About Greece - Get around GreeceYour easy guide to the best holiday in Greece
By bus and train
Intercity buses are a very popular option for domestic travel. KTEL is the national government-subsidized network of independent businesses which cooperate together to form a dense route system serving almost the entire country. The system is efficient, reliable, and relatively inexpensive. It serves both long and short distances, including routes from major cities to islands near the mainland, such as Corfu and Cephalonia (in such cases, the ferry crossing is included in the price of the bus ticket).
Trains are another inexpensive way to get around, but the national rail system (OSE) is extremely limited. This is due to neglect after the arrival of large scale automobile use and air travel, and also due to past technological difficulties in surmounting the country’s difficult terrain. The importance of rail travel is now being rediscovered, and the national rail network is currently under major renovation. The project’s completion is still a long way off, but visitors can already benefit from the first sections of the modernized rail system that have been inaugurated. An entirely new suburban/regional rail system, the Proastiakos,was opened in 2004 serving Attica and adjacent regions and is under further expansion. There has also been extensive (and continuing) modernization of the Athens-Thessaloníki corridor, with travel times being slashed.
Exploring the country by automobile can be an extremely rewarding experience, allowing you to explore the incredibly scenic and varied terrain of the country’s coastlines, interior, and islands, at your convenience. However, Greece does have a relatively high road fatality rate, among the highest in the European Union. Many Greek drivers tend to drive aggressively, and the nation’s topographic reality poses challenges by forcing many narrow roads in mountainous regions to take several twists and turns. On the plus side, the road fatality rate has been steadily declining as a result of government campaigns, tougher policing, and lawmaking.
Roads are usually well-marked and well-maintained, and billions of Euros are being poured into expanding the nation’s network of multi-lane freeways. Because of the rapid expansion and improvement of the nation’s road system, it is advised to have the most updated road map(s) possible. Many of the newer motorways are toll roads, and fees can be expensive. Road signs in Greek are usually repeated with a transliterated version in the Latin alphabet.
For those used to driving in North America, secondary Greek roads, particularly in towns and villages, can seem surprisingly narrow. If cars meet on a narrow stretch of road it is customary for one driver to find a spot to pull over and let the other driver pass. At times, one driver will need to back up for the other. Adherence to this practice is expected and failure to do so will bring the ire of your fellow drivers. Because of this, and also because there are often pedestrians in the roadway, drive slowly through villages and small towns.
Another major difference between driving in North America and Greece is the range of speeds at which vehicles travel, particularly on the highways. While speed limits are as high as 120 kph (75 mph), some vehicles will be traveling as slowly as 60 kph (40 mph). Other vehicles will travel at speeds well in excess of the posted limits and can come up from behind very quickly. It is advisable to drive in the left-most lane only to pass slower vehicles.
Automobile rental agencies are present throughout the country, especially in major cities and in highly touristed areas. The automobiles offered are overwhelmingly manual transmission; automatics do exist, but it is advised to reserve one in advance. Gasoline/petrol prices are steep, but relatively inexpensive in comparison with many other EU countries. Some automobile rental agencies and insurance policies do not allow taking the car out of the country.
Drivers who do not hold an EU driver’s certificate must carry a international driver’s permit obtained in their home country. This may not be required when renting a car, but will certainly be required if involved in an accident or pulled over by the police for a traffic citation. Insurance policies may be void if the driver is a non-EU driver without an international permit.
Information about car rental rates for Greece is available online for visitors who wish to make their car reservation online.
One of the most common ways to reach the islands is with a ferry. The frequency, reliability and availability of these ferries are largely dependent upon the time of year. For instance, during the winter off-season (January to March), the weather on the Aegean can be extremely rough and boats are often kept in port for days at a time. This type of delay is extremely unpredictable (it is not a decision of the ferry companies, but rather, that of the port authority) and determining when a harbored boat will actually set sail is near impossible. On the opposite end of the spectrum, ferries in August fill up due to the National Holiday (Aug 15), so travellers should plan ahead.
