Getting There & Away
Greece is easy to reach by air or sea – particularly in summer when it opens its arms (and schedules) wide. Getting to or from Greece overland takes more planning but isn't impossible. Flights, cars and tours can be booked online at lonelyplanet.com/bookings.
Most visitors to Greece arrive by air, which tends to be the fastest and cheapest option, if not the most environmentally friendly.
Airports & Airlines
Greece has four main international airports that take chartered and scheduled flights. Other international airports across the country include Santorini (Thira), Kalamata, Karpathos, Samos, Skiathos, Hrysoupoli/Kavala, Aktion, Kefallonia and Zakynthos. These airports are most often used for charter flights from the UK, Germany and Scandinavia.
Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport Athens' international airport is near Spata, 27km east of the capital. It has all the modern conveniences, including 24-hour luggage storage and a children's play area.
Nikos Kazantzakis International Airport About 5km east of Iraklio (Crete). Has an ATM, duty-free shop and cafe-bar.
Diagoras Airport On the island of Rhodes.
Makedonia International Airport About 15km southeast of Thessaloniki.
Aegean Airlines and its subsidiary, Olympic Air, have flights between Athens and destinations throughout Europe, as well as to Cairo, İstanbul, Tel Aviv and Toronto. They also operate flights throughout Greece, many of which transfer in Athens. Both airlines have exemplary safety records.
Departure tax is included in the price of a ticket.
If you're coming from outside Europe, consider a cheap flight to a European hub (eg London) and then an onward ticket with a budget or charter airline such as easyJet, which offers some of the cheapest tickets between Greece and the rest of Europe. Some airlines also offer cheap deals to students. If you're planning to travel between June and September, it's wise to book ahead.
International train travel, in particular, has become much more feasible in recent years, with speedier trains and better connections. You can now travel from London to Athens by train and ferry in less than two days. By choosing to travel on the ground instead of the air, you'll also be reducing your carbon footprint.
Make sure you have all of your visas sorted out before attempting to cross land borders into or out of Greece. Before travelling, also check the status of borders with the relevant embassies.
The railways organisation OSE runs a daily service connecting Thessaloniki with Sofia, although you'll have to transfer to a bus for the short section between Kulata on the Bulgarian side of the Greek border and Strimon on the Greek side.
From mid-June to mid-September there is also a train service between Belgrade and Thessaloniki via Skopje. In Belgrade you can connect to trains to other parts of Europe.
Ferries can get very crowded in summer. If you want to take a vehicle across it's wise to make a reservation beforehand. Port tax for departures to Turkey is around €10.
Another way to visit Greece by sea is to join one of the many cruises that ply the Aegean.
International Ferry Routes
The services indicated are for high season (July and August). For further information see www.openseas.gr.
|Destination||Departure Point||Arrival Point||Duration||Frequency|
|Turkey||Chios||Ċeşme||20-30 min||6 daily|
Air Domestic flights are abundant and significantly cut down travel time. In high season, flights fill up fast so book ahead.
Boat Ferries link the islands to each other and the mainland, including catamarans, well-equipped modern ferries and overnight boats with cabins. Schedules change annually and can be announced as late as May. In high season it's smart to book ahead.
Bus Generally air-conditioned, frequent, and as efficient as traffic allows; good for travel between major cities.
Car & Motorcycle Rentals are reasonably priced and found on all but the tiniest islands. They give you the freedom to explore the islands, but you'll need a good dose of road smarts; some of the islands are becoming over-run with hire vehicles.
The vast majority of domestic mainland flights are handled by the country's national carrier Aegean Airlines and its subsidiary, Olympic Air. You'll find offices wherever there are flights, as well as in other major towns. There are also a number of smaller Greek carriers, including Thessaloniki-based Astra Airlines and Sky Express.
There are discounts for return tickets for travel between Monday and Thursday, and bigger discounts for trips that include a Saturday night away. Find full details and timetables on airline websites. Viva.gr (https://travel.viva.gr) is a good website for finding cheap domestic flights as well as other travel and entertainment tickets.
The baggage allowance on domestic flights varies according to the airline and the category of ticket you've purchased and can be scrutinised carefully at check-in. It's usually 20kg if the domestic flight is part of an international journey.
Cycling is not popular among Greeks – but it's gaining popularity, plus kudos with tourists. You'll need strong leg muscles to tackle the mountains; or you can stick to some of the flatter coastal routes. Bike lanes are rare to nonexistent; helmets are not compulsory. The main dangers are the cars on the roads – locals and tourists alike. The island of Kos is about the most bicycle-friendly place in Greece, as is anywhere flat, such as the plains of Thessaly or Thrace.
- You can hire bicycles in most tourist places, but they are not as widely available as cars and motorcycles. Prices range from €10 to €15 per day, depending on the type and age of the bike.
