While everyone is flocking to Crete or the Cyclades, I decided this summer to explore a lesser-known region of the Northern Aegean Sea: the Sporades Islands in northern Greece.
You can choose to share your time between Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonissos, the three islands of the archipelago or only stay in one during your entire holiday. There are many opportunities for day trips to any of the islands for 25 to 35€. The ferries linking the islands and Volos on the continent are available several times a day and for as cheap as 14€ the single way ticket.
I was so surprised how different Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonissos felt. So don’t hesitate to create your own mix depending on your tastes. This article will tell you everything about what to expect from each island so you can make your choice.
Skiathos: the party island
Perfect for groups of friends looking for a fun holiday
3h30 direct flight from London-Gatwick
Skiathos has an international airport, and it is the most convenient place to fly to if you want to explore the Sporades without wasting too much time. Make sure to have a window seat if you can as the arrival on Skiathos is one of the most impressive I have ever seen. Both ends of the runway are very close to the shore as there isn’t so much space on the island. The airport has become an attraction on the island where people come to see the planes landing while sipping a cold beer at the Amaretto Café.
The harbour of Skiathos is only a mile and a half away from the airport. It gathers most of the action on the island with many restaurants, cafés and nightclubs along the harbour. It is where you need to stay if you want to enjoy all the activities of the island and party with your friends without having to take a taxi all the time or bother renting a car. If you prefer to be away from too much noise, go to Koukounaries, on the west side of the island, where you can enjoy beautiful sandy beaches. There is one bus, the only one on the island, going from Skiathos port to Koukounaries.
If you fancy exploring more of the island, head to Lalaria Beach and Kastro peninsula, an ancient village, at the north tip of the island. To my biggest surprise, you cannot go there by road, the only way to go is by taking one of the tour boats leaving from the old port of Skiathos. Leaving at 10 am or 1 pm, for 4 hours, these tours include beach and snorkelling stops while enjoying food and drink; it is another way to keep the party going.
The main streets of Skiathos are bustling and filled with souvenir shops and souvlaki fast food. However, if you take the side streets leading to the Cathedral, you can still find small tavernas with just a few tables in flowered corners.
I have to admit that right at the beginning of the busiest street of Skiathos, I found one of my favourite treats of my holiday: a frozen Greek yogurt bar where you pay by the weight! You select the yogurt base, plain or flavoured, and then you add your toppings. I went for plain frozen yoghurt with melon, pomegranate, white chocolate, walnut and honey.
Skopelos: the picturesque island
Perfect for couples looking for a romantic getaway
50 minute ferry from Skiathos Island
I am personally a big fan of the Mamma Mia movie. I had always wondered where the film was shot as I found the landscapes of each scene stunning. When I heard it was filmed in the Sporades, on the island of Skopelos, half-way between Skiathos and Alonissos, I knew I had to go at least one day.
Skopelos Village is gorgeous with white houses along the hill and many lively cafés and restaurants along the port. Skopelos Island is also often said to be the greenest of the Sporades with its forests of pine trees and fields of olive trees. I can understand easily why such a picturesque island was chosen to be a filming location.
For the absolute fans of the Mamma Mia movie, there are two main spots to put on your itinerary: Kastani Beach and Agios Ioannis Church. Before going, I read these places were terribly crowded.
When I arrived at Agios Ioannis, it was gorgeous and not overcrowded at all, despite being mid-August (The movie was released in 2008, so things may have calmed down a bit now). Don’t expect the church to be like in the film because Agios Ioannis is a small chapel and the final scene inside the church was obviously shot somewhere else. Climbing the 107 steps, some quite high, in bright sunshine, required some efforts but the view of the surrounding cliffs covered in pine trees and falling into turquoise water was breath-taking.
Alonissos: the out-of-the-beaten-track island
Perfect for families or solo travellers looking for a retreat holiday
90 minute ferry from Skiathos or 30 minute ferry from Skopelos
If you want to have the most relaxing Greek island holiday, without the crowds, even in July and August, Alonissos is the place to go. I quickly noticed that the island was much appreciated by many people to go on retreat holidays of all sorts like for yoga or painting. Being the furthest east of the Sporades Islands, Alonissos has been preserved from mass tourism and kept an authentic Greek village atmosphere.
The old town of Alonissos, called Chora in Greek, is 2 miles away from the harbour of Patitiri, on the top of a hill. The tiny village is the most charming place to visit with a breath-taking 360° view. Come early in the morning to take pictures, or one hour before sunset to see the village coming to life as it is a local favourite to enjoy food and drinks with friends while watching the sunset.
You can easily explore by yourself authentic fishermen villages like Kalamakia or beautiful beaches such as Chrisi Milia. Doing a mini road trip, hoping on and off to explore trails through pine tree forests, or just go for a swim, is the best way to enjoy Alonissos.
Two secrets I got from the locals are the best places to see the sunset: Cape Kokinos at the south east tip, and Agios Anargiri on the east coast. In both cases, you will need to take rocky roads, so renting a small SUV car is a better option than renting a scooter to reach these places.
The last and not least, Alonissos is the biggest marine protected area in Greece and one of the largest in Europe. Home of the endangered monk seal and many species of dolphins, it is the whole reason I travelled to Alonissos in the first place to go scuba diving there.
The clear and warm waters of Alonissos National Marine Park are perfect to look for dusky groupers between sponges and red gorgonians. If you are not a certified scuba diver yet, the very calm waters of Alonissos make it a perfect place to learn. Best season for scuba diving in Alonissos is between August and September when water is at its clearest and its warmest.
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Many thanks to Triton Dive Center & Thomas Cook Airlines for inviting me to discover this incredible Greek island underwater and beyond. As always, all my views and opinions are my own and reflect honestly my experience.
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