Who said that Greek Islands were only summer destinations? That’s right, they’re not! We have collected the 5 Best Greeks Winter Islands for you to visit in February. Some are full of life; others are full of romance and others full of culture.
Let’s dive in the crystal-clear waters of the Aegean and Ionian Seas!
Heraklion – Crete
A few General Words
Heraklion, located in the center of Crete, is one of the largest cities in Greece with a population amounting to 250,000 inhabitants. It may feel odd at first as Heraklion is such a lively city, that doesn’t resemble an island at all times. However, your first impression is deceiving when, afterward, you discover the beauties and charm that this unique region of Crete hides. Surrounded by the mountains Psiloritis and Lassithiotika, Heraklion perfectly combines mountain and sea.
A few Words on the History
The history of Heraklion began thousands of years ago in the ‘era of mythology’. The prefecture of Heraklion is home to the famous Minoan palace of Knossos, known for the history of Theseus and the Minotaur. The palace of Knossos is one of the most important historical sights of Crete, which is why it receives a large number of visitors every year. Furthermore, the picturesque Venetian port of Heraklion is ideal for endless morning or evening walks and is a perfect place to enjoy the wonderful view around the castle walls. A short distance from the Venetian port is the Historical Museum of Heraklion which was founded in 1952 by the Research Institute of the History of Crete. The museum houses many important exhibits and archaeological finds which depict various forms of Cretan life starting from the beginning of the Christian period.
The Old and New Towns
Heraklion consists of the Old and the New Town. The New Town has been the capital of the prefecture since 1972, an important economic center that contributes significantly to the trade and industry of Crete. The part of the Old Town is located between the old walls forming a triangle whose base overlooks the sea and its top meets the Martinengo bastion at the highest point of which is the tomb of the famous Cretan writer Nikos Kazantzakis. Those who visit Heraklion have the opportunity to wander the streets of the Old Town and visit some of the “hidden jewels” of the area such as the picturesque square of Eleftherios Venizelos full of cafes, restaurants, and tourist shops, and the Morosini Fountain in the center square, known as “the Fountain of the Lions”, which was built in 1628 by the Governor of Crete Francesco Morosini.
Surrounding Area of Heraklion
Apart from the Old and New Towns of Heraklion, in the prefecture, there are many beautiful areas to visit. As you go south of the prefecture of Heraklion you will meet enchanting beaches with crystal clear waters as well as hospitable residents. One of the most interesting sights of the area is the famous Aquarium of Crete which is located between the city of Heraklion and the tourist resort of Hersonissos. It hosts 2500 living marine organisms such as many varieties of fish, sharks, shellfish, jellyfish, and more. The Aquarium is open to the public daily all year round and receives thousands of visitors of all ages.
The prefecture of Heraklion, starting from the coastal cosmopolitan resort of Hersonissos and reaching the archeological sites of Archanes and Pyrgos, is one of the most remarkable destinations in Crete that you should not miss visiting.
Rhodes – Dodecanese
The wonderful capital of the Dodecanese and of course their largest island. The ‘Ιsland of the Κnights’, Rhodes is the 4th largest island in Greece and every year attracts more and more tourists as it is very popular and gathers many features that make it an ideal destination for many types of tourists. Families, couples, young people can all spend dreamy moments on this beautiful island.
The Map of Rhodes
Τhe city of Rhodes in the northeast of the island. Inside the city of Rhodes and through the walls, is the old city of Rhodes which is also on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Site. The only sure thing is that in the old town if you are not a local you will get lost on your first visit. Its narrow alleys hide many secrets but even more beauties.
The most Famous Beaches of Rhodes
In Rhodes, you will find the beaches you dream of. Due to the size and morphology of the island, it is full of beaches, many of them have a blue flag. Most beaches and most popular are located on the east side of the island. In the west, there are fewer beaches and they are the ones that are calmer as they do not gather a lot of people. Nonetheless, as it is winter, you will have the best beaches to yourself! For the daring few, the waters may not be as cold as you think and you may want to take a dip.
