How to Visit the Greek Islands on a Budget (2018 Edition)
Table of Contents
- 1 The Budget Guide to the Greek Islands
- 2 Greek Islands: Know Before You Go
- 3 Getting to Greece
- 4 Use Uber in Athens
- 5 Getting to the Greek Islands
- 6 Greek Islands with Airports
- 7 Ferries to the Greek Islands
- 8 Book Your Ferry Here
- 9 Finding a Place to Stay in the Greek Islands
- 10 Which Greek Islands Should I Visit?
- 11 Santorini
- 12 Milos
- 13 – Rhodes
- 14 – Symi
- 15 Getting Around the Greek Islands
- 16 Tips for Saving Money in the Greek Islands
- 17 Greek Island Wrap Up
The Budget Guide to the Greek Islands
Everyone wants to visit the Greek islands at some point in their lives, right? I mean, how could you resist the urge to want to watch one of Santorini’s famous sunsets and visit the beautiful beaches of the lesser known island of Milos?
Many people are under the impression that it’s both difficult and expensive to visit the Greek islands. I’m here to tell you that it’s neither.
As a matter of fact right now is the best time to visit the Greek islands due to the economy and ease of travel from the U.S and Europe.
Greek Islands: Know Before You Go
When preparing for a trip to Greece and the Greek islands your first priority should be to make sure you make a small investment towards your health and well being by purchasing a flexible and super affordable travel insurance policy for your trip.
Not only will this travel insurance policy cover you if your bags are lost/stolen and if your flight is delayed/cancelled, but you’ll also be covered for all medical and injury related issues as well.
Let’s face it. No parents, family or friends want to have to cover the cost of you getting Medevaced home from the Greek islands. Bad things do happen. Especially when you least expect it.
Do yourself a favor and get your travel insurance coverage now so you can rest assured that you’ll be taken care of in the event of a serious emergency in Greece.
Note: You won’t believe how reasonably priced this travel insurance is!
Getting to Greece
Flying from the United States:
Getting to Greece is easy although it can be quite pricey depending on where you are flying from and which month you plan on traveling.
For those of you flying from the United States, one of the best tips for finding cheap flights to Greece is to look for flights departing out of some of the biggest U.S. hubs.
Example: LAX, JFK, ATL, BOS, IAD, MIA.
All of the above airports are examples of major flight hubs in the United States and are usually great starting points when looking for the best deals on flights to Greece.
Here are the two websites I use to plan all of my travels. My best advice is to use both to compare prices and find the best deal.
Use Uber in Athens
If you’ve used Uber in the past you would know that it’s hands down the most convenient and safe way to move around any city these days. Fortunately, Uber is now operating in Athens so you can be picked up from the airport and dropped directly to the doorstep of your hotel in the city. If you’re taking a ferry from Athens to the Greek islands, you can take an Uber directly to the ferry port with ease.
Fun Fact: UberTaxi in Athens is more than 20% cheaper than a standard taxi.
If you’ve never used Uber before then there’s no better time to start. Why? Well, you can save €10 Euros off your first Uber ride by using the Uber Promo Code: ACGTS9Z2UE
Note: This Uber Promo Code can be applied worldwide, not just in Greece. If you’re from the U.S. you’ll score a free ride of up to $15USD
Getting to the Greek Islands
Flying is the most convenient and efficient way to reach the Greek islands. Already in Europe? If so, you’re already more than halfway there.
Flights from Athens to some of the most popular Greek islands only take about 50-70 minutes while ferries take anywhere from 5 to 10+ hours. In other words, always start by searching for flights to the Greek islands before looking into ferries.
As I mentioned above, I recommend that you use both Skyscanner and Google Flights in conjunction with each other to compare prices and to begin your search to find the cheapest flights to the Greek islands.
Depending on the season and the latest promotions, flights from Athens to these islands mentioned above can be found for as low as €40 round-trip.
The best flight deals to the Greek islands are always found when searching for flights leaving from major European hubs and by using budget airlines such as Aegean, Olympic and RyanAir.
Example: ATH, LON, LHR, MUC, BCN, and FCO are just a few of the major hubs in Europe.
Greek Islands with Airports
Not all of the Greek islands have airports therefore some islands require you to take ferries in order to reach them.
Below you’ll find a short list of the Greek islands that do have airports.
