Greece is a destination full of of superb small towns and villages rather than cities. If you like historic harbour towns full of character then you’re in for a treat. It’s difficult to narrow it down to only 10 of the most beautiful towns but let’s have a go.
With so many islands and so much coastline, it’s no surprise that many of Greece’s most beautiful towns are by the sea. For so many centuries the primary trade routes were by sea rather than land. Until the late 20th century it was much quicker to move goods and people by boat. The most prized sites were those with good natural harbours and defences. Practically every island has a charming and atmospheric main town with some sense of history, usually with a harbour attached.
(If you’re looking for those white-and-blue villages so typical of the Aegean then head to 20 Beautiful White Villages in Greece.)
Parga might look like an island destination but it’s actually on the mainland – near to Preveza on the west coast of Greece (in the Epirus region). This delightful coastal town is loved by tourists for its colourful houses set amphitheatrically around the harbour.
Parga is topped with a Venetian castle and surrounded by picturesque coves and beaches. No wonder it’s a star of the west coast and a popular daytrip from the nearby Ionian island of Corfu.
A highlight of the Peloponnese region is the unique historic town of Monemvasia. One look and you’ll realise why it’s known as the Gibraltar of the East – this fortified town is carved dramatically into an island of rock and is accessed via a bridge. From the mainland the town and its cluster of terracotta-tiled roofs is completely hidden from sight.
To stroll around its well-preserved stone streets is to step back in time. Monemvasia is known as one of the most romantic destinations in Greece.
Mykonos Chora (or Mykonos Town) has long been considered one of the most beautiful places in the Greek islands. It’s a perfect example of those whitewashed streets of cubic buildings and brightly painted shutters and balconies that you only really find in the Cyclades. The balconies are particularly picturesque in the area known as Little Venice, which is home to old fisherman houses right on the seafront. Windmills watch on from high.
Being one of the most popular (and glamorous) tourist destinations in the islands, these days its narrow streets are filled with designer boutiques, chic hotels, and swanky bars.
Another town loved by the jetset is the beautiful Hydra (sometimes spelt Ydra) Town. This small island is a short ferry ride from Athens but feels a world away, largely thanks to the absense of cars and motorbikes. As there are no roads – only donkey tracks – the main town is the only real settlement on the island. I
n the 60s it became a favourite haunt of a bohemian international crowd, most famously Leonard Cohen. These days it attracts artists, yachties, and weekending Athenians. It may be small but throws a good party in the summer.
The most famous town on this list has got to be Fira, the capital of Santorini island. Perched high on the volcanic clifftop known as the caldera, it has an unrivalled view across the volcanic crater to the smaller island of Thirasia. The alleys are lined with high-end boutiques, jewellery shops, and cocktail bars which are perfectly positioned for sunsets.
Rich in history and atmosphere, the main town of Patmos would no doubt be overrun with tourists if it was easier to get to (there’s no airport so at least one ferry is unavoidable).
The fortified Monastery of Saint John is the star attraction here – its immense fortifications crown a whitewashed village which sits on the highest part of the island, overlooking the whole of the coast. Along with the Cave of the Apocalypse, it is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The earliest parts of the settlement date back to the 11th century.
With its intriguing blend of Venetian and Cycladic elements and low-key atmosphere, you can lose yourself in the back alleys of Naxos Chora all day. The 13th century Venetian castle at the top of the town hides many treasures including an open-air cinema and the Venetian Museum.
Walk in one direction from the harbour and you’ll find the Portara, an ancient site with a mysterious doorway at its heart, and in the other direction you’ll find the sandy town beach.
Unlike many of the Cycladic islands, Andros doesn’t have a long history of tourism. Its Chora must surely be one of the most overlooked towns in Greece. The island has a sombre beauty which is reflected in its capital, which occupies a rocky promontory with a castle at the end.
The buildings here are smart and whitewashed, with blue shutters, red roofs, and elegant neoclassical mansions built by Andros’ wealthy shipping elite (the island was once a maritime superpower). And tucked away in its streets is the world-class Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art and several great little museums.
The harbour town of Molyvos (also known as Mithymna) is the heart of tourism on the island of Lesvos. It’s a beautiful historic town with colourful shuttered stone houses, a castle, and some of the best seafood you’ll ever taste in the endless fantastic tavernas along its waterfront.
Bursts of wisteria bring colour and welcome shade from the summer sun. There are pebble beaches surrounding the town but it tends to attract the culturally inclined rather than beach bums. And those who visit tend to return over and over again.
It has a whitewashed old quarter leading to the old and new harbour areas and the diminutive Bourtzi, an islet with a Venetian castle (and a classy cafe/bar). Pop up to the church of Agios Nikolaos which overlooks the town and you’ll find the location of the postbox from the start of Mamma Mia!
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Mykonos Chora: © aetherial / Adobe Stock
Parga: By Aleksandar Todorovic
Monemvasia: © isabela66 / Adobe Stock
Mykonos Chora beach: By Georgios Tsichlis / Shutterstock
Hydra Town: © kokixx / Adobe Stock
Fira: The Mediterranean Traveller
Patmos Chora: giumas / Adobe Stock
Naxos Chora: The Mediterranean Traveller
Andros Chora: © Freesurf / The Mediterranean Traveller
Molyvos: © salparadis / Adobe Stock
Skiathos Town: The Mediterranean Traveller