Island hopping in Greece doesn’t need to be expensive, especially with our insider’s travel tips! Here’s how you can easily go Greek island hopping on a budget.
Greek island hopping budget
The definition of “a budget” is different for everyone. Some people travel on 20 euro a day, while others might spend several hundreds of euros per day. For the purposes of this article, “a budget” will be around 50-60 euros per person per day.
As such, Greek island hopping isn’t the most wallet-friendly choice you can make when you travel to Greece. Overall, ferry tickets can be quite expensive, with most of them ranging from 30-35 euro upwards. If you’re taking a ferry every couple of days, the cost soon adds up. Especially when accommodation prices on some of the islands can be exorbitant in the summer.
That is not to say that island hopping in Greece on a budget is not possible. If you make smart choices, you can keep costs down, and that’s where we come in.
14 Travel tips for island hopping in Greece
Our tips come from decades of experience – Vanessa has been travelling around the Greek islands since she was a child!
1. Visit Greek islands which belong to the same group
Before you plan your island hopping itinerary around Greece, our best tip is to study a map of Greece. As you will see, many of our islands are grouped together, and the island groups are all at different sides of the mainland.
There are six main groups of islands, plus a few standalone islands, of which the biggest are Crete and Evia. Our introduction to the Greek islands will give you a better idea on what to expect in each group of islands.
If you want to go island-hopping in Greece, it makes sense to visit islands which belong to the same group. Not only will the 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 – Skiathos – Corfu is really not practical in terms of connections. Moreover, it would cost you a lot more in fares than an itinerary including Santorini and 2-3 more of the Cyclades islands.
Of course, if you have your own reasons to visit Greek islands in different groups on the same trip, by all means do it. Just be aware that it’s not what you would call a budget holiday in Greece, especially if you also want to save time.
2. Cut down on the number of islands
Depending on which Greek islands you want to visit, island hopping might actually be a bit rushed. While the smaller islands, like Santorini and Mykonos, are easily experienced in 3-4 days, some other islands need more than a week to be properly explored.
If you were thinking to island hop in Greece but you are on a tight budget, you could consider just staying in one place rather than hopping around. There is so much to see on the biggest islands, like Crete, Rhodes, Naxos, Lesvos, Chios, Ikaria and several others. You could easily spend your whole vacation there, and bring transportation costs down.
With island hopping in mind, there are hundreds of different scenarios. Santorini, Mykonos, Milos, Naxos and Paros are often combined in Greece itineraries, as it is fairly straightforward to travel between them. Santorini and Crete, Sifnos and Serifos, Kefallonia and Zakynthos or Rhodes and Kos are also popular combinations.
3. Visit Greek islands on the same ferry route
Even within the same group of islands, you may find that not all islands are directly connected with each other.
As an example, let’s say that you want to go from Andros to Anafi. These islands are both in the Cyclades, but there is no direct connection. Depending on the time of year, you might have to take a ferry from Andros to Mykonos, and then another ferry from Mykonos to Anafi – or something similar.
If you want to keep your budget low, it’s best to visit groups of islands that are on the same route. Do your research, and choose your destinations according to available ferry routes.
Another idea is to visit islands that are connected by small, inexpensive local ferries. As an example, there are several daily connections between Milos and Kimolos, where the passenger ticket only costs a few euros. Similarly, Paros and Antiparos are only connected by small local boats.
Finally, if you are a non-European resident, you could look into the Eurail Greek islands pass. In my opinion, though this pass may sound like a bargain at first, it might not be. Before you book it, make sure that the routes you want are run by either Blue Star Ferries or Hellenic Seaways. If not, you’d need to buy separate tickets for all other routes.
You can compare ferry itineraries and fares and book your tickets on Ferryhopper.
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, super-fast passenger-only ferries, to larger, slower ferries that also transport big trucks and goods.
If you look into the cost of ferry tickets, you will see that they vary a lot, especially in the Cyclades islands. Passenger tickets from Piraeus or Rafina start at about 30-35 euro for most routes, and can reach around 80-100 euro if you want business class tickets on the faster ferries, or a cabin.
Unless you are really pushed for time, you can get a numbered seat on one of the slower ferries and keep the costs down. In our opinion, the extra expense of business class or a cabin is actually not worth it, but you can try for yourself and let us know!
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. Have a look!
