Island Hopping In Greece – The Ultimate Guide

Island hopping in Greece is undoubtedly one of the best ways to explore this Mediterranean country’s beauty. It has estimated 1200 to 6000 islands, up to 227 of which are inhabited.

Every single one of them has its own charm and no matter what you are looking for when traveling – you’ll find it in Greece. From luxurious resorts and vibrant nightlife over pristine beaches and untouched nature to unique architecture and rich history.

It comes as no surprise that Greek island hopping is a very popular activity for locals and tourists from all over the world alike.

But even a lifelong vacation wouldn’t be enough to visit nearly half of the islands. With so many options, where do you begin? Well, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here are the answers to all your questions.

Island Hopping In Greece – Things To Know Before You Go

island hopping in Greece - before you go

Island Hopping in Greece in a COVID-19 World

Since the country has opened its borders again, island hopping in Greece is possible in times of Covid-19. (There are a few exceptions though, depending on where you travel from.)

Check the following links to stay up to date and receive the latest information about the regulations regarding your country:

It goes without saying that general precautionary measures need to be followed strictly. Keep a distance to others, wear a mask, wash your hands and carry a hand sanitizer with you. (Seriously, don’t be that idiot who throws ‘COVID parties’.)

Also, be prepared for delays and cancellations of all sorts. Ferry schedules and routes may change. For more updated information, check out Ferry Hopper.

What To Pack

island hoppping in Greece packing list

First things first – let’s take a look at what you need to bring.

Greece’s Mediterranean climate is hot and dry in summer and cold and wet in winter. In high season, temperatures can reach up to 40° C. If you plan to travel the Greek islands in summer (recommended), you want to wear loose and lightweight clothes and bring sun protection.

But no matter when you embark on your journey, there are a few things that no traveler should be without when island hopping in Greece.

(Solar) Power Bank

Unless you know how to navigate without GPS, a power bank will probably save you from missing your ferry (or the sunset from the best spot of the island) when your phone battery gives up after a full day of exploring.

solar powerbank for island hopping in Greece

Sustainable Water Bottle

The task is simple: Stay hydrated and avoid single-use plastic. The solution is a sustainable water bottle that keeps your drinks cool and protects you from drinking micro-plastics.

Usually, it is safe to drink the water from the tap in Greece. In case of doubt, use water purification tablets.

sustainable water bottle for island hopping in Greece

European Adapter

European adapteer for island hopping in Greece

Unless you live in another European country, you’ll sooner or later need an adapter. Bring 2-3 to be on the safe side, they really don’t take much space.

Travel Towel

travel towel for island hopping in Greece

The moment I got myself a travel towel has literally changed my life. It’s light, easy to squeeze into any corner of your backpack and dries within minutes in hot weather. Really, it makes traveling that much more pleasant.

If you don’t have a travel towel yet, consider getting the eco-version made from recycled plastic bottles.

Waterproof Camera

The Greek seas are known for their crystal clear, warm waters that are ideal for diving and snorkeling adventures, as well as other water sports like kitesurfing, kayaking and sailing. Bring a waterproof action camera to record your favorite moments!

underwater camera for island hopping in Greece

Hammock

Whether you are planning to go on a camping trip or prefer hotels and guesthouses, a travel hammock can increase the relaxation factor of your trip A LOT. Hang it up between pine trees in the mountains or by the beach and suntan, take a nap or enjoy the sunset with some Greek wine.

Island hopping in Greece Travel Hammock

Other essentials are basic travel medicine (like Ibuprofen and Imodium), insect repellent and a Greek island travel guide (I recommend this one from Lonely Planet).

Where To Start

You can either start your island hopping adventure from the mainland or from one of the Greek islands. It all depends on what you’d like to see, how much time you’ve got and your travel style. But we’ll get to that a bit later.

sunset in Athens

If you are based or arriving in Athens, your starting port will most likely be Piraeus. It is the capital’s main port.

Other options are:

  • Rafina
    Athens, second biggest port
  • Lavrio
    Athens, smallest port and furthest away
  • Agios Konstantinos
    ferries to the Sporades
  • Thessaloniki
    ferries to some of the larger Aegean islands
  • Kavala
    principal seaport of Eastern Macedonia, ferries to Athens and some Aegean island
  • Mantoudi
    small harbour on Euboea
  • Volos
    midway on the Greek mainland, ferries to the Sporades islands
  • Patras
    large port on the west coast, ferries to Italy and the Ionian islands
  • Igoumenitsa
    one of the largest passenger ports of Greece, ferries to Italy and the Ionian islands

If you would like to take a plane directly to one of the islands, you can choose between the following international airports:

  • Crete
    Heraklion International Airport “Nikos Kazantzakis”
    Chania International Airport “Ioannis Daskalogiannis”
  • Corfu
    Ioannis Kapodistrias International Airport
  • Kefalonia
    Kefalonia International Airport Anna Pollatou
  • Zakynthos
    Zakynthos International Airport “Dionysios Solomos”
  • Kos
    Kos International Airport
  • Lemnos
    Lemnos International Airport “Hephaestus”
  • Lesvos
    Mytilene International Airport “Odysseas Elytis”
  • Samos
    Samos Aristarchos International Airport
  • Rhodes
    Rhodes International Airport “Diagoras”
  • Karpathos
    Karpathos International Airport
  • Santorini
    Santorini (Thira) International Airport 
  • Skiathos
    Skiathos Alexandros Papadiamantis Airport

