The allure of the sandy beaches, coastal coves, calderas, sea-breezes, white-washed villages, blue-domed churches is the stuff of legendary vacations. The destination is no secret but if it's your first time there, it can be pretty overwhelming. Covering multiple seas and thousands of islands sprouting from volcanic activity hundreds of thousands of years ago, planning a trip isn't as straight forward without some research especially if you plan on going island hopping. This Greek Islands travel guide is a must-read for anyone heading there soon and is a great companion guide for the full 14 day itinerary.
Let's dig into the practical things you are already asking yourself in your head or going to be really soon as you delve deeper.
- 14 day itinerary Greek Island hopping in the Western Cyclades
- Athens 2 day itinerary
- Best SIM cards for data in Europe
- How to get from Athens to Santorini
- Is Santorini worth it?
Where to stay in Greece?
Table of Contents
Jump to the topics that you're most interested in.
Here's what we're covering:
The Greek Islands Travel Guide
This Greek Islands guide will primary focus on The Cyclades but it will also have information relevant for those planning trips to the full Greek Archipelago which spans 6,000 islands and takes up 7,500 km of the country’s total 16,000 km coastline.
- Electricity – 230 volts, 50Hz
- Currency – Euros (EUR)
- 1€ EUR = $1.11 USD = $1.45 CAD
- ATMs can be found all over and the credit cards are widely accepted
- SIM card – The three main companies in Greece are COSMOTE, Vodafone, and WIND. All companies have some sort of pre-paid package available. Some are more aggressive about promoting in Athens with street stands but others you have to visit a shop for. As an example, Vodafone offers 9.2GB for 20 EUR or 4GB for 10 EUR on top of minutes.
- Alternative data options – Know Roaming is what I used in Greece because it was easy. I always have my sticker-SIM installed and so upon arrival, I just activated a 3 day global unlimited package for $9.99 USD. Alternatively they also have a 5GB for 30 days for $39.99 (read my full review).
- Measurement system – Metric
- Tipping – Not a strong culture of tipping but is expected in the service industry. In general 10% is the rule of thumb.
- Language – The official language is Greek.
Greek Islands geography
Yes there are at least 6,000 islands in Greece and they are scattered throughout not just one but two different seas. To get a grasp of how wide it spans, you need to know the breakdown of these islands and the clusters that are formed.
In this Greek Islands travel guide makes sense to break this down into the two seas that are involved: Aegean and Ionian.
Let's start with the Aegean Sea.
With so many islands they've had to group them together and give them names just to make it easier.
The Northeastern Aegean Islands – Agios Efstratios, Thasos, Ikaria, Lesbos, Limnos, Inouses, Samos, Samothrace, Chios, Psara.
The Sporades – Alonissos, Skiathos, Skopelos, Skyros.
Evia – The prefecture of Evia (which also includes the island of Skiros), is next to the prefecture of Viotia on the east and on the south touches the Aegean Sea, on the north and northwest to the Pagasitiko and Maliako Gulf, while on the west and southwest with the north and south Evian Gulf.
Islands of Argosaronic – Angistri, Aegena, Methana, Poros, Salamina, Spetses, Hydra.
The Cyclades – By far the largest group of islands with 56 with the most important ones being Amorgos, Anafi, Andros, Antiparos, Delos, Ios, Kea, Kimolos, Kythnos, Milos, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Santorini, Serifos, Sikinos, Sifnos, Syros, Tinos, Folegandros, as well as the “Minor Cyclades” comprising Donousa, Irakleia, Koufonisia and Schinousa.
The Dodecanese – Astypalaia, Kalymnos, Karpathos, Kasos, Kastellorizo, Kos, Lipsi, Leros, Nisyros, Patmos, Rhodes, Symi, Tilos, Chalki.
Crete – Crete is one big giant island but itself is divided in to four prefectures: Chania, Rethymno, Heraklion and Lasithi.
The Ionian Sea is to the west of mainland Greece and while they may not be as famous as the ones in the Aegean, they equally have the same kind of beauty and often visited more by the local Greek.
