The Greek islands are known for their stunning beauty, but also for their rugged terrain. Perhaps it is because of this duality that they remain one of Europe's top holiday destinations. The consistent wind and sun-drenched islands also make Greece arguably Europe's best place for sailing.
The Greek archipelago provides a diverse range of experiences. With over 2,000 islands scattered throughout the sea, it is no surprise that they have so much to offer. Discover pristine beaches, lively parties and world-class historical sites, sail between rocky coves with crystal-clear waters and enjoy Greek specialities in one of the many tavernas right on the shore. You'll feel as if you've stepped right into a picturesque postcard scene.
Generally the Greek yachting region is divided into the archipelagos of the Cyclades, Dodecanese and Sporades in the Aegean Sea and the Ionian Sea and Saronic Gulf (also known as the Gulf of Aegina).
The Aegean Sea, particularly the Cyclades, is better suited for seasoned sailors due to its challenging conditions. The Sporades and Dodecanese island groups provide a mix of untamed and gentler sailing experiences, but they are also recommended for those with sailing expertise.
You don't have to go far to find the beautiful treasures of the Mediterranean. Head west from Athens and explore the ancient seaside villages of the Peloponnese, such as Epidaurus, or head southeast towards Sounion, where you can spend the night under the Temple of Poseidon. Anchor in Monemvasia — this medieval town carved into a rocky hillside is considered one of the most romantic spots in Greece.
YACHTING.COM TIP: The Aegean Sea is the most popular choice for sailors heading to Greece — it's easy to reach from Athens, temperatures are mild, winds are steady and predictable, and there are no tides or strong currents. For tips on how to navigate the Aegean waters, check out our guide to the most beautiful week-long sailing routes in the Aegean Sea.
The Cyclades: the circular islands
The Cyclades are the most famed of all the Greek islands and comprise a group of 220 islands (including Mykonos, Santorini, Naxos, Paros and Ios) forming a circle around the sacred island of Délos. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where Apollo, the ancient Greek sun god, is said to have been born.
Sailing in the Cyclades is an unforgettable experience as every island is unique with its own climate, culture, and character shaped by its coastline and geography. From beautiful nature and ancient history to fantastic cuisine and summer festivities, the Cyclades offer a wide range of attractions. These islands have a rich cultural significance, infused with myth and thousands of years of history. They also boast a diverse landscape, abundant marine life, and exceptional natural beauty.
The Cyclades offer unforgettable hidden spots and magical rock formations.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Sailing the Greek islands offers something for everyone. Whether you prefer the bustling bays and vibrant nightlife, or a challenging sailing experience, we've got you covered in our guide to the best sailing routes in Greece.
Mykonos, known as the "King of the Cyclades" is a true gem in the Greek Aegean and draws large crowds of holidaymakers and sun worshippers during high season. The island's main attraction is the hedonistic interior of Mykonos, often referred to as the Greek Ibiza. But visitors should also check out the windmills of Chora, the warm sands of Elias Beach, and the mysterious whitewashed monasteries of Ano Mera.
Mykonos has earned its reputation as the Greek Ibiza.
The volcanic island of Santorini (officially Thira) is the most popular Greek island and the southernmost island of the Cyclades group. The island is a remnant of a volcanic caldera and is famous for its sunny white and black sand beaches, picturesque blue and white villages built along the steep slopes, warm turquoise waters, and lively nightlife.
Cruise past the flooded volcanic crater that forms the caldera of Santorini and then anchor right next to the volcanic lake of Nea Kameni, where you can take a dip in the hot springs. From here you can continue to two black sand beaches, Perissa or Kamari, and return to Santorini to catch the famous sunset.
Santorini is also home to the cubist villages of Oia and Fira, cascading over the island's volcanic cliffs in streaks of brilliant white. If you're into diving, this is where some infamous dive sites can be found.
Paros is known for its Byzantine trails and beautiful beaches, Ios has 365 churches and stunning Cycladic architecture, while Amorgos offers exceptional hiking trails. All of these islands have ideal conditions for sailing and anchoring, making them perfect destinations for a Greek island sailing adventure.
The renowned Hozoviotissa Monastery on the island of Amorgos.
The Sporades archipelago is made up of four main islands — Alonissos, Skopelos, Skyros, and Skiathos. Skiathos, known for its sandy beaches and charming villages, is the most popular island in the group. It features a vast landscape with pine forests, ivory sand beaches, picturesque white-washed villages, and endless stretches of azure sea.