In case you want to avoid planes, travel by car, or just enjoy boat rides, you can also take ferries from other European countries:

  • Italy
    From Ancona, Bari, Brindisi or Venice (get more information here)
  • Albania
    From Sarande (get more information here)
  • Turkey
    From Ayvalik, Cesme, Kusadasi, Turgutreis, Bodrum, Marmaris, Fethiye or Kas (get more information here)

Best Time For Greek Island Hopping

In general, the time between late April and early November is ideal for island hopping in Greece. July and August are the hottest months.

Two of the most popular islands in Greece, Crete and Santorini, are year-round destinations. You can expect enough accommodations and restaurants to be open in winter. Other places, however, turn into ghost towns in off-season, which means you probably won’t find establishments that are open for business.

If you are travelling on a budget and/or would like to escape the tourist crowds, the best time to visit Greece is March, April, May, October and November.

greek flag in Santorini

In case you are planning to do Greek island hopping in high season, I recommend to book hotels in advance (on the most popular islands).

Moreover, there are a few days per year that will cause crowded ports, ferries and islands.

Greek Holidays (Book Your Ticket In Advance)

  • Greek Easter (mainly Thursday and Friday before the Easter weekend. The next Orthodox Easter will take place on 2 May 2021.)
  • Agios Pnevmatos (Holy Spirit), which takes place 40 days after Easter.
  • The last few days of July and almost the whole month of August, which is when most of the locals go on holiday.
You can find a list of all holidays in Greece this year here.

Getting Around – Ferries 101

If you are a slow traveler (like us), you probably enjoy long ferry rides and see them as part of the journey. There is nothing more relaxing than sunbathing on deck while planning your upcoming island adventures, enjoying the views with a cold Mythos beer or just falling asleep to the sounds of the sea.

But of course there are times when a faster alternative comes in handy. Yet, we believe that taking planes from island to island is not necessary (even, if you are on a tight schedule. And trust me, island hopping in Greece is best enjoyed when you aren’t).

Do the planet a favor and skip the flights. Instead, chose between the following fast ferry and slow ferry options.

a Greek island ferry

Slow Ferry vs. Fast Ferry

Depending on where you’re headed you may be able to choose between a fast ferry and a slow ferry.

Slow Ferry
PROCON
best to avoid seasicknesstake longer than fast ferries
cheaper than fast ferries
decks are open
most reliable option
Fast Ferry
PROCON
faster than slow ferriesnot ideal for seasickness
often more modern with amenities on boarddecks are sometimes closed (especially in bad weather)
may be canceled due to bad weather
more expensive than slow ferries

This is just a rough overview. Your ferry ride experience also depends on a few other factors, like size and general condition of the boat.

Good To Know

Blue Star Ferries is the biggest ferry company in Greece. They offer high-speed catamarans and super ferries, as well as much older slow ferries, and cover the majority of routes between the Greek islands.

Flying dolphins are small high-speed boats that usually go the short routes between the mainland and the closest islands.

The following platforms are useful when planning and booking a ferry ride.

Weather and ferry schedules can change (last minute). Strikes are also not uncommon (find the latest information on strikes here). It is advisable to stay flexible and prepared for possible delays or cancellations.

When it comes to ferry tickets to more popular islands, the worst that can happen to you is that there is a delay or you have to take the next ferry. If you are planning to visit an island with less frequent ferry traffic, I recommend you call the ferry company before you book your ticket online to be on the safe side.

If the ticket that you have booked online is not an e-ticket (if it doesn’t have a bar code, it most likely is not), you need to pick up the real ticket at the harbor. You can usually get it around 30 to 60 minutes before departure. Make sure you arrive early enough, as the main harbors are quite large and it can take some time until you’ve figured out where you need to be.

How much does island hopping in Greece cost?

The rule of thumb when it comes to ferry ticket prices is: the slower, the cheaper.

The budget-friendly option is to book economy tickets. That means you won’t have a cabin on overnight trips and will spend the whole ride on deck, on airplane seats or the floor inside. High-speed ferries charge around 30 % – 50% more for an economy ticket than the slower boats.

Island hopping in Greece on a car ferry

A plus is that you don’t need to buy the ticket in advance. With a few exceptions (mentioned above), economy tickets are usually not sold out and can be purchased at the harbor.

If you want to make sure that you have a seat or cabin, book in advance.

Island Hopping Ferry Pass

If you have heard of Interrail before, you probably associate it with train rides through Europe. What most people don’t know is that they also offer two different Greek island passes.

You can choose between the 6 Trips Pass (which includes two international trips between Italy and Greece and four domestic trips to Greek islands) and the 5 Trips Pass (which includes five domestic trips within Greece).

