When it comes to island hopping, nothing beats catching a ferry. It’s the cheapest way to explore, and it allows you to relax and take in the view while you travel.
The peak season runs from around Easter through to October. Consider coming outside of these months if you want to avoid the crowds.
1. The Cyclades
The most famous set of islands in the Aegean, the Cyclades have a little something for everyone. Santorini – the ultimate destination for jaw-dropping views and hedonistic pleasures – is best known, but there are other lesser-known gems too, like pristine Naxos with its beach bars and smart little red-roofed port town, and Sifnos, where dramatic cliffs jut up from the sea, crowned by tiny white churches.
The Cyclades are also the easiest island group to hop around, as most of the islands have direct ferry connections. You can easily do a mini-island hop of the Cyclades, combining Santorini with Mykonos, Ios, and Syros, or even a fuller circuit taking in the other islands in the group (Sifnos, Tinos, Paros, Milos, and more).
Island hopping is an excellent option if you want to make the most of your time in Greece. You’ll avoid the long and tiresome transfer times that you’d encounter by flying – although, with some islands lacking airports, it is still often necessary to fly in and out of Athens. You’ll also have the flexibility to change your itinerary as you see fit, should weather conditions or other unforeseen events affect your plans. You’ll also find that the journey between Greek islands is as rewarding as your destinations themselves, with ferries gliding through shimmering waters and meandering between picturesque harbours and hidden bays.
2. The Dodecanese
The Dodecanese island group is a fantastic choice for those looking to escape the crowds. While many of the major islands like Mykonos and Santorini have airports, ferries are the most popular form of transport in this part of the Aegean. And, as a bonus, it’s cheaper than flying, meaning you can spend more time on the beach, sipping frappes or exploring the historic sites!
The islands’ strategic location has made them a hub for cultural interaction throughout the ages. Carians, Greeks, Romans, Venetians, the Crusader Knights of St John, Ottomans and Italians all influenced or settled the area, leaving behind grandiose ancient sanctuaries, mighty castles and serene monasteries – along with a unique natural environment encompassing rare bird species and stunning seascapes.
The capital of the Dodecanese, Kos, is a cosmopolitan hub with sandy beaches, turquoise waters and lush vegetation. With a superb city plan, tree-lined wide roads, large squares and iconic buildings, it’s also known for its fine restaurants and superb cuisine. You can visit a number of impressive ancient and medieval monuments, explore the old town and see its stunning medieval castle. It’s also the ideal base for watersports like snorkelling and kayaking, or simply enjoy a relaxing swim in the crystal clear waters.
3. The Ionian
If you’re visiting the Greek Islands for the first time, an island hopping tour is a great way to get acquainted with the country’s culture and cuisine. These tours include all transport, accommodation, and activities in the price of your ticket. Plus, they take the stress out of planning your trip!
A popular choice is to take a trip with a tour company such as Worldpackers, which offers island-hopping itineraries starting in Athens. This allows you to experience a variety of destinations in a short amount of time and avoid missing out on any major sights.
This island-hopping tour includes a visit to the Greek hotspot Santorini, where you can witness the stunning sunset, swim in the therapeutic waters of Nea Kameni, and explore the archaeological site of Akrotiri. It also includes a stop on the less-frequently visited Delos, which is rumored to have been the birthplace of Apollo. Other highlights include the beaches of Naoussa and Paros, which boast white sand and crystal clear water.
If you’re planning to travel in the high season, it’s important to plan your island-hopping itinerary well in advance. The summer months are the most popular and expensive times to travel in Greece, which means that ferries will be busier and accommodation prices will be higher. Alternatively, travelling in the off-season can be an even more authentic experience. The weather may be cooler, but you’ll be able to visit the beaches without the crowds.
4. The Sporades
A popular way to travel around the Greek Islands, island hopping allows travellers to experience the culture, food and history of different islands without having to spend long travel days. Often, it takes place in the warmer months, but can be done throughout the year.
The Sporades are located just off the mainland and include some of Greece’s most stunning islands. From the pristine beaches of Alonisso to the mansions of Spetses and Poros, this group is perfect for island hoppers who want to enjoy beautiful scenery, tranquility and a relaxing holiday. This region is also home to the National Marine Park of Northern Sporades, which is known for its rich marine life and wildlife.
While you can island hop independently, many travellers choose to book their trip on a tour. This takes the pressure off and means you can have your accommodation, transport and activities organised. Plus, it’s an excellent option for those travelling as a group or during the peak season. Tours can also include extra excursions and activities, such as boating, snorkelling or hiking.