Greece island hopping is a captivating journey for any traveler. With the blue sea stretching out as far as the eye can see, you’ll be enchanted with each destination. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a beachgoer, or a seeker of unforgettable cultural experiences, the Greek Islands offer a tapestry of choices. They’ll ignite your sense of adventure and leave you with memories to last a lifetime.
In this article, you’ll learn the best Greek island hopping routes. From day trips to week-long excursions, you’ll find out just how easy it is to use the Greece ferry system to get around the islands. So grab your sunhat, pack your swimsuit, and get ready to set sail on a journey that will redefine your understanding of paradise!
How To Island Hop Around Greece
Of the approximate 6,000 Greek islands, about 200 are inhabited. Each with its own unique landscape and architecture. You could spend weeks or months hopping from one island to the next. But, if you have a short time in the country, the Cyclades and Saronic Gulf island groupings will provide you with the most epic Greece island hopping scenery and experiences. Hopping these islands is a dreamy adventure that promises a unique blend of ancient history, stunning landscapes, and vibrant Mediterranean culture.
To start, choose a hub such as Athens or an island, as your point of entry. From there, create an itinerary that takes you through a string of islands within relatively close proximity to each other. The Cyclades offer the iconic white-washed buildings and crystal-clear waters of Santorini, the traditional charm of Naxos, and the vibrant nightlife of Mykonos. As you venture into the Saronic Gulf, you’ll discover the historical significance of Aegina, the picturesque streets of Hydra, and the relaxed beauty of Poros. These islands can be accessed on a day trip from Athens if your time is limited. Plus, in my opinion, the cuisine on Greek islands is always fresh, local, and unbelievably good.
June through September is considered peak season for the Greek islands. But you can enjoy some islands year-round. Read my guide on the best islands in Greece to visit in the winter.
Due to the proximity to major ports in Athens, island hopping via ferry to the Cyclades or Saronic Islands can be a very budget-friendly way to go. You can get a ferry ticket at the ship’s office in the Port of Piraeus, Rafina, or on islands. Or book online through third-party booking tools like Ferry Hopper. If you purchase your ticket online, be sure to double-check whether or not you need a physical ticket to board and how to get it. Most ferry companies are offering e-tickets, but some may require you to pick up a physical ticket at the Port office or receive it via mail.
Travel Tip: Some ferries take vehicles. If you’re taking a car or motorbike, be sure to select the appropriate ferry when booking.
Air travel is another way to island hop around Greece. It can be quicker than ferries in some cases. And it may be more comfortable for those prone to sea sickness. Many islands have airports that you can reach at low-cost. For example, a one-way ticket from Athens to Santorini ranges between USD 20 to $70, depending on the season. That makes air travel to islands seem very budget-friendly. However, crafting an island hopping route with flights can get tricky. Not all islands have direct flights to one another. So, once you’re in Santorini, let’s say you want to go to Naxos next. At the time of writing this article, there are no non-stop flights between the two islands. They all have a layover in Athens and the cost of a one-way tickets averages around $125.
Travel Tip: Use a mix of ferry and air travel. For example, use the ferry system until the last island on your route and fly home or back to Athens from your final destination.
Ground Transportation Upon Arrival
Ground transportation from the airport or the Port on an island is usually easy since the islands are prepared for daily arrivals. Contact your hotel before arrival to make pick-up plans. They often have a shuttle service or will recommend options. Don’t assume there will be taxi services readily available. Few islands have taxis and if they do, they’re extremely limited or book quickly with the arrival of a boat or plane.
If you plan to rent a car on an island, the rental companies often take the car to the airport or port to meet you upon arrival. Be sure to ask your hotel for the best rental option, as they may be able to get you a better deal than contacting an agency directly.
Do You Need a Car for Greece Island Hopping?
You don’t need a car for Greece island hopping. However, it depends on the type of experience you’re seeking. Most islands have a town within walking distance of the Port that you can explore. For example, Hydra is a small island and you can walk most of it. Whereas, Mykonos is larger but you can enjoy the main town’s shops and restaurants without needing a car. Also, most islands have a bus system.