- Chios (JKH)
- Chania (CHQ)
- Corfu (CFU)
- Heraklion (HER)
- Ikaria (JIK)
- Ioannina (IOA)
- Kefalonia (EFL)
- Kos (KGS)
- Leros (LRS)
- Lesvos (MJT)
- Milos (MLO)
- Mykonos (JMK)
- Naxos (JNX)
- Paros (PAS)
- Rhodes (RHO)
- Samos (SMI)
- Santorini (JTR)
- Skiathos (JSI)
- Skyros (SKU)
- Syros (JSY)
- Zakynthos (ZTH)
- Finding flights to some of the smaller islands can be quite tough due to intermittent flight schedules.
- Flights to some of the more popular islands such as Chania (Crete), Heraklion (Crete), Mykonos, Rhodes, Santorini and Zakynthos are very easy to find during the spring, summer and early fall seasons.
Ferries to the Greek Islands
As I mentioned earlier, great deals on flights can be found if you keep your eyes peeled. That being said, sometimes flights to the islands are far too expensive and taking a ferry to the Greek Island of your choice will be your next best bet.
I’ve used several different Greek ferry booking systems over the years but I haven’t found a company that is as reliable and has a more user-friendly booking system than Ferries in Greece – these guys have been in business since 1999 and assist more than 35,000 visitors get to and from the Greek isles each year.
Ferries in Greece has been my go-to Greek ferry booking site for the last couple of years now and I couldn’t be more satisfied with my experience. You can find their booking engine below.
Book Your Ferry Here
Finding a Place to Stay in the Greek Islands
When it comes to finding accommodations on the Greek islands, your options are just about endless. From hostels to cliff side hotels, resorts, short term apartments rentals and more, the Greek islands have it all.
Here are three different approaches when it comes to finding accommodations on the Greek islands.
Hotels in the Greek islands
If for some reason I don’t find anything on airbnb my next recommendation would be to take a look on HotelsCombined. HC offers a wide variety of accommodations from budget hostels to 5-star hotels on the Greek islands for you to choose from.
Booking hotels in the Greek islands will likely be more expensive than most airbnb apartment rentals in the islands but if you find yourself to be more comfortable in a hotel then do yourself a favor and reserve your room through HotelsCombined.
Fun Fact: There are currently more than 26,000+ property listings in Greece alone and the list is growing daily.
Renting airbnb apartments in the Greek islands can be surprisingly affordable.
In my opinion, renting airbnb apartments in the Greek islands is one of the best bets and is also usually the best bang for your buck considering most airbnb rentals have very comfortable living situations which include en-suite bedroom/bathrooms, full kitchens, living areas and balconies. Some even come equipped with balconies overlooking the sea. Generally speaking, most airbnb apartments are usually centrally located and situated in some of the best parts of the islands.
Some people prefer staying in airbnbs over apartments Why stay in a box of a hotel room with minimal amenities when you can have a fully equipped private apartment of your own for much less than it would cost for a night in a hotel?
The most adventurous way to find accommodations on the Greek islands is to simply show up with no reservations at all.
Note: This option isn’t for everyone.
Those of you who like to plan, research and coordinate every little detail of your trip ahead of time should skip this section now.
Alright, so you’re prepared to show up to the Greek islands without reservations?
Well, if you’re spontaneous enough and you’re not concerned with making reservations prior to arriving to the islands then a good way to find deals on accommodations in the Greek islands is to simply show up.
I know it sounds a little crazy but when you disembark your ferry on some of the larger islands, you’ll notice groups of hotel owners and family operated guesthouses lined up awaiting your business and trying to fill up their accommodations.
Start by speaking with some of the hotel and guesthouse owners and find out what they have to offer you. If you have any inclination and you’re not 100% sold on the first one simply move on to the next guy. If you don’t, you’ll quickly realize that all the other owners will have headed back to their properties with other tourists from your ferry.
Tip: Whatever you do, don’t forget to come prepared with your best haggling skills!
Another great thing about showing up to an island without reservations is that you can usually negotiate the cost of your accommodations based on how much time you are interested in spending on the island.
If you visit the islands during high season you might be surprised to see 25 or 30 different hotel and apartment and hotel owners approaching you from all angles wanting your business.
Which Greek Islands Should I Visit?
Most tourists struggle with deciding on which island best fits their wants and needs when it comes to a Greek island vacation.
Today I’m going to give you a quick breakdown on some of the top Greek islands. You know, because there are just too many Greek isles to choose from!
The most popular Greek islands islands are Santorini, Mykonos, Ios, Corfu, and Crete with Santorini and Mykonos being the most popular with tourists from around the world.
