Tips For Your Greek Islands Travel
Hey World Travelers & Jetsetters!! Thank you so much for your patience! I know many of you have been patiently waiting for this Greek Islands travel post! I am so excited to begin to share details and information on our trip to Amsterdam & Greece! I learned so many tips and tricks and can’t wait to share them with you!! Visiting Greece has always been a dream of mine and I am so happy that I finally can check it off my bucket list. Many people don’t realize but Greece has about 6,000 islands of which a little over 200 of them are inhabitable!! So my Greek Islands travel is definitely not over yet! I have only seen 5 of the greek islands! LOL
If you will be traveling overseas for the first time or want to be sure you thought of everything before crossing the big pond, I highly suggest you check out my International Travel Series posts! It is a 3 part series where I discuss top travel tips for traveling internationally especially in Europe. There are things you should do before even booking your flight that you definitely need to know about! Also the other 2 parts of these series discuss finding great international flight deals and Travel Essentials– what things you should take when traveling overseas.
So in the post I am breaking down what you need to know in 4 sections: Home Base, Ferry Transport vs Flights, Do You Need a Rental Car & Driving in Greece? The areas that we visited was Athens, Kefalonia Island, Zakynthos Island (& a sub island) & Santorini Island! We were extremely happy with these choices for our first trip and we want to do it all over again! Reviews on each island you can find here and all hotel reviews that we stayed at are here on the blog as well.
Greek Islands Travel – Home Base: Athens, Greece
So when it comes to traveling to Greece, Athens will always be your home base. From Athens, you can get to any Greek Island. Even from flying in between islands some of them has a stop in Athens airport. Our last stop in Santorini, we had a stop in Athens before heading to London. So when looking for flights, fly into Athens and plan your trip from this departure city. The airport code for Athens is ATH. They have flights coming in from parts of Europe landing at midnight and 3am and even 5 am. Athens also has great access to the ports to get you to any of the other islands.
TRAVEL TIP: Do your Athens tours first before going to the other islands! Athens is beautiful but it is a walking city and a lot of steps and inclines. You will be sore. HOWEVER my body was more toned and fit by the time we hit the beach than before we left the United States! Toned legs, tighter abs and all! It is better to do the intense part of the trip first so you can relax it away on the other islands. I think we would have died if we did beaches first and ended it with Athens.
Greek Islands Travel -Ferry vs Flights?
I think I spent about a couple of months researching and deciding if we will take a ferry or flight to other islands. Planning ferry trips in Greece can be a bit tricky only because the ferry schedules are usually not posted until early May. So the information you will be seeing will be for the previous year which should be fairly the same. We were very fortunate with the dates we chose for our Greece trip. It was late enough where the weather was hot, but early enough where it was not crowded – before school let out and the vacation season really began. School finishes the second week in June. So getting a ticket on a ferry we did with no problem. It was also nice to be on beaches that were either secluded and not packed at all.
TRAVEL TIPS: Check for Greek holidays when planning your vacation. When there is a holiday in summer time (June 5th) expect the beaches to be more packex than normal. On June 5th there were more people than what we saw, but nothing like how it would be in July or August. August 15th is known to be a huge travel period for Europeans. Beaches, trains and buses will be packed. Try to avoid traveling to Europe on or after this date. By September 1st, it will be less packed.
So with the places we were going to see (Athens, Kefalonia, Zakynthos & Santorini) and given the amount of days we would stay in Greece (10 nights), we decided to fly in between islands. The ferries are nice and cheap and you don’t have to worry about luggage costs, but you lose time. It can take several hours by ferry to get to some islands. I am sure there maybe islands nearby with short distances but I can only speak for the Islands we visited. From Athens to Santorini was about 6-8 hours. We were only there for 3 nights, therefore, flying was a much better option and not expensive either. You can find flights as low as $70 each. See my tips on traveling internationally here. The flight from Athens to Santorini was about 45 minutes and we were able to maximize our time in each place with these 1 hour flight times from Athens. Yes, you do have to pay extra for luggage, but in the end, you are maximizing your time. Unless you will be in Greece for 2 full weeks and not doing a lot of hopping around, I don’t recommend ferries. Again in some cases you can lose a good portion of your day just getting to your next island.
