Getting Around Greece
For many people, travelling from Athens to the islands by ferry is far more enjoyable than flying, though if time is an issue, flights are quicker for more distant islands such as Corfu, Crete and Rhodes. Through summer, advance bookings are recommended. Private charter flights are also available.
Greece's motorway network has been significantly upgraded over the past decade or so. Motorways and some bridges incur a toll. In rural areas, and especially on the islands, many roads are narrow, twisty and poorly surfaced.
Beware that roads up steep mountains may involve hairpin bends and plummeting cliffs with no guardrails. To reach some of the more isolated beaches you may have to negotiate unsurfaced tracks – in which case it's often better to walk.
Side of the roadRight
Greece’s major motorways are the A1 linking Athens and Thessaloniki; the A2 linking Igoumenitsa (on the west coast) to Evros (on the border with Turkey) passing through Thessaloniki en-route; and the A8 linking Athens and Patras. Secondary roads are known as ‘national roads’ and numbered from 1 to 99.
Most major international car hire firms operate throughout Greece, with offices at airports, ferry ports and in all major cities. The legal age for hiring a car is 21.
In Athens, taxis are safe, plentiful and cheap. It is common practice to share the ride (but not the cost) with other passengers going in a similar direction. The same applies for other major cities. On the more commercial islands, such as Santorini, taxis can be expensive and also difficult to find during peak season. On the less touristy islands, taxis are cheaper but often scarce.
Greeks can be erratic drivers and big cities are risky for cyclists. That said, the Greek countryside offers superb terrain for mountain bikers. Various companies hire out bikes, and organise guided and self-guided tours of anything from a half-day to one week. The most popular regions for cycling are the island of Crete and the Peloponnese, both of which offer cycling paths, rural back roads and stunning mountain scenery.
All Greece’s main cities and many small destinations too are connected by an extensive network of long-distance buses, which almost always prove more efficient than the train. Major routes include Athens-Thessaloniki and Athens-Patras. The private companies involved operate under the umbrella of KTEL (tel: 14505, within Greece only; www.ktel.org).
The minimum age for driving is 18. Children under 10 must sit in the back seat. Seat belts must be worn. There are fines for breaking traffic regulations. The maximum speed limit is 110-130kph (68-81mph) on motorways, 90kph (56mph) on non-urban roads and 50kph (30mph) in built-up areas. It is illegal to carry spare petrol in the vehicle, and to use a mobile phone (without hands-free) while driving. It is also illegal to use your horn in built-up areas except in cases where there is immediate danger.
ELPA (Automobile and Touring Club of Greece; tel: +30 210 606 8800; www.elpa.gr). Emergency breakdown services can be contacted toll-free by dialling 10400.
A national driving licence is acceptable for EU nationals. You must carry your car registration documents at all times. Nationals of non-EU countries may need an International Driving Permit and should contact ELPA.
Athens: Athens city centre is well served by frequent buses and trolleybuses, and its reliable underground system extends out to the airport. You can buy tickets from Transport for Athens (www.oasa.gr) at various booths and kiosks situated around the city as well as at underground stations.
The tram system in Athens cuts through the city from Syntagma Square right through to the coast and runs a pleasant route from Peace and Friendship Stadium (in Neo Faliro) all the way to the most southern point of Glyfada. Trams connect with the Metro at Syntagma, Neos Kosmos and Neo Faliro.
Athens' large fleet of yellow taxis are extremely cheap by European standards. If you hail a taxi down in the street, it's not unusual to share the ride with other passengers going in a similar direction. Drivers are obliged to run a meter. Prices go up between midnight and 0500.
Thessaloniki: The city centre is well served by frequent buses. Tickets can be purchased from periptera (kiosks). A new metro system opened is expected to be completed by 2018. Taxis in Thessaloniki are dark blue and white. As in Athens, they are cheap and plentiful.
Athens has one main railway station, Larissa. Train information and tickets are available from the Hellenic Railways Organisation (OSE) (tel: 14511, in Greece only; www.trainose.gr). The most efficient service runs north-south, from Athens to Thessaloniki.
InterRail One-Country Pass: offers travel for three, four, six or eight days in one month within Greece. Travel is not allowed in the passenger's country of residence. Travellers under 26 years receive a reduction. Children under 12 travel free when accompanied by an adult using an Adult Pass. Supplements are required for some high-speed services, seat reservations and couchettes. Available from Voyages-sncf.com (tel: +44 844 848 5848, in the UK; www.voyages-sncf.com).
Balkan Flexipass: offers five, 10 or 15 days' unlimited rail travel within one month in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia (Former Yugoslav Republic of), Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Turkey. Available from Rail Europe (www.raileurope.com) to anyone residing outside these countries.
It is both cheap and easy to travel around the islands. There are ferry services (www.greekferries.gr) on many routes, with services most frequent during the summer. The main ports in Attica are Piraeus and Rafina, although there are regular services to the islands from the smaller ports of Alexandroupolis, Igoumenitsa, Kavala, Kyllini, Patras, Thessaloniki and Volos.
You can buy tickets from the shipping lines' offices located around the quaysides or online. In major ports the larger companies have offices in the city centre. There are two classes of ticket (First Class and Economy Class) which offer varying degrees of comfort; cabins can be booked for the longer voyages or those wishing to avoid the sun. Most ships have restaurant facilities. During high season it is wise to buy tickets in advance, as inter-island travel is very popular.
Routes from Piraeus: Piraeus offers frequent services to most islands in the following groups: Argo-Saronic, Cyclades, Dodecanese and the northeast Aegean, plus Crete and several mainland ports.
Check sailing times either with individual lines, the Greek National Tourism Organisation, or in Piraeus.
Routes from Rafina: There are ferries to nearby Evia from Rafina, plus to some islands in the Cyclades, the Dodecanese, and the northeast Aegean.
Other routes: Several other routes between the mainland ports and the islands are also covered.
Hydrofoil: A hydrofoil service, also called the Flying Dolphins (www.hellenicseaways.gr), offers a fast and efficient service from Piraeus, travelling to many of the nearby islands. Although this is somewhat more expensive than travelling by ferry, journey times are cut drastically. The company also serves some other routes. For further information on various ferry and hydrofoil timetables, see the Greek Travel Pages (www.gtp.gr).
Yachts: Numerous types of yachts and sailing vessels can be chartered or hired with or without crews. 'Flotilla holidays' are popular, and the Greek National Tourism Organisation has a full list of companies running this type of holiday.