Greek Island Hopping 101 – Everything You Need to Know

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Ferry and ships near Santorini's volcanic crater

Island hopping in Greece is one of Europe’s unmissable adventures. But with over 200 islands where do you start? Here’s everything you need to know – including island hopping routes and itineraries, ticket info and island inspo.

If I could spend the rest of my life doing one thing it would be island-hopping. Nothing beats sitting out on the deck of the ferry in the sunshine, sipping on a frappe, thumbing through a guidebook wondering what stories await at the next island.

The anticipation as you wait in the crowd to disembark the ferry, as the alarm sounds and the door draw down – providing the first glimpse of your chosen destination.

The pure thrill of turning up at Piraeus with no plans and no ticket (seriously – you should try it. Just not in August).

It’s been a time-honoured tradition since the 1960s. But Greece has so many islands it can be overwhelming to plan and (just a bit) difficult to know where to start.

Well – start right here. We’ve got everything you need to know (and a few things you probably don’t).

A ferry speeds glides Oia on Santorini

This guide will cover:

  • Starting points – airports and ports
  • Considerations when planning – time/money/seasickness/flexibility
  • Fast ferry vs slow ferry vs flying
  • How much do ferry tickets cost?
  • Island groups – Ionian, Argo-Saronic, Cyclades, Crete, Dodecanese, Sporades, Aegean
  • How to pick your perfect islands (and the best time to go)
  • Understanding the hub and spoke system
  • Tickets and schedules
  • Attica Group Greek Island Ferry Pass
  • Organised group tours
  • Yachts, small ship cruises, and international ferries
  • FAQ

Let’s dive in . . .

Yellow ferries docked on Zakynthos

ISLAND HOPPING IN GREECE – WHERE TO START?

There are a few important factors that will determine how your island hopping plays out: time, money, and your starting point.

PICK YOUR ENTRY POINT

How do you plan to arrive in Greece? This will most determine which ports/island groups are nearest to you (unless you’re happy to take a domestic flight – we’ll get to that later).

If you’re flying into Greece you’ll most likely land at Athens International airport (Eleftherios Venizelos).

The main ports on the Greek mainland are:

  • Piraeus. Athens’ main port – click here for directions). This is the main port in Greece and you can reach most islands.
  • Rafina. Athen’s second port – a bit harder to reach than Piraeus (which is something to bear in mind if you’re heading to Mykonos – more on that later).
  • Lavrio. The smallest and furthest away of the Athens ports. You’ll probably only use it if you want to get to Kea or if you’re joining a yacht (lucky you)
  • Thessaloniki. Although Greece’s second city is mainly a commercial port, there are ferry connections to the larger Aegean islands.
  • Kavala. The main ferry port in the north, with connections to Athens and the Aegean islands.
  • Keromoti. On the north coast, just opposite the island of Thassos.
  • Volos. Halfway between Thessaloniki and Athens, Volos is the main gateway port for the Sporades (Mamma Mia fans, head here).
  • Patras. A large port on the west coast, at the entrance to the Gulf of Corinth, for connections to Italy and the Ionian islands.
  • Igoumenitsa. On the northwest coast, best for connections to Corfu and Italy.

Basically, Piraeus will probably be your starting port unless you have a particular reason for it not to.

Or if you’re flying –

Airplane in the sky overhead Heraklion on Crete

Greek islands with international airports:

  • Crete (Chania, Heraklion, Sitia) – international
  • Corfu – international
  • Kefalonia – international
  • Zakynthos – international
  • Kos – international
  • Lemnos – international
  • Lesvos – international
  • Samos – international
  • Rhodes – international
  • Astypalea – international

Greek islands with domestic airports:

  • Chios – domestic only
  • Ikaria – domestic only
  • Kalymnos – domestic only
  • Karpathos – domestic only
  • Kythira – domestic only
  • Mykonos – domestic only
  • Milos – domestic only
  • Naxos – domestic only
  • Paros – domestic only
  • Santorini – domestic only
  • Skiathos – domestic only
  • Skyros – domestic only
  • Syros – domestic only

Plus there are international airports at Preveza (for Lefkada), Volos (for the Sporades), Kalamata, and Thessaloniki.

Map of Greece and islands

HOW MANY DAYS DO YOU HAVE?

