Greece’s popularity means there’s competition for travelers on a budget. But with some shopping around and keeping a few key strategies in mind, you can have a memorable visit without going broke in the process. Just be aware that in the peak summer season, like elsewhere, deals are much more elusive in Greece.
What's the cheapest way to get to Greece?
The best affordable way to reach Greece from Europe is by plane, and your options are myriad. To Athens, budget carriers like easyJet and Ryanair have everyday cheap fares from across Europe, as do traditional carriers such as Air France and Lufthansa. Greece’s national carrier Aegean Airlines also offers cheap fares to Athens from all over Europe. Whether flying to Athens or directly to an island from Europe, take time to compare the fares as deals usually abound.
You can fly direct to islands with international airports, such as Crete, Mykonos, Rhodes and Santorini. Most of these flights are run by charter carriers and are very cheap. Online travel booking sites will show many of these flights.
Note that if you are flying a route to an island that involves a connection in Athens, it is often cheaper to get a fare to Athens and then purchase a separate ticket to the islands. However, this works best if you only have carry-on bags. Otherwise, you will need to retrieve your checked bags in Athens and recheck them for your flight to the island.
Alternatively, you can fly to Athens and then get a cheap ferry ride out to the islands from the port of Piraeus. Allow, at minimum, three hours for this transfer, which involves taking the frequent express bus from the airport. A better option is breaking your journey in Athens, where you can enjoy a glimpse of the Parthenon and a night in Plaka before continuing on your ferry.
From North America
The three main US carriers fly from their hubs in the east non-stop to Athens in the summer season. These flights are popular and tend to sell out, so unless you get a deal early, the cheapest option will be an itinerary that connects at one or more hubs to reach Athens. The same applies to flights from Canada.
From the rest of the world
Whether flying from Asia, Africa, the Middle East or Oceania, you'll find that many options for flights to Athens include a connection in Europe, the Middle East or North Africa. There’s no secret to cheap fares here; once you know your dates, start shopping as early as possible and compare the fares from as many airlines as possible.
May and October are the sweet-spot months to visit
July and August are the peak travel times for Greece, and there are few deals to be had. Airfares, ferry prices and accommodation rates are at their highest. Many places offering the best value sell out quickly, leaving people who wait to firm up their summer plans to pay the price.
June and September can be slightly cheaper than the very peak season. The shoulder months are great times to travel as all the ferries are running, every business is open, and the weather is excellent. The best deals on flights and accommodation may be a little more available than in July and August.
For many seasoned travelers to Greece, May and October are the sweet-spot months to visit the country. Just about everything is open and running, but there are fewer people, and rates and prices can fall by 25% or more. These are good months to find reasonable fares on non-stop flights to Athens from the US as well.
The off-season from November to April can be a rewarding time to visit Greece, but it comes with many caveats. The weather is often crisp and rainy, so this is not the time for a beach holiday. Much is closed, especially on the islands. Accommodation choices outside Athens are constrained, and flights and ferries to the islands operate at a very low level. The cheap charter airlines cut their schedules entirely. Rather than reduce their fares to attract passengers, major airlines simply cut their flights to Athens and deploy their planes to warm-weather destinations.
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Accommodation deals depend on the season and how early you book
As always with travel, plan your trip as early as possible to secure the best deals on accommodation.
In the peak summer season, rates are at their highest. Don’t expect to find a brilliant double room in a popular destination for €50 ($58), but if you book early, you might find a great room for €150 ($173) as opposed to a room for the same price – or more – overlooking the trash cans in the alley.
During the high season, it also pays to consider package deals for Greece. Booking sites and airlines often offer all sorts of discounts if you book everything through one company. But also note that package accommodation deals are usually at large resorts or vast generic holiday apartment complexes, which may or may not be in an inviting part of your destination. Package deals are not where you’ll find the quaint little room with a view at an indie inn.
Also, note that the days when elderly ladies met ferries with offers of cheap spare rooms are long gone. Everything is on booking sites like booking.com, Airbnb and Vrbo.
In shoulder season, rates may be lower, and the choice of accommodation isn't snapped up as quickly – yet more reasons to consider travel in May, June, September and October.
From November to April, rates fall but so does availability as many places to stay close entirely. Note that holiday apartments may not have heating, so check carefully.
