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The Ionian or Sporades islands? Both have their individual qualities but which one do you want to venture to first? If you are lucky enough to be choosing whether your next holiday is to the Ionian or Sporades Islands, then this guide is here to help. Virtual Wanderlust is exploring the differences between these two gorgeous Greek archipelagos. Read on to discover all the amazing things the islands have to offer. Hopefully by the end you’ll know whether to visit the Ionian or Sporades Islands for your 2024 holiday!

Table of Contents:

Where are The Ionian and Sporades Islands

Whether you choose the Ionian or Sporades Islands, it’s nice to know where on a map you’re going! Both island groups belong to Greece. 

  • The Ionian islands got their name because they are in the Ionian Sea. This sea lies between the west coast of Greece and the east coast of Italy. The Ionian islands can be reached from both Greece and Italy. 
  • The Sporades islands are found in the north Aegean Sea. They are an archipelago off the east coast of Greece and are across the sea from Turkey. 

The Ionian and Sporades may be opposite sides of the mainland, but both consist of incredible Greek islands to explore.

Which Islands Are In The Sporades and the Ionian.

The Sporades refers to 24 islands but only 4 of which are permanently inhabited. These islands are:

  • Alonissos – a laid back and heavenly green island.
  • Skiathos – famous for being the set of Mamma Mia. Impressive beaches and forest hiking opportunities.
  • Skopelos – home to picturesque villages and pristine waters ideal for diving and snorkelling.
  • Skyros – a secluded and peaceful hidden gem in the Sporades.

The word Sporades can be translated to “those scattered.” The Sporades look like they have been scattered by the Greek Gods themselves! The Greek name for the Ionian Islands is Heptanesia which literally translates to ‘7 islands.’ The 7 main Ionian Islands are:

  • Corfu – a hot tourist destination for its impressive architecture, cuisine, beaches and atmosphere.
  • Ithaca – known for being the home of mythical hero Odysseus. A calm, traditional and luscious island.
  • Kefalonia – utterly gorgeous and steeped in history. 
  • Kythira – remote and relaxing with mediaeval sites and secluded beaches to explore.
  • Lefkada – completely charming with a castle and the stunning waterfalls of Dimosari. Great for watersports. 
  • Paxos – slow-paced and breathtakingly beautiful. Home to a myriad of pebble beaches and coves.
  • Zakynthos – has everything from white sand beaches, to forest treks and a vibrant nightlife.

With all these stunning islands to choose from, it’s not surprising that Greece was one of the top ten travel destinations from the U.K. in 2019.

Surrounded by blue sky and sea is a whitewashed Greek building at the end of a pontoon.

How to Get to the Ionian or Sporades Islands

Easy travel can be a big factor when choosing a holiday destination. The good news is that whether you pick the Ionian or Sporades, both have islands with direct flights from London

For the Ionian Islands:

  • Fly direct to Corfu.
  • Fly direct to Kefalonia.
  • Fly direct to Lefkada.
  • Fly direct to Zakynthos.

For the Sporades Islands:

  • Fly direct to Skiathos.
  • Fly to Athens then take a domestic flight to Skyros.
  • Fly to Athens then take a domestic flight to Kythira. 

If you want to reach the remaining islands, regular ferries are available. For either the Ionian or Sporades Islands, the flight time is just over 3 hours.

Weather in the Ionian and Sporades Islands

Both the Ionian and Sporades Islands have relatively mild winters and hot, sunny summers. The weather in the Ionian Islands is slightly warmer than the weather in the Sporades. 

  • The Ionian Islands can see highs of 35°C in summer. In July and August, you can expect 12 hours of glorious sun per day. Temperatures in the sea are relatively warm as well. The water only cools to around 15°C in winter and reaches 26°C in summer.  If you intend to visit the Ionian Islands in summer, it’s a great idea to book a Greek villa with a private pool so you have somewhere to cool off from the fierce midday sun. 
  • The Sporades have highs of 29°C and sea temperatures of 24°C in summer. In winter this drops to about 10°C on land and 14°C in the sea. Just because The Sporades tend to be cooler, doesn’t mean they aren’t a great place to rent a luxury villa.

If you’re looking for the best Greek islands for families, the slightly milder temperatures of the Sporades are better suited. If you enjoy sailing, the wind in the Ionian Islands tends to be ideal and predictable. Whether your holiday to Greece takes you to the Ionian or Sporades islands, the weather should be pleasant. 

A classic greek temple on the tree dotted cliff edge of an Ionian or Sporades Island.

Island Hopping Around The Ionian or Sporades Islands.

Much like between Italian Islands, it is possible to island hop around the Ionian and the Sporades. One of the best ways to get around the Ionian or Sporades Islands is by ferry hopping. Prices for ferries average about €15. 

  • The port of Corfu Town has some of the best connected ferries to reach other Ionian islands. We recommend visiting some of the smaller islands in the Ionian Sea such as Sivota near Corfu and Antipaxos off Paxos. You can even reach the Ionian Islands from Italy
  • Arguably, the best starting place for island hopping in the Sporades is Skiathos. From there, relatively easy journeys can take you to Skopelos and then Alonnisos. Skyros is slightly further away but still reachable. 

Travel Inspiration

We’re sure your holiday will be spectacular whether you visit the Ionian or Sporades Islands. You can always visit the other island group another year! Follow Virtual Wanderlust on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest to stay up to date with our travel blogs.


Jay is the founder of Wine Travel & Song and contributor to Virtual Wanderlust. A published writer and photographer, Jay is an extensive traveller, a passionate music fan but an average cook. He loves the Eagles, U2, Genesis and Pink Floyd. A trusted Google Local Guide & TripAdvisor Superstar, Jay's travel photos have been seen over 26 million times and counting!

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