No matter how often you visit Greece, you will never be done exploring. Every single one of the 6.000 islands of Greece is different and extremely beautiful, which makes island hopping in Greece a popular summer holiday. But the Greek ferries can be quite overwhelming. Where to go, how to book, and what happens when traveling? Keep reading to discover how to plan island hopping in Greece as well as what to expect from the Greek ferries.
Don’t try to go everywhere
When planning your trip to Greece, don’t expect to visit 10 islands in 10 days. Don’t even try to visit 5 in this time. It might be tempting to visit as many islands as possible in one trip, but in the end, you will not have time to explore the islands, get to know the culture, or lie on the beautiful beaches.
Take it easy when planning your next trip, island hopping in Greece. Even the smallest islands have so much beauty that they are worth at least a couple of days of your time. So don’t try to rush, siga siga. It is really better to have some quality time on a few islands instead of rushing through many of them.
Greek ferries are extremely popular in summer, especially when traveling between Mykonos and Santorini. These boats get really crowded, even though there are multiple ferries going each day. Although it is very rare for a ferry to get fully booked, there is a strong possibility of having to pay for first-class tickets when you postpone booking. So I really recommend booking upfront. You will have a trip without worries, knowing that you did not pay too much.
Where to go
With over 6.000 islands, it might be difficult to pick your destination. The good thing is that every island is beautiful and worth exploring. There is no such thing as a bad choice. I would recommend you to just go wherever the airport closest to you can get you and make this the start of your Greek adventure.
From there, you can use this super handy map from ferryhopper.com. For example, if your airplane lands in Athens, you can click on Piraeus, the port of Athens. The map will show you all the destinations from this port, including the price of the journey.
And it doesn’t stop there. You can keep adding destinations or your way back. You can plan a whole trip of ferry hopping on the map and afterward immediately book your tickets. There is one bug though. Once you picked your destinations on the map and go to “book this trip”, the site will automatically select a single trip for you. It will look like your work on the map has been lost. However, click on “island hopping”, and then on “add trip”, till your whole journey pops up.
When actually booking the tickets, there are two things to keep in mind. The first one is that for a trip up to five hours there is no point to spend money on high-speed ferries or first-class seating. Especially when booking a “blue star ferry”.
Booking the cheapest ticket possible with blue star ferry will give you a spot on the deck, and this is really the nicest experience. For the others, there is often no seating on the deck. However, when your trip is not too long the economy seats are quite comfortable. Better than the ones on a airplane. Besides, the ferry itself often has shops and food stalls, so explore around when you get bored!
Prepare for delays
The second point to keep in mind when creating your island-hopping-itinerary is that ferries are often delayed. Basically, all ferries start in the morning being on time, but during the day they will get late. And you should make sure you will have about 12 hours saved for a possible delay.
Last year, when I was on the island of Lemnos, I learned about the delays the hard way. After spending 4 days on the island, I was supposed to catch a ferry at noon, pick up a car in the afternoon, and reach Ioannina in the evening. Starting a trip around Epirus and the most beautiful Ionian island, Paxoi.
However, when checking the location of this ferry, turned out that it had only just left Athens, the other side of Greece. In the end, a different ferry came to pick me up, but this one was there eight hours late. Starting my next trip in a complete rush. So prepare for the delays and enjoy an extra day on the island!
Print your ticket
There are two kinds of tickets. One that comes with a barcode, and one that doesn’t. For the barcode-less tickets, you should always leave to go the port slightly early to pick up the actual ticket. For the one with barcode, however, it will be good to print them.
Modernization did not reach the Greek ferries yet. While in many countries you enter any form of transportation with just your phone, the Greeks can freak out when you don’t have the printed version with you.
The best is to print your tickets before traveling to Greece. At home, at the office, or at a print shop close by. But if you forget, don’t have this option, or decide you don’t want to after reading the next paragraph, ask at the accommodation you are staying in.
