The Ultimate Guide to Greek Island Hopping

The Ultimate Guide to Greek Island Hopping

The feeling of warm Mediterranean sea wind whipping past you on the ferry deck. The colour of the bright blue skies meeting the deep azure waters. Trailed only by lines of white, foam-covered ferry jets. Little beats the excitement of voyaging between the Greek islands, leaving one whitewashed town and stepping off the ferry to the buzz of the next Chora. This it the ultimate guide to Greek Island hopping and will help you plan your next vacation to the mediterranean islet gems.

Island hopping around Greece is certainly one of those bucket-list worthy activities. If it’s not on yours already, add it. And if it’s not checked off already… then this guide will help you plan the ultimate excursion.

Here we go…

When to go Greek Island hopping

Greece’s high season runs from mid-June to mid-September and this is when the most varied and frequent ferry routes operate. It is also the period of the most intense heat and the largest crowds. As a result, you’ll be paying peak prices but you know everything is in full swing and the water will be the perfect swimming temperature.

Greek Island hopping during this time is absolutely fine, but I would recommend aiming to go slightly into the shoulder seasons; late-May, early-June or mid/late September. Temperatures are slightly cooler, all amenities open and the crowds will be slightly smaller.

Holiday weather is a good site to check the the average monthly temperatures and rainfall to help you plan your vacation.

How long to go for

You can choose any number of days and still have awesome time, but in order to experience it thoroughly and visit a good number of islands, I’d recommend a minimum of 1 week. However, that’s not to say you could spend less, if for example your primary purpose was Athens and you planned to tag some islands onto the back of a sight-seeing holiday

How many islands to visit

Whatever number of days or weeks you have available to do your Greek Island hopping, I would recommend staying at least two nights on each main island as, apart from loving the adventure, I do hate constantly packing and changing accommodation. There is an abundance of daily boating tours which visit different beaches or different small islands and these are worth looking into at the main port towns.  That way you can see more and experience some sailing (for those not prone to seasickness that is!). In general, some may prefer to blitz as much as they can in a week, whilst some might have a couple of weeks to take it all in. I’ve included some suggested Greek Island hopping itineraries at the end…

How much should I budget for a Greek Island hopping vacation

Outright, Mykonos and Santorini are the most expensive islands to visit, both accommodation-wise and eating out. Even beach umbrellas tend to be expensive. This being said, you also have a choice of lower cost apartments and hostels to stay at so trips can certainly be managed for different budgets on whichever you island you choose to visit.

It’s worth doing some research on hotel comparison websites such as Booking.com and Tripadvisor to look at accommodation costs on the different islands you’re planning to visit. Check out my guide on visiting Greece on a budget for detailed tips on how to plan and maximise your budget whilst travelling the Greek islands.

Aside from accommodation cost being the main bulk, ferries can range from 10 euros for short 45-minute journeys to 70 euros for longer journeys on faster boats. High season dates and popular departure times of course add to the cost. I’ve given some example fares in the last section for you to get a feel of prices

Flights in and out of Greece and between the Greek islands are again seasonal. With Greece being such a haven for tourists, flights in high season and in and around Xmas/Easter can get expensive. Use Skyscanner for international flight comparisons and Olympicair for the domestic flights from to and from Athens.

Which Greek islands to visit

There are over 200 hundred islands, grouped into the Cyclades, Dodecanese, Ionian, Sporades and Northeast Aegean. Crete sits on its own, but if you want to make a visit, it can be grouped with either the Cyclades or Dodecanese. There are so many great Greek islands and you’re not going to visit them all, so I would suggest sticking to a single group – Cyclades being the most popular due to its famous picturesque postcard beauty. I’ve included some suggested itineraries at the end

How to get there

Whichever group you decide to visit, the first question is how should you get there. Assuming you touch down in Athens, you have the choice of taking a ferry from the port of Piraeus or Rafina or taking a domestic flight from the capital to one of the 23 islands served by an airport.

If you plan on visiting the Cyclades or Sporades, you can easily take a ferry from the ports. Visiting other groups, I would definitely suggest flying as it can be cheaper and will certainly be quicker, saving you time to make the most of your time on the islands. For example, a flight to Crete or Rhodes is less than an hour as opposed to a ferry journey which is in excess of 9 and 12 hours respectively. If you’re planning to visit either of these, then flying there in the first instance is a no brainer, before using that as your base to then shuttle around using the ferry network.

