Best Greek Islands for Small Ship Cruises

August 23, 2023 • Todd Smith

Our trusted travel experts outline the best Greek Islands to visit aboard a small ship cruise. If you are researching Greek Island small ship cruises then this guide will help you find the perfect port in Greece.

Of course the best Greek Islands are subjective and depend on your personal interests and travel style. Our experts agree that the best Greek Islands for small ship cruises are Folegandros, Paros, Paxos, Tinos, Syros and Santorini.

Best Islands, Ports & Places for Small Ships in Greece

Small ships visit far too many ports and islands in Greece to list them all here. Our trusted travel experts have selected authentic islands that best highlight the benefits of small ship cruising. Many of the Greece cruise ports listed here are off the radar of traditional cruises.

Searching the internet for Best Greek Islands there are no shortage of lists. We have found that these lists are designed for the mainstream tourist crowd and highlight the most popular islands, not necessarily the best. Check any list and you’ll see Santorini and Mykonos in the top spots. While these islands do have their charm they are crowded. Small ships visit popular islands in a unique way to avoid these crowds and get you to the undiscovered islands on our list.

A male traveler in a blue shirt and sunglasses standing in front a Greek port village with white houses on a cliff and the Mediterranean Sea in the background.


Firsthand insights from experts
who have cruised the Greek Isles.


Amorgos, the island of the “Deep Blue” is the easternmost isle of the Cyclades. It is an oblong island with an abrupt mountainous morphology. It features two natural ports, Katapola at its center and Aigiali at the North. The main city is perched in the mountains with beautiful domed churches, windmills, and the dazzling white monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa, clinging to a cliff face above the sea.


Corfu is known as the Grand Lady of the Ionian Islands and the greenest island in Greece. Amongst the rugged mountains, lush countryside, and resort-studded shoreline is Corfu Town, the impressive historic center declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Its cultural heritage reflects years spent under Venetian, French and British rule before it was united with Greece in 1864. Corfu Town is flanked by two imposing Venetian fortresses, features winding medieval lanes, a French-style arcade and the grand Palace of St. Michael and St. George.


Crete is the largest and most populous island in Greece. It’s known for its beaches, natural beauty, cuisine and thousands of years of culture and history. Most small ships will spend the full day here so we advise booking a guided tour. The most popular towns are Chania, Rethymno, Heraklion and Agios Nikolaos. Tour highlights include the Old Venetian Harbor (Your small ship may stay in this historic port), Rethymnon Old Town and the Palace of Knossos. Top beaches include Elafonissi Beach, Balos Lagoon and Falassarna Beach. Crete is home to many national parks including Samaria Gorge and  Lefka Ori. There is so much do to in Crete it is impossible to see it all in one day.

Cyclades Islands

The Cyclades are an archipelago of 220 islands in the Aegean Sea. The name Cyclades means circle indicating the circle of islands around the sacred island of Delos (near Mykonos), the mythological birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. Experience the best of these islands including Santorini, Mykonos, Delos, Poros, Folegandros, Paros, Syros and Kythnos on the Jewels of the Cyclades cruise. 


Delos is an island near Mykonos and a famous archaeological site. According to the Greek Mythology, Leto, haunted by jealous Hera, had found asylum on this island to give birth to Zeus’s children, Apollo and Artemis. Apollo became one of the most important gods and so Delos became a great sacred place for worshiping him. This 5,000-year-old settlement is one of the largest outdoor museums of the world, inscribed by UNESCO on the World Heritage list.

Only a short boat ride away, a visit to Delos is a must see for anyone visiting Mykonos. Most small ship cruises will offer an included or optional tour of Delos when calling in Mykonos. 

Looking up at a corner of the Parthenon in Athens Greece with ancient columns stretching into a blue sky.


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Itea is the small port not far from Delphi, a revered archaeological site built on the side of a mountain. In its prime, Delphi was known for its wealth and reputation, attributes which grew from the site’s location as hosting the most important oracle in the classical world. Delphi became the premier site for the worship of the god Apollo. The oracle had the ability to prophecy the future and give advice. Visitors from across the Greek world traveled here to consult with the oracle and offered thanks to Apollo in the form of treasure.

Dodecanese Islands

The Dedocanese are a group of Greek Islands in the Southeastern Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean. The name literally translates as “Twelve Islands” although there are 26 inhabited and many more uninhabited islands. The most famous are Rhodes, Kos and Karpathos.


