Greek island hopping is fun
Photo: Dabs Banner
'high speed catamarans to wave skimming hydrofoils'.
Ferries have always been a fun way to visit the Greek Islands. The slow, old tubs that once ferried island hopping visitors around the Aegean have long since gone and these days ferries can range from high speed catamarans to wave skimming hydrofoils. The days of really cheap ferry tickets have long gone too so the wise traveller will keep journey times short with tours of close knit island groups.
Greek ferries may not be so cheap any more but what you lose in your wallet is made up for in relative comfort and reliability. Although ferries are still heavily subsidised, ferry companies only get lucrative routes in exchange for providing loss-making winter services to the more remote islands. So summer ferry tickets on the most popular routes tend to be pricey.
There are more than half a dozen large ferry firms and they all run their own routes. The main ferry companies usually publish their summer timetables in May. Planning a detailed route can be a problem earlier in the season but times and routes usually 'carry over' from previous years so you can have some idea of sailing times.
Most of the main ferry routes start from mainland ports like Piraeus, Rafina, Thessaloniki, Lavrion, Agios Kontstantinos and Volos but various islands often operate their own ferry boats to neighbouring islands.
Greek ferries come in all sizes and will carry combinations of passengers, cars and freight. Smaller ships have basic seating and perhaps a snack bar, larger ferries some with bucket seats, TV screens, sundecks and even small restaurants.
The fast catamarans and 'superferries' ply the busiest routes between the major holiday islands. The fastest are the passenger only hydrofoils or 'Flying Dolphins' — very speedy but prone to cancelled sailings in high winds or poor weather.
Greek island hoppers usually stick to island groups. They fly into a main island such as Kos or Santorini and make their way to the port to catch a ferry. Ferries are usually frequent enough and accommodation so plentiful that experienced island hoppers don't even plan a route until they arrive. If ferry is not available they'll book a local room for the night and catch one the next day.
Many consider this the ideal Greek Island hopping group. Visitors fly into Mykonos or Santorini and catch a bost to the main ferry hubs of Syros or Naxos. Rooms on Mykonos and Santorini can be scarce and expensive so timing flights and ferries is useful. Smaller Cycladic islands have regular daily ferry services to Syros, Paros or Naxos.
Fast ferries link all the main Dodecanese islands from Rhodes, in the south to Samos in the north. Smaller islands have ferry links either on daily schedules or as tourist excursions. Daily trips to Turkey are also very popular.
There are limited ferry services to Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonissos from the mainland so island hopping is confined to this trio. As these islands are so varied this still makes for a good island hopping holiday from the airport on Skiathos or the mainland port at Agios Konstaninos
Although the Ionian islands are very popular there are relatively few ferry inks. Ferris from Italy that call in at Corfu and Lefkas and there are sailings between Corfu and Paxos; Lefkas and Meganissi and Kefalonia and Ithaca
These Greek Islands are well spread out and ferry connections are poor. Thassos has a daily service to mainland Keramouti and to Kavala. Journeys to Limnos and Lesvos are long. Samos is better as it has an airport and has good links to the Dodecanese islands.
In most Greek port resorts visitors will find a few 'caiques' offering round island trips and visits to neighbouring islets. These are usually good value for money. Caiques are often brightly painted former fishing boats converted to take small groups of passengers on short boat trips.