So you’ve planned this awesome trip to Greece, you’ll get into Athens then head out to those picturesque islands for some prime Instagram photo opts and relaxing beach time. Now you just need to figure out how to get out there.
A couple of the bigger islands have airports, so you could just fly directly into Santorini or Mykonos. But if you are going to any of the smaller islands, or you don’t want to pay a gazillion dollars to fly into a tiny airport, you my friend, will be taking a Greek ferry.
The concept is simple enough, buy tickets, go to dock, get on boat. The reality is, that navigating the Greek ferry system is a bit more complicated and confusing, and there really not a whole lot of useful info out there.
That’s why I’m writing this, because while going through the process of planning, acquiring tickets, and getting to the dock, I found myself thinking, “ how the f@&$ do Greek ferries work?!?”
You can buy tickets online before you go, and I’d recommend doing this if you are going to be traveling during peak season, aka summer. There are a number of websites where you can purchase tickets (I’ve listed a few below). Some are new and modern, and some look like they haven’t been updated since 1999, but none of them are easy to navigate if you don’t know what you are looking for.
The first thing you need to know is where you are going to be leaving from. Athens has three ports, the biggest being Piraeus, which will be your best best, especially if you are going to the Cyclades islands (the other two are Rafina & Lavrio). The way most of the sites works is that you input your departure port, destination port, date, and time, and the site will give you all the options for ferries you can take. Sometimes it takes some searching around to find the right time & date for the a good price. I definitely spent a lot of time inputting all my travel info into different ferry sites to find the right ferry for a decent price. Depending on ferry company, destination, and time of year, prices can range from 20 euro to 60 euro per person.
Once you’ve purchased your tickets you’ll get an email confirmation with a reservation code, save it, star it, do not lose it. This email will also tell you about the tickets and check in, this is important to look at. Depending on the ferry company, the port, or the boat, sometimes it will have you check in online and print your tickets (or have them on your phone), and sometimes it will tell you to check in at the dock the day of your trip and collect your tickets there.
Get to the docks
It’s the day of your trip! Yay! If you are starting your journey from Piraeus, it’s a very large port, so give a little extra time to find your way around. The bigger companies like Blue Star and Hellenic Ways are pretty easy to spot, but smaller companies might take some wandering around to find. And if you have to check in and collect your tickets from the office make sure to leave a little time for that too. A lot of times the emails will say check in 1-2 hours before departure but, I think an hour to 45 minutes is plenty of time. Also something to note, unless you are on the first ferry of the day, your boat is probably going to be late, so you can check on it at MarineTraffic.com.
Get your tickets from the office
At a large port like Piraeus there are a lot of ticket offices. Once you’ve found the right office (if you’re like me you might have gone to 2 or 3 wrong ones first, hey, it was really early in the morning and I hadn’t had coffee) bust out that confirmation email, see, aren’t you glad you saved and starred that shit? I seriously just handed the guy at the ticket office my phone with a screenshot of the email on it, and he did the rest. If you’ve checked in online and already printed your tickets then you will be good to go and not need to do this.
Get on board
This can be as simple as just walking on, being directed to a section and being able to sit anywhere. It can also be a clusterfuck. Realizing there’s assigned seating and you’ve managed to end up on the wrong side of an overcrowded boat is the worst. But the staff are usually pretty helpful in getting you to your right seat, and having a lot of patience for people goes along way.
Get off at the right place
Pay attention, grab all your stuff, and get off at the right port. If you don’t, you’re kind of fucked. So if you’re going to fall asleep, set an alarm or something.
A few other random things to note:
- Larger ferries are going to be more stable, as less bouncing around on the water, but they are also going to be slower.
- Faster ferries or catamarans are kind of like being on a really bumpy airplane. You are packed in pretty tightly and if the water is choppy you are going to feel every bit of it, so remember to bring the dramamine.
- Depending on weather even the “fast” boats can go slow, so travel times are always approximate.
I hope this little guide helps to shed some light on the somewhat hazy Greek ferry system. The first time I took a ferry was a bit stressful for me, because I didn’t know what to expect, and I couldn’t find any useful information about it out there on the interwebs. This is also based on my experiences, and we all know experiences can differ, so if you have any other questions or suggestions let me know in the comments!