The Greek Islands are jewels in the crown of Greece tourism. Although most visitors to Greece will spend a couple days seeing the sites in and around Athens, many choose to focus exclusively on the islands. Greek Island cruises are one of the most popular ways to explore the archipelago, and sailing in the Greek Islands on private vessels is also incredibly popular. In addition to cruises, ferry rides, and chartered yachts, those who wish to visit the Greek Islands can also go by air. However you get to the islands, you will be met with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, fascinating history, and great things to do.
All of the Greek Islands have their own charm and distinct personality and attract different kinds of people. There are quiet remote islands and internationally famous party islands to romantic islands and islands renowned for massive ancient ruins. They are divided into seven groups. The 39 Cyclades Islands contain some of the most popular destinations, including Santorini, Kos, and Mykonos. The Ionian Islands lie just off the western coast of mainland Greece and include Corfu and Ithaca. The Saronic Islands are the closet to Athens and its port of Piraeus. Of the eleven Sporades Islands, only four are inhabited. They lie off the east coast of mainland Greece and are known for their rugged beauty as well as excellent scuba diving. The Dodecanese Islands consist of twelve major islands and are the ones closest to Turkey. The Eastern Aegean Islands include Ikaria Island, one of the most unspoiled and pristine of all. These, too, lie close to Turkey. The island of Crete is the largest and most famous of the Greek islands, and along with a few smaller islands around it, is its own "group." Here are the incredible ruins of ancient Knossos, providing keen insights into the Minoan civilization of ancient Greece.
Some of the Greek Islands are located very close to the coastline of Turkey, and those who visit these islands often take in some of the Turkey attractions as well. For example, the island of Kos is less than five miles from Bodrum; Samos is less than a mile from Kusadasi: and Rhodes is about fifteen miles from Marmaris. This means that Greek Island cruises in these regions almost always stop in both countries. The large ocean cruise ships are apt to begin a Mediterranean cruise on the European mainland in a city like Barcelona and then make port stops in Italy, Egypt, Israel, and Istanbul.
Many Greek island cruises use smaller ships owned by local cruise lines. These smaller ships are often able to get closer to the shoreline and can dock in smaller harbors, unlike the larger ships, which must anchor offshore and use tenders for shore excursions. Even though the smaller ships are lacking in facilities and services when compared to the larger international lines, they have what is needed for shorter trips, and most of the cruising is done during the night when passengers are sleeping. It's possible to visit virtually every one of the Greek Islands using the local ferries. If you've rented a car for your mainland transportation, you can bring it with you to several islands on many of the ferry routes.
If you are an experienced sailor, you can do your sailing in the Greek Islands on a bareboat charter. This involves renting a vessel that is fully equipped and outfitted (often including basic food supplies) but comes without a crew. Generally, you must pay a fairly hefty security deposit and provide some proof of your sailing expertise. If this isn't for you, you can also charter boats for sailing in the Greek Islands that come complete with a professional crew. The boats used for such tours often come in the form of yachts. The yachts available for charter range from rather basic to very luxurious. Itineraries for the yacht cruises often include stopping to enjoy some scuba diving and snorkeling at isolated Greek Islands beaches. The yachts are also known to stop at the more popular beaches, such as Koukounaries Beach on Kiathos Island and Red Beach on Crete. They will also stop in major ports for sightseeing tours and nightlife. If you want a taste of history during your cruise, you might try to charter a Turkish gulet—a traditional sailing vessel common in these waters.