11 February 2014

A Guide to Greek Island Hopping

Last summer, Jurgen and I spent ten idyllic days island hopping in Greece.  Our time there was absolutely blissful… magical even.  But Greek love stories aside, today I'd like to share a few tips and tricks I picked up in the process of planning our trip.  Because it definitely wasn't as intuitive as I imagined it would be.  I found there to be a general lack of information online regarding everything from navigating the Greek ferry system to visiting virtually any island outside of Santorini and Mykonos.  So, while I'm certainly not an expert, here are a few words of advice that I would have found helpful during the planning process.


1) Determine which island group(s) you want to visit.  Before visiting Greece, I had absolutely no idea how many Greek Islands there actually were… over 6,000!  227 of which are inhabited.  To assist in narrowing down the choices, the first step is to decide on which island group(s) you want to visit.  The Cyclades are easily the most popular as they're close to Athens and include the islands of Santorini and Mykonos. However, there's also a host of other groupings that often go unnoticed.  For instance, the Dodecanese Islands are located near the southwest coast of Turkey and contain the islands of Rhodes and Kos.  Typically, islands falling within the same groupings are located along the same ferry routes and depart from the same mainland port of call. If you're heading to the Cyclades, you'll likely depart from Piraeus in Athens.  If you're on your way to the northern Aegean Islands, you may need to travel to northern Greece and depart from Kavala.

2) Determine your island hopping route.  Once you've decided on an island group, you'll need to determine which islands you're going to visit.  This will largely be dependent on ferry route.  The ferry system in Greece is surprisingly difficult to navigate. Basically, certain islands are located along certain standard routes departing from and returning to the Greek mainland.  If you choose three islands located on three different ferry routes, you could be looking at days of travel time trying to get from one ferry route to the next. Certain connections also only operate on certain days of the week.  For instance, we knew that we wanted to visit Sifnos and were initially also looking into Santorini, but would have had to stay on Sifnos for 4 nights before a direct ferry to Santorini would have become available. Because of this, we decided to visit Milos instead. This is why it is absolutely essential to book your ferry tickets prior to confirming your accommodation.

3) Book your ferry tickets.  There's several reputable online sites where you can book your ferry tickets in advance.  Personally, I would recommend going through GreekaPetas, or Danae.  Once you've booked tickets to your first island, you can play around with dates and times between that island and other islands along the same route.  If you have time to spare, you can obviously also hop from one route to another.  When you're booking your tickets, you'll notice that a variety of different types of ferries are available at varying prices.  The slower the ferry, the lower the price.  We used the high speed ferries {referred to as speedrunners} and really enjoyed them. Remember that your online booking receipt is not the same as your ticket.  You'll have to pick these up at your port of call.  Since we left on an early morning ferry, we picked our tickets up the day before.  This worked out well since we were able to familiarize ourselves with the port area in advance. 

4) Getting to Piraeus.  The vast majority of island departures leave from Piraeus, the main port of call in Athens.  To get here, you can either take a taxi or use the metro.  From the city center, a taxi will cost you roughly 15 and from the airport you can expect to pay around €40.  If you're traveling via metro, a single trip from the airport or city center will amount to €1.40.  We used the metro and actually found that we preferred it to above ground transport.  Piraeus is the terminating stop along the green line, you really can't miss it!

5) Pack Light!  I flew to Greece with only a carry-on and it really and truly turned out to be the best decision ever. Having to lug a large suitcase on and off the metro, through Piraeus, up and down narrow ferry stairwells, and through the island port cities would have been nothing short of a nightmare.  I also took a small backpack and used this for day trips around the islands.  It worked out perfectly!

6) Island Tips. The single largest recommendation I can make regarding actual time spent on the islands is to rent a scooter or quad.  We rented a scooter at a rate of 10 per day and had the time of our lives zipping from one beach to another according to our own itinerary and schedule.  Also keep in mind that the Greeks really only start to consider eating dinner at around 10pm.  Expect plenty of late nights and late mornings.  Oh, and also don't forget to enjoy plenty of souvlaki and ouzo. Olay!  

During our trip we stayed on the islands of Sifnos and Milos. On Sifnos, we stayed at ALK Hotel in Kamares. It was basic, but offered great service and value for money and was really well located with ocean views and within easy walking distance of the beach. On Milos, we stayed at Tania Milos in Pollonia, and absolutely loved it. It's a seaside villa located right on the ocean with the most incredible breakfast spread you've ever seen included in their rate.

