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 meltemia 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 and KTEL buses. 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 €20. 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. Expect the new taxi apps such as Uber and Taxibeat to offer better reduced rates (about €15 from Central Athens to the port of Piraeus).
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, Santorini, Naxos, Ios, 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. There is also a KTEL bus that connects the port of Rafina to the El. Venizelos Airport about 20 km (12 miles) away. The journey takes about 30 minutes and costs €3. Buses depart from the airport every hour and the bus stop is located between exits 2 and 3 at the Arrivals level (opposite Sofitel hotel).
From Athens, 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, Kavala, and Alexandroupolis. There are hourly buses from the Athens airport directly to Lavrion (bus change at Markopoulo), 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, Paxoi, and Kefalonia). The drive from Athens takes about three 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), Lesvos, Samos, and Thassos.
From Agios Konstantinos, Volos, or Thessaloniki you can reach the Sporades islands of Alonissos, Skiathos, and Skopelos. Thessaloniki also has frequent seasonal connections to Mykonos and Santorini.
From Kimi, on the east coast of Evia, you can reach Skyros, Skopelos, And Alonissos.
From Heraklion you can reach the islands of Mykonos, Paros, Naxos, Ios, Santorini, Karpathos, Rhodes, Kasos, Anafi, Chalki, and Milos (summer only).
Agios Konstantinos Port Authority. 22350/31759.
Igoumenitsa Port Authority. 26650/99300; www.olig.gr.
Kimi Port Authority. 22220/22606; www.olne.gr.
Lavrion Port Authority. 22920/27711; 22920/22089; www.oll.gr.
Patras Port Authority. 2613/615400; www.patrasport.gr.
Piraeus Port Authority. 210/455–0000; www.olp.gr.
Rafina Port Authority. 22940/23605; 22940/22840; www.rafinaport.gr.
Thessaloniki Port Authority. 2310/593118; 2310/593121; www.thpa.gr.
Volos Port Authority. 24210/31888; 2410/32975; www.port-volos.gr.
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 fairly seasonal, so by the end of April it is usually possible to book tickets for the busy summer months.
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.gr, and 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. You can also buy ferry tickets from www.viva.gr, which is a comprehensive, multilingual, ticket-selling website in Greece.
Generally you can pay by either credit card or cash. On islands the local office of each shipping line posts a board with departure times.
Greek ferries can be either slow or 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 (seajets)—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, Turgutreis, Datca, Fethiye, Dikely, Ayvalik, and Cesme.
Note that British and American passport holders must pay $20 or €18 to obtain an Electronic Visa for visiting Turkey. New Zealanders don't need a visa. Canadian and Australian citizens need to pay $60 or €53. The Electronic Visa (e-Visa) Application System was launched in 2013 by the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and has now become mandatory for port entry (some airports still provide sticker visas at border crossings). This system allows visitors traveling to Turkey to obtain their e-Visas online in advance (www.evisa.gov.tr). The online application process takes approximately three minutes. Just be aware that visa rules can change, so you should always verify the current requirements before you decide to make a last-minute trip to Turkey from Greece.
Ferry lines that sail between Greece and Turkey include the following: Erturk, Turyol, Marmaris Ferry, Meander Travel, SeaDreams, Bodrum Ferryboat, Dodecanese Flying Dolphins, Tuana Maritime, Dodecanisos Seaways, and Yesil Marmaris Lines.
Travel to Italy
There are also frequent ferries between Greece and Italy. From Igoumenitsa, Patras, Zante, and Corfu you can find ferries that head to Ancona, Bari, Brindisi, Trieste, and Venice. The fastest ferry crossing is from Corfu to Otranto in Italy, which takes about 2½ hours with Liberty Lines.
The most respected and competitively priced is Minoan Lines (which is now a subsidiary of Italy's Grimaldi 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 mid-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, European Seaways, Minoan Lines, Superfast Ferries, Grimaldi Lines, Liberty Lines, and Ventouris.
Aegean Flying Dolphins. 210/422–1766; www.aegeanflyingdolphins.gr.
Aegean Speed Lines. Greek islands: off the beaten track Cyclades (Serifos, Sifnos, Milos, Kimolos, Sikinos, Folegandros). 210/969–0950; www.aegeanspeedlines.gr.
Alpha Ferries. From Volos to Skiathos, Skopelos, and Alonissos. 210/452–9330; www.alphaferries.gr.
Anek Lines. Ferries to Italy,Crete, and Greek Islands in the Cyclades and the Dodecanese. 210/419–7400; 210/419–7470; 210/419–7420; www.anek.gr.