The port of Palaia is a very short drive to the UNESCO site of Ancient Epidaurus, which was known throughout the Greek world as a healing sanctuary. It was reputed to be the birthplace of Apollo’s son Asclepius and for its theater, which is once again in use today due to its amazing acoustics. The sanctuary was looted by the Roman general Sulla, by pirates and later by Goths in 395 A.D. and very little remains of it today. The prosperity brought by the Asclepieion enabled the residents of Epidaurus to construct civic monuments, including a huge theater (approximately 300 B.C.) renowned for its symmetry and beauty.


The New York Times calls Folegandros “the most charmingly “Greek” of all the Cyclades. With no airport and no big cruise ships the island is truly off the beaten path. The remoteness and ruggedness of the island made it a place of exile for political prisoners from Roman times to the 20th century. Today its seductive charm has left its grim history behind and it has one of the most appealing clifftop villages .

Your small ship cruise guide may lead a walking tour through postcard perfect alleyways and scenic overlooks, helping you get the lay of the land. Then wander aimlessly to find stunning beaches and a mouthwatering meal under the shade of olive trees. A short hike on a stone path to the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in the village of Hora will be rewarded with a spectacular sunset.   


Popular ports & hidden gems
only accessible by small ship.


Ancient Gythion was inhabited during prehistoric times and was used later by the Spartans as a port. Across the scenic Mani Peninsula are the spectacular Diros caves. Mani is at the tip of the Peloponnese, a distinctive area unlike any other area in Greece; a desolate region of underground lakes and rivers, windswept landscapes and towers. Cape Tenaro is also situated at the end of the Mani Peninsula and is the southernmost point of mainland Greece and the second southernmost point in mainland Europe.


Hydra is one of the most unspoiled and interesting Greek islands that is a preserved national monument and has retained all its 17th & 18th century charm and quaintness. This picturesque port town does not have any cars or scooters, but donkeys are plentiful within its marble quay.


In Ancient Greek Mythology, Kythira was considered to be the island of celestial Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. Poised between the Aegean and Ionian Seas, the gloriously time-forgotten island of Kythira lies just 12km off the southern tip of the Peloponnese’s Lakonian Peninsula and is officially regarded as belonging to the Ionian Island group. Picturesque villages and architecture blend Venetian influences with Peloponnese Greek style. Your small ship may find a secluded beach for a swim stop and likely call at the main town of Chora. 


Monemvassia is a fishing and tourist town known for its medieval fortress built on a rocky islet connected to Gefyra on the mainland by a narrow bridge (called the Gibraltar of Eastern Mediterranean). Discover a remarkable medieval fortified town and the uniquely preserved Byzantine and Venetian architecture, and experience the beauty of the natural setting. Only around 20 people live here permanently.


Nafplion is the gateway to the UNESCO site of Mycenae, the powerful walled palace of Agamemnon, the Homeric Achaean king. The importance of the city, begins in 1650 B.C. and ceases around 1100 B.C. with the fall of the civilization to which it gives name. Visit the Lion’s Gate, the Palace, the so called Agamemnon Tomb and the museum.


Mykonos is popularly known for its nightlife, whitewashed landscapes and sandy beaches. A walking tour of Hora must include visits to the iconic windmills, Paraportiani Church, the Maritime and Cycladic Museums, designers’ shops and Little Venice Cafes. Mykonos is the jumping-off point for the archaeological site of the nearby island of Delos.

Visiting Mykonos by small ship means you will dock at the new port, only a short water bus or taxi ride from the main town. Since 3-6 large ships visit Mykonos every day in high season, most anchor offshore where guests must tender to shore. 


One of the most picturesque cities in Greece with the Palamidi fortress towering above its charming old quarter, which is graced with narrow streets, Venetian houses, museums, quayside cafes and posh boutiques. According to mythology, Nafplios, the son of Poseidon, founded Nafplion. Over the years, Nafplion was taken over by Frankish, Venetian and Turkish forces, and these influences are evident everywhere—in the medieval castles, the Ottoman fountains and especially in the neoclassical architecture.


Paros is a quintessential Greek island. When you close your eyes and imagine what island hopping in Greece should be like, this is it. Beautiful traditional villages, neoclassical and medieval ruins are surrounded by idyllic nature, quant farms and picturesque wineries.

