Aegean Sea Tours and Travel Guide
Aegean Sea Attractions & Landmarks Guide
Encompassing most of the Greek Islands, the Aegean Sea stretches from mainland Greece east to mainland Turkey and is one of the most captivating regions of the Mediterranean. S
ome of its most popular islands are Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, and Rhodes, which can be explored by small ship cruises or tours. The Aegean Islands offer much more than sand and sea: ancient history, archaeology, a variety of cultural influences, exceptional cuisine, and scenic hiking and cycling.
Except for the islands of the Ionian Sea west of the Greek mainland, almost all of the fabled Greek Islands are in the Aegean Sea.
This is the legendary realm of much of Homer’s Odyssey, of Greek gods such as Apollo (the island of Delos was his sanctuary) and Poseidon (god of the sea), of the Atlantis myth of a civilization beneath the sea – said to have been the result of the horrific volcanic explosion that blew apart the present-day island of Santorini – and the birthplace of Hippocrates and many other notable ancient Greeks.
The area has been under the control, at varying times, of the Greeks, the Romans, the Venetians, the Byzantines, the Turks, and the modern-day Italians. It’s harbored crusaders, Knights Templars, brigands, conquerors, and hundreds of generations of fishermen, farmers, shopkeepers, goat herders and winemakers.
Aegean Sea Islands
Island groupings include the Cyclades – the mostly desert-like isles southeast of Athens that form a circle around the once-sacred island of Delos. Today, they form the most visited part of the Aegean, with popular stops such as Mykonos, Santorini, Ios, Amorgos, Milos, Paros, and Naxos. Cycladic architecture is typically cubist and blindingly white and deep blue, echoing the colors of the iconic Greek sky, sea and puffy clouds.
The Dodecanese Islands of the southeast Aegean lie near Turkey and display heavy Byzantine and Turkish influences. Rhodes, the Island of Roses, has wonderful medieval architecture and riveting history; Lindos is a pretty town with ancient ruins. Kos and Patmos are two other exceptional islands in this chain.
The island of Crete is Greece’s largest, and is known for the ancient archaeological site of Knossos -- ruins of the great Minoan civilization -- as well as caves, beaches, and other natural wonders.
In the northwest Aegean, the Sporades are a small group; of islands, with two particular beauties: Skiathos and Skopelos . And in the islands of the northeast Aegean, Lesbos stands out.
The Saronic Islands, near Athens, are worth a visit too – Hydra, Aegina, and Poros are the most interesting.
While primarily associated with Greece, the Aegean also fronts the west coast of Turkey, where scenic boat rides are a must. Top sights along the way include the extensive and wonderfully preserved ruins of classical-era Ephesus, near the lively coastal city of Kusadasi.
5 Top Activities in the Aegean Sea
If you’re thinking of Aegean Sea travel as Greek islands, beaches, and yachts with champagne overlooking stunning blue waters...you’ve got half of it right.
The Aegean region is all of that, but it also has a wealth of unexpected joys and activities available to travelers.
1. Hiking - There are dozens of amazing hiking trails around the islands in the Aegean. And because of Greece’s incredible past you might just stumble upon an ancient site or two, far off the tourist radar.
Because there are so many, it’s easy to find a hike suitable to your physical level, and regardless of whether you get to the top or not, the views along the way are unbeatable. Santorini in particular holds some of the most popular hikes, rewarding travelers with stunning views over the ocean, unique from the common postcard shots.
2. Wildlife - Dolphins are one of the most popular wildlife sightings in the Aegean, and have been a staple of the area for centuries. Dolphins are depicted in many ancient Greek texts, and so their existence there is intrinsically linked to the Aegean culture.
Many initiatives are in place to keep them protected, and it is advisable to look very carefully at any dolphin related activities on your itinerary.
3. Water Sports - Yes, the yacht is nice, and what better way to enjoy relaxing on the deck with your cocktail than after an exhilarating day of waterskiing, wakeboarding, canoeing, snorkeling, and scuba diving? Ok, some maybe not all in the same day, but during your Aegean cruise, these options are often available and are a great way to enjoy the sun and warm waters.
4. History Tours - The Aegean is home to some of the most ancient sites in the world, so no trip around the Greek Islands and Turkish coast could be complete without at least some historical context to bring the region into fascinating focus.
Touring the many ancient ruins around the islands with a knowledgeable guide, often a professional archaeologist or historian, is one of the highlights when visiting the Aegean Sea.
5. Wine Tasting - Greece or Turkey may not immediately spring to mind when one thinks about wine, however there are many options for partaking around the Aegean islands.
Wine enthusiasts will enjoy the opportunity to taste some unique varietals, not common in the United States or other well known wine regions in Europe. Sweet white wine is one of the most popular items. And one of the many things Greece excels at it’s delicious food, particularly cheese and olives, both of which incidentally go very well with wine.
Things to Know Before You Go
Aegean Sea cruises are often separated into two distinct age groups. Many are focused on young travelers, in the 18-39 range, looking for a yacht party atmosphere. It’s no secret that Mykonos is the “party island” of Greece, and this is a focal point of many youth oriented tour groups.
On the other side of the spectrum, you’ll find delightfully slow paced luxurious tours, taking in the spectacular Santorini sunrise from your deck, with a day planned of beach walks, hiking, sailing excursions, snorkeling, and history tours.
Greece and Turkey are the stars of the Aegean Sea, and most cruises and tours in the region are long enough to visit both.
Best time to visit the Aegean Sea
There really isn’t a bad time to visit this region of Europe. However a few considerations you might want to take in include:
Spring break - Unless you’re a young college student, you may want to avoid the spring breakers heading to the Greek islands for a good time. This crowd can be loud and likes to party - there’s usually a lot of drinking going on, and this leads to rambunctious behavior - both on the water and on the shore. It can feel like a bit of a take-over, so if you’re looking for a relaxing cruise around the islands, late March through early April might be a time to avoid.
Also, it’s important to note that Easter is a very busy and popular holiday in Greece, and so you may run into some closures and festivals traveling around March or April.
Summer time crowds - summer is by far the busiest travel time, so the crowds will be intense. However on the flipside, during the summer is when everything is open, and there is a lot of choice for activities, excursions, accommodations, and meals. Some coastal areas and islands partially shut down during the off season so expect a more limited range of options.
June and July are some of the hottest months in the Aegean, and the heat plus the crowds can create quite an uncomfortable atmosphere! Some of the best times to visit weather-wise are the shoulder seasons; think April - May and August - September. The ocean waters will still be warm enough to enjoy and you can expect little to no rainfall.
Rainfall and cooler temperatures pick up as you head into winter, and many tourist activities may not be available during the winter months. This is a more popular time to visit the mainland, and ocean activities are slim.
What to wear on an Aegean Sea Cruise
The Aegean is a subsection of the Mediterranean, famous for its gorgeous weather. Much of your time will be spend out on the water, often taking excursions in smaller vessels than your cruise ship.
Sun Protection - Even though Be sure to bring sun protection - sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses will be essential. Lightweight material such as linen or cotton is great for the sun as well, and avoid dark colors as they will absorb the heat.
Footwear - While a good majority of your time will be spent on the idyllic beaches of the Greek islands, be sure to bring one pair of good tennis shoes or hiking boots, and a pair of water shoes, sturdier than flip-flops. Water shoes are a great way to stay comfortable and protect from coral or other sharp underwater areas when embarking and disembarking.
The islands have so much more to offer beyond a day at the beach! There’s tons of hiking and cycling around. Additionally, your tour will probably include a visit to a few ancient ruins - and these are very rocky and dusty with a lot of uneven surfaces.
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