Greece is known for the many beautiful islands that are perfect to explore. It is never enough to go to just one island, which is why I recommend island hopping in Greece. There are so many islands to choose from and so much to see! Here are some tips to help you plan your Greek island hopping vacation.
1. Try to not visit during high season
High season is from June through August and certain islands can get very crowded and/or expensive during this time. I would recommend visiting late May, June or in September. You will still have great weather, but you will not have to fight off hordes of tourists. We visited the islands at the end of May and felt that although there were tons of tourists (especially on Santorini and Mykonos), it definitely would have been worse in July and August. Prices for hotels also rise during high season, so you may save some money visiting before or after.
2. Plan out which island chains you would like to visit
There are a number of island groups to choose from depending on what kind of trip you would like to have. So many options between the Cyclades, Dodecanese, Ionian, Sporades, Saronic and even Crete. During my trip, we visited the Cyclades: Mykonos, Delos, Paros, Naxos, Santorini and also visited Chania, Crete (a bit rushed, but beautiful!) Sticking with one island group will make it easier and will also save you time on travel. Crete is the biggest island and you could spend an entire trip only exploring it. If you have the time I would recommend visiting some of the less popular islands to get the full island village experience.
3. Pack as light as you can
Learn from my mistakes. Less is definitely more when traveling between islands every few days. A big suitcase will definitely weigh you down. Do not bring more than you can carry because you will definitely need to lift your bag at some point in time, especially when traveling by ferry. It is never fun trying to carry a large suitcase up multiple flights of stairs. For my next visit to Greece, I may even consider bringing a large backpack instead of a suitcase.
4. Greek ferries are your friend
I was so impressed with the ferries in Greece. There are tons of options, they were pretty comfortable (they even had food!) and were pretty simple to use. One of the perks of not visiting during high season was being able to buy our ferry tickets same day, with no issue whatsoever. We did research the ferry schedules beforehand of course. If visiting during high season I would recommend booking online ahead of time. Depending on where you are heading there are different options for seats as well. For our trip from Athens to Mykonos, we inquired about the cabins (with beds and a bathroom with a shower) and were able to upgrade at a discount. This option is great for longer and overnight trips.
5. Rent an ATV to get around
A must do! Renting an ATV/4-wheeler was one of the most fun experiences we had while visiting the islands. The ATV gave us the freedom to freely explore the many beaches and villages throughout the islands. We even went off road a little bit, which was so much fun! What worked really well was my boyfriend would drive and I would GPS through Google Maps. The islands have a lot of little streets and I could not imagine trying to navigate and drive at the same time. Also, to drive a car in Greece an International Driving Permit (IDP) is required, so if you do not have one an ATV is your best bet to get around!
6. Try the local food
The food in Greece is amazing and fresh, especially in the islands. Though there are non-greek options, I would suggest trying greek foods made from local products. Eat tomatokeftedes (tomato balls) in Santorini, eat Revitháda Fournou (chickpeas baked in the oven in a clay pot) in Paros, eat freshly caught fish and eat freshly baked breads and pastries from a village bakery. Don't be afraid to ask for recommendations! Some of the best dishes I have tried have been recommended by locals.
7. Explore outdoors
There are so many things to see and do on every island. Beaches, hiking, archaeological sites and so much more. Some of the best experiences we had were exploring the outdoors, like Hiking Mt. Zeus in Naxos, windsurfing at Santa Maria Beach in Paros, hiking the Samaria Gorge in Crete and visiting Delos (a UNESCO world heritage site) for the day from Mykonos. Just make sure to bring sunblock with you (don't buy it in Greece unless you have to.) You are going to need it!
8. Embrace the Σιγά-σιγά (siga-siga) lifestyle
Siga-siga means "slowly-slowly" and it is a phrase you will often hear during your stay in Greece. It is also a way of life and that will become apparent once you arrive. Coming from New York City, it definitely took some time to adjust to the laid back culture of the Greek Islands. Things move much more slowly here, so you just have to embrace it. Relax a little, and just go with the flow! You won't regret it!