Ah, Greece. The birthplace of democracy is an alluring travel hotspot for many reasons. The incredible history, beautiful landscapes, sun-kissed beaches, and mouthwatering cuisine make the Greek Isles one of the world's most popular cruise destinations.
While some cruise lines might simply add a couple Greek ports to their itineraries, spending a few hours in each, Azamara takes a different approach. We're all about staying longer and experiencing more. This is why our cruises to Greece call on the country's most popular ports, as well as spots off the beaten path. Plus, our ships often stay in port late into the night, so there's no need to worry that you won't have enough time to experience all that Greece has to offer.
To help you plan your vacation through the Greek Isles, we've highlighted seven things to do while you're there.
1. Go Island Hopping
Visiting Greece is all about island hopping. Greece is home to over 6,000 islands and islets dotting the Aegean and Ionian Seas – though only 227 are inhabited. Island life is an integral part of Greek culture and mythology, and the best way to experience it is by cruise.
Each Greek island has its own unique personality and flair. Cruising the Greek Isles is an enjoyable and convenient way to explore several islands. You can relax, unpack only once, and avoid the hassle of booking multiple accommodations and ferry trips. Sailing around the Greek Isles means your journey is just as pleasant as your destinations!
What are the most famous Greek islands? Here's a quick guide to some of our favorites.
The largest and most populous island in Greece, Crete has earned a reputation for its incredible food — especially in the ancient Venetian port city of Chania. It's also home to varied terrain that includes beaches, mountains, and vineyards, so everyone from outdoor enthusiasts to sun-worshippers will find something to love here.
History buffs love Rhodes, and it's easy to understand why. After all, the entire city center is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This Dodecanese island's star attraction is the Acropolis of Lindos, a beautifully preserved fortification that is home to the Temple to Athena Lindia.
The largest of the Ionian islands, Kefallonia is diverse and distinctive. The capital, Argostoli, is a modern city with plenty of old-world charms, while the town of Fiskardo is known as the Saint-Tropez of Greece. One look at the luxury yachts dotting the harbor and bright Venetian-style buildings along the waterfront, and you'll quickly see why.
Corfu is said to be the inspiration for Shakespeare's The Tempest, which might surprise you after catching a glimpse of this idyllic destination. However, one thing that is not surprising is that Corfu's beautiful beaches and quaint villages make it a popular pick for families.
This vibrant island has been well known for its thriving nightlife for many years. Still, there's much more to majestic Mykonos, including ancient landmarks, archeological sites, and the iconic neighborhood of Little Venice and its windmills.
The quintessential Greek island, Santorini's whitewashed, cliffside villages and saturated sunsets make it one of the country's most photogenic destinations.
Lush and lovely, Skiathos is the type of island that draws people back again and again. While this is the smallest island in the Sporades, it still packs a big punch. There are over 60 beaches famous for swimming and sunbathing here, and the cobblestone city streets are lined with quaint shops.
This Dodecanese island holds an important place in Christian history. It is allegedly where the last chapter of the New Testament was written. A highlight of calling on Patmos is visiting the impressive Monastery of Saint John the Theologian.
Small but mighty, Delos is an incredible archeological site. Here, you'll find some of the most extensive remains of temples, statues, and more from the Hellenistic period.
2. Eat, Drink, and Eat Some More
If you ask someone what the best thing about traveling to Greece is, the odds are high they'll say "the food". Greek food is one of the most popular international cuisines, and nothing beats the real thing.
What can you expect to taste while in Greece? Don't miss these eight staples:
Authentic Greek yogurt is nothing like what you can purchase in a grocery store back home. This rich, creamy breakfast staple is usually served with locally produced honey and fruit or nuts.
Fragrant olive trees are found all over Greece, even lining the streets of Athens. Olive trees symbolize peace and wisdom and hold great significance in Greek history and mythology. Today, olives and olive oil are fundamental parts of Greek cuisine.
Greek cuisine features many kinds of cheese – halloumi, graviera, manouri, and kasseri, to name a few. But there's no more popular or famous Greek cheese than feta. Order a Greek salad, and it will come topped with a huge chunk of feta cheese. Phyllo pastry is filled with feta cheese and fried to make tiropitas. Feta is baked into casseroles and meatballs or included in refreshing dips. You can't miss sampling this key ingredient while in Greece.
Dolmades are grape leaf rolls stuffed with a mixture of rice, pine nuts, and herbs.
A gyro is popular Greek street food. This pita is stuffed with meat that's cooked on a vertical rotisserie (usually pork or chicken) as well as tomatoes, onions, tzatziki sauce, and often French fries.
Grilled meat is a staple of Greek cuisine. Souvlaki is skewered meat that's grilled and served with vegetables and pita. Pork is most popular in Greece, though chicken, lamb, and beef are also occasionally used.
