Greek island hopping and how it’s done!?

Arriving of a ferry at Karpathos
Ferry arriving at Karpathos

Dreaming of visiting some Greek islands and not knowing where to start? It’s very common I suppose since Greece has over 200 inhabited islands, some of them extremely small and almost unpopulated but therefor not less worthwhile the visit. Sometimes I think the choice is so enormous that even picking some out of the basket is an overwhelming decision.
Every time I am planning a holiday, I get blocked by too many options. Choice is not always a freedom. How to make Greek island hopping easier?

Some things to consider:

What time of the season will you island hopping ?

Because on smaller islands the season stops sooner than on the bigger islands. It doesn’t mean they are not worthwhile visiting but it may mean you won’t find any public transport or excursions available anymore. Also on most Greek islands most of the hotels close down for winter time as do the restaurants.
Of course there will always be some exceptions but the atmosphere changes during “winter” when most islands profit from their winter sleep.

Why are you visiting the Greek islands?

Are you going for island discovery? For culinary treats? Culture? Or for just a plain no less delightful beach holiday?
Depending on your answers to that sort of questions, the range of suitable islands gets smaller. Of course every Greek island has at least one wonderful beach but if you expect sunbeds you might be disillusioned by not finding them on most of the “yet undiscovered by mass tourism” beaches.
Good Greek restaurants you will be able to find almost anywhere, but again, in winter time when all tourists are gone, some may be open only during weekends or even not at all.
If you go for island discovery, is the island big or interesting enough to fill the time you will spend on it?

What Greek island(s) do you want to visit?

Speaking for myself, I have collected quite a list of islands on my bucket list. Not all of them apparently as easy to visit as some others. Since I have been living on Kos and Rhodes, I know almost all islands around those 2 tourist attractions. Yet still some seemed to have escaped my attention and I am trying to visit them all. But ferry connections are not always the way you want them to be. Certainly it needs a good insight or rather a lot of thinking before you can make your mind up.

The best way to go about is at least pick one island group you would love to go to. Out of experience I know that most islands of the same group are interconnected by boat.
Of course it is also possible to find out if the island has an airport that either accommodates national or international flights.

As soon as you have your mind made up, you can start. Is there an island in the vicinity that DOES have an airport offering direct flights? If so, you can fly to that island and take the ferry from there. Or fly to the main land and visit an island reachable from Piraeus.
Pay attention as ferry timetables change a few times during the year fulfilling the needs for the busier and less busy periods.
Not all islands are visited by ferries frequently, some will be reachable only once a week.

How to find ferry timetables?

This actually is a challenge for every visitor. Of course you can always find anything on the internet, at least that’s what they say, but it is not always the truth. In fact I often found myself on an island and then seeing boats docking in the harbor, coming from nearby islands, never documented on the world wide web. The best way is actually to enter a local tourist office and find out. Or ask at the reception of your hotel although many employees do not come from the island itself and never had the chance to go visit anything themselves. Another way is to take a stroll at the harbor in the evening when all the boats are back to ask around. It’s the most efficient way to find out.

Traveling hours

2 chairs on the ferry facing the sea
Spot on the ferry

The traveling hours are another issue that stopped me from visiting many islands on my bucket list. Some islands have a horrible ferry timetable. I so love being on a boat on the crystal clear seas in between the islands, trying to spot dolphins while I am at it, but the opposite goes for the nights. Especially since the small family hotels I tend to prefer often don’t have any reception. I wouldn’t want to be the culprit for people loosing their refreshing sleep during the night time (including my own). So I’d rather pick an island I can reach during daytime. At least until I have my own boat! (keep on dreaming) 🙂

Best advise: travel light

Another thing I learned during traveling! One of the best advises I can give! Travel light! Stick to one suitcase and as small as possible. You can wash your clothes almost daily, during summer they dry instantly. Also do yourself a favor and leave all the shoes you are not going to wear anyway at home! Greece is not a country for disabled. It means it has a lot of height differences, steps and steep slopes. So you don’t want to find yourself dragging your suitcase up and down the hills or floors of the hotels, cursing during the process.
I have to admit that’s a difficulty for me as well and I always tend to take too much stuff. I skip the chocolate my friends request (doesn’t reach the destination as it is anyway seen the heat). Leave all unnecessary clothing at home (that’s a hard one). Your back will be grateful. I forced myself to buy a new suitcase half the size of the worn out one I had. It will have to do.
As said my next purchase will be a super light laptop to do the job as the one I have now is rather heavy.

Last minute hotel deals

I used to try and plan and book my vacation beforehand. I changed my mind about that rather quickly. Now I just go from island to island as it goes. If one island attracts me more than expected at least I can stay a bit longer. I book only one hotel beforehand and I see from there. There are plenty of hotel booking websites offering you last minute deals. If you don’t find a space anymore on the one island, there will be on another one. Let yourself be surprised and not stressed.

Change of plans during Greek island hopping

One of my first island hopping experiences made me realize it’s a waste of time to plan. I had a whole itinerary written down, spent hours on the internet trying to find everything out. Only to see it change in front of my eyes when the moment came to execute the plans.
Surprise yourself, ask for advise from the locals and follow your feelings or instinct whatever you want to name it.
It’s the best way to go about!

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