How to Navigate the Greek Ferries

Estimated reading time 6 min

Taking a trip to Greece without visiting the Greek islands is like traveling to Rome without seeing the Colosseum—it’s simply not done! With upwards of 6,000 islands (227 of which are inhabited), you could spend years hopping from one glittering Aegean paradise to the next. Unfortunately, most travelers don’t have that luxury. To avoid spending valuable vacation time in transit, decide well in advance which island(s) to visit and the best way to get there. This quick guide to Greek ferries will help you prepare to jet set across the cradle of Western civilization like a pro. For further tips on navigating Greece and choosing the destinations that are right for you, check out our Insider’s Guide to Greece.

Decide Where You’re Going

With so many choices, this first step can be overwhelming; however, it will make scheduling your vacation in the islands so much easier! Greek islands are grouped together, and many ferry routes run between islands in the same group. For example, the Cyclades are the most popular with tourists due to their proximity to Athens and their inclusion of hypnotic Mykonos and Santorini. Of course, there are many other island groups that are just as worthy of a visit. Can’t decide where to go? We’ve got your covered with our post on the 9 Greek islands you can’t miss!

Once you make your choice, you’ll need to look at ferry routes to determine your transportation route. Not every island is reachable by any other island, and not every route is available every day. This is why it’s important to understand Greek island ferry routes before booking your accommodations. If you choose multiple islands located along different routes, you’ll be spending more of your vacation in transit than in your chosen destinations. Some of the larger islands (Mykonos, Santorini, Corfu, Rhodes, Crete, Kos, and more) do have airports, so that’s always an option to keep in mind. However, air travel comes with its own set of problems, and admiring the sea and surrounding islands from a ferry often feels less like wasted transit time.

Book Your Tickets in Advance

When booking, you will notice different prices, for the same route, at similar times. This is because of the type of ferry offered. There are both high-speed and slow-speed ferries available, and the slower the ferry, the lower the price.

Taking a high-speed ferry (also known as a “speedrunner”) means less time in transit and more time on the islands. High-speed ferries are also usually more modern than their slower counterparts. They are generally hydrofoils, which means they are more susceptible to cancellation in bad weather and more prone to cause seasickness. Slow ferries are, of course, slower, but they are less expensive and less likely to be influenced by winds. It’s up to you to weigh the pros and the cons.

The following ferry travel times between Athens and major Greek islands might help you decide the ferry type that’s right for you.

Sunset over Santorini

Athens to Santorini

  • High-speed ferry: 5 hours
  • Slower ferry: 8–9 hours

Athens to Mykonos

  • High-speed ferry: 2 hours 45 minutes
  • Slower ferry: 4 hours 40 minutes–5 hours 30 minutes

Mykonos to Santorini

(Daily ferries from late March to early October)

  • High-speed ferry: 1 hour 50 minutes
  • Slower ferry: 2 hours 40 minutes–3 hours 30 minutes

Santorini to Crete

(Daily ferries from late March to late October)

  • High-speed ferry: 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Slower ferry: 6–9 hours

Crete to Rhodes

  • Only ferry: 14 hours 30 minutes

Rhodes to Athens

  • High-speed ferry: 11 hours 40 minutes
  • Slower ferry: 23 hours

Pack Light

Ferries are not a luxury service; they are there purely to get you to your destination. Unlike planes, you don’t have the option to check your bag and pick it up at your final destination. Instead, you’ll be hauling your luggage through terminals and onto the ships. The stairwells are often narrow and crowded, and the ports can be chaotic, with passengers buying tickets and frantically trying to find the correct terminal. Avoid added stress and pack light! Bring just what you need, and make sure that your bag is not too heavy or awkward to carry.

Navigating the Greece Ferries

Get to the Right Port

There are three ports in Athens: Piraeus, Lavrio, and Rafina. Piraeus is the capital city’s main port of call, and the large majority of Greek island ferries from Athens leave from Piraeus. To get to Piraeus, take either a taxi or the metro. Taxis are more expensive, but they do offer convenient door-to-door service. However, if you’ve packed light, the metro is surprisingly simple and cost-effective. Piraeus is the last stop on the green line, so it’s hard to miss.

You won’t need to pick up any physical tickets as you’ll get those from TourGreece in Athens. However, it’s best to arrive at the port at least 30 minutes early. Greek island ferries run notoriously late, so 30 minutes should give you plenty of time to find the correct terminal and get ready to board. During peak season at popular ports, you may arrive a bit earlier for peace of mind, but in general, 30 minutes is more than enough time.

Sit in Your Assigned Seat

Some ferries have assigned seating, and while many people just sit anywhere, it’s beneficial for you to sit in your assigned seat. If you find someone already in your seat, kindly let them know it is assigned to you. If you just grab another seat, the person assigned to that seat will likely ask you to move, and so on. Sitting in the right seat from the beginning ensures that you will not get caught up in an annoying routine of continuously swapping seats. Ferries can be long. You will want to sit down.

Other Tips

  • Never book a ferry for the same day you arrive in or depart Athens. Delays will cause further headaches, missed ferry rides, and wasted accommodations. Instead, do some sightseeing in Athens and spend the night before continuing on to your next destination.
  • Prepare for motion sickness. Bring Dramamine or other means to combat seasickness, especially on high-speed ferries in choppy waters.
  • If you need help finding the correct departing terminal, ask the port police to point you in the right direction. They are more than happy to help.
  • Try to enjoy the ride. While ferries can be busy, don’t let the process stress you out. Take deep breaths and delight in the way the sun glints on the turquoise water. Appreciate the journey!
  • Be aware of the seasonality of the ferry schedule. Athens operates ferries to most of the Aegean islands 365 days a year, some but inter-island ferries only run between late-March and early- to late-October.
Greece is undoubtedly a country to see at least once in your lifetime, with its sun-baked stone trails, fragrant groves of orange trees, and fresh tzatziki. While the mainland offers seemingly endless cultural and historic attractions, the islands possess and otherworldly beauty that is simply magnetic. Hopefully this guide to navigating the Greek ferries will give you the tools you need for an efficient and successful island adventure. Happy travels!

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