You might consider renting a car on larger islands like Naxos if you prefer not to bother with public transportation. I also like to hire a car in Santorini, because it alleviates waiting for buses or having to walk a long distance from the stops. Having a vehicle can be a valuable asset for exploring remote beaches, ancient ruins, and hidden gems that might be inaccessible by public transportation.
If you want to bring a car to multiple islands, there are ferries that transport vehicles. I recommend renting a car in Athens to take with you if you choose this option. You’ll be charged a car and passenger fee on the ferry, so it’s more expensive to bring your own transportation. But this can be convenient during the summer months when rentals book up fast on the islands.
Cyclades and Saronic Islands
The Cyclades and Saronic Gulf island groupings are the easiest to get around and hop between. Let’s take a look at which island they include.
Some of the most popular Greek islands are in the Cyclades, including Santorini, Mykonos, and Milos. Here’s a list of the inhabited islands:
The Saronic islands sit in a gulf south of Athens, making them easy to get to from the city’s Port of Piraeus. Aegina, Hydra, and Poros, are excellent options for a day trip from Athens. These are the seven inhabited islands in the Saronic grouping:
Taking the Greece ferry system is a great way to see more of the Aegean Sea. You’ll be amazed at the blue water and the many small uninhabitated islands along the routes. Plus, you can sit back and relax with a coffee or read a book in comfortable seating, as most ferry ships are very nice. The following are some of my favorite Greek island hopping routes via ferry:
- 1-day trip: Athens (Port of Piraeus) –> Aegina –> Athens
- 1-day trip: Athens (Port of Piraeus) –> Hydra –> Poros –> Athens
- 3-day trip: Athens (Port of Rafina) –> Mykonos –> Andros –> Athens
- 5-day trip: Athens (Port of Rafina) –> Mykonos –> Paros –> Santorini –> Athens
- 7-day trip: Athens (Port of Rafina) –> Mykonos –> Naxos –> Santorini –> Athens
- 10-day trip: Athens (Port of Piraeus) –> Milos –> Naxos –> Ios –> Santorini –> Athens
I like choosing my route on a booking site like Ferry Hopper. You can play around with their island hopping feature to see which times and prices work the best for you. However, it only allows you to choose four destinations at a time. Here’s an example of the Piraeus, Milos, Naxos, Ios, Santorini route:
Which Greek Island Base Is Best for Hopping?
Naxos is the best Greek island to base yourself for hopping around the Cyclades. It offers ferry routes to various islands, including Mykonos, Santorini, Paros, Ios, and more. Naxos also has an airport with regular flights to Athens and some islands.
Being a large island, Naxos is a good base with plenty of options for lodging. You can find some inexpensive rentals in villages away from the port. This is beneficial for long-term stays. For example, if you were island hopping for a month, you might consider renting an apartment in Naxos for the entire time. You can then island hop periodically from there.
Should You Plan Your Greece Island Hopping in Advance?
I recommend planning your Greece island hopping in advance. In particular, if you’re traveling between July and September, ferries and hotels fill up. You’ll want to book your hotel six months in advance when possible. Book your ferry tickets once you have your route and lodging solidified.
Keep in mind that Greeks tend to vacation throughout August and they head to the islands. Many have second homes on the islands and book their ferry tickets far in advance. Even though the ferries are large and you may run into empty seats in the off-season, plan on them being full during the peak season.
Pro Tip: The popular islands can get crowded, especially during peak season. But avoiding crowds in places like Santorini is doable.
Make Memories in the Greek Isles
Embarking on an island hopping adventure in the Greek Isles is an experience that will etch lasting memories in your heart. From the sun-drenched beaches to the charming villages, the rich history, and the warm hospitality, each island offers a unique story waiting to be explored. Greece’s Cyclades and Saronic Gulf islands provide a diverse tapestry of experiences for every traveler. So, pack your bags, set sail, and make memories in the Greek Isles that will stay with you long after the journey ends!
Which Greek islands are on your dream list? Share in the comments below.