Boat and Ferry Travel
Ferries, catamarans, and hydrofoils make up an essential part of the national transport system of Greece, reaching every inhabited island. There are fast and slow boats and ferries that are more modern than others. When choosing a ferry, take into account the number of stops and the estimated arrival time. Sometimes a ferry that leaves an hour later gets you there faster.
With so many private companies operating, so many islands to choose from, and complicated timetables—and with departures changing not just by season but also by day of the week—the most sensible way to arrange island-hopping is to select the islands you would like to visit, then consult a travel agent to ask how your journey can be put together. Dolphin Hellas, a full-service tour and travel company based in Athens, has a unique online portal to view various schedules and purchase ferry tickets.
If the boat journey will be more than a couple of hours, it's a good idea to take along water and snacks. Greek fast-food franchises operate on most ferries, charging high prices. On longer trips ferries have both cafeteria-style and full-service restaurants.
Ferries may be delayed by weather conditions, especially when the northern winds called meltemi hit in August, so stay flexible—one advantage of not buying a ticket in advance. If your ship's departure is delayed for any reason (with the exception of force majeure), you have the right to stay on board in the class indicated on your ticket or, in case of prolonged delay, to cancel your ticket for a full refund. If you miss your ship, you forfeit your ticket; if you cancel in advance, you receive a partial or full refund, depending on how far in advance you cancel.
Major Ferry Ports
Of the major ferry ports in Greece, Piraeus, Rafina, and Lavrion are fairly well connected to Athens by bus, and the latter two are close enough to the Athens airport in Spata to be reached by taxi. For the Cycladic, Dodecanese, and Ionian islands, small ferry companies operate local routes that are not published nationally; passage can be booked through travel agents on the islands served.
Greece's largest and busiest port is Piraeus, which lies 10 km (6 miles) south of Central Athens, at the end of Metro Line 1, which is close to gates E5 and E6. The train ride from Central Athens takes about 25 minutes, and you can board at Thisseion, Monastiraki, or Omonia; change at Monastiraki if you get on or want to go to Syntagma.
A taxi can take longer than the metro and will cost around €25, plus baggage and port surcharges. Often, drivers wait until they fill their taxi with debarking passengers headed in roughly the same direction, which leads to a longer, more circuitous route to accommodate everyone's destination. It's often faster to walk to the main street and hail a passing cab.
From Piraeus you can reach the Saronic islands (Aegina, Hydra, Poros, Angistri, and Spetses); Peloponnesian ports (Hermioni and Porto Heli); the Cyclades (Amorgos, Folegandros, Anafi Ios, Milos, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Santorini, Serifos, Sifnos, Syros, and Tinos); and the northern Aegean islands (Samos, Ikaria, Mytileni, and Chios).
Be aware that Piraeus port is so vast that you may need to walk some distance to your gate (quay) of departure once you arrive, so be sure to arrive with plenty of time to spare. Changes may occur at the last moment. Just confirm at an information kiosk. Usually, the gates serve the following destinations:
E1 the Dodecanese
E2 Crete, Chios, Mytilini (Lesvos), Ikaria, Samos
E3 Crete, Kithira
E5 Main pedestrian entrance
E6 Cyclades, Rethymnon (Crete)
E7 Cyclades, Rethymnon (Crete)
E8 Saronic islands
E9 Cyclades, Samos, Ikaria
E10 Cyclades, Samos, Ikaria
From Greece's second-busiest port, which is 35 km (22 miles) northeast of Athens, you can reach Evia (Euboea) daily, as well as some of the Cyclades (Mykonos, Paros, Tinos, and Andros). Ferry timetables change in winter and summer, and special sailings are often added around holiday weekends in summer when demand is high.
To get to Attica's second port, Rafina, take a KTEL bus, which leaves approximately every half-hour (or every 15 minutes during rush hour; inquire about their schedule before your departure). Usually KTEL buses run from 5:30 am to 9:30 pm from Aigyptou Square near Pedion Areos Park, which is within walking distance from the Viktoria (green line) station. The KTEL bus takes about an hour to get to Rafina; the port is slightly downhill from the bus station.
It's also possible to take a taxi (a 40-minute trip), but it is fairly expensive.
From the port of Lavrion, 61 km (38 miles) southeast of Athens and close to Sounion, you can reach Kea (Tzia) and Kythnos, and (less regularly) Syros, Mykonos, Paros, Naxos, Anafi Ios, Sikinos, Folegandros, Kimolos, Milos, Tinos, Andros, Ag. Efstratios, Limnos, and Alexandroupolis. There are hourly buses from the Athens airport directly to Lavrion, or it's about 35 to 40 minutes by taxi.
