The Best Small Ship Cruises To The Greek Islands
The Greek islands are amongst Europes most appealing cruisedestinations, home to dazzling white sugarcube villages, gorgeousbeaches, enticing tavernas and the sun-baked ruins of ancientcivilisations.
A cruise is the perfect way to experience the best of Greece,allowing you to hop from island to island without worrying aboutferry timetables and hotel reservations. Not all Greek islandcruises are created equal, however. Popular islands such asSantorini and Mykonos feature on the itineraries of all the maincruise lines, and although they undeniably have their charms, theycan be overrun with day-trippers during the summer high season. Asmall ship cruise, on the other hand, allows you to visit thesmaller, quieter islands that the big ships cant reach, placeswhere youll have idyllic beaches and stunning ruins almost toyourself.
Most cruises focused on the Greek islands will be round-tripitineraries from Athens, but youll also find voyages that combineGreece with Italy, Croatia and the Adriatic, using Venice or Romeas turnaround ports. Some cruises also include the Holy Land orpass through the islands on repositioning voyages towards theMiddle East, while others include ports on the Aegean coast ofTurkey, with some voyages beginning or ending in the wonderful cityof Istanbul.
Here is our guide to six of the best small ship cruise linesvisiting the Greek Islands:
Best Tall Ship Cruise: Windstar Cruises
Courtesy of Windstar Cruises
- Ship Name: Wind Surf
- Itinerary: Opatija, Croatia Zadar, Croatia Split, Croatia Dubrovnik, Croatia Kotor, Montenegro Piran, Slovenia Venice, Italy
Feel the power of the wind on a voyage through the Adriatic Sea with Windstar Cruises, a luxury tall-sailing ship cruise line. On the Quintessential Croatia cruise, travelers will explore parts of the Eastern Mediterranean region including sleepy seaside resort towns like Opatija as well as bustling cities like Split, home to Diocletians Palace a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As a partner to the James Beard Foundation, passengers experience exceptional cuisine onboard from award-winning chefs, plus themed voyages include live cooking demos, market tours and beverage pairings. The recently-renovated, 310-passenger ship also has an open-bridge policy, a water sports platform and several elegant viewing lounges.
Cruise Lines That Go To Greece
Cruise lines serve Greece’s network of islands.
With more than 6,000 islands, the vast majority of which are uninhabited, Greece is an island-hoppers paradise. Cruise season stretches from spring to November and is one of the best ways to see the islands, as you are liberated from erratic ferry schedules and overbooked hotels. Pick a major cruise line for a whistlestop tour of the larger ports or take a luxury cruise at leisure through some of the lesser-known islands.
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The Thrill Of The Climb
Another great thing to do while in Greece are the daily tours of the volcano Nea Kameni, which is located on an uninhabited island close to Santorini, begin with a short boat ride, followed by a climb up to the volcanic craters that takes just over an hour. The tour then takes in hot springs and mud baths, where you can recharge your batteries.
The Best Time To Cruise The Greek Islands
The Best Time to Cruise the Greek Islands
The nation of Greece enjoys a mild climate and an influx of cultures brought about by its prominent place on the Mediterranean Sea. Its ancient civilization and the 1,400 islands that comprise its borders make it a natural destination for cruise ships. The time of year can play a huge role in the enjoyment of a cruise. If you want to visit Greece in a cruise ship, you need to consider the options carefully.
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Greek Isles Cruise Highlights
Pack comfortable shoes and a bathing suit: of Greece’s many draws, you cannot miss relaxing on the beaches of Mykonos and Santorini or hiking up to historical gems like the Acropolis. Other must-sees include ruins like the Parthenon, Ancient Mycenae, and Mystras. In Athens, the and the Acropolis Museum showcase Greek treasures preserved from the earliest centuries of Western civilization. For shopping, stroll through Plaka, a historical neighborhood in Athens, or Monastiraki.
