Written by Missy Johnston
The islands of Greece form the birthplace of one of the world’s most ancient and storied civilizations. An estimated 160-220 Greek islands are inhabited, with thousands more dotting the azure waters of the Aegean and Adriatic Seas. Your upcoming island-hopping sojourn is a chance to wander the centuries, learning about the special history and culture of the various Greek Islands, and bearing witness to the changes and advancements of philosophy, government, culture, and much more.
Greek island yacht charters are a brilliant way to take in the flavors and cultural traditions unique to each island. Aided by an ideal climate, the private yacht charterer has many itinerary choices within the five major island chains (the Saronic, the Cycladic, the Dodecanese, the Sporadic, and the Ionian Islands).
There is no “best” choice of islands in which to cruise on your yacht charter in Greece. Often, islands from several island chains might be combined in one charter itinerary, so instead, we are highlighting below some of our favorite islands in each island chain, and what to do and see on each. The high season for Greece is summer, although you can travel comfortably in late spring and early fall. It’s always wise to inquire early about yacht charter in the Greek Islands, as this is a terrific yacht charter destination—so it’s very popular.
The Saronic Islands
The Saronic Islands are the lovely group found closest to Athens, marching down the mainland of the Peloponnesian Peninsula. They are an excellent introduction to Greek island life. With a history of Venetian rule, the architecture on these islands could be described as Italianate in style—and in a number of places, 19th-century Baroque in feel.
Aegina boasts the well-preserved ruins of the Doric Temple of Aphaia. The sanctuary complex is an ideal trip back in time for any visiting history buffs. Aegina’s port is bordered by a small white church from which there are amazing views of the coast.
Few Greek islands offer a more beautiful entry by sea or more extensive yacht dockage. Poros is known for its nightlife, food, shopping, and beaches laden with golden sand.
Hydra has personality in spades, thanks to its cobblestone walking streets and historic Italianate style architecture. Lavish stone mansions built by high society families alternate with churches and monasteries. Here, you will find hundreds of donkeys used as the primary means of travel and carrying goods to market.
Greece’s history of naval battles is well-documented with monuments and museums on Spetses. After exploring ashore, head to any of the half-dozen beaches for azure waters and aquatic sports activities. End the day with a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride.
On Agistri, one of the smaller islands in the Saronic chain, the forest kisses the sea. Rent a bicycle to journey amongst the pine, lemon, and fig trees before cooling off at the family-friendly beach in Skala.
Once a suburb of Athens, Salamina is covered with pretty summer cottages, lovely beaches, and tavernas.
Drop anchor in the sheltered bay of Dokos, a small island with fewer than 50 residents. Here was found the oldest shipwreck in Greek waters discovered to date.
The Cycladic Islands are far and away the most famous of the Greek island chains. The islands form a circle, and Greek legend tells of the furious god Poseidon, who transformed the Cyclades nymphs into individual isles as punishment. Once a nation within itself, it is on the Cycladic Islands where the white buildings with cobalt blue trim blossomed into the architectural style so identified with Greece. If you have been dreaming of a leisurely walk among those often-pictured unique white homes with cobalt blue trim and Greek Orthodox churches with blue domes, the Cycladic Islands are where you can live out that dream.
Mykonos is arguably the most famous island in Greece, and quite familiar to the seasoned private yacht charterer. According to Greek mythology, it was formed from the petrified bodies of the giants killed by the god Hercules. Enjoy the vibrant waterfront, windmills, and excellent designer shopping. This is an island where chic nightlife in bars and nightclubs reigns supreme from dusk to dawn.
Santorini is another hugely popular destination for both Greeks and international visitors. Wander the walking streets through Fira on the Caldera where the terrace of one white sugar cube building with cobalt blue trim might be on the roof of the building below. Santorini is unique in that the island literally “blew its top” in 1600 BC. Today, there is the Caldera with beautiful striated ground colors from top to bottom, the remains of the center of the volcano out in the bay, and black sand beaches ringing the outside of the island. Be sure to visit Akrotiri to see the excavation of a recently discovered ancient wealthy Minoan trading city which was covered in ash by the volcanic explosion.
Delos can be seen directly across from Mykonos’ main harbor. The island is an historian’s delight; still under excavation, there are new ruins to discover at every turn. It is easy to spend many hours here with one of the islands’ excellent guides, but only during the daylight, as this sacred island is only open from sunrise to sunset.
On this island which reflects Cycladic traditional island life, go ashore to see the sanctuaries of Delian Apollo and Artemis before hiking the Byzantine Road, a well-worn marble path dating back centuries. Golden Beach is a famous spot for windsurfing and swimming. Wind down with a glass of ouzo and a plate of grilled octopus with the locals at 5:00pm at any one of the many fine Paros island tavernas.
Beautiful beaches, tall mountains, and lush green vegetation make the Ionian Islands a very attractive destination for the private yacht charterer. These islands are said to have the nicest beaches in Greece.
One of our favorite islands, Corfu sports its own international airport. Cross onto the peninsula where the Old Town of Corfu sits to find a colorful labyrinth of restaurants, a huge parade ground, a 15th-century fortress, and much more.
It is simply a must to take the yacht’s tender into the Blue Caves of Zakynthos, which light up in blue and green as the color of the sea is reflected onto the cave walls. This is also an ideal spot to visit the native loggerhead sea turtles, which come to lay their eggs in this protected national marine park. Don’t miss one of the most photographed spots in Greece, Navagio or “Shipwreck” Beach.