Greeks are always super helpful. On my trip last year, I needed a printed form to fill in, due to the COVID restrictions. Staying at a small, traditional Airbnb, without a printer, I was afraid I had to cancel a part of my trip. However, the friendly old hostess gave me the email and address of her daughter’s office. Just a couple of minutes away I could pick up the form and my trip was saved.
The final option for the tickets is waiting till you reach the port. But here they will ask you for a small fee to get your tickets printed. So you pay money while missing out on the experience of Greek helpfulness.
Prepare your luggage
Almost every ferry has luggage storage on the car deck, where you get in. If you travel with a big suitcase, you should leave it here before exploring the rest of the ferry. Prepare for this before entering the ferry. Take your valuable items, maybe put a lock on the suitcase and have a smaller bag with you to take up on the ferry.
Check when the ferry comes
This website has the location of all boats. Enter the name of your ferry, which is on your ticket, and you will see the location of the boat. When you booked a ferry that does not leave early in the morning, it is always good to check the location of the ferry a couple of hours before to see if there is any delay.
The booking agency will also be sending you updates on the departure time of the ferry when there is a delay. However, these updates often come slightly late. So better to check yourself, and spend some extra time on a beach or a long lunch next to the sea.
Be on time, but not too early
All tickets say that you should arrive at least one hour before the departure time of the ferry. They do this because the ferries don’t stop very long at each port. Trust me, you will never see so many people get out and in of a boat as fast as they do on a Greek ferry. And they won’t wait for anyone.
So make sure you are at the dock when the ferry enters the port. However, the hour before is a bit much, especially when you are on a small island and traveling without a car. If you have to pick up your ticket or have a car, come 45-30 minutes before departure. But when you are on foot, 30-20 minutes is more than enough.
Be prepared to be blown away
And I mean literally blown away. When traveling on a ferry with a deck, I recommend you to stay on the deck the entire journey, especially in summer. It is a really nice experience. You can check out the coastline, enjoy the fresh sea air and maybe even spot some dolphins.
This brings me to an extra tip. When you see many people packed in one spot on the ferry, they probably are looking at dolphins. So join them!
So stay on the deck if you can, but be prepared for strong winds, especially in the afternoons. For the women amongst us, don’t wear a short summer dress or skirt and maybe put your hair up. Many hats are lost on ferries and even sunglasses can fly away. So be careful. And also, use a lot of sunscreen because you will not feel the burn of the sun because of the wind, but trust me, you will get a sunburn.
Be downstairs when you arrive
Like I said before, Greek ferries don’t stop very long at each port. And since the Greeks won’t wait for you to get on the boats, they will also not wait for you to get off of them. So when you see the coastline, or when all the Greeks start leaving the deck, go downstairs to where you entered the ferry. Pick up your luggage and wait here till you can go out.
When traveling by car
Taking a car on a ferry is a stressful experience. So try to avoid it. The problem is that the Greeks are very efficient in packing the car deck. Although it is really impressive how many cars they are able to fit in one boat, with extremely little time. For a non-Greek driver, it is overwhelming.
Read here about what you can expect to happen. In short, make sure you are alone in the car, stay calm, and have the luggage you want to take with you close by.
- Every ferry has at least one small kiosk where you can buy food and drinks. However, the prices on the ferries will be at least double from what they are on land. So take water with you and something to eat for a longer journey. This will save you a lot of money.
- You need a passport or any other valid form of identification to enter the ferry. Have this ready when before you enter, together with your ticket.
- The toilets on the ferries are actually quite good. Even here you can not flush your toilet paper, but they are cleaned quite often and are normal toilets.
- When you travel a longer distance, it might be good to check if there is an overnight option. Here you can sleep in a bed on the ferry and wake up in the port of your destination the next morning.
- When you struggle with sea- or motion sickness, try to stay on the deck, even when there is no seating there. The wind and the scenery around can help a lot to overcome it. Also, the bigger the ferry the less bumpy the ride will be. There is even a high-speed catamaran ferry which you can consider booking if you know you might get sick, but unfortunately, this one is quite expensive. It can also help to pick a ferry that goes in the morning or at night since the Meltemi winds mostly blow during the afternoons.