'Not only islands': Greece asks tourists to explore beyond the islands to prevent overtourism

You don't have to go Greek's islands to find stunning beaches in Greece. Here, Kavourotrypes Beach in the Sithonia peninsula in Halkidiki.
You don't have to go Greek's islands to find stunning beaches in Greece. Here, Kavourotrypes Beach in the Sithonia peninsula in Halkidiki.   -   Copyright  AP Photo
By Giulia Carbonaro

Can you even claim you've been to Greece if you haven't posted a perfectly-posed snap of yourself in front of Santorini's white-and-blue homes and deep blue sea?

While in recent years the Greek island in the southern Aegean Sea has become a super-popular tourist destination and a must-see for influencers, the country's tourism officials say there's so much more to discover in Greece beyond Santorini - Plus, you'll be able to avoid the crowds while being a more sustainable tourist too.

Greece has long been committed to promoting sustainable tourism in its territory and tackling the environmental impact of contemporary travel. But for the country, sustainability means more than just preserving its world-famous landscapes.

"We are not only talking about preserving natural resources or protecting the environment. For us, sustainability is also something else," says Dimitris Fragakis, Secretary-General of the Greek National Tourism Organisation (GNTO).

"It's about how local communities get involved with tourism, because we want people to be close to tourism, not against tourism.

"There are some bad cases here in Europe of countries facing overtourism, where the locals are kicked out from their houses or their neighbourhoods. We don't want that."

Greece's strategy to avoid overtourism is to expand the destinations people would want to visit across the country, and to encourage tourists to explore Greece not just in summer, but winter too.

"Greece is not just sun and beach, and it’s not only the islands. The beaches are also beautiful in northern Greece, and western Greece. Nobody knows these kinds of places. So we want to promote them. We want to show the people that you can go to a lot of places in order to have a quality vacation."

Where should I go?

There's plenty of beauty to be found in Greece, no matter where you are in the country.

The small village of Gialova, in the southwest of the Peloponnese peninsula, is a perfect spot to live the Greek dream of sun, beach, nature and gorgeous food while keeping away from the crowds. The village is a walking distance from the Gialova lagoon and nature reserve and it’s close to the ancient archaeological site of Pylos, a Mycenaean-era palace. Close by, there’s also the beach of Voïdokoilia, one of the most beautiful in the country.

You can get there from the city of Kalamata, an hour's drive away from the island and less than a three-hour drive from Athens.

While Santorini, Mykonos and Corfu are very much on the tourists' radar, there are also Greek islands which remain off the beaten track.

The tiny island of Ikaria, in the Aegean Sea, is widely overlooked by tourists, which means you'll only have to share its peaceful sandy beaches with the locals (and we’re talking about just 8,500 people, leading the traditional Greek way of life). You can get there by taking a ferry from the port of Piraeus, in Athens.

The Leros Islands in the Dodecanese in eastern Greece, are a paradise for those looking to chill by the beach or get sweaty climbing their rocky mountains. Each island is uniquely different from the other, from Leros' gentle green hills to Lakki's neoclassical houses, but they all boast beautiful, unspoiled beaches and mouth-watering seafood. You can get to Leros by ferry from Athens.

What's the most eco-friendly place to visit in Greece?

If you're worried about the environmental impact of your holiday, you should explore Chalki and Tilos, Greece’s most eco-friendly islands.

The small island of Tilos, with its 500 inhabitants, became the first 100 per cent 'green island' of Greece and the entire Mediterranean in 2019, when the island, powered by renewable energy alone, declared itself completely self-sufficient.

Just a two-hour ferry ride from Rhodes, Tilos is all about slow tourism, sun, beach and sustainability.

Another sustainable choice is Halki. Inaugurated by Greece's prime minister on 5 November, Halki is the first of several small islands in the Aegean Sea that the Greek government intends to make completely independent from the national grid and run entirely on renewable energy sources under the GR-eco national project.

The island has a power plant - which powers solar-powered phone chargers across the country - and all the vehicles on the island are electric.

A popular destination for a day trip from Rhodes, Chalki is well worth a longer stay to learn more about living more sustainably.