Why Choose A Greek Island
With so many small islands and so much to see, exploring the Greek Isles any other way is logistically challenging and very expensive. A Greek island-hopping cruise lets you easily enjoy many islands, multiple ports and a variety of enchanting towns and village.
See all of Greece on an island-hopping adventure through this iconic region.
Elegant accommodations onboard, authentic shore excursions and locally focused enrichment only enhance every voyage. Plus, an island-hopping cruise means youll only pack and unpack once and not have to worry about flights, hotels and transfers.
While larger ocean liners usually only stop at the most popular islands and tend to pass by the true hidden island gems, the stylish small-ships and luxury yachts that truly focus on the Greek Isles like the ones recommended by our CruiseInsider experts can sail you right into the secluded beauty of hard-to-reach coves and hidden inlets, ports and places the big ships cant access.
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Ephesus: Walking Through A Unesco World Heritage Site
The ancient world made Ephesus a center of travel and commerce. For a little over an hour, the UNESCO World Heritage site became the center of my world.
Read about Donnas experience on an Ephesus cruise excursion.
The Greeks originally built Ephesus in the 10th century BC as commercial seaport, taking advantage of its strategic location. Over time, as river and port silted up, the waterways shifted.
The Ionian coast now rests several miles away. Having lost its access to the sea, Ephesus nevertheless continued to prosper under the Roman Empire . Ephesus became the largest city in the East after Alexandria, with a population of over 200,000.
After leaving the port of Kusadasi, my Ephesus tour begins at the Magnesian Gate, near the top of a slope. Guides stop at significant points of interest: the remains of hundreds of temples, columns, statues, and etched drawings. I tried to imagine the bustling white marble city with residents in togas or flowing gowns.
We passed a theater used for council meetings, concerts or speeches. It could seat 1,400 and remains acoustically grand. Down colonnaded Curetes Street, we viewed the ruins of the Temples of Hadrian and Nike and the elaborate Nymphaeum Traiani Fountain.
We paused beside intricate mosaic floors from ancient homes along one side of the main path. We stopped, gawked and giggled at the mens public toilet area. The area also housed a brothel.
Explore Ephesus and Kusadasi on your own
- Experience a Hamam Turkish Bath in Kusadasi
Learn From Our Guests Ask & Answer
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Learn about the latest ships and destinations by browsing hundreds of questions posted by real cruisers. If you happen not to find what you’re looking for, you can even post a question of your own.
Real questions. Real answers. All from real cruisers.
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Why You Should Add Greek Island Cruises To Your Travel Wish List
Why? Because you love yourself and those you want to bring with you, thats why!
In all seriousness, cruising the Greek Islands is something everyone should do at least once in their lifetime. And its the destination itself thats everything.
As the cradle of modern civilization, the historic importance of Greece cant be overstated or over-appreciated. The antiquity of the sites, their grandeur and preservation is mind-blowing and is proudly reflected in its whopping 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Greece played a crucial role in constructing society as we know it today and a chance to visit this culturally imperative part of the world should be jumped on, without hesitation.
But, you dont have to be a history buff to fall in love with Greece and its thousands of stunning islands. The Mediterranean lifestyle is enchanting and easy to get behind. Locally grown and produced foods, from olives and olive oils to figs, feta and fresh-caught seafood, take centre stage. Mouth-watering wafts of grilled souvlaki coax constantly and Ouzo threatens after every meal.
The question then changes, from why cruise the Greek Islands, to how to best cruise the Greek Islands.
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Santorini Cruises What To Know
Large cruise ships in the Santorini caldera great to look at, but cruises are a lousy way to experience Santorini. Please, if you come to Santorini dont do it on a cruise.
This is what visiting the island is like when you come to Santorini on a cruise: You walk around the busiest parts of the island as part of a large group. Youve got limited time and can only see a few spots in Fira and Oia.
Heres one of the large tour groups from a cruise. Are you in group 20?
Maybe youre in group 22?
Or maybe its 32? Regardless: this sucks.
