I took a two month trip through Greece and traveled extensively through the Cyclades and Ionia visiting a dozen islands. It was quite the experience and during all of this, I had to make best friends with the ferries in Greece. I only took one ferry in the Ionian islands between Zakynthos and Kefalonia but took many throughout the Cyclades so this post will largely focus on the Cyclades since there are many many more ferries in this group of islands.
Here is everything you need to know about the ferry system in Greece!
How Ferries work in the Cyclades
Ferries are the main way to island hop around Greece. As I mainly visited the Cyclades and Ionian islands, I will focus on the Cyclades since there are so many islands here.
Ferries are operated by a few companies and make regular journeys between the islands. Different companies will service different islands and have different routes.
Each ferry will have a different “route” that it takes and you simply hop on and hop off depending on your origin and destination.
For example, the Seajets Worldchampion Jet will sometimes go on a route like this for the day:
Athens > Siros > Mykonos > Paros > Naxos > Ios > Santorini > Ios > Naxos > Paros > Mykonos > Syros > Athens
Yes they will go from Athens to Santorini and back to Athens in a day making multiple stops!
So really, there’s no such thing as a “direct” ferry because they will make stops no matter what unless you’re going from Naxos to Paros for example, then it could be only one stop.
A map of ferries departing from Athens for the Cyclades and Dodecanese.
How often are ferries running?
In the high season, popular routes like the Worldchampion are going every day because of demand. Boats will get busy but never overly so.
In the shoulder seasons from April to June, and Sep-Nov, the ferries will be less frequent although still quite regular. In the winter months, don’t expect many ferries to run and some islands will have once a week ferry if any at all. The islands pretty much shut down in the winter months.
Where to book ferry tickets?
Ferry tickets can be purchased online or at any of the tour agency shops on the islands or in Athens. I elected to book all my tickets online and had no troubles.
If you Google “buy Greek ferry tickets”, you will have dozens of different results and websites that offer the service. I only tried two of them after reading another blog.
There are no “official” ferry booking company because the ferries are all private businesses. You can either book your tickets directly with the ferry company, or use one of these booking services. Think of it as booking directly with an airline like Lufthansa, or using another service like Expedia or Priceline.
The one I eventually settled on was ferryhopper.com.
I particularly liked their web interface and found it the most friendly to use. They also have an App where it stores all your bookings, which you can use to check in online 24-48 hours before your ferry.
Here’s what the interface looks like:
Is it better to book directly with the ferry company?
Is it better just to book your ticket directly with Seajets or Blue star’s website? The answer is it doesn’t matter. I used Ferryhopper for my tickets and even checked the prices Ferryhopper offered versus what was offered on the ferry companies’ websites and they were the same.
The disadvantage to booking directly with the ferry company is they will only search for tickets on that company. The benefit of using a booking service like Ferryhopper is that it will search all the companies that service the islands you’re visiting so you can choose the times and prices you want.
Using the island hopping booking feature
Most of the good ferry booking websites will have a island hopping option where you can create your own route (usually up to 5 different islands at a time) by selecting which islands you will go to and which date. It will then return results for every leg of your trip which you can book collectively and pay just one aggregate price.
This was absolutely clutch for me as I had to take 11 ferries during my entire time in the Cyclades. Having to book 11 one way ferry tickets would have been quite annoying.
All you can ride Greece ferry pass?
As I was visiting so many different Greek islands, I knew I would be taking the ferries constantly. So, similar to the Eurail pass in the European mainland that let’s you take as many trains as you want for a fixed price over a fixed time, is there something similar for Greek ferries?
The answer is no.
There is no all you can ferry pass unfortunately. This would be extremely convenient instead of having to book so many ferries, check in online beforehand, track them etc. However, the ferry companies operate very independently so there is no universal pass between them. There are not even any all you can ride ferry passes within the same company (like Blue Star and Seajets).
App to track ferries – MyShipTracking.com
I didn’t know about this service at the beginning but there are a few websites and apps you can use to track when and where your ferry is.
This is absolutely useful and I lived by this app on my entire trip around the Cyclades. Because the ferries make many stops throughout the day, it’s likely it will be delayed and nothing is worse than showing up to the port “on time” only to find out your ferry is delayed for one hour.
I primarily used myshiptracking.com as my primary service. You simply search for the name of your boat (Blue Star Patmos or Seajets World Champion) and it will show you where the ferry is in the Aegean sea, and what time it is expected to arrive at your port of departure. You can even see where it goes after your point of destination just for curiosity.
For example, let’s search for the Seajets Worldchampion boat:
After clicking on the boat, it takes me to something like this:
I can see that it left Syros at 09:26 and is on the way to Mykonos arriving at 09:55am. I can even see where the ferry is on the map at the moment as well as how fast it’s traveling!
I can also see that after Mykonos, it will continue on to Paros, Naxos, and Ios.
