, windsurfing to pedalo trips.
Because it’s not a cruise ship destination and there are no all-inclusive resorts, Naxos is not a party island, but instead has a quiet, unspoiled nature. The island is also rare in that it still produces most of its food locally, so every meal is sure to be authentic.
Corfu is great for families that can’t seem to agree on anything because it has a little bit of everything. Just like one of its most defining features, Aqualand Water Park, has rides for kids of all ages, Corfu’s Blue Flag beaches are safe for younger kids, and there are watersports to thrill older kids.
The aquarium or a hike in the mountains provide an up-close look at the local wildlife, and a walk-through Corfu Town shows a glimpse into its history, but because it was under British protectorate from 1815-1864 it also has a familiar feel.
If you truly can’t pick one island, try Paros. By catamaran it’s only one hour from Mykonos and two hours from Santorini, as well has half an hour from Naxos and ten minutes from Antiparos. Stay in Naousa to experience living in a quaint fishing village, and head to the capitol, Paroikia, when you want to party.
Santorini is a great choice for a more luxurious vacation with older children. It’s home to wineries, gourmet restaurants, and Greece’s most luxurious boutique hotels.
The volcano that formed the island, Nea Kameni, created not only beautiful, black sand beaches on which to sunbathe and dramatic cliffs from which to watch the sunset, it’s also created natural hot springs for you to soak in.
Though mostly known for the party nightlife on the south side of the island, the north side tends to be quieter and more family friendly, yet still close to the action. There are ancient temples to explore, lighthouses that have been converted into shops and museums, and great places to scuba dive, boasting plenty of caverns, reefs and shipwrecks to explore.
If the most important thing is that your family just being together, there’s no better place to seclude yourselves than in a Villa on Paxos.
The island is only seven miles long and three miles wide. There are only three small towns, Gaios, Lakka, and Loggos, providing a great place to hideaway and slow down.
If you want to avoid the busier all-inclusive resorts, but still want to be able to send you kids off to go do something, Peligoni Beach Club on Zakynthos is a great spot. The club offers activities around the clock, from sailing, wakeboarding, and windsurfing during the day, to barbecues, live music, and trivia at night. Loggerhead turtles breed on Gerakas beach, protecting the pine-forested Vasilikos peninsula in the south-east of the island from large scale development, meaning there’s no risk of your new favorite place going corporate.
Lefkada is an island seemingly designed for water sports, from windsurfing to sea kayaking. Because of its position on the Ionian, its topography, and its exposure to local thermal winds, Vasiliki Bay has sea conditions perfect for beginners in the mornings, and more experienced surfers in the afternoons.
Because Milos was created by underwater volcanic activity, it’s a great spot to snorkel. The coast is lined with sea caves and bizarre rock formations, like smooth white pumice pockmarked to resemble the moon. Paliohori, the longest and busiest beach, is actually three adjoining beaches with red cliffs, warm underwater springs, and red, pink, yellow, and white pebbles.
If you’re looking for a great place to experience a simpler time, try the mountainous island of Amorgos. By eschewing the luxuries of an all-inclusive resort, you can save money and enjoy an authentically Greek experience. Everything there skews toward rustic, local, and traditional.
Sometimes in our search to find family friendly activities, one can lose sight of the main reason to visit the Greek islands in the first place: beaches. You can take the kids to a museum or a waterpark any old place, but nowhere else has such a plethora of beautiful beaches to choose from. Skiatho, in fact, has 60 beaches, each with different atmospheres.
Outdoorsy families will love Alonissos. The island and 6 smaller nearby islets make up Alonissos National Marine Park, a refuge for rare seabirds and the protected Mediterranean monk seal. If you’re lucky, you can also see dolphins, eagles, and falcons.
Why not Crete?
As the largest and easiest to get to of all the Greek islands, Crete is often the default destination for families. Sure, there is a lot of the same attractions, such as warm, shallow beaches to lay on, and nature to hike through, but staying on Crete is like visiting New York and never leaving Times Square.
The attractions unique to Crete are largely historical, such as the Heraklion Archaeological Museum or the world-famous Minoan Palace of Knossos. Unless you’ve got a family of young Indiana Joneses, it might be a fight to convince them to stroll through the partially reconstructed Minoans’ capital, Knossos. And I don’t know how you would convince your kids to spend a day of their vacation working as farmers for a day at Kamihis Farm.
In my opinion, you’re better off visiting one of the smaller islands instead of taking the same pictures you’ll see on everyone else’s social media accounts.
