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Top 10 Greek Islands for Families

Corfu

Family appeal One of the greenest and most beautiful of the Greek Islands, Corfu’s hilly interior is draped with forests of olive and cypress trees. Gerald Durrell based My Family and Other Animals here, and you can still stumble upon wild, unspoilt corners of Corfu that inspired the author. There are resorts like Benítses where nightclubs, not cicadas, reverberate through the night, but there are also plenty of bolt-holes where you’ll find a more sympathetic balance between traditional Greek charm and tourist facilities.
Best beaches Most of the mass-market resorts are concentrated in the southeast. For something quieter look to the southwest (for sandy Maltas backed by thickly wooded hills), the northwest (for Palaiokastrítsa with its three coves clustered around a forested headland), the north (for long sweeping bays and interesting rock formations at Sidári) and the northeast (for sandy Almíros or the resort at Kassiópi).
Best days out Older children will appreciate the elegant Venetian architecture, pavement cafés and shops of Corfu Town, and even littl’uns will enjoy exploring the maze of narrow streets in the old quarter – especially if you plonk them in a horse-drawn carriage. Also worthwhile is a day (or two) of island touring. Hire a car and dawdle inland, stopping for Durrell-style nature hunts (or more strenuous jaunts on Mount Pantokrátor). Alternatively, hire a motorboat and potter along the coast in search of hidden coves. And if you’re seized by wanderlust, don’t forget that Albania is just a ferry ride away.

Kefalloniá
Family appeal Kefalloniá has it in bucket loads. From mountains and caves to beach resorts and fishing villages, this large island is ideal for families seeking a bit more than just a beach holiday.
Best beaches The liveliest resorts are at Lássi and nearby stretches of coast. Elsewhere you’ll find a mixture of pebbly and sandy beaches, usually with a striking backdrop of mountains. Lourdas and Skála in the far south both have long stretches of white sand with safe swimming, while the north of Kefalloniá has mainly white-pebble beaches. Myrtou Bay, south of Asos, is considered the island’s most beautiful.
Best days out Bus services are limited, so it’s essential to hire a car. Allow plenty of time for getting around this large, rugged island. Highlights include Asos (with its nearby Venetian fortress), Fiskárdo (Kefalloniá’s prettiest village), Mount Aínos (home to wild horses and native fir trees), Drogkaráti Caves (the size of a large concert hall) and the Melissaní Cave-Lake (a mysterious subterranean azure-blue lake). The island of Ithaca – fabled as the home of Odysseus – is also worth a visit. Join a tour with a good guide who will bring to life the legends of Homer’s epic, the Odyssey.

Kos
The sandy beaches in the southeast of Kos, as well as north-coast resorts like Tigkáki, make this a popular family destination. Inland, you’ll find the remains of the Asklepieion, a fourth-century BC sanctuary dedicated to the god of healing. Kos Town, meanwhile, is the jumping-off point for boat trips to Kalymnos, renowned for its sponge-fishing industry.

Lésvos
Family appeal Once a favoured holiday haunt of the Romans, Lésvos still has what it takes to draw the crowds. A large island with a good scattering of sandy beaches and resorts, the so-called Garden of the Aegean has a rugged landscape rich in tradition.
Best beaches Skála Kallonis, a fishing village at the head of the Kallonis Gulf, has a gently shelving beach and warm shallow water that’s ideal for small children. To the west, Skála Eresoú boasts one of the island’s finest beaches – a 3km stretch of dark sand.
Best days out There’s a petrified forest and 12th-century monastery at Mount Ordymnous – an extinct volcano in the west of the island. Birdwatchers should stake out the lagoons along the western coast, while culture vultures should descend on the atmospheric harbour town of Sykaminiá.

Límnos
Perfect for families in search of a traditional island with few other visitors, Límnos has plenty of sandy beaches for children, although teenagers may find it a little too quiet. The west coast has the pick of the beaches – try Avlónas, just to the north of Myrina with its cobbled streets, bazaar and Ottoman houses.

Rhodes
Family appeal Deservedly popular, this large sunny island has some excellent beaches, a fascinating historic town and a certain buzz that will appeal
to families with teenagers.
Best beaches The east coast has a string of beaches: from boisterous resorts like Faliráki, with watersports and nightlife, to quieter coves further south.
Best days out Base yourself on the east coast and it’s a straightforward bus ride into Rhodes town. Kids will love exploring the walled Old Town where the Palace of the Grand Masters, a medieval citadel built by the Knights of St John in the 1300s, is guaranteed to spark their imagination. Inside, challenge them to find the mosaic of the mythical Gorgon Medusa, with hair of writhing serpents. The nearby Street of the Knights, with its austere gateways and impressive coats of arms, is also worth a look. In the new town you can arrange diving and boat trips at Mandráki harbour where the 40m statue of the Colossus of Rhodes is believed to have once stood. A popular boat excursion is to Líndos where an ancient acropolis looms over a village of whitewashed houses and cobbled streets. If you want shade and tranquillity, visit Petaloúdes, a wooded valley where thousands of Jersey tiger moths gather between June and September (get there before the tour buses arrive).

