Cruises to Santorini

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Updated: November 15, 2020

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Should you take a cruise to Santorini? How to decide between staying in Santorini and visiting on a cruise ship.

The view of a cruise ship in the caldera from the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Fira, Santorini. (Staying in Santorini is much better than visiting on a cruise.)

  • Coronavirus Update: All cruises to Santorini have been cancelled until 2021 due to the Covid virus. Cancellations for May and June seem likely. Ferries and flights to and from the Greek islands are currently running on a reduced schedule with no set date for a return to full service.
  • Santorini Cruises 2021: Hopefully there aren’t any cruises to Santorini in 2021 and this awful and corrupt industry will disappear from the Greek islands forever.
  • Sign our petition to ban cruise ships from Santorini.

Please, don’t do a cruise to Santorini. They’re bad for the citizens, the environment, and the local economy, and they’re a lousy way to see the island. On a cruise, you only get a few hours to see Santorini – and it’s busy, hectic, and packed with tourists whenever a cruise ship is in port. All of the best things to do in Santorini are hard to enjoy on the limited time you get on the island if you visit on a cruise. The best Santorini boat tours are day trips you do while staying on the island – but you won’t have time to do a volcano boat tour if visiting from a cruise ship.

If you really want to see what makes Santorini the most magical island in Greece, you’ll need to stay overnight. The best Santorini hotels are some of the most awesome and incredible places to stay anywhere. Sleeping in a cave and waking up with views of the caldera out your window is a very special experience. Five to seven days is what I recommend for most visitors to Santorini, but even a one night stay is better than visiting on a cruise.

Santorini is a year-round destination. If you’re into wine, great food, and sightseeing the best time to visit Santorini is from April to early June and late September to early November. In recent years Santorini has been limiting cruise ship access to the island. The restrictions should increase in 2020.

What are the best cruises to Santorini? If you absolutely must do a Santorini cruise then book a Greek sailing tour on a small yacht (listed below) – the best type of cruise in the Greek islands. If you are already booked on a cruise, these are the best Santorini shore excursions.

Recommended travel agents for Greece: Fantasy Travel is good for planning trips to Greece and the Greek islands. You can read more about travel agencies for Santorini vacations here.

Cruises to Santorini and the Greek Islands

7 reasons not to do a Santorini cruise:

1. You get a very limited amount of time on the island (just 3 to 8 hours when you account for getting up to the top of the caldera).

2. You only see the island when it’s densely crowded with other cruise ship passengers (your shipmates).

3. You won’t be around to see the sunset, when Santorini is at it’s most beautiful.

4. You won’t have time to do any of the best Santorini tours: a catamaran tour of the caldera, a boat tour to the volcano, a winery tour, a photography tour, a fishing tour.

5. You’ll only visit the most crowded and touristy locations on the island and miss out on Santorini’s charming traditional villages like Pyrgos, Emporio, and Megalochori.

6. There is only one access point from the cruise ships to the island – the old port of Santorini. This tiny port gets absolutely overwhelmed with cruise ship passengers and makes for a terrible introduction to the island.

7. Cruises are floating Petri dishes of disease and illness. (From the Wall Street Journal: “Early in March, the world’s cruise-ship operators had ample evidence to believe their fleet of luxury liners were incubators for the new coronavirus. Yet they continued to fill cruise ships with passengers, endangering those aboard and helping spread Covid-19 to the U.S. and around the globe.”)

After the shore excursions have returned to the ship and the cruises have departed, Santorini returns to a calmer and more tranquil pace. If you can stay a few nights on the Santorini, you’ll see a completely different side of the towns, restaurants, and attractions. It’s just much more fun, more relaxing, and more beautiful on the island after the cruise ships have sailed away. And if you arrived on this page after watching the absolutely awful Santorini show by Rick Steves – just ignore everything that guy recommends about seeing the Greek islands. I bet any local would tell you the same.

What are the best sailing tours in the Greek islands and Santorini?

As I said above, visiting Santorini on a cruise is not ideal. You only get to spend a few hours on Santorini and those hours are when your entire ship is also touring the island – you don’t get to see the magic of what makes Santorini so special. And you don’t get to stay overnight and see the island in the morning when it can feel almost deserted – even in high season.

But sailing tours (small ship tours, yacht tours, or private sailing tours) are different. On the sailing trips I list below, you meander around the Greek islands and make stops in a number of different places that are wonderfully off the beaten path. You start or finish your trip in Santorini so you get to spend 1 or more nights on the island to see how it really is. (No cruises start or finish in Santorini, so if you did want to see it on your own that’s a separate trip to the island – probably from Athens.)