Ok, this one is pretty important. Ferries are a slow mode of transport (although there are different types of ferry) so the length of time you have available will determine the type of ferry you should take, and/or the distance you will want to travel.

Some considerations include:

  • Your travel style – pack it in or take it slow?
  • Do you get seasick?
  • How flexible is your schedule?
  • Is it cheaper/quicker to fly?
  • What’s your budget?

It’s best to allow a bit of flexibility in your planning because a) strikes happen, b) storms happen. The big slow car ferries are the most reliable and least likely to be cancelled.

Pro tip: Many of the ferries from Athens leave early in the morning and return late at night. You can use this to your advantage when planning.

Ferries at Piraeus

FAST FERRY VS SLOW FERRY VS FLYING

What’s your travel style? Are you a speed freak, who likes to pack in as much as possible?

There are several different types of ferry:

  • Closed Deck Car Ferry. The biggest and cheapest. Most stable. Best for seasickness. Tend to have cabins, restaurants, cafes and sometimes entertainment.
  • Open Deck Car Ferry. More popular on short routes.
  • Hi-Speed Catamaran. These can be quite large. Some have open decks, some don’t. Most have seating.
  • Hydrofoil (also known as Flying Dolphins). The smallest and quickest type of ferry. Prone to cancellation and delays in bad weather though. No open deck, not great if you get seasick.

Length of journey

Flying makes sense for long routes (8 hours +; for example, Athens to Crete, Rhodes, or any of the Northern Aegean) where the price is comparable, if not cheaper. Ferry journeys of this length can be uncomfortable unless you’re happy to pay for a cabin. And at certain times of year you can pick up bargain flights.

Departure/arrival times

Instead of looking exclusively at journey times or cost, I recommend comparing departure and arrival times to figure out whether its best to fly or take the ferry.

Most ferries from Athens leave early in the morning, or in the evening for overnight routes. Let’s say, for example, the Blue Star car ferry to Mykonos leaves at 7:30am and arrives at 12:45pm. On the way, you can sit out on the sun deck, watch the islands go by, and drink some frappes. You’ll be there in time for your lunch. Whereas the cheaper flights might require you to be at the airport by 6am (never fun), or arrive late at night.

Conversely, some ferries might arrive at unsociable hours (hello Amorgos) and you might be better off flying to the nearest airport and taking a ferry from there. These tend to be the quieter stops half way through overnight routes.

If you’re a slow traveller, who enjoys the journey as much as the destination and wants to explore off the beaten track whilst you’re there, then the big car ferries are perfect. Just think of it as a mini cruise.  I find the big car ferries (particularly the Blue Star line) very pleasant to travel on. My own personal boredom threshold for ferry journeys is about 7 hours – any more than that and I’ll look at flights. Your threshold might well be less.

View of Greek town from back of a ferry

Seasickness

If you get seasick, it’s worth sticking to the big slow car ferries though. These are the most stable and you’re less likely to experience seasickness. The small hydrofoils are the worst as you can’t go on deck, and often they don’t have proper windows. I’m not a big fan. But many people are prepared to put up with this in order to cut their travel time.

Reliability

The big, closed-deck car ferries are also the most reliable – and least likely to be cancelled in the event of rough seas. In bad weather, hydrofoil journeys can take twice as long as advertised.

Fast ferry routes are often aimed at tourists so there are extra routes available over July and August.

Ferries at Piraeus

WHAT’S YOUR BUDGET?

How much are ferry tickets?

The slower the ferry (and the shorter the route) the cheaper the ticket. As a rough rule, car ferries are twice the time but half the cost. I’ve included some example prices in the island sections below.

On long car ferry journeys, it might be worth paying extra for a designated seat (these are airport-style and recline a little bit) or a cabin.

If you’re on a budget, your best bet is to limit the number of islands you’re visiting and make sure they’re close together. And keep reading for secret ferry pass info.

How much are flights?

Don’t assume flying is necessarily more expensive than taking the ferry.

You can often pick up bargain basement tickets to popular islands such as Crete, Santorini, Kos and Rhodes – particularly at the beginning or end of the season. These are short flights but long (and expensive) ferry journeys. I’ve paid as little as €10 for flights in April and October.

Use Skyscanner to find cheap flights.

