Interested in stepping back in time to explore ancient Greek ruins? Wondering how to get there and what they’re like? A Greek island cruise is an easy way to visit a number of different Greek historical sites in just a week! Here’s what you’ll see aboard Celestyal Cruises with tips for getting the most out of your trip back in time to ancient Greece.
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When I think of Greece, I picture beautiful islands, impossibly clear seas and crumbling buildings – ancient Greek ruins with columns, statues and stories to tell. Exploring the famous Greek historical sites was high up on my bucket list. Is this adventure on yours?
Any time I tried to plan a trip and began mapping out the logistics of getting from site to site, I just gave up. There are so many ruins to see, spread across mainland Greece and the islands…18 UNESCO World Heritage sites alone! Fortunately, there is an easy way to explore several ancient Greek ruins in only a week. Greek island cruises, like the Celestyal Cruises Idyllic Aegean itinerary, offer excursions to many of the most popular historic sites in Greece. Here’s a site by site roundup of what you can see in just a week, with tips for touring.
First Step Back in Time – The Acropolis in Athens
The highlight of my Greek cruise was getting the chance to explore different ancient archaeological sites. My Celestyal cruise departed from the mainland port of Piraeus in the late afternoon, so I had the morning to take advantage of an add-on excursion to see Athens and tour the Acropolis, including the brilliant Acropolis Museum. Opened in 2009, the museum houses most of the original Acropolis art to protect it from the elements and to permit visitors to see these beautiful pieces up close.
Dominated by the Parthenon, the Acropolis is a must-see for visitors to Athens, so it gets very crowded, very quickly. Touring the site with an experienced tour guide meant I didn’t get overwhelmed by the swarm and could actually appreciate the importance of this site as a living reminder that the ancient Greeks created the foundation of modern society…over 2500 years ago!
Where to Stay in Athens: If you’re planning to overnight before or after a cruise departing from Piraeus, check out the Athens Marriott. It opened in 2018 after a $15 million renovation of the old Metropolitan Hotel and features modern guest rooms, grand public spaces with soaring ceilings and a rooftop pool. It’s about an hour’s drive from the airport, 15 minutes to the port and is located across the street from Stavros Niarchos, a large multi-use park.
Next Stop? Delos
Our first cruise stop was the popular island of Mykonos. Before exploring the beaches and Little Venice, we took a short boat trip to visit Delos, an uninhabited island that was once the economic hub of the Cyclades, one of Greece’s major island groups.
Considered to be the birthplace of the Greek twins Apollo and Artemis, Delos is an amazing archaeological site since visitors can walk freely throughout the ruins. It’s easy to imagine the inhabitants going about their everyday lives. So much of the infrastructure at Delos is still in use by us today, including gravity-driven rainwater collection systems.
TravelingMom Tip: On Delos, I got my first taste of Greek heat. To keep from wilting, wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen and stay hydrated!
The Mysterious Disappearance of Akrotiri
On Santorini, the next stop on my cruise, I explored Akrotiri, an ancient civilization wiped out by a cataclysmic volcanic eruption in 1646 B.C.. On a less serious note, the third member of the love triangle in the film “Summer Lovers” was an archaeologist working at the Akrotiri site.
Some believe Akrotiri is the mythic “lost city of Atlantis”. What you’ll see if you go are incredibly well-preserved ruins of multi-story buildings with – wait for it – indoor plumbing! No human remains were found in Akrotiri, unlike Pompeii in Italy, suggesting that the residents evacuated before the city was destroyed.
When Myths Come to Life! The Palace of Knossos
My favorite archaeological stop was at the Palace of Knossos near Heraklion on Crete. It was the labyrinth-like (over 1000 rooms!) home of King Minos and, according to Greek mythology, the fearsome half-bull, half-man minotaur.
In the legends, the palace was also where Daedalus, the architect, and his son Icarus were jailed by King Minos. He didn’t want the duo to design palaces for any other kings. Daedalus and Icarus cleverly constructed wax wings to escape. But Icarus, ignoring the advice of his father, flew too close to the sun. His wings melted and he fell to his death in the sea.
At this point, every parent should feel free to turn to their kid and say “See? That’s why you should always listen to me.”
What to Wear: You’ll want sure footing when visiting archaeological sites. Leave the flip flops and flimsy sandals for wearing on your cruise ship. If you’re traveling with teens and they balk, insist. The footing can be slippery, particularly on the Acropolis. Wear sneakers, lightweight hikers or trekking sandals. For more packing tips, check out TravelingMom’s European summer packing list.
Bonus Excursion – Ancient Ephesus in Turkey
On the second to last day of our Celestyal Cruises trip, passengers could choose one of two options: spend the day on the Greek island beaches of Samos or explore the ruins of Ephesus in Turkey. Even though I love a beach day as much as the next gal, I welcomed the opportunity to visit Turkey. Participating in a group tour with a local guide provided me with a sense of security given the current unrest in the country.
Visitors to Ephesus, once the 4th largest city in the Roman empire, can wander the ancient streets and enter the remains of public buildings including temples, amphitheaters and restrooms. The terraced houses provide a glimpse into the private lives of the city’s citizens. Frescoes and mosaics are intact. And the Library of Celsus is amazing.
Back in Athens – Cape Sounion
I had time before our return flight to do another excursion before heading to the Athens airport. Our group headed south from Athens, following the coastline of the Greek peninsula, known as Attica. Look closely at the area on a map. It looks like a horse head. At the tip of the peninsula is Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon. The bluff features a majestic 360° view of the Aegean Sea.
Our guide told us that the sea’s namesake, King Aegeus, committed suicide by throwing himself off the Cape. He thought his son, Theseus, was killed by the legendary minotaur because the King saw black sails on his returning ship. But Theseus had simply forgotten to change the sails to white before approaching home.
Before leaving the Cape, our guide told us to add a future adventure to our bucket lists. Cape Sounion is open until midnight each year on the day of the August full moon. Why? Visitors can watch as the sun sets and the moon rises over the ancient temple. This is definitely something I want to see in my lifetime. I hope I get the chance.
Do a Little Homework Before You Go to Greece
I was really glad I’d re-read Edith Hamilton’s “Mythology” before heading to Greece. Assigned reading in high school and college, the book finally came truly came alive for me while touring the islands. If you’re bringing the kids on the cruise, D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths is entertaining.
Fiction options for kids include the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. The Magic Treehouse series has several Greek titles for younger children.
And the whole family can watch the excellent National Geographic series, “The Greeks.” It’s available on Amazon Prime.
Benefits of Guided Excursions on a Greek Island Cruise
One of the benefits of a Greek island hopping cruise are available guided excursions to see these important historic excavations. Going to sites like these on your own, you see them. But you don’t really see them. An expert guide imparts a depth of understanding that goes beyond what you read in guidebooks or on exhibit displays. I found the Celestyal guides to be knowledgeable and entertaining and they spoke flawless English. Celestyal Cruises features all-inclusive pricing. Three excursions are included in your cruise price as well as all on board food and drink.
Visiting the ancient Greek ruins definitely connected many of the knowledge dots I’ve acquired through the years. But I certainly don’t consider myself an expert on Greek history after taking my cruise. It’s a very humbling experience to wander through history and realize just how much you don’t know. I’m curious to learn more about our Greek ancestors so I can’t wait to return to dig deeper into the past.