Small ship cruise to Santorini, Mykonos, and the Greek Islands.

Yacht cruise of the Greek islands. Eat on board, swim and snorkel at private beaches, and sail around the Greek islands at your own pace.

The Best Yacht Cruises for Santorini and the Greek Islands

All of these sailing tours are with G Adventures – a fantastic company that offers unique boat tours of the Greek islands on 15m charter yachts. A skipper/captain/tour-guide is on the boat the entire trip. There’s a kitchen and 3 bathrooms, safety vests, and snorkeling equipment. Some meals onboard, some on land. These tours sell out quickly so book as early as possible. Dates vary by tour but most begin sailing in late April or early May and run until mid or late October.

(If you want a private yacht charter of the Greek islands then just book all 8 spots on the boat.)

  • Santorini to Mykonos – 8 Days, $1007, Starts Sun, Tue, Wed, or Sat. An awesome 8 day tour of the Cycladic islands that starts in Santorini and takes in Folegandros (great for hiking), Sifnos (untouristy with wonderful beaches), Ios (the best beaches in Greece), Antiparos (tiny island with great beaches), Paros (beautiful), Naxos (mix of history, local culture, and beaches). This on a real sailboat that sleeps about 8 so it’s a very small group. The itinerary is flexible and stops are made wherever guests show the most interest.
  • Mykonos to Santorini – 8 Days, $961, Starts Sun, Tue, Wed, Fri, or Sat. The tour begins in Mykonos and sails through the Greek islands to Santorini. Essentially, the same tour as above but in the opposite direction. Personally, I would rather start in Mykonos and sail into the Santorini caldera to end the tour – but obviously, there isn’t a huge difference. There are international flights to both Mykonos and Santorini so as far as coordinating travel, that shouldn’t be an issue.
  • Athens to Santorini – 15 Days, $2199, Starts Sun, Tue, Wed, or Sat. This one begins in Athens (which deserves a day or two to explore) and finishes in Santorini 14 nights later. Along the way you’ll stop in Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Antiparos, Ios, Sifnos, and Folegandros – similar to the above trips only you have more time to wander and explore. There are also Santorini to Athens sailing tours.
  • Mykonos to Athens – 8 Days, $974, Starts Sun, Mon, Wed, or Sat. On the surface, this doesn’t sound as compelling (what? no Santorini?). But remember, you can visit any islands you want before the tour begins. Fly directly to Santorini, spend a few days there, then take the direct ferry from Santorini to Mykonos and begin your sailing tour. Finish in Athens and fly home from there. Perfect! The islands you visit on this tour are less touristy (and have fewer idyllic beaches): Kythnos, Kea, Aegina, Hydra, and Syros. There are also Athens to Mykonos yacht sailings.
  • Santorini to Santorini – 10 days, $1387, Starts all 7 days. This one begins and ends with Santorini which makes planning easier and gives you one more chance to see this magical island. On the flip side, you do re-trace your steps, so for most people, I would recommend a tour that starts and concludes at different destinations – but it’s still a great trip.

Santorini Cruises – What to Know

Cruises to Santorini, Greece

Large cruise ships in the Santorini caldera – great to look at, but cruises are a lousy way to experience Santorini. Please, if you come to Santorini don’t do it on a cruise.

Tour group with view of caldera and volcano.

This is what visiting the island is like when you come to Santorini on a cruise: You walk around the busiest parts of the island as part of a large group. You’ve got limited time and can only see a few spots in Fira and Oia.

Tour group on day trip to Santorini from cruise ship.

Here’s one of the large tour groups from a cruise. Are you in group 20?

Tour group in Greece with visit to winery.

Maybe you’re in group 22?

Day tour group on Santorini cruise ship.

Or maybe it’s 32? Regardless: this sucks.

Cruise tours and shore excursions to Santorini.

Yay, you get your own sticker. Thanks, but no thanks.

Group returning to cruise ship in Greek islands.

This looks fun: waiting for the cable car ride back to the cruise port.

Cable car group tour from cruise ship in Fira.

This is just a small part of the line – it can stretch far back and around a corner. Occasionally cruise passengers will be left behind on the island because they can’t get back to the ship in time. They then have to arrange their own transportation to another island to meet-up with the cruise. Certainly this is rare, but it’s always in the back of your mind: what time is it? – we can’t miss our departure time.

