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Island hopping on Greek ferries

Ferries operate all year round in the Greek Islands, although the more remote might get only one ferry a week. The high season for frequent ferry sailings is June to September, with the tourist peak period in July and August so many Greek ferries set sail over a relatively short periods each year and lay idle for the rest.

Summer ferry schedules never used to be issued before May but ferry firms have already released their 2014 schedules. Each ferry company still publishes only its own schedule but there are now websites such at Greek Travel Pages where you can find comprehensive details of routes and Greek Island ferry connections. Most operators keep to the same ferry schedules year on year but it is not uncommon for companies to 'trade' routes, change boats, or alter schedules.

Low season ferry schedules used to be notoriously difficult to come by but ferry firms are now looking to increase tourism beyond the usual summer months. Greek Island hopping in the winter however usually means catching ferries on main island routes. Ferry firms must get licence to operate a main ferry route and that means providing a service all year round, even to the less popular islands. Bad weather will be a much bigger problem over winter and sailings will often be cancelled at short notice in bad weather.

 
Cyclades map

Greek island hopping in the Cyclades

The Cyclades is the ideal Greek Island hopping group, having frequent ferries and short journey times. Many who opt for island hopping in the Cyclades will fly to Mykonos or Santorini as these have airports that will take international and charter flights.

Flying to Mykonos can save time, as the island is set in the heart of the Cyclades, but Santorini has advantages in being on one of the main ferry routes between Piraeus (Athens) and Crete.

As far as ferry journeys within the Cyclades are concerned, Syros, Paros and Naxos are the main hubs for the local ferry services, all having good harbours and plenty of overnight accommodation. Most of the other Cycladic islands are within easy ferry hopping distance of both Paros and Naxos and many of the smaller islands will have regular daily ferry services.

 
Dodecanese map

Greek island hopping in the Dodecanese

Isand hopping in the Dodecanese is relatively easy with good connections to many islands. The Dodecanese offer a variety of popular Greek Islands with lots of historical interest plus the possibility of a trip to nearby Turkey or even a ferry all the way to Crete.

Fast ferries link the islands all the way up the Turkish coast from Rhodes, in the south, to Leros, Lipsi and Samos in the north, so Greek Island hopping here is probably at its best although the bigger ferries can be expensive. Many of the islands have small ferry boats that have daily routes to the smaller islands either as daily schedules or as tourist excursions.

Daily trips to Turkey are also very popuar among these islands as so many of them are just a few kilometres from the Turkish mainland.

 
Sporades map

Greek island hopping in the Sporades

Island hopping in the Sporades is basically confined to trips between Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonissos. Good hydrofoil and ferry services run between all the three islands so Greek Island hopping is pretty well confined to this trio. As the islands are so different to each other it can still make for a decent island hopping holiday.

Skiathos is by far the most popular and has a plethora of sandy beaches along its south coast. Charter planes land here and the port is only a short taxi drive away. Skopelos and Alonissos may not have the beaches but they more than make up for it in atmosphere.

Skyros is part of the same group but another matter as far as island hopping is concerned. It can only be reached via Evia and there are no easy links from here to the other island groups.

 
Ionian map

Greek island hopping in the Ionian

The Ionian islands are hugely popular with holidaymakers with relatively short flight times from the UK. Despite the islands being close together the Ionians don't lend themselves to Greek Island hopping.

Ferries are fewer and links not as direct, with many Ionian islands acting only as a port of call for ferries sailing between Italy and mainland Greece. There are regular sailings from Italy that call in at Corfu and Lefkas with links to mainland Greece ports of Patras and Igoumentissa.

There are sailings between Corfu and Paxos, between Lefkas and Meganissi and between Kefalonia and Ithaca, but ferry sailings between the big four - Corfu, Lefkas, Kefalonia and Zante - are few and irregular.

 
North Aegean map

Greek island hopping in the North Aegean

The Greek Islands in the North Aegean are well spread out and ferry connections are not particularly good. Those who go Greek Island hopping in these waters usually spend a good few hours sailing between the islands.

Thassos has a good daily service from the mainland at Keramouti and less regular sailings to Kavala. Getting to Limnos can be tiresome with long ferry journies, Lesvos is not much better and Chios is even longer.