The Ionian Islands – Zakynthos, Ithaca, Corfu, Kefallonia, Lefkada, Paxi, and Kythira
From here, it breaks down into smaller islands – Antipaxi, Ereikoussa, Kalamos, Kastos, Mathraki, Meganissi, Othoni, Skorpios, and Strofades.
If that wasn't enough, then you have a few groups of smaller islands that don't really belong anywhere including the islands of Gavdos (situated south of Crete), Elafonissos (in the Gulf of Laconia), and Trizonis (in the Gulf of Corinth)
How do you decide which islands to go to?
Now that's the million dollar question right?
This is what kept me up at night when I was planning this trip. So many islands and so few days. How do you choose and which is the “best”? Now I knew that “best” was subjective but I wanted to start with a few baseline itineraries. That's when I went to check out the Greece itineraries of G Adventures and Intrepid Travel to get a few ideas.
You'll still have trouble deciding at this point so to help you through that thought process for you, I broke down how I ended up with the 14 day Greece island hopping itinerary.
- Decide which sea you want to do – Ionian or Aegean?
- From there, go in with the understanding that for a trip spanning 2 weeks, you need to pick a cluster to focus on. The reason for this comes down to logistics because jumping between groups makes ferries complicated, distances long, and time wasted.
- Is there a specific island that you have to go to – You can almost skip steps #1 and #2 if for instance you know you want to do Santorini. It also helps to know whether Santorini is worth it or not.
- With number of days you have, divide them up into 3 days and calculate how many islands you have. For 14 days, I knew we could only fit in 4 islands if we wanted to do it comfortably. You could try to fit in more if you were really ambitious. Again, it also helps to know how many days in Santorini you need.
- Great, now you have the number of islands, now it's time to do the dirty work and read about the islands in the group. Personally, I ended up reading blog posts, looking at photos, and committing to wanting to do 2 more popular islands and doing 2 lesser known.
I don't envy the task but I'm proud of what I put together and the hope with this guide and all the pieces of content created for Greece that it will make your trip planning process a lot easier.
BEFORE YOU CONTINUE
You need to read the the full 14 day Greek island hopping itinerary to get an idea of how to plan and choose the right islands in the Western Cyclades.
We've also focused on how to get from Athens to Santorini but for a more general high level look, learn about the things you need to know about flying vs. ferry.
Greece's primary international airport is Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport (ATH) or just Athens Airport for short. As the capital of Greece, this makes sense. It's your main way in and out of the country coming from an international destination.
Flying into Athens makes sense because undoubtedly, you'll want to explore the city if it's your first time and it's also home to the ports that will take you down to the Western Cyclades of the Greek Islands.
Not all islands have airports but the larger ones do including Santorini, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros. Crete, Rhodes, Lesvos, Corfu, Skiathos, Chiso, Samos, Kos, Kefalonia, Zakynthos, and a few more.
Are there direct flights to the islands? Yes, there actually are to Santorini! From Europe, you can grab a direct flight from Thessaloniki, Naples, Rome, Venice, Milan, Barcelona, Prague, Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam, and London.
Once you're in Greece, the main national carriers is Aegean and Olympic Air. RyanAir as a discount carrier that also services Athens and Santorini. I recommend using the Skyscanner to find the best prices on flight tickets and be able to put alerts and trackers if you're starting to plan early. The Skyscanner app is also super helpful.
Practically speaking, when it comes to planning your trip to the Greek Islands, you'll fly in via Athens. If time is tight and cost is not an issue, by all means get a jump start in the Greek Islands with a flight to say Santorini and then fly out of another island with an airport. In between, you'll likely be taking ferries and that's what we'll talk about next.
The primary way to get around to the Greek Islands is by ferry. It may not be the fastest but they run frequently, they get to the islands that you can't get to, and they're somewhat on time.