Let’s start off with the most popular islands first and move along to some of my personal and lesser known favorites.
The Island of Santorini is a small yet thriving island a little over 100 miles away from the main Greek islands. It connects to a number of uninhabited but interested islands, offering more places to explore and amazing views. Beaches made up of black, white, and red rock can be found on the island, meaning it lacks the sandy beaches most people look for in a vacation spot, but does have one of a kind beach experiences.
The island is well known for being a romantic hotspot, but it also appeals to travelers from all backgrounds as it has a number of activities available. The creation of the island from a former volcanic eruption has created sloping hills and cliff side accommodations that offer amazing views. In addition, the separation from the mainland showcases amazing sunsets, where the sun appears to disappear into a fiery sea when viewed from up high. The main towns are actually built into the surrounding cliffs, meaning that they provide a view straight down to the water, allowing tourists to view the amazing sunsets from the comfort of their hotel room.
Santorini is often a stop on trips by people interested in ancient Greek ruins, as the village of Akrotiri is open for visitors as are a number of smaller villas, and at least 10 different archeological sites. Hiking paths connect some of the most interesting spots, while also leading to ancient churches and comfortable hotels.
The island sits on top of an underwater caldera that was formed by a previous volcanic eruption. This eruption led to the creation of a number of different hot springs, and inactive volcanic sites around the island. These hot springs often feature thermal baths and have made the island famous as a place for relaxation, healing, and one of a kind spa treatments.
Finally, Santorini is also famous for their vineyards. Most feature their own store where wines can be purchased, while several actually have their own museums, recounting the founding of the vineyard and thousands of years of hard work.
Santorini Budget Hotel Recommendation:
Katefiani Villas – For around €30 per night (approx. $33 USD/night) you can score yourself a cozy room at Katefiani Villas, a small family owned hotel located in the village of Perissa.
This hotel is very clean, quiet and is located just steps from Santorini’s black sand beach, also known as Perissa Beach. The owner, Jacob, provides free transfers from the ferry port to the hotel when organized ahead of time.
Dimitrios Cave House – Incredible cliff side cave home turned airbnb property located on the edge of the cliffs in Firostefani. If you’re going to splurge on one thing on your next trip to the Greek islands, this is it.
Note: The Dimitrios Cave House is expensive and not budget friendly by any means but to be honest I wouldn’t bother recommending this place if it wasn’t worth every penny. I surprised my mother with a 3-night stay at Dimitrios Cave House and she still can’t stop talking about it.
Scooter & ATV Rentals in Santorini:
Scooter rentals go for 10-25 Euro/day depending on where you rent them from. ATV’s are slightly more but a heck of a lot more comfortable if you’ve got someone riding on the back with you.
Recommended Santorini Tours:
If you’re not comfortable with traveling to and from the Greek islands independently, I recommend you take a look at these very reasonably priced 2 and 3-night tours to Santorini.
The beauty of these tours is that they cater to two different types of travelers; budget travelers and travelers that don’t mind spending a few extra bucks.
The tours include round-trip ferry transportation from Athens for the budget traveler (8 hours one-way) or a round-trip speedboat crossing (5.5 hours one-way) for those who want to enjoy more time on the island. You also have the option to choose from 2, 3, or 4-star accommodations on Santorini. It’s your trip. You choose.
Milos is hands down my favorite Greek island and I’ve visited more than 15 Greek islands at this point. If you’re looking for some of the best and most unique beaches that Greece has to offer then Milos is a destination you simply cannot miss.
This island is the picture perfect paradise which can often be seen on postcards from Greece. With large outcroppings of rocks providing visual boundaries to swimmers, and interesting climbing spots for kids, it is might also be one of the most family friendly islands in Greece.
The most famous areas to visit on the island are two large caves known as Papáfragkas and Sykiá and four thermal springs known as Pikropiyí, Alykí, Provatá, and Kanáva. These have long been subjects of interest to all those who visit the island, including Hippocrates himself. Early Christians catacombs dot the hills of Fylakopi, creating a pilgrimage site for both Christians and archeologists alike.
The island is also famous for mining, with much of the Obsidian found throughout the Greek islands being mined on the island. 11,000 years of mining history have been condensed into a single museum on the island as well. People who are actively interested in the mining history of the island can also see the oldest mines in the Mediterranean via guided tours if they wish, while vendors regularly sell minerals found beneath the surface of the island at low prices to tourists.
