A Greek island hopping adventure is an excellent alternative to a crowded mainland vacation and a great way to explore Greece's many unique landscapes, ancient ruins and authentic lifestyle. From the unworldly rocks of Santorini and the rough terrain of Crete to the easygoing charm of Paros and the stunning beaches of Lefkas, Greek island cruises offer an immense variety of spectacular scenery, fascinating local culture and a wealth of ancient sights.
Greek islands and archipelagos are a rich, diverse sailing ground that offers something for everyone, from party islands for the younger crowd to quieter islands for couples, families and anyone looking for a restful vacation.
Greece has about 3,000 islands and islets scattered far and wide in the Aegean Sea, to the south and east of the mainland, and in the Ionian Sea, west of continental Greece. Only 227 Greek islands are inhabited.
Each island has its own special flavour and choosing only one for a holiday is hard with so many excellent options. However, hopping between neighbouring islands is relatively easy as Greece is known for its friendly sailing conditions and great weather throughout the yacht charter season.
Greek islands are divided into several distinct clusters. The Ionian islands, the country's gateway to the Adriatic, reflect a number of invading cultures, from Venice and France to Britain and Austria. The islands are close together and easy to reach from mainland Greece. Sailing itineraries in this region usually take travellers from Corfu to Lefkas and then to Kefalonia and Zakynthos. Those taking a longer sailing holiday also typically visit Ithaca and Paxos.
The islands in the Saronic Gulf, situated between Athens and the Peloponnese, offer an easy getaway from the mainland and are not too far off the coast. Popular sailing routes in this area take sailors to the islands of Spetses, Hydra, Poros, Methana, and Aegina.
The Sporades, east of Athens, are a popular getaway spot for locals and do not get as many foreign visitors. Known for their thick forests and diverse landscapes, the islands offer an excellent sailing holiday. The most visited islands in the group are Skiathos, Skopelos, Skyros and Alonissos.
The Cyclades, situated between Athens and Crete, are everything visitors expect to find on a Greek island hopping cruise. With chalk-white houses, colourful windows and doors, rocky shores and stunning beaches, the islands draw huge crowds of both local and international visitors each year. Mykonos and Santorini are the best known islands in the region, but longer sailing itineraries also usually include Ios, Syros, Paros, Naxos and Delos.
The Dodecanese islands are known for their rustic charm and Turkish and Venetian influences. The islands are less developed than the Cyclades, but they offer an authentic, old-fashioned charm that keeps visitors coming back for more. Popular island hopping itineraries in this area include Rhodes, Symi, Kos, Kalymnos, Leros, Lipsi, Patmos, Samos and Karpathos.
The North Aegean islands, found between Thessaloniki and Turkey, are well spread out, more remote, and less trampled. The southernmost island in the group, Samos, is a handy starting point for trips to Turkey. Other notable islands in the area are Chios, Lesvos, Thassos and Lemnos.
Known for its volcanic cliffs, wineries and stunning beaches, Santorini is one of the most popular Greek islands to visit. It offers a number of unique sights and attractions. Among them is the ancient town of Akrotiri, more than 3,500 years old and buried in volcanic ash. The town is known as one of the proposed locations that inspired Plato's Atlantis. Situated along the caldera on the northwest edge of the island, the scenic village of Oia is one of the island's most popular attractions, drawing tourists with its cityscape that appears carved out of the hills, spectacular sunsets, and luring maze of streets dotted with cafes, restaurants and shops.
Mykonos, a popular destination for partygoers and hedonists, offers countless attractions for a perfect sailing holiday. The long Elia Beach, beautifully lit windmills, and the area known as Little Venice, with an array of charming buildings constructed on the sea’s edge, are the island’s most visited spots. The nearby uninhabited island of Delos is a perfect destination for those looking for a little peace and quiet.
The island of Ios is an ideal spot to go for a swim and spend an afternoon relaxing on golden beaches. History buffs can enjoy discovering Aegean architecture, visit some of over 350 churches on the island, and see Homer's Tomb.
Paros, an oasis of grass-covered hills and beautiful beaches, is known for its vibrant nightlife and laid back atmosphere that keep visitors coming back every year. Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades islands, is only a short ride away and offers a unique blend of traditional villages, lush scenery and stunning beaches.
Corfu, Zakynthos and Lefkas are the most popular islands to visit in the Ionian group. Corfu, a popular starting point for those sailing from Greece to Italy, has a distinctly Italian charm, with numerous buildings from the Venetian era gracing the streets of the UNESCO-protected Old Town of Corfu City. Alluring beaches and water parks make the island an ideal place to visit on a family cruise.
Zakynthos, one of the sunniest islands in the Mediterranean, is a particularly rewarding destination for sailors. Navagio Beach, also known as Smugglers Cove or Shipwreck Beach, is a famous beach situated in a hidden cove accessible only by boat and makes an excellent stop to go for a swim.
Lefkas, one of the most unspoiled islands in the Ionian group, is small in size, but hugely popular among water sports enthusiasts. It is a wonderful place to visit for anyone looking to explore traditional village life and spend time relaxing on long, sandy beaches with views of sheer white cliffs and clear turquoise sea.
Hydra, an island in the Saronic Gulf easily accessible from Athens, is a popular destination for its unique, beautiful architecture, one of the most beautiful harbours in Greece, and a relaxed, car-free ambience.
Crete, the largest of the Greek islands, has everything a tourist looks for when visiting Greece, from idyllic scenery and breathtaking beaches to ancient ruins and a buzzing nightlife. The Minoan Palace of Knossos and the capital of Heraklion, Greece's fifth largest city, are a must.