- Bicycles are carried free on ferries but cannot be taken on the fast ferries (catamarans and the like; there simply isn't room to store them).
- You can buy decent mountain or touring bikes in Greece's major towns, though you may have a problem finding a ready buyer if you wish to on-sell it. Bike prices are much the same as across the rest of Europe: anywhere from €300 to €2000.
Greece has an extensive network of ferries – the only means of reaching many of the islands. Schedules are often subject to delays due to poor weather (note: this is a safety precaution) plus the occasional industrial action, and prices fluctuate regularly. Timetables are not announced until just prior to the season due to competition for route licences. In summer, ferries run regular services between all but the most out-of-the-way destinations; however, services seriously slow down in winter (and in some cases stop completely).
Domestic Ferry Operators
Ferry companies have local offices on many of the islands. The big companies compete for routes annually (and seem to merge and demerge regularly), so the following may have changed by the time you read this. A useful website to check is Greek Ferries which is also available as an app.
Aegean Flying Dolphins (www.aegeanflyingdolphins.gr) Hydrofoils between Athens, Aegina and the Sporades.
Aegean Speed Lines (www.aegeanspeedlines.gr) Super-speedy boats between Athens and the Cyclades.
Aegeon Pelagos (www.anek.gr) Subsidiary of ANEK Lines serving routes to Crete, the Cyclades and the Dodecanese.
ANEK Lines (www.anek.gr) Crete-based long-haul ferries.
ANEK/Superfast Ferries (www.superfast.com) Routes to/from Ancona, Bari, Corfu, Igoumenitsa, Patras and Venice.
ANES (www.anes.gr) Old-style ferries servicing Evia and the Sporades.
Blue Star Ferries (www.bluestarferries.com) Long-haul, high-speed ferries and Seajets catamarans between the mainland, the Cyclades, the northeastern Aegean Islands, the Sporades, Crete and the Dodecanese.
Dodekanisos Seaways (www.12ne.gr) Runs large, high-speed catamarans in the Dodecanese.
Fast Ferries (www.fastferries.com.gr) Comfortable ferries from Rafina to the Cyclades islands including Andros, Tinos, Naxos and Mykonos.
Glyfa Ferries (www.ferriesglyfa.gr) Comfortable short-haul ferry services between Glyfa on the mainland and Agiokambos in northern Evia.
Hellenic Seaways (https://hellenicseaways.gr) Offers catamarans from the mainland to the Cyclades and between the Sporades and Saronic islands.
Levante Ferries (www.levanteferries.com) Large ferries serving the Ionian Islands.
LANE Lines (www.ferries.gr/lane) Long-haul ferries serving the Ionians, Dodecanese and Crete.
Minoan Lines (www.minoan.gr) High-speed luxury ferries between Piraeus and Iraklio (Heraklion) among other destinations.
Patmos Star (www.patmos-star.com) Small, local ferry linking Patmos, Leros and Lipsi in the Dodecanese.
SAOS Lines (www.saos.gr) Big, slow boats between Samothoraki and Alexandroupoli.
Seajets (www.seajets.gr) Catamarans calling at Athens, Crete, Santorini (Thira), Paros and many islands in between.
Skyros Shipping Company (www.sne.gr) Slow boats connecting Skyros to Kymi (Evia) and, mid-June to mid-September, to Alonnisos and Skopelos.
Zante Ferries (http://zanteferries.gr) Older ferries connecting the mainland (Piraeus) with the western Cyclades.
The bus network is comprehensive. All long-distance buses, on the mainland and the islands, are operated by regional collectives known as KTEL (www.ktelbus.com). Within towns and cities, different companies run interurban services. The fares are fixed by the government; bus travel is reasonably priced. All have good safety records.
Every prefecture on the mainland has a KTEL, which operates local services within it and to the main towns of other prefectures. With the exception of towns in Thrace, which are serviced by Thessaloniki, all major towns on the mainland have frequent connections to Athens. The islands of Corfu, Kefallonia and Zakynthos can also be reached directly from Athens by bus – often the fares include the price of the ferry ticket.
Most villages have a daily bus service of some sort, although remote areas may have only one or two buses a week. They operate for the benefit of people going to town to shop, rather than for tourists, and consequently leave the villages very early in the morning and return early in the afternoon.
- It is important to note that big cities like Athens, Iraklio, Patra and Thessaloniki may have more than one bus station, each serving different regions. Make sure you find the correct station for your destination. In small towns and villages the 'bus station' may be no more than a bus stop outside a kafeneio (coffee house) or taverna that doubles as a booking office.
- There is no central source of bus information, and each KTEL company runs its own website, with varying amounts of info. Thessaloniki’s (KTEL Makedonia) is the best, and it falls off rapidly from there. Frustratingly, KTEL bus timetables only give the end destination – check when you buy tickets at stations about intermediate town stops on a given route.
