The warm, deep blue Mediterranean waters nestled between Greece and Turkey are known as the Aegean Sea. This area is home to more than 2000 islands, the biggest of which is Crete. Settled by the ancient Greeks, it is said the Aegean was named after Aegea, an Amazonian queen who died in the sea, or possibly for Aegeus, who drowned himself after mistakenly thinking his son Theseus had died fighting the Minotaur.
The Aegean Islands are grouped into several different areas. The Cyclades are found southeast of Greece and include the famous Santorini and Mykonos islands. The Dodecanese—which translates literally as 12 islands—are also southeast of the mainland and actually consist of 15 larger and 150 smaller islands. Other islands groupings are the Saronic Islands, Sporades, and Euboea. And finally, there are the North Aegean Islands, which do not form a chain like the others but are grouped together for tourism purposes. Some of these are Greek and several others belong to Turkey.
Crete is the largest of the Greek islands, and also one of the most southern points in Europe. While here, drop anchor at Spinalonga Lagoon, a bay near the town of Elounda. And be sure to visit Spinalonga Island while you’re at it—it was the setting for the book “The Island” and a former a leper colony.
Heraklion is another point of interest in Crete. It is home to Knossos, the archeological remains of a Neolithic palace that was the center of the Minoan culture around 2,000 BC. Beyond the incredible history, you’ll also find a well-equipped marina here should you need to stock up on provisions.
Located between Peloponnese and Athens, this string of charming islands is close to civilization but feels miles away from it. A favorite here is Hydra. Other than waste trucks and ambulances it is unspoiled by cars or other motor vehicles, using donkeys and horses as the main mode of transport. Known as one of the most beautiful islands in Greece, there are more than 300 churches and six monasteries to explore. Bastions, beautiful beaches, and museums round out the fun.
Plakes Vlychos is a popular beach destination on Hydra. It offers spectacular views of mainland Greece. Mandraki Bay is the most common place to anchor here.
In the Sporades, the biggest and most visited island is Evia. Attached to the mainland by a bridge, it is a popular destination for tourists. It is home to the ancient ruins of Eretria, featuring the archeological site of two palaces, four temples, a gymnasium, a house with mosaics, and one of the oldest theaters in Greece.
If more water is what your sailor’s heart desires, there are beautiful waterfalls as well as a thermal spring both Artistole and Plutarch wrote about in their books here. Kalamos Beach is the most popular seaside destination on Evia. Halkis is the major port on Evia.
Rhodes is the capital of the Dodecanese, dating back to 407 BC. It is best known for the Colossus of Rhodes, one the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. 2,400 years of history are on display in Old Town. Take the Street of Knights to the highest point and you’ll find the Palace of the Grand Masters, which is now a museum.
While on Rhodes, you’ll also want to visit Mandraki, a modern city with an impressive marina, shopping, and casino. All over the island you’ll beautiful beaches. A particular favorite for water sports and adrenalin seekers is Faliraki.
Rustic and remote, the islands of the North Aegean are unspoiled and full of natural beauty. On Lesvos, you’ll find a pertrified forest, one of only two in the world. Dock at Port Sigri to access this amazing wonder.
Lesvos also boasts a variety of historic churches, monasteries, and museums. It is the birthplace of the famous poet, Sappho. The main port here is Mytilene, with the wonderful swimming beaches of Kato Yalos and Katsouni are nearby. While on Lesvos, you’ll also want to dock at Plomari, the ouzo capital of the world.
Two of the most popular islands, Santorini and Mykonos, are located in the Cyclades. They are what people typically think of as Greek isles with chalk white houses, charming windmills, and great beaches.
Mykonos is known for being cosmopolitan and having nonstop nightlife, though it certainly preserves it’s ancient roots. There are plenty of anchorages all around the island—but these get very busy during the high season so plan accordingly. Be sure to visit the bustling Platos Gialos beach while you’re here, and have the divers in your group explore Paradise House Reef.
And of course, don’t miss the ancient city of Delos. The birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, this holy island of ancient Greece is incredibly well preserved. Tour the ruins of private homes to see how they lived back then.
Set Sail for Beauty
With so many options to choose from, there’s something for everyone in the Aegean, from the rustic nature lover to the sophisticated urban adventurer. So if you’re looking to go sailing in Europe, the islands of the Aegean are calling!