How to Take the Ferry in Greece

Greece is a beautiful country and while it was one of the easier places we traveled in, we were a bit confused when it came to the ferries. We thought we’d share with you what we learned. 

How to Book Tickets

If you have Internet access, check GTP as a first step. This website lists dates and departure times so you can figure out which ferry you want to take.

Travel agencies like this one in Rhodes are easy to spot.

Next, walk into one of the many travel agencies you will find in Greece and tell them which ferry you want to take. Purchase and pick up your tickets there. There is no point in buying them online because you are still required to go to a travel agency to pick them up (you can’t print the tickets yourself). Also, remember to bring your passport. 

Booking On-Season vs. Off-Season

We traveled to Greece in the off-season. In the on-season (esp. July-August) there are more ferries, but also more people traveling so you should book your ticket earlier to ensure you get the exact date/time you want. Otherwise, you can walk into a travel agency a day or two before you intend to travel and you should be fine. 

Don’t assume there will be a ferry on any given day – there may only be one on a certain day of the week for your desired route – especially in the off-season.

The ferry we took from Santorini to Rhodes.

Overnight Ferries

The longest ferry we took was from Santorini to Rhodes – approximately nine hours. It left around midnight and arrived in the morning. We thought we’d be able to sleep and save some money by not having to get accommodation that night. Big mistake. Between the noise and mild seasickness, we didn’t really sleep and the trip left us exhausted for a couple days. If we did this again we’d consider spending the money on a sleeper cabin.

The ferry we took from Rhodes to Marmaris.

Slow vs. Fast Ferries

The smaller boats are faster than the huge, cruise-like ships. There are also special high speed ferries you can book such as Superfast. I imagine these are more expensive and more seasick inducing, but I don’t know from experience. If you do go on a high speed ferry, sit towards the back to experience less bouncing.

Reserved (airplane-style) seating.

Deciding Which Class to Book 

The larger ferries will give you a choice of seats. We got economy mostly, except for the overnight ferry we got reserved seating but it wasn’t worth it.

Economy – sit in a regular seat or at one of the cafes in the larger ferries.

Reserved seating – the advantage here is you are guaranteed a seat and an assigned seat.

Business Class – gets you access to a roped-off lounge area in the front of the boat with waiter service.

Sleeping Cabins – your own private room and bathroom; usually 2 or 4 beds in a room.

The Ferry Experience

On the two Blue Star Ferries we took, I was surprised by how much it was like taking a cruise. These ships are huge and have cafes, fast food and gift shops, along with decent bathrooms. The food can be expensive, so you may want to bring your own on board.

The larger ships will have you drop off your luggage on the lower level of the ferry on your way in. Your bags will be put in a specific area based on your destination. The smaller ferries will have luggage areas on the same floors as your seats (similar to trains) so you can drop off your big bags there. Just make sure to also have a smaller bag with you that contains any valuables and things you need for the journey.

If you’re prone to sea sickness, bring some sea sickness pills with you. We both suffered a bit on these rides and some things that really help are stepping outside for fresh air, fixing your eyes on the horizon line, and sitting towards the back and near a window.

The Four Ferries We Took

It’s been around 5 months but we included below all of the details we could remember about each of the ferries we took.

Athens (a.k.a. Piraeus) to Mykonos
COST: 34 euro each
TICKET TYPE: economy
DURATION: approx 6 hours
BOAT TYPE: Blue Star Ferries (big)
HOW WE GOT TICKETS: online and then picked up

Mykonos to Santorini (a.k.a. Thiria)
COST: don’t remember
TICKET TYPE: economy
DURATION: approx 2 hours
BOAT TYPE: Sea Jets (small, high speed)
HOW WE GOT TICKETS: online and then picked up

Santorini to Rhodes
COST: don’t remember
TICKET TYPE: reserved seating
DURATION: approx 9 hours
BOAT TYPE: Blue Star Ferries (very big)
HOW WE GOT TICKETS: travel agency in town

Rhodes to Marmaris, Turkey
COST: 28 euro each + 12 euro each in taxes (so 40)
TICKET TYPE: economy
DURATION: approx 1.5 hours
BOAT TYPE: Yesil Marmaris (small, high speed)
HOW WE GOT TICKETS: travel agency in town

More Information

Here are a couple other sites with more great tips and information.