And if Skiathos lures you in, don't miss the rugged cliffs and rock arches of Lalaria in the north or the crumbling Byzantine castles that adorn the towns in the area.
For those seeking a more peaceful retreat, the rugged island of Alonissos offers a true wilderness experience, complete with its own protected marine park ideal for wildlife watching. The island of Skopelos boasts a stunning Byzantine castle that is definitely worth a visit, while Skyros offers uncrowded beaches and secluded coves, making it the perfect spot for those looking to escape the crowds.
This route can be easily completed in a week or longer, depending on your preference. Begin your journey on the famous island of Rhodes, known for its UNESCO-protected old town. From there, sail to Tilos and Karpathos, one of the windiest islands in the Mediterranean. Alternatively, you can explore the Venetian castles on Kos or enjoy the Greek-Italian fusion cuisine in the town of Lakki on Leros, with a stop at the uninhabited islet of Levitha along the way.
View of the traditional colourful houses on Symi Island
YACHTING.COM TIP: While some sailors enjoy the freedom of anchoring in deserted spots in the bays and saving on marina fees, others find it to be a nightmare. For those interested in learning more about anchoring in Greece, click here. Keep in mind that anchoring in Greece is generally cheaper than in Croatia.
Crete: in the footsteps of the Minoans
Crete, the largest of the Greek islands, is another excellent choice for a sailing. Compared to the Cyclades or the Sporades, there are fewer boats sailing along this coastline, but it still has some of the most beautiful beaches in Greece.
Crete is a stunning blend of ancient harbours and delightful Venetian port towns, with lively tavernas nestled amidst olive groves, sun-soaked peaks, and breathtaking canyons. As the home of the Minoans, one of the oldest civilizations in the world, Crete offers a glimpse into the past with its ancient temple of Knossos, where King Minos is said to have once lived.
The beaches in Crete are diverse and offer something for every taste. You can find wild and rugged beaches such as Falasarna in the west, ethereal beaches like Elafonisi on the Libyan Sea, and bustling and lively beaches closer to Heraklion and the vibrant town of Malia.
Avoid sailing in July and August, when strong Meltemi winds blow; May and June or September and October are more suitable.
One of the most beautiful islands: Symi
Although the tiny island of Symi is just a dot on the map of the Greek Aegean Sea, it has been described as one of the most beautiful islands in the region. Its biggest attraction is the colourful port of Symi and the town of Ano Symi, which glows with shades of yellow, pink, blue and ochre. Of course, there are also plenty of hidden beaches and cypress groves to discover.
Head to Chios for unspoilt coastline
Sleepy Chios is a relatively large but lesser-known island that sits in the Aegean Sea just off the Turkish coast. It boasts charming medieval hilltop villages, an unspoiled coastline, and vast inland vistas with arid valleys adorned with bushes. Don't miss the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Monastery of Nea Moni, dating back to the time of Constantine IX, which boasts magnificent mosaics.
Windmills at sunset, Chios
Tranquillity and gastronomy in Thasos
If you are sailing around Halkidiki, do not forget the peaceful Thassos. You can often spot dolphins off Panagia or admire the impressive rock formations off Giola. Stop for a swim in Aliki and try the legendary lamb grilled over a wood fire with stuffed vegetables called gemista in Archodissa. Then cruise north along the coast to Paradise Beach and anchor for the night in the small harbour of Thasos.
Green Kos: an island with a taste of Turkish delights
In the remote reaches of the Dodecanese, just a short distance from Bodrum in the east, lies the island of Kos. Its interior is dotted with fig fields and olive groves, as well as rugged mountain peaks and wind-swept sand dunes. The most popular beaches are Lambi and the secluded Limnionas. You'll also find authentic Turkish and Greek food that's not to be missed.
YACHTING.COM TIP: In April, May and June, as well as in September and October, the winds in the Aegean and Ionian are steady and reliable. Strong Meltemi winds do not occur during this period. If you have to stay somewhere unplanned for longer, definitely follow in the tracks of the incredible Greek cuisine we wrote about here.
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Ionian Sea and Saronic Gulf
The Ionian Sea and the Saronic Gulf are more suited for beginners and those who like a leisurely cruise. The Saronic Gulf, also known as the Gulf of Aegina, is enclosed by the Attica and Argolis peninsulas and bordered to the north by the Isthmus of Corinth. The Saronic Islands, which lie in the gulf, are an important part of Greek history. The waters here are typically calm and protected, with the most popular destinations being the renowned islands of Corfu, Lefkada, Ithaca, Kefalonia and Zakynthos. These destinations offer an opportunity to sail within the sheltered waters of the enclosed sea.
