What You Need to Know About Traveling in the Greek Islands

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Traveling in the Greek Islands is relatively easy.  There is a ferry system running all year between the large islands and an additional seasonal service in summer servicing and connecting the smaller islands. In addition there are airports on many of the large islands.  Aegean Air and Olympic Air are the primary airlines in Greece and the Greek Islands.

There are over 200 inhabited islands in the Greek Islands, the ones we hear about frequently are but a small subset of the islands.

At the end of this post there are some sites listed to help you find timetables, routes and purchase tickets for traveling in the Greek Islands.

Planning your Itinerary for Traveling in the Greek Islands

What You Need to Know About Traveling in the Greek Islands (1)Most international flights will pass through Athens.  It may be easier, cheaper or more convenient to book your first island as part of this fare.  In our case it was easier and cheaper to book the international flight to Mykonos rather than go to Athens, spend the night, transfer to the port and then catch the ferry.  We stayed in Athens on our way out, taking the ferry from Santorini to Athens, then catching an international flight from Athens again.

The Greek Islands are in groups by region- the Cyclades, the Cretan, the Ionian and Dodecanese are the ones we hear of most often.  When traveling in the Greek Islands staying within one of these groupings can reduce your transit costs and times on the ferry.  Depending on connections, transit times and fares, it may be easier to just fly if you are traveling a great distance between islands.    Rome2Rio is a good site for working out travel distances, durations and estimating costs.  I use Rome2Rio a lot. For finding airfares here are our suggestions.

The Greek Islands Magazine

DON'T MISS
THE GREEK ISLANDS!

Lots of great information about
Greece and the Greek Islands, plus
tips and resources for planning your trip!

Finding Accommodation

Booking.com has a great selection of accommodation throughout the Greek Islands.  AirBnB also has quite a few listings of people renting privates homes and apartments.

If you need some advice about finding the prefect accommodation for your trip or are a new user to AirBnB, these tips can save you time and money.

Ferry

Using the ferry is an easy option and it can be quite pleasant.  However, here are a few things to keep in mind when organizing your itinerary for using the ferry for traveling in the Greek Islands.

There are a lot of third party online sites for ferry tickets, many of these also include a booking fee.  You may want to use one to find the schedule/routes and the provider then go to the site to book direct.  The links for several of the large ferry providers are below.  (Also note when searching for a route it often matters if you are searching a domestic Greek route (traveling in the Greek Islands) or coming from an international destination, i.e. Turkey or Italy via the ferry to Greece.)

Delays

Greek ferry operators are notorious for cancelling or delaying ferry service.  Sometimes this is weather or equipment related other times it is a mystery as to the reasons.   We met a number of people planning to spend one night on a given island.  Due to delays or cancelled ferries this resulted in disappointment.

What You Need to Know About Traveling in the Greek Islands (2)Here is just one example; we met travelers in Mykonos with reservations for the first ferry of the day to travel to Santorini.  This then allowed them about 24 hours in Santorin before moving to the next destination.  The morning ferry was cancelled and they were re-scheduled on the 3 pm ferry which put them into Santorini well after sunset.  As their departure by air was midday the next day, they had to be at the airport early for an international check-in.  So they actually were going to see very little of Santorini rather than spend a leisurely afternoon and evening there.

This was common.   I would say one night/day on an island relying on the ferry is too tight an itinerary.  If it is cancelled and you do not arrive, you will most likely still have to pay for your hotel unless you have travel insurance and can be reimbursed for the delay.  (Note: whether you book it on your own or a travel agent makes no difference in the case of delays or cancellations.)

Weather

Sometimes the reason for the cancellation or delay is related to the weather.  But also at certain time of the year it can be quite windy (spring for example) and this can increase the chance of either delays or make for a very rough crossing.

We took the ferry 3 times; we were delayed once, by about 6 hours.  We were booked on the high-speed ferry from Santorini to Athens.  It was very windy.  The ferry was unable to safely dock and load in Santorini.  So we had to wait for the next ferry, which was the large car ferry.  The high speed ferry proceeded to Naxos where it was calmer, and we could load there.  This meant we sat on the dock in Santorini for hours. The travel time to Naxos was also much slower on the large ferry than it would have been on the high speed ferry.

