4 things you need to know when planning a cruise to the Greek Islands
Few places are as photographed and fantasized about as the Greek Islands.
You can visit Santorini’s whitewashed houses and their blue domes perched high atop the steep cliffs, witness the incredible history of the Acropolis of Athens, or stroll around the cobblestone alleyways of romantic Mykonos.
That said, traveling the Greek Islands can be daunting: There are flights to secure, hotels to book, boat reservations to make—and that doesn’t even begin to count your meals, entertainment and the like. Cruising the islands can take much of that guesswork out of the equation, and our local Expedia Cruises™ travel agents will ensure you maximize your time and money, so you can focus on enjoying the experience.
Here are a few of the most asked questions answered about planning your cruise to the Greek Islands:
1. What is the best time to go on a Greek Islands cruise?
The cruise season to the Greek Islands usually runs from late April to October. Some guests prefer to start their cruise early in the season to avoid the higher temperatures of July and August. A regular summer day can easily hit up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sailing in October is less busy, and you can enjoy pleasant weather ideal for walking, hiking, and sightseeing. The water will not be as warm for swimming, but the Greek beaches and the ancient sites won’t be as packed.
2. What are the departure ports for a Greek Island cruise?
Piraeus, located about 7.5 miles southwest of Athens, is one of the most visited cruise ports in the Mediterranean Sea. It’s no surprise many cruise lines have chosen Piraeus as their departure port thanks to its proximity to Athens and the numerous wonders there to explore. Do keep in mind that even though Piraeus is close to Athens, travel times into the city can be about one hour, depending on traffic.
Limassol is the largest town in Cyprus, an island nation in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Cruise ships dock at Limassol New Port, located about three miles from downtown. Downtown Limassol might not feature the famous sites of Athens, but the downtown area has a more carefree holiday air and great shops for browsing.
Civitavecchia, the closest cruise port to Rome, is the starting point for a variety of itineraries exploring the Mediterranean and the Greek Islands. Thanks to its proximity to Rome, it’s a great stop for two or three days before or after your cruise to explore the city. Here, you can wander through one of the many museums, marvel at masterpieces by the likes of Da Vinci and Michelangelo, learn about the history of the Roman Catholic Church in Vatican City, and take a step back in time at the ruins of the Colosseum and Roman Forum.
3. Where does a Greek Islands cruise take you?
No matter how many photos or videos you watch about Mykonos, nothing will prepare you for the experience in person. Walking in narrow alleyways between white-washed houses set against a striking blue sea transports you to a magical place. Mykonos, known as the island of the winds, is famous for its iconic windmills, colorful doorways, crystal clear waters, traditional tavernas, and several local and high-end shops.
There’s Little Venice, a seafront neighborhood packed with lively bars, restaurants and clubs. Also check out Paradise Beach, Super Paradise, and Paraga for one of the best beach parties on the island.
Many cruise lines will stop at Mykonos for 11 to 12 hours, giving you plenty of time to experience all the city has to offer.
Santorini is a staple of many Eastern European and Greek Island cruise itineraries. Taking a shore excursion here is highly recommended but requires a little more pre-planning than it would seem.
There are two major towns of Santorini. The first, Thira, is the most popular. A cable car ride (or famous donkey ride) takes visitors up the steep hillside from the port to the town. The second town is Oia, pronounced ee-yah. This small village is the site of most of those iconic cliffside Santorini shots. Thira is beautiful and has plenty of interesting shopping and restaurants, but Oia is considered the more scenic of the two, thanks to its dramatic cliffside vistas.
A cruise to the Greek Islands cannot be complete without a visit to Rhodes. This island is not only the largest of the Dodecanese Islands, but it also offers visitors a great balance between history, stunning architecture, delicious food, and a laid-back holiday atmosphere.
History is everywhere you look on this island. There are the ancient remains of the Acropolis of Lindos, a citadel used by almost everyone who claimed the island, from the Greeks through the Ottomans. It also features the towering columns of the Temple of Athena Lindia. Another stop is the UNESCO World Heritage City of Old Town. This neighborhood will charm you with its narrow streets, towering walls, classic Greek tavernas, and local shops.
One of the best things about taking a Greek Islands cruise is that each port will surprise you in a different way, and Corfu is no exception. Corfu is an island located in the mouth of the Adriatic Sea and it’s the perfect place to enjoy historical sites, wonderful beaches with dramatic blue waters, and hillside villages.
While the town itself is not far from the port, on a sunny day, you may want a taxi to the slightly less walkable attractions located in the Old Town: Saint Spyridon Church, the Palace of Saint Michael and Saint George, the Museum of Asian Art, the Banknote Museum, the St. George Church, and the Old Fort.
While Piraeus is a popular departure port for many Greek Islands cruises, it can also be a port of call worth visiting during your cruise. The port of Piraeus is the closest one to the city of Athens, where you will find many must-see landmarks of the Greek capital, such as the famous Acropolis, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Parthenon, and the Acropolis Museum.
Many cruise ships dock in this port for 10 – 12 hours, giving you enough time for a taste of the best parts of the city. Immerse yourself in rich Greek history, taste the fresh flavors of local cuisine, or explore the narrow streets of Plaka, situated beneath the world-famous Acropolis.
4. What are my cruise line options for the Greek Islands?
Most of the popular cruise lines offer Greek Islands cruises, and you’ll find seven to eleven-night sailings from Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, and MSC Cruises.
It is also common to find sailings that combine a Mediterranean itinerary with a Greek Islands itinerary. These types of sailings are usually longer in duration, and very well worth it for anyone with the time to explore.
For a more upscale experience, join the Celebrity Apex and embark on a seven-night Greek Islands cruise out of Piraeus. If you prefer a longer cruise, Norwegian Getaway will take you on an unforgettable 10-night journey across the Mediterranean Sea and throughout the Greek Islands.
Cruise lines continue to announce new sailings and destinations that you can book now, setting sail as soon as this June. Stay up to date with our latest new sailings announcements.
*Please note, conditions to board vary per cruise line and per country of residence. All travel is subject to frequently changing governmental restrictions—please check government advisories before scheduling trips.