- In remote areas, the timetable may be in Greek only, but most booking offices have timetables in both Greek and Roman script.
- It's best to turn up at least 20 minutes before departure – buses have been known to leave a few minutes before their scheduled departure.
- When you buy a ticket you may be allotted a seat number, printed on the ticket. (In some cases locals ignore these.)
- You can board a bus without a ticket and pay on board, but on a popular route or during high season, you may have to stand.
- The KTEL buses are safe, modern and air-conditioned. In more remote, rural areas they may be older and less comfortable. Note that buses often have toilets on board that are not used; instead, on longer journeys, they must stop every 2½ hours.
- Smoking is prohibited on all buses in Greece.
Car & Motorcycle
In the past, Greece had a terrible reputation for road safety. In recent years, however, roads and highways have improved dramatically and European Commission statistics (2010–2018) report a drop of 45% in fatalities. However, no one who has travelled on Greece's roads will be surprised to hear that the road toll of 69 deaths for every 1 million inhabitants is still a lot higher than the EU average of 49. Overtaking is listed as the greatest cause, along with speed. Accidents can occur on single-lane roads when slower vehicles pull to the right on both sides and are overtaken at the same time, leading to head-on collisions.
Heart-stopping moments aside, your own car is a great way to explore off the beaten track. The road network has improved enormously in recent years, with a similar increase in tourist traffic, especially on the islands. This brings its own problems such as parking and congestion in island towns. There are regular (if costly) car-ferry services to almost all islands.
If you plan to hire a motorcycle or moped, you require a motorcycle licence. Expect gravel roads, particularly on the islands; scooters are particularly prone to sliding on gravelly bends. If you plan to use a motorcycle or moped, check that your travel insurance covers you: many insurance companies don't cover motorcycle accidents.
Automobile Associations Nationwide roadside assistance is provided by ELPA.
Entry EU-registered vehicles enter free for up to six months without road taxes being due. A green card (international third-party insurance) is required, along with proof of date of entry (ferry ticket or your passport stamp). Non-EU-registered vehicles may be logged in your passport.
Driving licences EU driving licences are valid in Greece. Rental agencies require the corresponding driving licence for every vehicle class (for example, motorcycle/moped licence for motorbikes or mopeds). Greek law requires drivers from outside the EU to have an International Driving Permit (IDP). Rental agencies will request it, as may local authorities if you're stopped. International Driving Permits can only be obtained in person and in the country where your driving licence was issued. Carry this alongside your regular license.
Fuel Available widely throughout the country, though service stations may be closed on weekends and public holidays. On the islands, there may be only one petrol station; check where it is before you head out. Self-service and credit-card pumps are not the norm in Greece. Petrol in Greece is among the most expensive in Europe. Petrol types include amolyvdi (unleaded) and petreleo kinisis (diesel).
- Main highways in Greece have been improving steadily over the years and are now all excellent.
- The old highways are now quite empty of big trucks, and much nicer for driving.
- Some main roads retain a two-lane/hard-shoulder format, which can be confusing and even downright dangerous.
- Roadworks can take years and years in Greece – especially on the islands, where funding often only trickles in. In other cases, excellent new tarmac roads may have appeared that are not on any local maps.
- Many island roads aren’t paved which doesn’t always show up clearly on GPS or online maps – take care not to get stuck down dirt tracks that aren’t meant to be driven on.
- Slow drivers – many of them unsure and hesitant tourists who stop suddenly on corners and other inappropriate places – can cause serious traffic events on Greece's roads.
- Road surfaces can change rapidly when a section of road has succumbed to subsidence or weathering. Snow and ice can be a serious challenge in winter, and drivers are advised to carry snow chains. In rural areas, keep a close eye out for animals wandering on to roads.
- Roads passing through mountainous areas are often littered with fallen rocks, which can cause extensive damage to a vehicle's underside or throw a motorbike rider.
- When driving on a single carriageway, slower vehicles, including older trucks, tend to pull over to the right into the 'safety' lane, allowing impatient drivers to pass around them. The issue is, this happens from both sides, so as a car pulls out to pass in the free space (which locals seem to wrongly consider a 'lane'), fatal head on collisions are common.
- In Greece, as throughout Continental Europe, you drive on the right and overtake on the left.
- Outside built-up areas, unless signed otherwise, traffic on a main road has right of way at intersections. In towns, vehicles coming from the right have right of way. This includes roundabouts – even if you're in the roundabout, you must give way to drivers coming on to the roundabout to your right.
- Seatbelts must be worn in front seats, and in back seats if the car is fitted with them.
- Children under 12 years of age are not allowed in the front seat.
