The must-sees, must-dos, and must-tastes of any adventure hopping around the Greek islands
By Oscar Davis
Greek island hopping. Where glittering coastline meets rustic hilltop villages.
Where your days can begin wandering around crumbling ancient ruins and end sipping sparkling cocktails overlooking a sun-drenched fortress. All with the crystalline waters as your backdrop.
Greece is an island-hopping favorite for those seeking a true taste of European culture.
Quite simply, it has it all. Ancient history, a long-standing tradition, lush hills, trendy bars, clear and warm ocean, mouth-watering food… It’s easy to see why the Greeks holiday in Greece.
The beauty of Greek island cruises is that you get to experience so much in a matter of days.
You can sip your morning coffee on the deck in one island’s harbor and spend your afternoon delving into another island’s history. Watch the sunset from the highest peak before setting sail for another land. If you’ve got a Greek cruise on the horizon, here’s everything you need to look for to make sure it encapsulates life in the Med.
History, history, history
Greece and history go hand in hand. But it’s not just ancient Greeks who walked the islands. Across the Med, you’ll find Byzantine, medieval, Venetian and gothic history with fortresses, churches, and mosques all standing as proud emblems of its past.
Aim to get a rich mixture into your trip. Stop off in Rhodes to step back in time as you wander around one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe. Add Crete to your list to explore the Venetian architecture of Heraklion. And visit the coastal city of Thessaloniki to marvel at byzantine relics.
You can dig even deeper into the Mediterranean’s past at the Palace of Knossos on Crete. It is the oldest city in Western Europe, having belonged to the Minoan civilization, and it’s full of artifacts that tell great stories.
Natural wonders of the Greek Islands
Greece’s islands are beautiful. Lush green hills, craggy boulders and glittering turquoise ocean. Every Greek island cruise promises stunning scenery.
If you want to get closer to the mystical islands’ true soul, make sure your cruise gives you the opportunity to explore some natural creations too. Some offer excursions to the likes of mountains, such as Mount Pelion, to volcano-sculpted beaches and towering cliffs.
For those who want to be in awe of the scenery, a trip to Meteora is a must. Naturally crafted ancient pillars rise to the sky and house monasteries from which you can view stunning rock formations for miles.
In the Aegean, you can step inside a volcano in Santorini – an island that is formed of a mostly submerged caldera (the crest of the volcanic chamber). The volcano is currently dormant, but there are still signs of this natural wonder. You can make footprints in black and red volcanic sand beaches, and there is even a spot in the ocean where the water is naturally warmed by the land beneath.
Crete is another top spot for nature lovers. Here, you can walk through the awe-inspiring Samaria gorge, with its towering walls on either side and a clear river beneath your feet.
Authentic Greek Island food
Across the Greek islands, you can sample classic Mediterranean food. Expect the freshest seafood, salads, rich stews, and plentiful pastries.
For foodies, a Greek island cruise wouldn’t be complete without tasting the local delicacies at each location.
If you want to explore the Greek islands through your tastebuds, include Santorini for the sweetest tomatoes (thanks to the Volcanic soil), Crete for apaki (a cured meat), Thessaloniki for bougatsa (a filo custard tart), and Corfu for bourdeto (fish in a spicy tomato sauce).
Some Greek cruise companies cater specifically to foodies. Look for ones that include traditional dining experiences, which could be in a remote island village, or that have cooking experiences on board for a real insight into the Mediterranean diet.
To really get to know the most beautiful Greek islands, you need to experience them. That means tasting their flavors, smelling their scents, diving into their waters, and learning their traditions.
The best Greek island-hopping cruises have immersive excursions and experiences that give you an authentic insight into the different places. Think walking tours with a local, trips to historic sites with an expert, foodie trips where you taste tomatoes straight from the plants, and village visits to see traditions come to life.
All cruises have entertainment on board, and some will build in more authentic activities. Attend things like live cooking demonstrations and cocktail making on deck, and crafts sessions where you can have a go at local hand-making. These activities will be the memories of Greece’s culture that you take away.
Corfu, One of Greece’s Legendary Islands
Located on the far west side of the coast of Albania, the island of Corfu offers much to travelers including the famous clear Greek skies and blue houses. The island is around 40 miles long, shaped like a sickle, and it’s in the Ionian Sea, part of the Ionian Islands, and, including its small satellite islands, forms the margin of the northwestern frontier of Greece.
Corfu is a supremely popular destination for sailing and spending holidays. The small island welcomes its peak tourist season from July to August. And the less-crowded season in Corfu is in winter from November to March.
The best times to visit Corfu for a charter are April to May and September to November. Renting a boat during this period, you will miss the crowded tourist season and be able to enjoy a better vacation. The only downside is that the water in the Ionian sea is too cold to swim in during the fall months.
Greek Island All-inclusive enjoyment
Greek island hopping should feel indulgent. Whether you’ve spent your morning scaling a 16th-century fortress, paddleboarding in sea caves, or sampling local olives and cheeses, you should feel that there will always be a tasty refreshment ready for you on deck. The best way to kick back is to put your cash away and just enjoy ordering whatever you please.
Lots of cruises offer an all-inclusive experience, with additions like optional excursions on top. While some only offer a few drinks (like wine and beer) with others at an extra charge, some will let you order from a large menu, including freshly made cocktails.
Take note of exactly what is included – a cocktail on deck while the sun sets over tiny islands nearby is an experience not to be missed.
The right pace
One of the best things about Greek cruises is that you can pack in lots of sights and experiences while also enjoying the breathing space to simply be at peace. That is why it’s important to check the itinerary of your trip. Do you have a few hours at each destination so that you can get lost in the winding streets? Do you sail after sunset so that you can enjoy a relaxing dinner first?
An absolute must-have on a Greek island-hopping adventure is the chance to savor the moment. That could be a cold drink in a taverna, coffee overlooking a marina, an ice cream with your toes dipped in the ocean, mezze as the sun sets over a historic landmark, you name it.
Making memories that last
Ultimately, a Greek island cruise is all about the unforgettable memories you take away. If your trip is full of contrasts and indulging in different senses, you are bound to discover something new that you never forget.
Oscar Davis is a freelance writer from Leeds, UK, who enjoys cruising and adventures around the world.
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