The best time of year to buy cheap flights to the Greek islands is early in the year – January – March. This is when most of the seats are released. The closer you leave it to the summer the more expensive the tickets become. And a common trick with budget airlines is to draw you in with a cheap flight out, but make the return leg really expensive (or vice versa).

This can work well if you want to fly out and island hop back to Athens.

Greece guide book with picture of ferry routes

WHICH ARE THE BEST GREEK ISLANDS TO VISIT? 

THE ISLAND GROUPS

The fun bit – deciding where to go.

There are 5 main island groups in Greece, plus a few outliers.

Here’s a rundown of what to expect in the different island groups:

Ionian islands header

IONIAN ISLANDS

Over on the west coast of the Greek mainland, the Ionian islands have quite a different feel to the Aegean islands thanks to their Italian heritage and green landscapes. Some of the islands have two names – that’s because they still go by both their Italian and Greek names.

Main Islands: Corfu (Kerkyra), Kefalonia, Zakynthos (Zante), Paxos, Ithaca, Lefkada, and technically Kythira – although it’s nearer to Crete than the rest of the Ionians.

Tiny Islands:  Meganisi, Antipaxos, Antikythira, Diapondia islands, Echinades islands, Kastos, Kalamos.

Highlights: Corfu Town, Navagio Bay and Turtle Island on Zakynthos, Assos and Fiskardo on Kefalonia, the north coast of Corfu, Porto Katsiki and Egremni beaches on Lefkada, Myrtos beach on Kefalonia, Melissani blue cave on Kefalonia, boat trips and watersports.

Best for: Dramatic and lush mountainous scenery, fantastic sandy beaches, turtles, handsome Venetian architecture, wine, low key beach resorts, sailing and windsurfing.

Airports: The Ionians are well served by air, with international airports on Corfu, Kefalonia and Zakynthos, as well as nearby Preveza on the mainly (closest for Lefkada).

Need to know: Island hopping in the Ionian is made difficult by the lack of ferry connections between Corfu/Paxos and the rest of the islands. Instead, you must go via Igoumenitsa on the mainland. Use the opportunity to visit nearby Parga and Syvota. Laganas on Zakynthos is the party capital of the Ionians. The presence of sandy beaches and airports means package tourism, with lots of purpose-built resorts.

Example travel times and costs (prices and schedules vary):

ROUTEDistanceFast Ferry TimeCostSlow Ferry TimeCost
Corfu - Igoumenitsa21 miles--1 hr 30€10
Corfu - Paxos80 miles1 hr€10--
Kefalonia - Zakynthos15 miles--1 hr€8

Argo-Saronic islands header

ARGO-SARONIC ISLANDS

This refers to the islands in the Saronic and Argolic Gulfs, and these are the islands closest to Athens. Perfect if you’re short of time or don’t want to stray too far from the airport.

Islands: Salamina, Aegina, Agistri, Poros, Hydra, Spetses

Highlights: The Temple of Aphaia at Aegina. The car-free streets of Hydra and Spetses Town. Watching the ships pass Poros Town. Hiking on Hydra. Pine forests and snorkelling on Poros and Agistri.

Best for: proximity to Athens. You don’t have to go far to feel the island vibe. Otherwise known as ‘the ones near Athens’, these islands are often skipped by visitors making a beeline for the Cyclades but less than an hour from Piraeus you can find pine-covered islands, ancient temples, pistachios, and some good beaches. The islands popular with weekending Athenians and yachties – Aegina and Hydra both have a lively nightlife in the summer months.

Need to know: Most of the ferry connections are high speed ferries – either hydrofoils or fast catamarans. There are no car ferries to Hydra at all. This is great news if you like to travel fast, but not so great if you’re prone to seasickness. Poros is just 200m from the Greek mainland at its closest point and is connected by a bridge, so is ideal if you’re worried about rough seas. Hydra and Spetses are the priciest of the islands.

Visit three islands in one day: The best way to see a lot in a short time is the One Day Island Cruise. It runs every day of the year and is one of the most popular day trips from Athens, stopping at Hydra, Poros and Aegina. It departs at 8 am and includes live music and a buffet lunch. Island stops are between 1-2.5 hours and there are extra excursions available at Hydra and Aegina. Or if you prefer to escape the crowds there’s a One Day Sail to Aegina, Agistri and beautiful little Moni Island during the summer.