Santorini Dave
http://santorinidave.com/athens-to-santorini

Matt Barrett’s Athens Survival Guide
http://www.athensguide.com/ferries.html

Sunsets in Greece

From deep blues to shining golden rays and pink-hued clouds, the colorful sunsets of Greece never disappointed. The blue and white painted towns, volcanic craters, and placid shining water made for an indescribable sunset each evening, and a great end to a day of sightseeing and exploring. While we can’t transport you to the islands, grab a glass of wine, sit back and enjoy some of the best sunsets we’ve ever seen.

The Romantic Beauty of Mykonos Town

Sometimes – in some places – it’s fun to get lost. Google Maps can’t help you here, but it’s OK. You’ll wander around a beautiful maze of narrow, white-washed streets dotted with flowers, shops, cafes and churches and you’ll fall in love.

For us, Mykonos Town was the perfect anecdote to long days of sightseeing in Athens and many weeks of travel. We were there in the offseason, so except for the occasional cruise ship that spit out hordes of tourists for a few hours, the place was ours!

For six nights our home base was one of these little houses in the Mykonos maze – a small family-owned hotel with a roof deck and a nice view of the sea. The family helped with the daily chores and made coffee each morning. Kostas (the father) was charming, sweet, and gave us some great tips.

See the window above the hotel sign? That was our room!

Most nights we sat here for a couple of hours with a cheap bottle of Greek wine and watched the sunset.

MONEY-SAVING TIP: Mykonos is known for being one of the more expensive islands and we found that to be true. But if you’re willing to subsist largely on the delicious gyros, crepes and pizza available – and buy your beverages from the corner stores – it’s possible to enjoy this beautiful island without breaking the bank.

BIG SPENDERS AND BEACH-GOERS: You should come in the on-season (Mid-May to September) to time your stay with the best weather and the most number of shops, clubs and restaurants open for business.

One more tip… make sure you include a day trip to the island of Delos. You won’t regret it.

And now for the photos…

The Land Nobody Was From

At its peak, the island of Delos had a population of close to 20,000 people, none of which were born, or died there. The tale of this little island near Mykonos goes from religious site to commercial hub and comes to rest in ruins. Today the only inhabitants of Delos are wildflowers, lizards, a few archeologists and a cat.

Birthplace of Apollo

According to the story, the pregnant titan Leto was looking for a place to give birth. She finally came to Delos, which was known for absolutely nothing at the time. Despite giving a speech in which she points out how worthless and unimportant the island is, the inhabitants let her stay. She gives birth to the twin gods Apollo and Artemis on the island.

All that remains of the Temple of Apollo

A temple to Apollo along with a giant statue, as well as statues of lions to guard his birthplace were built on the island. The religious sanctuary brought visitors and pilgrims, which in turn also brought trade. 

The original Naxian lions which guarded the birthplace of Apollo, now housed in the museum on the island.

Replicas of the Naxian lions are in their original location.

Duty Free Island

Under later Roman rule the island became a tax free trade zone. This brought even more trade and even more people. The rich people of Delos developed complicated cisterns to supply water for the dry summer months and even sewers. Because of the far flung traders, many different temples were built on the island, not just for the Greek gods and goddesses, but even a synagogue, and a temple to Egyptian Isis.

Where No One Was From

Since Delos was considered a special religious site, it was decided to purify the island. All the graves were dug up and moved to an adjacent island. Later to make the island neutral in trade, it was ordered that nobody would be born or die on the island. Nobody could claim to be from Delos, everyone just lived there. When near death, or about to give birth, residents would be rowed by boat over to a nearby island.

