Getting To The Ionian Islands From Athens

Getting To The Ionian Islands From Athens

The Ionian Sea is home to some of the most popular Greek islands including Zakynthos, Lefkada, Kefalonia and Corfu. Many visitors choose to travel from Athens. So whether you plan to head there directly or are checking out the sights in the capital first, these are the best ways of getting to the Ionian Islands from Athens.

You can get to Lefkada, Zakynthos, Kefalonia, Corfu and other Ionian islands from Athens via plane, ferry, coach and car.

From Athens you can fly to many international and domestic airports on the Ionian islands. You can take the ferry from several ports on the Western Peloponnese and the Northwest of Greece. Greece has a good bus network and you can travel directly to Lefkada, or via ferry to all of the Ioanian islands. You can do the same via car if you wished to drive rather than take the coach

Athens

Each method is suited to different budgets, times and travel styles. I’ve put together a comprehensive guide on how to get to Lefkada, Zakynthos, Kefalonia and Corfu from Athens. I’m going to list all the different options, including journey times, costs, operating companies and how best to book.

Getting from Athens to Lefkada

How to get from Athens to Lefkada by Plane

The island of Lefkada itself has an airport that operates in the summer but only serves chartered flights…so this isn’t a realistic option. However, Lefkada is connected by a bridge to the mainland. The airport of Preveza is only 30 minutes by road when crossing this bridge. You can take a connecting flight to Preveza with Aegean Air or Skyexpress via Kefalonia. But these flights are few and far between.

plane from Athens to Zakynthos

How to get from Athens to Lefkada by Ferry

Ferries do not depart for Lefkada from the Greek mainland – only from neighbouring islands.

Getting from Athens to Lefkada by Bus

KTEL run a bus service from Athens to Lefkada three times daily costing €34 for a single journey and taking between 6 and 8 hours. Some services will join with other bus itineraries making the journey a lot longer than if you were driving direct.

Getting from Athens to Lefkada by Car

To drive to Lefkada will take you about 4 hours and approximately 360km. It’s definitely the best option. The quickest way from A to B, no checking in and you get to stick to your own schedule. You don’t have to worry about taking your car on a ferry either. It’s pretty straight forward as long as you’re prepared to drive in Europe.

Getting from Athens to Zakynthos

Getting from Athens to Zakynthos by Plane

The island of Zakynthos, as well as Corfu, Kefalonia and Kythira all have domestic and/or international airports. Of all the islands, Zakynthos is the cheapest to fly to from Athens, with flights from as little as €29 with budget airline Volotea. Aegean, Olympic, and Sky express all operate flights too. Hence, there are frequent departures and returns. The flight itself is under an hour. However, with check in times, getting to and from the airport and general waiting around, you’re looking at up to three hours.

How to get from Athens to Zakynthos by Ferry

From the Western Peloponnese, the port of Kyllini operates ferries to the island of Zakynthos. There are multiple daily trips departing for the island costing around €10 one way, or €37 with a car. The journey takes an hour and fifteen minutes. You arrive into the heart of the island, the port of Zakynthos town, on the Western coast. 

To get to the port of Kyllini on the other side of the Peloponesse, you will have to either drive, or take a bus. KTEL runs a good service from Athensto Kyllini with buses leaving regularly and on a daily basis. The journey is roughly 3 hours. The other option is is to rent a car and drive. The journey time is about the same. Be sure to factor in the additional cost of the ferry to take the car across.

ferry journey to Kefalonia

Tips and advice

Rental companies often indicate that their cars cannot be taken on ferries without prior consent. I haven’t found this to be too much of an issue in the past. A simple heads up to the front desk is usually fine, without any uplift in cost. Though I can’t speak for every rental company out there, so it’s probably better to check prior to booking.

Getting from Athens to Kefalonia

Getting from Athens to Kefalonia by Plane

The island of Kefalonia has an international airport with domestic flights from Athens. You can fly to Kefalonia direct from London and many other European Cities too. Fares from the capital are a little more expensive than Zante, with single tickets starting from roughly €80. The usual domestic airlines operate frequent schedules particularly during the summer. The flight itself is under an hour and flies into the airport minutes outside the capital city of Argostoli. The easiest way to get to Kefalonia from Athens is by air, especially true if you are planning on staying in Argostoli.

How to get from Athens to Kefalonia by Ferry

You have two options when going by ferry to Kefalonia. The island’s main port, Sami, is located on the eastern side of the island. It can be reached from Patras which is on the northern tip of the Peloponnese, a 2.5 hour drive from Athens. Ferries depart daily, costing between €10-15 and taking between 3 and 3.5 hours.