Yay, you get your own sticker. Thanks, but no thanks.
This looks fun: waiting for the cable car ride back to the cruise port.
This is just a small part of the line it can stretch far back and around a corner. Occasionally cruise passengers will be left behind on the island because they cant get back to the ship in time. They then have to arrange their own transportation to another island to meet-up with the cruise. Certainly this is rare, but its always in the back of your mind: what time is it? we cant miss our departure time.
Oia is a great town, but everyone staying on the island knows: dont go mid-day because its packed with tours from the cruise ships.
This is the Santorini you get to experience when you stay on the island and enjoy it at your own pace.
Get up early and there are more donkeys on the streets than people.
A quiet breakfast view in Imerovigli.
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Best Overall: Pg Cruises
- Ship Name: MS Paul Gauguin
- Itinerary: Huahine, Taha’a, Bora Bora, Moorea
An iconic destination for honeymooners, Tahiti is where the luxurious MS Paul Gauguin cruise ship calls home. Carrying just 332 passengers, the crew to passenger ratio on board is 1 to 1.5 for unparalleled attention to detail, plus 70 percent of the staterooms have private balconies. Couples can relax in a full-service spa or take a stroll on a private beach. The ship has a watersports marina that is utilized when docked allowing guests to paddleboard and kayak right from the aft of the ship. Plus, the MS Paul Gauguin often stays overnight in romantic ports of call, so that means more time in paradise surrounded by sparkling waters, palm trees, and soft-sand beaches.
Discover Greece All For Yourself And Set Sail On A Cruise That Takes In The Best Of The Worlds Oldest Islands
Is there any place in the Mediterranean more spellbinding than Greece? Yes, it is the birthplace of democracy, yes, it is crammed full of history, and yes, it is everything you expect it to be. Blue-domed houses with whitewashed houses, labyrinthine streets bursting with Bougainvillea, gentle Aegean Sea meeting Sapphire skies. Topped by ubiquitous ancient ruins, guaranteed sunshine, world-class beaches and a fair amount of glamour, there is a reason why the Gods made their home here. Quite honestly, Greece offers so many wow moments that its hard to pick the best.
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What Cruise Lines Go To The Greek Isles
Once reserved for the elite class, the Greek Islands are now frequented by ships big and small. Which line to choose depends largely on which islands youd like to visit the smaller the ship, the more hard-to-reach islands passengers can visit. These lines sail to Greece regularly, with a range of ports of call:
- Royal Caribbean Cruises: Often departing from Civitavecchia, Italy, Royal Caribbeans Greek Isles cruises make stops in Katakolon, Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini. Shore excursions on these itineraries include a visit to the Agriturismo Magna Grecia Farm and a hike up Santorinis famous Nea Kameni volcano.
- Regent Seven Seas Cruises: Sail with Regent to Greece from Barcelona on a Grand Mediterranean Cruise or round trip from Athens on a Majestic Greek Isles sailing. Regent visits Greek ports like Khios, Volos, Katakolon and Athens. Voyages are seven or more nights, with many including ports in Spain and Italy as well.
- Windstar Cruises: For yacht-style cruising and visits to less regularly trafficked ports, Windstar is a top choice. On an Athens to Athens voyage, Windstar travelers will visit nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites and stop in less-crowded ports like Nafplio and Patmos.
Celebrity Reflection 11 Night Italy Turkey And Greek Islands Cruise
Do you wish to experience all three countries via cruise but are short on time? Then, the Celebrity 11 night itinerary offers exceptional value. While you will not have much time to immerse yourself in each country fully, this cruise gives a delectable taste of the cultures, customs, and history of the most important ancient civilizations still thriving today. Explore the exciting islands of Santorini and Mykonos, the bustling cities of Istanbul and Athens, the coastal charms of Naples and Sicily, and the history of ancient Ephesus. Truly one of the best luxury cruises in Italy, Greece, and Turkey.