Read more about the Interrail Ferry Passes here.

Which Greek Islands Do You Want To Visit?

This is the part where planning your Greek island hopping adventure gets really exciting – choosing the islands you’d like to explore.

Keep in mind, Greece has hundreds of islands and you can’t visit all of them. Ideally, you pick islands that are close to each other. But first, let’s see what we are working with here.

There are eight main island groups (and single islands) in Greece:

  • Aegean islands
  • Crete
  • Cyclades
  • Dodecanese
  • Euboea
  • Ionian islands
  • Saronic islands
  • Sporades
Credit: greekisland.co.uk

North Aegean Islands

Compared to other areas, like the Cyclades, the North Aegean islands are less crowded and perfect for travelers who like to explore off the beaten path. Each island has its own identity, with a rich cultural heritage, picturesque beaches and stunning nature.

Location:

Aegean Sea, close to Turkey

Islands:  

Samos, Ikaria, Chios, Lesbos, Lemnos, Agios Efstratios, Psara, Fournoi Korseon, Oinousses, Samothraki, Thassos 

How to get there:

Lesbos has an international airport. Thassos is only a short ferry ride away from Greek mainland. Lesvos, Samos and Chios are connected with daily ferries, as well.

Distance from mainland:

  • Piraeus – Chios: 9:25 h – 10:55 h
  • Piraeus – Samos: 9:20 h – 10:30 h
  • Piraeus – Lesvos: 11:45 h
  • Keramoti – Thassos: 0:35 h

Activities for your bucket list:

Samothraki is undoubtedly one of Greece’s most beautiful, unspoiled natural paradises. Adventure seekers and outdoor lovers, this is for you! Hiking, biking, rafting, climbing and paragliding are only a few exciting activities that are waiting for you on this island off the beaten track.

In ancient Greek mythology, Limnos was sacred to Hephaestus, god of metallurgy, whose forge points to the island’s volcanic character. The volcanic action is now extinct but the landscape on Limnos still consists of petrified lava, which is frozen in all sorts of bizarre shapes. Locals also call these rocks “faraklo” or “fragokefala” – “bald” or “bald heads”.

The site is located on the northern edge of the island, on the banks of the Aegean sea.

Skala Erressos is known as a center for spiritually-minded people, gay women and families. It is the birthplace of the poetess Sapho, who wrote about her love for women.

The small fishing village furthermore offers one of the best beaches in Greece, as well as affordable accommodation. Therefore, it poses a great alternative to lots of touristic and more expensive destinations.

On Ikaria, you will find more healthy people over 90 than anywhere else in the world. In order to lift the secret of the islander’s longevity, international researchers have conducted several studies. Contributing factors reportedly include strong family bonds, the relaxed pace of the daily life, the Mediterranean diet (including vegetables, olive oil, fruits, fish and red wine), sexual activity, the minimal use of medicine, the consumption of Greek coffee and mountain tea and midday rest.

Delve into the Ikarian way of life and explore its magical nature, for example on Seychelles beach, which is considered the most beautiful beach on the island.

The best spots for windsurfing in Samos are Kokkari, Agios Konstantinos Beach and Tsamadou. They profit from strong northern winds and offer several windsurfing schools that teach lessons for all levels, as well as provide equipment rentals.

CHIOS WEATHER

Important To Know:

Since 2015, thousands of refugees have been arriving on the Aegean islands after fleeing their war-stricken home countries (mainly Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq). Especially Lesvos and Chios are mentioned by international media outlets in the context of the crisis and inhumane conditions in the refugee camps.

When you travel to the Northern Aegean islands, don’t be an ignorant tourist. Inform yourself before you go and consider volunteering and/or donating money (the latter obviously also if you don’t travel to the Aegean islands). Especially now during the Corona crisis, support is needed.

Find more information on the refugee situation in Greece here.

Learn how you can help here.

Cretan Islands

banner Crete

Crete is the largest and most populous Greek island and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean sea (after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus and Corsica). Its landscape is mostly characterized by high mountains, which makes it a paradise for outdoor lovers. Crete furthermore contributes significantly to Greece’s cultural heritage and economy.

Pro Tip: When it comes to island hopping in Greece, Crete is often combined with other large islands like Santorini and Mykonos, while lots of beautiful smaller islands surrounding Crete are overlooked. Gavdos for example is the southernmost point in Europe and has one of the most beautiful beaches of the continent (Agios Ioannis or St. John).

Location:

Southern part of the Aegean sea, separating it from the Libyan sea.

Islands:

Main island: Crete
Surrounding islands (sample): Gramvousa, Elafonisi, Chrysi, Paximadia, Dionysades, Gavdos

How to get there:

You can reach the ports of Crete from many islands of the Dodecanese and Cyclades, such as Santorini, Paros, Naxos, Mykonos, Amorgos, Milos, Kythera, Karpathos, Rhodes and Kos.