If you have any other questions, I would be more than happy to try my best to answer them!
You can email me here

48 comments:

  1. I am going to bookmark this post to use later on when Hamish (my boyfriend) and I start researching our Greek Island holiday. We are desperate to visit the area this year and I cannot wait to start doing all the research and planning :) Thanks for the tips, they will certainly come in handy!

    Louise
    xx

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    1. You guys are going to love it! I was pretty ambivalent about ever making it to Greece before we went and now I'm a total Greece convert. Such an amazing part of the world.

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  2. LOVE this. santorini is still my favorite place we have visited and i'd love to go back and visit some other islands. xo jillian - cornflake dreams

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    1. I remember when you guys went to Santorini - your pictures were breathtaking! Santorini is definitely on our list for future visits :)

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  3. This looks amazing. Thanks for the tips! I have always thought that doing a proper tour through the Greek islands would be the way to go, but something like this sounds a lot better

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    1. I think the best part of planning a trip like this on your own is that you're on your own schedule. If you feel like lying in bed until noon... you can. If you decide you want to make your way to a remote beach on the other side of the island... you can. It also works out much cheaper usually!

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  4. it's true that in order to do some island hopping you have to check with the ferry routes. Even Mykonos and Santorini aren't on the same route. A friend of mine who had overseas visitors to visit the islands preferred to get them back to Athens from Mykonos and then travel to Santorini. greekferries.gr and airtickets24.com are also a couple of other sites to book tickets. Also another tip: avoid small highspeed vessels also known as seajets and megajet. If it's windy you'll suffer plus the trip might be canceled. The bigger the ship the better. Also it's good to avoid the islands during August since a) they are too crowded b) it's wind season here in Greece (we call there winds meltemia). June and July are better options.
    Last, the metro ticket to Piraeus is € 1,40 and Metro trip to the Airport is €8 (the bus ticket to the metro using special bus lines is €5)
    Glad you liked the Greek Islands, Sifnos and Milos are really good choices and Milos has some really peculiar beaches!
    Anna

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    1. Thanks so much for the extra info Anna! And for the correction on the metro price, I've updated it in post. We visited in July and the weather was wonderful - it's good to know that we should try to avoid August when we visit in future :)

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  5. Oh man, you are making me want to escape to Greece right now (it's below zero where I am, not cool :). Looks like paradise and Greek island hopping is definitely on my bucket list!

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    1. You guys have to plan a Greece trip one day! While I never really cared about seeing Greece before our trip, I'm now completely enthralled with the country and am absolutely dying to go back!

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  6. Renting a scooter or a quad I agree is one of the best things you can do when your on the islands. These are some great tips that all really helped us on our Greek island hopping adventure.

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    1. Seriously, renting a scooter turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip! It was so much fun zipping around from place to place without a single care in the world :)

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  7. Did you visit Parga on your travels? I have never forgotten it, it was so beautiful, along with Paxos.

    Louisa @ My Family & Abruzzo

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    1. No, we only had time to visit Sifnos and Milos, but we'd love to go back and explore more of the islands. I've heard so many wonderful things about both Paros and Paxos. Another island I'd really like to visit is Corfu.

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  8. I LOVED reading this! I studied abroad on Paros a few years ago and was able to do quite a bit of Island hoping. While our professors took care of all the ferry bookings, I definitely plan on taking my husband back some day and will need to do it myself! This will definitely come in handy.

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    1. That's so amazing that you were able to study abroad on Paros... it sounds like a dream! I'm sure your husband is going to love it when you go back... such a fun (and romantic) place to explore as a couple :)

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  9. Such great trips... Greece is high up there on my list and I'm totally bookmarking this! :)

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    1. I hope you guys are able to visit soon... I know you'll love it! It you have anymore questions closer to the time feel free to email me :)

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  10. I miss Greece. Le sigh. BIG le sigh.

    <3 Daryl
    Unlost

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    1. Le sigh. Me too! Seriously one of the most spectacular places I've ever been.

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  11. Thank you so much for this! My husband want to travel there soon. This will help a lot!

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    1. You guys will love it! If you have any more questions closer to the time don't hesitate to get in touch!

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  12. its so funny b/c i have never had a major desire to go to the greek isles, but lately, as i cant take this cold weather any longer, i want to go. thanks for encouraging me i need to get outta oslo soon ;)

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    1. You definitely need to go! I never wanted to since it seems so touristy and I'm not even really a beach person, but it was absolutely amazing. It's difficult to explain... you just need to... go. On Sifnos there wasn't a tourist in sight and Milos wasn't too bad in that regard either.

