Everything You Need to Know About Visiting the Greek Islands

how to get around the greek islands featured image

My partner and I had the chance to visit Greece in November 2023 and had an amazing time. One of the main draws of visiting this Mediterranean country is the chance to visit the beautiful islands of the Cyclades, just off the coast of Athens.

The Cyclades are a collection of 220 islands. However, only 20 of them are considered major and are home to historic villages – these are the islands that attract thousands of tourists every year!  

When planning this trip, we had a lot of trouble looking for a guide on how to get to the islands and how to travel between different islands. The purpose of this guide is to fill that gap and hopefully, you will be able to use it to plan out your next vacation itinerary!

How to get to the Cycladic Islands

There are two ways to get to the Cyclades, by air and by sea through local ferries. Let’s go through each option and the best ways to book them. We’ll also go through our recommendations on which mode of transportation is best for each island of the Cyclades later on.

By Air

sky express airplane on tarmac

Direct flights to Santorini and Mykonos from select countries in Europe and the Middle East are seasonal and run during the summer months until the beginning of November. While most flights are operated by smaller airlines, there are a select few routes operated by Star Alliance and OneWorld partners, allowing you to redeem your points and miles. These include:

  • British Airways from London-Gatwick and London-Heathrow
  • Lufthansa from Frankfurt and Munich
  • Aer Lingus from Dublin
  • Air France from Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Marseille (Santorini only) and Nice (Santorini only)
  • Etihad Airways from Abu Dhabi
  • Iberia from Madrid

Of note, Ryanair and Volotea operate many seasonal and low-cost direct routes to Santorini and Mykonos, so it might be worth checking out a cash fare if you’re looking to fly from Europe. For example, if you’re coming from, or wanting to visit, Rome during your trip, Ryanair offers a €56 direct flight!

ryanair rome to santorini cash pricing

However, if you are traveling from outside of Europe and select Middle Eastern countries, you will need to fly into Athens International Airport. From there, you can catch a flight to a select few of the Greek islands. 

Domestic flights from Greece to larger islands, like Santorini, Mykonos, and Crete, operate year-round on Aegean Airlines, Greece’s flag carrier. If you’re looking to reach an island by air, your best bet will be to connect in Athens. To get to Santorini, we redeemed 7,500 Aeroplan points for a flight with Aegean Airlines.

aeroplan redemption athens to santorini economy class

By Sea

Ferries to the islands are frequented by both locals and tourists alike. They are the easiest and most affordable way to get to and from the Cyclades, and to hop around to different islands once you’re there!

seajets ferry
We took a Seajets ferry from the port of Piraeus in Athens to Syros.

We recommend reserving your ferries online and ahead of time. While there are numerous in-person travel agencies in Athens and on each island, we found that their prices were not as favorable and availability was limited. 

Two popular services to book your ferry tickets online are Ferry Scanner and  Ferry Hopper, where you will be able to look for available trips to and from the Greek islands operated by local ferry companies. You will be able to see differences in prices, departure time, and duration through these sites and pick the best for you.

ferryscanner piraeus to syros cash pricing

The two main ferry operators in Greece are Seajets and Blue Star Ferries. The trend between the two carriers is that Seajets operates faster trips with a newer fleet, while Blue Star Ferries has more trips at a more affordable cost.

Which Greek Islands Should I Visit?

There are over 20 islands in the Cyclades that have villages that you can visit, but you might be asking, “How do I choose which ones I should go visit?” While this might be a bit of a subjective question, we have chosen six islands to build your itineraries from that you can’t go wrong with!


santorini coastal view

Thousands of years ago, Santorini was a circular island. Its iconic moon shape is a result of a volcanic eruption that sank the middle of the island. Now, it has become the most famous Greek island and a must-visit destination.

santorini ocean view

To get to Santorini, you will either fly into Santorini International Airport or take a ferry from Athens. Keep in mind, by sea, Santorini is very far from Athens – the ferry ride will be upwards of 5 hours. If time is of the essence, flying will be your best bet, as the flight is just under an hour.

santorini residences on cliffside
The iconic white plaster “cave house” hotels in Fira, the main village of Santorini.

There are two main places to stay in Santorini, Fira, and Oia. Fira is about 10 minutes from the airport and is the largest town on the island. Oia is on the northern tip of the island. We recommend staying in Fira as there are more options for hotels, food, and transportation. We found that accommodations and food were more expensive in Oia.

Church of Panagia in oia santorini
The Church of Panagia in the central square of Oia is one of the iconic blue-domed churches in the village.

On the island, you will be able to take catamaran trips, eat some great seafood, and experience some amazing views. Our favorite activity was a bit unexpected – we took a 10-kilometer hike from Fira to Oia, and witnessed views that made us wonder, “How can this place exist?”

ocean view from santorini

We found that 3 nights in Santorini was plenty to explore the entirety of the island, go on a catamaran boat cruise, and enjoy the island’s amenities and views. The food is quite expensive, so keep that cost in mind if you’re planning to stay longer!