Example travel times and costs (prices and schedules vary):

RouteDistanceFast Ferry TimeCostSlow Ferry TimeCost
Athens - Aegina 18 miles40 mins€161 hr 20€8
Athens - Hydra 46 miles2 hrs€20--
Aegina - Poros miles1 hr€162 hrs€11

Cyclades islands header

CYCLADES

The most famous of the Greek island groups, the Cyclades are will fulfil all your romantic notions of a Greek vacation. Most tourists head straight to the most popular islands of Santorini and Mykonos, but there are plenty more islands to spread out and find your own piece of paradise.

Islands: Amorgos, Anafi, Andros, Antiparos, Delos, Ios, Kea, Kimolos, Kythnos, Milos, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Folegandros, Serifos, Sifnos, Sikinos, Syros, Tinos, and Santorini.

Tiny Islands: Koufonisia, Donousa, Iraklia, Schoinousa, Antiparos, Kimolos, Thirasia.

Highlights:  Santorini’s iconic caldera villages, fancy nightlife on Mykonos, budget nightlife on Ios, the ancient island of Delos, handsome neoclassical Ermoupoli on Syros, whitewashed villages on Paros, volcanic rock formations on Milos, hiking on Andros, food on Serifos, the laid-back beaches on Naxos, a mini island hop around the Little Cyclades.

Best for: The famous vistas of white sugar-cube buildings, white sandy beaches, rugged barren landscapes, beach bars, easy island-hopping, jaw-dropping sunsets, hedonistic pleasures, scootering around to remote beaches, tiny white churches.

Airports: International – Santorini and Mykonos, domestic – Naxos, Paros, Syros

Need to know: Santorini and Mykonos are considerably more commercial and expensive than most other Greek islands, and heaving with tourists in the summer, but you will find the best hotels and clubs in Greece in both destinations. I recommend combining them with at least one quieter island to get a feel of real Greece – Paros and/or Naxos are perfect.

Example travel times and costs (prices and schedules vary):

RouteDistanceFast Ferry TimeCostSlow Ferry TimeCost
Athens - Santorini 162 miles4 hrs 30€705 hrs 30€45
Athens - Mykonos 46 miles2 hrs 25€604 hrs 20€40
Santorini - Mykonos 90 miles2 hrs€665 hrs 40€40
Naxos - Paros12 miles40 mins€231 hr€15

Crete header

CRETE

Crete is such a large island that it’s worth its own section – it’s the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean. It’s a popular destination thanks to its beaches and history – it was home of the Minoans (the earliest known civilisation in Europe), and there are buildings from Venetian, Byzantine and Ottoman rule.

Resorts line the north coast which is well developed and easy to travel. The south is more remote and wild, and the two sides are divided by mountains. The tackiest beach resorts (and loudest nightlife) are on the coast around Heraklion. The west is probably the most beautiful part of the island and ideal for independent travel.

Tiny Islands: Gavdos, Spinalonga, Dia, Chrysi, Paximadia.

Famous bits: The ancient Minoan Palace of Knossos. Beautiful Venetian cities Chania and Rethymnon. Walk the Samaria gorge. Lagoon beaches at Elafonisi and Balos – 2 of the best beaches in Greece – plus palm trees at Vai, and hippie vibes at Matala, Archaeological Museum in Heraklion.

Best for: Variety, incredible beaches, food, hiking, remote mountain villages, ancient palaces, traditional music, marine life, quiet plains, long summers and mild winters.

Airports: There are international airports at Chania, Heraklion, and a smaller airport at Sitia.

Ports: The main ferry ports are at Chania, Heraklion, Agios Nikolaos and Sitia, with some ferries also departing from Kissamos and Rethymnon.

Need to know: Crete is so large that you’re better off treating it as a separate country when it comes to planning – it’s too big to cram the whole country into a short visit. Best to stick to one area. There are good public transport connections along the main towns of the north. From the main towns, you can catch buses south. The main ferry connections to other islands are Kythira, Santorini, Karpathos and Rhodes.

