World-famous sights such as the Parthenon in Athens, charming seaside tavernas and crystal-clear waters are all part of a Greek island-hopping cruise. Only 227 of the 6,000 islands and islets scattered in the Aegean and Ionian Seas of Greece are inhabited and some are only accessible by boat, making a small ship cruise the best way discover these idyllic destinations.
Take a look at our list of the 10 best cruise lines for a Greek island-hopping odyssey.
Recreating the golden age of sailing, Star Clipper's 170-passenger, tall clipper ship Star Flyer cruises through the Aegean every summer. Passengers experience the thrill of sailing on a beautiful four-masted vessel, stopping off at various islands on the way.
Itineraries range from five to 11 nights, with ports of call including Mykonos, Kos, Skiathos, Skopelos and Katakolon. Sailings include themed "Mamma Mia!" cruises visiting beaches and locations on Skopelos where outdoor scenes in the movie were shot. Cruises taking in the Cyclades -- one of the six major Greek island groups -- include a transit of the Mycale Strait, which separates Samos from Anatolia in Turkey, and is less than a mile wide at its narrowest point.
With its fleet of small ships, Windstar can visit hidden ports in the Aegean Sea -- such as Nafplio, Monemvasia and Patmos -- along with well-known islands, including Santorini and Mykonos, to bring passengers closer to unique island cultures, ancient treasures and beautiful Greek beaches.
Typical Greek island cruises range from seven to 10 days, and island-hopping itineraries are also part of longer voyages such as an epic 50-night voyage spanning the length of the Mediterranean. The nine-night Ancient Wonders of Greece and Ephesus, sailing round trip from Athens, provides an immersive experience -- in every sense -- including the opportunity to swim in the lagoon where the goddess Athena was said to bathe.
SeaDream Yacht Club
With just 112 passengers and 95 crew members on each of its two ships, SeaDream describes its luxury Greek island cruises as: "It's Yachting, Not Cruising." The all-inclusive sailings feature five-star dining and the only "raw food" menu at sea with dishes prepared using raw, organic and vegan ingredients. Ashore, standout signature experiences include being served Champagne in the surf.
Many of SeaDream's Greek itineraries feature a memorable passage through the high-sided Corinth Canal. The nine-night Venice to Athens sailing is one of the line's special Wine Voyages featuring wine tastings and winemaker's dinners reflecting the areas being visited. SeaDream's mega-yachts SeaDream I and SeaDream II are also available for exclusive private charter.
Based in Athens, this family-owned line is well placed to provide authentic explorations of the Greek islands. Variety sails from the largest and southernmost island of Crete to the beautiful Cyclades archipelago, including Kea, Santorini, Mykonos and the neighboring UNESCO-protected archaeological isle of Delos. The fleet of small ships, hosting a maximum of 71 passengers, takes travelers closer to the sea, nature and local communities in destinations visited.
All itineraries are seven-night round trip sailings from Athens, and they include the Classical Greece voyage that sails through turquoise-blue waters to reach the island of Kythira -- a hidden gem in the Aegean Sea. There are also four-night mini-cruises during the spring and fall that visit Santorini, Delos, Mykonos and Syros.
Also providing a real taste of Greek island-hopping is Celestyal Cruises, which offers a choice of year-round itineraries in the Aegean Sea on its two ships. All sailings begin and end in Athens and include three- and four-night mini-breaks taking in Mykonos, Patmos and Santorini. On the longer sailings, passengers will also visit Rhodes and Heraklion.
The seven-night Eclectic Aegean cruise visits the instantly recognizable island of Santorini with its blue-and-white buildings perched high on the cliffs. Some sailings include a port of call in Mykonos until 2 a.m. so passengers can enjoy its nightlife to the fullest.
Celestyal is based in Cyprus and is noted for its authentic onboard cuisine showcasing Greek specialties prepared with fresh Mediterranean ingredients.
Azamara Club Cruises
This three-ship line prides itself on shore excursions that are much more than tours. Azamara's excursions are billed as experiences that take passengers to hidden gems and reveal local secrets and traditions. This is achieved through longer times in destinations so visits never seem rushed.
One example is the 11-night Greece Intensive itinerary, with five late stays, one overnight and 10 ports of call. The overnight is in Mykonos, famous for its sun-bleached houses with brilliant blue shutters, vibrant bougainvillea and 16th-century Venetian windmills. Shorter sailings include the seven-night Adriatic & Greece cruise with time to explore the beaches, cobbled Old Town and countryside of Crete -- one of the most popular Greek islands.
Seabourn Cruise Line
Seabourn is another luxury small ship line that visits ports not accessible to larger vessels. Its sleek and intimate ocean ships, carrying between 450 to 600 passengers, offer all-inclusive cruising and in-depth excursions through its Ventures of Seabourn program.
Among the sailings that take in Greece is the six-night Greek Isles & Maltese Magic itinerary. This cruise sets out from Athens and visits islands including Rhodes, the best-known of the Dodecanese islands, where the legacy of the ancient Greeks mingles with that of besieging Turks, crusading knights and occupying Italians.
Of similar duration is the Adriatic & Greek Glories cruise, which features a full day in Nafplio, a scenic port crowned by a Venetian fortress.
Sea Cloud Cruises
Pristine Greek waters provide a stunning backdrop for romantic voyages with Sea Cloud aboard one of its two majestic sailing ships. Originally built as a private yacht in 1931, Sea Cloud is a classic four-masted windjammer that carries 64 passengers; Sea Cloud II, accommodating up to 94, was launched in 2001 as a modern take on a tall ship.
Island-hopping sailings include an eight-night Thessaloniki to Athens cruise that visits the Cycladic island of Folegandros -- only accessible via the tiny port of Karavostasis and almost untouched by mainstream tourism. Nearby Chora, the largest village, is perched spectacularly on a steep, rocky outcrop and provides panoramic views over the island and the sea.
Voyages to Antiquity
With a single 386-passenger ship named Aegean Odyssey, it comes as no surprise that this tiny cruise line offers destination-rich sailings to the Greek islands.
The country's mainland and its islands are at the center of Voyages to Antiquity's program. Itineraries trace the history from the earliest Mycenaean settlements and the rise of the golden age of Athens to the historical legacy of Venetian and Ottoman empires. These itineraries range from the eight-night Islands of the Aegean Sailaway to the 23-night Grand Classical Greece & Black Sea cruise.
Voyages to Antiquity places a big emphasis on catering to single travelers, and 39 cabins across a range of categories (including balcony) are set aside for solo passengers.
Providing English-speaking cruises with French flair, luxury cruise line Ponant delivers a travel experience that is both authentic and sophisticated. Exceptional service is provided by the high ratio of crew members to passengers, and there's great attention to fine dining.
The weeklong Aegean Odyssey cruise includes calls at Lesbos, with a history dating back to the Ottoman Empire, and the charming traffic-free isle of Hydra.