I love travelling on the water so Greek island hopping around by boat suits me fine. But navigating ferry travel was quite intimidating when I was first looking at hopping between the islands. Here I’ll answer all your questions about island hopping by ferry, what the Greek ferries are like and how you can book them.
Are there ferries between the Greek islands?
There are ferries between the islands but not between all of them and not all of the time. Athens is a bit like the hub that many of the lines run like spokes from, out to various island groupings.
In the Cyclades particularly, there are lots of connections between the islands as well as the lines to and from Athens. That makes the Cyclades a great place to island-hop, especially if it’s your first time doing so.
It is possible to go from one group of islands to another with the ferries but probably not the best way to do things.
Are ferries better than flying for Greek island hopping?
For this, I’d say, it depends. If you’re going somewhere like the Cyclades then many of the islands are very close together. Many flights to the islands go via Athens rather than directly island to island. So it makes more sense to do a 30 minute – 2-hour crossing on a boat than faff about at the airport going to Athens and then back out to the next destination. Bear in mind that not all islands have airports so it might not be a viable way for you to get to your destination anyway.
I think the ferry is part of your island hopping experience. But if you’re short on time you may want to fly from Athens to your first port of call and/or fly back from your last destination.
If you’re doing a few choice islands that are nowhere near each other then could be the better option. Don’t forget that Greece is a big country and the different island groups are quite spread out. I would recommend sticking to one island group for ease, time-saving and overall less stress.
But if you decide not to heed that advice then flying might make sense. For example, if you’re spending some time in Athens and then moving on to Santorini and Corfu before flying home out of Athens. The flight from Athens – Santorini is about 40 minutes versus about 7 hours by boat. The Santorini – Corfu flight crosses the country in just under 1.5 hours’ and isn’t really do-able by sea.
What are Greek ferries like?
There are basically two main types of ferries for the main routes. There are the big slow ones and the small fast ones!
(To be fair, the conventional ferries can probably be divided into two categories, so three different types of ferry overall. However, unless you’re a boat enthusiast – in which case you’ll know better than me anyway – then I wouldn’t worry too much about that. Some of them are more modern and somewhat faster, but still not catemeran
Big, slow ferries
Some boats are conventional ferries, heavy and slower. Although the journies normally take a far bit longer I’d suggest seeing this as part of your holiday. Sitting outside on the deck with the wind in your hair, passing beautiful islands as you watch the sunset on the horizon is part of the Greek Island hopping experience.
Examples of conventional Greek ferries are:
- Blue Star Ferries: Blue Star Naxos and Blue Star Paros
- FastFerries: Ekaterina P. and Theologos P.
- GoldenStar Ferries: Superferry I and II
- Goutos Lines: Makedon
These types of boats are less affected by windy weather and choppy seas but on rough days it won’t necessarily be exactly plain sailing.
These ferries take cars and foot passengers and have various cabins too. They often have deck seating, which is a free-for-all in the outdoor areas and cafes and then numbered seating for airline-style seating. Some also have a business lounge where the seating is less structured and you can sit where you like.
Smaller, fast ferries
You can tell by the names a lot of these catamaran type boats go much faster. They go faster because they’re lighter which means they bob about on the surface a lot more too. If you’re not a good traveller I’d avoid these ones except for very short journeys.
Examples of these types of Greek ferries are:
- Seajets: Power Jet, WorldChampion Jet (the fastest ferry in Greece)
- FastFerries: Thunder
- Golden Star Ferries: SuperExpress
- Hellenic Seaways: Flying Cat, Flying Dolphin, High Speed 4
- Minoan Lines: Santorini Palace
Some of these vessels take vehicles but some are just for foot passengers.
In my experience, these boats are ticketed with seat numbers. However, they can be a bit confusing to work out.
The seat number is sometimes on the boarding pass as “class”. When I came back from Athens the last time the seat number was something like 7802. There were nowhere near that many seats but I worked out what was going on. The first two digits, 78, was the row number. Then 02 was the seat number. The seats down each side were in pairs so I could have been in 01 (7801) or 02. So look for the row numbers overhead first, like you would on a plane.
How can I book a ferry?