Go a bit further to the Western Peloponnese, to the port of Kyllini, and you can take a ferry to the small port town of Poros. Kyllini is a 3 hour drive from Athens, whilst Poros is located south east on the island of Kefalonia. Expect a ferry to take 1.5 hours and cost around €10.

If you aren’t sure where to stay in Kefalonia and, hence, not yet decided how to get there, check out my article on the best places to stay in Kefalonia.

How to get from Athens to Kefalonia by Car or Bus

To get to either port, whether it’s Patras or Kyllini you’ll need to hit the road. The drive is not too bad if you hire a car. Do check the rental car policy on taking it on a ferry though. If this is a problem, you can take a bus instead, potentially renting a car in Kefalonia instead to explore the island.

KTEL runs a good service from Athens to Patras and Kyllini with buses leaving regularly and on a daily basis. You can also buy tickets that take you further on Kefalonia, all the way to Argostoli or Lixouri. Alternatively, KTEL Kefalonia runs a good timetable on the island making it easy to catch a bus for onward transfer on arrival.

Athens coach

Getting from Athens to Corfu

How to get from Athens to Corfu by Plane

Unsurprisingly, the quickest and easiest way to get to Corfu from Athens is via plane. The island is hugely popular during the summer and has an international airport serving many European cities. There are regular flights to and from Athens. Considering the flight is under an hour, travelling by car or ferry doesn’t compare, particularly if time and convenience is important. Use skyscanner.com or priceline.com to compare flight costs. Olympic Air, Aegean, Sky Express and Hahn Air all operate throughout the week, from €70 and up during the summer.

How to get from Athens to Corfu by Ferry

From the port of Igoumenitsa, in northwestern Greece, ferries operate to Corfu on a regular basis, with multiple daily trips. The journey takes 1.5 to 2 hours and costs €10 per person (€40 if taking a car across). Tickets can be bought when you arrive if you don’t manage to book ahead of time.

Greenbuses run a service from Athens to Igoumenitsa, three times daily which go through different parts of the mainland. They generally take 6 hours to complete. A one-way ticket costs around €45. Hence, add the price of the ferry ticket and it comes to €55-60 to get from Athens to Corfu by bus and ferry. Not significantly cheaper than flying.

How long does it take to fly from Athens to the Ionian islands

Though the islands are fairly well spread out, from Corfu in the North, to Kythira in the South, it takes roughly one hour to get to each of the Ionian islands from Athens via plane. You’ll need to factor in the time it takes to get to the airport from Athens and at least one hour to check in before your flight. Once you arrive, you’ll need to factor in the time to get to where you’re staying. If you’re staying near the airport then it’s a no brainer. Staying in the port town, and you may consider going by ferry.

Is travelling by ferry cheaper?

All of the Ionian islands have ferry ports and it’s one of the most popular ways of travelling to, from and in between the Greek islands. However, it’s not as easy getting to the Ionian islands as it is, for example, the Cyclades or Saronic. Once on the island, however, ferry hopping around the neighbouring islands is relatively quick and a great way to explore more of Greece cheaply and easily.

In general, taking the ferry to the Ionian islands will be cheaper than flying, though a lot longer. You will need to factor in the time and cost of getting to the ports, as well as the journey itself. All of the ports are at least a 2 hour drive from Athens, with the exception of Kythira.

I’ve laid out some ferry routes in the table below, with rough prices, times and frequencies;

FromToFrequencyDurationCost – AdultCost – Car
IgoumenitsaCorfuMultiple trips daily1.5 – 2 hours€10€40
IgoumenitsaPaxos3/week1.5 hours€11€45
PatrasKefaloniaDaily2.5 – 3 hours€10-15€50-70
PatrasIthicaDaily3.5 – 4 hours€10-15€50-70
KylliniZakynthosMultiple trips daily1 hour€10€37
PiraeusKythiraWeekly6.5 hours€22€55

Ferry companies between Athens and the Ionian Islands

As you’d expect, there are a number of different ferry companies in Greece. They offer services that range between comfort and speed. The following websites are good ferry schedule lookups

Is it worth renting a car?

There are a bunch of rental car companies in Athens, mainly near the airport. You’ll see all the typical Europcar and Hertz rentals, as well as more independent ones. Be sure to check out these tips on renting a car in Greece.

Rental companies often indicate that their cars cannot be taken on ferries without prior consent. I haven’t found this to be too much of an issue in the past. A simple heads up to the front desk is usually fine, without any uplift in cost. Though I can’t speak for every rental company out there, so it’s better to check prior to booking.

Consider the additional cost of taking the car on the ferry, and then the not so easy task of returning it at the end of your trip. It might make more sense to rent a car once you arrive on the island to save the hassle.

rental car
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