The best way to see the Greek Islands is undoubtedly by cruise, given the vast expanse of over 8,200 square miles they cover in the shimmering Aegean Sea. These islands, numbering over 6,000, with 227 of them inhabited, range from hidden rocky coves to captivating beaches with pristine white sand and Caribbean-like turquoise waters.
Greece’s islands have tremendous variety, from sleepy little specks of rock to dramatic, dormant volcanoes like Santorini, mountainous Crete, or arid but beautiful Hydra.
Whether you want to tour the antiquities or simply while away the day drifting between a beach chair and a waterfront taverna, discover why a cruise is the best way to island hop in Greece.
You’ll See Several Different Places in a Week
Look at a map of Greece and the islands appear as though they’ve been tossed carelessly across the sea by some ancient Greek god. The distances between them are long and at first glance, incalculable.
Some islands are near Turkey, while others, in the Ionian, are close to Albania and Croatia. Greece is a big place. So for an early lesson in how to island hop in Greece, why not let the experts do the planning?
Take a cruise and the best islands will already have been hand-picked for you, from supermodel stars like Mykonos to spectacular Santorini, spilling over the rim of an ancient caldera.
There are surprises, too; your itinerary could call at the enchanting port of Hydra. This island is fashionable among wealthy Athenians and modern-day bohemians, but away from the town, is as sleepy as you could imagine.
You’re Island Hopping—But You Only Unpack Once
Greece has always been a nation of seafarers. Traveling by ship is second nature to locals and to the many visitors who explore on the inter-island ferries. But island hopping by ferry means you’re tied to the ferry timetables.
You’ll also spend a considerable amount of time hanging around waiting for the ferry, and then at sea. You’ll also have to carry your luggage with you all the time and settle into new accommodation in every port.
A cruise, on the other hand, is by far the best way to see the Greek Islands—a luxurious experience for which you only have to unpack once. Your ship is both your comfortable home and your means of transport between the islands.
A Greek Islands cruise is designed so most of your sailing is done at night, so you’ll have full days to enjoy exploring some of the most beautiful places in Greece.
Unwind On Board Between Destinations
After a busy day discovering Greece, whether you’ve been marveling at the Parthenon in Athens or strolling the medieval Street of the Knights in Rhodes Old Town, you’ll welcome the serenity of your beautiful ship.
Unwind in The Spa, take a late afternoon swim in the pool, or head to the Sunset Bar for cocktails as the lights of the shore slowly fade into the distance.
Choose between multiple world-class restaurants for dinner. Later in the evening, take in a glittering show, head to your favorite bar for a nightcap, or perhaps stroll around the deck under an inky sky studded with stars.
Wake up in the morning and step out onto your private veranda to inhale the fresh air and watch the fishing boats heading back to shore as your ship approaches a new port. You’ll feel invigorated and ready to explore all over again.
A Cruise Combines Different Island Groups
All of Greece’s islands are different—and the island groups themselves vary enormously, too. A cruise allows you to experience intriguing variations in architecture, history, and natural beauty.
For example, the Cyclades group, which includes Santorini and Mykonos, is famous for its dazzling whitewashed architecture evident in sugar cube houses scattered across the red and black cliffs in Santorini. Along the winding back streets of Mykonos Town, the brilliant white is offset by tumbling mauve bougainvillea.
The same journey could take you to Rhodes, which is in the Dodecanese group and looks completely different. Here, you’ll see the neoclassical style and houses painted in pastel colors.
As well as Ottoman influences such as minarets and ancient hammam baths, Rhodes is famous for its spectacular medieval palaces, built in the 14th century by the Knights of St. John.
Hydra, in the Saronic island group, is different again, the waterfront lined with grand old mansions built by wealthy sea captains in the late 18th century. Hydra has an arty, creative culture; it was here that singer Leonard Cohen lived in the 1960s, and the boho atmosphere lives on today.
A Greece Cruise Takes You To Other Destinations, Too
Many Greek Islands cruises also visit destinations in Italy, France, Malta, Spain, or Turkey.
Some spend the night in romantic Istanbul. Take a sunset cocktail cruise along the Bosphorus, the waterway that divides Europe and Asia, listening to the call to prayer echoing from the minarets that pierce the sky.
If your cruise includes Malta, be sure to be on deck for the arrival in Valletta’s magnificent Grand Harbour, the honey-colored ramparts towering over the boats that buzz back and forth.
In Palma, Mallorca, explore the old Gothic Quarter on foot, losing yourself in the tangle of narrow alleyways, stopping into a cool tapas bar. If your cruise includes Italy, you could be gazing in awe at the perfectly preserved remains of Pompeii, or in Sicily, taking a trip up Mount Etna.
Our longer Mediterranean cruises take you all the way from the Greek Islands to Barcelona, with days to explore the glamorous French Riviera from colorful Nice. From Marseille, explore beautiful hill towns in the hinterland, where the scent of lavender is carried on the breeze all summer long.
You Won’t Miss Out on Evenings Ashore
Some itineraries are crafted to give you the most important time of day in port. Greece is especially beautiful in the golden light of the afternoon sun, as the heat of the day fades and locals come out to stroll and meet friends for drinks.
You could be in Rhodes, for example, until 7 p.m., with plenty of time for a late afternoon swim and early sundowners on the beach. Many cruises stay in Santorini until 10 p.m., so you won’t miss one of the most famous sunsets in the world.