Traveling By Ferry Tip: If the ferry ride is more than 2 or 3 hours, check flights to see what it would cost to fly. Paying a bit extra for flight may be worth it versus sitting on a ferry for several hours.
However, from Kefalonia to Zakynthos, we did do a ferry which cost only 9 euros and the trip was about 1 hour and 20 minutes. The boat ride was pretty smooth and not rocky. I slept most of the boat ride. Our car rental in Kefalonia gave us an option to drive to the Port of Pessada and leave the car there where a rental car agent was waiting and we hopped on the ferry. Very convenient! The ferry goes to Aghios Nikolaso port, which is the main port of Zakynthos and it is about a 15-20 drive to get to area that I recommend getting to the blue caves and the famous Shipwreck beach. We used the services of the Potamitis Brothers. Check out my separate post on Zakynthos on what to see and how to get there and to get that famous postcard shot from the Shipwreck beach viewpoint.
Greek Islands Travel – Do I Need a Rental Car?
So to answer this question it is yes and no! For Athens, we did not need one because our hotel, The Zillers Athens Boutique that we stayed at was in the perfect location- in the heart of the center and walking distance the metro station. Check out my Athens hotel review on The Zillers! We loved our hotel and definitely will be the only hotel we will stay at in Athens so bookmark this hotel link! For the most part of Athens, it is a walking city. You would want to walk and explore the city and see what you can see and not use means of transportation. From what we observed, I do not recommend a car especially if you are in the center. Streets are small and the traffic was CRAZY! Not all streets have vehicle access. We made the mistake of getting an Uber to get to get to the Acropolis. It would have been much faster if we had walked or took the metro from our hotel. Uber stated 5 minutes away and it took 20 minutes due to traffic. If you want to get to ports or other parts of Athens, the metro is good and then a taxi for the airport which the ride was not too bad. It was 43 euros for 2 people with luggage that was coordinated discounted through our hotel. Here is another shuttle services that has great reviews that you may want to consider here.
For Kefalonia, Zakynthos and Santorini you DEFINITELY need a car to truly enjoy what all there is to see. There is so much to see and to have the full experience having your own car is better than using public transportation. My rule of them is if you need a taxi/uber (uber is international by the way) more than 2 times a day, you might as well get a rental car and save money. In Santorini, I saw people at bus stops and each time they had a facial expression that showed they had been waiting for awhile and did not know when that bus was coming. Also it did rain while we were in Santorini and the bus stop had no shelter so they were pretty wet. Santorini is a walking city but the times where you would want a car is to get to other beaches, and explore other parts of the island or to get to other ports to take you to the two small Islands near Santorini Nea Kameni which is an uninhabited volcanic island with hot springs or Therasia the island shown in the background in my photo below. I would also recommend having a car to get to Oia. We loved staying in Imerovigli and our hotel was called Ayoba Santorini , you can read my hotel review here! However you also want to see Oia where there is the famous Blue Domes. I heard of people walking to Oia and I do not recommend doing that. It is a long walk. It is better by car. Also in Oia you can get to Ammoudi Bay which really can only be reached by car. Keep in mind parking can be hard to find especially near hotels. Our hotel was in an area where you can find a nearby parking spot.
If you book ahead of time, car rentals are not that expensive. I got a great deal through Priceline. The only company I ever book any of my rental cars through whether domestic or international. This is because you can hold a car and not have to pay until you pick up the car. Use this link to find Priceline deals or if you prefer to book direct. This is very convenient especially when planning a trip like this where you will be going to multiple locations and dates and itineraries may change. I believe from the time we decided to go to Greece (January) up until a couple of months before the trip, our itinerary/dates changed a couple of times. The “book now pay later” & free cancellations options worked out great! Free cancellation & “book now pay later” sites are the way to go when it comes to booking international hotels or cars especially because you have to book them months in advance due to popularity. I will be discussing this aspect in another post.
