3 of the best places to visit in Greece according to locals

For tourists, Greece delivers on all fronts.

You could linger on the blindingly beautiful islands that seem straight out of a postcard, explore a rich tapestry of history that is woven into every landscape, and dine on Greek cuisine that is revered the world over. There are countless things to do and places to visit too, but sometimes you just want to step away from the obvious and get a glimpse of local life.

From the sun-kissed, whitewashed beaches of southern Crete to the laid-back vibes of the west Cyclades, three local travel writers share where they like to go on vacation in Greece.

Serifos still feels a world away from more-visited Cycladic islands like Mykonos © Cavan Images RF / Getty Images

1. Serifos, west Cyclades

Based in Athens since 1996, Helen Iatrou’s preferred mode of island-hopping is sailing. 

Why Serifos?

When summer arrives, my thoughts turn to that remote Dodecanese islet I haven’t visited, or to my Northeastern Aegean ancestral home. But one island I can’t resist is Serifos, in the west Cyclades. It’s just a two-hour fast ferry ride from Piraeus and – while villas have been sprouting across its forbidding, caramel-colored hillsides in recent years – Serifos still feels a world away from regional sisters Mykonos and Santorini. 

Must-do activity

What I love most about this unperturbed isle is its 70-plus beaches, where high summer Meltemi winds temper the heat. With nary a sun lounger for hire in sight, I opt for the shade of a nap-friendly tamarisk tree. The deep waters of pebbled Ganema and wild Karavi invigorate me to the core, while the secluded cove of Psili Ammos tempts with golden sands, aquamarine seas and fish taverna Manolis.

Serifos tips

I usually stay in the port town of Livadi at a family-owned boutique hotel like Nōstos or Chill & Co. Restaurants and cafes are close by, as is the atmospheric, whitewashed hilltop capital Hora, a 12-minute drive (or 50-minute hike) away. Traditional kafenion Stou Stratou serves viscous Greek coffee, while Seriani recreates classic dishes like pastitsio

Ready to go to Greece? Here are the things to know before you go

View of famous Preveli beach in the summer, Crete, Greece
Preveli beach in the summer © Getty Images/iStockphoto

2. Rethymno’s southern coast, Crete

Vangelis Koronakis is a guidebook writer who can’t resist a Cretan escape.

Why Rethymno?

I’m lucky enough to have Cretan roots, so I have spent most summers of my life in wonderful Crete. The island’s southern shores, particularly in the region of Rethymno, bathed by the crystalline Libyan Sea, are relatively untouched by mass tourism (unlike the ultra-touristy northern coast).

Must-do activity

The region boasts more than 15 top-class beaches, stretching from Frangokastello on the west to Agia Galini on the east. Preveli, the “palm beach,” is one of the most photographed in the country and probably the busiest – but the rest range from quiet to outright deserted, even during the August high season. Small and secluded Amoudi and massive and wild Triopetra (avoid when windy) are my favorites. A visit to the historic Preveli Monastery is a spiritual experience I highly recommend.

Rethymno tips

My favorite place to dine is Merastri, a family taverna in the village of Sellia that offers superb local fare with a stunning view of Plakias Bay from its veranda. A rental car is necessary to discover all the region’s beauty; an innovative and affordable choice as a base is Spili. This pretty mountainside small town, known for its freshwater lion fountains, is strategically located and offers access to most points of interest within 20–30 minutes.

People dive into a natural pool in rocks on the shore
Swim in the astonishingly clear waters off the shores of Koufonisia © giovannifederzoni / Shutterstock

3. Koufonisia

Alexis Averbuck is a writer and painter who lives on the Greek island of Hydra.

Why Koufonisia? 

I love sailing the Cyclades on open-top ferries, where you can lounge on the deck taking in the view, breathing the fresh sea air. When I last cruised into Koufonisia, from the vantage of the ferry deck the clear, clear water with barely a hint of aquamarine made it appear as if the fishing caiques were floating in the air over the white sand. The vibe in Koufonisia is casual, with relaxed people in sarongs strolling back from the beach or out in summer-light linen, chatting over early evening drinks. 

Must-do activity

Wander the main village, a warren of tiny streets lined with boutiques, small hotels and inviting restaurants and bars. You can also walk the entire island on rugged trails along the jagged coast with that brilliant crystalline water splashing into rock-formed natural pools, deserted coves and lapping onto alabaster beaches. So close to the large Cycladic islands like Naxos and Paros, Koufonisia and the other islands that constitute the “Small Cyclades” seem to gloriously drop off the edge of the world.

Koufonisia tips

If you’re able to splash out, stay at Aeris Suites, overlooking the deep scoop of Pori Bay, then head into town for dinner at Capetan Nikolas, to dine on fresh-caught seafood while the sun sets behind the cliff-top windmill across the harbor.

This article was first published Sep 25, 2023 and updated May 31, 2024.

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