If you’re in Fira, the capital, or the whitewashed village of Oia, take a seat in one of the clifftop bars, order your favorite cocktail, and sit back to listen to the music as the sun slowly sinks in a sky streaked with scarlet and flamingo-pink.
You’ll still have plenty of time to head back to your ship for a late dinner on deck as the last colors fade from the sky.
A Cruise Gives You Privileged Access to Important Sites
There’s no denying that Greece can be busy at the height of summer. So don’t wait in line in the heat for some of the most important archaeological sites in the world.
Book a shore excursion and everything will be arranged for you, including transportation and the services of the best guides. For example, from Nafplio, you can visit the magnificent Theatre of Epidaurus, built in the third century BC.
Katakolon is the gateway to ancient Olympia, a beautifully preserved archaeological site where the first Olympic games were held in 776 BC. You can still see the original stadium and the racetrack, as well as beautiful temples and a fascinating archaeological museum.
In Athens, if you’ve never been, you shouldn’t miss the graceful Greek landmark of the Parthenon and the other antiquities around the Acropolis Hill. Be sure to stop at the beautifully arranged Acropolis Museum, which displays incredible artifacts found at the site.
From Mykonos, meanwhile, a shore excursion can take you across the water to uninhabited Delos, a magnificent outdoor museum rich in mosaics, statues, temples, and ancient theaters.
A good guide will bring these ancient Greek ruins to life with stories of how the island was once a thriving port. Today, the only inhabitants are cats, and the only sound is the rustling of the wind.
Try a Different Beach Every Day
Just as each island differs, so do Greece’s beaches. If you’re here to enjoy the sun, a cruise will whisk you to some of the most incredible beaches in all of Europe.
On Mykonos, head for Paradise, or Super Paradise, where beautiful people flock, DJs spin tunes in hipster clubs, and anything goes.
One of the best Greek Islands for beaches, Santorini offers the chance to experience a black or even red sand beach.
The long stretches of Perissa and Perivolos beaches are quite the sight—the black sand glitters in the sunshine, a stark contrast to the deep blue of the sea and sky. Just remember water shoes when exploring Santorini’s beaches, as black sand gets extremely hot.
Red Beach, near the archaeological site of Akrotiri, is also volcanic in origin, but with rust-hued sand.
Zakynthos, meanwhile, is a photographer’s dream. Shipwreck Beach is hemmed in by towering white cliffs, with pale gold sand sloping into an aquamarine sea.
The beach gets its name from the rusting hulk of the Panagiotis, which was wrecked here in 1980 and rests on the sand. Today, this is one of the most famous beaches in the world.
You’ll Get to Sample Regional Cuisine
Greece is known for more than just souvlaki and fries. Different islands and regions have their own distinctive cuisine, and a cruise is a chance to try as much as possible as you explore different places for lunch during your days ashore. In several ports, you can even join a cooking class to create your own Greek dishes.
For lunch, you can’t go wrong with a fresh-caught sea bream, or tsipoura, cooked on an open grill with wild herbs and drizzled with local olive oil and lemon juice.
In the Peloponnese (Nafplio and Katakalon, for example), try arni me votana, a lamb stew rich with herbs, and swimming with locally grown beans, carrots, tomatoes, and potatoes.
You’ll find delicious pastries everywhere, which make wonderfully decadent snacks or a picnic lunch for the beach. In Crete, katsounia are little pies made of soft pastry, filled with myzithra cheese and drizzled with honey.
Kafalonia’s kreatopita pies are more filling; they’re made from phyllo pastry and are filled with lamb, pork, beef, and cheese. If you pass a bakery on any island, pop in and see if they have fresh tiropita, or cheese pies, which you’ll often find still warm from the oven. These are absolutely irresistible.
Santorini is famous for its wine, and joining a wine-tasting tour here is one of the best things to do in Greece. Try the Assyrtiko, a deliciously dry, citrussy white produced here.
Santorini also has its own culinary specialties; you’ll see fava beans on every menu, often slow-cooked with onion and carrots, then puréed and drizzled with olive oil and scattered with capers.
Pick the Places You Want to Visit Again
A cruise is the best way to see the Greek Islands for an introduction to a new destination, and you’ll be surprised just how much you can see in your day in port. But the Greek Islands are so multi-layered and rich in culture that your first cruise will most likely serve as a taster for future travels. Use this opportunity to see which aspects of Greece you like, and plan your return visit.
If you’ve focused on the Cyclades for your first visit, then why not come back and try the islands of the Ionian Sea next time, including Corfu and Zakynthos? Or take a longer voyage that incorporates towns on the mainland like Thessaloniki and Volos as well as the islands.
If you’ve fallen in love with Crete, the biggest of the Greek Islands, with high mountain ranges, deep gorges, magnificent antiquities, and lively beach towns, then add it on as a land-based stay before joining a future cruise from Athens.
As for Athens itself, the Greek capital merits several days to explore its museums and archaeological sites and also has extremely stylish shopping and glorious beaches along the chic Athenian Riviera. A couple of nights could easily be added on here before you head to the port of Piraeus to sail away on your next Greek Islands adventure.
Are you dreaming of your own Greek island odyssey? Browse Celebrity’s luxury cruises to Greece and plan your Aegean adventure.