As for routes, during high-season there are extensive connections from Athens and quite a few in-between islands for “hopping.” Again, in the winter, some of these ferries run once, maybe twice a week.
There are three ports in Athens: the main port Piraeus and outlying Rafina and Lavrio port. These serve all islands, but central cyclades islands such as Tinos, it is better to leave from Rafina. An up-to-date sitewith domestic ferry schedules is here.
Typical travel times, slow boat from Piraeus: Athens-Paros = 4 hours, Athens-Mykonos = 5.5 hours, Athens-Santorini = 8 hours, Athens-Heraklion = 9 hours,
Ferries are about the one thing in Greece that leave on time so BE PROMPT. New “fast ferries” are cutting distance times in half but prices are slightly more expensive. Sometimes, it is more practical to fly, especially to Crete or Rhodes. However, flights are usually more expensive. Santorini is 8 hour slow boat from Athens but the entrance view from the boat is spectacular.
The major ferry companies operating in Greece include:
- Aegean Speed Lines (Cyclades)
- ANEK Lines (Crete and international)
- Blue Star Ferries (Italy-Greece and Aegean Islands)
- Euroseas (Saronic Gulf)
- Hellenic Seaways (Aegean Islands)
- Minoan Lines (Italy-Greece and Crete)
- SAOS Ferries (Aegean Islands and northern mailand)
- Superfast Ferries (Italy-Greece)
- Ventouris Ferries (Italy-Greece)
See also Continental Greece in ten days
The nation’s domestic air travel industry is dominated by state-owned Olympic Airlines and its growing competitor, Aegean Airlines. Both airlines offer an extensive route network within the country, including service connecting several islands to the mainland.
Aegean Airlines and more recently, Olympic Airlines offer E-tickets, which only exist as an e-mail or a web page with booking confirmation. It should be provided printed at the check-in desk at the airport (no need to visit airline office).
There are many taxis in Greece, but in the large cities, Athens in particular, getting one can be quite a challenge! Taxi drivers are known for being quite rude and not taking you if they feel like it. You hail taxis like in any other large city, but in Athens many taxis will refuse to take you if they don’t like your destination. If you need a taxi during rush hour, it can be next to impossible to find one going outside the perimeter of Athens(they all say they are going home, or worse, they ignore you). If you want to go to a beach in the southern suburbs such as Glyfada, what I have found helpful in a moment of desperation is to find a hotel and get a taxi from there, much easier. A word about luggage and transport from the airport. Most taxis will not take more than three people but will load their trunks with luggage hanging out if need be since the cars can be very small. If you need a taxi from the ferry at night from Pireaus, well all I can say is good luck. The drivers who wait outside are looking to take at least three different individuals going in the same direction so they can charge three fares! I found if you are two or three people, only one person should hail the cab and then if he agrees to take you, have the other(s) jump in. The taxi situation has improved since the Olympics when they retrained all the drivers to be more polite, but getting a cab in Athens can still be a real pain in the neck!
With more than 6,000 islands, 230 of these inhabited, with a dozen or so being major holiday destinations, the Greek Islands are grouped together in 6 clusters:
The holiday islands situated to the west include Corfu, Lefkas, Kefalonia and Zante
The popular Crete located in the south.
The Cyclades (more windy and adventurous) in the central Aegean includes Mykonos and Santorini and
to the east is the Dodecanese including islands Rhodes, Kos, Symi and Patmos.
The Sporades group to the north-east includes Skiathos and
the north; Samos, Lesvos and Thassos.
The most popular islands have their own airport and tourist attractions while some of the smaller islands are accessible by domestic ferries
Many major cruise ships visit the islands and there is also the option of hiring your own boat from any main harbour, so
A great way to see all those islands is by boat.
if you are an experienced sailor you can rent a boat from one of too many yacht charter companies like Europe Yachts Charter, Yacht Charter Greece, Catamaran Charter Greece, Kavas, Vernicos, Egiali etc.