Traditionally, going to the Greek Islands means starting in Athens and doing your island hopping with ferries exclusively. This is the most cost-effective method but also takes some extra time because of a few things 1) Athens to any island is usually going to be your longest leg and this could be easily 5 hours, 2) Ferries don't take you from island to island directly because there may be stops at other islands in between like a bus, and 3) They're mostly on time but delays often happen and sometimes there are mechanical issues where a whole route could get cancelled for the day (what happened to us).
How many ferry companies are there?
There are quite a number of ferry companies out there that operate between the islands and the main land. Without going through them all, the main ones that are relevant for The Cyclades are:
- Blue Star Ferries
- Golden Star Ferries
- Hellenic Seaways
- Aegean Speedlines
How do you plan your ferry itinerary?
Earlier, I covered how to decide what islands to pick for your Greek Islands itinerary but how do you then go about figuring out what dates are feasible, what ferry companies to
When planning your island hopping itinerary, using a tool like FerryHopper makes things a LOT easier. I initially tried to do route searches by individual company but I always worried that I was missing someone. Instead, with this tool I dub the “Skyscanner of ferries”, you can basically enter in the itinerary like you would a flight search tool and it'll spit out options to choose from and price.
A few common questions I had that I eventually figured out:
- Are there any discounts? – I looked and it seemed like if you weren't a local or could take advantage of a large pass, there weren't any codes or promotions to take advantage of. That said, it never hurts to check.
- Can you save money by staying with one ferry line? – No, even if you do a multi-leg journey, there are no discounts so there's no need to feel any loyalty to a particular line and you can perfectly jump around between different companies.
- Is there point in waiting to book ferries? – Only if you're still unsure of your plan but once you have that there's no point in waiting because it's not like ferry prices drop if you book last minute. Like with flights, book ASAP because you don't want to be in a situation where your specific route is sold out.
Piraeus vs. Rafina and how do you get there?
In Athens there are two ports so that begs the question, is one better than the other?
- Located to the east of Athens
- Closer of the two ports
- There is a convenient direct bus from the Athens Airport
- Takes 30 to 40 minutes to get here from Athens Airport by bus
- No metro options to get to Rafina
- Fewer ferries run from this port
- Bus costs 4 EUR
- Located to the south west of Athens
- Primary port from Athens
- There are more ferry options that operate from here
- Various different options to get to Piraeus (bus, bus + metro, metro)
- Takes 1 to 1.5 hours to get here from Athens Airport by bus
- Bus costs 6 EUR
How to take the bus from Rafina
The Rafina bus is a privately-run bus and so the location of it isn't quite where you expect compared to the bus to Piraeus. The bus is located right across from the Mitsis Hotel at the airport. The schedule for the bus can be found here. Note that this bus is not 24 hours.
The Rafina bus is located between Exits 2 and 3 where you'll first cross the street. Heads up that credit card is accepted.
How to take the bus from Piraeus
If you're headed to Piraeus, look for the public bus number X96. The ride is about an hour and the full schedule is here. This bus runs 24 hours.
Note that public busses on the arrival level is easy to find because all signs for public transportation will point you that way.
You'll purchase tickets at the booth and you can also pay by credit card.
What is the boarding and disembarking process?
Every ferry company is different because each ship is constructed and run differently but here's roughly what you can expect from boarding to disembarking.
On most islands, there's usually a waiting area at the port area where they have divided columns. Sometimes they're labelled with the right ferry and times but most of the time it's not that organized so you have to ask other people whether you're in the right place. Some waiting areas are just an open lounge area and someone will yell out the next ferry when it comes in. And sometimes, there's no covered waiting area at all and you just find a random place to sit.
As the boat arrives, everyone will automatically know to start a queue and from there it'll just be a matter of the attendant letting the group know when they can get on board.
Boarding – Once the ramp is down, cars drive out and passengers get off and then they'll call everyone waiting to board. You'll walk up the ramp and the first thing is to actually put your luggage on one of the racks available in the cargo/car hold that you walk into. There'll be luggage racks to the left, right, or in the middle so look out for them. It won't make any difference where you put them because it's a free for all and not separated destination or class. There'll be stairs on the left and right heading up to the main deck of the ship and there'll be someone scanning tickets there. After that head up and either grab a seat or watch the action from the open rear of the ship.
