Chartering a yacht in Greece is the best way to experience its astoundingly clear blue sea and sky, scenic and diverse islands, and rich history and culture. Crewed yachts and bareboats are widely available in every price range from budget to deluxe. The best season for chartering in Greece is May to September.
The two most classic images of the Greek Islands are the royal-blue church dome on the island of Santorini and the famous windmills of Mykonos, framed against a sapphire sea and sky. The Cyclades Islands, to which these both belong, are Greece's most popular charter-vacation destination. But among Greece's 3,000 islands are several other distinctive island groups, as well as countless quaint coastal villages. These hidden-destination treasures are less promoted, and hence less frequently visited, but they are equally enchanting and unique. Here's a glance at the top island groups for charter vacations, in order of their popularity.
The sailing season in Greece runs from April through October, but the best months for perfect weather are May through September. The main chartering hub is Athens, where many yachts are based and most charters originate, but there is a selection of charter bases in every island group as well.
The Cyclades – Situated in the center of the Aegean Sea, these rugged, arid islands are 45-plus miles from Athens, and are exposed to the sometimes-strong, seasonal northerly meltemi wind. The islands themselves are on average between 20 and 30 miles apart, so time spent underway is longer on sailing charters here – but the reward is the islands' classically Greek style. Popular for sailing charters of one week or more.
Read more about the Cyclades
The Saronic Islands and Peloponnese Coast – These pine-studded isles and mountainous seaside villages are closer to Athens than the Cyclades, and have the advantage of being closer together for shorter sailing days. They are protected from the meltemi wind by the mountainous Greek mainland, and are a great destination for charters of one week or less.
The Ionian Islands stretch along the west-northwest coast of the Peloponnese and Greek mainland. They lie about 200 miles from Athens, and are known as "the Caribbean of Greece" for their lush, green islands that rise out of an aquamarine sea. Sailing charters starting and ending in Athens need at least 14 days to fully enjoy this island group, or need to start and end at a base in or near the Ionian Sea.
Read more about the Ionian Islands
The Dodecanese Islands are so named because there are 12 of them – dodeka in Greek, and they are strung like a pearl necklace across the west coast of Turkey in the eastern Aegean, about 250 miles from Athens. More far-flung than the Cyclades, the islands are a mix of classical Greek and Turkish influence. Sailing charters originating in Athens need 10 to 14 days; otherwise, choose a charter base within this island group.
Read more about the Dodecanese
Crewed yachts and bareboats are widely available in every price range from budget to deluxe.
Catch up on a little Greek naval history: Looking Back on the Battle of Salamis
Greece’s weather pattern is largely influenced by lows in the southern Med and highs over the Black Sea, which result in the region’s prevailing northerly winds.
The country’s many regions and island groups form meteorological microcosms, making generalized forecasting quite difficult. It should be noted that, even on televised weather forecasts, wind speeds are given using the Beaufort Wind Scale, so familiarization with that is a must before sailing here.
Here is the best source for mariner’s weather in Greece. This site relays and posts constantly updated and specific weather information targeted at sailors, gathered from weather buoys situated throughout Greek waters.
The sailing season in Greece runs from April through October, with the best months being mid-May through mid-September. While sailing is possible in other months, it can get cool, rainy, and stormy during the winters here, so sticking to the warmer months is best.
Greece’s most popular island group is also its windiest: In the summer months, particularly July, August, and early September, the fierce local wind known as the meltemi can roar down over the mainland mountains to the north with ferocity, often at a steady Beaufort Force 5 or 6 (or higher) for days on end. In general, the prevailing wind here is from the north, northeast, or northwest, although in the spring and fall, light southerlies or even southeasterly storms are possible.
The Cyclades are arid and hot during the summer months, with daytime highs ranging in the 80s and 90s Fahrenheit (26-35 degrees Celsius) and the 70s (21-25C) at night. Rain between June and September is rare, except in the occasional thunderstorm in fringe-season months. The prevailing northerly winds cool things off somewhat, as does the low humidity, and the sea water is pleasantly refreshing at an average temperature in the mid- to high 70s (23-26 C).
