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I’m a Greece expert and this is where to go on your first Greek cruise

Greece cruises are on the bucket list of many, with by ship the ultimate way to island hop this idyllic destination. Here are the best places to visit.

Words by Rebecca Hall

Those familiar with the beautiful Mediterranean country of Greece will know it has thousands of islands yet only 227 are inhabited, some home to just hundreds of inhabitants while others boast a population well into four figures.

This makes the Greek islands exceedingly varied, so what better way to experience them than to visit a few on your first Greece cruise, to gain a taster in order to come back for a longer break?

My 15 years in Greece as a travel writer means I’ve had the pleasure of exploring the islands in as much depth as possible for the likes of Rough Guides and Lonely Planet guidebooks and have been a Destination Presenter on a Celebrity Cruises sailing around the islands.

Here I narrow the dizzying choice down, highlighting some of the best destinations to help you choose the ideal itinerary for your first Greek cruise.


History & hiking

If you’re embarking or disembarking from the port of Piraeus in Athens [above] on your Greece cruises, be sure to allocate time to spending some days exploring this eclectic city to start or round off your cruise in style.

Aside from the world-famous Acropolis, Parthenon [below] and Acropolis museum, there are a whole host of sites to see and activities to undertake. After you’ve climbed the Acropolis hill to the Parthenon, directly below in the Plaka neighbourhood lies a small area built and designed to resemble the tiny Cycladic island of Anafi.

Anafiotika, as it’s called, is an island within the mainland and has sugar-cubed, white-washed houses similar to that found in the Cyclades island – some still inhabited – and narrow cobbled streets.

The new National Gallery in a stand-out building is a feat of architecture in itself. Here you’ll find many paintings, sculptures and engravings from Greek artists and the occasional visiting international one.

Forty minutes from Central Athens brings you to a different world, the Athenian Riviera, itself becoming a go-to destination unto itself with five-star hotels, glittering blue flag beaches and the unique spa Lake Vouliagmeni – a natural and thermal water swimming experience with year-round temperatures of 25C.

Venture further along the Riviera to the Temple of Poseidon, the perfect spot to watch the sunset over the Aegean.

You don’t have to go far to commune with nature in Athens either. A 10-minute drive brings you to Mount Hymettus; with its pine forests and monasteries it’s a popular hiking spot at the weekend with Athenians.

Now you’re ready to embark on your Greek island cruise, where should you pick, especially as there are a plethora of islands to choose from?


Sunsets & sipping

It makes sense to visit the most popular islands to fulfil your first taster. Santorini is invariably always on any Greek island cruise itinerary, and with good reason.

The volcanic eruption in the 16th century forever shaped its landscape and the two main towns of Fira and Oia [above] are scattered with the famous cubed whitewashed houses clinging to the top of the cliff that overlooks the crater left behind from this eruption.

Take a boat trip out to the caldera rim for a mini hike, but do this early morning as in the summer it gets very hot.

Santorini is renowned for its wines and is thought to be Greece’s top destination for wine tourism, with over 18 wineries to choose from on a relatively small island.

Nine indigenous grapes are cultivated here and the island is famous for its growing process; as Santorini has little shelter, the vines aren’t straight, they form a basket with the grapes growing in the centre to protect them from the harsh Aegean winds.

Then, of course, there are the famous caldera sunsets, a romantic way to round off the day with a glass of wine viewing the scenery from the island or back on deck.


Parties & pelicans

Mykonos will also undoubtedly be on your first Greek island cruise itinerary. Known as the party island for A-listers and UHNWs alike, there’s no segregation here so if partying’s your scene, you’ll no doubt find yourself rubbing shoulders with someone famous.

Yet Mykonos offers a host of activities to suit all tastes, with its labyrinthine streets, famous windmills [above] and Petros the pelican wandering around.

Take a stroll around Mykonos Town; built by the Venetians in the 16th century, the windmills are the first landmarks you’ll see when coming into the island and the views from here towards ‘Little Venice’ are breathtaking.

Mykonos’s streets were deliberately designed to confuse invading pirates, however, all streets eventually lead to the port so enjoy a stroll and sip a coffee at one of the many cafes along the waterfront.


Havens & heroes

No trip to Mykonos is complete without a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage island of Delos, only a 20-minute ferry ride away.

Ancient Greek mythology maintains it’s the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, Zeus’s twins conceived through an affair with a mortal. Delos was a safe haven for the mortal to give birth, away from the jealousy of Zeus’ Goddess wife.

Whether you believe in Greek mythology or not, wandering through these ancient ruins [above] gives you an idea of the importance of this island — constructed as a testament to the Gods.

If relaxing on a beach is more your preference, head to Agios Sostis, an unspoilt, quiet beach with a church and small restaurant.


Palaces & pottering

Further south brings you to Rhodes, the largest island in the Dodecanese chain and a very popular cruise stop. Your ship will dock within walking distance of Rhodes Old Town, built by the Knights of St. John in the 14th century and designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988.

It’s one of Europe’s oldest living old towns where people still live and work behind the great castle walls, so spend time shopping for your handmade leather goods and sipping a coffee as you wander the labyrinthine cobbled alleyways.

It’s easy to soak up the atmosphere of the past here and there’s so much to do. The Palace of the Grand Masters the original residence of the Governor of Rhodes during Medieval times – is a must-visit.

Twenty-four rooms are open to visitors, including the Throne room where you’ll find massive fireplaces and ancient antiquities. It’s a very Game of Thrones-esque experience.

The Palace is situated at the end of the Street of the Knights [above], an ancient street with inns dedicated to the knights who served under the Grand Master.

Walk the moat around the castle, or for a bird’s eye view of the Old Town to gain a different vantage point of the ancient city and its colourful houses and minarets, take a walk atop the castle walls.

If time allows then head an hour south to the Acropolis of Lindos [above], once a small fishing village and now a popular place to visit in the summer with the gorgeous St. Paul’s Bay, overlooked by the 4th century B.C Acropolis with the Temple of Athena on a 116-metre high cliff.

These are just scratching the surface of where you can visit on your Greek island cruise itinerary. Other places to consider are Chania and Heraklion in Crete, both famous for their Venetian ports and lighthouses and maybe further afield to Limassol in Cyprus.

Companies that offer Greek island cruises include Celestyal Cruises and Variety Cruises – both Greek companies that focus on the islands and some mainland destinations – as well as Virgin Voyages, Celebrity Cruises, Silversea, Norwegian Cruise Line and Starclippers, to name but a few.

Set Sail

Greek Island Glow with Virgin Voyages

Duration: 7 nights

Where: Piraeus (Athens) | Santorini | Rhodes | Bodrum | Mykonos | Piraeus (Athens)

Ship: Resilient Lady

Price: From $1,273 pp

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Published 02.27.23