In the Land of a Million Islands
Greece as a whole includes 6,000 islands. Only 227 of those islands are inhabited. Of those 227 only 2/3 are truly accessible by tourist. Every Greek island is entirely different and worth its own trip, but most people daydream about the most popularly photographed Greek islands and those are the ones they tend to visit first. From the beautiful white mountains on the island of Crete to the red sand of Santorini, the options are unlimited and bring people back to Greece time and time again.
Getting around the most famous postcard islands
CRETE: what I like to refer to as the Gateway Drug of Greek islands is situated between Southern Mainland Greece and Northern Africa. I call it the Gateway Drug because it is significantly more affordable than most of the other “postcard” islands. It also is home to a Naval base, which tends to make traveling military members feel safer. Safety is not an issue in the majority of Crete. Actually, while I was there I was curious as to how the crime rate of Chania, Crete compared to where we were stationed at the time (Camp Lejeune, NC) the crime rate of Chania was less than the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. Safety is not an issue in the country of Greece as a whole but should be the bottom of your worry list on the island of Crete for sure.
Getting Around Crete
Getting to and from Crete is very simple. There are daily ferries from mainland Greece to Crete, but it is cheaper to fly from Athens and only a 50-minute flight. Once you are on Crete it is incredibly affordable (30 to 40 Euros) to rent a car for the day and drive all over the island. This is a must do to get to secluded beaches and monasteries. The bus system on Crete is very efficient but timely and you see more by car.
Elafonissi Beach Southern Crete
Getting to and around Santorini
EVERYONE that comes to Greece wants to go to Santorini and/or Mykonos. Aside from my opinion on these islands, there are very specific ways to get there. Typically, tourists visit both islands because they are close in proximity to each other. Getting to Santorini can happen in a few ways. The first is a flight from Athens or Crete. This is a very pricey option. The second option is a ridiculously long ferry ride from Iraklio, Crete. There are no ferries to Santorini from Chania, Crete you must ferry from Iraklio, which is 2.5 hours on the other side of the island.
When I say that the ferry is ridiculously long I mean 3 to 9 hours depending on what kind of ferry you take. Most recently, I took the high-speed ferry with the kids and it was about 3 hours. Normally, there is not a huge price difference between the two different types of ferries so take the speed if you are able. From the adverturer perspective, the long overnight ferries are a great way to meet people, but a bit stressful with kids and luggage.
Perissa Beach (the Black Beach) on the island of Santorini. The color black is not Perissa in Greek, it is mavros just so you know.
Getting around Santorini is best done by car. Here is the tricky part. The cars are cheaper to rent at the bottom of the mountain at the port, but then you have to drive a manual in stopped traffic going up a very large very steep volcanic mountain. If you are not a manual professional this is a nightmare. You can rent vehicles at the top, in town, but they are about 15 Euros more per day. Renting a car is definitely worth it to get to all of the amazing secluded spots that Santorini has to offer. If renting a car is an absolute NO for you then there are public buses.
The Red Beach Santorini
Getting to and around Mykonos
Mykonos is a very small island and a great starting place for most tourists. I have heard from readers that they really enjoyed starting their Greek island journey in Mykonos because it is so Westernized. The whole island is entirely dedicated to tourism, even more so than other postcard-perfect places like Santorini and Crete. Mykonos exists solely for tourism and therefore no car is required to get around. Everything you would want to see is within 3 square miles. There are ferries available to Mykonos from Santorini, Iraklio Crete, and Athens.
Getting to and Around Rhodes
I tend to refer to Rhodes as a “secondary island” because it is not in the top three that most tourists visit. Rhodes is my favorite island, so much so that I named a child after it. One of the many reasons why Rhodes is a secondary island is because it is really difficult to get to affordably. There are 16 to 18-hour ferries from Iraklio, Crete, and Athens or you can fly in, which is very costly. You have to really want to go there to make it happen.
Visiting Rhodes is more worth it than I can put into words and I hope that you will be inspired to make it happen based on my recommendation. A car would be nice to have to explore the island but is not necessary in order to see the bulk of the high tourist sites. Also, hiring a car and driver for the day is more affordable in Greece than most other places. If you are uncomfortable driving in a foreign country this is a good option for you.
Getting to and Around Zakynthos
Ten years ago no one I knew was traveling to Zakynthos. Facebook ads have made Zakynthos’ shipwreck beach famous. A rather large island, Zakynthos requires a car to get around and can be accessed by car/ferry and flight. You can rent a car in Athens and drive the 6 hours to the Western most coast of Mainland Greece. You should definitely visit Olympia (site of the first Olympics in 776 B.C.). Then just north is the ferry port to cross over to Zakynthos. The other option is to fly out of Athens to Zakynthos and find a car upon arrival. Zakynthos is still developing as resorts are popping up everywhere.
Getting Around the Most Famous Postcard Destinations
Do Not let the logistics get the better of you. It all sounds very complicated I know, but it is not as bad as it appears. During high tourist season, approximately mid-may through September, the ferry schedule is very frequent. There are a lot of things that the Greek people do perfectly, logistics and timekeeping are not among them. Do not fret. Book what you can online. You will have to go to the ticket offices to pick up tickets. These offices are not next door to the actual ferry. Give yourself ample time and flexibility to learn the ropes. If you get stuck on an 18-hour ferry bring a deck of cards for the ride.