Santorini
This famous island blew its top around 1450 BC, spewing clouds of molten debris over 30 km and unleashing a tsunami that devastated Minoan Crete. The volcanic eruption left a giant caldera, which subsequently flooded with seawater and inspired the legend of Atlantis. With whitewashed buildings perched on volcanic cliffs, the town of Firá is a port of call on just about every cruise ship operating in the Aegean Sea. Although there are black-sand beaches on Santorini, families will find more inviting stretches of sand on other islands in the Cyclades, such as Náxos and Páros. For independent-minded (ferry- or yacht-bound) families, this beautiful archipelago is ideal for island hopping.

Skiathos
Just 13km long and with more than 50 sandy beaches, it’s small wonder that package tourists overrun Skiathos during July and August. This exquisite little island is buzzing with resorts, watersports and nightlife, but combines well with much quieter Alónissos to the east.

Zákynthos
Although blighted in places by new development, Laganás Bay has fine sandy beaches. Certain stretches are off-limits to tourists to enable endangered loggerhead turtles to lay their eggs in relative peace between May and August. The resorts of Tsiliví and Alykes are further north, along with the island’s most popular boat-trip destinations – Shipwreck Beach and the Blue Caves. Meanwhile, at the tip of Vasilikós peninsula, Gerakí beach has clean, white sand and is gently shelving, making it ideal for kids.

Crete
This gnarled island of mountains and gorges, stubbled with olive groves and orchards, and fringed with superb sandy beaches, may lack the cutesy, intimate feel of smaller Greek islands, but you’ll never be bored. As well as delving into ancient Minoan ruins, there are gorges to trek through, caves to visit and rare birds and flowers to spot.
Irákleio Like Chania in the west, Irákleio’s instant appeal for kids is the old harbour and Venetian fortifications. Lure them beyond the uninspiring façade of the city’s archaeological museum, however, and they will discover a treasure trove of Minoan artefacts. Star exhibits include the Phaestos Disc (a clay tablet inscribed with mysterious symbols), the black-stone Bull’s Head (used for pouring ritual wines) and a pair of figurines depicting snake goddesses (serpents symbolized immortality for the Minoans). The museum provides a vivid insight into the highly sophisticated Minoan civilization that thrived on Crete some 3000 years ago – but don’t overdo it; spend an hour or two checking out the highlights, then head out of town to Knosós.
Palace of Knosós Many of the exhibits displayed in the Irákleio Archaeological Museum were found at these extraordinary ruins. The first palace was levelled during an earthquake in 1700 BC, so the Minoans knocked up a swanky new one – multi-storied and with grand courtyards, over 1000 rooms and an elaborate drainage system. The Royal Apartments even had an ensuite bathroom with what is believed to be the first-ever flush toilet (water was poured down by hand). The palace and some of its colourful frescoes were partially restored in the early 1900s, so they’re not quite as baffling as many other Greek ruins. And, of course, Knosós has the big advantage of a really juicy myth – there never was a labyrinth beneath the palace, but that won’t stop kids pretending they’re in the lair of the Minotaur.
Samariá Gorge It’s a long way (18km to the coastal village of Agía Rouméli), but older kids and teens may well be up to the challenge of hiking through this dramatic gorge in western Crete. The well-trodden route takes at least five hours; it’s mostly downhill, but take plenty of water and snacks, wear good walking shoes and set off early in the morning. Keep an eye out for wild goats. You don’t need to hike back up – boats depart from Agía Rouméli to Sfakií and Paleochora until around 1700.
Best beaches Crete has no shortage of good family beaches, although some (particularly in the north where
there is more development) tend to get very crowded at weekends and during peak summer months. The west-coast beaches are more remote and have fewer facilities. Elafonisi is a pink-sand beauty. Separated from an islet by a sheltered tidal lagoon of knee-deep water it’s perfect for small children. Nearby, the laid-back resort of Paleochora also has a fine beach and is just a 90-minute bus ride to Chaniá with its old Venetian quarter, covered market and taverna-lined harbour.