From Patras, on the western coast of the Peloponnese, 210 km (130 miles) west of Athens, you can reach Italy (Ancona, Bari, Brindisi, Ravenna, Trieste, and Venice) as well as the Ionian islands (Corfu, Ithaki, and Kefalonia). The drive from Athens takes about 3 hours.
From Killini, 73 km (45 miles) south of Patras, you can reach the Ionian islands of Kefalonia and Zakynthos.
From Igoumenitsa, on Greece's northwest coast 482 km (300 miles), you can reach Italy (Ancona, Bari, Brindisi, Ravenna, Trieste, and Venice) and Corfu (several ferries daily). Given its distance from Athens, it is generally more realistic to fly.
From northern mainland towns of Kavala and Alexandroupolis you can reach the Dodecanese islands of Limnos, Samothrace (Samothraki), and Thassos.
From Agios Konstantinos, Volos, or Thessaloniki you can reach the Sporades islands of Alonissos, Skiathos, and Skopelos.
From Kimi, on the east coast of Evia, you can reach Skyros.
From Heraklion you can reach the Cyclades islands of Mykonos, Paros, and Santorini (summer only).
Agios Konstantinos Port Authority. 22350/31759.
Igoumenitsa Port Authority. 26650/99400.
Kimi Port Authority. 22220/22606.
Lavrion Port Authority. 22920/25249; 22920/26859; www.oll.gr.
Patras Port Authority. 2613/615400.
Piraeus Port Authority. 210/417–2675.
Rafina Port Authority. 22940/23605; 22940/22840; www.rafinaport.gr.
Thessaloniki Port Authority. 2313/325821; 2313/325822; www.thpa.gr.
Volos Port Authority. 24210/28888; 2410/38888.
Buying Ferry Tickets
It’s best to buy your ticket at least two or three days ahead if you are traveling between July 15 and August 30, when most Greeks vacation, if you need a cabin (good for long trips), or if you are taking a car. If possible, don't travel by boat around August 15, when most ferries are very crowded. The ferry schedule systems are not organized well in advance, so booking tickets more than a month ahead of time is usually not possible.
You can buy tickets from a travel agency or praktoreio at the port, online through travel websites (popular sites include www.directferries.gr www.greekferries.grand www.ferries.gr). Although you can also buy tickets directly from the ferry company offices and websites, it's usually easier to use a travel agent. Last-minute tickets can always be purchased from a ferry company kiosk at every port. Always book your return upon arrival if you are pressed for time.
Generally you can pay by either credit card or cash, though the latter is often preferred if you don't use a travel agent. On islands the local office of each shipping line posts a board with departure times.
Greek ferries can be both slow and fast. On longer trips, the experience is a bit like a minicruise. You can relax on board, enjoy the sea views, snap photos from the deck at ports of call (there may be multiple calls on some routes) and as you approach your destination. Slow ferries from Piraeus to Lesvos, Rhodes, Crete, and Santorini can last eight hours or more, so there’s also the option to rent a cabin for the journey that may run overnight.
If boat rides equal boredom for you, high-speed ferries, catamarans, and hydrofoils—or in Greek iptamena delphinia (flying dolphins)—are a pricier option that cuts travel time in half. Catamarans are the larger of these fast ferries, with more space to move around, although passengers are not allowed outside when the boat is not docked. If the sea is choppy, these boats often cannot travel. Although they are faster, they lack the flavor of the older ferries with the open decks.
Schedules vary between both the slower and faster boats. It’s best to check what fits your time frame and budget.
From Greece you can opt to travel to neighboring Italy and Turkey. Travel time to Turkey from most destinations in Greece is relatively short, usually less than 90 minutes. Travel to various stops in Italy can take from 9 to 21 hours.
Travel to Turkey
You can cross to Turkey from the northeastern Aegean islands. The journey takes anywhere from one hour to 90 minutes, depending on the destination. Ferries sail between the Greek islands of Rhodes, Kos, Samos, Simi, Chios, and Lesvos to the Turkish destinations of Bodrum, Marmaris, Kusadasi, and Cesmi.
Note that British, Australian and American passport holders must have $20 or €14 with them (in cash) to purchase a visa on landing in Turkey. New Zealanders don't need a visa. Canadian citizens need $60 or €42.
Ferry lines that sail between Greece and Turkey include the following: Erturk, Marmaris Ferries, Meander Ferries, NEL Lines, SeaDreams, and Yesil Marmaris Lines.
Travel to Italy
There are also frequent ferries between Greece and Italy. From Igoumenitsa, Patras, and Corfu you can find ferries that head to Ancona, Bari, Brindisi, and Venice.