This island attracts not only visitors but many expats as well; they come for a visit and never leave. There are wonderful swimming spots here, lined with cafes offering icy drinks as a respite from the summer sun. Thirteenth-century Byzantine frescoes exist side by side with 16th-century castles, creating a marvelous and very unique historical dynamic.
Paxi is small enough that it only has three villages, but what it lacks in population it makes up for in stunning beaches and kilometers of sea caves for endless exploration. Every summer the port of Paxi fills up with Greek island yachting enthusiasts and their private yachts.
Lefkada, although still an island, is joined to the mainland by a narrow causeway. Venerable villages where Greek Orthodox priests scurry along in their black robes and fantastic beaches can be found here with none of the big crowds.
In Homer’s tale The Odyssey, it takes the protagonist 10 years to reach the isle of Ithaki (or Ithaca.) Despite fame, both the island and its people are still living a very traditional Greek Island life, where older women still dress all in black. The Cave of the Nymphs and several other sites named in the tome are here waiting to be visited and explored.
Kefalonia is the largest and most biodiverse island in the Ionian chain. Ionian island charter is not complete without a stop here. The beaches are exquisite, including Xi, a red-sand beach. Parts of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin were shot on Antisamos Beach, another gorgeous spot to while away the time.
Despite the island chain moniker of “Twelve Islands,” there are 15 larger and 150 smaller Dodecanese Islands found in the southeastern Aegean Sea. Visit here to explore incredible Medieval architecture, castles of the Crusader Knights, and quieter beaches. Lined up along the western Coast of Turkey, visits to terrific Turkish ports such as Bodrum or archeological sites such as Ephesus and Knidos can also be included. Or, head east and include several Cycladic Islands on your cruise through the Greek Dodecanese Islands.
The island of Leros boasts the entire vacation package: pristine beaches, fantastic food, and quaint fishing villages dotting the hillsides. Here, the Greek goddess of hunting, Artemis, was said to have hunted for deer.
Stepping away from Greek mythology for a moment, the island of Patmos is a sacred island due to its place in the Christian liturgy. It is the island of the Apocalypse, where it is said that Saint John had the visions he interpreted as the final judgement. It is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visit both the Cave of the Apocalypse and the Monastery of St. John.
The shores of Kos light up at night with restaurants, cafes, and nightclubs inviting you in for a cocktail. Explore the ruins of Asklepion, the location of the famous ancient sanitorium created by Kos’ native son, Hippocrates, and the Crusader Castle built by the Knights Templar in the 14th century, with an unusual mix of ancient Hellenic building stones used to form the fortification walls.
The main port on Symi is lined with delightful pastel-hued homes, and virtually every street offers an unobstructed view of the Aegean. The pace of life here is slower and quieter. Be sure to visit the other side of the island to see the Panormitis Monastery. This is a great island to enjoy hiking on the many paths through the wild herb-laden countryside.
Nisyros is the home of a still-active volcano, which last erupted 16,000 years ago. Travelers can journey between 10 different hydrothermal craters—at the Stefanos crater, stand right in the middle before taking a dip in one of the many thermal spring baths.
This is the largest of the Dodecanese island chain. We recommend heading up the hill to see the ancient Acropolis in Lindos Harbor. Then, cruise around the island to dock for the night in Mandraki Harbor right beside the medieval fortified Old Town built by various orders of the Crusading Knights. Rhodes Old Town is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the largest medieval walled city in Europe.
The Sporadic chain is one of the smallest, but what it lacks in size and geographic spread it makes up for in natural wonders. Visit the Sporades for astonishing sea and wildlife, beautiful water reflecting clear shades of blue and green, fine wines, and excellent sailing.
Alonissos is well-known to vintners around the world. Here, some of the best Greek wines are produced. This island is part of the Alonissos Maritime Park, which encompasses 6 other small islands and 22 islets and is the largest marine park in the EU. Be sure to explore the many uninhabited inlets, with lovely anchorages, where rare animals including monk seals thrive. This is an area where several days can be spent enjoying the beautiful blue green waters.
There are many fine beaches on Skiathos, but the most-photographed is Lalaria. Here, magnificent rock formations rise from the crystalline waters.
Fans of Mamma Mia will enjoy visiting the island of Skopelos where several scenes were filmed, including the wedding scene in the church of Agios Ioannis Kastri. A yacht charter is vital and often the only way to access the many secluded, romantic beaches.
The southernmost of the Sporades, Skyros is a sailor’s delight, as evidenced by the number of sailing yachts and sailboats in the harbor. Ashore wander labyrinthine streets to admire sun-bleached houses and charming corner cafes.
Customized Greek Island Yacht Charters
Island hopping is something of a Greek sport, and for good reason. There is a never-ending choice of anchorages and harbors on different islands, from well-populated harbors filled with tavernas, shops and cafes, to deserted anchorages with beautiful blue-green water. Picture your yacht resting comfortably on anchor . . . the only one in sight while you enjoy swimming, water sports, and perhaps a beach barbecue. Your experienced crew and captain know the best places and anchorages to visit on each and every island, depending on what you like to see and do, and can recommend the best traditional Greek tavernas for a great taste of fresh Greek cuisine and unique experience of local island life.
There are hundreds of choices, all culturally, historically, and geographically rich beyond measure. Let us help you build the itinerary of your dreams!