The Greek Islands are some of the most enticing in the world, and the cradle of western civilization. Quaint, white-washed villages draped in bougainvillea, brilliant blue skies, and shimmering coves make this destination unrivaled for its beauty, charm, and hospitality.

There’s no better way to explore the area than by cruise, which lets you enjoy not only the islands, but also the sparkling sea. Cruising lets you unpack once, forget about juggling ferry schedules, and just relax and enjoy the views.

We’ve been lucky enough to do two Greek Island cruises, and we’d do another in a heartbeat. It just never gets old. The people are warm and friendly, the food is terrific and affordable, and you don’t need to sign up for shore excursions – just go ashore and explore on your own. Best of all, the weather is nearly always perfect.

Cruises are available in all price ranges and you can go for as few as seven days or as long as three weeks. Greek Island cruises operate from May through November, and prices will be a little lower at the beginning and end of the season.

Nearly a dozen cruises lines sail in the Greek Islands, and you can choose from luxury lines like Seabourn, Silversea, and Sea Dream Yacht Club, or mainstream lines like Princess and Royal Caribbean. For something different, consider taking a cruise on a sailing ship with Windstar or Star Clippers.

The islands are surprisingly varied and you’ll likely visit several on your cruise. Here are the most popular:

1) Santorini
The quintessential Greek Island, Santorini encircles the caldera of an ancient volcano. The best views and the most spectacular scenery in the Greek Islands are here. Ride a donkey or take a cable car up the steep, 1,100-foot cliffs to the town of Fira. Spend the day shopping, rent a car or a cab and go to the charming village of Oia, or explore the ancient Minoan city of Akrotiri.

2) Mykonos
Known for its nightlife and picturesque windmills, Mykonos is a pretty sophisticated place. It has winding, marble streets with upscale shopping and great beaches. The waterfront Little Venice section is a charming spot for lunch or a glass of wine. But be careful not to let one of the big pink pelicans run off with your fish. From here, you can take a sidetrip to Delos – the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis – to see the ancient ruins, especially the magnificent Avenue of the Lions.

Mykonos

Mykonos

3) Corfu
The most developed Greek Island, Corfu is also the lushest with green mountains, pine forests, and olive groves. Corfu town is the most cosmopolitan place in the islands and the stylish shops, restaurants, and hotels rival those of other Mediterranean resorts. A variety of architectural styles reveal the many cultural influences over the centuries.

4) Rhodes
The largest island in the Dodecanese, Rhodes gets 300 days of sunshine every year. The home of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus, Rhodes has a rich history that’s still much in evidence. Take in the views from the town of Ialysso atop 1,000-foot Mt. Philerimos, visit the Acropolis of Lindos, which dates back to 1100 B.C., or just enjoy the shops and restaurants around Mandraki Harbor.

5) Crete
The home of King Minos and the Minoan civilization – Europe’s oldest – Crete has snow-capped mountains, deep gorges, and amazing architecture and artifacts dating back many millennia. In addition to the ancient Minoan sites, there are also many traces of the Venetian occupation, including an old castle and the port of Chania.

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