Greece is a superb destination for a sailing holiday, with numerous islands and locations known both for their natural beauty and fascinating history. With the longest coastline in Europe (13,650 km), thousands of mostly uninhabited islands, and five distinct sailing regions, the country is ideal for yachting vacations and island hopping cruises that take travellers to some of the most popular Mediterranean destinations.
Greece gets more than 250 days of sunshine a year and is one of the sunniest countries in Europe. The yacht charter season lasts from April to November, spiking from late July to early September. In the high season, all the local attractions, including museums, tavernas, and mineral baths, are open to visitors and tourists typically have more charter options, but these must be booked well in advance.
Late August is the best time for swimming, diving and snorkelling, with sea temperatures rising up to 26° C. The water temperature usually reaches pleasant levels in May (19-21° C) and rises to 23° C on average in early June. Early September, which sees a gradual drop in the number of tourists, usually has good weather for sailing, with calm, steady winds in the Ionian region and no meltemi winds in the Aegean Sea. Meltemi winds, the strong, dry northern winds of the Aegean region that blow from May to September, are best avoided because they can come up suddenly in clear weather and cause problems for sailors.
The Argo-Saronic region offers easy sailing conditions throughout the sailing season, with mostly north to northeastern winds blowing with the average force of 3 to 4 knots in the summer and weaker winds blowing from the south in spring and autumn.
The Cyclades and Dodecanese islands are a particularly lush sight in the months of April, May and June due to spring showers, but they tend to turn dry in the summer. This region requires advanced sailing experience because of the meltemi winds, which typically blow in July and August and can reach the force of 5 to 8 Beauforts.
The Dodecanese islands are the warmest sailing destination in Greece, with only mild northwestern winds. They are nice to visit even in early spring and mid-autumn, when the winds are even milder, blowing from the southeast.
The Ionian and Northern Aegean islands stay green throughout the yachting season. The Ionian region has a mild climate, calm seas and gentle northwestern winds, offering a safe sailing area for beginners and less experienced sailors.
The prevailing wind in the Sporades islands region is northern to northwestern and the meltemi winds are not as strong as on the open sea. They may, however, sometimes reach force 7 in the summer.
Greece has five main sailing areas: Argolida and the Saronic Gulf, the Cyclades islands, the Ionian islands, the Dodecanese islands and the Sporades islands.
The Saronic and Argolic Gulf, located south of Athens and off the east coast of the Peloponnese, are the perfect area for those looking to take their first boating trip or first bareboat charter as they offer excellent sailing conditions for most of the year. With moderate winds and calm waters, short sailing distances between anchorages and fishing ports, and conditions that require only basic sailing experience, the region allows travellers to focus on the variety of landscapes, picturesque fishing villages, unspoiled anchorages and tourist hotspots.
The region is only 2 to 3 hours sailing from Alimos marina or Lavrion port in Athens and has a number of unique anchorages and little ports worth visiting. These include the medieval castle town of Monemvasia, the historic seaport town of Navplion, the prosperous island of Spetsai just off the Spartan shore, and Kithira, the tranquil, isolated island famous for the myth of the birth of Aphrodite.
The Cyclades islands are the most popular yachting and boating destination in Greece, known for their spectacular barren landscapes, wonderful beaches and old architecture. The Cyclades offer multiple anchorages, including well-equipped marinas and ports on the larger islands.
The Ionian islands offer a number of protected anchorages, including the Lefkas marina on Lefkas island and Gouvia marina on Corfu. The islands have more green landscapes than any other region in the country.
The Dodecanese islands have a mostly barren landscape. The main ports and marinas are located on Kos, Rhodes and Samos. Due to their proximity to Turkey, these islands are often part of sailing itineraries that start on the Turkish coast.
The sailing routes in the Sporades region typically take sailors to the four main ports, situated on the islands of Skiathos, Skopelos, Alonissos and Skyros. The Sporades islands are mostly known for their dense vegetation and mountainous terrains.
