The Greek islands have long been a popular holiday destination for sun-seeking travelers. From the crumbling monuments of Rhodes to the white-washed villages of Santorini, every island in Greece has its own charming character. With so much to see, and often so little time, it’s unsurprising island-hopping by boat and plane has become the most popular way to travel in and around islands in Greece. However, with over 200 islands to visit, figuring out how to navigate multiple islands in one holiday itinerary can be pretty tricky.
Surrounded by the bright blue waters, the Greek Islands are divided into several groups, with some of the most popular including the Ionian Islands and the Cyclades. Whilst many of these well-trodden spots now provide easy access for visitors with international flights arriving daily, finding your way to the lesser-known islands of Greece can still prove a challenge.
So, to help make planning your trip that little bit easier, we have put together the ultimate guide to traveling between the islands of Greece with some super-useful top tips.
Best Islands to Visit in Greece
No two islands in Greece are quite the same. Although some have become more commercialized in recent years, each and every islet is shaped by thousands of years of history. Deciding which Greek island — or islands — is best to visit for you will be dependent on who you’re travelling with, what you enjoy doing and how much time you wish to spend there.
Crete is the largest of the Greek Islands, located almost 100 miles to the south of the mainland. This mountainous getaway is top of the list for many travelers visiting the Greek islands, with everything from beautiful beaches to historical castles, plus lots of organized tours and easily accessible attractions for tourists. Further north, the emerald isle of Corfu is only a two-hour flight away. Another firm favorite with tourists looking to experience the islands of Greece, here you’ll find the UNESCO World Heritage protected Old Town and countless ancient buildings.
Undeniably, the Cyclades is home to some of Greece’s most well-known destinations, including the infamous isles of Mykonos and Santorini. Packed with tiny white-walled streets and boasting famous clifftop sunsets, every trip to Greece should include one of these two inspiring islets. If you really can’t decide which of the two to visit, don’t worry — they’re only a few hours apart by ferry!
If you’re looking to venture further off the beaten track, there’s also lots of lesser-known islands in Greece to explore whilst on your island-hopping journey. Try water sports like windsurfing off the breezy coast of Naxos; sail around the secluded coves and caves of Meganissi or sample local delicacies made by locals in one of many Kimolos’ traditional tavernas.
How to travel around the Greek Islands
Travel by Boat
With crystal clear water in whichever direction you glance, it’s hardly surprising traveling by boat is the most common way to visit the Greek islands. Countless ferry connections operate between the islands — and from the mainland — during the peak of summer. These services vary in size and frequency; it’s worth remembering that whilst a car ferry might transport you between islands in two or three hours, a smaller and more traditional vessel might take much longer. It’s also important to consider that boat services can also sometimes be delayed or postponed due to high winds, poor visibility or stormy weather, although this is much less common during the warmer months.
If it’s your first time visiting the islands of Greece, ferries between the Cyclades are some of the easiest to navigate. You can travel from Mykonos to Santorini in two-and-a-half hours, perfect for a day trip or for those who prefer not to spend too much time at sea. Daily ferries from Rhodes also stop at many of the lesser-known Cyclades islands, including Syros, Naxos and Paros. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you’ll find a ferry or boat connection to nearly every Greek island from one of Athens’ three main ferry ports, with Piraeus being the biggest and busiest.
TOP TIP: If you struggle with sea sickness, stick to bigger boats and ferries, like the car ferry. These are more stable and less prone to rolling with the waves, meaning you’re less likely to experience feeling unwell.
Travel by Plane
Although some people may prefer taking to the skies when traveling between destinations, inter-island flights in Greece are often hard to come by. Of course, international flights arrive into tourist destinations like Crete, Rhodes and Corfu daily, and flights from Athens to the islands are frequent, operated by local airlines; however, finding flights between smaller islands isn’t as simple. If you don’t wish to travel between the islands of Greece by ferry after arriving at your first destination, you could always look to travel at a slower pace by hiring a private yacht or catamaran – but expect to pay the price.
When should I visit the islands of Greece?
Of course, the summer months – from May to September – are the best time to experience the peak of summer sunshine in Greece. However, July and August are typically exceptionally busy, so it’s best to arrive before or after this if possible.
If traveling in the summer, keep in mind that flights, ferries and accommodation will book up quickly, so it pays to be prepared. Conversely, if you travel out of season, ferry schedules are reduced and can be further affected by bad weather, so ensure you have time and money to allow some flexibility in your plans in case you do encounter any unexpected delays.
How long should you spend island-hopping in Greece?
Deciding how long to spend exploring the islands of Greece will depend on exactly how you want to spend your time and how long you have. If you want to spend less than a week in Greece, it would be a good idea to stick to one group of Greek islands. Ferries are typically a slow mode of transportation to take, so whether it’s the Cyclades or the Aegean islands, traveling only to nearby islets which share more frequent ferry routes will mean you’ll have the chance to visit more of these breathtaking destinations in the short time you’re there.
If you have ten days or two weeks to spend discovering the Greek islands, you can broaden your horizons and venture much further. If you’re starting your trip in Athens, the Argo-Saronic islands are a fantastic starting point. Located less than an hour from the port of Piraeus, these islands feature everything from golden sand beaches to pine-clad forests, making them a popular choice with Athenians for a weekend break. From there, the world – or Greece – is your oyster; venture on to the Dodecanese islands to discover neoclassical towns and mountainous landscapes, capture photographs of the unforgettable sunsets from a cliff top in the Cyclades and stop to see the small Sporades island of Skopelos, the filming location for popular movie Mamma Mia.
How much does it cost to travel between islands in Greece?
So you know how to travel, but how much is it going to cost? If you decide to travel around the Greek islands by ferry, prices can vary depending on which route you take and the time you’re traveling, with the highest prices typically during the summer. Tickets can range from 10 euros up to over 100 euros, but if you’re looking to save some money and stick to your budget, there are easy ways to do this.
Regular services between some of the most popular islands – for example, Mykonos and Santorini – tend to be the cheapest routes, but this sailing would take approximately four hours to cross the waters. However, by spending a little extra, you could cut your journey time by up to two hours. Another savvy way to keep track of your spending is to check online for tickets in advance; there may not be a huge difference in price, but every little helps, and booking before arriving in the port will also give you peace of mind that you can hop aboard with ease.
Alternatively, if you’re traveling by plane, you’ll find prices are typically based on which island you’re looking to fly to – but don’t assume they’ll always cost more than traveling by ferry. Santorini is notoriously expensive (not just for flights), but islands like Rhodes, Crete and Corfu tend to be more affordable if booked closer to the time of travel. Of course, it’s also dependent on the time of year – flights between January and March will inevitably be some of the cheapest. If you are traveling with strict costs in mind, ferry is definitely the best way to travel in Greece – and if you want to avoid encountering any budget-blowing fares, try to keep to the quieter and less popularized islands like Naxos and Paros.