If I want to see how the boat has been doing, I can click on the “Show Track” button to see how it did on times with the previous day’s route
And finally, their port calls feature is very useful as it gives you a tabular breakdown of its previous routes along with arrival and departure times. For example, this is the most recent history for the Seajets Superjet ferry that I took from Amorgos to Santorini.
They have an iPhone app but not for Android. However, the website is more than enough to use to track your ferry. If your hotel is picking you up, or you’re coordinating when to meet your Airbnb, they will always ask you the name of the ferry you’re on. They don’t care where you’re leaving from or what time you get in. They just simply track your ferry and will know when to meet you based on websites like this.
What are the Greek ferries Like?
Perhaps the most important question, what should I be expecting with the ferries in Greece?
To sum it up, I thought the ferries in Greece, particularly the ones in the Cyclades are mostly very nice. The three companies I took were Blue Star, Seajets, and Zante Ferries.
The ships are quite big and some are really big like the Blue Star Patmos. Each company and boat is different in what it offers but largely it is the same setup. There is outdoor seating, tables+chairs which can be nice to enjoy the sun. The inside is made up of different rooms which include couches, chairs, tables etc. There are always places to buy food and drinks although I never bothered with this as I always picked up some gyros beforehand.
For the most part, I was quite satisfied with the ships and they were more than comfortable enough for a few hours ride. I took a bunch of photos of the different ferry companies which will better explain it all!
Site note: The ferry companies sometimes assign you a seat number but I quickly learned that it doesn’t mean anything as no one abides by their seat number and it’s just a first come first serve approach.
Blue Star Ferries
I think Blue Star was the nicest company I took. Their ferries are massive, new and offers very comfortable plush seats in the interior. The Blue Star Patmos felt like a cruise ship similar to the ferry I took in the Baltics between Tallinn and Helsinki.
Seajets have the fastest ferries and regularly travel at speeds over 40 knots. The boats look newer and the interior on the newer boats like the Champion Jet are super nice.
They also have premium level seating like Blue Star which has very high end looking seating areas reminiscent of an airline lounge.
Again, Seajets have faster ferries but the prices are almost always 2x to 3x the price versus Blue Star and Zante Ferries.
I only took Zante Ferries once between Sifnos and Ios as they were the only company doing a direct route. Zante feels like the more budget version as there was no wifi on offer and the interior was more basic. Still more than serviceable however.
How much do ferries cost?
Greek ferries are generally quite affordable and a great way to see the Greek islands without breaking the bank. Generally, Blue Star and Zante ferries are very cheap whereas Seajets charges much more. The difference can be very stark at times with Seajets being 2x, 3x, or even 4x more expensive than the other companies. This is largely because Seajets have faster ferries and will get you from point A to point B faster but make sure to read the next section to understand why that’s overrated.
In general, it all depends on how far your going. Athens to Santorini for example is one of the longest journeys you can take and this will cost you roughly €40 on Blue Star and €70 on Seajets. Or a Mykonos to Santorini ferry will be roughly €60 because it’s only serviced by Seajets.
However a ferry from Naxos to Paros for example was only €10 on Blue Star. Or the Paros to Sifnos ferry only cost me €6. It’s all a crap shoot really.
Prices are largely set and don’t really change from day to day like airline tickets do. Whatever price you see now will probably be the same price until it’s completely sold out (which also doesn’t happen often). Once you you know where you want to go, there’s no point in waiting.
Do you have to book the ticket in advance?
No, you can purchase the ferry ticket at the port on the day of departure. However, these ferries can sell out during busy season. Although I’ve not seen any packed ferries with all the boats I took, sometimes the people working the ticket agencies are clueless and will just tell you it’s sold out when it really isn’t.
I’d recommend booking whenever you know where and when you’re going. There’s no point to wait.
How to hack the system and book cheaper fares
While I don’t condone this, it is entirely possible to pay less for your tickets by simply booking a ticket from your point of origin to the next step on the itinerary. For example, Seajets will go on a Mykonos to Naxos to Paros to Sifnos to Milos route. If you book Mykonos to Milos, you will pay something like €50.
However, the ferries only check your ticket when you first get on. They do not re-check your ticket like being on a train would. So once you get on, you can stay as long or short as you want and can get off whenever you choose.
This means, you could technically book a ticket from Mykonos to Naxos for €15 or so and just stay on until Milos. I met many people that did this so not sure if this is a common practice in the Greek ferries but was something interesting to note.
How reliable and on time are Greek ferries?
The ferries in the Cyclades are reliable in that they are always running. It’s rare that a ferry will just cancel without reason unless of course there are huge storms or they go on strike.
Of the dozen or so ferries I took, the ferry I booked was always the one I went on and I always got on it.
There’s always a but though and in this case, the but is the ferries are always delayed.
The ferries always leave their port of origin on time. For example, if they are starting from Athens Piraeus port at 7am, then they will actually leave at that time. Throughout the day, they will arrive later and later versus the times advertised at whatever stops they make. Every ferry I took was delayed and arrived at my destination at least a half hour to one hour after the scheduled time.