Example travel times and costs (prices and schedules vary):

RouteDistanceFast Ferry TimeCostSlow Ferry TimeCost
Athens - Chania171 miles--8 hrs 30€35 +
Sitia - Rhodes160 miles--11 hrs€40 +
Heraklio - Santorini63 miles2 hrs€50--

Dodecanese islands header

DODECANESE ISLANDS

Main Islands: Astypalaia, Kalymnos, Karpathos, Kastellorizo, Leros, Nisyros, Patmos, Symi, Tilos, and Rhodes.

Tiny Islands: Agathonisi, Pserimos, Chalki, Arki, Kasos, Telendos, Marathi, Lipsi.

Highlights: Rhodes and its medieval old town. Beautiful neoclassical towns on Symi, Chalki and Kastellorizo. Rock climbing on Kalymnos. Crusader fortresses on Rhodes, Kos and Patmos. The volcanic landscape of Nisyros. Sandy beaches on Rhodes and Kos. The whitewashed hilltop Chora on remote Astypalea.

Best for: A variety of historic and geological influences. A good mix of popular and under-the-radar islands. Golden beaches and gulet trips in turquoise waters. Island hopping over to Turkey. Less crowds than the Cyclades (except Rhodes).

Airports. Kos and Rhodes have international airports. Karpathos, Leros and Kalymnos have domestic airports.

Need to know: Party fiends will find their flavour on Rhodes and Kos, where package tourism prevails (but it’s still easy to get off the beaten path). Patmos is the boutique capital of the group, with smart restaurants and a serene vibe thanks to its religious legacy (the Book of Revelation was written here). The ferry journey to Athens is long, so consider booking a cabin or catching a flight.

Example travel times and costs (prices and schedules vary):

RouteDistanceFast Ferry TimeMin. CostSlow Ferry TimeMin. Cost
Athens - Rhodes348 miles--15 hrs€45
Kos - Rhodes61 miles--3 hrs 35€20
Rhodes - Symi28 miles--1 hr 30€15

Read more about the Dodecanese:

Sporades island header

SPORADES ISLANDS AND EVIA

Charming and evergreen, the Sporades (meaning ‘scattered’) islands are situated north of the Cyclades. Largest island Skiathos is a prime destination for summer holidays thanks to its gorgeous sandy beaches and lively nightlife. Scenes from the film Mamma Mia were filmed on Skiathos and Skopelos, which have boosted the popularity of the area.

Not far from the Sporades is Evia – the second largest island in Greece, and one of the least known (this is because you might mistake it as part of the mainland unless you’re looking closely at the map). It’s separated from the mainland by a small strait.

Islands: Skiathos, Skyros, Skopelos, Alonnisos, Skyros (although you can only get there via Evia)

Highlights: Skiathos Town. Snorkelling in Alonnisos National Marine Park. The famous beaches of Vromolimnos, Koukounaries and Lalaria on Skiathos. Skopelos Town. Ayios Ioannis Kastri (the hilltop church from Mamma Mia). Dhimosari Gorge and the paradise beaches of Lichadonisia on Evia.

Airports: Skiathos has an international airport. Skyros has a domestic airport.

Best for: Mamma Mia fans, sailors, outdoors lovers and beach bums. Green islands, clear seas, great beaches, cute monasteries, and a smattering of lovely hiking trails. Skyros and Evia are quiet and mostly domestic tourists, alternative types and wild campers.

Need to know: Skiathos and Skopelos are fairly developed and close together – easy to hop between them and nearby Alonnisos too.

But the Sporades are difficult to combine with other islands. Ferries to the Sporades are from Volos, which is a 2hr drive from Athens – although most agents sell tickets which include the bus to Volos. The ferry to Skyros departs from Evia.

Whilst you’re in the area, don’t miss the stunning Pelion Peninsula on the mainland.

Example travel times and costs (prices and schedules vary):

RouteDistanceFast Ferry TimeCostSlow Ferry TimeCost
Volos - Skiathos321 hr 40€152 hrs 45
Skiathos - Skopelos26 miles30 mins€351 hr€12
Skopelos - Alonissos miles--30 mins€5

Aegean Islands header

NORTHERN AEGEAN

Not so much a chain of islands, as the collective name given to the remaining islands in the Aegean Sea. The long travel times involved in reaching these islands from Athens means they’re a bit more off the beaten track. A bit more rustic. Chios, Lesvos and Samos have ferry crossings to Turkey.