In the Cyclades, which are situated in the center of the Aegean without benefit of shelter from the mountainous mainland, the meltemi can kick up steep, confused seas, rather like being in a washing machine on the “agitate” cycle. The Aegean is a relatively enclosed body of water, like a giant-sized Lake Superior, so waves generated by strong northerly winds bounce back off the Sea’s southern borders, creating sizeable waves from more than one direction. When sailing in this area, pay close attention to the weather forecast. Port-Authority-mandated sailing bans are not uncommon when the wind exceeds Beaufort Force 6.
Saronics and Coastal Peloponnese Weather
As in the Cyclades, the strong, seasonal meltemi wind affects this area, but the relatively close mountains of the mainland provide more shelter from it than in the Cyclades. When the meltemi is not blowing here, the prevailing wind is from the south at an average of about Force 3 during the day, and generally dying at sunset.
In spring and fall, the area is more prone to rain squalls or thunderstorms, usually brief but sometimes violent.
Air temperatures here in the summer season are for the most part quite pleasant, about 85F/29C during the day on average, with temperatures in the 90s or sometimes 100s (34-37C) during the hottest month, August. There is slightly more humidity here, so temperatures may feel somewhat hotter than they actually are. Water temperatures are slightly warmer than in the wide-open Cyclades, thanks to the islands’ more sheltered location.
During the summer months the prevailing wind in the Dodecanese is north, but more westerly than in other regions. The meltemi can blow at between Force 4 and Force 6 or higher, and it can last longer here as well, sometimes blowing from June through October. Like in the Saronics, there is more shelter here than in the Cyclades.
In the summer months these islands are very hot, with temperatures often reaching into the high 90s/36C and beyond. As in the other islands, winds from the southern quadrant in the spring and fall are not uncommon.
Although winds can sometimes be strong here, more frequently they are not; unlike the other island groups, the Ionian escapes the wrath of the summer meltemi. The area is known for its light, benign winds, which blow from a northwesterly direction during the summer months at about Force 2 to Force 5. The wind often doesn’t get up until midday, and dies again at sunset.
If it does blow hard here, the north-northwest wind has a different name: the maistro, though generally this does not reach the strengths of its cousin, meltemi. And like the Saronics and Dodecanese, the Ionian isles are sheltered by the mainland.
During the summer, sunshine prevails. Rain is infrequent, though it may be more likely than in other island groups; sudden thunderstorms that can bring heavy rain and sometimes even hail, along with fierce wind gusts. In general, the weather here is more tropical than in other parts of Greece, contributing to the overall lush appearance of these islands. Temperatures are mild, mostly in the mid-80sF/30C during the days. The sea water is comfortably warm and clear.
The weather in Greece can be hard to predict, so monitor local weather and the website above on a regular basis.
Getting To And Around Athens
Getting into town from the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport (which is outside the city) is easy, and there are several options.
Bus: There are buses directly from the airport to the main charter hub in Paleo Faliro (an Athens suburb) and to the Athens city center. Athens bus schedules/routes
X95 SYNTAGMA – ATHENS AIRPORT EXPRESS. This bus is a direct connection to Syntagma Square in Athens city center.
X96 PIRAEUS – ATHENS AIRPORT EXPRESS. This bus provides a direct connection to the Piraeus central passenger port terminals. If you’re headed directly to Marina Alimos in the Athens suburb of Alimos, which is where the majority of charters originate, take THIS bus from the airport. Get off at the stop called EDEM. The Alimos Marina is to the left as you exit the bus, on the ocean side of Poseidonos Avenue; walk downhill to reach the docks.
Tram: The tram does not go directly to the airport, but it does connect Syntagma Square in central Athens with Marina Alimos, the chartering hub. Take any tram bearing the destination name “Voula.”
The ride takes about an hour and 15 minutes. Get off at the stop called EDEM. The marina entrance is behind a Shell gasoline station; follow the road down to the docks.
Taxis: Cabs are always waiting at the taxi stand outside the airport arrivals terminal. The maximum number of passengers per cab (by law) is four.
