Ferries And Other Sea Travel

Ferries and other Sea Travel

For up-to-date ferry times see Greek Travel Pages - the Port Code for Piraeus is TZE. You will see on that web site when the page was last updated. Do bear in mind that ferries can be disrupted (e.g. weather, strikes) and will take a little time to get back to normal after the disruption.

I have always found the information on the Greek Travel Pages to be accurate. However, the site only shows you the ferries going from A to B; it does not show you the best way of getting from, say, Kastelorizo to Samos when there is no direct ferry.

I am writing this on a Monday in mid March 2005 on a small Greek island. I fly home to England next Monday morning. The flight leaves from Athens airport. I would like to spend as long as possible on this lovely island. I could catch a ferry to Piraeus on Saturday afternoon which, storms and strikes permitting, would be certain to get me to the mainland with plenty of time to spare. Or I could catch a ferry at 4.30 p.m. on Sunday. That ferry goes by a circuitous route, and the journey could take ten or eleven hours. Plenty of time in which to catch my 9.20 a.m. flight, you might think? Well, last Sunday the tub left the island at 10.30 p.m., which made me discount that tub for my journey. The Saturday boat it will be for me. [NB I later spotted that on the timetables the Sunday ferry has now been re-timed, and is shown as leaving at 10.30 p.m.

Ferries can and do get full, so do not count on there being space on the ferry on which you wish to travel. Especially in peak season, book your ticket early.

If you do book your ticket early, check nearer the date you travel if there has been a change to the name of the boat or the departure time. I remember once in Naxos catching a night-time boat to Amorgos. The day before, the boats on the Piraeus and Amorgos departures had been switched. Both ferries left at roughly the same time. As I was boarding the ferry, and heading down the narrow passageway to the luggage storage area, a handful of luggage laden tourists were struggling to get off - they had thought they were boarding the Piraeus bound ferry. Tickets had been checked (whether by a port or a boat official I do not recall), but not closely enough to check that passengers were boarding the correct ferry. Be prepared for the port officials to look at you as though you are half-witted when you double check where a boat is going! (You can see them thinking 'this is the Blue Star Paros for Piraeus. Why does this stupid tourist think it is the Blue Star Naxos going to Amorgos? Can't she even read English?')

It is not only in peak season that ferries get full. In March 2005 I wanted to catch a ferry from Piraeus to Naxos. The ferry, the only ferry to Naxos that morning, was full. The reason? I wanted to travel on the last Saturday before Lent. The following Monday was Clean Monday, a public holiday. (see Carnival). Greeks were taking advantage of the long weekend, the first of the year, and heading en masse to the islands. Even if you are travelling in low season, watch out for Greek public holidays. And also watch out for Easter, which is usually on different dates to the western Easter.

Don't assume that all boats are the same, or travel by the same route. Some ferries call at more islands. Some ferries (or high speeds) are faster than the traditional ferry.

A fast ferry calling at many islands can take longer to do a journey than a traditional ferry calling at fewer islands.

An example of some travelling times, for ferries going from Piraeus to Naxos via Paros:
traditional ferry (e.g. Express Santorini) = 6 to 8 hours
fast ferry (e.g. Blue Star Naxos or Blue Star Paros) = 5 hours 10 minutes
High Speed = 3 hours 40 minutes.

Look out for Blue Star ferries, particularly the Blue Star 1 and Blue Star 2. These are superb fast modern ferries doing long runs (e.g. Piraeus - Rhodes) and stopping at a smaller island on some of the journeys. For example, one day a week the Blue Star 2 goes direct from Katapola to Piraeus, and Piraeus to Katapola. The journey takes 5 hours 10 minutes. By contract the local Express Skopelitis takes 6 to 6 1/2 hours to go from Naxos to Katapola.

Local ferries such as the Express Skopelitis are the local supply boats. I have seen the makings of complete houses being unloaded from the Express Skopelitis and her predecessor the Skopelitis. [Having said that, last week I saw what looked liked the complete original Amorgos power station being loaded on to the Blue Star 2, resulting in that tub being 15 minutes late in leaving!]

High Speeds are very fast, but you are not usually allowed to travel on the small back deck. On High Speeds you are allocated an aircraft seat. OK, if the vessel is not full you can spread out. But if you have just flown overnight from England, you may prefer a longer trip on a ferry where there is more space in which to snooze in your sleeping bag.

High Speeds are more susceptible to strong winds than ferries. High Speeds do not usually run in winter or low season.

Ferries are stopped from running by the Greek authorities in strong winds or rough seas. As a rule of thumb I'd say Force 8 and above. Bear in mind that conditions across Greece vary. The weather may be meek and mild where you are; the could be a gale elsewhere en route, resulting in ferry disruption.

Fares for what is still generally called 'deck' class travel are regulated. These days 'deck class' includes smart indoor accommodation, far removed from the ferries of even a few years ago. Fares on fast ferries are about 20 % higher than on traditional ferries. Fares on High Speeds are higher still, perhaps double the traditional ferry fare. Travelling by High Speed, the fate is not far short of what you would pay for an internal flight.

The choice is yours - just be aware that there is a choice.