Distance from mainland:

  • Piraeus – Kissamos: 10:25 – 12:20 h (by car ferry, once a week)
  • Piraeus – Chania: 6:30 – 9 h
  • Piraeus – Heraklio: 8:45 – 17:41 h (by car ferry, once a week)

Activities for your bucket list:

Knossos used to be the capital of Minoan Crete. It had a population of up to 100.000 inhabitants and is especially famous for the palace of Knossos, which was built around 3000 years ago and in Greek mythology features as the seat of King Minos.

The palace of Knossos is a must-see historical attraction and can be combined with a visit of Heraklion’s Archaeological Museum.

The village of Matala in the south of Crete is home to the famous Matala caves. Originally built thousands of years ago and used by the Romans as burial crypts, the caves were inhabited again in the 1960s by a hippie community. The backpacking nomads were eventually driven out of the cages by the church and the military junta. Today, the caves are empty and open for exploration.

The old town of Rethymno is a preserved Renaissance city with elements from both the Venetian and Ottoman era. There are a couple of street markets in the old town and several tavernas in the picturesque alleys invite to enjoy Greek food, wine and live music.

“The mountain of the goddess”, also called Psiloritis, is Crete’s highest summit, sacred to the Greek Titaness Rhea. The Idean cave on the slopes of Mount Ida is furthermore believed to be the birth place of Zeus.

A hike to the top of the mountain will be rewarded with stunning views over the surrounding mountain ranges and the sea.

The Kapsa Gorge is located in Lasithi (or Sitia) in the eastern quarter of Crete. Hiking this gorge can be quite tough and requires some experience. If you enjoy wild nature and adventurous outdoor activities, this trek should be high up on your bucket list.

An alternative name for the gorge is Perivolakia, as this is the name of the ending point of the hike.

Located on the eastern side of Crete, the archaeological site Zakros contains ruins from the Minoian civilization. It is believed to have been one of the four administrative centers of the Minoans.

Often cited as one of the most beautiful beaches worldwide, Elafonisi consists of a small islet full of white and pink sands. The waters are shallow, which makes the protected area a paradise for families.

Because of its popularity Elafonisi can get quite crowded in high season. If you prefer to escape the tourist crowds, visit this beach before July or after August.

CRETE WEATHER

Cyclades

banner Cyclades

When it comes to island hopping in Greece, the Cyclades are the most famous location. Known as a paradise on earth, this group of islands with gorgeous beaches, white-washed traditional houses and breathtaking views is a destination for millions of Greek and foreign travellers every year.

The name “Cyclades” refers to the circular shape the islands form around the sacred island of Delos.

Location:

Southeast of the Greek mainland in the Aegean Sea, bounded to the south by the Sea of Crete.

Islands:

In total: around 220
Main islands: Amorgos, Anafi, Andros, Antiparos, Delos, Ios, Kea, Kimolos, Kythnos, Milos, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Folegandros, Serifos, Sifnos, Sikinos, Suros, Tinos, Santorini

How to get there:

Except Andros, which is connected to Rafina, and Kea, which you can reach from Lavrion, the main islands of the Cyclades are accessible via ferry from Piraeus.

Santorini has daily ferry connections to Paros, Naxos, Crete

Distance from mainland:

  • Piraeus – Santorini: 12:15 – 17:40 h
  • Piraeus – Mykonos: 9:45 – 12:45 h
  • Rafina – Mykonos: 4:30 h
  • Rafina – Andros (Gavrio): 1:05 – 1:55 h
  • Lavrio – Kea: 1:30 h
  • Piraeus – Paros: 2:50 h
  • Paros – Naxos: 0:35 h

Activities for your bucket list:

Take a boat to the nearby Nea Kameni island and start your hiking adventure on the top of famous Santorini volcano. (By the way, the volcano’s last eruption took place quite recently in 1953.)

On the way there (or back), some boats stop at the edge of the island’s geothermal points. Enjoy a bath in the volcanic hot springs that are famous for their healing waters due to high iron and manganese content.

Definitley no tourist hotspot, the island of Folegrandos offers the opportunity to slow down, leave the crowds behind and delve deep into the real Greek lifestyle. Unspoiled coastlines, authentic buildings and endless white beaches will give you a break from busy nightlife districts on the more popular islands.

Discover the volcanic island of Milos and its 71 beautiful beaches from a kayak. Paddle along small bays, into caves and around small islands and swim in the chrystal clear blue water.

Without having watched the sunset in Oia, you haven’t seen Santorini.

Choose a place with a nice view over the island, bring a cold drink or two and enjoy the magic. But keep in mind – you won’t be the only one crossing this stunning spectacle off your bucket list. Be prepared to share with the crowds (or get creative and find yourself a secret spot).

The iconic features of the island of Mykonos are world famous and definitely worth a visit (even though you undoubtedly won’t be the only tourist at this attraction).

First constructed by the Venetians in the 16th century, the windmills were used for grain production when Mykonos, along with other Greek islands, lay on an important trade route.

Just below the Mykonos windmills you will find so-called Little Venice, a couple of picturesque houses alongside the sea.

SANTORINI WEATHER

Dodecanese Islands

The Dodecanese islands are more quiet than others (e.g. the Cyclades) and known for their medieval architecture and the peaceful beaches.