Islands: Chios, Ikaria, Forni, Lesvos, Lemnos, Samos, Samothraki, Thassos, Psara

Highlights: Mytilene in Lesvos, Marble Beach on Thassos, the patterned village of Pyrgi on Chios, Ikaria’s unique summer festivals, the sweet wines of Samos and Lesvos, hippie vibes on Lesvos and Samothraki. The towns of Pythagorion and Vathi on Samos. The strange Fascist utopia of Lakki, built during Italian rule.

Best for: Escaping the crowds. Alternative and slow travel, agritourism, and discovering foodie delights, waterfalls and a traditional way of life.

Need to know: Their dispersed nature means some planning is required for island hopping as ferry connections are not all that frequent in comparison to other island groups.

Example travel times and costs (prices and schedules vary):

RouteDistanceFast Ferry TimeCostSlow Ferry TimeCost
Athens - Lesvos253 miles--11 hrs€40 +
Kavala - Lesvos191 miles--7 hrs€50
Samos - Chios63 miles--2 hrs 20€20

WHICH GREEK ISLANDS ARE BEST FOR YOU?

Still can’t decide? Check out these posts for more inspiration:

Loutro village on Crete

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO GO?

The best time of year for Greek island hopping (imho) is May to mid-July, and then again in September. Mid-July through to the end of August is crazy busy and crazy hot. Accommodation and ferries book up due to the number of foreign and domestic tourists on their summer breaks.

Greek Orthodox Easter usually signals the start of the tourist season in Greece (you can check the dates here), and it winds down again in October as soon as the weather starts to change.

In the low season, ferries are less frequent and there can be a surprising amount of lashing wind and rain. Also, many hotels and resorts shut down completely and become ghost towns over the winter. But if you have time and flexibility on your side then island hopping during the off-season can be a great way to experience the islands at their most authentic.

Check out this post for more information on visiting the Greek islands over autumn and winter:

Blue Star ferry to Naxos

THE HUB & SPOKE SYSTEM

To understand the Greek ferry system, you must first understand the hub and spoke system.

Imagine a bicycle wheel. At the centre of the wheel is the hub (Athens), and going out in every direction from the hub are spokes (ferry routes).

This is because ferry routes are geared to local needs; which generally means travelling to Athens and back. Each island group has one or two mini-hubs, these tend to be larger islands with good connections to the surrounding islands.

For the easy and reliable island hopping, pick several islands along one car ferry route. For example, the Blue Star route Pireaus – Syros – Paros – Naxos – Santorini – Amorgos.

It’s relatively easy to hop between Crete, the Cyclades, and the Dodecanese, particularly in the summer. Otherwise, there are few connections between island groups and you may have to backtrack via Athens, either by ferry or plane.

Some islands that might be considered mini-hubs are:

  • Syros (for the Cyclades)
  • Naxos (for the Cyclades)
  • Skiathos (for the Sporades)
  • Igoumenitsa and Patras on the mainland (for the Ionian)
  • Rhodes (for the Dodecanese)
  • Kos (for the Dodecanese)
  • Samos (for the Northern Aegean)
  • Lesvos (for the Northern Aegean)

There are frequent fast-ferry connections with the islands closest to Athens.

Greek flag on ferry deck

BUYING YOUR FERRY TICKETS

If you want to buy your tickets in advance, or just check the ferry schedules, you can use the website Ferries in Greece. You can then pick them up at the port when you’re in Greece.

If you’re already in Greece, you can buy ferry tickets from any travel agent.

This is approximately every third shop front in some parts of Athens. It’s not really worth shopping around, you’ll pay pretty much the same everywhere as prices are regulated by the government. Travel agents will add on – at most – a couple of euros commission, and quite often none at all, so that’s the most you’ll be able to get the tickets down.

If you know exactly which ferry you can also book directly on some ferry websites although they’re of varying quality.

Assos village on Kefalonia

DO I NEED TO BUY MY FERRY TICKETS IN ADVANCE

In general, no.

I usually just turn up at the port and buy my ticket at the first agency I see.

