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6 Tips for Reaching the Greek Islands

Church of the Martyrs, Kastro
Church of the Martyrs, Kastro, Siphnos

This is a guest post by Vera Marie Badertscher of A Traveler's Library.

The Greek Islands have been luring travelers since Ulysses made his meandering way home to Ithaca from Troy.

The beauty of the Aegean Sea, “wine-dark” in the greater depths, but translucent turquoise in shallow waters along the shore, combined with the whitewashed buildings that glow in the amazing Mediterranean sunlight, creates an unforgettable sight.

But the first questions that face the traveler are how to choose among the islands and how to get there.

Each of the approximately 100 habitable islands of Greece will show you a different personality.

If you only have time for a day trip, try the tiny Saronic islands near Athens.

Crete, the largest island, and the capital, Heraklion, takes the longest to get to but is well worth the trip.

Santorini Caldera View
Santorini Caldera View

At the northern end of the central Cyclades island group, Mykonos has resorts, crowds, nightlife, but also beautiful villages and the archaeological site of Delos.

At the south end of the island group, nearer Crete, you will find popular Santorini, whose dramatic volcano shell with white-washed villages clinging to the black and red lava cliffs represents Greece on many a travel book and article.

Sailing into the caldera of Santorini ranks as the most breathtaking moment I have experienced in Greece, so if you go, fly back if you must, but take the ferry, in daylight hours, on your approach.

Greek ferries range from rusty old tubs (fewer these days, thankfully) to very sleek jetboats.

The jet boats and hydrofoils get you there fast but don't cope well with high winds and waves, so the weather may stop them before the slow ferries.

Tip One

Although you can reserve online, don't.

Wait until you get to Athens and go to one of the multitudes of tourist agencies around Syntagma Square or near the port at Piraeus.

You have no guarantee that the schedule you saw online will be the schedule on the day you sail.

Schedules are set weekly. While they probably will go on the same hours they did last week or month or year, there is no guarantee.

Don't worry; they are not going to run out of tickets.

Tip Two

The Greek National Tourism Office puts out a ferry schedule weekly.

If you can find their office, pick up a copy because if the line the travel agent represents does not sail today, they will not tell you about another line that does go today.

Tip Three

Because of the whimsical nature of ferry schedules, it is best not to guarantee room rental.

Unless you are going to the islands in July or August, which is a rotten idea, anyhow, you will not need a reservation in advance.

Tip Four

NEVER count on a ferry, even a high-speed one, to get you back to Athens on the same day you fly home.

Give yourself a day or even two in Athens before your departure.

Tip Five

If you yearn for a less-visited island, remember that the fewer visitors, and the smaller the population, the less frequent the ferries are.

Tip Six

Think of all this uncertainty about schedules as your crash course in Greek culture, and instead of getting uptight about it, shrug and say, “Endaxi.” (Okay.)


Photographs by Vera Marie Badertscher. All rights reserved.

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:

Oneida Bevens

Saturday 30th of October 2010

Sometimes I just think that people write and dont really have much to say. Not so here


Thursday 6th of May 2010

great tips! Especially tip four, I've seen many people missing their flights, because the weather stops or slows the ferries!


Thursday 14th of January 2010

Very informative post. The Greek Island of Angistri located in the Saronic Gulf. It is a unique place to visit. Island of Poros is very famous.Check out the architectural beauty of Hydra island. You can't find a single vehicle on this island, you can find donkey's plying all major transportation.


Thursday 24th of September 2009

Thanks again for sharing Vera. I have to admit I sometimes plunk my backpack into a spare seat! We backpackers tend to be security conscious, though you make a good point about ruffling the feathers of locals.

Lily Tanady

Wednesday 23rd of September 2009

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