The name Dodecanese means “twelve islands” and was established during their long period of Turkish administration. Today however, there are 15 main islands that make up this island group.

Location:

southeastern Aegean Sea

Islands:

15 larger islands: Rhodes, Kos, Patmos, Agathonisi, Astypalaia, Chalki, Kalymnos, Karpathos, Kasos, Leipsoi, Leros, Nisyros, Symi, Tilos, Kastellorizo
plus 150 smaller islands: e.g. Alimia, Arkoi, Farmakonisi, Gyali, Kinaros, Levitha, Marathos, Nimos, Pserimos, Saria, Stronyli, Syrna, Telendos
Inhabited: 26.

How to get there:

There are daily ferries going from Piraeus to Rhodes. Rhodes is connected daily to Patmos, Leros, Kalymnos and Kos. 

Distance from mainland:

  • Piraeus – Rhodes: 14: 35 h – 1 day, 9 h
  • Piraeus – Kos: 11:15 h
  • Piraeus – Kalymnos: 8 – 10:45 h
  • Piraeus – Tilos: 15:50 h

Activities for your bucket list:

The main town of Patmos, Chora, has been declared a UN World Heritage Site. With the impressive Byzantine fortress towering above traditional houses and medieval churches, it is definitely worth a visit for all history fans.

Make sure you also check out the Monastery of Saint John. It includes a museum and offers a breathtaking view over Chora.

Kameiros, Ialyssos and Lindos were the three major cities, which united in the 5th century B.C. in order to create the powerful city state of Rhodes.

Today, you can visit well-excavated archaeological sites to get an idea of what life on Rhodes was like back in the days.

Kos has some of the most beautiful beaches of the Dodecanese islands. Some are rather organized with several tourist facilities (Kardamena, Agios Stefanos, Kefalos, Lambi), while others are more secluded and perfect for naturists.

Several beaches (e.g. Kardamela, Kefalos, Mastichari) furthermore offer water sports, like windsurfing.

Karpathos is home to a couple of traditional villages that seem to be unaffected by tourism and keep their idyllic atmosphere. The main one being Olympos, whose around 550 inhabitants follow a rather old-fashioned lifestyle, where agriculture and farming play an important role.

Other traditional villages on Karpathos are for example Diafani, Menetes, Mesochori, Pigadia, Othos and Aperi.

The old town of Rhodes is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Stroll through the over 200 streets without a name (trust me, you will get lost) and visit museums, bars and galleries. You can also walk on top of the medieval city walls and enjoy a great view over the town.

RHODES WEATHER

Euboea

island hopping in Greece - Euboea

Euboea (also known as Evia) is Greece’s second largest island after Crete. It is separated from Greek mainland by the Euripus strait, which is only 40 meters wide at its narrowest point.

Divided in South, North and Central Evia, the central part is easily accessible from the mainland. From there you can travel to the forested north and the barren south.

Location:

Islands:

Main Island: Euboea
The Euboea regional unit also inlcudes: a 260 km² area on the Greek mainland

How to get there:

There are two bridges connecting the island to the cities of Thebes and Athens. Therefore, Euboea is the only Greek island that is accessible via land. You can take a bus or the car to Euboea or alternatively (of course) go by ferry.

Distance from mainland:

  • Rafina – Marmari: 1 h (by ferry)
  • Agia Marina – Nea Styra: 0:45 h (by ferry)
  • Arkitsa – Edipsos: 0:45 h (by ferry)
  • Oropos – Eretria: 0:20 h (by ferry)
  • Athens – Nea Artaki: 1:20 h (by car)

Activities for your bucket list:

Located in Central Evia, Mount Dirfi is the highest mountain of the island with an elevation of around 1734 m. While its lower slopes are covered in forests, the majority of the landscape on Dirfi consists of grassland. This makes for a stunning view over the island from its peak.

The healing thermal springs of Edipsos have made this spa-town famous throughout Greece. Not least because they were mentioned in the scripts of Aristotle, Plutarch and Strabo.

Visit one of the surrounding beaches and soak in a warm rock pool with therapeutic water.

Along with palaces, temples and baths (some of the finds date back to the 9th century B.C.) you will find one of the oldest theaters in Greece in Eretria.

After exploring the remains of the ancient polis of Eretria, visit the Archaeological Museum and marvel at some of the most interesting finds of the site. By the way, lots of ceramics and statues found in Eretria are now shown in places like the National Archaeological Museum in Athens or the Louvre.

Kalamos beach is separated into the larger Kali (‘good’) beach and the smaller Kakia (‘wicked’) beach. If you want to get in touch with nature, you can set up camp on Kakia and spend the night here. This is also a popular activity among local tourists from Athens.

Euboea is home to several award-winning wineries (the most popular one being the Avantis Estate). Try different wines and learn about the grape harvest, the production and the long history of Greek wine, all while taking in the stunning nature around you.

