The Sporades Islands float in the Aegean between Thessaloniki and Athens. They're sweet little gems: beachy, drenched in sunshine and on the sheltered eastern side of the mainland. As well as being lovely they’re all easy to reach and incredibly family-friendly – one even played a major part in the movie, Mamma Mia. Keen to know more? Take a look at the starriest Sporades Islands: Skiathos, Skópelos, Alonissos and Skyros.
Direct UK flights to Skiathos take from just over three hours. That could be the reason why the best known of the Sporades scores well as a family holiday island. Though the fact that it’s ringed right round by more than 60 lovely beaches and is a bit of a star when it comes to water sports and outdoor adventuring, might work in its favour too. And then there’s the way it balances the lively party reputation of Skiathos Town with family-friendly resorts and hotels along the sunny south coast, and an almost totally undeveloped north that’s as easy to explore as it is to fall in love with. So yes, Skiathos is quick to get to from the UK, but that’s far from the only reason to go.
Skiathos family holiday highlights
Skiathos has over 60 clean and beautifully cared for beaches. Some are packed with water sports. There are plenty of quiet coves for younger kids and sweet nooks of sand trimmed with tavernas. You’ll find party beaches and peaceful beaches or dramatic beaches like Lalària with its astounding sun-bleached white rocks.
Koukounariés Beach has been named the third most beautiful beach in the Mediterranean. A prize it earns for sitting at the edge of vast and mysterious Koukounariés Forest on the south-west coast – white sand, natural shade and pine fronds touching the sea also add to appeal.
Skiathos Town has a bit of a party reputation, but visit during the day and you can stroll around cobbled streets and admire traditional townhouses with pretty gardens; hop onto ethereal Boúrtzi Peninsula to explore the ancient Venetian fortress and get pleasantly lost in green, crowd-free lushness for hours; test town taverna for great local cooking or go check out the amazing views and pirate tales at the Kástro fortress.
Unspoiled, often dramatic and remarkably accessible, Skiathos is an island where families are actively encouraged to walk. Well-marked trails cover an astounding 200km, taking in the stunning coastline and delving deep into the island interior. And with hikes ranging from an easy one hour stroll to more challenging six hour-plus treks, saying toddlers to teens can stride out here is no exaggeration.
If kids are a tad too young for the relentless party vibe at famous Banana Beach on the south-west coast, family-friendly Mikri-Banana (little banana) beach, is right next door: pleasantly uncrowded and just as much fun in its own way.
On top of its many, many beaches, Skiathos is also one of the greenest Greek islands and building a reputation for mountain biking. Another activity made easy for families with well-marked trails and challenges, good bike hire and achievement certificates if you manage to walk or bike 12 trails or more.
Head to the natural harbour in Skiathos Town and have a look. Apart from the smart yachts vying for attention all summer, the four little islets surrounding the harbour make up one of the prettiest views in the entire Sporades archipelago.
More than half of Skópelos is covered in pine forest, making it the greenest of the Sporades Islands and one of the greenest islands in Greece, which would be its greatest claim to fame if it wasn’t also the island where Mamma Mia was filmed - even the tiny, jewel-like chapel on a hill is right here. Apart from its starry connections and gorgeous scenery, Skópelos is blessed with stunning beaches and scores well on historic sites and quaint old town charm. It’s another island that’s easy to reach – 30 minutes by ferry from Skiathos – and has a good selection of places to stay ranging from luxury five-star resorts to family holiday apartments.
Skópelos family holiday highlights
Byzantine churches, whitewashed houses with colourful courtyards, a medieval castle and endless views over the Aegean make Skópelos Hóra (capital) an almost perfect traditional Greek island town, from every angle.
According to legend, Peparithos the son of Dionysos and Ariadne, was the first settler on Skópelos, for more on that tale and dozens of other island myths take a turn round the Folklore Museum in Hóra.
You don’t need to be a Mamma Mia superfan or a romantic to climb the stone steps up to Aï Yiannis chapel at Kastri, the view of the archipelago from the top is amazing.
Néo Klíma on the west coast makes a good family holiday base, it’s a relatively new town with excellent facilities and makes up for a lack of history by being a near neighbour to fabulous beaches like Hovolos and Kastani Beach aka the Mamma Mia Beach.
For a bit more character visit Glossa, the “Tall Village” according to Papadiamantis, the influential Greek novelist and poet, which drapes prettily downhill on the north-west coast. It’s the second-largest island town and known for historic buildings and sensational views.
