7 CROWD-FREE ALTERNATIVES TO GREECE'S TOURIST HOTSPOTS
1. Milos: like Santorini, but wilder
This Greek island stunner is less poster child for Cycladic sizzle, more about serenity. Like the celebrated and in summer overcrowded island of Santorini (which may no longer be "overtouristy" but it's guaranteed you'll never be alone there), Milos is volcanic in origin. Unique geology has endowed the island with a wealth of gorgeous beaches, including Sarakiniko with its surreal white landscapes. In antiquity the Athenians weren't very nice to the denizens of Milos, but they sure adore the place now. Milos is about a three-hour ferry ride from Piraeus.
2. Karpathos: ravishing & remote
While Rhodes is the biggest and most popular of Greece's Dodecanese Islands, it's also the most touristy (although its medieval history really shines) and you can hit the highlights hassle-free on a quality cruise. Your alternative? The second largest island of the Dodecanese: Karpathos. While Patmos, another island in this Aegean archipelago, has attained more of a following as an in spot in recent years, slender Karpathos is even more remote and has excellent beaches, too.
3. Thessaloniki: Greece's amazing northern metropolis
There is a mountain of history in this soulful, untouristy metropolis on the Thermaic Gulf: Roman and Byzantine ruins, Christian heritage (Apostle Paul brought the first message of Christianity here) and a rich and fascinating architectural diversity from grand Aristotelou Square, facing the sea, to the charming lanes of Ladadika and Ano Poli, the upper town. There are so many good restaurants and cafes that shifting Thessaloniki to front and center on your itinerary is almost an imperative. Happily, the absence of tourist ink about Thessaloniki means crowds are never a thing here. Note: the White Tower, pictured, does not actually tilt (unless you're on your third shot of retsina or other fine Grecian libation).
4. Aegina and the Temple of Aphaia: the alternate Acropolis
Aegina is beautiful island located in the Saronic Gulf, putting it within easy reach of Athens. You will find some amazing seaside scenery here, but definitely don't miss the very cool Temple of Aphaia, a sanctuary complex dedicated to the goddess Aphaia, and the small museum next to it. This large temple resembles the Parthenon with its many columns and it is remarkably intact. Aegina itself is a enjoyable, short ferry ride away from Athens—and the island is also famous for growing some very tasty pistachios.
5. Spetses: pint-sized island glamour
Spetses may hold the title of poshest of the Saronic islands—Garbo was here in the '60s and superyachts are a fixture in its gentle aquamarine waters—but the small island also holds a vaunted place in history because of its prominent role in the Greek War of Independence. With few exceptions there are no cars here, and the array of little beaches like Agios Nikolaos are simply brilliant. The main port on Spetses is very pretty, and easy to reach from either Piraeus or the little mainland port of Kosta (five km from Porto Heli).
6. Lefkada: no ferry required
Lefkada is a Greek island in the Ionian Sea—or is it? This large almost-island north of Kefalonia and south of Corfu is actually connected to the Greek mainland by a long causeway, and there is even evidence to suggest there was a rudimentary one in antiquity. The poetess Sappho is said to have committed suicide here and the island may actually have been the real Ithaca of Homer's Odyssey. In the Peloponnesian War, Lefkada aligned with Sparta. Its landscapes are rugged and verdant and the beaches at places like Kalamitsi and Porto Katsiki can hold their own against Sardinia's best. And no fuss with crowded planes or ferries—to get to Lefkada all you have to do is drive.
7. Serifos: the Cycladic surprise
Serifos is a small (though not tiny) Cycladic island located in the Aegean Sea south of Kythnos and north of the better-known Sifnos. Though quite rugged and barren, Serifos is endowed with a number of very good beaches. And no big chain hotels here: the islanders like to keep things small and simple. Fun fact: Serifos helped the Athenians beat back the Persians at the Battle of Salamis in 480 B.C.