By Amanda Mesa | Published on May 11, 2022

When it comes to unforgettable and extravagant summertime adventures, there's nothing like a week spent Greek island hopping. Take it from me — I sailed across the Aegean Sea on an 11-night Greek Isles cruise, and nothing comes close to topping the amazing culture, crave-worthy food and jaw-dropping beaches I had to look forward to every day. The many shores that make up this one-of-a-kind destination offer something for every type of traveler: rich history infused with colorful ancient mythology, dramatic landscapes that beckon with plenty of outdoor activities, delicious cuisine that goes big on fresh, locally sourced flavor and warm hospitality that will make you feel right at home everywhere you go. If you're anything like me, the perfect getaway involves all of the above.

Greece Rhodes Island Temple
Greece Rhodes Island Temple
Since I was a child, I'd always wanted to explore the ruins of ancient Greece. My bucket list included visits to the remnants of temples and palaces in Rhodes, Crete and Delos. As an adult, I added a few new experiences: savoring honey-drizzled saganaki, sipping Assyrtiko, soaking up views of Santorini's Caldera and exploring charming villages before taking a dip in the cerulean-blue sea. On my Greek island hopping cruise, I saw and did it all. I spent my days going from one lively beach club to the next, discovering centuries-old monasteries perched on towering cliffs and sampling some of the finest wines, cheeses and olives east of the Mediterranean. No matter what kind of experience you're craving, you'll never run out of ways to spend each vacation day island hopping in Greece.

Sun-Seeking In Santorini

Santorini, Greece Oia White Blue
Classic white and blue houses of Oia in Santorini, Greece

Island Hopping To Santorini

Santorini is one of the best-known destinations in the region and a fixture on any Greek island itinerary. As a favorite among honeymooners and sun-seekers, it totally lives up to the hype. Sure, it sees its fair share of tourists during peak season, but there are plenty of ways to dodge the crowds. I rented a scooter and zipped off to explore the island's quaint cliffside villages with their cozy al fresco cafes, sun-kissed vineyards and the wonderfully preserved ruins of Akrotiri first thing in the morning. Then, I spent my afternoon unwinding at a beach club on a black sand beach. You'll find several throughout the island that feel a world away from the bustling cobblestone streets of towns like Oia and Fira. In fact, less than eight miles northeast of the island's capital, there's Cape Columbo, Santorini's most off-the-beaten-path beach. Hemmed by towering black and white cliffs, the dramatic landscape of this wild, wind-lashed shoreline is truly awe-inspiring.

If you're a wine lover, no visit to Santorini is complete without checking out one of the island's many vineyards. The island is well known internationally for its Vinsanto wines, made from late-harvest, sun-dried white grapes that have been aged in oak for at least two years. Most wineries on the island offer tours and tastings.

No matter what kind of experience you're craving, you'll never run out of ways to spend each day island hopping in Greece.

Zip Through Mykonos By Boat

Mykonos, Greece Windmills From Restaurant
View of the famous Mykonos windmills as seen from a restaurant in Mykonos, Greece

Island Hopping To Mykonos

Mykonos, another of Greece's most famous islands to visit, has earned a reputation as a party island getaway. True, you'll find no shortage of beat-thumping, celebrity-frequented beach clubs near Ornos, Paraga and Paradise Beach, as well as vibrant nightlife in Mykonos Town. Though you can also find plenty of sun-kissed rest and relaxation. Ftelia, Kapari, Fokos and Mersini are some of Mykonos's quieter, more secluded beaches. Since the island has very few taxis, and they're all in demand during the busy summer months, consider splurging and chartering a boat during your time in Mykonos. I chartered a sailboat with a captain for the whole day and quickly found it's the most convenient way to get to the island's quieter beaches and hidden coves. The captain regaled me with stories of each location's history and offered insider tips on where to eat and party on the island — a priceless bonus.

If you're a history lover, you should definitely pencil in an excursion to the nearby island of Delos. In ancient times, Delos was believed to be the birthplace of the Greek goddess Artemis and the god Apollo and served as the region's holiest and most important island. Today, it's home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site that's considered one of Greece's most significant and best-preserved archeological wonders. Visitors can explore the ruins of Greek, Roman, Syrian and Egyptian shrines dating back thousands of years before heading back to Mykonos by boat or ferry.

Rhodes Leads To Ancient History And Beautiful Beaches

Rhodes, Greece, Lindos ancient columns
Ancient columns at Lindos in Rhodes, Greece

Island Hopping To Rhodes

As a fixture on most Greek island cruises, Rhodes brims with just as much ancient history and beautiful beaches as its more popular neighbors to the west, like Santorini and Mykonos. It's home to an impressive acropolis that dates back to the fifth century BC and includes the Temple of Apollo, a well-preserved stadium and theater. Around the acropolis sprawls the city of Rhodes itself, encompassing one of Europe's preserved medieval walled cities with standout sites such as the mosaic-studded Palace of the Grandmaster. This was my first stop during my visit. I started my day with a leisurely stroll along the city's ancient streets and squares before ducking into a local taverna for some Greek coffee and a slice of flaky baklava.