What to see on the ‘Island of the Knights’
The Old Town of Rhodes
Entering the port by boat, the first thing you see in Mandraki is the fawns welcoming you to the island. The fawns are a symbol of the island and live freely. Legend has it that before the fawns there was the Colossus of Rhodes and ships passed between its legs. Behind them can be seen the walls of the old city. Many cultures have passed through this island and all have left their traces in the old town. You will find fountains, Turkish baths, statues, mosques, and much more. Let yourself wander through the old city and you will be amazed. There you can see the moat of the castle and of course visit the Palace of the Grand Masters. It is located on the northwest side of the old town, at the end of Knights Street and was the residence of the Italian commander.
On the northwest side of Rhodes near the village of Theologos is the valley of the Butterflies, an area of 600 acres that from June to September is filled with colorful butterflies. The prevailing conditions are ideal for the mating of butterflies for this and we see so many gathered in one place. The area is full of trees of all kinds and is a unique spectacle with small bridges for people to cross but also ponds with water lilies and much more. If you have children, you should take them to this fairytale setting.
The Nightlife of Rhodes
Rhodes is an island famous for its intense nightlife. The protagonist in this is of course Faliraki of Rhodes. It has countless bars for all tastes. Other areas with vibrant nightlife are Lindos and Ialyssos. Moreover, there is ff course, the old city could not be missing from the list of places. It has the most beautiful small bars and incredible Greek restaurants.
Corfu – Ionian Sea
Let’s “travel” to Corfu, the Venetian Ionian island.
Where is Corfu located?
Corfu is an island located in the Ionian Sea and specifically in the Ionian Group of Islands (Eftanisa). It is located northwest of Lefkada, west of Parga and Igoumenitsa, and south of Albania.
What is worth seeing in Corfu
The old Fortress of the island functions as a place where everyone can visit and admire the historical archive of Corfu, as well as the large Byzantine collection, kept there. The impressive thing that one will see when entering the fortress is how well space is maintained. There is a strong Venetian finesse that does not resemble any other places that function as a “shelter” of cultural heritage in other parts of Greece.
This square is the largest not only in Corfu but also in the Balkans. A visit is at least necessary. At the “core” of the square is the typical kiosk, where you can enjoy the view that it generously has to offer you.
Liston Square is essentially the main street with its special arches and shops in the city of Corfu. It is a stone’s throw from Spianada Square.
The palace of Princess Sisi is located in the village of Gastouri. The distance is estimated at 10 km from the island’s capital. This is a site where time seems to have stopped. The rich vegetation in combination with the exceptional beauty and architecture of the space is worth your visit.
Enjoying your coffee from the cannon, you will see in front of you Pontikonisi popping up. First, you will see a small church and surrounding rocks. This small church is called Panagia Vlacherena. At a negligible distance, you will see an islet with dense vegetation. This is Pontikonisi! You will be able to get there by boat from a resident or by a boat that is for this purpose.
What Flavors to Taste in Corfu
The flavors in the Ionian islands are impressive. Gastronomy really “reaches” another level. In Corfu, you should try the traditional dish ‘pastitsada’ and ‘sofrito’. From sweets, the sweet of the kumquat spoon is suggested. You can also enjoy it as a liqueur. Also, in Corfu, you will have the opportunity to enjoy traditional ‘tsitsimbira’.
Santorini – Cyclades
Famous for its magnificent caldera, volcano, and romantic sunset, Santorini is considered one of the top places to visit in the world. Built on the edge of steep cliffs, the picturesque villages of Santorini offer wonderful views of the Aegean Sea and the sunken volcano.
Sights Not To Miss
Do not miss visiting Akrotiri, perhaps the most important archeological site of the Cyclades. This city was one of the most important cities in the Aegean Sea until a volcanic eruption destroyed it in the 17th century BC. Volcanic material saved the buildings and their contents.