While in Santorini, consider visiting Thirassia, an island whose name literally means “close to Thira (Santorini).

Thirassia island

This small island has less than 200 citizens and is home to historic villages and beautiful beaches. You will also get an up-close view of the volcano from Thirassia! To get to Thirassia, you will need to take a boat – these tickets can be purchased on the island of Santorini.


If you are looking for a popular destination known for its parties and nightlife, Mykonos is the island for you.

mykonos beach with buildings

Keep in mind that Mykonos is known to be one of the most expensive islands in the Cyclades for both hotels and accommodations. If you are on a budget, we’d recommend going elsewhere as your Euro will go a lot further. 

You will be able to reach Mykonos by flying or ferry. As it is closer to Athens, the ferry ride is just under 3 hours and is the more cost-effective option, while the flight is just under an hour. The location of Mykonos makes it a great stop between Athens and other islands via ferry. 

We’ve been told by locals and tourists alike that Mykonos tends to be the island that “closes” the earliest – many establishments will close for the season by the end of October. This pattern coincides with flights too – we found that flights from Athens to Mykonos were more limited and more expensive during October and November. To get the full experience and atmosphere of this party island, we recommend you go during the summer months.


view of syros greece

Syros is the closest island to the port of Piraeus in Athens. It is home to Ermoupoli, the capital city of the Cyclades. While it holds the capital, it is not well known to many tourists. In fact, when we told the staff at the Grand Hyatt Athens that we were headed to Syros, they were extremely surprised and told us that only native Greeks tend to visit!

Syros is definitely a hidden gem and we can’t recommend visiting this island enough! The food was the best that we had in Greece (and extremely affordable)! If you’re a big swimmer, the Western part of the island is home to many beaches that are accessible via public bus, taxi, or hike.

During our two-day stay, we visited Kini and Delfini Beach. There is a convenient bus that takes you from the city center directly to the beach. We recommend walking back to the city center around sunset to get some amazing views!

syros sunset

We recommend that you visit Syros by ferry as it is the closest island to Athens. From Athens, this trip takes approximately 2 hours and tickets range from  €11 to €70. Syros is also connected to Santorini, Mykonos, Paros, and Naxos by ferry, allowing you to continue your journey by sea.


naxos beach

Naxos is the largest island of the Cyclades. Here, you will find Venetian-influenced architecture and a collection of amazing beaches. Agios Prokopios Beach is a must-visit on the island! If you are into watersports, Naxos is the island for you as there are ample opportunities to swim, windsurf, and kitesurf! 

For those interested in Greek mythology, the island is home to the Temple of Apollo and the Temple of Demeter. You can also embark on a hike up Mount Zeus, the tallest point in the Cyclades where Zeus is claimed to have spent his childhood. 

Naxos is accessible by ferry from Athens and the other islands of the Cyclades. Again, because of its geographic position, Naxos is a great stop between Athens and other islands if you want to island-hop!


Paros is situated between Mykonos and Santorini. If you want a mixture of the amazing beaches of Naxos and Syros, with the nightlife of Mykonos, this island was made for you! The island is notably more affordable than Mykonos in both food and hotels, which definitely helps ease the pressure on our wallets.

cycladic islands map

While there is an airport on the island that operates flights to and from Athens, we recommend reaching the island by ferry, either from Athens or directly from other islands. In fact, Paros is located right next to Naxos and is only a 45-minute ferry ride away – this makes visiting both islands very easy, even if it’s just a day trip!


crete greek island overhead view

Although not technically part of the Cyclades, Crete is one of the Greek islands and a popular destination for travel. It is the largest island in Greece and the ancient home of the Minoans, one of the first advanced civilizations in the world.

While we haven’t had the chance to visit Crete, it is definitely on our list when we head back to the Mediterranean. As the island is huge, with many different villages, beaches, and historical sights to visit, locals in Greece recommended that we spend at least a week in Crete to get the full experience. 

Similar to the Cyclades, you can reach Crete by air or sea. There are year-round flights from Athens to each of the two international airports on the island (Heraklion International Airport is the main and largest airport). There are seasonal direct flights from other European countries during the summer. If you’re looking to center your entire vacation around Crete, flying is recommended. 

If you are looking to travel by ferry, there is a year-round service from Piraeus in Athens to one of the 5 ports in Crete. We recommend you check out Ferry Hopper or Ferry Scanner as the schedules for each port vary. Additionally, Santorini is only a 2-hour ferry ride away, making a Crete-Santorini itinerary very attractive!