There's no real advantage in trying to get in line first for the boarding process because technically you do have assigned seats and there's really nothing to fight for when it comes to being on the ferry.
Disembarking – When the ferry is close, they'll make an announcement for everyone to gather in the cargo hold. This is when you'll head back downstairs and grab your luggage. Once the ramp drops down, the crew will be yelling and ushering for everyone to quickly get off. Nobody checks your ticket.
The boarding process is a little different in Piraeus because typically when you arrive there, all of the unloading is done and they're waiting for you to board. Also, there was a noticeable difference for the large Blue Star Ferries ship where there wasn't a luggage hold down below. Instead, you bring your luggage up to the cabin and store it in these shelving areas that are overflowing with suitcases. These are relatively safe but I would still recommend dropping by when the boats start docking to make sure nobody takes it during disembarking.
Also, specific to Piraeus is the fact that this port is massive. Your ferry ticket will have a specific gate you need to go to so account for some time to figure out where that is. If you take a look at the map below, the subway is closest to E5 and E6.
- Gate E1 – Ferries for Dodecanese Islands (Rhodes, Kos, Kastelorizo, Kos etc) – Blue Star Ferries / Superfast Ferries
- Gate E2 – Ferries for North Aegean Islands (Lesvos, Chios, Samos) (Blue Star Ferries & Hellenic Seaways)
- Gate E3 – Ferries for Crete. (Minoan, Anek, and Blue Star Ferries)
- Gate E4 – Ferries for Crete and other small islands such as V.Kornaros and Prevelis
- Gate E5-E6 – Blue Star Ferries for Cyclades
- Gate E7 – Speedrunner, Highspeed 4& 6, and Nissos Mykonos
- Gate E8 – Ferries for Saronic Islands, catamarans and hydrofoils
- Gate E9 – SeaJets and Zante Ferries (E10 is the exit, E9 is the entrance)
- Gate E11 & Gate E12 – Cruise ships gates,only for passengers of the cruise ships.
What is it like onboard?
- Is there food on board? – Yes there's a couple of cafes actually that serve the Greek basics like sandwiches, pastries, coffee, drinks etc.
- Can you bring food on board? – No issues here as they didn't seem strict on outside food at all
- How do the assigned seats work? – If you're worried about this, I was hesitant too so you're not alone. When you buy your tickets, the seats are automatically assigned. That seems to suck but for the inter-island ferries that aren't packed, nobody really checks your tickets for your assigned seats and they also don't really care if you move to somewhere else in the same class.
- Are there electrical outlets? – I didn't look that hard to be honest but there aren't any by the seat.
- Are there bathrooms? – Yes and all of them were pretty clean.
- Is the luggage storage safe? – I had this thought too. I suppose in theory someone could take your luggage if you're not getting off on the next island but we never ran into any issues. I guess there's a bit of leap of faith here but everyone does it. If you had a smaller bag like a duffle bag, I'd probably keep that with you.]
- Will they call out the stops? – Yes, there are announcements made in Greek and English so it should be pretty clear what the next port is.
- Is there free wifi? No but many do offer paid wifi. On Golden Star Ferries it's 3.50 EUR for 3 hours.
- How bad is it for those that get sea sick easily? My wife gets sea-sick quite easily and she did okay for most ferries because the water was relatively calm. If this is an issue, I'd recommend sitting on the outside rear deck for fresh air and the ability to focus on the horizon.
- Is upgrading classes worth it? From what I saw, no for the business class. Yes the business-class section always had their own deck or closed off area but all I saw was that they had access to somewhat larger seats and maybe a window. You also get a table as well if that's important to you. For the super long distance ferries, some have cabins and this might be worth it if you're looking to get some real sleep overnight.
- They run the AC pretty high inside the boat so always make sure you have a jacket or sweater on-hand.
