Taking a cruise to the Greek Islands is great. Tourists love the Islands’ magnificent archaeological sites, beautiful beaches, spectacular gorges, and famous hospitality. It’s a country with a rich history that demands to be visited and revisited.
Visitors from most countries, including U.S. citizens, don’t need a visa for Greece. Don’t forget to bring your passport with you.
Greece adopted the euro as its unit of currency in 2002. You can change money in banks, post offices and currency-exchange offices, which are widely available and will exchange all major currencies. Credits cards are accepted everywhere, and ATMs are located everywhere except the smallest villages.
Greek is the official language, but English is also widely spoken.
When to go
The best time to take a cruise to the Greek Islands is in May, early June, or September, when smaller crowds enjoy the pleasant weather. July through August is peak season, when beaches and tourist sites are packed with visitors and parties are in full swing. Though visiting during low season ensures lower prices, it also means that sights and accommodation have shorter hours or close altogether.
Before embarking on a cruise to the Greek Islands, be sure to bring a hat, lightweight clothes, sunglasses and a sunscreen during the summer months. You will also need good shoes while walking on the archaeological sites’ often-uneven stony ground.
picture credit : Wolfgang Staudt
Crescent-shaped Santorini is famous for its whitewashed towns sitting delicately on cliffs, black-sand beaches, and deeply scarred hills. Fira, the island’s capital, sits on top of a volcanic caldera, at 457,2m high. Cruise ships dock on old port of Fira Skala, just below Fira, which can be accessed by cable car, donkey or by foot. If you like gold, you’ll find plenty of jewellery shops in Fira. The Museum of Prehistoric Thira contains an exceptional collection of artefacts from Akrotiri, including Cycladic figurines and beautifully designed 3700-year-old pottery. The Megaron Gyzi Museum has wonderful displays of local memorabilia, including pictures of Fira before and after the 1956 earthquake.
There are numerous excellent restaurants around the square in Fira, while most bars and clubs are clustered along Erythrou Stavrou. Try the sliced octopus with white eggplant salad or the baked sea bass with tomatoes and capers wrapped in fava beans at the Selene restaurant, or enjoy Greek dishes at the much-reviewed Nikolas restaurant, a long-established place in the heart of Fira. Opposite Nikolas restaurant, the Kira Thira bar is operating in Fira since 1976 and plays smooth jazz, ethnic sounds, and occasional live music.
Famed for its postcard sunsets, Oia is a quaint village and artist colony on the northern tip of Santorini. To take a good picture of the sun, walk down the hill from the village and wait near the many windmills and pebbled walls. Another popular activity at Oia is shopping at the village’s handicraft and artistic boutiques. Santorini has excellent wine produced with the help of mineral-rich volcanic soil. There are many wineries; the Boutari winery runs wine-sampling tours from March to November.
The remarkably well-preserved ruins of the Minoan city of Ancient Akrotiri were uncovered in 1967 at the south of the island. Also called Greece’s Pompeii, this 3700-year-old town was closed to visitors when a section of the roof collapsed in 2005. The site’s future as a tourist attraction is still up in the air.
The largest island of the Dodecanese, Rhodes is rich in history and is a popular cruise destination. On the northern tip of the island, the walled Old Town of the capital city of Rhodes Town is the largest inhabited medieval town in Europe and a World Heritage-listed site. Cruise ships dock just outside the Old Town, and to the North is the New Town, the city’s commercial center. The city’s numerous shops sell gold and silver jewellery, leather, furs, sea sponges, lace, carpets, linens, and killems.
The Knights’ Quarter, in the northern end of the Old Town, was the home of the Knights of St. John who fled Jerusalem in the 13th century. At the top of the hill in the old city, a tall, square tower marks the entrance of the Palace of the Grand Masters, the most imposing of Odos Ippoton’s magnificent medieval buildings. The palace’s 300 rooms filled with intriguing mosaic floor work are well worth the 6-euro entry fee.
On the Plateia Mousiou, the 15th-century Knight’s Hospital now houses the archaeological museum. Explore the museum’s beautiful halls and courtyards and check out the exquisite first-century B.C. statue of Aphrodite Bathing. The 33m bronze statue of Colossus the city is known for has been gone for centuries. Once one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus supposedly straddled Mandraki Harbor, which is now guarded by a doe and buck deer.
The ancient city of Lindos, about 47km from Rhodes Town, is sitting on top of a spectacular 116m-high Acropolis. At the foot of the hill is the town of Lindos, which is filled with tourist shops and elaborately decorated 17th-century houses. You can relax at the picture-perfect beach nearby. On Rhodes’ western shores, the well-preserved ruins of Kamiros offer a glimpse of an ancient Doric city and are worth a visit.
Glittering happily under the Aegean sun, sophisticated Mykonos is a very popular cruise port, for its beautiful landscape of white washed houses and cobblestone streets and the proximity of neighboring Delos, a must for those needing a “fix” of archaeological ruins. It also has a party island reputation, with no shortage of excellent bars and clubs. For those who want to go the whole hog, the Cavo Paradiso, 300m above Paradise Beach, beach, is one of world’s top dance clubs and hosts internationally renowned DJs and inebriated crowds. It picks up at 2am and has a pool the shape of Mykonos.
There are plenty of places to eat and drink in Mykonos Town. Try Paraportiani’s superb seafood or enjoy the Fato a Mano’s tasty Mediterranean and traditional Greek dishes. The town also has some beautiful nudist beaches on the southern coast, such as Paradise Beach, Super Paradise, and Platys Gialos. While there aren’t any ancient ruins on Mykonos, a stroll around Mykonos Town’s quaint streets with blinding white walls and balconies of flowers is a must for any visitor. Check out Mykonos’ churches and famous hilltop windmills and browse the numerous galleries. Little Venice, with its seaside restaurants and bars, should also be included in the spots-to-see list.
Crete, the largest and most southerly island, has a distinct identity that gives it the feel of a different country. The most popular tourist destination is the imposing Knossos palace, a Minoan site where according to the legend, King Minos held the monstrous Minotaur. A rich mosaic of Venetian and Ottoman architecture, the gorgeous harbor town of Hania is the former capital and the island’s second-largest city. A Venetian lighthouse marks the entrance to the city’s old harbor, a must for any visitor to Hania.
Sculpted by 14 million years of rainwater, the Samaria Gorge is a spectacular 16km ravine extending through the White Mountains and a superb hike. Be sure to bring rugged footwear, food, drinks and a good sunscreen for this exhausting five- to six-hour excursion. If you need some rest, you’ll find enticing beaches on the eastern tip of the island.
Corfu is a lush, green island in the northernmost part of the Ionian Sea, with archaeological sites, beautiful beaches, and rich nightlife. Built on a promontory and wedged between the New Fortress on the east and the Old Fortress on the west, Corfu Town is a labyrinth of narrow walking streets with gorgeous Venetian buildings.
The Archaeological Museum displays a collection of treasures from Mycenaean to classical times. The richly decorated Church of Agios Spiridon is the most famous on the island and features a bell-tower with a unique red dome and clock. It contains the remains of St. Spiridon, the protector of the island, paraded in solemn procession along the streets of Corfu Town four times a year.
Good beaches can be found around the small town of Agios Gordios. If you feel hungry, La Cucina serves han-rolled tortelloni and inventive pizzas.
For more information, visit Best European Cruises.