Varieties of this casserole-style dish can be found in many different world cuisines, including Levant, Turkish, Balkan, and Egyptian. Traditional Greek moussaka features layers of sautéed eggplant, tomatoes, and minced lamb. It's baked with a béchamel sauce.
This popular Greek dessert is a sticky concoction of phyllo pastry, chopped nuts, and honey.
Of course, you'll need something to wash down your food! Try locally produced wine and beer during your trip, as well as ouzo – the anise-flavored aperitif that's very popular in Greece. On a hot day, cool off with a frappe iced coffee.
When you cruise with Azamara, it's easy to find an authentic food experience. Our travel experts have done all the legwork and research required to seek out the best spots, so be sure to ask for their recommendations!
3. Shop ‘Til You Drop
Many Greek cities are known for great shopping. When packing for your cruise, be sure to leave a little suitcase space for souvenirs!
In Athens, you'll find designer boutiques in the trendy Kolonaki neighborhood, while the Monastiraki neighborhood caters more to vintage, artsy, and bohemian styles. Leather sandals are a popular purchase here. For years, the "Poet Sandal-Maker", Stavros Melissinos, outfitted customers (including many a celebrity) with custom leather sandals at his shop on Theklas Street. His son, Pantelis, now runs the shop.
Towns like Chania and Mykonos are beloved for their labyrinths of cobblestoned streets lined with shops selling clothing, carvings, cookware, souvenirs, art, and more.
Santorini's town of Fira is home to the famous "Gold Street" (officially named Ypapantis Street). It's lined with high-end jewelry boutiques selling pieces in modern and ancient designs. It's the perfect place to pick up a memento from your journey.
Whether it's a unique souvenir for a loved one, an amazing statement piece for your wardrobe, or something else entirely, you'll find just what you're looking for while shopping in Greece.
4. Soak Up The Sun
All it takes is a glimpse of the sun-bleached buildings along the shores of Greece to realize you've come to the right place for a sun-soaked vacation. Greek destinations like Athens and Rhodes are often named among the world's sunniest destinations. A Greek Isles cruise offers up the perfect mix of culture and leisure, so be sure to devote at least one day of your trip to lounging on the beach!
Elia Beach in Mykonos
In Mykonos, Azamara guests can travel to the southern coast of the island and spend the day at beautiful Elia Beach. Soft white sand, the lapping sapphire waters of the Aegean Sea, and the warm Mediterranean sun. What more can you ask for? If you seek shade, rent a lounge chair and umbrella or grab a cold beer at one of the many beachfront taverns.
Kambos Beach in Patmos
Patmos is home to one of the best beaches in all of Greece, Kambos Beach, and it's easily accessible via an Azamara shore excursion. This beach, located on the northeastern side of the island, truly offers something for everyone. Do you crave adventure? Try parasailing above the sparkling waters. Need a little rest & relaxation? Rent a sunbed for the day. Would you prefer to fit a little exercise into your vacation? The calm waters are perfect for canoeing.
Elafonisi in Crete
The beaches of Crete are unparalleled. Elafonisi, just a short drive from the main port of Chania, is famous for its photogenic pink sand and bright turquoise waters. Don't forget to pack your camera for this beach day!
Red Beach in Santorini
The volcanic island of Santorini is home to some of the most distinctive beaches in Greece. Don't expect soft, white sand here — Santorini's rocky shores offer a more unique appeal. Arguably the most famous is Red Beach, named for its position below steep, red, rocky cliffs. It's only a short walk from the Akrotiri archaeological site and is well worth the hike for the photo opportunities alone
5. Explore All Of Athens
Athens is the hub of ancient Greek history, and if it's your first time visiting you'll want to see the highlights. Having trouble deciding what to see first? We can help! Check out these five must-see spots and add them to your itinerary:
The Acropolis and Acropolis Museum
Perched on a hill, this ancient citadel looks over the city center of Athens. The Acropolis is home to several ancient buildings, most notably the iconic Parthenon. Other buildings include the Propylaia, the Erechtheion, and the Temple of Athena Nike. Many of these buildings were severely damaged during a Venetian siege in 1687. Luckily, a restoration project began in 1975 and remains ongoing to this day.
Nearby, you'll find the Acropolis Museum, which holds nearly 4000 historical objects. Opened in 2009, the museum is built over an archeological site, which can be seen beneath a plexiglass floor.
The Arch of Hadrian
Also not far from the Acropolis is the Arch of Hadrian — more commonly known as Hadrian's Gate. It was constructed in 131 AD by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as part of a wall that separated the old and new cities of Athens.
And if the gate didn't make it clear, the text on either side certainly clarified which city was which. The inscription on the side facing the Acropolis reads, "This is Athens, the former city of Theseus." On the opposite side, an inscription reads, "This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus."
Temple of Olympian Zeus
This colossal ruined temple, found next to the Arch of Hadrian, dates back to the 6th century BC. It was a massive, but short-lived temple dedicated to the king of the Olympians, Zeus. It fell into disuse after being pillaged during a barbarian invasion in the 3rd century AD. Of the original 104 Corinthian columns, 15 remain today.
