Island hopping in Greece can be a wonderful adventure, it also can be extremely stressful if you don’t know what you’re doing. Just like any foreign country, I implore you to plan ahead and decide what type of adventure is right for YOU. We’ve only got this one life, let’s make it good.
Pick your adventure
There are great group tours out there especially for younger people, specifically targeted for travelers aged 18-30. Two of my favorite group tour companies are Contiki and G Adventures. Both have easy to use websites and trips that go anywhere your heart desires. Contiki groups its tours by experience, whether you want to travel like a local with in depth immersion, or if you want an active adventure filled with all of the tourist spots. There are frequently last minute deals, especially on Contiki, where the price drops up to one thousand dollars. The company does this so they fill all of their spaces, and you get a significantly reduced price, it’s a win-win. G Adventures is for those wandering souls that want a bit more of a unique experience. This company offers trips to places you didn’t even know you wanted to visit, and frequently partners with locals to give a truly genuine experience. Their easy to use website is complete with the full itinerary and maps to show exactly what your experience will be to aide in the process of choosing just one. Both companies include accommodations and some meals, but do not include flights, but they are more than willing to help you find the correct flight. Specifically for Greece, if you want to stay on the water, there are plenty of boat excursions that allow you to stay on a sailboat or other boat and have your best vacation while staying on the gorgeous sea.
Another option, is to plan everything yourself. I typically choose this option just because I like to tailor make everything for me. I like to decide how long I am going to spend somewhere and how I will get from one island to another. I love the freedom that comes with planning your own trip, and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with a successful trip.
Decide what conglomerate of islands
Greece has over a thousand islands, so it is important to narrow down just what islands you would like to see. Hopping between conglomerates of islands is not impossible, but it is not easy either. Ferry rides between islands in the same group are never more than about 4 hours, while going from one group to another might take upwards of 10. The most popular chain of islands is the Cyclades. This includes Delos, Ios, Milos, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, and Santorini, just to name a few. I personally chose the Cyclades because I wanted that picture perfect cliffside vacation experience where I could wander through towns and explore world famous beaches and experience ferry rides less than three hours from one island to the next. One downside to choosing the Cyclades is that you miss Crete, the most populated island in Greece, known for its historical architecture. If you are focused on taking in the beauty of the Aegean Sea, I highly recommend the Cyclades. The Dodecanese islands are another popular chain. These islands are known for their medieval castles, Byzantine churches, beaches and ancient archaeological sites. The largest island, Rhodes, has been the most popular in the recent past. The proximity to Turkey offers a whole different Mediterranean experience and beauty. If you feel more comfortable staying by the mainland, the Saronic islands are the closest chain to Athens and are served by the main port in Athens by a quick hop and a skip on a ferry. The most popular islands in this chain are Salamina and Hydra. These islands are the site of a lot of vacation homes of the Greeks, and there’s no question as to why with the island’s busy port and other quaint villages. If you would like to stay away from other tourists, the Ionian islands are for you. Located on the west coast of Greece, this chain includes Lefkada and Kefalonia, both known for their dramatic white sand beaches, caves, and municipalities.
Pick islands that might not be as popular
I decided to pick one island that I had not heard of before and visit it. I chose Paros because of the amazing pictures of its port and its fishing village reputation. This turned out to be one of the best decisions of my trip,and I later kicked myself for only allowing myself one day to explore this lesser known island. Everything was super efficient and easily accessible on Paros. The port was a ten minute walk (along the beach) to my hostel, Paros Backpackers, and had a wonderful market and cafes in the heart of Parikia, the main town. The public transportation was extremely easy (because there was only so many places you could go) and travel to Naoussa, the famous fishing port, took about 15 minutes. I loved exploring the island of Paros and meeting genuine people along the way.
Pick what season
The one thing I would have changed about my trip was when I went. I only had the summer to 1. come up with a trip I wanted to go on 2. plan the trip and 3. execute the trip. This meant that I ended up in Greece in the middle of August, the number one busiest time of the year for the country. The say that olives are their biggest export and tourists are their biggest import, and I was fighting among people to get to where I wanted to go on the more popular islands. The best time to go is in the fall, when it starts to cool off and its not in the 90s every day. I would go again in October with the moderate temperature, before it gets too cold, and enjoy the untainted calmness that comes following the busy season. Spring is also a great time to visit the islands, but summer will bring hoards of people trying to do and go the same places you are.
