Island hopping in Greece on a budget

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.

Island hopping in Greece on a budget - Santorini

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!

Island hopping in Greece on a budget - Korthi beach Andros

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.

Greek island hopping to visit the Chora in Skopelos

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.

Vanessa on the Greek island of Rhodes

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.

Island hopping in Greece on a budget - Samos

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.

Further reading: How long should I spend in Santorini? and 4 days in Santorini itinerary.

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.

Island hopping in Greece on a budget - Milos

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.

Taking a ferry between the Greek islands

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.

Island hopping in Greece on a budget - Ferry

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.

Island hopping in Greece on a budget - Frappe coffee

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.

Island hopping in Greece on a budget - Taking the ferry

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!

Island hopping in Greece on a budget - Fly Ryanair

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!

Island hopping in Greece on a budget - A road on a Greek island

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.

Island hopping in Greece on a budget - No cars in Hydra

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.

Island hopping in Greece on a budget - Tinos

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.

Island hopping in Greece on a budget - Freecamping

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.

Island hopping in Greece on a budget - Agios Nikolaos Crete

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.

Island hopping in Greece on a budget - Taverna food

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 in Greece on a budget - Mykonos

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.

Island hopping in Greece on a budget - Palaiochora beach Crete

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 

A guide to 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!

8 thoughts on “Island hopping in Greece on a budget”

  1. Can I island hop from Athens to Mykonos, Santorini to see the blue dome houses an Crete. Await your advise for my planning.


    • Hi,
      Yes the Athens – Mykonos – Santorini combination is very popular and easy to do on the ferries.
      We would say only consider adding on Crete if you have longer than a week – maybe 2 weeks.

  2. Me and my wife would like to hop Islands from athens to Santorini and Mykonos for week. Do we need to stay overnnight in any of the Islands. Can you please give some idea how we plan it to save money! We are planning to travel in Oct 2020.

    • Thanks for your question! These islands are among the most expensive destinations in Greece, however accommodation prices tend to be lower this year, so it’s a great opportunity to visit.
      I would personally allow at least 2-3 days on each island in order to explore. If you take a slow (= less expensive) ferry it will take you around 8 hours to get to Santorini, or it’s a short flight away from Athens (and perhaps if you book your tickets now you can get good deals). Mykonos is 4-5 hours away from Athens on the ferry, and a couple of hours away from Santorini. So you will definitely need to spend a few nights if you want to explore.
      Please read the latest article about 4 days in Santorini to get an idea of what you can do there. As for Mykonos, for me its main attraction are the beaches, Chora and the nearby Delos. I am a beach person and could easily spend a couple of weeks there, but based on our recent trip there it is generally more expensive than anywhere else I’ve been in Greece. It all depends on what you want to do!

  3. Is Mykonos- paros – naxos – milos -santorini a good combination? Me and my friend (18) are hoping to do this in june 2021 as part of our gap year and are trying to find cheap places to stay etc.

    • Hi Ella, your route is great! Yes, overall it’s a good combination, however it depends on how many days you have in total and what you are generally after (partying? hiking? nature? beaches?). I personally recommend at least 3 days on each island, and those that are bigger definitely deserve longer – e.g. we spent 10 days in each Naxos and Milos in summer 2020 and I could have easily stayed longer as there’s so much to do. Mykonos is definitely not on the cheap side, though in June 2020 it was possible to find accommodation for two people for about 40 euro a night, and depending on how the covid restrictions go it may still be cheaper than other years. There are also campsites on most of these islands, so this should help, and it might even be possible to freecamp in some places if that’s your sort of thing. You are very welcome to get back to me with more questions as you are planning your trip!

  4. Hi there,
    Myself and husband are looking at possibly island hopping for our 10th wedding anniversary. We are not really interested in santorini ( will be july and feel to touristy and not much to do)
    Also do not fancy mykonos.
    We like visiting historical sites, learning local culture. Good food and drink. Genetally things to see and do. Don’t mind walking around. But also somewhere to have some beach relaxation and catch some rays.
    Any suggestions as I’m just not getting very far, all the islands are starting to jumble into one.
    I might add that I would imagine we will fly from london Gatwick.
    Thanks in advance for any reply.

    • Hello and happy new year! If you like bigger islands, I would totally suggest Crete – the only issue is that there is so much to see and do that you will need to return several times. Also, you should definitely consider Milos as there is a variety of beaches and strange landscapes and a fair amount of ancient sites. Naxos is also one of my favourites, great long sandy beaches and a less touristy feeling than Milos (not that I’ve found Milos to be too touristy all things considered, but in my Greek head Naxos feels more authentic). I’ve had some of the best food in Greece in these three islands. By the way, I’ve had some of the best food of my life in these three islands! You could also consider Rhodes, which is very different from other islands, with a medieval castle in the main town and great beaches all around – though you might find it too warm in July. Finally, Corfu in the Ionian islands has tons of history and culture (but I haven’t been recently so don’t have much of a personal opinion).
      Now, understandably, it’s hard to predict what flights are going to resume this year, but Naxos and Milos don’t have international airports, so you’d have to go through Athens. There are normally direct flights for the other three.
      Hope this helps a little, feel free to get back to me with more questions!


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