Cycling in Greece & Greek Islands
Nov 3, 2012 4:35 AM
Cycling in Greece & Greek IslandsHi all - i got some questions here and there about cycling in greece, so i hereby post some useful info on the subject. Cheers!
Will be really pleased to help u with as much as I know. I have been to Mykonos recently, Paros and Santorini about 10 years ago (but I suppose not much have changed), although not for cycling. First of all, although I didn't cycle there, I would probably mark those destinations as something like 7 or 8 out of 10 for a cyclist destination. I would say it is worthwhile because cycling is one of the ways to grasp that island feeling (a scooter would be a good alternative, since those three islands are small enough not to need a car. Careful: at night it can be a bit chilly&windy, even in August which is the warmest month, let alone may & june). Traffic is low esp during weekdays (expect it to go up by at least 50% on weekends for Mykonos and Paros), but that is compared to mainland greece. Cycling can be fun and could be picturesque, more in Paros and Santorini compared to Mykonos. Mykonos is the closest of the 3 to athens and is home to the greek jet-set, so it is more built up even though smaller, more expensive but it is supposed to have nice beaches (i went there in november so didnt get to experience that). ALL three islands (and all greek islands for that matter) are hilly and you are bound to have hilly rides, so it is good that you have that alps experience. I don't know the exact distances there, but now that I had a close look on the map i realised that it is about the same size as the island I work in the summers, Amorgos. Amorgos (it is about 50 km west of Paros) has no more than 60km of roads, and the longest distance u can do is 50km (double that to go back to where u started). It is a beautiful island and a great ride, but there are no alternatives if you want to add variety to your schedule...
Please bear in mind that those three islands you mentioned are the most touristic destinations in greece. They have a good touristic infrastructure (for greek standards) and with that it means the roads are bound to be good. The vast majority of roads are tarmac, aside from
a. some dirt roads that lead to beaches
b. some dirt roads in the middle of the island which are more used by shepherds.
If u plan to use a mountain bike, u r 100% okay wherever u go (aside from very very steep hills). If u plan to use a road bike (i use a hybrid), u r okay on 80-90% of the roads, which is ample.
All in all, if you are into cycling, then i would definitely suggest getting your bikes with you. Cycling culture in greece is still lagging behind western europe, but it is slowly catching up and although drivers can be aggressive they have started respecting cyclists even in cities. If you are an avid cyclist then you are bound to have cycled in places more catered for bikes (holland, germany, the alps etc), but the greek islands are by far the best place to cycle in greece and the bicycle is probably one of the best ways to enjoy the island atmosphere.
Good news first: bicycles are free on ferries and you dont even have to declare it when you buy the ticket. I have travelled with pretty much all ferry companies and that was the status quo until september 2011 when I did my last trip - 99% sure it hasn't changed.
I will do my best to answer your questions:
1. Cycling from airport to Rafina, ferry with bicycles to Mykonos, Naxos and Santorini, then ferry back to Piraeus. A day or two to visit Athens by metro and then ferry to Poros to cycle in Peloponnese. From Poros, cycle to Emioni, Epidauros, Nafplion, Corinth and Patras.
Cycling to rafina from the airport is fairly easy. If you go to googlemaps and type "from athens international airport - to: rafina" it will give you 3 options. I would suggest the third one, more quiet roads and pretty much same distance. There is only one catch: you exit from the non-official entry/exit to the airport which is for the side facing artemis/rafina. Normally cars wanting to go to rafina are forced to a small circle, go towards athens and then go on the road to rafina. Since you will be on the bicycle and most obviously a foreign tourist, it is pretty certain they will let you go through. The link below is for the route i suggest.
THis is the link for this http://maps.google.com/maps?saddr=Athens+International+Airport,+Spata,+Greece&daddr=37.981355,24.0094+to:Rafina,+Greece&hl=en&sll=36.003748,-29.638103&sspn=81.229787,155.214844&geocode=FRncQgIdmGNtASGqs-4K3xWyOA%3BFauMQwIduFpuASlnoUzlUIShFDFAxWLZLL0AEw%3BFQwqRAIdbkluASmzxBVXYoOhFDGgfLniLL0ABA&oq=athens+inter&mra=ls&t=h&z=12&via=1
Santorini and Mykonos are the most expensive and "high society" islands of greece. Are they worth it? Santorini is probably, due to its unique volcano and the geological formations (breathtaking views and beautiful sunsets can be found in most islands). Mykonos is not worth it in my humble opinion. It is small, built up, with flash cars and any picturesque locations have been taken up by posh villas. Apparently the beaches are nice, but i was there in october and it was grey and barren by then - may to september is the season to go for the beaches. Naxos is quite nice and has nice beaches, it is hilly so it will be some challenge (but not too much!), good locally produced meat and cheese. I cycled there a bit and went up towards the top of the top mountain named "Zas". Once you get there (to the parking lot, that is) there are some big cedar trees and nice spring wanter to drink if you want to take a break.