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  13. Great tips! I spent a few weeks in the Greek Islands in 2011 and had a total blast. Each Island is so unique and beautiful in it's own way, and being a seafood lover - I was in heaven! Totally second you on packing light.
    Claire xx | somewhere... beyond the sea

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    1. Oooh, the seafood! It was so fresh and organic. I also loved how unique each island was and I completely connected with the laid back lifestyle. Can't wait to make another trip back.

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  14. Greece is definitely on my bucket list. It's so beautiful there...

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    1. You would absolutely love Greece! Definitely a bucket-list worthy destination :)

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  15. Oooh I'm going to keep this in the back of my mind as next year it's my turn to choose our mid year break holiday!
    xxx

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    1. You guys should totally go... you would love it!

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  16. pinned this for whenever it is i made it to greece!

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    1. I vote that we have a blogger meet up there... how fun would that be? :)

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  17. I have yet to travel to Greece but it is definitely on my travel plans so will keep this post in mind when we eventually go there!

    www.steffystravelblog.blogspot.com

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  18. I agree that ferry travel in Greece is NOT intuitive. We ended up paying the extra money to fly because we were only going to one island outside Athens, and it was just easier than dealing with the ferries. But these are great tips if I ever head back!

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  19. Greece is perfect =)
    https://www.bloglovin.com/blog/11595373

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  20. My best friend did this a couple of years ago and I wish I had whilst we were living on a Greek Island, it would have been so cool!

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  21. we're planning on greece this summer - this is soo helpful! thank you!

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  22. The only time I've been to Greece, all the transport modes went on strike and it was a nightmare - such good advice you've given here to think about transport before accomodation. Bringing back all those memories from (*gasp*) 10 years ago!

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  23. Thanks for sharing - I'm planning an island hopping trip to the greek islands this summer and you have first of all giving me some much needed information and confirmed me on my choice of islands being both Milos and Sifnos and some more to come. Did you have the impression that you have to book hotels in advance or are their any room available ? Best regards, Kristina

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  24. It was so good to read a real experience of your travels rather than the usual travel guide jargon!
    I'm just looking for any help or advice you can offer really, I've already followed your advice to book ferries and realised that there aren't any running between Santorini and Ios in October which was disappointing but made me more determined to get organised and not waste a moment of my holiday!
    I am flying into Santorini on the 21st October and aiming to work my way back up to Athens for the 30th and was orginally aiming to do Santorini- Ios-Naxos-Paros-Mykonos-Athens....or something to that effect!!
    looking for any ideas of hotels,places to eat and things to do to make this an amazing trip!!! anything would be amazing! thank you xxx

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  25. Do they do island hopping tours in December? A lot of them only seem to go to October.

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  26. Hello! Do most of the islands have access to quads and scooters? Or are there specific island that cater to those forms of travel? Thank you!

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    1. Hi Chris - generally scooters and quads are available on all islands and don't need to be booked in advance (the exception to this may be peak season in Santorini or Mykonos). Once you arrive in port you'll see people renting them out along the main road... I don't even think they asked us to show a driver's license! Enjoy :)

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  27. Do you think 2 nights in Mykonos followed by 2 nights in Santorini is realistic?
    We are vacationing on the Amalfi Coast in Italy and decided to add Greece on at the end of our trip - couldn't resist! Now wishing we had more time there since the logistics of island hopping seem to require a bit more time than we expected! We are leaving a 5th night for Athens at the end to accommodate for any ferry/travel mishaps so we don't miss our flight out of Athens.

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    1. Hi name twin ;) It's hard for me to say on Santorini or Mykonos as we've never been and since they are quite big and (probably) quite crowded, 2 nights may be a bit of a squeeze. I would recommend one of two things - either spend all 4 nights on Santorini (as I've heard better things about it than Mykonos) OR rather explore two of the smaller islands staying 2 nights on each. We stayed on Sifnos (which was a DREAM) and Milos (most amazing beaches of all the islands) with 2 nights on Sifnos and 3 nights on Milos and it was enough. Plus they are on the same ferry route so it's easy to get between the two and they aren't too far away from the port in Athens. Either way I'm sure you'll have a blast! Good luck and hope this helps :)

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Thanks for commenting! I love reading each and every one of them :)