Plan transportation ahead of time
It is extremely easy to take ferries from one island to the next within your specific conglomerate. The only catch is that you must plan your transportation well ahead of your arrival if you are traveling during the busy season. The ferries actually sell out during the summer. I was a victim of this, and didn’t get my first choice ferry because it was sold out, and I was buying tickets two months in advance! The most popular ferry companies are Hellenic Seaways, Blue Star Ferries, and Golden Star Ferries. You can get tickets from each of their specific websites, or you can use a joint search site like Greek Ferries or Ferries in Greece to see which company has the best itinerary for you. Make sure that you are booking your ferries with the time change in mind, all times listed are in the local Greek time.
Traveling by plane is another option, and surprisingly enough it is oftentimes cheaper and faster than riding on a ferry. The only issue I found with air travel was that the airports are TINY and oftentimes inefficient. Also, it is a hassle trying to get to the airport on specific islands, especially if your flight is very early or very late. I personally use Google Flights for all of my airfare needs because it contains all the airlines in one search and is extremely easy to use. Google Flights also works with international airlines and routes, and compares prices for you, so you know you are getting the best deal. Keep an eye out for Ryan Air and Olympic Airlines while planning your trip to Greece. They are two of the cheapest airlines for island hopping.
Another piece of transportation you must plan is land transportation. How will you get from the port/airport to your hostel? How will you get around the island? I suggest seeing if your hotel/hostel has a transfer system where you can pay to be picked up at the port/airport (sometimes the transfers are even FREE! all you have to do is ask). I typically take public transportation to get around the islands, but this is not the only option. Renting a scooter or ATV is extremely popular in the Greek islands and will typically set you back around 40 euros a day. This is a perfect option for those who want freedom in their transportation and for those traveling in pairs, since two people can travel in one vehicle. I personally didn’t rent either because I did not have a partner who could navigate while I drove, and I knew I couldn’t do both at the same time, not safely anyways on those winding roads. The public buses are only about 2 euros each way, so keep those pesky 2 euro coins handy! The drivers are extremely friendly and will get you to where you need to go. Make sure you tell the cashier what stop you would like as soon as you get on, that way they will stop there instead of skipping it.
Pick your hotel experience
This is your choice, do you want hostels with parties or boutique hotels with infinity pools? I personally always stay in hostels because I’m ballin’ on a budget. Each island has plenty of different accommodation options to chose from, as long as you book early. I ended up unknowingly staying in a party hostel in Mykonos because it was the only hostel available, and it turned out to be glorified camping. Luckily I have a sense of humor and thought the whole thing was hilarious and ended up meeting some really cool people. If you are positive you wouldn’t want that experience, I encourage you to read reviews on the hostel/hotel you are staying at. Keep in mind that location is everything. In Mykonos I stayed at Paraga Beach Hostel which was five steps from the water complete with its own infinity pool and nearby beach. In Santorini I stayed at Caveland Hostel which was secluded and far from the nearby town or any beaches. My favorite website for booking hostels is HostelWorld.com. They are completely honest in their description and their reviews and have an extremely accurate rating system. They also have a compare tool to help you decide between different options. I trust any hostel that is on the HostelWorld website because they have jumped through significant hoops to be featured on the website, so I know they are legit, especially in foreign countries.
Research the best things to do
I can’t stress Pinterest enough when it comes to planning the best things to do in a new place. There are so many guides to the Greek islands on there that you won’t know what to do with yourself. I say look at as many as you can, and keep a running tab to see which recommendations are repeated the most. Another good idea is to just ask someone. That is why I love hostels, because you can ask like minded travelers what the best places and things to do are and its not weird at all. Also, ask the front desk of your hostel, they are typically extremely helpful and usually give you a map so you can make your own adventure. Another thing I do is I check in with my favorite bloggers, I see if they have gone to that specific place and what they did. My two favorite right now are The Blonde Abroad and Polkadot Passport. Then again, these are the Greek islands, you don’t need an agenda if you don’t want one. Ask around for the best beaches or sit by the pool at your hostel and just enjoy the Greek sun.
Last but not least, pack appropriately for the Greek islands. It is extremely hot in the summer months and drops down to about 75 degrees at night, so dresses and rompers should be your new best friend while traveling here. I suggest any cotton clothing that is light, specifically white is extremely fashionable, and the material wicks away sweat and keeps you cool. Linen is also a great choice for shirts or pants because it is so airy and light in nature. Sunscreen is an absolute must here, you will see far too many people with freshly burned skin, and even a trip of a lifetime to Greece is not worth resulting skin cancer. Hats are another fashionable way to keep the sun off your head and face, and fit in perfectly with the island aesthetic.