Little mentioned in mythology or history, the Sporades confidently rely on their great natural beauty and cultural history to attract visitors. Some locals poetically claim them to be the handful of colored pebbles the gods were left with after creating the world, and as an afterthought, they flung them over the northwestern Aegean.
Bustling with tourists, Skiathos sits closest to the mainland; it has a pretty harbor area and the noisiest nightlife, international restaurants and pubs, and resort hotels. Due east is Skopelos, covered with dense, fragrant pines, where you can visit scenic villages, hundreds of churches, and lush beaches. The least contemporary of the islands, it is the most naturally beautiful and has a fascinating old hill town.
Then there is traditional Skyros. Some visitors return year after year to this mythical isle, southeast of the other islands, for its quiet fishing villages, expansive beaches, and stunning cubist eagles-nest of a town that seems to spill down a hill. As a current citadel of Greek defense, Skyros also has the bonus of an airport.
Like emerald beads scattered on sapphire satin, the aptly named Sporades ("scattered ones") are resplendent with pines, ripe fruit, and olive trees. The lush countryside, marked with sloping slate roofs and wooden balconies, reflects the aura of the neighboring, hauntingly beautiful Pelion peninsula, to which the islands were once attached. Only on Skyros, farther out in the Aegean, will you see a windswept, treeless landscape with steep cobbled slopes, or the cubist architecture of the Cyclades. Sitting by itself, Skyros is neither geographically nor historically related to the other Sporades.
The Sporades have changed hands constantly throughout history, and wars, plunder, and earthquakes have eliminated all but the strongest ancient walls. A few castles and monasteries remain, but these islands are better suited for having fun than for sightseeing. Skiathos is the most touristy, in some cases to the point of overkill, while less-developed Skopelos has fewer (but purer) beaches and a far less contrived nightlife, but has a main town that is said to be the most beautiful in the Sporades. Late to attract tourists, Skyros is the least traveled of the Sporades (probably because it is hardest to reach). It's also the quirkiest, with well-preserved traditions.
Quintessential Greek-island delights beckon on all three islands: sun, sand, and surf, along with starlit dinners. Almost all restaurants have outside seating, often under cooling trees, where you can watch the passing classically Greek, ubiquitous dramas of daily life: lovers arm-in-arm, stealing a kiss; children running free through village squares; sizzling arguments that end in friendship; fishermen cleaning their bright yellow nets and exchanging banter as they work. Relax and immerse yourself in the blue-and-green watercolor of it all.