SKYROS WEATHER

Ionian Islands

island hopping in Greece - Ionian

The Ionian islands are known for their steep coastlines, high mountains and sandy shores. A must-see destination for everyone who enjoys dramatic sceneries, outdoor adventures and water sports.

Location:

6 out of 7 islands are located off the west coast of Greece, in the Ionian Sea. (Khytira is off the southern tip of the Peloponnese)

Islands:

Corfu (Kerkyra), Paxos (Paxi), Lefkada, Ithaki, Kefalonia, Zakynthos, Khytira

How to get there:

Direct ferries to the islands leave daily, mostly from Igoumenitsa. There is also a ferry that leaves from Patras, which takes much longer than the others. It connects the island with ports in Italy (Venice, Bari, Ancona).

Lefkada is connected to the mainland by a long causeway and floating bridge.

Note: There is no ferry connecting Athens to Corfu.

Distance from mainland:

  • Igoumenitsa – Corfu: 1:30 h
  • Igoumenitsa – Paxos: 1:30 h
  • Patras – Kefalonia: 3:15 h

Activities for your bucket list:

The smallest of the Ionian islands has a lot to offer. One of its great natural landmarks is the Tripitos Arch, the remnants of a collapsed sea cave. Its highest point is 20 meters above the water.

You can also combine a visit of the Tripitos Arch with a boat tour to the Blue Caves, massive limestone cliffs that have been hollowed out by the sea.

Warm wind with predominant west and north-west directions and wide, uncrowded beaches make Lefkada a hidden gem for all kitesurfing fans. It has a Kite Club and a couple of kitesurfing schools that offer lessons and rent out equipment.

By the way, Lefkada (Vassiliki in the south of the island, to be more specific) also attracts windsurfing champions from all over the world.

Zakynthos is also called turtle island. Not only because its shape resembles a turtle, but also because it is one of the most important nesting spots for sea turtles in Greece.

Along with plastic pollution, irresponsible tourism threatens the Caretta Caretta turtle. Visit the Turtle information centre at Gerakas beach, which is dedicated to preserve wildlife in the Ionian islands, and find out how you can be a responsible tourist and help save the so-called loggerhead turtles.

Ancient Greeks believe the goddess of love and beauty Aphrodite was born on Kythera. Hopeless romantics, this is a must-visit for you!

Kythera is an unspoiled paradise with whitewashed houses, crystal clear waters, white beaches and a relaxed atmosphere.

Cape Drastis is one of the most northerly points of Corfu Island and should not be overlooked when island hopping in Greece. The peninsula features small beaches, picturesque cliffs and rock formations that make for a stunning view.

Visit this dramatic nature spectacle in the late afternoon, when the sun hits the cliffs.

CORFU WEATHER

Saronic Islands

Often overlooked when island hopping in Greece, the Saronic Islands are the closest to Greek mainland. Visitors (locals and foreigners alike) come here to enjoy the Greek lifestyle, traditional architecture and great food.

Location:

Off the mainland and Peloponnese peninsula in the Aegean’s Saronic Gulf

Islands:

Aegina, Agistri, Salamis, Poros, Hydra, Dokos

How to get there:

There are many boats (mainly Flying Dolphin ferries) going from Piraeus to the islands on a daily basis.

Distance from mainland:

  • Piraeus – Aegina: 0:40 – 1:15 h
  • Piraeus – Hydra: 1:40 – 2 h
  • Piraeus – Poros: 0:55 – 2:40 h (by car ferry)

Activities for your bucket list:

The small island of Poros not only has a stunning town with an inviting waterfront, it is also home to many beautiful little bays and quiet beaches. One great way to explore the sandy paradises is to rent a kayak and paddle around through the calm waters. Bring snorkeling equipment and discover the island’s underwater world!

Aside from ambulances and garbage trucks, there are no cars and other motorized vehicles on Hydra. Instead, you will get around on donkeys and mules, as well as water taxis.

Hydra is a beautiful small island with stunning architecture and small alleyways full of tavernas offering amazing food and traditional live music.

Hydra is quiet touristic, yet worth a visit for Leonard Cohen fans. The world famous musician used to live on the island in a house that can still be visited today.

Despite (or maybe because) its location very close to the mainland, island hoppers often skip Aegina. Yet, this is one of the destinations in Greece where you can still experience authentic Greek island life.

Explore Aegina town, take a walk to Koloni hill, where you can learn about Aegina’s history and enjoy the view or relax in Agia Marina, the most popular beach town of the island.

Agistri is so small that you can literally get from one end to the other within only a few minutes by car. Take it slow and explore this tiny destination by foot or on a bicycle. Agistri is quite rocky and covered in pine forest, which makes it the perfect place for an adventure off the beaten path.

Salamina is a place of warriors and poets. Its Archaeological Museum present findings from different periods of time that will give you a deeper understanding of the most important history chapters of Greece and Salamina.

AEGINA WEATHER

Sporades

island hopping in Greece - Sporades

“Sporades” means “those scattered”. The islands are the remains of a mountain range that was detached from mainland in a geological convulsion.

Because they are located on a traditional trade route between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, they used to be targets of pirates on a regular basis. Thus, there are not many ancient remains and archaeological sites on the Sporades.

