Travel by ferry or hydrofoil in Greece can be a great way to trim your travel budget and make the most of your trip to Greece. And, although in the past booking ferry and hydrofoil tickets ahead of time was difficult, fortunately, the Greek ferry industry has made it much easier to find routes and schedules and to make reservations.
Important Things to Know
Even though the Greek ferry industry has made improvements, it still isn't perfect.
Be prepared by keeping a few points in mind. One is to get to the port ahead of time because the ferry may leave early. Also, know that the ferry may be canceled--the risk is greatest for the last boat of the day, particularly with hydrofoils.
It will make for a better trip if you are fully prepared, so purchase your ticket ahead--generally, you must buy your ticket before boarding, and sometimes the ticket office may not be that close to the boat. Also, food options on board are usually adequate but limited, so you may want to consider bringing something to eat. A canteen will generally offer sandwiches and other basics; the larger hydrofoils have better facilities, whereas the smaller ones offer even less.
Ferry companies tend to operate within island groups but may not travel between them. This can result in the necessity of using some odd routes to get to islands that the map shows to be close neighbors.
Ferry Website Hints
Some websites' "search boxes" are very picky in terms of spelling and the underlying rules of Greek grammar. For example, on one website, a search for ferries departing from Heraklion returned nothing. But just entering "Crete" turned up a schedule for a ferry departing from Heraklio (an alternate spelling).
The city's port could also have been listed under Iraklio or Iraklion (also alternative spellings). Your chances are often better if you're just using the island name rather than the name of a town on the island. And remember that the name "Chora" applies to dozens of main towns on different islands--be sure the result is for the island you want. Still turning up nothing? Try alternate spellings.
The Right Website for You
Even if a website sounds inclusive, they usually only include a few Greek ferry lines. Try another site if you don't get results.
The GTP website is one of the best for routes within Greece. Greek Ferries focuses more on ferries to and from Greece. Paleologus Shipping also provides online booking, though you must allow time for your tickets to be delivered. (For the more adventurous, this site even offers help in finding a spot on a tramp steamer.) Their site is a bit more complicated to use but includes some information and routes not found elsewhere. Ferries in Greece offers a good selection and lists hundreds of reviews from happy customers, including those who had their tickets sent to them by international courier. Ferries in Greece also sends text messages when they know of a ferry delay.
My boyfriend and I are going to Greece at the beginning of September, and since neither of us have ever been to Greece, we are using a travel agent. Our agent has us flying from Athens to Crete, and then back to Athens so we can then leave for Santorini (our next island destination).
My question is, do you think we could take a ferry which would leave Crete (ideally) late in the day or at night for Santorini instead of flying back to Athens so we could then fly to Santorini?
My second question is we could take a ferry, could you recommend a website where we could find information on ferry departure times, and prices?
We would like to cut down on any extra expenses like airfare, while not sacrificing large amounts of time as we are in Greece for only ten days.
Thanks for your letter.
With only ten days in Greece, many travelers won't want to sacrifice time on ferries instead of using planes. But in your situation, it will save you both time and money. This page should get you started: Greek Hydrofoils and Ferries Ferry schedules change in September, so check your dates, but I did a random search for the 15th using the Greek Ferries website and found one on Minoan that would take you from Heraklion around 5pm and deposit you in Santorini around 9pm.
This is an ideal example of a short, cheap hop replacing a potential airport ordeal. In this case, it will take you less time by ferry than it would to get to the airport, fly back to Athens, get on another plane, and then fly to Santorini.
Note: Reader letter has been edited for length and clarity