What Travel Documents Are Needed?
U.S. citizens need a passport, but not a Visa.
What Is the Main Language? Is English Enough?
Greek is the predominant language, but English is spoken everywhere.
What Currency Is Used?
Greece uses the Euro. Credit cards are taken some places, but many places prefer cash. ATM machines are widely available. Travelers to Greece planning to use their ATM or credit cards should call their carrier before traveling to make sure their card is set up to be used overseas.
When Is the Best Time to Visit?
The best time to visit the Greek Isles is in the late spring/early summer and in the autumn. The weather is pleasant and not too hot. The most popular time to visit is in July and August. It’s party time in the islands, and everything is hopping. It is also very hot in mid-summer, with temperatures hovering around 100. The beaches are packed, and the ancient sites are full of tour groups. Most cruise ships visit the Greek Isles from late spring through November.
What Should I Pack?
If you are on a cruise, you will need to check with the cruise line as to the evening dress – formal, informal, or casual. Ashore, you will need good shoes and casual, cool clothing—the streets are often cobblestone, and the ancient archaeological sites often have uneven stony ground. A broad-brimmed hat, sunscreen, and good sunglasses are essential. Since many of the Greek Isles are almost treeless, (except for olive trees) there’s not much shade. All of the archaeological sites have little or no shade. You might need a sweater in the late autumn or early spring. There is almost no rain in the islands from May through September, and even October and November can be relatively dry. December through February are the rainiest and coolest months.
The Greek Isles are much like the Caribbean in that each island has its own personality and charm. Cruise ships visit several different islands, but three islands seem to be on many itineraries and demonstrate the diversity of the area.
Most Popular Cruising Islands
Greece has hundreds of fascinating islands, each with its own attractions and memories. Cruise ships visit about two dozen of the islands, and ferries will take you to even more. The three islands listed below are among the most popular.
Ships sail into an ancient volcanic caldera formed when the volcano erupted in 1500 B.C., and the capital city of Fira sits 1500 feet high on the cliffs overlooking the crater. To get from your cruise ship to Fira, you have to take a cable car or walk or ride a donkey up to the top. We were told that it was better to ride a donkey up rather than down because they are fed at the bottom and don’t have brakes! You can also walk up and down, but it is about 600 steps and you have to use the donkey path.
There are two main shore excursions on Santorini:
- First is an island tour with a bus ride to the highest mountain on the island, a visit to a winery, and a stop at Oia, a quaint village and artist colony. The tour ends in Fira, where participants can shop or eat at an open-air restaurant overlooking the sea before returning via cable car or donkey to their ship.
- Second is a tour of the ancient archaeological site of Akrotiri, which was preserved under a layer of volcanic ash over 3600 years ago. Excavations at the site were begun in 1967 and give visitors a peek at the Minoan period.
Oia has many handicraft and artisan shops, and Fira seems to have a jewelry shop on every corner. Watching the sunset from a café is a popular evening activity. There are numerous excellent restaurants in Fira and Oia along the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea. And, watching the sunset at Oia is a memorable experience.
This island is very popular with European tourists and is rich in history having been the home of the Knights of St. John who fled Jerusalem in the 13th century. Cruise ships dock just outside the walls of the old city, a five-minute walk away. In addition to its rich historical sites, Rhodes has wonderful beaches.
The most popular shore excursion on Rhodes is the 45-minute bus ride to the ancient village of Lindos, which has a spectacular acropolis overlooking the sea and the old city. The walk (or donkey ride) to the top of the 400-foot acropolis is steep and slow, but the views and ruins at the top are interesting and worth the hike. Numerous vendors selling mostly linens line the path to the top, so you can pause and shop and catch your breath on the way up. The village of Lindos at the foot of the Acropolis is filled with tourist shops, and the nearby beach is picture-perfect.
Old Town Rhodes has hundreds of shops and restaurants, many of which are open at night if your cruise ship docks overnight. Good buys include gold and silver jewelry, leather, furs, sea sponges, lace, carpets, linens, and kilims. The Palace of the Grand Masters is worth the walk to the top of the hill in the old city, and we thought our 6 euro entry fee well spent.
Those interested in seeing the ancient 100-foot bronze statue of Colossus of Rhodes will be disappointed—it has been gone for centuries. This wonder of the ancient world supposedly may have straddled Mandraki Harbor, a short walk from the cruise ship harbor and the Old City.
Santorini has its spectacular natural beauty and archaeological ruins. Rhodes has its history, good shopping, and beautiful beaches. Mykonos has a landscape of white-washed homes and cobblestone streets. It also has a party island reputation, especially in July and August. You won’t find many ancient ruins on Mykonos, but it does have a charming quality with quaint streets lined with artisan shops and cafes. The island also has a great diving reputation and some wonderful beaches. Taking photos of the churches and windmills on Mykonos and browsing the numerous galleries are fun activities.
If lucky, you might also catch a glimpse of Mykonos' mascot, Petros the Pelican.
For those needing a “fix” of archaeological ruins, shore excursions in Mykonos take travelers to the nearby island of Delos, which was once the religious and commercial hub of the Aegean. Other shore excursions will take you to one of the famous beaches or diving.
Choosing a Cruise Line
Which cruise ships sail the Greek Isles and the Aegean Sea? Travelers planning a cruise to the Greek Isles have their choice of all types of cruise ships--luxury, mainstream, and sailing ships. Almost every cruise line sailing the Mediterranean has at least one cruise with a port of call in the Greek Isles. A search on the Internet found at least 500 cruises of the eastern Mediterranean in the next year, most of which include Greece. You can cruise Greece for as little as $1000 per week. The airfare is additional.
- Large mainstream cruise lines sailing Greece include Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Holland America, MSC, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean.
- Mid-sized cruise lines cruising Greece include Azamara Club Cruises, Crystal, Holland America, Oceania, Voyages of Discovery, Voyages to Antiquity, Celestyal Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas.
- Small-ship cruise lines cruising Greece include Seabourn, SeaDream Yacht Club, Silversea, Star Clippers, Variety Cruises, and Windstar.
Book your Greek Isles cruise through a travel agent or directly with the cruise line.
As you can see, the numbers of ships and cruise lines sailing to Greece are of all sizes and fare ranges. With so many choices, now is a good time to start thinking about a cruise to the Greek Isles!