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Greece’s extensive boat system—ranging from ferries to catamarans and hydrofoils, known as iptamena delphinia ("flying dolphins")—provides the best way to get to and from the Greek islands. Individual lines have Web sites, but in the absence of centralized listings it’s difficult to compare schedules and prices. Travel agencies often sell tickets for just one line.
What to do? The GNTO office in Athens provides lists of sailings from Piraeus, along with Merchant Marine Ministry (www.yen.gr), the weekly newspaper Athens News, and the English edition of Kathimerini of the International Herald Tribune. Greek Travel Pages is a great Web portal (www.gtp.gr).
Buy tickets from a travel agency, from the local shipping agency office, online through travel Web sites (the most reliable is www.greekferries.gr), or direct from ferry companies. Boat timetables change in winter and summer. Boats may be delayed by weather conditions, especially when the northern winds called meltemia hit in August, so stay flexible—one advantage of not buying a ticket in advance.
Greece's largest port is Piraeus, which lies 10 km (6 mi) south of downtown Athens. From Piraeus port, the quickest way to get into Athens, if you are traveling light, is to walk to the metro station and take a 25-minute ride on the electric train to Monastiraki, Thisseion, Omonia, or Syntagma. Be aware that Piraeus port is so vast that you may need to walk some distance or take a public bus, or even use a port minibus (gratis) from the port entrance. Every day dozens of vessels depart for the Saronic Gulf islands, the Cyclades, the Dodecanese, and Crete. Patras, on the Peloponnese, is the main port for ferries to Italy and to Corfu. Boats for the Sporades depart from Agios Konstantinos and Volos on the mainland.
When choosing a ferry, take into account the number of stops and the arrival time: sometimes a ferry that leaves an hour later gets you there faster! Catamarans and hydrofoils are pricier and you need to reserve in advance in summer but they cut travel time in half. Remember if the sea is choppy, sailings are often cancelled. The main line is Hellenic Seaways www.hellenicseaways.gr.