You can find more basic information at Rick Steve’s page on island hopping here.

Greek island hopping on board a ferry

Taking the ferry

There are a ton of ferry routes and operators, with each island being served in some way. Some routes are of course more popular and, as such, have more frequent schedules and more variety in ferry classes, ranging from slower multiple-stop types to faster more direct catamarans. It’s certainly recommended to book the tickets ahead online to secure better prices. And the type of ferry you choose really depends on your budget and how quickly you want to get to your next destination. The following sites are helpful in understanding schedules and booking tickets:

It’s worth knowing that there are some small islands in very close proximity to larger, more popular ones served by local ferries. For example Antiparos, a great secluded and quiet island with a charming main town, is a 10-minute boat ride from the main island of Paros in the Cyclades. You’d likely only want to visit these tiny islands for a day trip and these short journeys can be organised there and then depending how you feel.

Suggested Greek Island hopping itineraries

Here I am going to share some suggested Greek Island hopping itineraries with rough ferry times and prices and a little about the highlights of each. These are suggestions to get you started and contain logical ferry routes without too much doubling back on yourself, for instance. Feel free to cut and edit, the islands are your oyster!

Cyclades

  • Day 1 – Depart Piraeus to Syros
    • Fast ferry, 2 hours – €50
    • Slow ferry, 4 hours – €30
  • Day 2 – Syros
  • Day 3 – Depart Syros to Mykonos
    • Fast ferry, 0.5 hours – €21
    • Slow ferry, 1.25 hours – €11
  • Day 4 – Mykonos
  • Day 5 – Mykonos
  • Day 6 – Depart Mykonos to Naxos
    • Fast ferry, 0.5hours – €38
    • Slow ferry, 1.5 hours – €32
  • Day 7 – Naxos
  • Day 8 – Depart Naxos to Paros
    • Fast ferry, 0.5 hours – €23
    • Slow ferry, 0.75 hours – €10
  • Day 9 – Paros
  • Day 10 – Paros
  • Day 11 – Depart Paros to Santorini
    • Fast ferry, 1.75 hours – €44
    • Slow ferry, 3 hours – €21
  • Day 12 – Santorini

From Santorini, there are flights back to Athens and internationally to many European cities. There are alternatives, such as swapping Paros with Ios. And if you remain within the Cyclades, the boat rides are not too lengthy. If you have more time, then there is also the option of lengthening your stays. Or adding other islands such as Milos and/or Crete to the end.

Highlights

Gazing at the splendour of the stunning Cycladic whitewashed buildings and blue domed architecture, exploring the charming cities and exploring through cobble streets lined with restaurants and boutique shops. Experience the serenity of Syros, the vibrant nightlife of Mykonos and Paros. A visit to the archaeological sites in Naxos including the famous gate Portara landmark. And taking in the stunning vistas of the Santorini caldera and deep red sunsets.

Dodecanese

  • Day 1 – Depart Athens to Rhodes
  • Day 2 – Rhodes
  • Day 3 – Rhodes
  • Day 4 – Depart Rhodes to Nisyros
    • Ferry, 3.5 hours – €23
  • Day 5 – Nisyros
  • Day 6 – Depart Nisyros to Kos
    •  Ferry, 1 hour – €9
  • Day 7 – Kos
  • Day 8 – Kos
  • Day 9 – Depart Kos to Kalimnos
    • Ferry, 0.75 hours – €7
  • Day 10 – Kalymnos
  • Day 11 – Depart Kalymnos to Patmos
    • Ferry, 2.5 hours – €13
  • Day 12 – Patmos
  • Day 13 – Depart Patmos to Samos, from which there is an airport with international and domestic flights
Highlights

Exploring the medieval old town of Rhodes, it’s magnificent coastline including Anthony Quinn Bay and some of the best sandy beaches in Greece. Trekking the volcanic grounds of Nisyros and its picturesque seaside port. Endless beaches and panoramas across Kos, the Monastery of St John at Patmos and charming chapels of Karpathos.

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