ANEM Ferries. Connecting Kos to Kalymnos. 22420/59124; www.anem.gr.
ANEN Lines. Connects Athens and the Peloponnese to the Greek islands of Crete and Kithira. 2810/346185; www.ferries.gr/anen-lines.
Anes Ferries. From Piraeus to Aegina and from Volos and Mantoudi (in Evia) to Skiathos, Skopelos, and Alonissos. 210/523–7613; www.anes.gr.
Blue Star Ferries. Italy and the Greek Islands. 210/891–9800; 210/891–9010; www.bluestarferries.gr.
Bodrum Ferryboat. Bodrum to Kos, Rhodes, Kalymnos, Leros. 252/316–0882; www.bodrumferryboat.com.
Dodecanese Flying Dolphins . Links the Turkish cities of Fethiye and Datca with the Greek islands of Rhodes and Symi in the Dodecanese. 22410/37401; www.12fd.eu.
Dodecanisos Seaways. Greek islands ferries. 22410/70590; www.12ne.gr.
Erturk Lines. Chios to Cesme; Bodrum to Kos; and 4 more routes connecting the Greek islands to Turkey. 232/712–6768; www.erturk.com.tr.
European Seaways. Connects Italy and Greek islands of the Ionian sea. 210/956–1630; www.europeanseaways.com.
Fast Ferries. Ferries to the Cyclades. Departing from the port of Rafina. 210/418–2005; www.fastferries.com.gr.
Golden Star Ferries. From the port of Rafina to the Cyclades. 80122/24000; 212/222–4000; www.goldenstarferries.gr.
Grimaldi Lines . Grimaldi Lines is the parent company of Minoan Lines, which specialises in Greece-Italy connections and travel to Crete. Under its own name, Grimaldi, it also operates two more ferries along the Italy route. 081/496444; www.grimaldi-lines.com.
Hellenic Seaways. Travel to the Saronic Gulf, Cyclades, and Sporades islands. 210/419–9000; www.hellenicseaways.gr.
Ionian Group. From Kyllini to Zante and Cephallonia. 210/949–9400; www.ioniangroup.com.
Lane Sea Lines. This Anek subsidiary connects Piraeus and Githeio (in the Peloponnese) with Kithira, Antikithira and Kissamos (seasonal route). 2736/037055; www.lane-kithira.com.
Liberty Lines. Connects Corfu and Paxoi to Otranto in Italy with fast catamarans. 0923/873–813; www.libertylines.it.
Marmaris Ferry. Rhodes to Marmaris and Bodrum, in Turkey. 252/413–0230; www.marmarisferry.com.
Meander Travel. Samos to Kusadasi 256/612–8888; www.meandertravel.com.
Minoan Lines. Connects Italy and Crete. 2810/399899 ; 801/11–75000; www.minoan.gr.
SAOS Ferries. Alexandroupolis-Samothrace. 22510/38503; www.saos.gr.
Saronic Ferries. Peiraias to Aegina, Angistri, Methana, and Poros. 210/411–7341; www.saronicferries.gr.
Sea Dreams–Aegean Shipping Company. Connecting Symi, Marmaris (Turkey), and Rhodes. 22410/74535; www.seadreams.gr.
Seajets. Traveling to the Cyclades from Piraeus, Rafina, and Herakleion, Crete. 210/412–0001; 210/412–1901; www.seajets.gr.
Skyros Shipping Company. Traveling to Skyros, Kimi, Alonissos, and Skopelos islands. 22220/92164; www.sne.gr.
Strinzis Ferries. From Patras to Cephallonia and Ithaca. From Killini to Poros. 210/422–5000; www.strintzisferries.gr.
Superfast Ferries. Italy and Greek Islands (including Crete). 210/891–9800; www.superfast.com.
Tuana Maritime. Fethiye-Rhodes, Marmaris-Rhodes. 252/612–4242; www.tuanmaritime.com.
Turyol . Samos to Sigacik, Cesme to Chios and other connections between Greece and Turkey. 266/331–67000; www.turyolonline.com.
2 Way Ferries. Traveling to the Ionian islands of Corfu and Paxoi and to the Saronic islands. 210/625–0131; www.2wayferries.gr.
Ventouris Ferries. Connecting Greece, Italy, and Albania. 210/482–8001; www.ventourisferries.com.
Yesil Marmaris Lines. Rhodes, Kos, and Leros to Bodrum, Marmaris, and Turgutreis in Turkey. 252/412–2290; www.yesilmarmarislines.com.