A Beginner’s Guide to Greek Island Travel

If island hopping is in your future, it is a good idea to plan out your itinerary and book accommodation before you arrive. Many islands have luxury resorts and villas, but some are more budget-friendly than others.

Fortunately, there is an extensive network of ferries that can get you to almost any Greek island. This guide will help you understand how it all works.

Buying a Ferry Ticket

A ferry is a boat that transports passengers (and, in some instances, passenger vehicles) across a body of water. Ferries are often found in coastal towns and islands that might not be reachable by bus or train. Ferries can also offer an experience that is much faster than driving between two destinations. For example, the ferry from Boston to Provincetown on Cape Cod takes just 1 hour and 30 minutes whereas it would take closer to 3 hours if you were to drive.

Ferry tickets can be purchased either in person at the port of departure, directly from the ferry’s website, or third-party online travel agencies like Wanderu. In general, it is recommended to purchase a ticket in advance to avoid waiting at the ticket booth on the day of your trip. In some cases, ferries will sell out or require reservations to board.

When purchasing your ticket, pay attention to the luggage policy. This will vary depending on your destination and the ferry company you’re traveling with. In general, ferries allow more luggage than buses or trains, and you won’t be forced to shove your bags into tight overhead bins.

Many ferry tickets are non-refundable, but if special circumstances arise, you may be able to reschedule your trip for a different time. Some ferries will even offer you a refund in the form of a voucher that you can hand in at the shop on your outward journey.

Getting to the Port

Whether you’re planning a family vacation or taking off for a romantic getaway, the Greek islands are a summertime must-see. The picture-perfect, whitewashed villages and the azure seas have earned the islands a certain enchantment, and island-hopping by ferry is a convenient way to visit many of them. Just be sure to beat the hordes of cruise-ship passengers by arriving before they dock, and visit outlying sights or beaches before the ships begin to leave in the afternoon.

The islands are divided into several groups, ranging from the prototypical Cycladic islands to the lush Ionian Islands and the volcanic, rugged Sporades islands. The Cyclades—which include Santorini and Mykonos—offer a pristine, postcard-perfect landscape; white-shuttered houses with brightly painted windowsills and doorways; rocky, sun-parched landscapes; delightful beaches; and old-fashioned white windmills that look like unkempt hair.

Upon arrival at the ferry terminal, check in with a ticket agent at the foot passenger entrance (where you can also securely stow your car). Once boarding announcements are made, the crew will direct you to board via the vehicle deck, and you’ll be asked to stay with your vehicle until the ship is ready to depart. A one-way trip on a ferry typically takes about 30 minutes, giving you plenty of time to relax and enjoy the view. Tip: When the ferry is moving across the water, the winds can be strong, so bring a light jacket and wear pants or shorts instead of skirts.

Boarding the Ferry

Once at the ferry terminal, you should check in with a ticket agent or the foot passenger entrance before boarding. If you’re traveling with a bicycle, kayak or canoe, make sure to follow directions from employees on how to securely stow it during the sailing. If you’re driving a vehicle, it’s best to arrive at the terminal more than 20 minutes before your departure. Depending on the route and your vehicle reservation, you may have to line up in advance to enter your car onto the deck.

You’ll be spending a lot of time outside while boarding and disembarking the ferry or at sea, so be prepared to wear light, comfortable clothing. The exterior decks offer stunning views of passing ships and islands, but on some routes and during colder months, it can get chilly or windy. Be sure to pack a warm jacket and a sun hat if you plan to sit on the decks.

A good pair of sunglasses and earplugs are useful too. Stairways and outdoor decks can be slippery in any weather, due to overall air humidity, waves or evening/morning dew. They can also reflect the sun’s rays very strongly, so bring along sunglasses to protect your eyes. In addition, keep an eye out for Covid-19 announcements and posters and follow social distancing rules at all times during boarding, travel and disembarking.

Getting to Your Destination

Many passenger ferries crisscross the Aegean Sea, making it easy to get to your island destination. Before your trip, look up a ferry schedule online, and then double-check it on arrival in Greece or with a local travel agency. Schedules change frequently, and you may find that you need to make changes to your itinerary.

Consider whether to bring your car on the ferry. If you do, be sure to weigh the cost of doing so against the benefits of having a vehicle at your disposal. In addition, be aware that bringing a car onto a ferry adds to your total passage fare.

Once on board, find a seat and settle in for the ride. It’s often difficult to get a good seat when traveling by ferry, so you should aim to arrive at the harbor well ahead of your scheduled departure time.

Bring some snacks, drinks and entertainment for the ferry ride. On most ferries, there are TVs showing Greek programs on mute that never really do anything to engage you, but it’s always smart to pack your own favorite books and comics in case you run out of things to do. You might also want to take some medicine to prevent nausea if you think you’ll be susceptible to it. Feeling nauseous for the entire trip can spoil your vacation.