Island hopping in Greece is one of those dream vacations that everyone fantasizes about doing at some point in their lives.
Well, at least I did.
Then finally, I got my chance to go to Greece in late May/Early June. Despite never having been before, I had a feeling that I’d love it so planned to stick around for a while: three and a half weeks, most of which I planned on spending in the islands.
However, as dreamy as those azure waters and white villages are, let me be the first to tell you something really, really important: Islands Hopping in Greece is crazy expensive.
I had slight panic attacks when I first started looking at buying ferry tickets. Enough so that I had to readjust my Greek island hopping plans several times to keep myself more in budget.
That being said, I also discovered a fun, easy, adventurous, and affordable way to see plenty of Greek islands without blowing out my bank account.
Interested? Good- you should be.
Here’s what you need to know about Island hopping in Greece based on my personal experience.
Island Hopping in Greece: Ferries
When it comes to islands hopping in Greece, the most obvious option is to use the ferries. At first glance, the ferries seem like the easiest and most affordable option to get around.
Not quite true.
To start with, the ferries are not cheap. I took two ferries during my time in Greece. The first of which was from Athens to Paros (4 hours) then Paros to Santorini (3 hours). Athens to Paros cost me over $70CAD after the exchange while Paros to Santorini was just under $50CAD (by the way, this was shoulder season pricing not high season). Considering I’ve gotten flights around Europe and Southeast Asia for less than that, I was a little disappointed.
Keep in mind that these costs are also for the economy class. There’s literally nothing else included in your ticket price-not even a seat. I managed to grab a seat at a small table from Athens to Paros, but from Paros to Santorini I was squished into a big table in the cafeteria area with a bunch of strangers because there was nowhere else to go. It was fine, but nothing special.
The ferries, even the fast ones that I took, also take quite a while. As I mentioned earlier my respective rides were 4 hours and 3 hours. No, it’s not the end of the world but that still ends up being half a day when you also consider that you need to get to the Port an hour early at least. Sometimes even earlier if you book your ticket online and need it printed (which has to be done at the respective ferry office and comes with a small printing fee of 1-2 euro).
Speaking of booking ferry tickets, there’s a lot of mixed information on that as well. I was told that I should book my tickets well in advance because they book up quickly. This meant paying more for booking online, then paying the additional printing fee and, as I mentioned earlier, having to arrive early to the port to print the tickets. Now, when I visited in late May/early June- I really didn’t need to book in advance online. I could have gone down to the office and booked my tickets a day or two before which would have saved me a few euros. That being said, the ferry ports aren’t always the easiest to get to and in places like Athens and Santorini, they are quite far from anything else. So, booking online did have a bit of a convenience factor in that regard. I would also imagine that it is a better idea to book early if you are visiting during the high season (mid-June to September), which sees considerably more tourists than I had to deal with.
So, can you use the ferries for island hopping in Greece? Of course you can. However, it’s not the best way and definitely not the cheapest way.
Island Hopping in Greece: Flights
Another way to experience islands hopping in Greece is by flying between the islands. As can be expected, flying around the Greek islands is pricier than the ferry. However, flying does have the added advantage of being much faster and perhaps even easier.
Flight prices will vary depending on time you fly, the airline, where you are flying, the season, and how far in advance you book your flight. I booked my flight from Santorini to Athens about 2 weeks in advance and paid a little over $100CAD which included a checked bag. I didn’t check ferry prices for the same route, however since the fast ferry still takes 9 hours to go between the two places, I was willing to pay the extra to save on the time.
The disadvantage to flying is obviously needing to show up at the airport early to get checked in which adds extra time. Again though, adding an extra two hours to a 40-minute flight still beat the 9-hour ferry in my case.
However, as ideal as flying may sound in comparison to the long and expensive ferry rides, they aren’t the best method for island hopping in Greece either. While the big and most popular islands have airports, not every island has an airport. Sure, if you only plan on visiting say, Mykonos or Santorini, then flying might work for you. But, if you want to visit some of the smaller, more local islands (which I highly recommend) then flying won’t be a great choice.
Another disadvantage to flying is that, while it’s easy to get from Athens to one of the islands, it’s not always as easy to fly between the islands. It takes a lot of advance planning to work things into your schedule and, even then, you may have to backtrack through Athens if flying is the way you want to go.
Island Hopping in Greece: Sailing
The real reason I went to Greece is because I was invited to try out an Intrepid Travel sailing tour through the Cyclades islands. It was honestly one of the best travel experiences I’ve yet.