If beaches are what a Greek island holiday is all about, Skópelos doesn’t let you down. Milia, the white pebble beach dipped in pine forest and just south of Paralia Kastani, is considered the loveliest on the island or try neighbouring Pánormos Beach for family-friendly atmosphere and safe swimming.
Make the most of Skópelos’ greenery and head to Stafylos beach in the south-east for silvery shores against a backdrop of majestic, forested hills.
Alonissos is the longest inhabited of the Sporades Islands. It’s also one of the least touristy, least developed, least crowded and most appreciated by active families, young nature lovers, mini-marine biologists and wannabe archaeologists. It’s set in the largest marine park in Greece, so the waters are utterly pristine – great for snorkelling and spotting everything from seals to dolphins. Islet-hopping is another local speciality and if kids like boats it’s paradise for day-cruising. From just 50 to 90 minutes by catamaran from Skiathos, the island’s easy enough to reach for a day out, but if you want to stay longer, you’ll find a fair selection of apartments, villas and family hotels, mainly in the south and south-east.
Alonissos family holiday highlights
Peaceful, naturally beautiful and surrounded by little islets, Alonissos is also immensely historic. Kids will love tales of ancient shipwrecks which scatter the island’s seabed and a ramble around the medieval castle at the heart of Patitiri is just one of many reasons to put Alonissos’ delightful capital on the holiday to-do list. The first of four underwater museums in Greece is set to open near Alonissos in summer 2020. Designed around the wreck of 5th-century merchant ship, Peristera - one of the world’s largest and most important ancient shipwreck discoveries, earning it the nickname ‘Parthenon of Shipwrecks’ – the museum reveals astonishing early shipbuilding expertise and lets visitors see the haul of well-preserved artefacts painstakingly excavated since the ship’s discovery in 1985.
Find a peaceful, sunny day (that’s pretty much any day in summer) and take a day cruise around the Marine Park. Pick one which gives you access to the remarkable uninhabited islets around Alonissos where it’s possible to see everything from wild goats and mysterious caves on Yioura to Megisti Lavra Monastery on Mount Athos or the Aegean’s tallest lighthouse on Psathoura.
If you’re up for a walk – short or long – the island has 14 well-marked hiking routes, graded in order of difficulty, all with areas of interest to nature lovers and almost every one is easily doable with kids.
Hire kayaks or boats for the day and sail for Peristera, it’s one of the choice adventures with older kids because there’s a high chance of spotting dolphins and rare monk seals en route.
Rugged Alonissos isn’t well known for sandy beaches, the exception is Chryssi Milia just north of Patitiri, which isn’t just golden, it has safe shallow waters and cute local taverna on the side.
Snorkelling crazy kids will love Tsoukalia Beach, named after the wine-pots once produced on the island its seabed is littered with ancient ceramics, the waters are wonderfully clear and all kids need is a mask to transform them into expert marine archaeologists.
Skyros is the largest and most southerly of the Sporades Islands, only a 40-minute flight from Athens and still enough of a secret to be considered a find for family holidays. But with some of the most beautiful beaches in Greece around its shores, a fascinating capital drenched in history, and ancient traditions and customs alive and well all over, Skyros wins hands down on authenticity and atmosphere.
Skyros family holiday highlights
Skyrian ponies are described as mild-tempered, compassionate, intelligent and playful, only perfect for first-timers or for more experienced little equestrians. Short rides of just 15 minutes are a good start and longer guided treks are a great way to see less accessible parts of the island.
Skyros’ old town lies around a majestic Byzantine castle and easily fills a day’s worth of exploring. Don’t miss the Archaeological Museum and Folk Art Museum, make sure you see the castle and leave plenty of time just for wandering around its quaint, cobbled streets.
Golden sands and sheltering pine forests feature big on Skyros’ beaches and several of the best are within easy reach of the island capital, family-friendly and largely uncrowded even in summer.
Seaside villages like Aspous, Acherounes and Atsitsa keep traditional customs and crafts thriving yet still come good on fun the fun stuff from horse riding to water sports.
Almost every day of the year is cause for celebration on Skyros, you’ll find village and town fetes happening all summer long and the Carnival of Skyros (February through to end of March) is known as one of the wildest in Greece.
Sporty families are spoiled on Skyros. The cycling here’s fantastic and goes on forever on safe, traffic-light routes. Walking is another great local passion and well-marked footpaths make it easy to enjoy even with younger kids. And if you feel like a swim, the sea around Skyros is spotless and several beaches are designated safe for swimming or even just gentle first time paddling.