The large ferry ride was okay in the wind and rough seas, but once we transferred to the high speed ferry from Naxos to Athens the ride was rough.  And that is an understatement!  Most of the passengers were feeling a bit seasick or were sick.  I would normally be among them. But luckily I had my seasick bands!  Yes they work!  If you are at all prone to motion sickness seriously it is the best money you will ever spend!

Seasonal Routes

Many of the routes are seasonal so the ferry is not an option for traveling to these islands outside of peak times.

What You Need to Know About Traveling in the Greek Islands (5)Putting it all Together

So my recommendation if you want to do it yourself is:

  • Decide what islands you want to visit and how long you can stay
  • Check transport between those islands
  • Have a quick look at accommodation costs/availability
  • Book your international flights
  • Book the ferry
  • Book your accommodation

 

Transportation on the Islands

Driving or Renting a Car

Most of the islands are relatively small.  For Santorini and Mykonos, honestly I can see no advantage to renting a car.  The local bus is pretty good, taxis are available and there is a robust private transfer system for arriving at the airport or ferry terminal.  Our accommodation in Mykonos provided airport transfer at no cost.  She even stopped along the way so I could buy grocery supplies as we stayed in an apartment with a kitchen.

Naxos is a large island and we spent a week there and rented a car.  Depending on how long you are there and what you want to do, a car may be a good option.  It was not expensive.  The island is easy to navigate and is well signed.  There is no traffic.   Greeks drive on the right.  We organized our rental through Holiday Autos.  You can read more about what to watch out for renting a car overseas.

Transfers

Don’t forget you actually need transport to your hotel from the ferry or airport.  I usually arrange for the hotel to book any transfers.  It is easy and then the driver knows both your arrival time and destination.  If you are delayed transport will still be there and they will know where to take you without you needing to worry about directions or language issues.  This is also at a pre-agreed price, so you know what it will cost and how you have to pay for it.  It saves having to deal with taxis, mobile phones, delays, unknown routes, directions, language issues and broken meters in cabs, all of which can just be stressful.

Links to Resources for Traveling in the Greek Islands

Aegean Air

Olympic Air

SeaJet Ferries

Blue Star Ferries

Rome2 Rio

Booking.com

George’s Taxis’  (Reliable and professional cab company in Athens, you can book your transfers or other transport online.)

For more information about traveling in the Greek islands we visited:

What You Need to Know About Traveling in the Greek Islands (4)Syros

Syros is the Best Destination in the Greek Islands

Mykonos

Why Mykonos is One of the Best Greek Islands to Visit

Naxos

Why Naxos is the Best of the Greek Islands

What to See and Do in the Village of Halki on Naxos

Santorini

Santorini: 5 Great Things to Do When Visiting for the First Time

Athens

Greek Food and Culture

The Best of Books, Cookbooks and Movies about Greece

The Classic Greek Taverna Meal: Drunken Pork is Perfect with Red Wine

Greek Olive Oil: All You Need to Know About This Family Tradition

A Traditional Feast to Celebrate Easter like the Greeks

How to Cook Greek Lamb to Enjoy at Home

Genuine Greek Baked Beans Full of Taste – Gigantes Plaki

Steamed Greek Mussels Will Make You Happy

Easy Greek Village Salad from Naxos Revisited

Greek Tzatziki Guaranteed to be Thicker and Stronger

This Genuine Greek Spanakopita is Irresistible

Sensational Beef Stifado a Pleasant Surprise from Cyprus

The Best Authentic Loukoumades Greek Donuts Recipe

The Best Citron Liquer You Will Ever Taste is on Naxos

And you you can find all our content about Greece and the Greek Islands here.

Planning a trip to the Greek Islands. Here is all you need to know about traveling in the Greek Islands. www.compassandfork.com

36 Responses

  1. Tami
    | Reply

    Nice post! When I was in Santorini, we used a taxi to get to the hotel and public transportation to return to the airport a few days later. I opted not to take a ferry because I wanted more down time on the island. I think I would have enjoyed traveling by boat, but for our schedule, we got the best alternative! Greece and its islands are a wonderful vacation destination!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Yes that is a good point Tami. Being time-constrained may mean you need to use airlines. I found the boat more relaxing and a nice break from the pressures of flying. The other issue is that many smaller islands do not have an airport, so ferry is the only alternative. Thanks for your comment.

