The Northern Sporades, are a group of amazing Greek islands in the Aegean sea, and include four inhabited islands – Alonissos, Skiathos, Skopelos and Skyros…. Let’s discover more!
Why are they called “Northern” Sporades?
On most maps you will see the name “Northern Sporades”, but “Southern Sporades” do not seem to exist. Why?
According to one explanation, many Aegean Island were referred to as Sporades. Based on their location compared to the Cyclades, which are in the middle of the Aegean Sea, they were later split between West Sporades (these are the Saronic islands), South (the Dodecanese), East (all islands close to Asia Minor besides the Dodecanese) and North. However, only the northern ones seem to have kept the name Sporades ! Probably it was easier to have a different name per island group? Who knows? .
At the bottom of this article, you can learn a bit more about Greek island geography, and you will find more information about the 6 island groups in Greece
But for now, let’s learn a bit more about the Sporades
As the most remote island of Sporades, Alonissos is ideal for travellers who seek a laid back atmosphere, peace and serenity, and enjoy leisurely walks surrounded by pine forests, olive groves and orchards. The island is located within the National Marine Park of Northern Sporades, which stands out for its rich wildlife, including rare seabirds, dolphins and the Mediterranean monk seals, also known as monachus monachus.
Alonissos was one of the first Aegean islands to be inhabited, based on Neolithic settlement ruins found at the Cape of Kokkinokastro (this means Red Castle in Greek). According to Greek mythology, the first inhabitant of Ikos, as ancient Greeks called the island, was Stafylos (meaning grape), the son of Dionysus and Ariadne. This myth shows how the island has always been connected with vinery and wine.
When visiting Alonissos, it’s worth spending a day on a boat trip to visit the nearby uninhabited islets within the National Marine Park, including Gioura, Kyra-Panagia, Piperi, Ksiro and many more!
Skiathos has many beautiful beaches (60 in total!), but in recent years it has become well-known for its vibrant nightlife – the pedestrian street by the Old Harbour is full of bars and nightclubs that are buzzing until early in the morning.
This is not to say that Skiathos is a destination for party-goers only: the island hosts cultural events, concerts and art exhibitions throughout the summer months. Close to the harbour you can also find Bourtzi, a small peninsula where the ruins of a Venetian fortress still stand. The thick pine forest and the stunning sea views make it a very romantic spot. Skiathos was also home to one of the most important Greek authors, Alexandros Papadiamantis, and travellers can visit his house which has now been turned into a museum to learn about his work and literary legacy.
Are you a fan of Abba and the Movie “Mamma Mia!”? Then Skopelos might be the ideal island for you, since this is where the famous movie with Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth was filmed! The movie established Skopelos as a popular holiday destination for movie enthusiasts, as well as a wedding destination due its romantic scenery. At the same time, Skopelos is a paradise for nature lovers – it’s home to many forms of wildlife thanks to its lush forests and stunning coastline. The Mediterranean monk seals, an endangered species that lives in Alonissos too, can also be found here.
And it doesn’t stop there – the island is home to many Byzantine monasteries, a venetian castle with picturesque views dating back to 13th century, and a folklore museum.
Skyros is the southernmost island of the Sporades, about three and a half hours from Athens. The best way is to first travel to Evia, to Kimi village, and from there to take a boat to Skyros. Its Chóra, the largest settlement of the island, is located about ten km from the port at the top of a hill. It’s built amphitheatrical around a Byzantine castle, which in turn was built at the same location as the ancient acropolis. The Chóra is characterised by narrow picturesque cobblestone streets and traditional Skyrian houses that have been kept intact. Similarly to the rest of the Sporades islands, its landscape is characterised by rich pine forest (mainly in the northern part) and beautiful sandy beaches.
Skyros is also home to an ancient Greek breed of horses, the so-called Skyrian horses. Don’t let the name fool you, based on their size they are often classified as ponies even if their body structure resembles that of a horse. Initially used for agriculture and transport within the island, nowadays the Skyrian horses are mainly used for children’s activities and as a sightseeing opportunity for visitors – they are really cute, social and friendly. The Skyrian horses have existed since roughly 2,500 BC and according to Greek mythology, they were used to pull Achilles’ chariots in Troy!
If you want to listen to a Podcast story, which takes place on the island of Skyros, then listen to podcast 17 of the Easy Greek Podcast Stories.
Greeks dance with their arms – Οι Έλληνες χορεύουν με τα χέρια τους!
A bit of Greek geography
All Greek islands are split into six groups, based on their location – each group tends to have similar nature, architecture style and influences. Even though Greece is known for unique islands (more than 6,000!) However, only about 220 are inhabited.
- The Cyclades – they are in the centre of the Aegean Sea and they’re well known for the dry, sun-drenched landscapes and the white houses with the blue doors and windows. Of course, there are always exceptions, and for example Syros and Andros, have some different architecture.
They Cyclades are close to each other and rather small, so ideal for island hopping.
- The Sporades, in the northwest side of the Aegean. Sporades are characterised by beautiful beaches with amazing turquoise waters and lush greenery. Their name translates as scattered and, according to Greek mythology, they were formed when Titans were throwing rocks to the sea. More information about them, here above!
- The Ionian islands – the only island group of the Ionian Sea. It rains a lot in this region, this means more than in other Greek regions! Because of that, all those island are very green and have pine forests. A key characteristic of the Ionian islands is the Venetian influence due to their proximity to Italy, which is evident in the architecture and the music.
The islands that are very knows in this group are Corfu, Lefkada, Kefalonia and Zakynthos.
- The Dodecanese – the major ones are twelve, dodeka (δώδεκα in Greek) which is how they took their name. They are located on the southeast part of the Aegean Sea and are very close to the Turkish coast. Two very known islands in this group are Rhodos and Kos.
- The Saronic islands – this is the island group closest to Athens and are popular amongst wealthy Athenians as well as Greek and international artists, writers and filmmakers. We talk here about Aegina, Poros, Hydra, Spetses
- The North Aegean Islands – this group includes some of the largest Greek islands. Due to their distance from Athens (and long ferry travel times), they are less popular with international travellers, and they retain a strong local character and tradition. some examples; Lesbos, Chios, Samos…
Exception; A Greek island that does not belong to a group is… Crete! It’s Greece’s biggest island and one of the largest one in the Mediterranean Sea. Due to its distance from all other Greek islands and its very distinct history and culture, it would be difficult to put Crete in the same category with other islands.