The North Aegean Islands of Greece are those islands in (naturally) the north and east Aegean, but which don’t really belong to any other island group. They spread out in a sweep, mostly off the Turkish coast down the eastern Aegean, and include Lesvos (or Lesbos), the third largest of the Greek Islands, Thassos (or Thasos) off the Macedonian coast of Greece, the distinctive island of Chios (Hios), Lemnos (or Limnos), and Samos, Samothrace probably the most popular of these islands for overseas holiday-makers.
Greece holidays in North Aegean Islands
These North Aegean Islands are much less visited than the Cyclades or Dodecanese islands, and so retain a much stronger Greek identity. There’s still plenty to attract those looking for a relaxing vacation, with lots of good beaches, hotels and restaurants, but here you’ll also find that elusive ‘real Greece’.
One thing is certain: although far from major urban centres, you’ll get here easily – by boat or plane – but will find it hard to leave. Each island in the North Aegean has its own identity. Each is a destination with unique wild beauty and rich cultural heritage. Largely unexplored, this cluster of islands may not be tourist-magnets but that is exactly what gives them their charm. Kick back and relax beachside or go exploring in these unspoilt, quirky and seductive treasures on this side of the North Aegean Islands: Lesvos (Mytilini), Chios, Samothrace, Thassos, Lemnos, Ikaria, Samos, as well as Agios Efstratios, Fourni, Psara and Innouses.
Magnificent sandy beaches with crystalline water, picturesque mountain villages, dramatic coastlines, delicious food, rich history and rare natural beauty make these islands ideal holiday destinations for those in search of seaside escapes, local traditions and unforgettable historic sites. The larger North Aegean Islands, such as Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Ikaria and Thassos are especially perfect for families, couples and groups of friends, while the smaller ones, like Agios Efstratios, Fourni, Psara and Inousses, are paradise for sailors and intrepid travellers.
Beaches of virgin beauty
It is the island with the most virgin beaches: On Lemnos you’ll find more than 100 – half of them sandy, all of them uncrowded. On Chios you’ll find another 90. On Lesvos, discover one of the best beaches in the Aegean, Vatera, as well as Sigri and Eressos. On Chios you’ll swim at Mavra Volia (Black Beach), whose dark volcanic pebbles are unlike anything you’ve ever seen. On Ikaria, at Nas, a modern beach meets antiquity – the remains of an ancient temple of Artemis reach as far as the sea. Popular Mesahti is ideal for water sports. And Seychelles, a small exotic bay with emerald water, looks lifted from the South Seas. On Samos, the best beach is Chryssi Ammos (Golden Sand) and, on Thassos, you’ll find Paradise, quite literally.
A date with history and mythology in the North Aegean
In the holy sanctuaries of the North Aegean islands, you’ll be enveloped in myth and mysticism. On Samothrace, you’ll be initiated at the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, where ancient, enigmatic rites and rituals were once performed. On Lemnos, you’ll feel the presence of the god Hephaistos, the protector of the ancient city of Hephaistia and, at Ikaria’s Nas (Naiades), you’ll find traces of the goddess Artemis Tauropolou.
Then there’s Samos, the island of Aristarchos the astrophysicist and of the great mathematician Pythagoras. On Chios, you’ll be mesmerised by the mosaics in the Nea Moni Monastery (a Unesco World Heritage Site), which was established in 1024 by the Byzantine emperor Constantine IX Monomachos. At Samothrace’s Archaeological Museum, a replica of the Winged Victory of Samothrace (whose original is housed in the Louvre) stands with her wings spread, ready to fly. History, myths and culture: the islands of the North Aegean will enchant you with their mystical ambience.
Harnessing the power of nature
Nature’s power is at play everywhere you turn. Windsurfing, kitesurfing, water skiing at Skala Eressos and Vatera in Lesvos, on the eastern shores of Limnos as well as at popular Kokkari in Samos. Globetrotters come from all over to trek the islands’ trails, which wind through beautiful, wooded scenery. Bird watchers head to the three lakes that make up the wetlands on Limnos, as well as the Kalloni wetlands on Lesvos, natural habitats of aviary diversity. Don’t miss the famous festivities at Ikaria’s village fairs, where the wine and raki flows and the music and dancing lasts all day, and all night.
Delectable Mediterranean flavours
Get a top up: the North Aegean Islands promise to fill you up with the most exquisite treats. Samos will treat you to its award-winning dessert wine, whose reputation dates back to antiquity. Lesvos’ ouzo is world-renowned, and its history spans two centuries. The most famous brands: Plomari and Mini. Chios’ most treasured product is, of course, the rare and ‘miraculous’ mastic, but don’t leave without trying its syrupy sweets and preserves, made with in-season fruit. Lesvos is famous for its exceptional oil, pressed from the hillside olive groves. The extravirgin olive oils of Lesvos – and specifically from Mytilini, Kalloni and Plomari – have all been certified as PDOs – protected designation of origin.
Sights and attractions unique to Greece
1. Chios: Discover the 20 mastic villages on the south side of the island, where the rare masticha trees are cultivated; the handsome, stone dwellings of Anavatos near the cliff; and the wonderful yellow-red stone of the 19th and 20th century villas in Kambos.
2. Lesvos: The petrified forest, the likes of which exist only on this island and in Arizona, and 18th century towers in the countryside, will transport you to another time.
3. Ikaria: The main town (Christos) comes to life only at night, with shops opening after 9pm. The only shop open during the day is the bakery.
4. Samothrace: Explore this virgin island. You’ll swim in small natural pools called vathres, created by the countless waterfalls, and soak in the hot springs. It’s a setting lifted from a fairy tale.
5. Samos: Take a walk round Vathy, the old part of Samos’ main port-town, built on a hillside overlooking the sea. The narrow streets and handsome two-storey houses with tiled roofs and charming individual features, will give you a glimpse of pre-20th-century life.
6. Lemnos: The castle in Lemnos’ principal town – one of the best preserved in the Aegean – occupies a steep, rocky promontory flanked by two seaside neighbourhoods – the Romeiko (Greek) and Turkiko (Turkish) Yialo (shore). It was erected by the Byzantine emperor Andronikos I Komninos (1118-1185) on the site of older walls, most probably ancient.
7. Thassos: Whether on the coast or inland, you’ll discover beautiful little villages all over Thasos: Agios Georgios, Alyki, Theologos, Kallirahi, Kastro, Kazaviti, Koinyra, Limenaria, Maries, Panagia.