Elafonisi beach, Crete, Greece

The 20 best beaches in Greece

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With thousands of islands to choose from, Greece can be an intimidating place to start looking for your next beach break. Don’t be put off though, as the nation has more than a lot to offer, whether you’re island-hopping or just looking for the perfect setting to unwind. From the busy, iconic bays to the hidden, scenic coves, here’s our run down of the 20 best beaches in Greece.

Elafonísi, Crete

This tiny uninhabited islet lies marooned on the edge of a gloriously scenic turquoise lagoon that shares its name. The pinky-white sand, the warm, clear lagoon and the islet to which you can easily wade are magnificent, but you certainly won’t have them to yourself unless you visit out of season.

Limniónas beach, Pelion Peninsula

Southeast of Mylopótamos lies this attractive, scenic beach. It is possible to walk from Mylopótamos, but most go via Lambinoú village, from where a paved road leads 3km down past the restored 18th century Lambidhónas monastery, sporting fine frescoes over the doors. There is a freshwater shower and the romantic out-of-the-way Faros hotel, but no other facilities.

Horeftó, Pelion Peninsula

A long, decent sand beach sits in front of this former fishing village but is not the only choice for sun seekers. There are a few great beaches in the area, including Áyii Saránda, which sits two km south of Horeftó and two little coves at Análipsi, just north of the village – the first of which is a little paradise, popular with nudists and rough campers.

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Paleohóri, Mílos

Eight km south of Zefyría, down a winding, surfaced road, is Paleohóri, one of the island’s best beaches, warmed by underground volcanism. A little rock tunnel leads west to a second beach, which is backed by extraordinarily coloured cliffs and where steam vents heat the shallow water.

Shipwreck bay, Sumgger's cove, Zakynthos, Greece

Shipwreck Bay, Zákynthos

Surrounded by steep cliffs, this popular idyllic bay, with golden sands and bright blue waters, is often known as “Sumggler’s Cove” on account of the enormous, rusting shipwreck laying bare on its shores. A paved road leads on from Volímes to the cliffs overlooking the bay (real name Tó Naváyio), with hair-raising views down to the shipwreck – a cargo ship, which was mistaken for a drug-running vessel and run aground by the coastguard in the 1960s.

Ayía Kyriakí, Mílos

Further west of Paleohóri is Ayía Kyriaki – a pebble beach under imposing sulphurous and red oxide cliffs. This is one of the most beautiful beaches in Mílos, with its clear waters, a few trees for shade, and surrounded by the wild rocky landscape.

Ayía Eléni, Skiáthos

About 600m from the bus stop in Koukounairés, Ayía Eléni is a stunning, broad, sandy beach looking west towards the mountainous mainland. It’s bigger and more family-oriented than the neighbouring Banana beaches, with a couple of beach bars and, pedaloes and kayaks to rent.

Vríka, Andípaxi

Some of the Ionian Island’s best swimming and snorkelling is on offer on this islet, the smaller sister island of Paxí. Vríka, reached by boat from Corfu, is a sandy beach offering two tavernas – one at each end – of which Spiros serves great grilled and oven food. Quieter bays are accessible if you head south of Vríka.

Longas beach, Corfu, Greece

Longás Beach, Corfu

Shaded till early afternoon and backed by sheer vertical red cliffs, this stunning beach is an excellent hangout. The beach is accessible from Avliótes, a handsome hill town with the odd kafenio and tavernas but few concessions to tourism.

Avlémonas, Kythira

This is the prettiest destination on the east coast of the island, sitting on a rocky bay at the top. It’s a small fishing port with an end-of-the-world feel to it as you approach from a distance. This bay has a few lovely little coves with some of the clearest water around, perfect for swimming.

Áyii Anáryiri, Spétses

This is the largest and most popular beach on Spétses. It’s a long, sheltered, partly sandy bay with an offshore swimming pontoon and a watersports centre offering kayaks, pedaloes, windsurfers and catamarans to rent, as well as waterskiing. At the end of the beach concrete steps lead round to the Bekiris Cave, a low-ceilinged, shallow cavern you can clamber in through and then swim out.

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Kékes beach, Thássos

Of all the beaches in Alykí the sand-and-pebble west bay gets oversubscribed in peak season. To avoid this head 1km further southwest and hit the secluded Kékes beach set in a lovely pine grove.

Vromólimnos, Skiáthos

The prettiest of the beaches on the Kalamáki peninsula, fine-sand Vromólimnos is a bit of a walk from the nearest bus stop, and hence a little quieter than many south-coast sands. It still has several cafés from which to enjoy sunset views, though, and a busy water-ski operation.

Find more beautiful beaches in Skiáthos >

Káthisma beach, Lefkádha

This shadeless kilometre of fine sand, which becomes a nudist and freelance camping spot – and a lot less crowded – beyond the large jutting rocks halfway along, is the most popular beach on this coast.

Kathisma beach, Lefkadha, Greece

Lalária beach, Skiáthos

Glistening white pebbles and turquoise waters, backed by steep cliffs and a natural rock arch, form a photogenic contrast to the island’s other, mostly sandy, bays. The bay is only accessible by taxi or excursion-boat but the three sea-grottoes just east of it rate a stop on most round-the-island trips.

Atháni, Lefkádha

This area of Lefkádha gives way to three of the Ionian’s choicest beaches, where azure and milky turquoise waves buffer strands enclosed by dramatic cliffs. The nearest – down a 4km paved road – is Yialós, followed by Egremní, then Pórto Katsíki.

Anthony Quinn bay, Rhodes

This scenic bay, on Falirakí’s northern flank, is named after the late Mexican American actor whom Greeks took to their hearts following his roles in Zorba the Greek and The Guns of Navarone. Quinn bought much of this area and built the first road to the beach, but during the 1980s the Greek government managed to swindle him out of his claim and legal battles continue to this day.

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Anthony Quinn bay, Greece

Áyios Nikólas beach, Karpathos

The finest beach in the area, this broad 100-metre stretch of good quality sand still feels pleasantly rural, even though a newly built hotel has just joined its long-standing taverna.

Símos, Elafónissos

Elafónissos, now only 19 square kilometres, was part of mainland Greece until 375AD, when an earthquake separated it. One of the tiny island’s two surfaced roads leads to Símos, a large double bay with fine pale sand heaped into dunes and views to Kythira.

Tholos cove, Tílos

To combine walking and beach-bumming, this little cove, quieter than beaches nearer to Livádhia, is situated along a pleasant trail that begins by the cemetery and chapel of Áyios Pandelímon, then curls under the seemingly impregnable castle of Agriosykía.

These top 20 beaches in Greece have been chosen from the Rough Guide to Greece.