Instead, this is the place to be for scenic hikes, postcard-worthy beaches and crystal-clear waters.

Location:

Aegean Sea, northeast of the island of Euboea

Islands:

In total: 24
Inhabited: Alonnisos, Skiathos, Skopelos, Skyr

How to get there:

Skiathos has an international airport. There are daily ferries from Agios Konstantinos (about 150 km from Athens) to Alonnisos, Skiathos and Skopelos.

Distance from mainland:

  • Agios Konstantinos – Skiathos: 3:30 h
  • Mantoudi – Skopelos: 1:20 h
  • Agios Konstantinos – Skopelos: 4:15 h
  • Mantoudi – Alonnisos: 2:20 h

Activities for your bucket list:

From a diver’s perspective, island hopping in Greece would not be the same without a stop on Alonnisos. The destination’s exceptional water clarity makes the island one of the Mediterranean secret spots for everyone who is into snorkeling and diving. There are four dive centers on Alonnisos: Seacolours, Blue Dream, Triton and Ikion.

Skiathos is a true beach paradise. The island offers postcard-worthy landscapes featuring picturesque bays, turquoise waters and dramatic cliffs.

While the island attracts lots of younger travelers and beach party fans, you will also find more private and secluded spots to just enjoy the sounds of nature.

To all the Mamma Mia fans, Skopelos is your place to be. The movie was partly shot on in the island in 2007.

But there’s more to see: Skopelos has more than 360 churches and monasteries, a stunning, car-free Chora with traditional white-washed houses and plenty of beaches with blue waters.

Skyros is not as touristically developed as other Greek islands. It is a very green and calming place, which provides the perfect contrast to some of the more popular islands.

If you are a nature lover, put Skyros on your Greek island hopping itinerary! There are a couple of farms, which are home to the Skyrian Pony, a breed of miniature horse only found on the island.

SKIATHOS WEATHER

Greek Island Hopping Routes

Which routes you take and which islands you combine on your island hopping adventure depends on a few factors.

As previously mentioned, it generally makes sense to focus on one region instead of several islands that are scattered throughout the Greek seas. The more time you’ve got, the more places you can visit (obviously). However, it can be much more relaxing (yet exciting at the same time) to chose only a handful destinations and spend more time exploring each one than to rush through half of Greece’s islands without really being able to take in the experiences.

island hopping in Greece - Karpathos

General Guidelines And Tips For Island Hopping In Greece

  • Choose your favorite island first and build your island hopping trip around it. For example, if you definitely want to see Santorini, pick one or two other islands in the Cyclades to add to your itinerary.
  • If you are based on the mainland and don’t have much time, do your research about islands that are closer to your nearest port first. It would be a waste of time to plan a weekend on Rhodes, just to spend half of it on a ferry.
  • Think about what you’d like to see and do while island hopping in Greece. Are you an adrenaline seeker, party animal, beach bum or history enthusiast? Different destinations are suitable for different activities (but don’t worry, there’s an island for every kind of traveler!).
  • If you are traveling in high season, be prepared to share Greece’s beauty with tons of tourists from all over the world. In order to avoid the crowds, travel in shoulder season or plan your trip around less popular places.

Greek Island Hopping Epi-Centers

Now that we have an overview of the different island groups and their highlights, let’s get more specific and plan your trip.

In order to understand which islands are easy to combine, we first need to take a look at the Greek ferry system.

You can compare it to a bicycle wheel, where the center of the wheel (hub) is connected to all the spokes that reach out. When it comes to island hopping in Greece, this means that Athens is the main hub.

However, there are a couple of island hopping epi-centers throughout the Greek seas. They are larger islands with many ferry connections in different directions.

  • North Aegean: Samos, Lesvos
  • Cyclades: Syros, Naxos
  • Dodecanese: Rhodes, Kos
  • Ionian: Igoumenitsa, Patras (mainland)
  • Saronic: Piraeus (Athens, mainland)
  • Sporades: Skitahos

In general, the most popular island groups, Crete, the Cyclades and the Dodecanese are well connected, especially in the summer months.

Which Greek Islands Are Best For You?

Best For: Short Trip

Aegina, Agistri and Hydra are very close to the Greek mainland and accessible within less than an hour. So, even if you only have a weekend, you’ll get a taste of Greek island life without wasting too much time getting from A to B and back.

Best For: Luxury Leisure

Santorini and Mykonos in the Cyclades are famous for their cosmopolitan atmosphere and fancy nightlife. Combined with Paros and Naxos, you can spend two weeks recovering on pristine beaches from sunset drinks with a view.

Best For: History

Rhodes and Kos are two of the Greek islands that are most famous for their history. If you have got enough time, definitely also add Crete to your history itinerary.

Get inspired: History of Rhodes, Kos, and Crete

Best For: Outdoor Sports

Hiking

In general, island hopping in Greece is a great activity for everyone who enjoys hiking in stunning nature. While you will probably find great hiking trails on almost every island, there are a couple of destinations that should be on every outdoor enthusiast’s bucket list. They include Lesvos, Samothraki, Crete, Paros, Naxos, Andros, Corfu and Sifnos.

