Greece has 119 inhabited islands, but the total number of Greek islands is actually closer to 30,000! Here’s a geeky look at the Greek islands and how many there are.
The Greek islands
When people talk about “the Greek islands”, they often have a somewhat vague group of islands in mind. Most people will have probably heard of islands like Santorini or Mykonos, but they might be stuck to mention others.
The Greek islands are split into six distinct island chains, two large standalone islands and a few more islets. They are scattered to the east, west and south of mainland Greece.
Where are the Greek islands
Many of the Greek islands are in the Aegean Sea. This is the body of water to the east of the Greek mainland, between Greece and Turkey.
The Aegean islands are further split into smaller groups:
- the Cyclades
- the Sporades
- the Dodecanese
- the North Aegean islands
- Crete, our largest island, which is located between the Aegean, the Cretan and the Libyan Sea
- Evia (Euboea), the second largest island, close to Athens.
Another famous chain are the Ionian islands. They are located in the Ionian Sea, between Greece and Italy. There are seven main islands, and several minor ones.
Finally, you will find a small cluster of islands close to Athens, inside the Saronic Gulf. These are the Saronic / Argosaronic islands.
So, how many islands does Greece have?
And now that we are clear with the geography, let’s try to answer the question: how many Greek islands are there?
The answer to this isn’t as straightforward as you’d think. It depends on what is defined as an island.
Can uninhabited islets and barren rocks be counted as islands? Is there a minimum size for a place to be called an island? It’s probably not certain!
This explains why, according to some estimates, Greece is said to have 6,000 islands, while another figure that is often mentioned is 1,200. If you ask me, there is a huge difference between the two!
Number of Greek islands – Official data
I was intrigued by this controversy, so I checked the definitive source: the website of the Hellenic Military Geographical Service.
According to their data, Greece has an insane number of islands and islets. As per their latest report, the precise figure for all Greek islands of any size is 29,372!!!
However, out of these islands, only 446 are over 0.1 sq km. To put this into perspective, Santorini, which is a relatively small island, is 76.19 sq km. The tiny Koufonissi is only 5.8 sq km.
So, again, it all comes down to what counts as an island. What do you think?
Inhabited islands and islets in Greece
Let’s take this a step further. How many of the Greek islands are actually inhabited? Check Wikipedia, or any other source, and you won’t get a straightforward answer.
The figures that come up more often in various articles are 166 and 227 inhabited islands. But are they really that many?
I was curious myself! So, I decided to dive in the data from the last census in Greece, which happened in 2011.
I downloaded a spreadsheet with 20,991 entries of regions, regional units, municipalities, islands, islets and other administrative units. Unfortunately, not all the islands were clearly marked as “islands”.
There was only one way to count the exact number of inhabited Greek islands – so I went through the large spreadsheet, row by row. Yes… I’m a geek sometimes!
And here is how many Greek islands there are…
According to the 2011 census spreadsheet, Greece has 119 inhabited islands. For such a small country, it’s a really impressive number.
Out of these 119 islands, 54 have over 1,000 people. This includes most of our best known islands:
- Rhodes and Kos in the Dodecanese
- Corfu, Kefalonia and Zakynthos in the Ionian islands
- Mykonos, Santorini, Paros and Naxos in the Cyclades archipelago
- Lesvos, Chios and Samos in the Northern Aegean
The main islands in each chain are more developed than the minor ones. They offer more tourist facilities and options for sightseeing and activities.
The small Greek islands
And now, let’s have a look at some of the smaller Greek islands.
These islands are ideal for visitors looking to experience authentic, traditional destinations. You will find enough tourist infrastructure like rooms to let and tavernas.
If you are thinking to visit in August, it’s best to book your accommodation way in advance, as some of these islands might be fully booked.
Greek islands with a population of under 100 people
And how about the very small islands in Greece? You may be surprised to know that 40 of the Greek islands have a population of under 100 people.
As an example, this includes the island of Ancient Delos. Although it’s technically prohibited to stay there for the night, the archaeologists working on the excavations actually live there!
Another tiny island, which you can reach on a day trip from Milos, is the barren Polyegos. In 2011, two shepherds lived there, but I’ve heard that they have now moved.
This is also what happened with Despotiko island close to Antiparos. The one shepherd living there had to evacuate due to the ongoing excavation works. His sheep and goats are still there though!
Similarly, one of the tiniest Ionian islands, called Stamfani Strofadon, was home to one elderly monk. Sadly, he has now passed, and the monastery is deserted.
Including any of those islands and islets in your holiday will expose you to a completely different pace of life. It will definitely enhance your Real Greek Experience!
Getting to the Greek islands
Some of the bigger islands are directly accessible by international flights. However, to reach most of them, you will need to take a ferry.
There are dozens of ferries departing daily from Piraeus and Rafina ports near Athens. Each of them passes by several islands, so it makes island-hopping easy.
Ferryscanner is a good place to check routes, prices, and book your tickets to the Greek islands.
Frequently asked questions about the Greek islands
Here are a few questions often asked by visitors:
How many Greek islands are there exactly?
According to official data, there are almost 30,000 islands in Greece. Out of those, 446 are over 0.1 sq km.
How many Greek islands are inhabited?
In 2011, when the last census happened, 119 Greek islands were inhabited. 40 of them had 100 or fewer permanent residents.
What is the smallest Greek island?
The smallest inhabited Greek island is called Marathi, and it belongs to the Dodecanese. It had 5 permanent residents in 2011, and is 0.35 sq km.
Which Greek island is the least touristy?
There are plenty of Greek islands that are not touristy, as their remote location makes them hard to get to. Some examples include Sikinos, Thirasia, Telendos, Pserimos, Agathonisi, Kastos, Antikythera, Gavdos and Agios Efstratios.
How long is the Greek coastline?
According to the official military data, the Greek coastline is a whopping 20,817.8 kms, though you will find many other figures on the internet. The takeaway is that Greece has one of the longest coastlines in the world!
Which Greek islands have you been to?
I’d be very interested in finding out which islands you have visited, and what you thought of each one. Please feel free to leave a comment below.
Hi! I am Vanessa, a travel writer from Athens. Many years ago I studied statistics, which might explain this geeky overview 🙂 I love exploring the Greek islands, and my goal is to visit them all! For any questions, get in touch on the Real Greek Experiences FB page and FB group.