Small group tour of Oia.

Oia is a great town, but everyone staying on the island knows: don’t go mid-day because it’s packed with tours from the cruise ships.

Best attraction in Santorini with day tour group from cruise.

This is the Santorini you get to experience when you stay on the island and enjoy it at your own pace.

Morning tour with donkeys in Santorini.

Get up early and there are more donkeys on the streets than people.

Breakfast restaurant with views of caldera.

A quiet breakfast view in Imerovigli.

Quiet lunch with views in Santorini.

When the cruise ships have departed even a popular restaurant can be quiet and relaxing. And the views just seem better when there aren’t mobs of people.

Map of Santorini

Map of Santorini Cruise Visit

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  1. Mykonos and Santorini Holiday from UK

    Hi, my daughter and her friend would love to visit Santorini and Mykonos in early March. Any advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated. They are wanting to spend around 7 days in total in Greece before heading back to the UK. Any info on flights/transport you can offer would be great. Thanks

    1. Santorini Dave The Hotel Expert

      In early March there will not be any direct flights flying from the UK to Mykonos or Santorini. Nor will there be direct ferries between Santorini and Mykonos. If they want to visit Santorini and Mykonos on the same trip it’s much better that they wait until late March (when there should be ferries running between the two islands) or April/May (when there will be direct flights between London and Mykonos, and between London and Santorini). If they do travel in early March then a trip to Santorini and Naxos or Santorini and Paros would be better.

  2. What is the best Santorini Cruise?

    Between all the Santorini cruises on Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, MSC, Holland, Viking, and Windstar Cruises – do you recommend any cruise line?

    1. Santorini Dave The Hotel Expert

      They all suck.

  3. Santorini Cruise from Athens

    We want to avoid doing a cruise but would love to have an ocean-going experience from Athens to Santorini. What would you recommend? Looking to see the sights as we’re onboard. Is this even possible? (Some friends said you can’t even get out on the deck and views are lousy.)

    1. Santorini Dave The Hotel Expert

      Your friends likely took a high-speed catamaran with Hellenic Seaways or SeaJets. On these boats you can not access the deck except when the boat is in port and windows are often caked in sea salt. The ship you want is the Blue Star ferry. It’s a little slower (takes 8 hours instead of 5 from Athens to Santorini) but has large open-air decks that you can walk about on. Views are great and it’s a spectacular entrance to Santorini. Since it’s larger than the catamarans it also has a less bumpy ride and is less likely to cause sea-sickness.

  4. Santorini Cruise Port

    We are trying to decide between going from the cruise port to Oia or from the cruise port to Fira. We have 5 hours in Santorini and want to do the the hike between Oia and Fira. Do you think we have enough time? And should we go to Oia first or Fira? Thanks!

    1. Santorini Dave The Hotel Expert

      Go to Oia first, mainly because boat taxis between the cruise port and Oia are inconsistent so you wouldn’t want to rely on them to get you back to your cruise ship. Assuming you can get to Oia within an hour (including tender to shore, waiting, and boat ride to Oia) and allowing for an hour’s wait to get back down to the port on the cable car then you’ll have 3 hours to do the walk. That won’t allow for much stopping and sightseeing but it is doable if you walk a good clip. If you get back to Fira and are running short on time walk down the stairs to the port instead of waiting for the cable car as the line will likely be long.

  5. Greek Cruise or Island Hop?

    Hi Dave
    Great informative website!
    We have booked 7 days on Santorini at Agnadi Villas and would like to go on a cruise of about 7-10 days as an add on to our Greek trip – any suggestions? By the look I think a smaller cruise boat would be best – do you agree, or should we island hop?
    Thanks Joady

    1. Santorini Dave The Hotel Expert

      Island hopping is always the best way to go (the most fun and relaxing). But if you did want a cruise/tour of the Greek Islands then G Adventures is pretty darn good.

  6. Best Time of Year To Do a Santorini Cruise

    We have heard similar thoughts from friends. Santorini is beautiful but not so great as part of a cruise. We’re in our late 70s and love to walk and do tours, but not so much beaches. If we visited on a ship or on our own – when would be the best month to go to Santorini?

    1. Santorini Dave The Hotel Expert

      If you want nice weather (for walking, exploring) but don’t want or need hot beach weather then the months of May, June, September, and October are perfect. Late March, April, and early November can also be good but can be chilly with a bit of rain.

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