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Island-Hopping Around Northern Aegean

Ikaria ● Lesvos ● Limnos ● Samothrace ● Thasos ● 14 December 2017

As if there wasn’t enough history and culture to keep you occupied in your visit to continental Greece, there are dozens of little islands scattered off the coast. The Northern Aegean islands remain some of the most popular tourist attractions that Greece has to offer, so much so that “island-hopping” or “island-jumping” has become a popular travel trend in recent decades, with couples, families, and groups of friends choosing to spend a short while on as many islands as possible in one trip. Do you think you’re ready to discover Northern Aegean yourself? Read on to learn more about these hidden gems of the Northern Aegean Sea!

There are three islands that attract the most traffic in terms of tourist crowds and visitors, and these are Lesvos, Chios, and Samos. Even if you don’t plan to spend the bulk of your time on any of these islands, you should familiarize yourself with them because the more mainstream islands are where the transportation hubs of the entire chain are located, so it’s almost definite that you’ll end up spending at least few hours on one of these larger, more populated islands upon your arrival and ultimate departure.

Each of these three main islands has a unique story to tell but a common unifying theme that fuses their individual histories with the values of mainland Greece. In fact, these three Northern Aegean Islands are closer to the coastline of Turkey than continental Greece. Each of them were historically quite prosperous, hubs of commercialism and religious tradition of their time, and the rumored birthplace of many famous historical Greek figures, including Sappho, Homer, and Pythagoras, to name just a few. Though the influence of these islands declined during the occupation of the Ottoman Empire and the resulting recovery period, in many ways they are as quintessentially Greek as you can get due to their ancient cultural roots.


While the Northern Aegean islands have a striking natural beauty - remote cliffside beaches, impressive mountains, hiking trails to die for - many young backpackers and adventure-hungry travelers prefer the Cyclades to the Northern Aegean islands for their rowdy, tourism-based atmosphere. The Northern Aegean islands certainly have an array of gorgeous beaches, lodging accommodations, and bars for you to explore, but their deeper values are more serious and somber, since the history of the islands remains tangible. The majority of landscapes on these islands have not been commercialized like the Cyclades, offering untouched, serene photo opportunities. The sense of discovery and pure exploration that you’ll find in the Northern Aegean will carry a different weight than the sun-in-the-fun feel that you’re more likely to experience on islands like Santorini or Crete (with the notable exception of the thriving windsurfing community in some of the beaches along Lesvos).

The ruins in the Northern Aegean islands have something of an eerie, unfinished feel to them. These historical sites include old mansions, crumbling fortresses, abandoned castles, monasteries, and towering cathedrals. This, combined with natural beauty ranging from olive groves to mineral springs to hills and valleys, is a far cry from the luxury resorts, crowded museums, and endearingly tacky shops that you’re more likely to run into on the Cyclades or even Dodecanese Islands.

That being said, don’t be afraid to explore the even smaller islands. On Ikaria, the only main town of the island, a village called Christos, doesn’t even come alive until after nightfall. Shops open starting at 9pm, and one of the only things open during the daytime is a bakery. On the island called Samothrace, you can explore natural hot springs, swim in pools known as “vathres” that are produced by some of the mystical-looking hot springs. You might not think of areas of Europe containing such ethereal natural beauty, and that’s all the more reason to go check it out, in our opinion.


A smaller island called Thasos has a number of charming little villages scattered all over it, both lining the coast and a bit further island, with each of the taverna offering you a unique homegrown feel. On Limnos, you can visit one of the best preserved castles in all of the Greek islands, built onto the high point of a rocky outcropping that projects out into the sea. Whether you ferry between the smaller islands or pick one to stay on for several days at a time, you’ll find history coming to life everywhere you turn.


If you’re planning an island-hopping adventure anytime soon, the place to start is by sitting down and coming up with a clear theme of the kinds of sites you want to visit. Next, you should start looking into travel prices and scheduling, especially for the passenger ferries that will take you from one island to the next. Be sure to travel light - you’ll want to come home with souvenirs, as well as make the journey as easy as possible. It’s usually smart to stick to a group of islands that’s closest together, spending the longest amount of time, perhaps three nights, on a more mainstream island, and then perhaps a night or two on a few smaller ones, maybe even just taking a day trip to see some of the ruins.

There is no shortage of combinations different people can come up with as they blaze their own island-hopping trail through the Northern Aegean islands. No matter what you decide to do, be sure to spend plenty of time researching each island so you’re not caught off guard by any nasty surprises. Be safe, and have a good time - no matter what you end up doing, it’s sure to be a trip to adventure. 

Where to Stay

Studio & Appartment in Samothrace, Greece Yliessa Hotel - Apartments
Yliessa Hotel - Apartments
Makrilies, 68100 Samothrace, Greece

Yliessa Hotel is located on the south coast of the green Samothrace (Samothraki) island, just 120 meters from the sea. The picturesque capital of the island, Chora, is at 7.5 km. The main port of the island in Kamariotissa is at 7 km. Samothraki island can be reached with a ferry boat from Kavala or Alexandroupoli.

Studio & Appartment in Samothrace, Greece Saonisos
Kamariotissa, 68002 Samothrace, Greece

Saonisos is located in Kamariotissa, just a 6-minute walk from the port. Chora, the capital of the island, is 5 km away. ##

Hotel & Appartment in Chios, Greece Almiriki Hotel Apartments
Almiriki Hotel Apartments
Lithi Beach, 82102 Chios, Greece

Almiriki Hotel & Apartments is located in a beautiful natural port of Lithi, in a small fishing village on the western coastline of Chios, just 5 meters from the beach. The distance from Chios town is 25 km, while the Chios National Airport is at 27 km.