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It’s hard to imagine a region of the world that more deserves the nickname, “Birthplace of Western Civilization,” than the Aegean. From Athens to the Greek Isles and over to Turkey, there’s no better place to explore the ageless Aegean and there’s no better way than doing it by ship.

From Hercules to Helen of Troy, the Aegean Sea is a cradle of western culture just waiting to be discovered. With fascinating history, arts, cuisine, and more, the region is rich in culture old and new. It all starts in Athens, move on to the Greek Isles and then over to coastal Turkey and Istanbul.

Athens: The Glory that Was Greece

Perhaps no other Aegean or Greece destination provides a better introduction to the glory that was (and still is) Greece. From the hilltop domination of Parthenon and Acropolis to big city and coastal pursuits both day and night, Athens is a city with a glorious past and a pleasant present for visitors.

Depending on your interest, Athens offers much to see. Without question, the famed Parthenon offers an overall review of the history, mystery, and mythology of the Golden Age of Classical Greece, more than 2,500 years ago. However, other equally interesting possibilities for historical exploration include the renowned Archaeological Museum, with its staggering collection, Hadrian’s Arch, the Corinthian Temple of Olympian Zeus, and the phenomenal Roman Forum.

Further afield, more classic Greek treasures await. For those with time, an excursion to the Attica Peninsula and Cape Sounion, Delphi, or the Peloponnese peninsula all make for interesting outings. Cape Sounion is the southernmost part of Europe and features 17 solemn Doric columns bearing testimony to King Aegeus who threw himself to his death here. Delphi was believed to be the center of the earth by ancient Greeks, while today it is one of the most interesting archaeological sites in the world. Finally, the Peloponnese peninsula is also an archaeological treasure trove, with highlights including the Mycenae, Nauplia, Epidaurus, and the Corinth Canal.

Modern-day pleasures in the Athens area concentrate on shopping, dining, and entertainment. For shopping, it’s hard to beat Pandrossou Street and the Monastiraki Flea Market, where leather goods, jewelry, furs, and more await bargainers. On the food front, casual city tavernas offer a great option to first try specialties like tzatziki, fired calamari, and more, while an excursion to the seaside village of Microlimano offers fresh fish straight from the Aegean. To finish a perfect day in Athens, varied folkloric shows are easy to find, with dancing, local wine, and more.

Mykonos & Delos

Located within an ancient stone’s throw of each other, Mykonos and Delos combine to make for a great combination of history and fun.

The resort island of Mykonos is famed for its beaches (Kalafati is a favorite) and watersports. Sumptuously sandy beaches, crystal-clear waters, and lively tavernas seemingly await around every turn, as do the wonderfully whitewashed houses and famed windmills of the island.

Over on Delos, more ‘serious’ historic pursuits await. Located at the crossroads of the Aegean, tiny Delos was once the most important cultural center of the region. Steeped in mythology, tour guides will tell of Leto, who loved by Zeus, but forced to roam the seas by his wife, Hera. She eventually found shelter on Delos. Highlights here include the ancient city, the Avenue of the Lions, the market, the theater quarter, the summit of Mt. Kynthos, and so much more.


Possibly the quintessential Aegean island when it comes to first visions, cubist houses tumble down to the shoreline, as charming villages, rocky cliffs, and azure waters all draw attention to the beauty of Santorini. Few sites in the Aegean can match that upon entering the Bay of Santorini.

Once on the island, the diversions are many. The possibilities include: traditional villages like Thera and Oia; the view from Mt. Profitis; great beaches; a ‘search’ for the mythical city of Atlantis; trying more Greek food and a friendly taverna; or simply sipping one of the excellent local wines or even visiting a winery where the sweet visando and nikhteri wines are produced.


Yet another classic Aegean island, Rhodes is similar to Santorini in its breathtaking views, history, and lively tavernas. Located near the Turkish coast, Rhodes is unique in its blending of eastern and western cultures on both the historical and cultural fronts.

Whether you’re in search of a simple meal with the locals or a inside look at the alluring history of the island, it’s easy to explore the Rhodes you want to see. Rhodes Town proper offers streets that provide a perfect introduction to the island, with casual cafes, tavernas, and restaurants, as well as walk along the Street of the Knights, built along an ancient street that’s existed since 408 BC, and leading to the Palace of the Grand Masters (itself a replica of the Papal Palace of Avignon, France).

The Acropolis of Lindos is perhaps a microcosm of all of Rhodes, in that it combines Byzantine, classical, and medieval ruins. Finally, given time, the fascinating rebuilt Church of Our Lady, originally an ancient temple of Athena, also awaits exploration.


The Aegean cultural odyssey continues over on the Turkish mainland, with Kusadasi serving as yet another gateway to archaeological wonders, cultural charms, and simple relaxation. From beautiful beaches to bright bazaars brimming with Turkish treats, Kusadasi is an excellent introduction to Turkey Aegean coast.

Along with conversations with friendly locals in cafes, bargaining for Turkish carpets, and beaches to the north and south of town, many people come to Kusadasi for the sole reason of heading to Ephesus.

Once one of the most successful cities of ancient Greece, Ephesus is a restored city where one can easily visualize the 300,000 inhabitants walking the marble streets and utilizing the temples, theaters, libraries, and more, as well as simply leading normal lives. Where Ephesus was once a thriving port, the Aegean is now three miles away--but the town lives on for curious visitors. Other nearby ruins well worth visiting include Priene, Didyma, and Miletus.


Finally, there’s Istanbul, where two continents and culture literally meet. No exploration of the Aegean would be complete without roaming the Grand Bazaar, where more than 5,000 shops set along more than 50 narrow and winding streets await.

Istanbul is also an architectural cornucopia, thanks to so many rulers through the centuries. Highlights include the Blue Mosque, the Suleymaniye Mosque, the church of Santa Sophia, the Chora Church and Museum, the Byzantine Hippodrome, the Military Museum, and, a bit further afield, Rumeli Fortress. Entertainment options include a cruise on the Bosphorous, sipping strong Turkish coffee with the locals, dining on Turkish specialties like the mezze plate (warm herbed quiche, wrapped chicken, rice, and much more), or an evening of bellydancing at one of many venues.

Thus, from Athens to Istanbul, the Aegean offers the birthplace of western civilization for all to explore, whether that’s through the history, the arts, the culture, the food, or other fascinating options that would make Hercules proud.