SantoriniThis is one of the most spectacular islands in the world, and approaching it from the sea is marvelous. Santorini is one of the best sail away ports in the world. Ships sail into an ancient volcanic caldera formed when the volcano erupted in 1500 B.C., and the capital city of Fira sits 1500 feet high on the cliffs overlooking the crater. To get from your cruise ship to Fira, you have to take a cable car or walk or ride a donkey up to the top. We were told that it was better to ride a donkey up rather than down because they are fed at the bottom and don’t have brakes! You can also walk up and down, but it is about 600 steps and you have to use the donkey path.
There are 2 main shore excursions on Santorini:
First is an island tour with a bus ride to the highest mountain on the island, a visit to a winery, and a stop at Oia, a quaint village and artist colony. The tour ends in Fira, where participants can shop or eat at an open air restaurant overlooking the sea before returning via cable car or donkey to their ship.
Second is a tour of the ancient archeological site of Akrotiri, which was preserved under a layer of volcanic ash over 3600 years ago. Excavations at the site were begun in 1967 and give visitors a peek at the Minoan period.
Oia has many handicraft and artisan shops, and Fira seems to have a jewelry shop on every corner. Watching the sun set from a café is a popular evening activity. There are numerous excellent restaurants in Fira and Oia along the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea.
RhodesThis island is very popular with European tourists and is rich in history having been the home of the Knights of St. John who fled Jerusalem in the 13th century. Cruise ships dock just outside the walls of the old city, a five minute walk away. In addition to its rich historical sites, Rhodes has wonderful beaches.
The most popular shore excursion on Rhodes is the 45-minute bus ride to the ancient village of Lindos, which has a spectacular acropolis overlooking the sea and the old city. The walk (or donkey ride) to the top of the 400-foot acropolis is steep and slow, but the views and ruins at the top are interesting and worth the hike. Numerous vendors selling mostly linens line the path to the top, so you can pause and shop and catch your breath on the way up. The village of Lindos at the foot of the acropolis is filled with tourist shops, and the nearby beach is picture-perfect.
Old Town Rhodes has hundreds of shops and restaurants, many of which are open at night if your cruise ship docks overnight. Good buys include gold and silver jewelry, leather, furs, sea sponges, lace, carpets, linens, and killems. The Palace of the Grand Masters is worth the walk to the top of the hill in the old city, and we thought our 6 euro entry fee well spent. Those interested in seeing the ancient 100-foot bronze statue of Colossus of Rhodes will be disappointed—it has been gone for centuries. This wonder of the ancient world supposedly may have straddled Mandraki Harbor, a short walk from the cruise ship harbor and the Old City.
MykonosSantorini has its spectacular natural beauty and archaeological ruins. Rhodes has its history, good shopping, and beautiful beaches. Mykonos has a landscape of white-washed homes and cobblestone streets. It also has a party island reputation, especially in July and August. You won’t find any ancient ruins on Mykonos, but it does have a charming quality with quaint streets lined with artisan shops and cafes. The island also has a great diving reputation and some wonderful beaches. I loved taking photos of the churches and windmills on Mykonos and browsing the numerous galleries.
For those needing a “fix” of archeological ruins, shore excursions in Mykonos take cruisers to the nearby island of Delos, which was once the religious and commercial hub of the Aegean. Other shore excursions will take you to one of the famous beaches or diving.
Finally, what cruise lines sail to Greece?
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