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Island hopping in Greece

greek ferries

Greece, with its islands, makes millions of visitors to fall in love with the country every year. There are over 300 of inhabited islands and each hides unique landscapes, but visiting them all is a difficult task! To make the most of a holiday in this wonderful land, it is good to learn and understand how to move between the islands.
Getting around or better island hopping in the Greek islands is very simple. The various shipping companies offer a widespread service and also allow tourists to plan a trip to Greece to discover the lesser known islands.

The ferries of the Greek islands are able to navigate even in rough seas and have various comforts, such as a play area for children, WIFI internet connection and a cinema room. They carry both passengers and vehicles and follow pre-established routes, in fact they can only be used to move between the islands and not for excursions. Some ferries are considered real institutions, such as the Nisos Kalymnos, which sails in the Dodecanese connecting the islands around Samos and Kalymnos, or the Express Skopelitis, which plows the waves between the Small Cyclades and despite not having a website, it is one of the most requested boats by tourists.

Hydrofoils are the ideal choice for speed and adrenaline travel, but in the event of rough seas they can suffer delays or get stuck in port. All passengers have their seats assigned and, as in the case of ferries, the routes are fixed. One of the leading companies is Hellenic Seaways, which connects the Saronic islands with its hydrofoils.

Catamarans are faster than ferries. Some only take passengers on board, others also cars and motorcycles. The routes connect the various islands at set times and if the sea conditions are prohibitive they cannot leave the port. SeaJets catamarans quickly transport passengers and vehicles between the Cyclades islands and Crete.

Caiques are modern and luxurious sailing or motor boats that can reach up to 50 meters in length and offer excursions for tourists to the most beautiful Greek islands. The excursions aboard the Caiques can be booked online or directly at the pier without any particular formalities. In general, the itineraries are pre-established, but in the event that a group of tourists decides to rent a gulet for exclusive use, it is possible to arrange a different route with the skipper.

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 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.

Island hopping in the Cyclades

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.

The Cyclades are the most classic destination of all. The Greek dream islands. They are the most famous and most loved destination. The archipelago takes its name from an imaginary circle formed around the sacred island of Delos, now uninhabited, and which is located very near to Mykonos.  The cycladic architecture is dominated by low and square houses of white lime, with blue window frames and dry stone walls that compete for space with prickly pears and feta lactones. You walk through narrow alleys, and with a little luck, you will still see some old ladies using the donkey as a means of locomotion. Some things change slowly …

Most of the Cyclades have a common urban structure, with a port and a main village, called Chora, often built high above the sea. In ancient times it was necessary to protect oneself by all means from the incursions of the invaders, be they Turks, Venetians or pirates. How many raids the Aegean has seen on its waves.

The Cyclades have a thousand things to see. For example, Santorini with its volcano, Mykonos with its vibrand nightlife or the peaceful and Naxos with the white beaches. Not to forget Paros, Sifnos, Ios and the Small Cyclades, where you can be bewitched by the charm of the fishing villages. Koufonissi and its naive neighbors. And then there is Milos with its magical beaches, the island of Folegandros and much more, of course.

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.

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Dodecanese

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.

The Dodecanese awaits your visit, calmly. It is a peaceful, beautiful archipelago. Only a little further away from the Cyclades, which is not necessarily a disadvantage, quite the contrary.

In fact, it only takes a few more hours of by ferry from Athens to sow the traces of less motivated tourists and savor the weight of history. Here you can grit the unique flavor of the borderlands between Greece and Asia Minor.
The Dodecanese were the Greek islands occupied by the Templars, the Knights of St. John, who build castles and medieval walls near the sea.

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

spordes

The Sporades are a classy and long-standing tourist destination. Four Greek islands in their own style. Their serenity immediately conquers as soon as you disembark from the ferry.

A few hours from lively Volos, Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonissos are a triumph of vineyards and winding roads. The sporades have forests that flow into the sea and messy villages, but above all long beaches of white sand, like in Skiathos. And then Alonissos is an important protected marine park. And Skopelos with its capital competes for the title for the most characteristic town in all of Greece.

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.

The Ionian islands

ionian

The Ionian islands form an archipelago between Greece and Italy that begins in southern Albania and descends along the coast of Epirus. They are one of the main beach holiday destinations in the Mediterranean.

Their official name is Heptanisa, which means seven islands in Greek. The seven main islands of the Ionian are Corfu, Kefalonia, Paxos, Lefkada, Ithaca, Zakynthos and Kythira, while the smaller ones are Antipaxi, Erikousa, Mathraki, Othoni, Meganisi and south of Zante the group of deserted islets of the Strofades.

Scattered on the west coast of Greece, the Ionian islands are historically and culturally linked to Italy. Both for the Venetian architecture, present in the main cities, and for their culture, these islands remind tourists of the past linked to the Venetian occupation from the 15th to the 18th century.

The traveler here will find beautiful mountainous landscapes, towering cliffs and sandy beaches that are among the most beautiful in Greece or even in the world, such as the beaches of: Navagio in Zakynthos, Porto Katsiki in Lefkada, Myrtos in Kefalonia and Agios Gordis in Corfu.

The Ionian islands are quite different from those of the Aegean. They are greener and not very hot in summer, thanks to their geographical position which offers them a particularly mild climate, while in winter they receive abundant rains, especially Corfu which is further north. It is precisely these rains that give the islands this luxuriant nature.

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.

 

The North Aegean islands

north-aegean

The islands of the North Eastern Aegean are enchanted places, not so much touristy, rich in history, good food and excellent hotel services.
Chios, Lesbos, Limnos, are some of the Greek islands of the East Aegean sea very near to Turkey. Rich in history with many ancient Greek monuments, rocky castles and impregnable fortresses.

Here you can discover the wonderful island of Samos, land of good wine, quiet beaches and beautiful marinas. Ikaria, the island of Icarus, and the mystical and elusive Samothrace and Thassos.

The islands of the Eastern Aegean are large and lonely, the sea is sensational and there are some large, very interesting cities such as Mytilini in Lesbos and Chios Town.
These islands are a must for the curious traveler as well as for those who want to discover another, unmissable, Greece.

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.

 

The Argo Saronic islands

It is not always necessary to go far to find beauty. The islands of the Saronic Gulf are generous and beautiful, one step away from Athens. Crowded at weekends but quiet during the week, hot spots for celebrities, an almost exclusively Greek tourist destination.

Those of the Saronic Gulf are very green Greek islands, sparsely populated, generally small, which can be visited in a few days each and which allow time to visit 3 or 4 during the same holiday.

They have generally good quality beaches, and getting there by hydrofoil from Athens is a no brainer. Poros, Spetses, Hydra and Angistri therefore await the unconventional traveler with an open heart, Aegina and Salamis, on the other hand, are looking forward to discovering their historical vestiges and their vibrant nightlife.

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.

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.