I would suggest skipping mykonos - you dont sound like a tourist that goes on a cruise boat and then hops off at 3-4 big name attractions just to say "i was there" - and go some other island around the cyclades. I would strongly suggest Amorgos, i have worked there in the summer for the last 5 years. It is 2 to 4 hours from naxos (depending on the boat you take) and there is a daily or twice daily connection. It is 50km long so not much of a challenge for cycling, but it would be great for 2-3 days. It has great views, very few cars, great and varied beaches (the diving movie "The big blue" was shot partly there). To get to naxos and amorgos, if you are to start from rafina you have to first get off at Paros - connections are very good, daily almost. Paros is also not bad to visit - a bit more touristic than Naxos and Amorgos, but not as pretentious as Mykonos.
Athens: Travelling by metro is a good idea. Cycling can also have its moments, but it doesnt make such a huge difference - drivers are not careless, but it is not a fun experience as there is not so much bicycle culture and hence bicycle paths. Cycling in the pelopponese is not a bad idea. Personally, i prefer cycling trips in the greek islands rather than the mainland as there tends to be much less traffic, but i would definitely not suggest against it (like i do for mykonos!)
2. 2 - Airport to Pireaus cycling (maybe hard after a 9 hours flight) by taxi (expensive with the boxed bicycles?) by Bus X96 (do they accept bicycles? boxed?, unboxed?) A day or two to visit Athens by metro and then:
a) ferry to the Cyclads and Peloponnese as in Option 1, or
b) ferry to Iraklio Crete, 4-5 days cycling to Kissamos, ferry to Gythio Peloponnese, cycling Mani and then to Sparta, Tripoli, Nafplio, Mycenae, Corinth and Patras.
Athens to piraeus cycling is indeed hard and definitely not enjoyable. I suggest against it, but if you do, go via the vari-varkiza road that leads to voula-glifada and then piraues (you go more along the coast as opposed through the city). Taxis wont cost that much - anything between 30-50 euro, but taxis can't fit the boxed bicycles. I am sure you can order a special kind of taxi, but then you might be better off renting a van and then dropping it in the city. You can probably take the bike on the bus if it is boxed, but i am not aware of any rules (and rules in greek public transport about bicycle tend to be grey. You can take for instance a bike as it is on 1 of the metro lines, but not the other two - go figure).
Getting to Crete is easy - the boats are big, fast and the service very frequent. Although it is twice the distance from Piraues compared to Naxos, say, it is the same time cauz the service is non-stop. I have been to crete briefly, but i have friends who have done motorbike trips there and strongly recommended it. I dont know about cycling there, but traffic conditions would probably be mixed (some places near towns and cities would be more hectic, as well as some coastal roads.) Getting to the pelopponese by ferry to githio would be a good option, but i have no idea what is going on with that. The sight i use for the ferry connections is www.gtp.gr. Reliable and up-to-date.
As for option 3, i think it might actually be a better option than 2. I am pretty sure you won't get charged a great deal for leaving your bike at the airport - for all you know, you might be able to check it in with aegean: give it a go, they are flexible! It will save you the hussle of getting your bikes through athens. But as for choosing between between 1 and 3, it really is up to personal tastes (Cyclades Vs Crete). For me, the Cyclades are truly beautiful and the feeling you get being there is unique (i am now living in australia so the thought of not being there this summer hurts!). Crete is a different cup of tea altogether, and it is a proven road-trip destination. Both options are good, i guess it is up to you!
As far as seajets is concerned, the answer is no. They definitely don't take scooters (i have tried taking one from paros to mykonos and it wasn't possible). That is talking for the company "Seajet" itself (www.seajet.gr) - dont know if this is the one you want; worth sending them an email beforehand. But if you have it packed in a box, they can't say much. And by the way, there is a bus from the airport to Rafina that drops you at the port exactly (last stop) and from there one can stay with the luggage and the other can walk over to the agencies and buy tickets if needed. Rafina port is small and walkable 5 mins end to end, you can even go to one of the tavernas and sip some ouzo whilst you wait for the boat. I have lived in rafina for 2 years so i know the place well; it is highly recommended as a more relaxed place to start your trip. I have a friend that does amorgos-paros-rafina which is more time and $, just to avoid piraeus....
If you are not too pressed for time at one day or another, i would recommend taking a ferry rather than seajet or flying dolphins or catamarans. The latter are usually faster, sometimes cutting the time in half and others by as little as 10% but you pay double the price. The seajet to amorgos for instance, does 7-8 hours and if the weather is bad (i.e. windy & wavy) you will suffer - sometimes it is cancelled even. The ferry will do either 5, 8 or 10 hours depending on the stops.
And for me, taking the ferry is part of the ambience. Feel the wind, see the islands you pass on the way from the deck, it is the real way for me to get into the islands...
(5 star Hotel)
From US$369.08 per night
(5 star Hotel)
From US$227.91 per night
(3 star Hotel)
From US$74.31 per night