For more inspiration, check out:
BTA is a full-service luxury travel agency based in Scottsdale, AZ. To learn about securing exclusive amenities with our cruise partners or for assistance planning your Luxury Cruises In Italy, Greece and Turkey or another desirable destination, please get in touch with BTA.
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Tours From Cruise Ships
Many cruise companies discourage the use of taxi and limo companies for private tours in destinations like Rhodes, Athens, Crete, Santorini and places in Turkey. Whether this is to protect the passenger or because the cruise ships themselves offer tours I dont know . I do know that you can get excellent service from taxi companies which offer personalized tours, many of whom charge by the trip and not by the person. These tours are like having a local host show you around the islands, towns and cities that they know. Instead of eating in some giant tourist trap that accommodates the dozens of people who take the bus tours, you can go to small tavernas where the locals eat, on quietstreets or on the sea.
These are some drivers I recommend:
In Athens of course there isGeorge the Famous Taxi Driver who is now something of an international hero for his tours of Athens, the mainland and his ability to get customers from the boats to the airport or hotels comfortably and quickly. George, like the other drivers listed here is non-smoking, English-speaking, knowlegable and drives a very comfortable air-conditioned Mercedes.For groups of more than 4 there is his son Dennis, in the photo above, with his beautiful luxury Mercedes limo that seats 7 plus the driver. For even larger groups there is son Billy with their Mercedes Bus able to seat 12 people. You can e-mail them at
Popular Greek Isles Cruise Ports
Greece is home to more than 200 inhabited islands in the Aegean and Ionian seas. These are three of the most popular destinations to visit on a Greek Islands cruise:
- Santorini, Greece: Step out of a postcard and into Santorini’s weaving roads lined with white-washed buildings and blue-domed roofs overlooking a glimmering sea. With beaches shaped by volcanic eruptions and wine producers dotting the island, Santorini is the perfect place to kick back and relax.
- Mykonos, Greece: Known for its spectacular beaches and delicious Mediterranean food – think olives, cheese, honey, and pistachios – Mykonos is a must-see destination while in Greece. On the island, you can visit the Archaeological Museum of Mykonos to see ruins from nearby Delos, the birthplace of Apollo, or rent ATVs to explore the island’s rolling hills on your own.
- Athens, Greece: Greece’s capital, known as the cradle of Western Civilization, is a history-lover’s paradise. Visit the Acropolis, the Temple of Poseidon, the Theater of Dionysus and the Parthenon, as well as museums like the Museum of the City of Athens and the Museum of Cycladic Art.
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Best Cruises For Greek Island Hopping
World-famous sights such as the Parthenon in Athens, charming seaside tavernas and crystal-clear waters are all part of a Greek island-hopping cruise. Only 227 of the 6,000 islands and islets scattered in the Aegean and Ionian Seas of Greece are inhabited and some are only accessible by boat, making a small ship cruise the best way discover these idyllic destinations.
Take a look at our list of the 10 best cruise lines for a Greek island-hopping odyssey.
The 7 Best Mediterranean Cruises Of 2022
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- Best Budget: MSC Cruises See Rates at Expedia“Specializes in affordable cruises in the Mediterranean region with more than 14 of its vessels cruising there.”
- Best Historical Cruise: Voyages to Antiquity See Rates “The journey includes educational excursions, such as the UNESCO World Heritage site of Epidaurus.”
- Best Short Cruise: Celesytal Cruises See Rates“Packs a punch with six ports of call on a four-night cruise.”
- Best Value: Norwegian Cruise Line See Rates at Expedia“An affordable and fun-filled cruise ship from a convenient departure port.”
- Best Tall Ship Cruise: Windstar Cruises See Rates “Passengers will experience exceptional cuisine onboard from award-winning chefs.”
- Best for Luxury: Regent Seven Seas See Rates at Expedia“An excellent choice with all-inclusive pricing and premium service.”
- Best New Ship: Celebrity Cruises See Rates at Expedia“The 10-night voyage allows extra time to experience all the vessel has to offer.”