Island hopping in Greece is a great way to see some of the most beautiful islands in the world. The best part? Visiting the Greek islands doesn’t need to be expensive. Here are some insider’s travel tips for Greek island hopping on a budget.
Definition of Greek island hopping
Let’s start with what it means to island hop in Greece! With few exceptions, island hopping in Greece involves packing your luggage, and moving on to the next island.
While many Greek islands are close to each other on the map, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can use one as a base and take day trips to others. This might be possible with a chartered boat, but is rarely feasible on commercial ferries.
Budgeting for the Greek islands, ferries and flights
Not all islands in Greece have international or domestic airports. Even when they do, there are very few direct flights from one island to another. So, Greek island hopping will normally involve a ferry.
Overall, hopping around the islands isn’t the most wallet-friendly choice when visiting Greece. Certain ferry tickets to some of the popular islands can cost well over 50 euro.
If you’re taking a ferry every couple of days, the costs soon add up. In addition, accommodation prices on some of the islands can be exorbitant during peak season.
However, it is absolutely possible to island hop in Greece on a budget. This article will help you make smart choices, and enjoy your holiday more.
13 Travel tips for Greek island hopping
Here are some tips and ideas which will help you island hop around Greece. They come from decades of my experience travelling around the Greek islands and swimming on our fantastic beaches!
For the purposes of this article, “a budget” will be around 50-60 euros per person per day. This might seem like too little for some people, but it’s absolutely doable. All you need is some careful planning!
1. Visit Greek islands in the same island group
Before you plan your island hopping itinerary, my best tip is to study a map of Greece. Many of our islands are grouped together, and the island groups are all at different sides of the Greek mainland. According to the 2011 census, there are 119 inhabited islands in Greece!
There are six main island chains, plus a few standalone islands. Here they are:
- Cyclades islands, e.g. Santorini, Mykonos, Milos
- Ionian islands, e.g. Zakynthos, Corfu
- Saronic islands, e.g. Hydra, Aegina
- Dodecanese islands, e.g. Rhodes, Kos
- Sporades islands, e.g. Skiathos, Skopelos
- North Aegean islands, e.g. Lesvos
- Evia, a large island close to Athens
- Crete, the largest island in Greece.
Most islands will reward you with stunning beaches, traditional villages, fantastic food, and a relaxed, laid-back pace of life. Yet, each island group is different! This introduction to the Greek island groups will give you a better idea on what to expect in each group of islands.
Overall, it’s better to visit islands in one or maybe two island chains. Not only will travelling costs be lower, but you will also save considerable amounts of time by not rushing around the country.
As an example, the combination Santorini – Corfu is not practical or time-efficient in terms of ferry connections. You’d have to take a flight from Santorini to Athens, and a second one to Corfu. This would cost you a lot more than an itinerary including Santorini and 2-3 more islands in the Cyclades.
You can check itineraries and book your ferry tickets on Ferryscanner. If you use this link, I get a small commission which helps me run this website, at no extra cost to you.
Tip: Note that ferries are sometimes delayed. I have been on ferries that were delayed by a couple of hours. So if you are planning to take a flight after your ferry, allow for plenty of time.
Further reading: Should I visit the islands or the Greek mainland?
2. Visit Greek islands on direct ferry routes
Even within the same group of islands, you may find that not all islands are directly connected with each other. It’s more practical to do some advance research, and choose your destinations according to the ferry routes available at the time of your visit.
As an example, let’s say that you want to travel between two Cycladic islands: Andros and Iraklia. As there is no direct connection, you would first get a ferry from Andros to Naxos, and then take an onward ferry to Iraklia.
If you want to avoid too many ferries, you could either combine Andros with Tinos, or Iraklia with the other Small Cyclades and Naxos.
Another idea is to visit islands that are connected by small, inexpensive local ferries. As an example, there are several daily ferry connections between Milos and Kimolos, Paros and Antiparos and the Small Cyclades.
You can compare ferry schedules and book your tickets on Ferryscanner.
3. Cut down on the number of islands
Visitors often try to include several Greek islands in their vacation.
Some of the most popular islands, like Santorini and Mykonos, are easily experienced in 3-4 days. However, some other islands would need more than a week to be properly explored.
If you are thinking to island hop in Greece but are on a tight budget, consider visiting fewer islands. There is a lot to see on the biggest islands, like Crete, Rhodes, Naxos, Lesvos, Chios, Andros and several others. You could easily spend your whole vacation there, and bring transportation costs down.
4. Take the slow ferries
There are a number of different ferries serving the Greek islands. For the Cyclades in particular, there are many different companies, running dozens of ferries.
You will find anything from small, high speed ferries just for passengers, to larger, slower ferries that also transport big trucks and goods.
Costs of ferry tickets vary a lot, especially for the Cyclades islands. As an example, passenger tickets from Piraeus or Rafina ports start at 30-35 euro for most slow ferry routes. Prices can reach 80-100 euro if you want business class tickets on the high speed ferries, or a cabin.