Radio Taxis– which is what pre-booked taxis are called here – are more expensive than the on demand option. In downtown Athens, cab queues are evident in various locations. You can also hail one that’s free or ask your hotel to arrange one for you. Make sure the driver starts the meter at the beginning of the ride.
What to See and Do in Athens
Greece’s famous capital city is bustling, hot, and crowded during the summer tourist season, but you can’t visit Greece without seeing at least some of its highlights. Before or after a sailing charter, spending one or two days here is probably sufficient. You can also use the city as a base camp for excursions to other land attractions, such as Delphi, famed ancient site of the Oracle; the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, south of the city; or Meteora, the amazing geological wonder in northern Greece where monasteries sit atop pinnacles of rock that rise incongruously out of the flat plain. Most large hotels can arrange such trips.
There’s much to see and do in Athens, but here are the highlights for a brief visit.
The Acropolis – which simply means “top” or “hill” in Greek – and the Parthenon that graces it are of course the first “must-sees.” This is probably the most famous building in the world, and seeing it up close (or even from afar) for the first time is breathtaking. The newly opened Acropolis Museum nearby is as wondrous as the site itself. Allow at least half a day, preferably starting in the morning, to fully experience this wonder of the world.
A short walk downhill from the Acropolis is the old Athens neighborhood called Plaka, a perfect place to spend an afternoon after you’ve visited the Parthenon. Have lunch in any one of the plethora of good tavernas, or hunt for bargains (here, bartering is possible) in the vast array of shops selling everything you could possibly imagine, from souvenirs to fine art. Plaka is a taste of what Athens used to be like. It’s lively, busy, and just plain fun. Even if you don’t eat or shop, you’ll have fun people-watching while sipping a cool drink or a cup of excellent coffee in this historic district.
Not far from Plaka is Syntagma Square, the heart of Athens Center and home to the Parliament building. The changing of the guard here is worth seeing; however, at this writing, Syntagma has been the site of some large demonstrations, some of which have become violent. Demonstrations are almost always prescheduled and announced in advance, so if you want to see Syntagma, do so on a day when nothing disruptive is happening. (For updates on demonstrations, visit the US Embassy website.)
If you have time, the view of the city from Mount Lycabettus adjacent to the Acropolis is worth checking out: it’s the highest point in the city and there are stupendous views of the Acropolis and surrounding land and sea from up here. You can reach the top via a funicular railway, which climbs the hill from a railway station in the trendy Kolonaki district of Athens. At the top, you’ll find the 19th-century Chapel of St. George as well as a café and restaurant.
If you’re a museum person, the National Archaeological Museum houses some of the most precious relics of the ancient Greek world. This is not a museum for a quick walk-through – really seeing its riches requires at least half a day, maybe more.
There’s plenty more to see and do in this history-packed capital city, but at the very least, try to take in the highlights noted above.
The Saronic Islands are one of the most sheltered areas to sail in Greece. For charters of short duration, anywhere from three to seven days, the Saronics and Peloponnese are ideal choices. Not only are they more easily accessible from most charter bases near Athens than the Cyclades, but the islands and coastal villages themselves are much closer together, allowing a more leisurely pace. Daily stops for lunch, swimming, and snorkeling are easy to include before an afternoon sail to the final destination.
Thanks to the sheltered location, Saronic/Peloponnese sailing is usually quite pleasant. Even during the sometimes fierce, summer north winds called meltemi, seas are much flatter than in the central Aegean.
The Saronics are lush and green compared to other Greek islands. Seawater temperatures are warmer too, and many places seem to have been influenced by other European cultures in architecture and atmosphere.
Athens to Poros
A weeklong Saronics charter generally starts with a sail to the island of Poros, about 22 miles from greater Athens. Separated from the Peloponnese by only a narrow channel, Poros is the closest Greek island to the mainland. The approach by sea is one of the most beautiful in Greece, framed by the lush, mountainous Peloponnese on one side and lovely Poros Town, with its many-hued buildings and distinctive clock tower, on the other. Poros is a bustling harbor filled with good tavernas and innumerable cafes and bars. Nightlife is good here, if one is so inclined, and there’s a good swimming beach a short walk from the harbor. There are shops selling everything from souvenirs to designer clothing, and ferries come and go from the mainland and other islands with frequency.
