Traveling to Santorini last September was most definitely one of the highlights of my backpacking adventure in Europe. From eating the most delicious seafood to swimming in the Aegean Sea, a trip to the Greek islands can feel blissful. However, I quickly realized that there is a lack of general information online regarding everything from navigating the Greek ferry system to choosing what island(s) to visit. Even though I managed to have a magical experience, it would have been helpful to avoid a couple of bumps in the road. Here are 5 tips to help you with the planning process:
Choose what island or islands you want to visit. Before visiting Greece, I’d known about the popular Greek islands of Santorini and Mykonos, but I had no idea that there are a total of 227 inhabited islands. To help narrow down what islands best suit you and your travel plans, research the different islands and pick those that have what you’re looking for in a vacation. For instance, Mykonos and Santorini generally each have a romantic appeal with their postcard-perfect views, but are completely different.
Mykonos has been synonymous with late-night partying and laid-back beaches, while Santorini is a crescent-moon shaped island that is home to the world-famous sunset views and delicious seafood. For history lovers Crete, the largest Greek island, is home to the Palace of Knossos and Archeological Museum in Herklion. Another beautiful and historical island is Rhodes, the largest island in the Dodecanese, where you’ll find yourself walking on charming cobblestone streets and squares of the medieval old town. Close to Turkey, Rhodes is equally famous for its historical sites as it is for its unsullied beaches and nightlife.
Navigating the Greek ferry system online. There are several reputable online sites where you can book your ferry tickets in advance, but I found that some sites were either under construction or did not provide detailed information about how to get to the ferry port. Some sites I recommend are: Greeka, Greekferries, and Petas. Always book your ferry tickets on trusted sites that include a reservations phone number in case you have any questions. During my backpacking trip, I was using a Global Eurail Pass and took advantage of free deck passage to and from Greece and Italy, while also using 30% discounts offered on ferries from Piraeus to the Cyclades (Santorini Mykonos, Ios, etc). So make sure you ask about the travel bonuses available to you, because it’s easy to not know they even exist!
Getting to Piraeus. After you’ve planned what island(s) you want to visit, plan your travel route. The vast majority of island departures leave from Piraeus, the main port near Athens. From the city center to Piraeus, a taxi will cost you about €16 and from the airport it will cost roughly €40. If you’re traveling via metro, a single trip from the airport to the city center will cost you less than €2, then you switch to line 1 (green line) and at the end of the line is the Piraeus stop, which costs less than €2 as well. For about €4 you can get from the airport to Piraeus via metro, and from my personal experience this way of travel was extremely easy and cost effective.
Best time to travel to the Greek islands. Greece is often described as one of the ultimate fall vacation destinations and there are many reasons why. Traveling to the Greek islands from September to mid-October, you’ll avoid the high summer temperatures, inflated hotel prices, and the crowds of tourists on the small islands. I went to Santorini from September 13th-18th and the weather was nothing short of perfect, about 85 °F everyday, and prices for my hotel reservation dropped from €99/night to €69/night.
Natives of the island said it was still busy during the fall, but nothing compared to the islands peak season in July and August. With that in mind, to ensure hotel availability you should book your rooms at least one month in advance during the fall and spring seasons and months in advance for trips during the summer months. Another great time to plan a trip to the islands is during the spring season, when the weather is between the 60s and 70s and hotels are offering amazing deals on accommodation and activities.
Island tips. Now you’re in one of the many amazing Greek islands and it’s time to have fun! To make sure your time in the island is more epic than it already will be, here are some quick tips for what to do during your time there. First, rent a scooter or quad, they are usually €13/day per person and they are worth every penny. You’ll be able to ride around the island according to your own itinerary and schedule, without having to look up bus times or rely on cab rides. Make sure you look up some of the popular restaurants on your island, as many of them offer beautiful views and mouth-watering dishes. Traditional Mediterranean and Greek cuisine offer various meats, seafood, fresh vegetable dishes and tasty desserts.
Lastly, take advantage of any excursions and activities your hotel or local travel agencies offer. From water activities to mini adventures, many of the Greek islands offer amazing tours and group activities. For example, in Santorini I signed up for a 3-hour excursion through my hotel that took a large group of us to Nea Kameni (an active volcano island) and Palia Kameni (the hot springs near the volcano island). This particular excursion was only €15, but there are many options to add-on different sightseeing activities.
With that being said, I hope this gave you some inspiration to plan your trip to the Greek Islands!