It is only when you reach Samos, the most southerly island in this group that things get better as it is here that ferry services link with the Dodecanese group of Greek Islands which have much more frequent services. From Samos there are also regular daily ferry services to Turkey.

 
Argo Saronic map

Greek island hopping in the Argo Saronic

Greek Islands in the Argo Saronic are very popular with Greece mainland holidaymakers, particularly those staying in the Athens area. Several holiday islands in the Argosaronic Gulf lie just a few miles from the capital and close the the port of Piraeus.

Frequent daily ferry services - particularly to the popular holiday island of Aegina - make these a favourite not only with UK holidaymakers but also with weekending Athenians keen to escape the noise and bustle of the capital. In the summer, Flying Dolphins have daily sailings to Aegina, Methana, Poros and Hydra as well as to Spetses. There is also a regular ferry connection between Aegina and Angistri.

In addition to regular ferry services there are several caiques offering trips between the various Saronic islands as well as excursions organised by travel agencies.

 

Booking Freek ferry tickets

There is not much need to book ferry tickets in advance unless you really want to be sure of a ticket - necessary mainly to ensure you get back to the island for your flight home. Most tickets can be bought in the port on the day before sailing or even just before the boat leaves. Ferries can fill up on Fridays and Sundays when mainlanders travel to the islands for weekend breaks. They also tens to be heavil booked on public holidays, notably Easter.

Planning your Greek Island hopping with Greek ferries websites can also pose a few problems. Remarkably there is no full monthly published ferry timetable for the Greek Islands available to buy. Ferry companies are only interested in their own services and most Greek customers travel specific routes; they leave island hopping to the tourists. This means checking out ferry sailings online or in local newspapers. This can be done but it's not terribly easy.

Here is a list of the best place to check on Greek ferry schedules

Greek Travel Pages (see Find a ferry) is a good place to start as it is the only website I know that lists all sailings by all the ferry companies in one place. Enter departure and arrival ports in the Ferry Schedules for a complete list of sailing days and times.

Ferries in Greece will list available ferries on specific dates. Just enter departure and arrival ports in the relevant fields. It also has general information on islands and ferry services under 'Useful Info'.

Ferry schedules used to be hard to come by early in the season as sailings are not usually finalised until April or May but ferry firms have agreed to publish summer timetables in the autumn of the revious year. Even so, note that sailings may be cancelled at any time without notice in bad weather or because of strike action by Greek seamen.

Spelling: Greek Island ferry websites can be very picky about spellings of islands and ports. Heraklion in Crete for example can be listed as Heraklio, Iraklion or Iraklio and islands can be Paxos or Paxi, Lefkas or Lefkada, while Lesbos is Lesvos, Mytilini or Mytilene so try several spellings until ou get it right.

Routes:The main ferry routes radiate from the mainland. If the islands you seek are on one of these radial routes then Greek Island hopping is all well and good. Finding which Greek Islands are connected is not always easy through a website. You are asked for departure and destination ports so, if there's no direct route, you get a blank result even when there can be a convenient island on the way where you can easily change ferries.

 
North Aegean map

Greek Island hopping tours

Several firms now offer Greek Island-hopping tours. These usually consist of a predetermined route around the more popular islands with hotel reservations and ferry tickets. Often there is a "party night" to start and end the tour and the overnight hotel stop will probably include breakfast. Until the next ferry leaves your time is your own on the island.

On the plus side you avoid all the hassle of booking ferries and finding decent hotels. The downside is that chosen routes are usually the most well-travelled, that is those where ferries are frequent (thus avoiding the problem of cancelled ferries) and in peak season (for much the same reason). Larger ports are usually chosen so there is plenty of hotel accommodation and, of course you can't linger on an island that you may like.

Independent travelers may face missed ferries, sub-standard rooms and getting stuck on an island for a few days but they get the freedom to choose, can linger where they like and can head off into the unknown if they feel adventurous. For many, myself included, that is what Greek Island hopping is all about and in many years I have yet to be disappointed. But for first time visitor to the Greek Islands, and for those who prefer a more structured holiday, an island hopping tour could be just the ticket.