Then I made a bee-line for a daybed on Lindos Beach, one of the island's most beloved stretches of shoreline. Located walking distance from the charming village of Lindos, it had plenty of sunbeds and umbrellas available for rent, as well as water sports and a great selection of shoreside tavernas. The acropolis dominates the skyline in the distance, providing a truly wow-worthy backdrop for photos. For a more secluded experience, head to Prassonissi Beach, known as one of the island's best spots for windsurfing.

Kick Off Your Travels In Crete

Chania, Crete Boats Docked At A Pier
Boats docked at a pier in Chania, Crete

Island Hopping To Crete

Far to the west of Rhodes and surrounded by the jewel-bright waters of the Mediterranean Sea sits lovely Crete. While my cruise didn't include a stop here, fellow travelers have advised me that the best place to kick off your visit is at the Venetian Harbor, where the mouthwatering scent of grilled seafood, dried mountain herbs and fragrant spices lead you down the city's narrow, winding streets to bustling tavernas serving lightly fried sfakia pies made with thyme-infused honey and locally sourced cheese. Once you've fueled up for a day of exploration, head to Knossos — a 3,000-year-old palace about a two-hour drive west of Chania port. According to Greek mythology, the legendary King Minos built a labyrinth here to imprison Queen Pasiphae's son, the Minotaur.

Elafonissi pink sand beach while greek island hopping. Greece
Elafonissi pink sand beach while greek island hopping. Greece
If you'd rather fill your day with outdoor adventure, there's nothing like hiking the Samaria Gorge. The full trek from the Omalos Plateau viewing platform is about 10 miles, though even going halfway makes for an unforgettable experience. As you follow the path, walls of jagged rock tower up on either side of you. Keep an eye out for kri-kri, also known as Cretan goats. This endangered species makes climbing the sheer cliffs look like easy work. Alternatively, you can opt to spend the day on one of Crete's magnificent beaches. After all, sun-soaking and dips in the cool Aegean Sea are cornerstones of any Greek island hopping vacation. Elafonisi Beach on the island's far western coast has been dubbed one of the most beautiful in the world, best known for its rosy pink sand, easy-to-reach sandbars and shallow, lagoon-like waters.

Uncover All There Is To Corfu

Corfu, Greece, Paleokastritsa Beach
Paleokastritsa Beach in Corfu, Greece

Island Hopping To Corfu

While Greece's Aegean islands are well known as top vacation getaway destinations around the world, Corfu is somewhat less recognized among today's international jet-set. It's astounding that it's managed to fly under the radar for so long — especially considering it's one of the region's most romantic destinations. Located on the opposite side of the mainland in the Ionian Sea, this large island represents a quieter, more idyllic alternative to its well-trod sister isles east of the Athenian Riviera. You'll see evidence of its centuries under Venetian rule in its pastel-colored Italianate architecture, which clashes whimsically with its massive fortresses and quiet fishing villages.

About 30 minutes from Corfu, you'll find the beautiful village of Paleokastritsa, home to a historic monastery, lots of restaurants serving up fresh-caught seafood and some of the country's top-rated beaches. There's also the Achilleion Palace, built in the late 19th century for an Austrian Empress, filled with restored frescoes, perfectly manicured gardens and statues of Greek gods including Hera and Zeus. For some retail therapy in between onshore discoveries, visit Corfu's charming Old Town. The shops that line its streets sell everything from kitschy souvenirs to stunning porcelain vases, painted seashells and more. And whatever you do, don't leave without purchasing some of the island's famous handmade olive soap to bring home with you.

Carefree In Cephalonia

Greece Argostoli Kefalonia Beach
Aerial View of Cliffs in Kefalonia Beach

Island Hopping To Cephalonia

South of Corfu sits Cephalonia — another Ionian stunner and a great destination to add to your next Greek island hopping escape. Spend some time in Argostoli, the island's capital, where life tends to move at a slow, carefree pace. The most popular things to do involve exploring the island's natural wonders — such as Koutavos Lagoon, a lush nature reserve situated at the head of Argostoli Bay. It's teeming with all kinds of interesting wildlife, including the Caretta Caretta turtle. You can wander through the preserve's shady eucalyptus and pine forests for a glimpse of the many birds that make their homes among the branches. There's also towering Mount Ainos, the island's tallest peak. Head to the summit in a jeep or hike among its fragrant black pine forests and try to spot the semi-wild ponies that wander and graze among the trees. On a clear day, you can glimpse the islands of Zakynthos, Ithaca and Lefkada from the top.

Platis Gialos Mykonos Greece Beach
Platis Gialos Mykonos Greece Beach
Already imagining the salty tang of the Mykonos sea breeze, the sound of waves crashing against Santorini's black sand beaches and the heady scent of freshly fried saganaki wafting from a tucked-away taverna? Planning the ultimate Greek island hopping adventure is easier than you think, especially when you choose to explore the region on a cruise. After all, the most convenient way to get from one island to the next is by sea. Keep an eye out for itineraries that include at least some of these must-visit islands, and make sure you set aside some free time to just wander around each — because sometimes getting lost is the best way to discover the spirit of a destination.

Written By

Amanda has written for Royal Caribbean since 2017. She also covers travel, lifestyle, food and beverage for Indulge Magazine, the Miami Herald and PureWow. She's traveled extensively around the world, enjoys building unforgettable itineraries and loves introducing readers to lesser-known destinations. 

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