Unless you are really pushed for time, you can get a deck or numbered seat on a slow ferry and keep the costs down. In my opinion, the extra expense of business class or a cabin is not worth it, especially for trips of up to 4-5 hours. As everyone is different, it’s best to decide yourself.
This ridiculously long article lists all the different ferries that are running in Greece at the moment, and explains the differences between types of seats, fares and cabins. Have a look!
5. Take the night ferry from Piraeus to the islands
If your itinerary in Greece starts or ends in Athens, you can take a night ferry from Piraeus to get to one of the islands. The ferries to Crete are a good example.
Get a comfortable seat, and you should be able to get a few hours of sleep, arriving at your destination in the early morning, ready to kickstart your holiday.
Even if you go for a cabin, the cost will still be lower than what you would pay for a daytime ferry plus a night’s accommodation in Crete.
The best thing about the night ferry – you’ll get to see the starry sky right in the middle of the Mediterranean!
6. Take advantage of ISIC cards and other special discounts on the ferries
Before you book your ferry tickets, check if you belong to these lucky categories of people who are entitled to discounts. For example, several companies offer a 50% discount for ISIC student card holders.
If you have children travelling with you, make sure that you read each company’s policy before you decide who to travel with. In general, children either get a discount or travel for free, depending on their age.
Sometimes, the ferry companies release promotional tickets that are around 70% or less of the original price. If you find any of those, bear in mind that they are generally not changeable, non-transferable and non-refundable.
7. Check for flights instead of ferries to the Greek islands
If you are thinking to fly between the islands, you should be aware that most of them don’t have airports. You will find airports on some of the popular islands, like Mykonos, Santorini, Corfu or Rhodes. This article lists all Greek islands with domestic and international airports.
In addition, take into account that, with very few exceptions, there are no flights connecting the islands directly. So if you want to fly from one island to another, you’d normally have to go through Athens first.
With that said, if you are planning to spend a few days in Athens, it’s worth checking the prices for domestic flights. In some cases, you might find a cheap flight that will cost less than the high speed ferry.
When booking flights from Athens to the Greek islands, make sure you understand the fare rules. For most airlines, basic fares only include hand luggage, and Ryanair may charge an extra fee even for that.
8. Take local buses or walk around the Greek islands
Let’s face it – if you want to have freedom to go wherever you want, the best idea is to rent a car or other vehicle on your island of choice. Read my article on driving in Greece to decide whether this is for you!
Depending on where you are and how many days you need the vehicle for, it can cost at least 25-30 euros a day, so costs can add up quickly. However, you can always rent a car for a day or two, and use buses for the rest of your time.
Public transportation on the islands is cheap, and a great way to meet other people. Buses won’t take you everywhere, but they serve the most popular places and you will be able to see the highlights of each island.
When you are waiting for a bus, be prepared for queues, especially in you are in famous islands like Santorini. Once you are on the bus though, relax and enjoy the landscapes!
If you are on a quieter island, you could try hitchhiking. I have hitchhiked (or picked up hitchhikers) in many of the less touristy islands, like Ikaria, Tinos and Schinoussa, and also in Crete, on several occasions.
Finally, you can always consider going to smaller islands, where you won’t really need a car. Some examples are Iraklia, Schinoussa, Koufonissia, Donoussa, Kimolos and Antiparos. You can walk around pretty much everywhere!
Note: We have a guidebook to Iraklia and Schinoussa available on Amazon.
9. Bring your tent and camping equipment
If you are island hopping on a budget in Greece, this is a no-brainer. Campsites are a lot cheaper than rooms or hotels, and they are also a great way to meet people.
While not all of the islands have campsites, many of them do, and most of them also rent tents and equipment. Make sure you do some research on the campsite you are planning to go, as occasionally, campsites close down with no notice.
Although freecamping is technically illegal in Greece, it’s another way to keep your budget down. Popular places to freecamp are generally on faraway islands, and you need to ask for recent information.
If you decide to go freecamping in Greece, please make sure you respect the environment and leave no trash behind.
10. Get a room with a kitchenette
If camping is not your style, you can rent a room with kitchen facilities, instead of staying at a hotel. You will miss out on some of the fantastic Greek cuisine, but it’s always helpful to have a kitchen to prepare a meal or two.
In many of the smaller islands, buying food items from a mini market will be more expensive than you might expect. This is normal, as almost everything has to be brought in from the mainland.
11. Eat at local tavernas instead of expensive restaurants
I doubt that you needed advice for this! Eating at Greek tavernas can be very, very affordable. For two people sharing a couple of dishes, a salad and a starter, your bill can be well under 30 euro. You may also be offered a complimentary dessert or some fruit after your meal.
If 30 euros is still out of your budget, two people can easily share a meal for less than 20 euros. Just get a Greek salad, some fries, a souvlaki or two and a carafe of house wine. Yiamas!
Here are 50 great dishes to try in Greece!
12. Skip the most expensive destinations like Santorini and Mykonos
Santorini and Mykonos, two of the most popular Greek islands, can actually be very expensive when compared to most other places in Greece.