When to Visit the Greek Islands

The peak season to visit the Cyclades is between June to September, with July and August being the busiest months as we were told by local shop owners. However, keep in mind that popular islands like Santorini and Mykonos will be jam-packed with visitors during this time and accommodations are quite expensive.   

We decided to miss the peak season and embarked on our adventure in Greece from October 30th – November 10th. This allowed us to take advantage of lower hotel prices – for example, our stay in Santorini was €120 per night, almost half of what the room cost in August, and our stay in Syros was only €60 per night!

Peffkakia Park Pension Hotel in Syros
Peffkakia Park Pension Hotel in Syros

Depending on who you ask, this may seem late. Some sites even say to avoid visiting the islands in November. We’re happy to say that both Santorini and Syros were thriving during our visit, with the majority of businesses open. The weather was fantastic (not too hot), which we really appreciated.

We did notice that stores, restaurants, and some tourist attractions in Santorini were getting ready to close at the end of November, thus, we don’t recommend visiting past the middle of November to ensure that you get the full experience. As Syros is home to the capital of the Cyclades and is a frequent destination for locals, it is open all year round – you won’t need to be worried about things closing if you’re planning to visit this island.

When we spoke with tourists who visited Mykonos during our trip, they said that the majority of the island was closed or preparing to close at the end of October. We recommend visiting Mykonos in the summer months to avoid this.

Putting It All Together Into an Itinerary

Now that we have all of this comprehensive information, let’s think about building an itinerary for your next trip!

Our 2023 Greek Islands Itinerary

Our journey started with flying into Athens. We treated the city as our “home base,” returning here between islands. Here is our itinerary for our trip:

  • October 31st – November 2nd: Athens 
  • November 2nd – November 5th: Santorini
    • We used Aeroplan points to book a flight with Aegean Airlines
  • November 5th: Athens
    • We got to the hotel around 5 pm, so this was less of a stay and more of a layover in Athens. 
  • November 6th – November 8th: Syros
    • We took a 2-hour ferry from the Port of Piraeus in Athens to Syros for €50.
  • November 8th – November 10th: Athens
    • Ferry from Syros back to Athens, where we stayed 2 nights before flying back to Canada 

As you can see, we kept coming back to Athens between the islands. In hindsight, this was a bit of a hassle and exhausting.

Revised Itinerary If We Were To Do It Again

Hindsight is 20/20 and if we were to do it again, we would have avoided coming back to Athens between islands. Instead, we recommend you visit the islands back to back to limit your time spent on transportation. Here is the itinerary that we would recommend for our trip if we were to do it again on a 10-day trip: 

  • Day 1-3: Athens
    • Depending on your affliction to history and Greek Mythology, the time in Athens can be modified to be longer or shorter. We think that 3-4 days is plenty. 
  • Day 3-5: Athens to Syros via ferry
  • Day 5-7: Syros to Mykonos, Paros or Naxos
    • This will depend on your personal preference. If you are looking for nightlife and parties, Mykonos will be the best choice. If you aren’t into that, Paros and Naxos will be a better fit! 
  • Day 7-10: Santorini via ferry from Mykonos, Paros, or Naxos
    • Alternatively, you can fly from Mykonos to Santorini on Aegean Airlines or Sky Express, but you’ll be connecting via Athens. 
    • We think that 2-3 nights in Santorini are plenty (especially if you are on a budget because it’s very expensive!). 
  • Day 10: Flight from Santorini to Athens International Airport and connecting flight home.

Where Should I Stay in the Greek Islands?

While there are some that exist, chain hotels, such as those under the Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors banner, are few and far between on these islands. The majority of hotels are independently owned and have a vast range of prices depending on the location and time of year. 

Booking.com will have the most options available at any given point and might be your best option to find somewhere to stay. Be sure to look at the reviews from guests as this will be a good indication of what you’ll get during your stay. We opted for this method and were able to find great hotels and great hosts.

Amphitheater Cave House hotel in Santorini
We found the Amphitheater Cave Houses in Santorini on Booking.com for a great price and came with this amazing view where we enjoyed our coffee every morning.

Alternatively, if you’re looking to redeem American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards points, consider using the American Express or Chase Travel Portals respectively.


As you can see, island hopping around the Cyclades in Greece is not as intimidating as you might have initially. As long as you know how best to get around, where to visit, and how long you want to stay on each island, a vacation to the Greek islands is easily doable with proper planning.

Quentin Tsang

Quentin Tsang

Quentin dove into the world of travel credit cards in 2019 after being jealous of people going to airport lounges and wondering how he could do the same. Little did he know, this curiosity would lead him to become immersed in the world of points and miles. He loves to nerd out over all aspects of travel credit cards, loyalty programs and making the most of everyday spending, and can’t wait to share his journey with Frugal Flyer readers.


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