This Intimate Luxury Cruise Highlights The Best Of Classical Greece

Walk in the footsteps of ancient warriors and visit the birthplace of Greek Gods.

(Jordan Riefe)

While Athens isn’t your primary destination when visiting the Greek Islands, a day or two spent there is well worth your while. The Hotel Grande Bretagne offers the city’s finest accommodations with no better way to unwind after the flight than the rooftop restaurant with its stunning views of the acropolis.

It sits atop a hill a short distance from the hotel where you can walk in the footsteps of Pericles, Plato and Socrates, though many of its most compelling artworks are in British museums. Still, many are intact and on display at the nearby Acropolis Museum, one of the world’s greatest repositories for classical Greek art.

(Variety Cruises)

If you prefer your art newer, try the Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation, a private collection of modern and contemporary artworks filling four floors with pieces by masters like Picasso, Van Gogh and Cezanne, as well as contemporary Greek artists.

Departing from Piraeus Harbor’s Marina Zea, Variety Cruises offers the Classical Greece itinerary, the best way to see it all while traveling in comfort. While other cruise ships are like mini cities, some carrying as many as 4,000 passengers, Variety Voyager has only 36 cabins ($3,350 plus excursion fees), affording an intimate atmosphere where friendships are easily formed.

Mykonos (Variety Cruises)

Party-hearty Mykonos is a labyrinth of charming alleys in the familiar chalky white shade the town is known for. It’s a bit of a scene with tourists thronging the cafes, galleries and boutiques, but the island’s dance clubs attract world-renowned DJs and typically stay open all night. And when you’re not ordering another round, the hills overlooking the bay offer sightseeing and hiking among 16th-century windmills.

The other hotspot is Santorini where a chairlift takes you to Fira which sits perched on the lip of a massive caldera. The island is part of an atoll where you can swim amid warming vents from the still active volcano whose eruption in 1600 BC laid waste to many ancient sites throughout the Cyclades. The cerulean domes of Fira complement the white churches and domiciles, hotels and restaurants affording unmatched views in this bustling tourist town.

Santorini (Variety Cruises)

Outside of Fira are olive farms, ubiquitous on all the islands, as well as crops like cherry tomatoes that make the Santorini Greek salad the best of the Cyclades. The dig site at Akrotiri offers a chance to see the remains of the ancient town (destroyed in 1600 BC), with relics like vases and furniture in situ. Artworks have been removed to the nearby Museum of Prehistoric Thira in Fira.

Relief from the crowds finally comes when you arrive at Rethymno, a port town on Crete. From there it’s a short bus ride to Knossos and the ruins of King Minos’ 1,600-room palace dating to the Bronze Age. Here is where the myth of the Minotaur began. You’ll find paintings of a bull as well as other subjects like a griffin on the wall of Minos’ throne room. While the art is eye-catching, they’re not original works but were restored by 19th century British explorer Arthur Evans.

Santorini (Variety Cruises)

The Peloponnesian city of Monemvasia is built on a steep mountainous peninsula connected to the mainland. The vibe is ancient rustic as you wander the serpentine streets and blind corner alleys of this 5th century stone city. Be careful to step over the napping stray cats that seem to have colonized public spaces as you shop for tchotchkes and lunch at a breezy cafe high above the sea.

You could drive the roughly 60 miles to Nafplion from Monemvasia, but you’re on a cruise, which means sit back and take in the air with a cocktail of your choosing. Once the nation’s old capital, Nafplion is a port town with Venetian, French and Byzantine influences. It features wide plazas and flagstone alleyways overhung with bougainvillea, outdoor cafes and a vibrant street scene.

An excursion to the countryside brings you to the tomb of Agamemnon, a vast conical shaped structure with an elongated walkway walled on two sides. The final resting place of the Trojan War commander is shockingly well preserved compared to his nearby palace which has been reduced now to a series of pathways laid out between former foundations. Luckily the entryway remains intact—Lions Gate, featuring a pair of lions (native to the area at the time), carved from stone.

Landing on Kythira brings a sigh of relief. Sure, Mykonos and Santorini are fun and beautiful to behold, but Kythira offers the simple grace of the goddess it bore, Aphrodite. A modest beach on a crescent shaped bay, it features crystalline water, a simple lighthouse and an abandoned castle a short hike up the mountain.

Harmony V at the port of Kythira (Variety Cruises)

Minor stops on the cruise include Hydra, a sleepy fishing village offering open air restaurants along its picturesque bay, and Delos, a nearly uninhabited island and the mythological birthplace of Apollo. A major religious center and port during the 1st millennium BC, today its ruins encompass Doric temples, mosaics, an amphitheater and the Terrace of the Lions statues, a row of nine carved from marble reduced to five replicas today. The originals are viewable in the nearby Archaeological Museum of Delos.

Delos Island (Variety Cruises)

Most vacation islands offer palm trees and white sand beaches, but the Greek isles have what others do not. Where else can you walk where ancient warriors walked? Where else can you haunt the same hallways in which the storied minotaur stalked his victims? Where else can you visit the birthplace of the Gods? The tomb of an ancient king? Variety Cruises offer the best and most efficient way to visit the islands without joining an army of fellow tourists. Enjoy the sea and sun on your own terms while sampling the birthplace of western civilization.

Visit Discover Greece to plan your ideal Classical Greek holiday.