Navigating Paradise: A Comprehensive Guide to Ferry Travel in the Greek Islands

Island hopping in Greece is one of Europe’s most time-honored travel traditions. But with over 200 islands, how do you decide where to go?

Consider your budget, travel time and ability to handle seasickness when deciding between flights and ferries. For longer routes, flights often make more sense.

1. The Cyclades

The Cyclades are among the most popular destinations in Greece, attracting visitors for their gorgeous sandy beaches and ancient temples. Their rugged landscapes and protected bays offer a variety of different experiences.

Despite the diversity of the islands, the Cyclades are linked in various ways. They form a circle (kiklos) around the sacred island of Delos and were once part of the same cultural unit that cultivated a rich material culture, best evidenced by the marble figurines found on many of the islands.

The islands are steep and rocky, though some, such as Ios, Santorini, Naxos and Paros, feature a few stretches of coastal and interior plains. They were once forested, but the clearing of land for shipbuilding and livestock grazing took its toll, and today the islands are heavily deforested.

2. The Dodecanese

The Dodecanese islands in the southeastern Aegean have a cosmopolitan flair that strikes a chord with visitors. They have great beaches, a wonderful old town in Rhodes, gorgeous villages, mountains and archaeological sites.

The archaeology of the region is particularly impressive. Proto-urban settlements first appeared on the Dodecanese in the Early Bronze Age, around 1600 BC. They were the setting for cities of the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine eras. Homer’s retrospective verses mention their contribution of nine ships to the Trojan War (Iliad 2.653, 2.676).

The Dodecanese were important staging posts during World Wars I and II. Kastelorizo and Leros in particular were subjected to repeated enemy bombardments. The islands were occupied by the French (1915-21), the Italians (1921-43) and the British (1943-47) before they were returned to Greece in 1947. Genealogy researchers will find comprehensive birth, marriage and death records at the municipal level in the mayor’s office. These are complemented by an official family record called the Dimologion, unique to Greek jurisdictions.

3. The Ionian

The Ionian, or Ionio Pelagos (IPA: [ioni elaos]), bathes the western coast of Greece. It is one of the Mediterranean’s finest destinations, uniting pristine waters with lush green islands and high culture with low-key authentic island life.

Ferry travel in the Ionian is typically fast and easy, but it’s a good idea to arrive at the port with plenty of time to navigate crowds and find your ferry. Also, be prepared for seriously choppy seas that can make even people who don’t get seasick easily feel queasy. If you’re concerned, consider flying instead.

The good news is that navigating Greek ferry travel is much easier than it looks, especially with the right app. Unlike other European destinations, where you’ll need to purchase separate tickets for each island you visit, with the FerryHopper app you can buy and store all your island-hopping trips in one place. Plus, it makes checking in a breeze by eliminating the need to go to a ticket office and collect paper tickets. This is a game-changer for anyone planning to island-hop in Greece!

4. The Sporades

With their pristine beaches, gorgeous natural landscapes, and rich cultural heritage, the Sporades are home to some of Greece’s most beloved islands. The island group is made up of four main islands—Skopelos, Skiathos, Alonissos, and Skyros—as well as many small islets.

The Sporades are a perfect place to escape from the everyday and enjoy a truly Greek vacation! The cosmopolitan island of Skiathos attracts the largest number of visitors, while Skopelos offers tranquility and relaxation. Alonissos is home to the National Marine Park of the Northern Sporades, a refuge for seabirds, dolphins, and the rare Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus).

The best way to reach the islands in the Sporades is by ferry from the mainland. The route from Thessaloniki is operated by Seajets during the summer and takes 3-4 hours to reach Alonissos, Skopelos, and Skiathos. Ferries also carry vehicles and are available throughout the year. It is recommended to book tickets online or directly at the ferry terminal before departure. It’s also a good idea to arrive at the port with plenty of time before departure.

5. The Aegean

The Aegean is an elongated portion of the Mediterranean Sea covering over 200 inhabited islands. Two of its bays and gulfs—the Bozcaada (Tenedos) and the Gokceada—belong to Turkey, while the rest—including Crete Island, Rhodes, Karpathos, Samos, Lesvos, and Chios Island—are part of Greece.

Many ferries operate from mainland ports like Piraeus, Rafina, and Lavrio to the islands. From there, ferries depart regularly to the major destinations on each island group.

To find the best fares and schedules, use an online booking platform that can give you instant quotes and schedules for all the routes in your itinerary. This is a great option for those who are planning to island hop as it can save time by letting you see which options will fit within your allotted travel dates.

Keep in mind that some ferries, especially the high-speed catamarans, don’t carry vehicles so you’ll have to rent a scooter or car if you’re going to a larger island. Also, if you’re susceptible to seasickness, be sure to pack medication for the trip—even the shortest trips can feature seriously choppy waters.