Attica: Athens is steeped in history
Attica is the region in which Greece's capital city, Athens, is located, and with which its history is deeply intertwined, including the Golden Age of Greece (500–300 BC). For those sailing this route, a visit to the Acropolis of Athens is a must-see stop on their itinerary. The ancient hilltop citadel houses wonders such as the Parthenon, the Propylaea, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike.
Sounion in Attica, located at the southernmost tip of the peninsula, is a place you wouldn't want to miss. It's worth visiting the Temple of Poseidon, the temple of the ancient Greek god of the sea, towering high above the ocean on the cliffs of Cape Sounion. You'll also be pleasantly surprised by the beautiful bay, which is perfect for swimming and snorkelling.
The Attica peninsula is also famous for its many beautiful harbours. Be sure to anchor in the award-winning port of Flisvos, just 6 km from the centre of Athens. Other marinas on the Attica Peninsula that have been awarded the Blue Flag include Olympic Marina, Agios Kosmas Marina and Alimos Marina.
The Argo-Saronic Islands
The Saronic islands of Spetses, Poros, Aegina, Hydra and Agistri are located near Athens and offer a great option for leisurely sailing. Take time to explore each unique small island, from the pine-covered charm of Poros in the Peloponnese, to the neoclassical mansions and quaint cafes of Hydra's photogenic harbour, and the tree-lined beaches and hidden coves of Spetses.
Island paradise of Aegina
If you're searching for a Greek island near Athens, Aegina is a perfect choice. It is only 17 nautical miles away, and you can sail here from Piraeus in less than an hour and dock at the port of Aegina on the northwest coast of the island.
On this island, you'll find incredible historical ruins, including the Doric temple of Aphaia (5 BC), from where you can walk down to the sandy beach of Agia Marina and take a dip in the turquoise waters. Five kilometres southeast of Aegina is the secluded Marathon Beach, which is not too crowded even in high season. The town of Aegina itself boasts beautiful, bustling streets where you shouldn't miss a visit to the tavernas to sample the delicious pistachio nuts. In Aegina, they produce over 600 tonnes of them a year and they are said to be the best in the world.
Corfu: for history and natural scenery
Corfu, the mythical home of the god Poseidon and the ancient Phaeacians, offers sandy beaches, pebbly coves, UNESCO-listed villages and stunning cliffs. While the natural beauty of Corfu's mainland is undeniable, the island is also home to breathtaking man-made attractions. Be sure to visit Angelokastro Castle, Vlacherna Monastery, and Mandraki Harbour for an unforgettable experience.
Ancient ruins on Delos
Delos is one of the most interesting places to explore the remains of Greece's rich past. There are a number of archaeological sites worth visiting and there are more ancient ruins here than on any other island in the region. You shouldn't miss the Lion Terrace and the massive theatre on Délos, or the fantastic archaeological museum.
Love nature? Kefalonia is the place for you.
Kefalonia, the largest of the Ionian Islands, is a true paradise for nature lovers. The island was made famous by Louis de Bernières in his film Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Here you will find fishing towns such as Argostoli and Fiskardo, where time has stood still. The island's fragrant olive groves and the imposing Ainos mountains are a sight to behold, but the true star is the coastline. With its stunning white chalk cliffs, crystal clear waters, and sparkling beaches like Skala and Myrtos, Kefalonia is a true paradise.
Peaceful Lefkada: the perfect place to relax
Lefkada is one of the most remote and peaceful destinations in the waters of the Ionian Sea, and ideal for sailors who want to experience life in the Greek countryside. Inland, you'll find rugged mountains and high-altitude villages surrounded by dense forests of juniper, olive and cypress trees. In contrast, the east coast offers many hidden coves and picturesque fishing villages. Notable spots include Porto Katsiki and Kalamitsi Beach where quaint makeshift tavernas meet the vibrant turquoise shoreline.
Turtles in Zakynthos
Zakynthos is renowned for its turtles, which have their own beaches on the island. However, those seeking a lively atmosphere will also find something to their taste, such as the impressive Shipwreck Bay and the famous party streets of Laganas and Kalamaki. Nature lovers should explore the rugged mountains to the north, as well as the turtle beaches, traditional tavernas, and rocky coves of the Vassilikos peninsula.
Yachting in Greece offers a blend of easy and more demanding sailing experiences. The Ionian Sea, with its warm waters and gentle winds, is perfect for sailors of all levels looking for an adventure, while the Aegean and Saronic Seas provide a more challenging sailing experience for those seeking it.