Choose how to get between the islands
Island-hopping is one of the real pleasures of Greek travel. Lounging on a deck while gliding past idyllic islands is part of many a traveler’s fantasy. Ferry fares tend to be consistent, but you can save money with a few strategies:
- Book early (as always!). Larger boats often offer advance-purchase fares at significant savings from walk-up fares.
- Compare prices. On competitive routes such as Athens to Mykonos, several ferry companies offer service in summer, and fares can vary a bit between them. Use online booking sites such as Ferryhopper to compare options.
- Go slow. On routes where there are large traditional ferries and flashy fast ferries, the slow boats are almost always cheaper. One hidden benefit of the slow boats is that they usually have large amounts of deck space, so you can live that Greek fantasy and watch the islands glide by. Many fast ferries have little or no deck space, so you spend the journey locked up in charmless lounges.
- In summer, there are also inter-island flights and much more frequent airline service to and from Athens, but the popularity of the flights means that deals are few. Watch out for major Greek holidays when locals buy up every airline (and ferry) seat to return to their home islands.
Pick your transport to explore the mainland
Greek buses are cheap, modern and reasonably comfortable. Every village has at least some service, although the smallest villages may not have much.
Although the train network is limited, fares are cheap where the trains run, and the seats are very comfortable. The route linking Athens and Thessaloniki is the real star, with fast trains linking the two cities in a little over four hours – faster than is possible by bus or car.
As elsewhere in the world, rental car prices have shot up in Greece. Your own wheels offer maximum flexibility but come at a cost. Deals are few, although you may be able to save by booking a car as part of an airfare and accommodation package.
One strategy to save money on car rentals is only renting cars on days when you need the flexibility and convenience to do some exploring.
Weigh your options for getting around the islands
On an island like Hydra, where all motor vehicles are banned, your options to get around the island are simple and free: you walk. However, on most islands, you’ll again be weighing the cost of a car versus the inconvenience of a bus. Popular islands will have summer-season buses serving popular destinations and beaches, so the strategy of renting a car only for certain days of exploration holds. Tiny rental companies exist on many of the islands in addition to the large chains, but in peak season, don’t expect any better rates from local vendors.
It’s usually easy to rent a scooter or motorbike from a local vendor. Budget about €20 to €40 ($23 to $46) for this. But make sure the rental comes with a helmet included, and you should know how to ride one before you rent one.
Steep hills, narrow roads and other challenging conditions, including the sun and heat, mean riding a bicycle is an activity chosen for the fun of it rather than a practical means of getting around easily.
Save on entrance fees
Paying to see museums, ruins, historic sites and other attractions is relatively inexpensive in Greece as entrance fees are set not to bankrupt the local citizens. But don’t forget to look for discounts for students and people under 26 or over 60 (eg, this means a 50% reduction in fees at the Acropolis in Athens, etc).
All beaches are free. Yes, you can pay for a pricey lounger, but there will always be a portion of the beach where you can smooth out your own towel and enjoy the same water.
Enjoy a good, cheap meal
Obviously, the waterfront restaurant or stylish cafe on a popular beach are not the places to go for a decent budget meal. But affordable options abound across Greece as local people also want to eat out but can’t afford tourist prices.
In every popular area from the heart of Athens to the smallest island village, step a street or two away from the buzz, and you’ll likely find shops selling souvlaki (grilled meat) sandwiches on pita and other Greek treats. You need not succumb to the siren call of the pizza joint or burger stand – although there are plenty of these – to get a good, fresh meal of Greek food for well under €10 ($12).
Bakeries sell sandwiches and other prepared foods, and even the smallest supermarket likely has a deli case filled with meats, cheese and prepared foods like tzatziki.
Drink for less
Supermarkets also sell cheap cold beer and wine. You can enjoy sitting on the rocks while savoring the same sunset as the people at the nearby pricey taverna. Spirits are always expensive.
- Inter-island ferry ticket: from €20 ($23)
- Hostel room: €25-60 ($29-70)
- Basic room for two: €50-140 ($58-162)
- Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): €100-300 ($116-347)
- Public transport ticket: €1.20 ($1.30)
- Coffee: €2 ($2.30)
- Souvlaki sandwich: €4-6 ($4.60-7)
- Dinner for two: €40 and up ($46)
- Beer at a cafe: €3-6 ($3.50-7)
- Beach lounger: €5-10 ($5.80-12)