Now this isn’t just that the ferries are bad or anything but you have to remember that this is a huge ship carrying 1000+ people that is literally sailing on the open ocean. There is no way for them to accurately predict what time the ferries will arrive because there are so many different variables like wind, currents, and how many passengers will get on/off at each stop. Therefore, the scheduled times are merely suggestions. Nevertheless, the fact that every ferry was late makes me think the times they advertise are literally in the best case scenario with Poseiden himself clearing a path forward.
Seajets likes to inflate their arrival times
Seajets is notorious for inflating their times and somehow they get away with it. If you’ve never caught a Greek ferry before, you’ll do your search and find that Seajets is so much faster than the other companies. While they do have the fastest ships, there’s no way they are as fast they are advertised. Part of me thinks their estimates are only just the portion where the boat is out at sea and forgets about how long it takes to load and unload people. Always expect lengthy delays on Seajets.
This is why the times that are advertised on a ticket booking website are kind of pointless and that you should always use a shiptracking website like myshiptracking.com to see when your ferry will actually arrive to your island (aka, later).
Regardless, you will get to your destination, but just be prepared to always arrive later than what is advertised. If you arrive on time, consider yourself a fan of Poseiden. Make sure if you’re flying from an airport the same day that you always include at least an extra hour of buffer room.
Can you ride Greek ferries if you get seasick?
Ah this is a great question. Not everyone is built to last out at sea. What should you do if you get seasick?
It really depends on which ferry you take. The bigger the ferry, the better chance you stand of not being seasick as it has more mass and size to combat the sometimes epic waves the Mediterranean provides.
Blue Star Ferries has the largest boats, some the size of a small cruise boat. I’ve ridden on the Blue Star Patmos and Naxos and could barely feel that I was out at sea.
Smaller high speed boats from Seajets can result in motion sickness. I don’t really get seasick which is probably a requirement if you go on liveaboard dive trips like I have in the Maldives and in Egypt (so epic). However, it was particular wavy one day when I was on a ferry from Mykonos to Milos and I could really feel the ocean. This was also a smaller fast ferry on Seajets and they were not allowing people to go outside which made it worse.
If you are prone to sea sickness, it’s always good to have a few pills handy.
Wifi and Mobile cell service on the ferry
Wifi is available on most ferries for an extra cost. It depends on the company and how new the boat.
Blue Star for example requires that you buy a voucher on the boat and then login to their wifi network. The costs are not cheap as the wifi is all done through satellite. I paid €3 for 2 hours of access which seemed quite reasonable.
Seajets also offers wifi for a price as well on their nice boats like the Seajets World Champion. Older boats did not have wifi like the Seajets 2 ferry I took from Mykonos to Milos. The Zante ferry I took from Sifnos to Ios also did not have any wifi.
The wifi on the boats are mostly decently fast. I was able to work and do whatever I needed to getting speeds of around 10mbps download and 2mbps upload.
How about cell phone service?
4G service is available throughout the Aegean but only when you are within a certain distance from the islands. The islands are all set up with decent 4G structure but it can only reach out so far into the sea.
If you are traveling on a ferry that is out in the open ocean for some time like between Naxos and Amorgos, you will have certain spots where there is no service, some maybe with 3G, and 4G once you come within maybe 30km from the island.
In the end, I used a combination of wifi and 4G+hotspotting. For shorter ferries where I was close to land the entire time, I could get away with mobile data and hotspotting if I wanted some for my laptop. Otherwise, I would purchase the on board wifi for a small fee.
Did I miss anything else?
Most likely. I always forget some details. In the end, I had a great experience with the ferries in the Cyclades and in Greece.
Just remember you are in Greece and not everything will run 100% to schedule. The ferries are mostly reliable but sometimes…shit happens. Just prepare yourself and always budget buffer time accordingly.
For example, I was in Milos island one morning and this girl was supposed to take a ferry to Santorini that arrived at noon because she had a flight at 1:30pm. The ferry was of course delayed 45 minutes so she would arrive closer to 1pm. The taxi is another 20 minutes to the airport so she surely did not make her flight! Don’t be this girl.
If you have any more questions, please leave a comment below!
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Writing about how to cheat the system is not right. This increases the costs for everyone.
Hi Johnny! I noticed no information was provided re COVID restrictions even though you traveled during the pandemic. Were COVID tests required to board the ferries? and would you know if they are currently required? I will not be getting my second dose on time before leaving to Greece in two weeks and sea jets said I’d have to “self test”, provide full vaccine info OR get a COVID test taken 72 hrs prior to boarding…I really don’t want to get tested that many times. Thanks for all your valuable feedback and love your posts!
Hi Nelly, no tests or anythign was required. You had to wear a mask when inside and that was about it. I am going back to Greece this week so will see what the situation is in 2021 but I suspect it will be the same! Are you coming from the US?
Good to know! And yes I will be leaving from SF and there is a delay in NY. Please let me know if anything has changed I would really appreciate it! Safe travels 🙂
You shouldn’t advise travellers to cheat the system. It raises the costs for everyone.
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