Some important things to remember with getting a car in Europe is manual vs automatic. In Europe most everyone drives manual aka stick shift. These cars are a lot cheaper than getting an automatic. I think I saw a $40/$50 price difference… per day! If you can drive manual, you may want to get a manual car to save money. Insurance is something I never get on a rental car in the United States, but because of the all the winding roads, we wanted to be safe and get insurance. To pay less on insurance, before the day you are to pick up the rental car, be sure to go ahead and buy insurance through Priceline or the car rental company when you book or within that 6 hour window that they allow you to. The price Priceline offered doubled when we picked it up the car. We learned the hard way. Also for islands such as Kefalonia, I would get a GPS to help you get around. However, GPS or the Tom Toms they provide, may not always help or be useful, which is the next thing I will discuss next – our driving experience in Greece.
RENTAL CAR TIP: Did you know that even though your auto insurance may cover you for rental car, you may not be 100% covered? After a hailstorm a few months ago, the lady at the counter educated me with rental car insurance since there were some angry customers that day. Check your insurance to see if you will be covered for “Loss of Use”. If the car is damaged, your insurance will cover the damage, but most of the time not loss of use. You need to add this. Loss of Use means you will pay for every day the car is not being used due to repair. The rental car loses money for a car being in the shop because it cannot be rented out, so you are covering the cost of what they would have made if the car did not need to be repaired. She told me there were many people crying because the bill was going to be high for something that they no longer are using.
Greek Islands Travel – Driving in Greece
Thankfully my husband being Italian he knew how to drive stick and so he was the driver for the trip. With the steep inclines, sharp curves and winding roads, stick actually is great from what my husband stated. Only one of the islands we got automatic so I could give him a break but when he drove it, he stated it was better manual especially when getting around those sharp curves. The first thing you will notice about the roads in Greece is that they are very small. I thought Italy streets were small, these streets were no joke! Parts of the trip I could barely look because what looks like a back alley was actually a two-way street. No kidding. Also not a lot of guard rails either. Getting to Assos from Myrtos beach was quite scary for me. The roads are very small. With that being said, we were very happy for the car size we got economy/compact. It was very small and if people were people with us, they would be no room because one luggage and carry-on fit in the trunk and the other in the back seat. These are “European size compact cars”. So think Fiat or even smaller. These small cars are perfect for these small streets and sharp curves. If we got anything bigger, I think we would have had mini heart attacks driving around and might have some dings. I would not get anything bigger than a midsize. Definitely do not get an SUV!
Then you have the goats that would be sunbathing in the middle of the street. They are so cute especially the babies. I actually loved the goats and chatted with them a bit! LOL You know if you BAHHH at them, they actually look at you and BAHHH back and then get out of the way street?! You see them in the early morning when the sun comes up and right before sunset like clock work. Because these streets are so small and unmarked, this is where you get into the issue of GPS. The TomTom that the rental center provided worked pretty good for Kefalonia. I did check my GPS on my cellphone (see my tip on international data packages here) a few times because I had trouble inputting addresses in a Tom Tom but it got us where we needed to go. The rule of thumb for driving in Greece is to pay attention to the signs. The locals pretty much say “turn here then north for 30 kilometers and cut, through the mountains and look for the signs”. And that was it. There are signs and some a bit subtle but we did not really get lost, but mainly just second guessed the signs on which direction to go. When going to Assos, there were signs for Assos on a fork in the road but we it was for both directions-road to the left & right. So we made a choice and took one and got there fine.
However both in Kefalonia and Santorini, GPS did not work at all. There are many unmarked roads and roads that don’t look like road you will get lost. Both hotels at each location confirmed that getting GPS is no use and they provided a map. the map from the rental center in Santorini was a joke but the map from our hotel was better because it labeled what is road vs alley and it was color coded. It is still not the greatest map because again their roads are not named, therefore on the maps there are not named. Landmarks will be your best friend. I did use my GPS to try to find our hotel in Santorini and sure it enough GPS tried to drive us on a sidewalk alley way thinking it was a road. So be prepared for that and maybe google some really great maps for Kefalonia & Santorini and bring it along.
So I hope this information is beneficial! If you have questions or if there was something you wanted to know that I did not discuss, leave me a comment below and I will reply back! Stay tuned to upcoming posts on getting that postcard photo in Greece, hotel reviews, Greek beauty products, the best souvenirs to get in Greece and Island reviews!
Stay fresh & FIERCELY you!
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