The tour I did was 10 days (starting and ending in Santorini) and we visited 7 islands along the way. We got to spend at least half a day on each island which, at first, I worried wouldn’t be enough time but it actually ended up being perfect. Being able to experience so many different islands allowed me to experience more and see the differences between them.
Tiny Iraklia and Schinoussa were absolutely adorable. I never would have through to go to either on my own and I loved how non-touristic they were. As such, prices were much more reasonable as well which I definitely appreciated. Both islands were tiny with not much going on, so they made the perfect place to spend half a day enjoying the pristine local beach before grabbing a meal and drinks at a local taverna.
Syros was another island that surprised me. The capital of the Cyclades, it had a completely different feel than the other islands. We went into X which had a real city feel, more like something you would find in Italy or the South of France, compared to the small white villages that I had grown accustomed to exploring on the other islands. It was definitely worth exploring.
Of course, we also visited some of the main islands as well: Naxos, Paros, Ios, and the famous party island: Mykonos. Originally, I planned to visit Mykonos on my own for a few days as well, but cancelled those plans once I saw the ferry prices. For me, that half a day was the perfect amount of time to spend. I didn’t go to any of the beach clubs, but we explored town, saw a stunning sunset, and even half a day nearly emptied my wallet: 17 euro cocktails, anyone?
Without a doubt, sailing was the perfect method for Greek island hopping because we got to see so much at an affordable price. Remember, with sailing you sleep on a boat so not only was our transportation taken care of (8 islands in total including Santorini) but that was also our accommodation as well.
I also want to point out that our transportation wasn’t just getting from point A to point B- but involved a bit of an adventure alone the way. Sailing is incredible- I absolutely loved it. We saw sea turtles and pods of dolphins- a few of which even stayed with us one day and played around the boat. We also had swim stops nearly every day (weather-dependent) which included swimming through caves and free diving around a WWII plane wreck. It was incredible and, again, not something I would have been able to do on my own.
Essentially, built within the price of the sailing tour we had: accommodation, transportation, a guide, and daily activities. When you compared pricing and break it down like that, there’s no question that sailing is the best value when it comes to island hopping in Greece and, based on my experience, also the most enjoyable.
My Favourite Cycladic Islands for Greek Island Hopping
Paros is, without a doubt, my favourite Greek island. Specifically, the town of Naousa which I might also argue is the prettiest Greek village. I spent 6 days here just relaxing, exploring, and visiting the beaches, and fell head over heels in love with it. Originally, Paros wasn’t on our itinerary but our skipper loves it almost as much as I do and suggested an itinerary change which we all jumped on board with. Everyone in our group loved Naousa.
Santorini is iconic when it comes to the Greek islands. While it wasn’t my favourite spot, I’m glad I visited and spent a few days exploring the island. The crowds were awful at times and the prices were absurd in Oia and Thira, but there is no denying that it is absolutely stunning and I really think it is a must-see. Be sure to check out my Santorini itinerary.
Amorgos surprised me which how beautiful it was. The hora (old town) was perched up on a hill that we needed to rent a car to get to. We also did a mini road-trip to a nearby monastery built into a cliff, and a photo stop by the water where we saw a Greek Wedding (I secretly wanted to crash it). The landscape was beautiful and the hora was adorable. I also really enjoyed the port area where I had the best moussaka ever that I’m pretty sure I will be craving for the rest of my life. Honestly, I’d do the Intrepid travel sailing tour all over again just for that moussaka (and the fact that I loved sailing).
Iraklia was somewhere I had never heard of before my Greek Island sailing tour and, even if I did know of it, probably not somewhere I ever would have gone on my own. Yet I LOVED it. It’s tiny. The small town can be walked in 10 minutes and consists of two small grocery stores I think 4 tavernas (we did a ‘taverna crawl’ before dinner to check them out) and a beautiful beach. It was the perfect place to relax for a half a day and there were only a few other sailboats in the harbour which meant very few other tourists. Irakia and Naousa (Paros) were the firm favourites of everyone on my sailing tour.
Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades islands so we actually ended up spending a day and a half here. We spent our half day, when we arrived, exploring town and the beach. The full day four of us rented a car and drove a loop around the islands that took us to tiny villages, ancient ruins, and a beautiful beach. The drive was stunning and we had a blast on our little road trip in Naxos.
Thinking of Joining a Sailing Tour to go Island Hopping in Greece?
This is the tour I took, but Intrepid Travel also offers a few more options for Greece sailing tours.
A Note on Travel Insurance in Greece
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine twice before (once for damaged luggage, once because I developed a lung infection while traveling). While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance. With prices starting at $37 for 4 weeks, they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found. Learn more about SafetyWing here.