- I kept looking for a way to get to the front of the ship but for all ferries that we were on, these weren't accessible. This means that you can only be outdoors if you hang out on the rear deck.
- Set an alarm on your phone if you think you're going to pass out. The disembarking process is very swift so you don't want to miss it.
- Make sure the phone number you put on your booking is the actual phone number you're going to have when you are in Greece. I know this is going to be hard for those wanting to grab a local SIM which is why something like KnowRoaming actually makes more sense because you know your number when you land. I say this because ferry companies do send out SMS to let people know about delays, changes in schedule, and cancellation.
- Ferries are sometimes on time but not always. For us, there were some ferries that were pretty on-the-dot and others that showed up 15 minutes late but overall they were on time-ish.
Checking in online vs printing your tickets
What you'll find different from flying versus taking a ferry is that the technology hasn't advanced very far in Greece.
You can purchase all of your ferry tickets online now at least but only a few companies have a way of checking-in online and one of them is Golden Star Ferries. This was a pleasant surprise because I was able to check-in weeks in advance and have one with a QR code printed.
So what about all the other companies? Well, it's the old-fashioned printed tickets that needs to be picked up. What makes it annoying though is that you have to go to very specific offices to have these tickets printed. This means you need to plan around visiting the designated offices for the ferry tickets you don't have. They usually have one by the port but just don't expect it to be the official ferry company. Instead, they partner with third party travel agencies so make sure to read the instructions.
As an example, we took Blue Star Ferries to Paros and Golden Star Ferries to Santorini. The last set of ferries was with SeaJets but up until that point, we didn't get a chance to go to one of their offices to have physical tickets printed. In Santorini, the SeaJets partner is Nomikos Travel in Fira so we made sure to drop by our first day. What we didn't expect was that these offices charge 0.50 EUR per ticket which seemed ridiculous but is what it is. I am not sure if all agencies have this extra surcharge but it is something to keep in mind.
All of this is to say that you need to account in your planning for having physical ferry tickets in-hand whether they be digital or physical.
How to get from Athens to Santorini
I'm glad you asked! There are a lot of intricacies when it comes to how to get from Athens to Santorini so make sure to read the full guide.
The main question I'm sure you have is – is it better to fly or take the ferry? All of that gets answered here.
BEFORE YOU CONTINUE
You need to read the 14 day Greek island hopping itinerary if you're having trouble figuring out which islands you should visit and honest feedback on how it all went.
When you're on the Greek Islands, you're going to want to explore. Luckily with most islands, they're not overwhelmingly large but at the same time, you can't walk to everywhere you might want to visit.
Unless you plan on exclusively staying at your resort, you'll need to make a call on which days you need a vehicle and what type.
Potentially the big challenge you'll face will be in deciding whether you should rent a traditional car or an ATV/buggies. Scooters are also available but I honestly wouldn't recommend them for most people unless you ride them frequently back home or have a ton of experience. I won't be writing about them in this guide.
The tried and true method of getting around the island. Car rental companies are everywhere and the process to rent them is pretty easy.
Depending on what your requirements are such as having a larger group of people, moving luggage, comfort, and experience, the car may be your only choice. With a car, you know what you're going to get and on most islands, all the places you want to go to are paved and so there shouldn't be any issues getting around.
Heading to Santorini? We have a guide on where and how to rent a car in Santorini.
If you're more comfortable with the more well-known companies, don't forget to head over to the page that contains all the best car rental coupon codes.
Pro: Fits more than 2 people, protected from the sun, stays cool, spacious, and can store a lot more things.
Con: May not be as capable when it comes to off-road (in some cases not possible at all), uses slightly more gas, and less exciting?
- You need an international driver's license. Yes, this is an absolute must.
- Ask about insurance and know your coverage.
- When renting a car, make sure to ask for your transmission of preference because they will assume manual if you don't say anything.
- Ask for recommendations on how much gasoline you should fill in the tank based on where you're going and how many days.