Water Sports

Kitesurfing and windsurfing while island hopping in Greece is best enjoyed on Paros, Antiparos, Rhodes, Kos, Naxos, Limnos, Karpathos and Lefkada.

Ikaria, Kos, Limnos, Karpathos, Crete and Tinos are great for surfing.

surfing while island hopping in Greece

A few of the best Greek islands for diving are Alonnisos, Chios, Crete, Lesvos, Santorini and Mykonos.

Climbing

Greece has become one of Europe’s best rock climbing destinations. Thanks to its rocky landscape, curious geological formations and the temperate climate, you can climb year-round. Some of the best Greek islands for climbing are Kalymnos and Crete.

Read more: Eco-Friendly Activities While Island Hopping In Greece

Best For: Unspoiled, Quiet Islands

In general, most of the Northern Aegean islands are rather secluded and free from mass tourism. Lemnos, Samothraki and Ikaria are just a few examples.

island hopping in Greece - unspoiled islands

Karparthos, Astypalea and Tilos (Dodecanese), as well as Sikinos (Cyclades) are also often overlooked by the crowds, yet have much to offer.

Being the largest out of all the Greek islands, Crete has a lot of unspoiled corners and untouched areas that are ready to be explored by you (and only you).

Best For: Camping

With golden beaches and verdant pine forests, Greece is one of the best places for camping in Europe. Especially Naxos, Paros, Crete, Amorgos and Skiathos are very popular islands among alternative travelers.

Wild camping is officially not allowed in Greece. If you find a secluded area away from nature reserves, archaeological sites and tourist hot spots however, you could theoretically get away with it (You didn’t hear this from me, though).

Island Hopping In Greece On A Yacht

Let’s face it – there are not many better alternatives to sailing a yacht when it comes to island hopping in Greece. It allows you to explore hidden bays and untouched beaches that are cut-off from the public.

Sailing the Greek islands is not the cheapest option but definitely worth it (if you don’t get seasick easily).

For more information and sailing inspiration, check out the following websites:

a sailing boat between Greek islands

How To Hitchhike Boats While Island Hopping In Greece

Sailboat hitchhiking basically means that you spontaneously crew on a boat. It gives you the opportunity to learn how to sail and travel around sustainably while helping out the captain with all kinds of work aboard, money or just good company (most of the times it’s a combination of all).

So far so good. Hitchhiking a sailing boat is not as easy as it sounds though, and only partly comparable to the ‘classic’ hitchhiking as we now it. Just holding your thumb out at the next best harbor is not gonna do the job.

There are three main ways of finding a boat for island hopping in Greece:

  1. Use your personal network to get the word out (works best if you’ve already got some sailing experience).
  2. Go dock walking and make friends in the harbors.
  3. Use the internet.

Each option has pros and cons and it’s up to you to figure out which one you prefer. The more different approaches you try, the higher are your chances of eventually finding the perfect match.

The following platforms can help you get started:

Find more information on how to hitchhike sailing boats on theoceanpreneur.com

Accommodation

Accommodation while island hopping in Greece

Spontaneity can make island hopping in Greece a lot more exciting. When it comes to accommodation however, you should do some research in advance. Not all of the islands provide hostels and if they do, they are booked out quickly in summer. You can use Hostelworld to find out which islands have hostels.

If you are traveling with two or more people, check AirBnB or look for B&Bs and hotels. There are several great green hotels throughout the Greek islands. Those accommodations are environmentally sustainable and have reduced their impact on their natural surroundings.


Booking.com

A Brief History Of Island Hopping In Greece

Modern travellers have been hopping from Greek island to Greek island since the 1960s. Island hopping in Greece became very popular as a destination for hippies, as well as tourists on a higher budget, mainly visiting Mykonos and Santorini.

The more frequent traffic in the Aegean sea led to the development of the ferry routes and several tourist accommodations. The hub and spoke system has become more elaborate within the last couple of years. Today, tourism is the cornerstone of almost every Greek island.

Greece is one of the most visited countries in Europe and even the world. In 2018, about 32 million visitors have traveled to the Mediterranean paradise. Santorini is the most popular island, followed by Crete, Corfu, Rhodes and Mykonos.

Greek island Santorini

I hope you found this article helpful or just enjoyed daydreaming about island hopping in Greece a bit. If you have any further questions or can add value to this post, feel free to contact us in the comment section below.

1 thought on “Island Hopping In Greece – The Ultimate Guide”

  1. Excellent guide to Island hopping in Greece.
    For my experience when I traveled through Greece is to actually start the trip in Crete as it will give you an opportunity to discover the history of Greece.
    Furthermore for Mykonosit it is recommended to stay in the opposite side of the Island, much cheaper and some lovely local traditional restaurants in the little harbours. Also access to private beaches. Best to hire on of the buggies to travel with.
    The sunsets in Santorini is magical. Best to book in on of the boutique hotels on the rim of the Island.

    Reply

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