If you’re wondering where to see dolphins in Greece but don’t quite know where to begin in the home of feta salads and Zorba dances, then you’re in the right place. This guide will scour the isles and archipelagos of this sun-kissed nation with the aim of unearthing the spots where you’re most likely to catch a glimpse of those bottlenoses when you’re not lazing on the beach.
The good news is that there are plenty of choices. Dolphins actually reside all over Greece, from the bath-warm waters of the southern Aegean around Crete up to the cooler climbs of where the Ionian Sea meets the Adriatic, around islands like Paxos and Corfu. That means there are some pretty darn enticing locations to come and do your marine safaris, complete with idyllic pebble coves and whitewashed cubist towns scented by local tavernas.
However, the presence of the cetaceans themselves is but one thing to consider when deciding where to see dolphins in Greece. We’ve also looked at how easy it is to get onto dolphin-spotting tours, the accessibility of each place, and what there is to do once you’re done with your boat trips for the day. Let’s begin…
The Ionian Sea
There’s no doubt about it: The Ionian is the major stomping ground of dolphins in Greece. If you’re really chasing a meeting with one of these elegant sea critters, then the far western waters of the country are the place to go.
The good news is that the Ionian is big enough and wide enough to host plenty of dolphin spotters at once. It spans from the top tip of Corfu and the borders between Greece and Albania all the way across to the eastern edge of Sicily, from the south tip of the Peloponnese to the heel of Italy. That’s a whopping great big cut out of the greater Mediterranean!
On the Greek side, the Ionian Dolphin Project has identified three major dolphin hotspots. The first is the uber-popular waters that spread around the Paxos and Antipaxos isles from the bottom end of Corfu. The second is the Ambracian Gulf, or the Gulf of Actium (more on that one later!). The third is famous Inner Ionian that encompasses vacay favs like Lefkas, Kalamos, and Meganissi.
The first and the last of those are known to host both common and bottlenose dolphins, while rare striped dolphins have been witnessed and recorded in the waters of the northern fringes of the Paxos region. Today, the best way to go about getting an encounter of your own is to plan a trip to one of the more developed isles in the region (Lefkada, Corfu, and Kefalonia are all good picks) and enquire at local ports about planned dolphin-watching excursions.
The third of the three major marine habitats identified by the Ionian Dolphin Project to lie on the western side of Greece, the Ambracian Gulf is worth a section here all on its own. That’s because it’s home to a year-round population of bottlenose dolphins and is small and compact enough to make sighting missions some of the most successful around.
But first: Some geography. The Ambracian Gulf is 25 miles from east to west and nine miles wide at its most extensive part. It’s cut off from the greater Mediterranean by the untrodden coast of western mainland Greece, linked to the water by but a single channel that flows through the charming port (and main airport arrival point) of Preveza. The whole north of the gulf is dominated by the designated reserve of the Amvrakikos Wetlands National Park, which has helped stem development and keep the waters nice and healthy.
Which brings us back to those dolphins. Current guesses put the modern population number at somewhere between 130-190 individuals. That’s not an overload, but here’s the kicker: The Ambracian dolphin population is pretty easy to locate since they reside in such a small enclave of water that’s cut off from the open Med. Skippers on cruises that leave from Preveza and other ports usually don’t have too hard a time finding them skimming along in the crystal-clear H2O. To put it another way…If you want to up your chances of a sighting then this one’s a pretty good pick!
The Saronic Gulf
The Saronic Gulf splits the sprawl of Athens from the Peloponnese, spreading between the gritty port of Piraeus and the isles of Hydra and Spetses – the wonderful, rugged, rock-ringed isles of Hydra and Spetses. The whole water is a playground for yachters and a top destination for day trippers from the capital, mainly because you can sail from one end to the other in less than two hours.
But it’s also all that because it’s downright gorgeous, plus a top pick on any list of where to see dolphins in Greece. Yep, this 29-mile-wide strait hosts schools of both bottlenose and common dolphins. The first are more regularly sighted in the southern part of the Saronic, where it merges with the greater Aegean Sea. The latter are more likely to be spotted along the shallow coastal reaches of the western Saronic, which isn’t very developed and not so busy as a shipping channel as the region around Athens.
When you’re done looking for these elegant swimmers, we can’t wax lyrical enough about the joys that await in the greater Saronic Gulf. Isles like Poros have bustling harbor towns packed with tavernas. There’s aforementioned Hydra, capped with a moody monastery and ringed by rust-colored bays. There’s Aegina, home to a stunning temple and happening villages.
The Corinthian Gulf
The Corinthian Gulf, also often known as the Gulf of Corinth, is an oft-overlooked sea that spreads out in the middle of Greece. It’s wedged between the high mountains of the mainland, where the mystical shrines of Delphi (one of Greece’s most amazing UNESCO World Heritage Sites) keep watch from the slopes, and the rugged top end of the Peloponnese.
Despite being a major shipping channel on account of the Corinth Canal helping big cruisers get through from the Adriatic to the southern Med in a jiffy, this body of water is known to be home to a huge pod of dolphins. It’s easy to see why, since the Corinthian Gulf is relatively shallow, hitting just 934 meters at its deepest point compared to over 3,000 meters in the Aegean – something dolphins really do like!
In total, there are four species of dolphins known to reside in the Gulf of Corinth, one of which is known to be endangered. Boat tours to see them usually leave from ports in the east, taking visitors to the stunning Alkyonides Islands and a series of dramatic sea caves along the way. Oh, and there are also tours that will take you up the Corinth Canal to see the dolphins in a day or two from Athens itself – just in case you’re feeling a little stuck in the capital!
The north coast of Crete is known to be a habitat for dolphins. Cruises leave from the main ports in both Rethymno and Chania to scour the rock-ribbed northern headlands of Rodopou and Gramvousa for pods of the swift swimmers. Sadly, sightings of the marine creatures aren’t as common this far south in the Aegean as elsewhere in Greece, so don’t come expecting a guaranteed encounter.
One thing’s for sure: Crete is one downright stunning place to go dolphin spotting. The largest island in the country, it’s famed for sitting at the meeting point of three seas – the Aegean to the north, the Med to the west, and the Libyan Sea to the south. Add to that pink-sanded beaches and coastal mountain ranges that are sure to take the breath away and we don’t think you’ll be disappointed in these parts, even if those bottlenoses don’t deem to make an appearance.
As we’ve mentioned, the north coast of Crete is prime for dolphin-filled outings. Thankfully, that’s also the most accessible part of the island, connected to Athens and oodles of other airports in Europe by regular flights in and out of both Chania and Heraklion (the capital city).
Where to see dolphins in Greece? Our conclusion
If you’re wondering where to see dolphins in Greece, then you’re likely to be spoiled for choice. This nation of salt-washed port towns and stunning islets is home to some of the most significant populations of bottlenoses and common dolphins in Europe. What’s more, encounters with those loveable swimmers of the seas are pretty darn accessible, usually requiring a simple day tour out from a nearby harbor. Major hotspots for dolphin watching in this part of Europe include the Ionian Sea (Greece’s westernmost sea) and the Saronic Gulf close to Athens. But that’s really just scratching the surface.