Poros to Spetses
From Poros, the next day’s sail is often to Spetses, a pine-covered, upscale island known for its traditional boatbuilding. Most yachts dock in Baltiza Creek, which is a fair distance from town, but the hike or horse-and-buggy ride into town is worth it. Spetses was one of the first islands in Greece to revolt against the Turks in the War of Independence, led by local heroine Bouboulina – Greece’s first female admiral. Her home is now a museum, well worth seeing.
Strolling to or through the town, the artistic mosaic walkways for which the island is renowned are a highlight. Near the anchorage, a pine-scented park offers spectacular coastal walks and sculptures by local artists. You’ll work up an appetite for Spetses’ signature dish: a baked white-fish casserole topped with a delicious sauce of tomatoes, green peppers, spices, and cheese called Fish a la Spetsiota.
Spetses to Plaka
Many Saronics itineraries next include the quintessential Greek fishing village of Plaka (Leonidion) on the Peloponnese coast, a 14-mile sail from Spetses. Although most people have never heard of Plaka, it’s generally the hands-down favorite among those who choose to stop there. From the harbor, a trip by taxi to the Elonas Monastery is worthwhile, as is simply lazing on the beautiful adjacent beach or enjoying a meal in one of three good tavernas overlooking the harbor. Each year in August, the village (dubbed “the Eggplant Capital of Europe” by the European Economic Community) hosts its annual eggplant festival, with festivities and food-tasting galore.
Plaka to Hydra
From here, many yachts sail on to Hydra, about 25 miles, one of the most beautiful islands in Greece. Its only harbor is tiny and hence crowded, but the surrounding 18th-century sea captain’s homes, cobbled streets, working donkeys, and scenic walkways are well worth it. There are no motorized vehicles here except a garbage truck, fire truck, ambulance, and an occasional working truck – transport is by donkey, water taxi, or simply by feet!
The island attracts tourists, artists, and glitterati, and galleries abound, as do megayachts carrying sunglassed celebrities. There are good beaches reachable by water taxi, swimming areas off the cliffs near town, a maritime museum, and innumerable cafes, eateries, and shops in which to while away an afternoon. The ambitious can hike along the sea path to the island’s southwest end.
Don’t leave Hydra without catching sunset at Hydronetta café – complete with mood music and one of the most spectacular evening vistas in Greece.
Hydra to Dokos
Dokos, six miles from Hydra, an island inhabited by few souls other than free-range goats and the occasional donkey, is a perfect place to head for a relaxing next day. Yachts anchor off to bask in the peaceful atmosphere or enjoy a vigorous hike, swimming, or snorkeling, followed by a barbecue under a night sky carpeted with stars. Alternatively, there’s the 30-plus mile sail to Epidhavros, site of Greece’s famous ancient theater and healing center, which is a 30-minute taxi ride from the harbor. The theater, famous for its astounding acoustics, is part of the grounds of the healing center and hospital, with a museum showcasing ancient medicinal instruments and cures. There’s a spiritual aura here that’s palpable; this fascinating site is well worth a visit.
Dokos to Aegina
For the final day before returning to the charter base, Aegina is the usual destination. There are two harbors here; one, the bustling Aegina Town on the island’s northwest side; the other, the village of Perdika, on the southwest.
Aegina Town is busy, with lots to do, such as exploring the remains of the Temple of Apollo adjacent to the harbor, strolling the many shops and markets; buying fresh produce from the boats lined up along the waterfront, or enjoying a good meal ashore.
In Perdika, the pace is slower and space is scarce, but there’s good swimming near the harbor, a deserted islet beach five minutes away by water taxi, and tavernas and cafes quayside. From either place, taking a taxi or bus to the Temple of Aphaia, goddess of fertility, is a must. The circa 500 B.C. temple, perched high on a peaceful hillside surrounded by woods, forms a perfect equilateral triangle with the Parthenon in Athens and the Temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounion. Aegina is famous for its pistachios – grown in abundance on the island – so don’t leave without stocking up on nuts, candies, jams, or any one of the many pistachio-based products for sale here.