Today, Delos is mainly populated by fields of wildflowers and lizards amongst the ruins. After a series of attacks, the shifting of trade, and since Leto was right and there was no real source of food, or wood on the island, it became uninhabited. Nobody had any real reason to stay since no one was from there. For years it was used as a marble or stone supply source and a group of thieves even stole most of the statue of Apollo.

Now the island’s only population are a few caretakers and archeologists. That and the many daily visitors. Just a short boat trip from the Mykonos, Delos is a beautiful place to visit. During high season several boats make the trip each day from the old harbor in the middle of Mykonos Town. If you are visiting during the offseason you may not get as much time on the island since the boats don’t run as frequently, but its still worth the trip to see the wonderful ruins on the island nobody was from.

Street Art and Life in Athens

Athens was not what I expected. Sure I knew the ancient sites would be fascinating. I didn’t know I’d enjoy the city itself so much. From the outdoor café culture and Greek restaurants to the friendly people and vibrant nightlife, I’m hoping we’ll return someday as part of another trip to Greece.

One of the cool bars we went to was Baba Au Rum. Between the delicious cocktails, groovy tunes and eclectic atmosphere, I could have stayed there all night. But it's not exactly backpacker budget-friendly, so we enjoyed one drink and left. 

Just walking around Athens is enjoyable. The cobbled streets are full of creative art and character. I took some photos of the street art and colorful murals that decorate the city.

Ancient Athens: Why Didn’t Anybody Clean This Up?

It’s odd to wake up and think, I’m going to go see a mess today that was made before I was born. Ooooh, I better remember to take some good pictures! 

But seriously, it seems like things just fall apart, get left around for hundreds of years and then become a tourist attraction. I’m certain that if I left a mess in the kitchen for a few hundred years I wouldn’t be allowed back in there.

The High Point

Yes, we went to Athens and saw the Acropolis and the Parthenon. They’re kinda hard to miss. “Acropolis” literally means “high city,” and it’s smack in the middle of Athens with the Parthenon on top and lit up at night. You’d need to be blind or stay indoors away from any windows in Athens not to see it. It’s beautiful and wonderful and makes you ponder all the many people over the centuries that have seen it and left all these rocks laying everywhere.

Actually the Acropolis isn’t all that bad because a few years ago they picked up all the rocks they could find there and put them in the incredible new Acropolis Museum. It’s not the museum on the actual Acropolis, that’s the old one which is empty now. The new one is in town and doesn’t require actually hiking up a giant hill to see. Though if you do go, make sure you head to the top floor first and watch the video. It makes the rest of the museum make more sense. 

Stormy Weather 

Though the Temple of Olympian Zeus is pretty ruined, most of the leftovers have been recycled into other monuments and things. Someone actually cleaned up most of the piles of rocks. Only a few columns remain standing, but they are pretty picturesque and give you a sense of the scale of the temple.

Unfortunately, in 1852 one of the columns fell over in a storm (must have been a big storm!) and no one bothered to clean it up. I mean, if something falls over in your house, you probably shouldn’t leave it there for 160 years. It does give you a sense of how the columns are put together from parts, but really?

Fairly Tidy

The Temple of Hephaistos (or Temple of Vulcan for those who know the Roman names) is one of the best preserved temples in Athens. So there aren’t really any piles of rubble directly next to the temple, but since it is in the middle of the Agora of Athens you get to see plenty of rock piles nearby. If you want to see what some of these sites looked like before they turned to rubble, this is the place to go.

Athens really was great. After picking our way through the rubble and tourists, it was nice to sit down at a sidewalk cafe have a great pastry and enjoy the view of the big pile of rocks known as the Acropolis. 