5. Take the night ferry from Piraeus to the islands
Another option, especially for longer ferry journeys, is to take a night ferry. 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 decide to 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. Do not buy coffee and food on the ferry
Yes, we get it – you might want to have a coffee and a tiropita on the ferry. However, you might not be too happy with the prices. Depending on which company runs the café in the boat, you may end up paying well over 7 euros for your little treat.
Our advice – bring some snacks on the boat, and save your appetite for a nice meal when you arrive at your destination. Note that a small bottle of water only costs 50 cents – and in some of the ferry cafes you can ask for tap water.
7. Take advantage of ISIC cards and other special discounts on the ferries
In terms of ferry tickets, check out if you belong to these lucky categories of people who are entitled to discounts. As an 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% of the original price or maybe less. If you find any, by all means buy them, but bear in mind that they are not changeable, non-transferable and non-refundable.
8. Check for flights instead of ferries to the Greek islands
If you were thinking to island-hop by air, you should know that there are no flights connecting the islands between them, with very few exceptions. So if you wanted to fly from one island to another, you’d normally have to go through Athens first. Plus, if you want to call it island hopping, a ferry of some description should be involved somewhere in the process!
That said, if you are pushed for time, you can fly to one of your islands of choice, e.g. Santorini. Flights to any destination within Greece, apart from the tiny Kastellorizo island, are under an hour, so you will be saving lots of time. Then you can make your way back to Piraeus on ferries, stopping at different islands on the way.
Most of our islands don’t have airports, but places like Mykonos, Santorini, Corfu, Crete and many others have international or regional airports. If you book your tickets well in advance, you may find that the flight may cost you less than the fast ferry ticket.
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, while Ryanair charges an extra fee even for that.
9. Getting around on 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 on your island of choice. That said, read our article on driving in Greece to decide whether this is for you!
Depending on where you are and how many days you need the car 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 the island.
When you are waiting for a bus, be prepared for queues, especially in you are in popular destinations like Santorini. Once you are on the bus though, relax and enjoy the landscapes!
Another way to go around the islands is by hitchhiking, though we doubt it works in Mykonos or Santorini. We have hitchhiked (or picked up hitchhikers) in quite a few of the quieter Greek islands, like Ikaria, Tinos and Schinoussa, and also in Crete, on several occasions.
Finally, you can always consider going to smaller islands, like for example Schinoussa, Iraklia, Koufonissia, Donoussa, Kimolos, Gavdos or Antiparos. These are places where you won’t need a car, as you can simply walk around pretty much everywhere!
Note: We now have a guidebook to Iraklia and Schinoussa available on Amazon.
10. 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.
11. Get a room with a kitchen
If camping is not your style, you can rent a room with kitchen facilities, instead of staying at a hotel. Sure, 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 some of the smaller islands, buying certain food items from a mini market will be more expensive than in Athens, as it has to be brought in from the mainland. If this is important to you, you could consider stocking up on some non-perishables.
12. Eat at local tavernas
We doubt that you needed advice for this, but well, 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 sounds like a lot, 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!
13. Do not visit the most expensive destinations like Santorini and Mykonos
You would think that this is obvious, but we assure you that it isn’t. Many visitors seem to not appreciate that the most popular Greek islands can actually be very expensive compared to most other places in Greece.
Island hopping on a budget in Greece is definitely possible if you decide to go to some of the islands that you probably hadn’t heard of. Most of them will have plenty of rooms available for a fraction of the prices in Mykonos or Santorini, and meals and drinks will be much more wallet-friendly.
Don’t get us wrong, we think Santorini is very, very cool, and you should visit once in your life. If you are on a budget though, consider visiting Santorini in winter. You might also find our guide on things to avoid in Santorini useful.
14. Visit the Greek islands during the off-season
This might be the single most important tip on how to keep costs down when island hopping, but we’ve left it for last. Visit Greece outside peak season, as accommodation prices go up in July and August. Chances are that you will enjoy it more anyway, as these two months can get pretty hot and crowded. If that’s the only time you can go, however, have a look at our 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 25 (!) to 50 euro. In fact, some of them were even in late August.
If budget is important to you, check out prices for June or September instead. Spring or even October is a great time to visit some of the islands, though the weather during autumn can be a bit hit and miss. Here’s a quick introduction on the best time to visit Greece.
Island hopping in Greece on a budget
Hopefully these tips have encouraged you to look further into visiting the Greek islands, even if you think your budget won’t allow it. If you have any more tips that we haven’t thought of, let us know in the comments!