With over 6.000 Greek islands, it can be extremely difficult to figure out where to go for your next holiday. Party in Mykonos, stunning Zakynthos, unspoiled Lefkada, or unique Santorini? There are really just too many good options to choose from. Unfortunately, I can not really help you with your choice. The perfect island for you might not be the same as the one I would choose to return to every year. What I can do, however, is tell you about the differences between each island, or in this case, the difference between the two seas that surround Greece. Because the Ionian Sea on the west, and the Aegean Sea on the south, are quite different from each other.
Let’s start with geography. For many foreigners, the Mediterranean sea is all there is in the South of Europe. Stretching from Spain to Turkey, it might seem that all the water here is the same. However, this is not true. The Mediterranean sea is divided into multiple seas, and around Greece, there are two main ones.
The Ionian sea lies between Italy and Greece, on the west side of Athens. The Agean sea is on the opposite side between Greece and Turkey. Crete has its own sea, which I will hopefully soon be able to include in this overview of seas in Greece.
Because the two seas are on different sides of Greece, they have separate currents that move the water, creating two individual bodies of water. The water of the Aegean sea is the calmest when it comes to water circulation. As a result, the water here can be a bit less clear than it is in the Ionian sea, where the water rushes toward Croatia.
Besides the clearness, the color of the seas is unalike as well. The water of the Ionian sea is just blue. Light blue when it’s shallow, and darker blue as the water gets deeper. But always really blue. The Aegean sea is more turquoise and might even seem green-ish in some areas. Still super beautiful, but you might not get the ultimate beach picture on every island or beach here, since the watercolor is depending heavily on the nature around.
The temperature of the water of the two seas is quite similar on paper. However, many Aegean islands have a bit of a shallow coastline, whereas the Ionian coast is mainly made up of cliffs. The shallow water heats up more easily by the sun, making the Aegean water, in most places, feel warmer compared to the Ionian water
Although there are a few islands in the Aegean that are full of trees and other vegetation, most of the islands in this sea, especially in the South, are dry and wild. There is not a lot of vegetation around, and the islands are mostly rocks and dirt. I am not sure if this is a result of the difference in wind, climate, or the volcanic history of this area, but there is just not that much vegetation.
The Ionian islands, on the other hand, are green. They have many unexplored forests, that often go straight into the sea, or grow on a white cliff above. Lush greenery and hundreds of years old olive trees are everywhere on the Ionian islands.
The wind conditions in both seas are completely different from each other. Wind is created between high-pressure areas and low-pressure areas. The bigger the difference between the pressures, the faster the air will move from the high to the low pressure and the stronger the wind will be.
In the Aegean sea, there are the Meltemi winds. These winds are a result of the high-pressure area in Greece, and the low pressure in Turkey. They flow from north to south and can reach strengths up to 7 bft. Especially in the afternoons, prepare to be blown away.
The wind on the Ionian islands works differently. In the Ionian islands, there is no close-by clash between pressure areas. As a result, there is no strong wind on the islands here, more like a cool summer breeze, with a strength of about 4 bft at most.
The thing both seas have in common is the daily pattern of the winds. Usually, the mornings are fine, but then the wind starts to blow and gradually gains strength. In the afternoon, the wind speeds reach the maximum. They then die out at night and start over again the next day. This might be good to know when you’re going on a boat trip, these are much less bumpy in the morning!
As a result of the Meltemi winds, the islands in the Aegean sea will feel much less hot in the summer months. The wind makes the temperature drop slightly while the Ionian islands might feel like a sauna. However, this only counts in July and August. Off-season, temperatures on the Aegean islands will be higher than on the Ionian sea. Making these perfect spring and fall destinations.
Greece has been the subject of many wars. Every island has a history of being concurred over and over. Venetians and Ottomans played a role throughout entire Greece. However, where the Ionian islands are mainly influenced by the Europeans, the Aegean islands got most of their cultural heritage from the Ottomans.
The Ionian islands eat more pasta and the Aegean islands have more mosques. Differences are everywhere, the villages, the local food, and drinks, the traditional music… An additional distinction today is that the Aegean islands have more of a party culture, whereas the Ionian islands do not have this.
Ionian or Aegean?
This is still a difficult question. If you go sailing and you are looking for an adventure, go Aegean. But if you’re new to sailing, I would recommend to stay on the Ionian sea until you feel comfortable enough to face the strong Meletimi winds.
If you like nature’s beauty more than anything, go to the Ionian islands. However, if you want a good scenery and be closer to nightlife as well, the Aegean islands may be better for you.
If you want uniqueness, like white-washed houses and the temple of Apollo, go to the Aegean islands. If you prefer stunning scenery all around, seeing many beautiful places instead of just a few amazing ones, I would say the Ionian islands would be for you.
In the end, however, both seas are stunning and amazing holiday destinations. The real advice I would like to give you is to visit both the Greek seas and as many of the Greek islands as possible! Explore the differences on your own.
Aegean or Ionian? What is your preferred destination? Leave a comment below.