Easter in Greece

The narrow, cobblestoned alleys of the medieval town of Rhodes are filled with people waiting for a funeral procession. There is no casket, no body or funeral urn. This is a funeral procession for Christ, an age-old part of the Greek Orthodox celebration of Easter. Easter is the most important day of the year in Greece, where 95% of the population is Greek Orthodox.

The Setting

Gigantic stone walls surround the old town of Rhodes. Except for a few modern conveniences, the city feels the same as it might have when a group of Christian knights (the Knights Hospitalier) built the fortifications in the 1500’s. In fact, Rhodes is the best preserved medieval city in the world. Narrow streets still bear crests of different groups of knights, and old archways still span the alleys where buildings used to cross overhead.

Near a small church we were astonished to find a series of 13 archways with painted wood plaques depicting the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, with the last one reading “H Anastasis,” meaning Christ is resurrected. When we came back in the evening, we were even more surprised to see that the plaques had come alive with special lighting, sound effects, even animation.

{video} A few of the animated plaques.

Easter Eggs

While picking up our usual baklava and other sweets from the wonderful bakeries, we noticed something strange. Bread with what looked like a red ball embedded in the middle. The bread is called Tsoureki, and the red ball is a hard boiled Easter egg. 

Red is the only color of Easter eggs here, and that tradition dates back to ancient Mesopotamia where early Christians stained eggs red in memory of the blood of Jesus. The eggs are dyed on the Thursday before Easter, in commemoration of the Last Supper.

Good Friday Candlelit Procession

We returned to the narrow alleys of old Rhodes on Good Friday to find people laying fragrant branches on the ground. A bit confused, we watched as people emptied big plastic bags of the branches onto the cobblestone streets in preparation for the evening procession. Good Friday is the day they mourn the death of Christ on the cross. Many people head to the evening mass wearing all black. A bier is decorated with flowers, and a solemn procession carries it from the church to the graveyard and back.

On the now fragrant streets, people with lit candles lined up to watch, and then join in the procession. Led by a group of children with lanterns and crosses, the procession was followed by a group of singers with a large cross bearing a wreath, followed by the funeral bier decked with flowers and candles. Hundreds of people followed the procession singing hymns and carrying candles. From the doorways and rooftops people lit incense and sprinkled holy water. Beth and I joined the followers and it was incredible to wonder how many different people may have walked the same route over the centuries.

{video} The procession and singers.

{video} On our way back from the old town, we also saw the procession in the new town.

Holy Saturday Resurrection Mass

I have never been to a mass before that ended in literal fireworks. After the solemn funeral procession of Good Friday, the Saturday midnight mass is a celebration of light and life.

It began with the loud ringing of the church bell at 11. Slowly people gathered outside and inside the church with their decorated Easter candles. Inside, the priests read/sang the Easter mass, which was broadcast to those gathering outside. 

A few minutes before midnight a lamp inside the church was lit with the flame brought from the Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem. The priest then spread the flame to the candles of the nearest members of the congregation, who further lit the candles of those nearby. It was really cool to see as the light spread around and a little boy turned to light Beth’s candle.

Finally at midnight, the church bells rang and fireworks went off in celebration of the resurrection. People made the sign of the cross and then turned to their family and friends to kiss each other and say “Christos Anesti!”

{video} Midnight fireworks at the end of mass.

Among the candles, many people brought small lanterns to carry the flame home. It is considered good luck to keep the flame burning all year long, until the next Easter celebration. People use the flame to make an ashen cross on their doorways. On the way home, we even saw a few shop owners blessing their shops in this way.

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday is a day for family, friends and a feast. People gather in their homes and fire up the grill for the traditional spit roast lamb. They enjoy their Tsoureki and children play Tsougrisma, a game in which they try to crack each others red Easter eggs. 

Before we head out in search of some roasted lamb, We’d like to wish a happy Easter to all of our friends and family back home. We miss you!  

[Update] On the way out of our hotel, we found some, but might have to wait a bit!