- Most cars you will rent in Greece are never full so there's always the worry about whether you'll have enough and how much to fill off the bat. You will need a lot less than you think. As an example, in Paros we filled up to the max from 3 ticks down on the gauge and after 2 days we barely used one tick. Filling up 48 EUR was a big mistake because 10 EUR would've been enough.
- What you see listed by a car rental company isn't always the price they offer. There's always an element of negotiation or they would just offer up automatic discounts. Yes, this may have been because we were in Greece during low-season but never be shy about asking for a discount. The fluidity of the price is why some car rental companies didn't even allow me to take photos of their pricing sheet.
- Discounts can only be had if you pay by cash.
- During low season, reservations don't seem to be necessary but would recommend it during high season.
- With a car, you can take advantage of the extra storage by loading up on supplies at the grocery store.
- You might not need the car every day so plan your itinerary in a way where you only need it for a grouping of days to save money.
- Think about whether it makes sense to rent from the port or not. It's advantageous for those wanting a round trip rental from the point you get off the ferry to when you need to get on it again. Alternatively, some car rental companies allow you to pick up a car from one place and drop it off at the port. These are called one-way rentals and some have a minimal charge for it and others might add a significant fee.
I don't know any other place in the world where ATVs are this prevalent but it is totally a “thing” on the Greek Islands. You'll see them passing by and you'll be tempted by subliminal peer pressure to try it.
I'm biased but I think that if there's two of you and at least one of you is comfortable with driving an ATV, it's such a fun way to get around any island. They are also incredibly handy when it comes to going off-road and tight spaces because they are that much smaller and more capable of handling all types of terrain.
The primary disadvantage to the ATV is really in storage space. Wherever you go, you need to make sure they are things that can be strapped onto the vehicle or fit inside the storage compartment. For someone like me with a ton of camera gear, things were really tight but we managed to make it work.
- Is it easy to drive? Yes, it's quite easy to drive because it's automatic. The only things you had to get used to were making sure you hold the brake handle down when changing from Park to Drive and also getting out of the habit of having your right foot rest too much on the secondary brake.
- Do you need more power than 170CC? No, we drove all over the island with our underpowered 170CC ATV and we had no issues at all even when off-road and climbing hills.
- How much fuel should I fill up for 2 days? On an island like Folegandros, you'll be surprised to hear that 2.50 EUR is honestly enough for two days.
My recommendation is to try the ATV on an island that has less traffic and large roads so you can get comfortable with driving around especially if it's your first time.
Pros: Off-road capabilities, great on tight turns (a factor in Milos), uses less gasoline, and fun.
Cons: Minimal storage space, no cover from the sun, learning curve to learn how to drive, not as safe as a car, and no AC.
- Again, you need an international driver's license!!!
- Ask about insurance and know your coverage.
- Before you leave the lot, make sure you test the ATV and mainly make sure the brakes work well.
- Ask for a bungee cord if one isn't provided so you can strap things to the front of the ATV.
- Similar to the car, most rental companies will offer discounts especially if it's during low season.
- Discounts can only be had if you pay by cash.
- The rear passenger on the ATV will be responsible for navigating so you'll be using your phone's GPS and a lot of shouting.
Every island has their own bus system – some better than others. It's the economical option but certainly possible to travel exclusively by bus.
The challenge you'll face with the bus is that you'll be at the whim of their schedule, timeliness, and route. It'll get you to most places but there'll be plenty of spots on the island that you just won't be able to reach.
Cost of the bus ranges from island to island but I've only see it go as high as 3 EUR.
Where the bus works really well is in Santorini. There are multiple routes, they are comfortable coach buses, and they only cost 1.80 EUR.
Pros: Price point, and one of the few options for those that don't drive.
Cons: Most buses do not run 24/7, and limited to their route and schedule.
- Cash only.
- Payment is done on the bus. You either pay the driver or there's a special ticket attendant that will go around once the bus starts moving.
Taxis are probably the least cost effective way of getting around an island but may need to be taken out of necessity. Where it makes sense to take a taxi is when you need a transfer from your airport or ferry port to your hotel in the case where you're not renting a car right off the bat.