There are a few situations where I recommend you buy your ferry tickets in advance though:

  • If you’re travelling on or around a public holiday
  • If you’re travelling during the 6-week peak period between mid-July and the end of August when all of Europe is on their summer holidays – including the Greeks (even the large ferries can book up)
  • If you’re travelling a popular route on small high-speed ferries (such as Athens to Hydra, Mykonos or Santorini over summer)
  • If you’re on a strict schedule

FERRY SCHEDULES

There are plenty of online booking platforms where you can check ferry schedules and book tickets. I find Ferries in Greece is the easiest to use.

Ferry schedules are usually published a few months in advance, and vary year-to-year. The most accurate is Greek Travel Pages.

You can compare routes, ships, and travel times.

Schedule for Athens - Aegina ferries on a board

10 EXAMPLE ISLAND HOPPING ROUTES

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Athens – Crete – Santorini – Mykonos – Athens
  2. Athens – Milos – Folegandros – Santorini – Paros – Athens
  3. Athens – Santorini – Ios – Paros – Mykonos – Athens
  4. Athens – Symi – Rhodes – Amorgos – Naxos – Syros – Athens
  5. Athens – Andros – Tinos – Mykonos
  6. Rhodes – Symi – Tilos – Nisyros – Patmos
  7. Athens – Aegina – Agistri – Poros – Athens
  8. Athens – Hydra – Spetses – Porto Heli
  9. Athens – Milos – Folegandros – Santorini
  10. Volos – Skiathos – Skopelos – Alonnisos – Volos

Whitewashed buildings of Serifos Chora

GREEK ISLAND FERRY PASS

Wondering if there’s such a thing as a ferry pass? Yes! There is a little-known Greek Island Pass which is offered by Eurail/Interrail.

Interrail is for EU citizens, Eurail for those from outside the EU. There are further discounts for youth and senior (with youth generously categorised as up to 27).

Also known as the Greek Island Pass or Attica Pass, this has existed since 2016 and is valid for certain lines on the Superfast Ferries/Anek Lines/Blue Star routes. Plus it gets you a 30% discount on any additional journeys.

It used to be pretty expensive but for 2019 they’ve brought the price down and it’s now worth looking into if you plan on hopping to upwards of two islands.

Prices are for second class tickets (upgrades are available):

  • Domestic Pass (€90 for 2019) entitles holders to 5 trips within one month
  • International Pass (€176 for 2019) entitles holders to 6 trips within one month, including up to 2 between Greece and Italy (including bus travel between Patras and Athens)

It’s possible to visit the following islands with the pass: Amorgos, Anafi, Astypalaia, Chios, Crete (Heraklion & Chania), Donoussa, Ios, Iraklia, Kalymnos, Karpathos, Kastellorizo, Kos, Koufonissi, Leros, Lipsi, Mykonos, Mytilene, Naxos, Nisyros, Paros, Patmos, Rhodes, Santorini, Schinoussa, Symi, Syros, Tilos, Tinos.

This is GREAT value if you’re thinking of taking more than two long-distance journeys, or more than three medium ones.

Blue Star Ferries are also my favourite – their ships are comfortable and well-equipped, and they have frequent sailings to some of the most popular destinations meaning you’re quite likely to use them anyway.

You will still have to pick up boarding passes at the board, subject to availability.

Read more about the Greek Island Ferry Pass (including a comparison with single tickets).

GROUP TOURS

Fancy exploring the Greek islands but don’t want to do it on your own? The good news is there are plenty of organised tour options, whether you’re solo or in a group.

Here are some of the most popular.

BEST BUDGET/PARTY GREEK ISLAND TOURS

  • Contiki. Budget tours for 18-35s. Mykonos, Santorini and Ios in 15 days. Check out the website.
  • Busabout. Budget operator offering rapid-fire trips popular with younger travellers. Mykonos, Paros, Antiparos, Santorini and Ios in 11 days. Fixed itinerary and flexible passes available. Check out the website.
  • Travel Talk has a range of competitively priced island hopping options, including short breaks. Check out the website.
  • Med Experience offers 9 and 11-day island hopping options for 18-35s. Check out the website.

BEST MID-RANGE TOURS

Aerial view of yachts near Paxos

SAILING THE GREEK ISLANDS ON A YACHT

Of course, the best way to see the Greek islands is by sea – and sailing on a yacht means you can access tiny coves, bays and marinas that would otherwise be difficult to reach. Plus, you get to spend your days drifting along in the wine-dark sea rather than scrambling to catch buses or taxis.