Nea Kameni Island
The island of Nea Kameni in the middle of the flooded caldera is one of the most dangerous volcanoes on the planet. It is also one of the suggested cities as the lost city of Atlantis. The eruption that destroyed most of Santorini 3,600 years ago created a tsunami that reached as far as Turkey and probably wiped out the Minoan Civilization.
The star of Santorini, the beautiful village of Oia, is the ultimate island village, full of white houses and vaulted churches that fall above the edge of the caldera. It has enchanting hotels, renovated farmhouses on the edge of the crater and impressive sunsets. Santorini sunset is probably the most famous in the world. The sunset is beautiful from every part of the island, but the sunset in Oia is the best.
Museum of Prehistoric Thira
The Museum of Prehistoric Thira is located in Fira and has findings from prehistoric times that have been excavated from Akrotiri, Ancient Thira, and other areas of Santorini.
In the traditional cuisine of Santorini we can distinguish the following ingredients and dishes:
- Fava is an old traditional dish that can be served in many different ways, depending on the season.
- The cherry tomato is very fragrant and tasty.
- Chloro cheese is a fresh cheese produced by the women of Santorini and it is not easy to find anymore.
- Tomato meatballs are meatballs, without meat, made of tomato. This delicious Santorini recipe is made with herbs, tomatoes, and butter. It is the specialty of the island, along with the fava.
- Eggplant, a unique vegetable of the island, is considered the traditional dish in Santorini. They are small aubergines, very tasty, and with a fresh aroma.
- Capers and dried capers are products of the island that are often used in salads.
Where to Dip
The beaches of Santorini are very different from other beaches in Greece due to their special geographical features. Red and black volcanic pebbles fill the shores of Santorini and the cliffs offer a picturesque atmosphere. Red beach is one of the most beautiful and famous beaches of Santorini. It has black and red volcanic pebbles and hot water. The impressive beach of Perissa has black sand, however, the largest black sand beach of Santorini is Perivolos.
Chios – Northeast Aegean Sea
Chios belongs to the islands of the Northeast Aegean and is located south of Lesvos and north of Ikaria. It is the 5th largest island in Greece and combines the modern way of life with the historical tradition and the natural landscape. An island with wild and unexplored beauty, Chios will pleasantly surprise those who go for the first time.
The island of Chios is famous all over the world for the production of mastic and so we suggest you take a walk through the Mastic villages and try the mastic products. In Kampos of Chios, you will see endless orchards with citrus and some of the most beautiful traditional houses on the island.
Sights to Visit on the island of Chios
The fertile and manorial Plain of Chios
Narrow streets, huge stone walls, made with unique craftsmanship. Ornated doors with proud arches. In these huge orchards of the most fertile valley of the island once lived lords. The Genoese built their villas here from the 14th century and in the following years the rich people of Chios.
The Mastic Villages
They are about 20, you will find them in southern Chios and they smell delicious like mastic. Pyrgi and Mesta stand out, followed by Vessa, Armolia, Nenita, and Patrika.
A castle city in the North Aegean
An image that will surely be unforgettable: a stone cone of cuboid houses with black spots from open doors and windows. This is Anavatos. An uninhabited stone tower, erected above the wilderness of the forest, hanging next to the abyssal cliff. A monument of special importance for the history of Chios, but also of humanity, and one of the sights that you should not miss.
Gastronomy of Chios
In addition to the famous mastic, Chios offers a wide variety of local products and authentic flavors. The gastronomic wealth of Chios includes, among others: kinds of butter and cheeses such as mastelo, citrus fruits such as the Chios mandarin, ouzo, and aromatic liqueurs, excellent quality wines, sweets, pastries, but also fresh fish and seafood. Try their local cuisine and you will remember us.
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Feature Image Credits To: Gabriela Fab