Taxis work just like every other country. They'll be waiting for people at the dock when ferries arrive and you can always get your hotel to call one for you. When hailing one from the airport or port, they normally run on a fixed fare system but I didn't find this to be consistent. There's also a general lack of information about rates so in most cases you'll just hop on one and hope for the best. If you read any of the individual island guides, you'll see that I've shared some of the rates that we paid.
How about Uber? I pulled open the app on a few islands and in all cases, there was no coverage at all. This may change in the future but I would not plan on using Uber while you're out on the islands.
Pros: Door to door service, and convenience.
Cons: Expensive, at the mercy of their rates, and may require some pre-planning in terms of booking.
- In some instances, especially with larger groups, or just Santorini overall, it'll be a smart move to book a shuttle service in advance. This can be done through your hotel or online. With this, you can save money and you won't have the deal with the chaos that ensues when you arrive in Santorini.
Car vs ATV
I had to ask myself this question at every single island we were at and so I know this deserves its own subsection.
Instead of going on a long ramble, let me break down things that'll help you make a decision.
When you should get a car:
- There's more than 2 in your group.
- You need to carry your luggage or a transport a lot of things.
- Looking for comfort.
- Not looking to try to learn another vehicle – do something you're experienced with.
When you should get an ATV:
- Looking for more of a thrilling ride.
- What you need to carry can fit on the ATV through the storage locker or bungee cords.
- You're on a smaller island to build confidence and skill.
- There are known dirt roads and difficult terrain.
- Recommended by locals.
- Looking to save a little bit of money.
Where to stay in the Greek Islands
Depending on the island you're on, you have a way too many choices (Santorini, Mykonos, Milos), very few choices (Folegandros, Sifnos, Serifos), or somewhere in between (Naxos, Paros).
Where You Should Stay in Santorini?
Where is the best area in Santorini to stay? Is Fira and Oia worth it? Read on to find out an honest look at each of the major towns and why you should consider each.
Instead of specific recommendations in this Greek Islands travel guide, let me share what I learned from planning my own trip.
Here's what I learned:
- You'll be hard-pressed to find any large chained hotels on the Greek Islands. Santorini and Crete are the exceptions but everywhere else you're looking at family-run hotels and villas.
- There are hostels on the islands so for those on a budget, you'll find something.
- Most properties on the islands are guesthomes, B&Bs, villas, and something called pensions (another term for guesthomes).
- Even if you take a look at hostels in Santorini, you'll realize most of them are the above.
- There are Airbnb properties but many of them are just the same listings as you'll find on Booking.com. That is why I recommend using Booking.com over Airbnb because you often have way better cancellation policies. That said, if you want to use Airbnb there's nothing wrong with that. Just make sure to create a new account to receive free credit.
- Booking.com is what we used to book all of our accommodations. Getting up to Genius level only requires 2 bookings and once you're at that level, there are a lot of properties that offer 10% (level 1 Genius) and 15% off (level 2 Genius).
- You need to book ridiculously early in Santorini especially if you want to snatch something that has a caldera view. We're talking 8-12 months in advance or more.
- For accommodation recommendations, make sure to read the individual guides for each island that we visited (Paros, Santorini, Folegandros, and Milos).
What to pack
The Greek Islands isn't the kind of place where you need a highly technical packing list and so I didn't feel the need to create a full-on piece about it.
Here are a few things to consider as a reminder of things that are a bit more Greek Islands specific:
- Beach towels – I mention this in my individual island guides but accommodation owners don't like it when guests use their towels at the beach. Ask for a beach-friendly one or just pack your own.
- International Driver's License – Hopefully I've got this drilled into your head. Make sure to get one before you go.
- Lots of sunscreen – You can buy them there but between two people over 14 days, I'd recommend two full-sized bottles of sunscreen.
- Sunglasses – An obvious one but the worst is when you forget to pack one.
- Non-drowsy Gravol – If you get motion sickness, this one's a good one to pack.
