- 97 shares
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
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.
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.
PLANNING AN UPCOMING
Get a FREE copy of the ITALIAN
DINNER PARTY MENU- complete with recipes!
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.)
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.
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.)
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!
Many of the routes are seasonal so the ferry is not an option for traveling to these islands outside of peak times.
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.
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
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:
Syros is the Best Destination in the Greek Islands
Why Mykonos is One of the Best Greek Islands to Visit
Why Naxos is the Best of the Greek Islands
What to See and Do in the Village of Halki on Naxos
Santorini: 5 Great Things to Do When Visiting for the First Time
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.
Excellent tips! thanks for sharing 🙂
Sarah, I hope it saves you some money!
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.
Tara, Our favorite Island was Naxos. There is a ton of information on the site, hopefully it helps you as well.
Awesome, Greece is so beautiful!
Claire, Yes it is just beautiful. Do you have any tips for travelers?
A great resource!
Taylor, Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for commenting.
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!
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.
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.
Michele, I am sure they have gone up! But Mykonos seem reasonable compared to Santorini!
Carmen's Luxury Travel
So helpful, definitely bookmarking. I love Greece!
Carmen, I am glad it was helpful. I can’t wait to go back!
Thanks so much for the helpful post! I haven’t visited the Greek Islands and will save this post for when I go.
Nancy, I hope you do visit, it is a lovely place. We wanted to go there for years.
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.
Christina our pleasure. Hope you enjoy. The cancellation of ferries was illuminating to us as well. Thanks for your comment.
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.
Doreen, Yes, if you are on a leisurely schedule and they cancel or delay you can always find something to do!
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.
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.
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 🙂
Thank you so much for your comment. I hope you enjoy reading about the food and culture of Greece.
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.
Christina, glad to be of service. They are worth going to, the people, the food, the weather, all good.
Wow this is a ton of great information! Looks beautiful and is on my wish list!
Hope it is helpful Cathy. Glad they are on your wish list they are superb.
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.
All stuff to be aware of. Flying onto one of the islands saves time and money. Thanks for your comment.
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!
No problem Tracie, I hope you enjoy your trip to the Greek Islands. Thanks for your comment.
Tracy | Baking Mischief
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.
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.
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!
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.