You can read this post here where I make a full review of my experience in Crete.
Image Credits: Private Photos from Vacations
Getting to and around Greece
Only a handful of the 227 Greek Islands have airports of their own. Most of these airports are connected to Athens year-round, but only offer flights to and from other European countries during the warm months of summer. Santorini, Mykonos, Corfu, Kefalonia, Lefkada, Zakynthos, Rhodes, Kos, Karpathos, Lesbos, Lemnos, and Samos each have one airport. Crete boasts two.
Just about every island in the Aegean has at least on ferry to and from Athens per day, 365 days per year. Between the islands can be trickier. There is usually year-round ferry service from Naxos, Paros, and Los to Santorini, but service from Rhodes to Crete is a little more sporadic, and often an overnight trip. Ferries from Mykonos to Santorini and Crete to Santorini typically run from March to October. Most of the islands are not connected directly and traveling between them would involve traveling to Athens as a waypoint.
There is not Greek Island ferry pass that works as the equivalent as the Euro rail pass which allows unlimited trips for one small price. Sometimes travel packages will offer something called a “Greek Island ferry pass,” but this is always a collection of individual tickets and is usually more expensive than when purchased yourself.
There are 3 basic types of ferries used in the Greek Islands.
- The largest and most common is the car/passenger ferry, which is the only to offer outdoor deck seating. They even offer sleeping cabins for overnight trips.
- High speed catamarans are a little smaller and less likely to transport cars.
- Small catamarans are the most subject to rough seas and are therefore most likely to be canceled due to weather. You can often pay a little more for assigned seats in economy, business, and first class.
On the island
Once you’re on the island, your transportation options will vary greatly depending on the island. Larger islands will have public transportation and rental car companies. The best way to get around smaller islands may be hiking or ATV. If you’re in an all-inclusive resort, you might only need to walk a couple hundred feet from your room to the beach.
What to pack
You’re going to spend a lot of time outdoors, both on the island on the beach. While it will likely be easy enough to purchase there, the convenience will likely come at a markup. You can prepare in advance and stock up on Sunscreen either online (Amazon link) or in your local store.
Europe-ready SIM card
Unless your cell phone plan includes unlimited global roaming, your phone costs will add up quickly. Plan ahead because, depending on your carrier, it may take a few days to unlock your phone in preparation.
From the original Greek tragedies, to modern interpretations like the Rick Riordan Percy Jackson books, Greece has been well represented in entertainment. While planning your trip, start consuming Greek-centric media with your kids. It will be far easier to convince them to explore the Dikteon cave on the Lasithi Plateau if they’re excited to see what the ancients considered the birthplace of Zeus.
Image Credits: Private Photos from Vacations
Traveling with a baby
If your family includes the smallest of tots, there are special considerations to consider.
Greece tends to be family oriented, so most locals will be more generally accommodating. No special vaccinations are required, and the food is typically baby and toddler friendly. Bus and boat rides are often free for anyone under four and discounted for older kids. Highchairs are rarely provided. Car seats are often available, but possibly not up to the safety regulatory standards you’re used to. While there isn’t a law against it, public breastfeeding isn’t widely adopted in Greece, so it’s best to bring something to use as cover.
Due to the amount of walking you’ll be doing; a good stroller is essential. Often, though, you’ll find a stroller too cumbersome for the path, so you’ll want a good baby backpack as well. Tap water in big cities on the mainland are typically safe to drink, but water quality can fluctuate greatly on the Greek islands, so it’s best to bring baby safe bottled water for preparing formula.
Other tips for traveling with kids in Greece
Not only is there a chance your finicky kid is going to turn up their nose at some traditional Greek dishes, but the portions tend to be large and usually come with complimentary bread and Greek salad, which is a meal by itself.
There are cats everywhere
If you’re from certain parts of America, you’re likely used to seeing squirrels everywhere. In Australia, you may be used to seeing kangaroos. In India the same goes for monkeys. In Greece it’s cats. They’ll likely sit near you while you eat and sunbathe on your patio. They’re mostly harmless (unless you’re allergic).
Bring water shoes or sandals
When exposed to the sun all day, the beach can get hot. While this is true for sandy beaches, it’s even more true for beaches with black stones. Also, many Greek beaches have rocky, not sandy, beaches.
Even when credit cards are acceptable, many shops may prefer cash.
Choose kid friendly tours and interactive activities
History can be interesting, but it can also be pretty dull. Once a child loses interest it may be impossible to keep them engaged and well behaved. Make sure the outings you choose will keep their attention.