FerryHopper.com is the website to use. It’s easily the nicest to use and really helpful. When I’m travelling with my cats, I book directly with the ferry companies so I can add the cats into the booking too. The rest of the time I use FerryHopper and would recommend it for you.
The site is really helpful in that you can search for single, return and multi-island journies. If there isn’t a sailing on the date you want it’ll give you alternatives for that destination.
Once you’ve booked they send you an email to confirm and you can check in from that email. It prefills your booking details so you don’t have to trawl around to find them then copy and paste them in to do the online check-in.
How will I print my ferry tickets?
I’ve always chosen to do the online ticket option and I find it the most convenient. It’s easy to check-in online and once you do, you choose whether to get the ticket sent to you by text or email.
You’ll either get sent a PDF with your QR code on it or the link to the document. I flag the email and then take a screenshot of the ticket and save it in an album on my phone that’s easy to find. You don’t want to be faffing about trying to find your ticket when you’re boarding, especially as with COVID we need to have one or two other forms/QR codes.
If you’re at a hotel with a reception they may print the tickets for you. Ferry offices at the port will print them but for a 1 euro fee.
How will I know if the ferry or running late?
I use a website (there’s an app too) called myshiptracking.com to track the Greek ferries because sometimes they run at least a bit on the late side.
The app gives live tracking updates of where your vessel is so you can see when it’s due to arrive at the port. It means you can either delay leaving for the port or spend more time exploring before heading to the port if the arrival has been significantly delayed.
How will I know where to wait for the ferry?
There are places to wait at each port but they vary a bit. For example:
In Naxos: there are 3 covered sections for waiting. There are digital displays telling which one to wait in for each ferry that’s due. Don’t stress too much if you get in the wrong one. When the gates open you can clamber over the low wall/seating if you need to (or just walk around – there’s usually plenty of time).
In Mykonos: there is a main waiting area and then further sheltered seating areas near the buses. It seems to be a bit of a free-for-all and you need to keep an ear out for the announcements telling you where to go.
In Tinos: it’s similar to Naxos. The port police slide boards with the ships’ names on into the relevant holder for each of the queuing areas. If you’re not sure if you’re in the right place just keep an eye out on the actually ferries that arrive. You can clearly see the names and if you’re in the wrong place there’s plenty of time to walk around to an open gate.
In Syros: there are two outdoor waiting areas but they don’t have much shade. Luckily there’s a really good port office directly over the road. They have luggage storage lockers, a lovely big, cool waiting area and clean toilets that are big enough to accommodate you and your luggage. Check with the port police which of the two areas you need to wait in. Often two ships will dock at the same time so you want to be in the right section. I’ve noticed in Syros the port police don’t open the gate for foot passengers until the last minute so don’t panic.
Do the Greek ferries run in bad weather?
Sometimes the ferries are cancelled if the weather’s really bad. Usually, the boats are cancelled in advance if we know there’s severe weather coming and you’ll be informed by the company you booked through. I’ve seen this happen in the winter.
You’d be surprised at how choppy the water can get before boats are cancelled. I went to Syros in May for an appointment and was certain my boat would be cancelled. It was incredibly windy and it did interfere with the scheduling. But as long as the boats can dock, they’ll run. So be prepared because it can be a bit hairy!
The Cyclades are windy islands and some months are worse than others. July and August have the Meltemi wind that can run into September too. So If you’re doing a long crossing in those months you might prefer one of the bigger ferries. Alternative you might decide you’d like to endure the sea for as short a time as possible and choose fast and furious.
Are there left luggage places at the ports?
This very much depends on the island.
- Syros has a great waiting room with lockers, for example
- Mykonos has Cafe Faros in the Old Port that will lock your stuff up in their luggage room for 8 euros (up to 24 hours)
- Naxos has a place behind the port in Castro with an old lady who guards your suitcase in her studio flat home (follow the hand-painted sign in the port)
If there isn’t an official place to leave luggage then the ferry company offices may well take your stuff. I heard in Tinos they weren’t keen on that but you can leave things in the bus station office at your own risk.
Well, that rounds up the info on Greek ferries. Hopefully, I’ve answered all your questions but if not, drop me a message and I’ll do my best to answer it for you.