- It is compulsory to carry a first-aid kit, fire extinguisher and warning triangle, and it is forbidden to carry cans of petrol.
- Helmets are compulsory for motorcyclists. Police will book you if you're caught without a helmet.
- Outside residential areas the speed limit is 120km/h on highways, 90km/h on other roads and 50km/h in built-up areas. The speed limit for motorcycles is the same as cars. Drivers exceeding the speed limit by 20% are liable to receive a fine of €40 to €120; exceeding it by 30% costs €350 plus your license will be suspended for 60 days.
- A blood-alcohol content of 0.05% can incur a fine, while over 0.08% is a criminal offence.
- It is illegal to use a mobile phone while driving. If caught, you may be charged between €100 and €300 and have your license suspended for 30 days.
- If you are involved in an accident and no one is hurt, the police are not required to write a report, but it is advisable to go to a nearby police station and explain what happened. You may need a police report for insurance purposes. If an accident involves injury, a driver who does not stop and does not inform the police may face a prison sentence.
Hitching is never entirely safe, and we don’t recommend it. Travellers who hitch should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk. People who do choose to hitch will be safer if they travel in pairs; they should let someone know where they are planning to go. In particular, it is unwise for women to hitch alone; women are better off hitching with a male companion.
Some parts of Greece are much better for hitching than others. Getting out of major cities tends to be hard work and Athens is notoriously difficult. Hitching is much easier in remote areas and on islands with poor public transport. On country roads it is not unknown for someone to stop and ask if you want a lift, even if you haven't stuck a thumb out.
Most Greek towns are small enough to get around on foot. All the major towns have local buses, but they are especially useful in Athens, Patra, Kalamata and Thessaloniki.
Athens has a good underground system, and Thessaloniki is in the process of constructing one, too (expected to open at the end of 2020). Note that only Greek student cards are valid for a student ticket on the metro.
Taxis are widely available in Greece, except on very small or remote islands. They are reasonably priced by European standards, especially if three or four people share costs. Many taxi drivers now have sat-nav systems in their cars, so finding a destination is a breeze as long as you have the exact address.
City cabs are metered, with rates doubling between midnight and 5am. Additional costs are charged for trips from an airport or a bus, port or train station, as well as for each piece of luggage over 10kg. Before you get into the taxi ask how much the price is likely to be. In some places, such as on islands, where they shuttle tourists between popular locations, the price is set each season.
Some taxi drivers in Athens have been known to overcharge unwary travellers. If you have a complaint about a taxi driver, take the cab number and report your complaint to the tourist police. Taxi drivers in other towns in Greece are, on the whole, friendly, helpful and honest. Useful taxi apps include Beat (www.thebeat.co/gr) and Taxiplon (www.taxiplon.gr).
Trains are operated by OSE. The railway network is extremely limited with lines closed in recent years in areas such as the Peloponnese. OSE's northern line is the most substantial. Standard-gauge services run from Athens to Dikea in the northeast via Thessaloniki and Alexandroupoli. There are also connections to Florina and the Pelion Peninsula. The Peloponnese network runs only as far as Kiato, with bus services to Plata for ferry connections.
Prices and schedules are very changeable – double-check on the OSE website. Information on departures from Athens or Thessaloniki are also available by calling 1440.
There are two types of service: regular (slow) trains that stop at all stations, and faster, modern intercity (IC) trains that link most major cities. Train fares have increased dramatically since the crisis; it used to be the country's cheapest form of transport, but is no longer.
Having said that, the IC trains that link the major Greek cities are an excellent way to travel and the trains are modern and comfortable, with a cafe-bar on board.
- Eurail, Inter-Rail and Rail Plus Balkan Flexipass cards are valid in Greece, but they're generally not worth buying if Greece is the only place you plan to use them. Check if a supplement is required for IC journeys.
- Whatever pass you have, you must have a reservation to board the train.
- On presentation of ID or a passport, passengers over 65 years old are entitled to a 25% discount on all lines.
Arriving in Destination
Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport (Athens) Express buses (€6, one hour) operate 24 hours between the airport, city centre and Piraeus. Half-hourly metro trains (€10, 50 minutes) run between the city centre and the airport from 5.30am to 11.30pm. Taxis to the city centre cost €38 (€50 at night) and take about 45 minutes.
Makedonia International Airport (Thessaloniki) Buses X1, N1, 45 & 79 (€2, 50 minutes) connect to the city every half hour around the clock. Taxis to the city centre cost €30.
Nikos Kazantzakis International Airport (Iraklio, Crete) Bus run to the city centre from 6am to midnight (€1.20, every 15 minutes). Taxis to the city centre cost €15.
Diagoras Airport (Rhodes) Buses run to Rhodes Town from 6.40am to 11.15pm (€2.60, 25 minutes). Taxis cost €25.