Greece boasts thousands of islands but only about 200 of them are inhabited or visited by tourists. Most of the largest of Greece's islands have been inhabited and developed since ancient times. Greece's largest island, Crete, is the among the top ten largest islands in Europe. Learn more about the largest island, the largest island groupings, and the islands that are the smallest in Greece.
Top 20 Largest Islands
If you have an issue with claustrophobia, then the following Greek islands will give you some room to wander without giving you that itchy feeling of needing more space.
|1||Crete (Kriti)||3219 sq. miles||8336 sq. kilometers|
|2||Euboea (Evia, Evvia)||1417||3670|
|5||Chios (Khios, Xios)||325||842.3|
|6||Kefalonia (Cephallonia, Cefalonia)||302||781|
|11||Zakynthos (Zante, Zakinthos)||157||406|
And, since it missed the "Top 20" list by only a square kilometer, here is a bonus island:
|21||Tinos||75 square miles||194 square km|
The largest island, Crete, is also the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus, and Corsica. The island has a population of more than 600,000. The capital and the largest city is Heraklion.
Crete has varied terrain from fine-sand beaches at Elafonisi to the White Mountains. Mt. Ida, the tallest of the range, is where Zeus was born, according to Greek mythology. The big island of Crete is not part of any island group, though it does have a number of satellite islands including Gavdos, which is considered to be the southernmost point of Europe.
The island has significant ancient ruins, particularly Knossos, which is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site, considered Europe's oldest city. Crete was the center of the Minoan civilization, the earliest known civilization in Europe dating back to 2700 B.C.
The Largest Island Groups
The largest Greek island group is the Cyclades or Cycladic islands, also spelled Kyklades, with about two hundred small islands circling the twenty or so larger, better-known islands such as Mykonos and Santorini.
Then, there is the Dodecanese Island group, with twelve main islands (the prefix "dodeca" means twelve) and many islets. Following them are the Ionian Islands, the Aegean Islands, and the Sporades. The Ionians are few in number but consist of several of the largest islands in Greece.
The Smallest Islands
It is difficult to determine which is the smallest Greek island. There are many rocky outcroppings in Greece that do not logically count as "islands" but may show up on some lists. Even the "smallest inhabited" island is hard to determine since privately-owned islands can be minuscule, with just a single-family residence standing on the island.
One island that commonly appears on the lists of smallest visitable islands is Levitha, known in ancient times as Lebynthos, it is inhabited by a single family who runs a tavern there.
It is 4 square miles in size. Part of the Dodecanese islands in the North Aegean Sea, it is visited during the summer by yachters as it offers safe harbor in all four directions.
The tiny islet of Rho off the coast of Turkey was inhabited by a bold Greek woman nicknamed "The Lady of Rho" who used to vigorously raise the Greek flag every morning until she passed away in 1982. A small Greek military unit is now based on the island, with the primary duty of continuing the tradition of raising the flag, set by the "Lady of Rho", Despoina Achladioti. The island has no permanent residents.