For longer charters, this itinerary can easily be expanded to include places such as Napflion, a former capital of Greece, to the north, or Monemvasia, a fortified Byzantine village, to the south. With less than a week, it’s easy to do an abbreviated version of a weeklong itinerary. Whichever you choose, the Saronics are worth it!
The closest of the Cyclades to Athens is the island of Kea (also called “Tzia”). About 40 miles from Athens, it’s the first stop for most charters. The charming village of Vourkari (in Aghiou Nicolaou Bay) on the island’s northwest side is the harbor of choice; as is the custom everywhere in Greece, visiting yachts dock stern-to the town quay on a first-come, first-served basis. Vourkari’s waterfront is lined with good tavernas; often proprietors will wait on the quay to take your lines, hoping to lure you back for a meal later in the evening. Often, that meal is a taste of Kea’s culinary specialty -- lobster spaghetti.
Above the harbor, the beautiful hilltop village or “Chóra” is visible, and it is well worth the bus ride. Another site that shouldn’t be missed is Kea’s famous Lion, a short walk from the town along a wooded path. The immense stone sculpture seems to stand guard over the village. Steeped in local legend, it’s most often attributed to an itinerant sculptor circa 600 B.C.
The 25-mile sail to Syros island – the capital of the Cyclades -- is usually the next stop. Most yachts choose the village of Finikas, on the island’s southwest end – a peaceful place with good beaches and tavernas within walking distance, and only a short bus ride from the bustling 18th-century town of Ermoupolis. The fortified upper town, historic churches, nightlife, excellent eateries, incredible outdoor market, and even a casino provide plenty to see and do. Visitors shouldn’t leave the market without sampling the island’s specialty – the taffy-like sweet known as loukoumia, or Turkish Delight.
Mykonos and Delos, a 20-mile reach from Syros in prevailing winds, is next on a short Cyclades itinerary. This deserves two days – one to explore the crowded-but-delightful Mykonos Town and perhaps rent a car or motorbike to visit some of the islands renowned beaches; the other to take a day boat to Delos (where anchoring off in yachts is currently prohibited). Its incredibly preserved ancient ruins and mosaics are often compared to Pompeii. At this reputed birthplace of Apollo, there is magic both in the air and on the ground, and even the darting lizards are said to be the souls of ancient denizens.
Next, the 27-mile sail from Mykonos to Paros will bring you to a popular tourist island, but one with many hidden facets. The old town, near the yacht harbor of Paroikia, is one of the best remaining Cycladic villages; it can be crowded, but its charm is undeniable. The 6th-century Church of a Hundred Doors lies within it, as does the Archaeological Museum, which houses a section of the famous Parian Marbles chronicling years of Greek history as well as finds from the Temple of Apollo. Renting a car or bike to explore the smaller villages or to visit the spectacular cave on nearby Antiparos (a natural wonder more amazing than any Spielberg set, and where Lord Byron left his mark) is a must. Paros produces excellent local wines, widely available at shops and tavernas. Sampling is encouraged!
The final island stop on a one week Cyclades cruise will likely be Kithnos, where there is a choice of harbor. The village of Loutra on the island’s northeast side has natural hot mineral springs that are said to cure everything from gout to women’s woes. Other options are the deserted bays and beaches of Kolona (also with a small hot spring) and Fikiadha on the island’s southwest side; or the bustling-but-charming village of Merikha, with its excellent tavernas steps away from the docks. Don’t leave Kithnos without a taste of the island’s special soft, spicy cheese – a Kithnian delicacy.
With only a week, and beginning and ending in Athens, it’s not possible to venture much farther than this. If you can spare 10 or 14 days, new vistas will open up, including the famous Santorini, and the “hidden Cyclades” – Amorgos, Folegandros, Milos, and others. The other worthy Cycladic stops like Naxos, Sifnos, and Serifos, will await exploration.