Scuba divers can often be found on the island as there are a number of underwater caves under the island and beneath the connections to neighboring island as well. There are a number of small caves that can only be reached by boat as well, making it the perfect place to visit for marine inclined individuals.
Finally the island is known for Sýrmata, tiny little houses that are painted in a number of different colors. Traditionally these were used by fishermen to shelter their boats during the winter, and many of them are still in use. Tours by boat offer the ability to photograph these docking homes that only appear on two islands in the world.
Fun Fact: There are more than 72 different beaches on Milos!
My advice to you would be to pair this island with a visit to Santorini that way you get the chance to experience the best of both worlds when it comes to the cliffs of Santorini and the incredible beaches of Milos.
Budget Accommodation Recommendation:
Mimoza Apartments: During my last trip to Milos, I stayed at Mimoza, a very centrally located apartment set back a few blocks from the port of Adamas. I highly recommend this apartment due to the location and the affordability factor.
Scooter, ATV and car rentals are very affordable and are a must if you want to truly explore the lesser visited parts of the island.
Another perk about visiting Milos is that you can take a short 15 minute ferry ride to a tiny little traditional Greek island known as Kimolos and check another island off your list.
Rhodes is the 4th largest Greek island and it’s an island I highly recommend you visit if you’re planning on a trip to some of the eastern islands of Greece.
The Colossus at Rhodes is something that most people have heard of, giving this island an instantly recognizable name. While the Colossus is long gone, the island is still famed for the ancient wonders contained within, the trading harbor that bustles with activity each day, and the plethora of nature based activities the island offers.
This is a great island for walking, and has some of the best preserved cultural practices in the Grecian islands. Roman baths, decorated in early Art Deco styles are one of the main appeals of the island. While seemingly ancient, they are actually around 100 years old after their restoration. However, relaxing in them is a thoroughly modern experience and many couples find that the island is a place they enjoy spending time.
Around the island a number of Rhodian deer statues are displayed in much the same way that the Colossus once would have been. This is just the start of the island’s dedication to animals. Rodíni Park lies across the same city, offering a paradise to peacocks and showcases the native plants and trees on the island.
A large aquarium, that houses the largest and most well known marine research center in Greece, is also located on the island. The aquarium offers an underwater cave setting, allowing a unique viewing experience for visitors.
The island is also well known as being the filming site for several popular movies. While other parts of the island have chosen to capitalize on the calm and isolated beaches, offering windsurfing, sailing, and other water based experiences in relative safety.
Finally, the island is known for their old town, medieval ruins, and generally historic areas. More than any other island in Greece, Rhodes offers a look back throughout the history of Greece, while offering thoroughly modern experiences as well. Everything from entire ancient villages to hidden necropolis can be seen around the island.
Note: If you’re heading to Rhodes in the near future, I think you’ll find my Beginner’s Guide to Rhodes to be really useful.
Also, if you’d like to knock Turkey off your bucketlist during your trip to Greece then Rhodes is a great island to visit as the round-trip ferry from Rhodes to Marmaris, Turkey can be done in a day and is relatively affordable.
The Greek island of Symi is a small, quiet and lesser known island located in the group of Dodecanese islands just 41 km /25 mi northwest of the fourth largest Greek Island known as Rhodes.
Symi is a great place to vacation if you’re looking for stunning views, a tranquil port, beautiful seaside hikes, shopping for hand-made leather goods and for those who are interested in getting a more traditional and genuine Greek island experience.
This small island is most commonly visited as a day trip from Rhodes, and offers an extremely close connection to Turkey, showcasing some of the blended cultural experiences that take place within the Mediterranean.
The biggest attractions on the island are a large monastery (more info below), multiple museums, and annual festivals. Each of these has helped shape the culture of the island, setting it apart from the other nearby islands. For example, it is not uncommon to hear impromptu musical concerts in the town square or the notes of unfinished melodies floating down from the cliffside homes.
The monastery mentioned briefly above is known as “Archangel Michael of Panormitis” and is a major pilgrimage site for followers of the Greek Orthodox religion. The monastery features one of the highest bell towers in the world, a miraculous icon, and traditionally painted murals on the back wall. It also features a museum, offering greater insight into the Greek Orthodox faith for anyone interested.
Other museums on the island include the main museum, which showcases history, modern art, and anything related to the island. Also included is the Archeological Museum of Symi, which focuses on thousands of years of history and folklore on the island.