The island of Crete, one of the sunniest destinations in the Mediterranean, draws visitors throughout the year with its favourable climate, lovely secluded bays and coves, and many historic attractions. These include the ruins of the Minoan Palaces of Knossos and Phaestos, the historic Koules Fortress, medieval castles, Byzantine monasteries, small traditional villages, and Mirabello Bay, the fifth largest bay in the Mediterranean Sea, situated on the eastern part of the island.
Sailing trips in Greece offer a little bit of something for everyone, from romantic destinations for couples and tranquil areas for families to vibrant cities and seaside hotspots for large groups of friends looking for fun and adventure.
The most crowded sailing areas during the high season are the Saronic Gulf and the islands of Corfu and Lefkas. Other popular islands both for sailing and non-sailing visitors include the islands of Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes, Lesvos, Ios and Kos.
Most Cyclades are known for their picturesque bays and hills, sandy beaches and bare vegetation. Mykonos and Santorini are the most famous islands in this group. Santorini's volcano and hot springs, lava cliffs and multicoloured rocks, volcanic sand and pebble beaches, and vivid nightlife draw honeymooners and other visitors from around the world and are part of just about every Greek island itinerary. Mykonos is a sun-drenched tourist haven known for its spectacular beaches, loud dance clubs, and the Hóra (main town) with stunning traditional Cycladic architecture in the middle of a large bay.
The entire island of Delos, the mythical birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, is one of Greece’s most important UNESCO-protected archaeological sites, with several ancient market squares, the Temple of the Delians and Terrace of the Lions, both dedicated to Apollo, and the Doric Temple of Isis among some of its unique attractions.
The Saronic and Argolic Gulf are popular thanks to their proximity to Athens and rich variety of islands to explore, including Aegina with its ancient temples, Spetses with its stunning neo-classical architecture, Poros with its green, pine-covered coast, and Hydra with its stone mansions, hiking paths and old monasteries.
The Ionian islands are also home to many historical and archaeological attractions. These include the ancient site of Palaiopolis on Corfu island and the monastery of the Virgin Mary on Ithaca. With fortresses built by Venetian engineers, the UNESCO-protected Old Town of Corfu is one of the best known Mediterranean fortified port cities. Ithaca, famous as the home of Odysseus, is an ideal destination for a quiet holiday with a little adventure on the side in the form of sea kayaking, scuba diving and a visit to the Cave of the Nymphs.
The Dodecanese group consists of 163 islands and islets with stunning barren landscapes. Only 26 of the islands are inhabited and, as the name (Dodeca) indicates, only 12 of these are major destinations. The islands are home to some of the most cosmopolitan vacation spots in Greece, but also to fascinating Byzantine and medieval monuments and archaeological finds.
The islands of Leros and Pserimos are ideal for those looking for unspoiled natural charm, while Kos and Rhodes contain awe-inspiring ancient and medieval treasures. The citadel of Rhodes, one of Europe's best preserved medieval towns, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Kos island is known for the impressive Nerantziá Castle which sits at the entrance to the port, the Roman Odeon, ancient Agora, and many Venetian and Ottoman buildings. Karpathos island is a haven for nature and folklore enthusiasts, while Leros, the island of Artemis, lures visitors with magnificent old castles and many ancient shipwrecks that make it a popular diving destination. The Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, founded in the 10th century on the island of Patmos, where St. John was said to have written his Gospel and the Apocalypse, is another World Heritage Site in the Dodecanese region.
The Sporades islands mostly attract visitors looking for a relaxing holiday, with many sandy and rocky beaches, a fertile landscape, diverse wildlife and thick forests. The national marine park of Alonissos, which protects rare birds, the Mediterranean monk seal, loggerhead turtles and dolphins, is a popular sightseeing spot in the Northern Sporades. The Sporades are less known for historic attractions and archaeological finds, but they do have several World Heritage Sites: Nea Moni, an 11th century monastery on Chios, the Pythagoreion, remains of an ancient fortified port, and Heraion, a large temple of the Samian Hera, on the island of Samos.
Those planning an itinerary with a yacht, sailboat or motor boat can easily visit many other less discovered yet equally incredible destinations that are just as impressive and sometimes even more authentic. With hundreds of other islands to choose from, each with its own share of history, culture and natural beauty, the sailing options in Greece are virtually limitless.