You can easily island hop on a budget if you decide to go to some of the islands that you hadn’t heard of. Most of them will have plenty of rooms available for a fraction of the prices in Mykonos or Santorini. Also, meals and drinks will be much more wallet-friendly.
Don’t get me wrong – I think these islands are very, very cool. You should visit Santorini once in your life to see the active volcano, the sunset views from the west coast and the famous beaches.
As for Mykonos, only a few islands in the Aegean Sea can boast as many great beaches on such a small area! Here are my impressions on Mykonos without the crowds, which I was lucky to experience. But if your budget is limited, consider another island, like Ios or Naxos, instead.
13. Visit the Greek islands outside peak season
This might be the single most important tip on how to keep costs down when island hopping.
If you have a choice, visit Greece outside the peak season of July and August. This is the most crowded time to travel here, and accommodation prices go up. If that’s the only time you can visit, however, have a look at these tips for visiting Greece in summer.
In the past five years, we have stayed in several rooms on the Greek islands, which cost us anywhere from 20 (!) to 50 euro. Most of these were in June, early July and September.
These are all fantastic months to visit the islands. Here’s a quick introduction on the best time to visit Greece.
Frequently Asked Questions for Greek island hopping
Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions!
What are some Greek islands that won’t break the bank?
One of the best Greek islands for budget-conscious travellers is Crete. It’s an amazing island with exotic beaches, wild beauty, several ancient sites and fantastic food.
Among the Cycladic islands, I’ve found that Naxos is very affordable. It has some truly fantastic sandy beaches, excellent food and plenty of budget accommodation options. In addition, it is well connected to several other Greek islands.
Ios, a short ferry ride from Santorini, combines some amazing beaches with lively nightlife. You will also find plenty of affordable accommodation.
Can you suggest a Greek island hopping itinerary?
There are hundreds of different island hopping scenarios! To a large extent, it depends on how many days you have in Greece and what you are interested in. If, like many people, you have ten vacation days, it would be best to stick to two or max three islands.
Santorini, Mykonos, Milos, Naxos and Paros are often combined in Greece itineraries, as it is straightforward to travel between them on the Greek ferry system.
Other popular combinations include Santorini and Crete, Kefallonia and Zakynthos or Rhodes and Kos. As these islands have international airports, you can combine flights and ferries to island hop between them.
If you are looking for lesser known islands, check out Sikinos and Folegandros in the Cyclades, close to Santorini. This article will give you a few ideas.
Finally, if budget is your main concern, most of the Dodecanese and the North Aegean islands will fit the bill.
What are the islands with the most picturesque beaches?
There are very few islands where I can honestly say I was disappointed with the beaches! Most of the Greek islands have great beaches, and quite often they are very diverse.
Among the places I’ve visited, I’d say that Milos island has some of the most beautiful beaches. The combination of sandy beaches, strange landscapes, and limestone cliffs is pretty unique!
Do I have to travel through Athens to go island hopping?
No, you don’t. In fact, many foreign visitors prefer to fly into an island with an international airport, and leave from another. There are dozens of direct flights to and from the Greek isles, from many European countries. This article will help.
Are there any Greek island hopping packages?
Plenty of international and local companies organize Greek island hopping tours. Options range from cruises on large cruiseboats to sailing trips for 10-12 people.
Certain Greek island hopping tours cover a few of the Cycladic islands. Other popular packages include some of the Ionian islands. For travellers with limited time, there are tours of three islands in the Argosaronic Bay, close to Athens.
A sailing trip is an excellent way to enjoy some of the most remote beaches on Greece’s beautiful islands, without the hassle of planning ferry routes.
Is it easier to hop around the Ionian islands or the Cyclades?
There are direct ferries between certain islands in the Ionian sea. Yet, the Cyclades are the most popular islands if you want to island hop.
Some of the main islands are only an hour or two away from each other. This makes the Cyclades the perfect islands for an island hopping vacation in Greece.
Are the Eurail ferry passes worth it?
I’ve seen some people swear by the Eurail Greek islands pass. This pass offers a number of ferry trips, run by either Blue Star Ferries or Hellenic Seaways, for a set price.
These ferry passes may sound like a bargain at first. However, if you check fares carefully, you will notice that it depends on the specific islands you are planning to visit, and the cost of the individual fares. You can check routes and prices yourself, on Ferryscanner.
If you decide to book the Eurail Ferry pass, make sure that the routes you are interested in are run by either of the two companies mentioned above. If not, you’d need to buy extra tickets for all other routes.
How to island hop in Greece on a budget
I hope these tips have encouraged you to look further into visiting the Greek islands, even if you think your budget won’t allow it. To help you further, if you were wondering “Is Greece expensive?“, here’s a breakdown of our costs travelling around the islands for a month!
If you have any questions, let me know in the comments!
Hi! I’m Vanessa, a travel writer from Athens, Greece. I enjoy exploring, travelling, meeting people and cooking. One of my passions is snorkelling on quiet beaches, so I have visited dozens of our islands! I love sharing my local knowledge and views about Greece and helping out visitors. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below, or get in touch through the Real Greek Experiences FB page and FB group.