- Exchange Euros – It's always good idea to have Euros with you immediately after you land.
- Europe plug adapters – Easy one to forget but make sure to have a few with you.
- Bring layers – Whether it be on the ferries or extremely windy up on the caldera of Santorini, you never know when you might need that extra layer.
Best time to go
A common question for anyone planning a trip to the Greek Islands and my answer will be pretty obvious with the exception of a few things that are quite unique to the islands.
Low-Season (November – March)
Let's start with when not to go to the Greek Islands. While winters are pretty mild compared to other parts of Europe bit is quite variable with high chances of rain and dreary days.
The big problem with the low season is that ferry and flight schedules are reduced so your options will be much more limited. As well, since much of the islands are populated by seasonal workers, you'll also have to contend with skeletal services, facilities, and closures. Count on many hotels, restaurants, and activities (especially water-based ones) being closed
The advantage of course is that nobody usually travels to the islands in the winter so you won't see many tourists. Things just won't be as lively as they normally are in other parts of the year.
Spring to Summer (April – Mid-June)
I think this is one of the best times to come when the flowers are blooming, the weather is warming, and the large tourists hoards haven't quite arrived yet in force.
Shoulder season also mean better prices and vacancies for hotels.
At this time of the year, flights and ferries switch to their full capacity schedule or close to it. Restaurants typically don't need reservations this time of the year and places like car rental companies are willing to offer additional discounts.
This applies even more for the popular islands. For a more detailed breakdown, make sure to read the best time to go to Santorini.
High Season (Mid-June – Mid-September)
This the height of travel to this area so expect every aspect of travel here to be more challenging whether it's hotels, car rentals, restaurants, ferries, flights, and activities.
Not only are you contending with massive crowds but this is also when the temperature is the hottest.
The only exception to this is in the north with islands like Samothraki and Thassos where they only get super busy between July and August.
Summer to Fall (Mid-September – October)
This transition to Autumn is a great time to come to the Greek Islands as well. Similar to Spring, the weather is much more temperate with the sea balmier than the air. Green lends its way to subtle Fall colours and that has its own beauty.
How much does a trip to the Greek Islands cost?
If you've come from the Greek Island Hopping in the Western Cyclades itinerary, you'll see the full breakdown of our costs from that trip. The one thing that is excluded are flights because that is going to vary drastically from person to person.
The category breakdown of our spend looked like this:
This breaks down to $2318.82 per person or $165.63 per person per day. A backpacker will look at this and say that this is too much and someone looking for a luxury trip will think it's too little.
How did we do? Well, I'd say that we were pretty middle-of-the-road when it came to making decisions on our trip.
Where we splurged:
- Getting a nicer hotel in Santorini
- Had nicer dinners where it made sense
Where we saved money:
- Saved money by finding affordable properties everywhere outside of Santorini thanks to Booking.com
- Did not join any excursions or activities
How you can cut costs:
- Don't rent a car/ATV – rely on busses or stay in an area where you can walk to everywhere you want to go
- Hop to fewer islands
- Avoid the big islands such as Santorini and focus on the lesser-known ones
- Find cheaper hostel accommodations through Hostelworld
- Buy your own groceries and supplies so you can save money on meals where it makes sense (breakfast especially)
- Eat gyros everyday (jk not jk)
5 main take aways
So if I was in an elevator and only had 30 seconds to tell you what you need to know to plan a trip without reading this Greek Islands travel guide, here's what I would say.
- You need to have booked your Santorini hotel yesterday. Get on it!
- Pick a good balance of popular and small islands – don't be afraid to try the unknown ones like Folegandros (read the guide).
- Always break change – you never know when you'll need it
- Fill no more than 5 EUR at a time with your car rental or ATV – you need a lot less than you think.
- It's easy to let your guard down when you go back to Athens after spending time in the Greek Islands. Stay vigilant and beware of pickpocketers immediately (read my story in the Athens 2 day itinerary).
Have specific questions about your upcoming trip to the Greek Islands? Drop a comment below in this Greek Islands travel guide!
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