  2. This is such a helpful post! I had no idea that the ferries could be so unreliable. It sounds like an absolute nightmare if it’s not something you are expecting in advance.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      It was a little chaotic in Santorini watching people trying to disembark in the rather rough weather. I’m glad it wasn’t me. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Tracie Howe
    | Reply

    This is a great wealth of information for me. I may be heading to the Greek islands this year and I was wondering how I might best handle transportation. Thanks for sharing!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      No problem Tracie, I hope you enjoy your trip to the Greek Islands. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Voyager
    | Reply

    I think this is great information. Especially the tip about landing in one of the islands rather than Athens. I was planning a itinerary and had in fact planned on flying to Athens and then taking the ferry to the islands, I will re do that again now.
    Also good early warning about the Ferries being delayed or cancelled. Sure, this can throw a spanner in the works and ruin travel plans. Thanks for sharing.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      All stuff to be aware of. Flying onto one of the islands saves time and money. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Cathy
    | Reply

    Wow this is a ton of great information! Looks beautiful and is on my wish list!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Hope it is helpful Cathy. Glad they are on your wish list they are superb.

  6. Christina
    | Reply

    I have always wanted to put together a Greek Islands itinerary but have been slightly overwhelmed by all the information. I think with the help of this guide and all the links provided it may just be more doable now than before. Thanks for sharing.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Christina, glad to be of service. They are worth going to, the people, the food, the weather, all good.

  7. Mar Pages
    | Reply

    Thank you so much for such an extensive list, this is brilliant. I especially love that you included links of their food and culture. This is a great starting point, will be passing this on 🙂

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Thank you so much for your comment. I hope you enjoy reading about the food and culture of Greece.

  8. nonsoloamore
    | Reply

    I’ve been only to Kreta but I realized I have to see some other islands.I think Mykonos and Santorini. Will read the other posts about it too.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Glad to be of service. I’m sure all of the Greek Islands have their positives. So many to choose from. Thanks for your comment.

  9. Doreen Pendgracs
    | Reply

    Great post, Elizabeth. You’ve included pretty much everything a visitor to the Greek Islands would need to know. And it is SO true about them cancelling or being late for scheduled services. Certainly happened to us, and then we learned to just roll with it.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Doreen, Yes, if you are on a leisurely schedule and they cancel or delay you can always find something to do!

  10. Christina Guan
    | Reply

    Definitely saving this for my future Greece trip 🙂 Thanks for the tip about ferries by the way… I would have never expected them to be that easily cancelled, especially in such a touristic country. Would definitely be a huge nightmare for victims of cancellations, I’m sure.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Christina our pleasure. Hope you enjoy. The cancellation of ferries was illuminating to us as well. Thanks for your comment.

  11. Nancy
    | Reply

    Thanks so much for the helpful post! I haven’t visited the Greek Islands and will save this post for when I go.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Nancy, I hope you do visit, it is a lovely place. We wanted to go there for years.

  12. So helpful, definitely bookmarking. I love Greece!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Carmen, I am glad it was helpful. I can’t wait to go back!

  13. Michele Peterson
    | Reply

    I’d love to return to Greece. I wonder what’s happened with prices on Mykonos since I was there 10 years ago? An apartment with a kitchen is a wise move.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Michele, I am sure they have gone up! But Mykonos seem reasonable compared to Santorini!

  14. MariaAbroad
    | Reply

    Greece has been on my bucket list for a long time. I would love to see the white houses of Santorini, walk the streets of the Acropolis and lay on the beach of Mykonos. Thanks for sharing these great tips!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Maria, The white houses are on Mykonos, the dramatic cliff top ones are on Santorini. Hope you make it one day- it is a beautiful place.

  15. Taylor
    | Reply

    A great resource!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Taylor, Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for commenting.

  16. Claire
    | Reply

    Awesome, Greece is so beautiful!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Claire, Yes it is just beautiful. Do you have any tips for travelers?

  17. Tara
    | Reply

    Great tips! I am actually just starting to look into this for 2017. Do you have a favorite island or cluster of islands? We’re planning to go in October.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Tara, Our favorite Island was Naxos. There is a ton of information on the site, hopefully it helps you as well.

  18. sarah
    | Reply

    Excellent tips! thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Sarah, I hope it saves you some money!

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