Ferry or Flight?
Most of your hopping between the islands of the Cyclades will be done on ferries, although limited, more expensive, options do exist for flying between the larger islands, either directly, island to island, or via Athens.
The sections on each of the islands details ferry and air connections available.
The Greek Ferry System
The Greek island ferry network originally evolved to provide a means of transport for islanders to get to and from Athens and many of the ferries still originate and terminate at the Athens port of Piraeus. These ferries generally served a small group of islands and, other than stops at islands in the same group en route, their main aim was not to provide a means of hopping from one island to another.
As tourism developed, the schedules and routes evolved to reflect the needs of tourists, however, the network today is still very much structured along those original lines, albeit with many of the ‘holes’ plugged.
Interchange Ports (or ‘Hubs’)
Using a railway analogy, there are certain ports which can be considered ‘interchange stations‘ or ‘hubs‘ where a number of routes, or ‘lines‘, cross, allowing the traveller to hop from one line to another. In the Cyclades group, the main hubs are Paros, Syros and Santorini. These hubs are also visited by long distance ferries crossing the Aegean on their way to or from Piraeus, Rhodes, Kos, Crete, and Thessaloniki. The long-distance ferries can be useful for hopping between the islands of the Cyclades group as well as for getting to and from your arrival and departure airports. In high season, there are additional connections between islands that, at quieter times, would necessitate travelling via one of the interchange hubs.
The Mainland Ferry Ports
With a few exceptions, most of the ferry routes start and end at one of the 3 mainland ports close to Athens.
Most of the ferries to the Cyclades run out of Piraeus, however, the more easterly mainland ports of Lavrio and Rafina are often a better choice for Kea and Kythnos, or Andros, Tinos and Mykonos respectively. Lavrio and Rafina are both easily accessible from Athens airport.
Iraklion in Crete has fast catamarans that can whisk you up to Santorini and the other central Cyclades islands.
Within the Cyclades. Blue Star, Hellenic Seaways and Sea Jets Consortium operate car ferries, passenger-only catamarans and car ferry catamarans between many of the islands. There is also a number of smaller lines such as NEL Lines, Zante Ferries and Small Cyclades Line running services that make life easier for island hoppers. Using our on-line booking site described below, you can enter your start and destination ports and play around until you find a ferry that suits your plans.
One or two islands have ferry connections with nearby islands but they are not listed on the on-line booking systems. These are usually operated by the small ‘landing-craft’ type of car ferry. You generally have to buy the ticket locally or sometimes on-board. A couple of examples are the Paros to Antiparos ferry and the Milos to Kimolos ferry running from Pollonia.
Where these ferry links exist, we mention them specifically in the ‘Arriving and Departing’ section for those particular islands..
In addition to the regular ferries and catamarans, you should keep an eye out for interesting excursion boats to other islands while you are travelling. The excursions are really intended for tourists staying at one place to go for a day trip to another island. These trips are not normally listed as part of the general ferry system but can provide a useful, and often cost-effective, way of hopping between islands that would otherwise necessitate a change via one of the hubs and, possibly, an overnight hotel stay. You may have to pay the full return excursion fare but this could still save you time and money. Some excursions operate from resorts that have just a small fishing harbour which saves you from travelling across the island to the main ferry port. If you find one of these useful excursions please blog your findings to help others.
Where these excursion boat links exist, we mention them specifically in the ‘Arriving and Departing’ section for those particular islands.
All Greek ferries require you to have a ticket before boarding and it’s only in unusual circumstances that you will be allowed on-board without a ticket. You can pre-book your ticket on-line, either from home or as you’re travelling, or buy your ticket from an agency. Every island has at least one agency and most have several. Some agencies can supply tickets for all the lines operating from that island while others are restricted to a smaller choice of lines. Don’t necessarily believe an agency that says there are no ferries available on a particular day or time when you’re fairly sure there should be – they may be talking about just those companies that they represent. Browsing the booking sites such as the one we mention below will give you an idea of which ferries actually are available. In the bigger islands, some shipping lines have their own dedicated sales outlet but there will always be independent agencies that can issue tickets for the other shipping lines. In addition, most agencies can also issue you with tickets for later sections of your trip so you could book all your ferries at one time, however, this would restrict your ability to vary the time you stay on an island you might particularly like. Booking tickets on-the-go adds more flexibility but can lead to you having to spend more time in a place than you intended while you wait for an available ferry.
Whether you pre-book your ferries before you leave home or on-the-go can be dictated by the time of year you’re visiting and the popularity of the ferry routes you intend to use. Outside of the very high season of mid-July to end-August, you should have no problem buying a ticket the day before you intend to travel. An exception to this is for the routes operated by catamaran which have relatively limited accommodation in comparison with the larger car ferries and you should maybe consider booking a few days earlier, once you decide on your next island hop.
Booking on-line and e-Tickets
There is a number of websites where you can browse the available ferries and book and pay on-line.
Most of the on-line sites have options to mail physical tickets to your home or hotel, at an additional cost, but also offer so-called e-tickets. These e-tickets are not the same type of ticket as airline e-tickets because of the rules governing the operation of Greek ferries. Rather, they are more like reservation numbers which you take to the shipping line’s port office shortly before departure where you will be issued with a physical ticket. You can also go to any of the independent agencies offering tickets for your ferry line and they can usually access the computer database where your reservation is held and print a physical ticket for you. We have never been charged for this service by any of the agencies even though they make no money from providing the service.
Not all of the on-line sites offer tickets for all the services operating from or to your chosen island. If you don’t see a service you know should exist, try another site.
Our Booking Partner
After researching all the on-line sites, we have chosen to partner with the go-ferry.com site which we’ve found offers the most comprehensive range of ferry services. For your convenience, we pre-populate the fields in the booking form with the island whose chapter you are reading, but you can easily change this if you want to check other island connections. If you book using our link to our partner’s system, we will receive a small commission to help us continue funding the Cyclades project, at no extra cost to you. Once you’ve selected your options, we transfer control to our partner’s system. We have no knowledge of the data you enter on their website so you can be assured of your data security and privacy.