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 visitors, 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. Much less contemporary than Skiathos, it is the most naturally beautiful of the Sporades 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 eagle's nest of a town that seems to spill down a hill. This remote island is a little hard to reach, so a visit is all the more rewarding for those who make the effort.
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 windswept, treeless landscapes.
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 Skiathos and Skopelos are better suited for relaxing and 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, a far less contrived nightlife, and a main town that is said to be the most beautiful in the Sporades, if not in all of Greece. Late to attract tourists, Skyros is the least traveled of the Sporades (probably because it is hardest to reach). It's also the quirkiest, and the most traditional, with its distinct ways and customs.
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.