This stadium hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and was reconstructed from an ancient Greek stadium's remains. It also hosted the archery competition and the finish of the marathon during the 2004 Olympic Games. Most impressively, it is the only stadium in the world to be built entirely from marble.
Ancient Agora and the Temple of Hephaestus
This is the best-known example of an ancient Greek agora — a central spot of assembly in Greek city-states. The Agora, which literally translates to "gathering place", was the center of the city's athletic, artistic, spiritual, and political life.
Within the Agora is the Temple of Hephaestus. This well-preserved Greek temple, also known as Thissio, remains standing almost precisely as it was initially built. It's found on top of the Agoraios Kolonos hill, on the northwest side of the Agora.
Of course, Athens offers more than ancient history. It's a modern city with great food, shopping, and a lively, bustling atmosphere. After you've explored Athenian history, visit the epicenter of contemporary Greek politics at Syntagma Square. It's located in front of the Old Royal Palace, which has housed the Greek Parliament since 1934. Here, you'll see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a monument commemorating fallen Greek soldiers. A special unit of the Hellenic army called the Evzones guard the monument. They don traditional uniforms and conduct an hourly changing of the guard ceremony, with a full ceremony on Sunday mornings.
For a serene escape from the city, visit the National Gardens. The public park covers 38 acres in the heart of Athens, directly behind the Parliament building. In 1939, author Henry Miller wrote of the National Garden, "It remains in my memory like no other park I have known. It is the quintessence of a park, the thing one feels sometimes in looking at a canvas or dreaming of a place one would like to be in and never finds."
6. Stay Up Past Sundown
One of the best things about cruising with Azamara is our late-night stays. In Greece, this means getting to witness splendid sunsets and partake in the Greek Isles' famous nightlife.
A late-night departure from Chania, on the island of Crete, means you can enjoy a leisurely dinner onshore and cap off your night with a glass of ouzo – it's all part of having an authentic local experience! Enjoy a view of Chania's stunning harbor at sunset from the waterfront.
In Santorini, grab a cocktail onboard the ship and watch the sunset as you sail off to the next destination. It's an experience like no other. In Athens, find a rooftop patio with a great view of the Acropolis and watch as the sun sets behind it. Pro tip: If you have your heart set on catching the sunset, check the time in advance. It will happen quicker than you think!
The island of Mykonos heats up after the sun goes down. A late-night departure means you'll be there to experience it! We've already mentioned the island's Little Venice neighborhood, but it's worth highlighting its iconic windmills again here. They truly are a sight to behold at night.
7. Visit Ancient Ruins Beyond Athens
The vast history of Greece is on display everywhere you look. The country is home to stunning ancient ruins and fascinating museums that simply can't be missed. This rich ancient history is integral to the country's cultural identity.
Although Athens is at the core of ancient Greece, there's plenty for history buffs to see and do beyond the capital. These sites should be at the top of the list.
The tiny, once uninhabited, island of Delos is easily accessible from Mykonos and is a must for history buffs. According to Greek mythology, Delos was the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. It has been a shrine, a sacred treasury, and a commercial center. Today, it's one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece. Visitors flock to Delos to see the sprawling ancient ruins, visit the onsite museum, and marvel at the wonder of it all.
St. John’s Monastery
Patmos is reputed to be where St. John wrote his Gospel and the Book of Revelation, giving the idyllic island a special significance in religious history. A monastery dedicated to him dominates the island, looming high above the whitewashed hillside dwellings. The monastery houses manuscripts, relics, jewels, and other artifacts.
The island of Santorini is most famous for its breathtaking vistas and photogenic villages, but it's also home to an important archaeological site. Akrotiri is an ancient Minoan city that was destroyed during a catastrophic volcanic eruption around 1627 BC. It was later discovered — buried under volcanic ash — during excavations in 1967. Continued excavations and new discoveries make it one of the most exciting archaeological sites to visit. It's been suggested that Akrotiri is the lost city of Atlantis, a fictional island referenced in Plato's writings.
Rhodes’ Old Town
Visiting Rhodes is like stepping in and out of a time machine. The city's Old Town is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe. Stepping beyond the double walls and moat, you'll feel as though you've been transported back to ancient times. Stroll down the Street of the Knights, visit the Palace of the Grand Master, and see the remains of the Temple of Aphrodite.
Then, travel back to modern times and visit Rhodes' New Town. Here, cobblestoned streets are lined with designer boutiques, and waterfront bistros and bars are ready to quench your thirst and satisfy your hunger.
Of all the travel destinations in the world, few are as universally appealing as Greece, and there's no better way to experience this magical country than on a cruise. Are you ready to immerse yourself in the culture, history, and beauty of the Greek Isles? Start planning by viewing our upcoming sailings to Greece today.