Symi is also known as one of the hottest island in Greece, making it a less favorable location for beach goers, unlike the neighboring Rhodes. This also restricts the times of the year that the island is truly comfortable to visit, making it less popular during the summer months as the majority of the island can only be reached by walking or biking. However, this warmth does make it an exceptional place to visit during the early spring and late fall.
Please see my Beginner’s Guide to Symi for more information and trip inspiration!
Getting Around the Greek Islands
Unfortunately, Uber is not available on the Greek islands. Renting a motorbike, ATV or car is the recommended way to explore the islands and is far more efficient than using public transportation on the islands.
There are public buses and other forms of transportation available on select islands although you should be warned that they can be extremely slow and quite intermittent.
Scooters, ATV’s and car rentals are plentiful on the islands but please be sure to research rental agencies before arriving on the island of your choice as some agencies are more reputable than others.
- Scooter rentals: €10-20 Euro/day depending on the shop and the engine size (110, 125, 200cc).
- ATV’s: €25-45 euro/day
- Rental cars: €40-50 euros/day and are usually equipped with a manual transmission.
Tips for Saving Money in the Greek Islands
Greece is a great place to visit for people who like to swim in the sea, lounge on the beach and witness some of the most spectacular sunsets on Earth. Of course, all of this comes with a price tag — but at what cost? Fortunately, the Greek islands can be done on a budget if you do your research ahead of time. Below, you’ll find some of my top money saving tips for the Greek islands.
Rent an Airbnb
Generally speaking, Airbnb apartments are a better value than most hotel rooms. Besides, who really want to stay in a little box of a room with little to no amenities when you can rent an apartment with a full kitchen and living room for a similar cost? Before you book you’ll want to do your research in order to find the best location for your stay. As a general rule, looking for places within short walking distance to the city center is always a great place to start. Ready to begin your search? Click here to get started.
Plan to cook some of your meals
Part of traveling to a new place and understanding the culture is trying out the local cuisine. However, eating out can be very expensive if you’re doing breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the duration of your trip. The best way to avoid overspending on dining out is to plan to cook a few meals at home.
To simplify this even more, pick up some fruit at the local grocery store and have that for breakfast. At least that will eliminate one meal/day from your dining expenses. When planning a day at the beach, be sure to pack a lunch and bring your own water. This will not only save you money but also give you more time to enjoy the day without having to stop off at a restaurant along the way.
Create your own itinerary
Organized tours aren’t usually the most budget friendly way to experience the Greek islands. There’s a price for having an expert guide to show you around the island. Before you go ahead and book a tour, why not considering creating your own itinerary?
Before you head to your destination, do your research about the best places to visit, how to get there, and why they’re significant to the island’s history. There are a lot of blogs just like this one that cover things to do in many of the Greek islands. Take some notes and create yourself a DIY tour that you can enjoy on your own or with your friends and family.
Befriend the locals
The locals in Greece generally tend to be friendly and welcoming. They’re also the ones who know where the best restaurants, bars, and clubs are on the islands. They have tips on how to get to tourist spots or where you can buy reasonably priced trinkets and other souvenirs. Therefore, making friends with them will give you the upperhand. As mentioned in the previous bullet, you can also save money on tours if you have a local showing you around the island instead of a tourist guide.
A scooter is one of the most efficient ways to get around many of the smaller Greek islands. If you’re planning on exploring a larger island such as Rhodes then it’s recommended to rent a car. Some islands also offer cheap public transportation. While I would consider this a last resort option, it is definitely possible on some of the islands. Of course, you can always walk around, especially if your accommodations are in a great location. Hopefully, the beach, restaurants, bars and clubs are just a walking distance from your Airbnb.
During the heat of the summer, prices for flights, hotels and other accommodations usually skyrocket. The islands are often crowded with tourists and it’s not as an enjoyable experience as one would imagine the Greek islands to be. If you want to avoid high prices and crowded islands, I advise you to travel to the islands at off-peak times. A few weeks before and after the summer is a great time to visit so you don’t completely lose the sun. In my opinion, some of the best times to visit the islands are during the second half of May and from the beginning of September up until the first week of October.
Greek Island Wrap Up
Traveling to the Greek islands doesn’t have to be expensive. At the same time, trying to save money doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice fun, convenience and comfort. Put some of the advice found in this article to use and you’ll have the time of your life in the Greek islands without breaking the bank.
Now that you’re well equipped with the knowledge necessary to enjoy a trip to the Greek Islands on a budget, go ahead and start planning your trip today.
Did you find this article helpful? If so, leave a comment below letting me know your thoughts. Also, please do me a favor and share this with your family and friends.