Sailing trips in the Greek islands have really exploded in popularity of the past few years. Previously the domain of exclusive charters, exploring Greece on a yacht is more accessible now more than ever. There are numerous companies offering sailing experiences where you share the boat or cabin with other travellers.

I love sailing and truly think it’s the best way to see this beautiful country. But it’s not for everyone. Yachts vary a lot in comfort and amenities. Best to consider it an adventure. Pack light, stay flexible, and do your research on what’s involved before booking.

SMALL SHIP CRUISES IN GREECE

If sailing doesn’t appeal and you’d rather not have to keep packing/unpacking then consider a small ship cruise. Much better than the large cruise ships in terms of environmental and social impact, small ships can also visit smaller harbours that are out of reach to the bigger ships.

  • Peter Sommers offers luxury gulet cruises around the Cyclades, Aegean and Dodecanese islands, with a focus on food and culture . Check out the website.
  • Variety Cruises. has mini cruises as well as the longer Jewels of the Cyclades. Check out the website.

INTERNATIONAL FERRIES

FERRIES TO/FROM TURKEY

The Greek islands with ferry connections/border crossings to Turkey are:

  • Lesvos – Ayvalik
  • Chios – Cesme
  • Symi – Bodrum*
  • Samos – Kusadasi
  • Rhodes – Marmaris / Fethiye*
  • Kos – Bodrum / Turgutreis
  • Kastellorizo – Kas*

*high season only

FERRIES TO/FROM ITALY

Go to sleep in Italy and wake up in Greece (I’ve done this – it’s great).

International ferry routes to/from Italy include:

  • Bari – Corfu / Igoumenitsa / Patras / Zakynthos / Kefalonia
  • Brindisi – Corfu / Igoumenitsa / Patras / Zakynthos / Kefalonia
  • Ancona – Corfu / Igoumenitsa / Patras
  • Venice – Corfu / Igoumenitsa / Patras

FERRIES TO/FROM CROATIA

There are currently no direct ferries to/from Croatia. You can travel via Italy or Albania.

FERRIES TO/FROM ALBANIA

  • Corfu – Sarande
  • Corfu – Himare*

Check Ionian Seaways for schedules.

Rock formations near Koufonisia island

FAQS

What about booking accommodation and transport on the islands?

For booking accommodation, I recommend Booking.com for the largest selection of places. It also has a free cancellation policy.  Airbnb also has a lot of great properties in Greece (new users get a € discount with this link). There are many family-run guesthouses in Greece called domatia which are increasingly using booking platforms.

Of course, you can always do it the traditional way and wait until you get off the ferry.

On popular routes, there will be a crowd of domatia owners jostling for your custom – including many that don’t have an online presence. During shoulder season this is an excellent opportunity to haggle.

I definitely recommend booking your accommodation in advance if you’re travelling during the latter half of July, during August, or over a national holiday. Particularly if you’re heading for a really popular (or really small) island where accommodation is limited.

When are the Greek public holidays?

You can check this list of national holidays in Greece.

How do I find out about strikes?

The best resource I’ve found so far is Strikes and Work Stoppages which covers ferries and port workers as well as public transport.

Will I get seasick?

If you’re prone to seasickness then choose the larger, slower car ferries which will move less in the water and which have open decks for you to walk around and look at the horizon. Anti-seasickness medication and ginger remedies can also help.

Travel Insurance

Don’t forget your travel insurance, and make sure that your insurance covers any adventures activities that you might do (including watersports).

UK readers – I recommend checking Money Saving Expert to find the cheapest cover or World Nomads for long-term travels.

View of Acropolis of Athens and Monastiraki

How long should I stay in Athens before/after visiting the islands?

Many visitors to Greece skip through Athens quickly in their rush to visit the islands.

I think this is a great shame – Athens is one of my favourite cities and I reckon it needs a minimum of 2 days. In the summer it’s a hot and busy city; not pleasant to rush around despite the relatively small size of its centre. It is atmospheric and fascinating if you can slow your pace down a little

Here are some of my top tips for Athens:

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Greek ferry at sea with text overlay 'Greece - island hopping guide'

 

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