The most respected and competitively priced is Minoan Lines. Its modern, well-maintained vessels are outfitted with bars, a self-service restaurant, a pool, a spa, a gym, an Internet café, a casino, shops, and even a conference center.
Prices depend on the season and your class of service (deck, seat, or cabin). High season runs from late July to late August; prices drop considerably in low and middle season. Some companies offer special family or group discounts, while others charge extra for pets or offer deep discounts on return tickets, so comparing rates does pay. When booking, also consider when you will be traveling; an overnight trip can be offset against hotel costs, and you will spend more on incidentals like food and drink when traveling during the day.
Ferry lines that sail between Greece and Italy include the following: Anek, Blue Star Ferries, Endeavor, European Sealines, Minoan Lines, Superfast Ferries, and Ventouris.
Aegean Flying Dolphins. 210/422–1766; www.aegeanflyingdolphins.gr.
Aegean Speed Lines. Greek islands: the Cyclades. 210/969–0950; www.aegeanspeedlines.gr.
Alpha Ferries. Greek Islands: the Cyclades 210/428–4001; www.ferries.gr/alpha-ferries.
Anek Lines. Ferries to Italy and Greek Islands. 210/419–7400; 210/419–7470; 210/419–7420; www.anek.gr.
ANEM Ferries. Greek Islands: the Dodecanese 22420/59124.
ANEN Lines. The Peloponnese and Greek islands: Crete, Ionian islands 28210/20345; www.ferries.gr/anen-lines.
Anes Ferries. Greek Islands 210/422–5625; www.anes.gr.
Blue Star Ferries. Italy and the Greek Islands 210/891–9800; 210/891–9010; www.bluestarferries.gr.
Dodekanisos Seaways. Greek islands 22410/70590; www.12ne.gr.
Endeavor Lines. Italy and Greek islands: Ionian islands 210/940–5222; www.endeavor-lines.com.
Erturk Lines. Turkey: Chios to Cesmi (90) 232/712–6768; www.erturk.com.tr.
European Sealines. Italy and Greek islands: Ionian islands 210/956–1630; www.europeansealines.com.
Fast Ferries. Greek islands: the Cyclades 210/418–2163; www.fastferries.com.gr.
Golden Star Ferries. Greek islands: the Cyclades 80122/24000; www.goldenstarferries.gr.
Hellenic Seaways. Greek Islands 210/419–9000; www.hellenicseaways.gr.
Ionian Ferries. Greek islands: Ionian islands 210/324–9997; www.ionianferries.gr.
Kallisti Ferries. Greek islands: northern Aegean islands and Cyclades 80111/77700; www.ferries.gr/kallisti-ferries.
Lane Ferries. Peloponnese and Greek islands: Crete, Dodecanese, Cyclades, Ionian islands 210/427–4011; www.ferries.gr/lane.
Marmaris Ferries. Turkey: Rhodes to Marmaris (90) 252/413–0230; www.marmarisferry.com.
Meander Ferries. Samos to Kusadasi (90) 256/612–8888; www.meandertravel.com.
Minoan Lines. Italy and Greek Islands 210/337–6910; 210/414–5700; www.minoan.gr.
NEL Lines. Turkey and Greek Islands 210/412–5888; 210/411–5015; www.nel.gr.
Nova Ferries. Greek islands: Argosaronic islands 210/412–6181; www.novaferries.gr.
SAOS Ferries. Greek islands: northern Aegean islands 22510/38503; www.saos.gr.
Saronic Ferries. Greek islands: Saronic Gulf islands 210/411–7341; www.saronicferries.gr.
Sea Dreams–Aegean Shipping Company. Turkey and Greek Islands 22410/76535; www.seadreams.gr.
Seajets. Greek Islands: the Cyclades 210/412–0001; 210/412–1901; www.seajets.gr.
Skyros Shipping Company. Greek islands: the Sporades 22220/92164; www.sne.gr.
Strinzis Ferries. Greek islands: Ionian islands 210/422–5000; www.strintzisferries.gr.
Superfast Ferries. Italy and Greek Islands 210/891–9130; www.superfast.com.
2 Way Ferries. Greek islands: Ionian islands 26610/30190; www.2wayferries.gr.
Tilos 21 Century. Greek islands: Dodecanese islands 22640/44000; www.tilosferries.gr.
Ventouris Ferries. Italy and Greek Islands 210/482–8001; www.ventouris.gr.
Yesil Marmaris Lines. Turkey: Rhodes to Bodrum and Marmaris (90) 252/412–1033; www.rhodesferry.com.