Paros became known for its white marble used to produce China and fine marble pieces world wide. Visit Parikia, one of the most typical Cycladic settlements with narrow cobbled paths, old churches, small shops and houses in blue and white. Highlights include the church of Panagia Katapoliani, the Venetian Castle and a smattering of archeological sites.

Paros is the perfect island to just wander the narrow alleyways admiring Cycladic architecture, shopping and dining. Very few cruise ships venture here so aboard a small ship you’ll have the place to yourself.  The smaller island of Antiparos, 1km southwest of Paros, is easily reached by car or boat.

A male traveler standing in front of ancient ruins in Greece.


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In Greek mythology, Poseidon created the island of Paxos by striking Corfu with his trident, so that he and his wife Amphitrite could have some peace and quiet. The main town of Paxos is Gaios. Antipaxos is a smaller nearby island famous for its wine, and two of the finest sandy beaches in the Ionian Sea.

Peloponnese Peninsula

The Peloponnese Peninsula is a highlight of any trip to Greece.  Called on by large and small ships, it is also accessible by road and train from Athens. While many small ship itineraries will stop at various Peloponnese attractions, the region is also an ideal place for a trip extension to complement your cruise. Peloponnese is home to five UNESCO World Heritage sites, significant archeological sites, several thermal springs and caves along with various adventure activities including stunning hikes. 

Piraeus, Athens

Piraeus is the biggest port city in the Mediterranean and the gateway to Athens, the capital and largest city in Greece. It was also at the heart of Ancient Greece, a powerful civilization and empire. Athens is still dominated by 5th-century BC landmarks, including the Acropolis, a hilltop citadel topped with ancient buildings like the colonnaded Parthenon temple. The Acropolis Museum and the National Archaeological Museum has preserved sculptures, vases, jewelry and more.


This lively and famous port on the island of Crete displays a blend of modernity and old time charm with its remains of Venetian and Ottoman architecture. The town of Heraklion in nearby, where you can tour the ancient Palace of Knossos and the Archaeological Museum. Knossos is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete, settled as early as the Neolithic period, and has been called Europe’s oldest city.


Santoríni is an island archipelago formed from a single volcanic cone that erupted in the second millennium B.C., burying the island’s Minoan culture in ash. The capital, Fira as well as Imerovigli and Oia cling to the steep slopes of the caldera rim. Its spectacular beauty and iconic whitewashed houses and blue-domed churches, along with the wineries, restaurants, beaches, hot springs, and archaeological sites have made this island one of Europe’s biggest tourist destinations. 

Virtually all large cruise ships stop here. Many small ships also visit Santorini. As such it can be extremely crowded. Visiting Santorini aboard a small cruise ship has advantages. Most notably you’ll arrive early, enabling you to visit the renowned village of Oia before hordes of cruise ship tours arrive. 


Distinguished for its pottery and its Venetian dovecotes, Sífnos is a rugged island with a harbor village and a beautiful upper chora (village), waterfront tavernas and fringed by sandy beaches such as Chrysopigi beach in the southeast, home to the striking white Chrysopigi Monastery.


As the capital of the Cycladic islands, Syros has always been a significant port town, and during the 19th century it was even more significant than Piraeus. Ermoupoli, the “Queen of the Cyclades,” stands on a naturally amphitheatrical site, with neo-classical buildings, old mansions and white houses cascading down to the harbor. The “City of Hermes” has numerous magnificent churches, the most interesting of which are Metamorphosis, Koimisis and St. Demetrius.


Tinos is dotted with villages steeped in Venetian history. The island’s Venetian-era dovecotes, terraced hillsides and green marble quarries have long made this a haven for artists. The village of Pyrgos is adorned with carved marble facades. Visit the church of Panagia Evangelistria, where thousands of pilgrims come every year to pray at Greece’s holiest shrine.

A village with white houses and blue dome roofs with a blue sky.


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What Greek Islands are best for you?

Our experts are ready to help you select the perfect trip to the best Greek Islands for you. Contact us to start planning your adventure.

Is our list of the best Greek Islands for small ship cruises missing your favorite port? Or do you have insights to share from your latest adventure? Let us know in the comments below. Or contact our Greek Island travel experts to plan your perfect trip.

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