History lies thick in the Eastern Med, and, as you would expect, many cruise ship excursions offer tours to historic sites. For those who don't simply want to board a bus for a bit of sightseeing, however, there's no shortage of opportunities to take part in adventurous, out-of-the-ordinary excursions, either.
So, for sporty types and those who hanker to see places regular shore excursion tours don't reach, some of these active alternatives might prove to be just the ticket.
The Tour: Coast-to-Coast Bike Tour
On an all-terrain bicycle, pedal through the charming city of Kos. Take in historical sites that include the Castle of the Knights of St. John, which stands as a reminder of the threat of attack in medieval times, and then stop to visit an ancient Greek theatre. Back on the bike, you'll pedal along the coast on to Psalidi, a beach lined with luxury hotels. At the end of your journey, relax and enjoy a welcome beverage stop at a restaurant near the marina.
Who Should Go: Experienced cyclists and history buffs with plenty of energy will enjoy this tour. Mandatory bike helmets are provided.
Why It's Extraordinary: History lesson by bike beats sitting in a classroom.
The Tour: Volcano Hiking
Sail by local boat along the rugged coastline, past weird and wonderful formations hewn from black volcanic rock, to Nea Kameni, a nearby island. Disembark to start the hike to the crater of the still-active volcano. It's a tough climb, but when you reach the top, you'll have king-of-the-world views of Santorini Island.
Who Should Go: This tour is best for adventurous types who like climbing and have a desire to see something different.
Why It's Extraordinary: How often can you get up-close and personal with a still-active volcano?
The Tour: Diving
Explore Santorini's spectacular underwater world, whether it's inside Mesa Pigadia's lava tunnels or taking in the beauty of the Adiavodos reef. The sea is clear as crystal with stunning volcanic topography and as much marine life as you can handle, including dozens of different kinds of fish, octopi, eels and squid. When your dive is over, it's time for a snack, which includes chocolate croissants.
Who Should Go: Underwater exploring types will find this excursion worthy of their time.
Why It's Extraordinary: The variety of marine life in the seas there is quite astonishing.
The Tour: Exploring Diros Caves
Paleolithic and Neolithic artifacts were uncovered there, indicating that the caves were one of the earliest inhabited places in Greece. Remains include complete human skeletons of the unburied dead from the close of the Neolithic period. Archaeologists believe that an earthquake shook the area, blocking the cave mouth, thus walling up the inhabitants who died of starvation. The cave entrance remained sealed for about 4,500 years. Small fishing boats ferry visitors inside the caves to admire the multicolored stalactites and stalagmites that formed over millennia.
Who Should Go: This jaunt is for those who don't freak out in claustrophobic conditions and who are sure-footed, as the path at the caves can be slippery.
Why It's Extraordinary: Ancient history lies thick in this place.
The Tour: River Adventure
A motorboat will take you along winding canals and through a maze of reeds on the Dalyan River Delta. Cotton plantations and fields alternate with islands covered in reed thickets. You'll pass temple-tombs of ancient kings carved into rocky cliffs and disembark in ancient Caunos. From there, tourists walk up the hillside to the ruins of the city with its Roman theater and Roman bath.
Who Should Go: Those who are active and revel in out-of-the-ordinary experiences will find this tour interesting.
Why It's Extraordinary: It will transport you back thousands of years.
The Tour: Journey by Jeep
On this four-wheel-drive adventure in a Suzuki Jimny-type vehicle, you can choose to be the driver or a passenger as you follow a lead Jeep across the island's rugged terrain. Follow the road to Kalo Livadi, and admire views of the rocky landscape en route to Kalafatis beach, where it's time for a dip in the sea. Then you'll continue to explore Mykonos' hidden corners.
Who Should Go: This excursion is recommended for travelers of any age (except small children) who don't mind bumpy rides and who like to get off the beaten track.
Why It's Extraordinary: On a notably busy island, it's a chance to see places that travelers rarely experience.
The Tour: Horseback Riding and Swimming tour
After being introduced to your horse, you'll head north, high above sea level, into the undiscovered heart of Mykonos. Your guide leads you through a maze of unspoiled hillside trails to a beautiful island beach where it's time to swap your saddle for your swimsuit and let your horse take a break. The adventure continues inland, passing the river area of Marafi, with its rich bird and animal life, before heading into Ano Mera village.
Who Should Go: Anyone who loves horses or nature will have fun on this tour.
Why It's Extraordinary: A chance to get close to nature.
The Tour: Mountain Bike Adventure
As you pedal uphill to the village of Kato Korakiana, the road follows a series of what might look, at first glance, like a series of impossible curves. There's a brief stop to get your breath back before continuing, downhill this time, to Ano Korakiana, one of Corfu's most colorful towns. As you cycle through the foothills of Mount Pantokrator, take in the glorious panoramas of the island's inner plains. Continue cycling along a narrow, paved road to the village of St. Marcos, an old Venetian settlement, with restored stone houses and a Byzantine chapel.
Who Should Go: This one is strictly for fit travelers older than 18.
Why It's Extraordinary: You'll see hidden corners of the island that most tourists miss.
The Tour: Kayaking
Your sea adventure starts from the water sports base at Elounda Bay. Then it's off, paddling a two-seated kayak to the island of Spinalonga. After a swim break at the beach, you'll explore the historic island, once a leper colony. When you're through exploring, paddle back to the water sports base for a picnic lunch. After lunch, there's more swimming or, for those who prefer, opportunities for windsurfing, water skiing or sailing in banana boats.
Who Should Go: Energetic, aquatic types will feel at home on this trip.
Why It's Extraordinary: It's a chance to get involved in lots of watery activities, all in one day.
The Tour: Rock Climbing
Hike through Agiofarago, a pink oleander-packed historic gorge which used to shelter monks from nearby monasteries. When you reach the beach, your guide will lead you as you make your way up rocky cliffs. There are bolt-protected climbing routes, as well as routes for all abilities on the sea cliffs.
Who Should Go: Sure-footed people who enjoy climbing and don't fear heights will do well.
Why It's Extraordinary: If you like climbing and appreciate beautiful scenery, you'll have great fun.
The Tour: Farm Visit
Katakolon is the port city for Olympia, and the ruins of the ancient games complex are there. Just outside town, you can visit a farm in the heart of a traditional agricultural region. Learn about olive groves, and sample a variety of mezes (appetizer dishes) washed down with coffee and local wine. You can even take part in a little Greek culture as you watch a demonstration of Syrtaki dance. The performers will be delighted if you give it a try yourself.
Who Should Go: Seniors and those interested in all things foodie and cultural are ideal candidates for this tour.
Why It's Extraordinary: It's the opportunity to live like a local, albeit for a short time.
The Tour: Cookery Lesson
Learn to make a traditional Turkish meal that you can easily prepare at home.
You might concoct crispy cheese and herb-filled pastry rolls, purslane salad with mint and yoghurt, or baked sea bass with shrimp. There will be a typical Turkish dessert, too -- maybe roasted figs infused in honey and bay leaves. After you've slaved over a hot stove, you'll enjoy the fruits of your labor for lunch, along with some local wine.
Who Should Go: Those of all age groups (except children) who enjoy culinary experiences and want a taste of local life will get their money's worth from this excursion.
Why It's Extraordinary: It's not every day you get the chance to cook traditional food in its country of origin.
--By Gilly Pickup, Cruise Critic contributor