Transportation in Greece

Buses

The intercity bus system in Greece is very efficient and if you do your homework you can travel anywhere in the Greek mainland with the "KTEL" (intercity) green colored buses. Every city has a KTEL bus station and the locals would be happy to direct you. The bus system was never created to accommodate tourists so you might run into the language problem. Best thing to do is to find one of the other Greek travelers who speaks English and ask for assistance. Most young people in Greece speak a little English and most would be more than happy to assist you.

Most cities offer multiple departures per day to and from Athens. Connections between other cities that are not on the route to Athens and the largest cities are more infrequent. The buses are clean and safe, with no standing passengers allowed. You have to buy your ticket at the station before you get on the bus, and you can take a small carry-on bag with you in the cabin but large luggage has to be stowed in the luggage compartments. Luggage is weighed and fees for excessive weight might be imposed. The weighing of the luggage takes place right next to the parked bus in the station.

Links:
The official Greek Interstate Bus system site (KTEL)
The official Athens Urban Transportation Organization
(Athens bus routes and bus numbers)

For ticket prices, please visit the Prices in Greece page

Ferries and Boats

Getting to the islands would require either a short flight from Athens or Thessaloniki, or a boat ride of varying length. Most flights from Athens are at most thirty minutes long.

For islands close to mainland hopping on a ferry is your best option. Keep in mind that most of the ferries may make several stops on different islands en route to their final destination. Many islands have airports and you can catch a short flight from Athens International Airport or Thessaloniki.

Islands close to Piraeus are connected with "Flying Dolphins" (catamarans) that are very fast and efficient. They don't offer the charm of seafaring, but will take you to your island fast.

More detailed information about Greek ferries at:
Traveling by ferry in Greece,
Italy to Greece by Ferry

Airplanes

From the 16 international airports of Greece only Athens and Thessaloniki receive regular flights from abroad. All other airports in the islands and towns of the mainland are served by frequent connecting flights from the two large cities and during the summer they accommodated numerous charter flights. The distances within Greece are small, so the furthest destination would be about half hour flight from Athens. The Greek carriers Aegean Airlines offer the majority of flights within Greece.

Read detailed information about Athens airport here

Useful Links:
Map of Greek Airports
Athens International Airport

Car Rental

You will find the major international car rental companies and smaller ones in the airport and in major cities, especially in popular tourist destinations. In most islands, once you get off the boat you will find the nearest streets to the pier lined with travel agents and car/moped rental companies. Make sure that the price you are quoted includes all taxes, insurance, and fees (such as airport fee.)

Shopping around could save you hundreds! In our experience, car companies would quote wildly different prices for the same class car, based on season and availability. We've also noticed that even the same company would quote different prices for the same car on the same day. It's a mystery what causes the prices to fluctuate like that! An online service like Expedia.com might save you money on car rentals, especially if you purchased airline tickets or booked hotels from them.

In general, it would be best to reserve the car at the airport in Athens if you plan to do a lot of driving on the mainland. Conversely, if your trip only includes islands, it might be better to book a car on each island you visit. This way you will save money on the ferries. Boats that carry cars are fewer, and it costs considerably more to ferry a car. The main islands are served by car ferries with multiple stops per day, while more "out of the way" islands might be served more infrequent.

In Greece, you may rent a car with your home-country's driver's license, a credit card, and your passport. At the Athens airport, you rent (or pickup your reserved) car from the counters across the Arrival exit, and pick it up from the parking lot which is a bit out of the way to the right when you exit the building.

Car companies love to sell extra insurance, and we noticed that they are very aggressive in pushing it. Check your reservations and contracts carefully before you sign off. Usually, the rental price includes "liability" insurance, which does not cover damage to the car itself, or medical needs of the passengers. "Personal Injury" insurance is usually inexpensive (2-4 Euro per day), but to cover damage to the car you might be presented with a Collision Damage Waiver, Collision Damage Plan, or something similar that would cover the car damage in the event of an accident. Obviously, the price at the counter would be high (sometimes as much as the price of the rental), but it might be possible to purchase similar insurance ahead of time. Do your research to find what's of most benefit to you.

As anecdotal evidence, we rented a class C car (VW Polo, Citroen C4, or similar for 4 persons and two suitcases) in July 2017. We looked at three major companies and got very different prices. Sixt had no cars available, Hertz's (we are Gold members in the US) web applications quoted us around $92/day and their phone service in Athens took over 3 hours to call us back with a quote, while the Avis/Budget phone service quoted us a price of 72 Euro per day. A search on Expedia.com immediately after the phone call offered us a price with Avis of $31/day after the discounts (we had also purchased our airline tickets through them), and their Collision Damage Insurance was four times lower than the one offered by the rental company at the counter, so it pays to do some shopping before you commit.

Also see:

Information about driving in Greece
Information about driving in Athens

Moped Rental

The most popular way for visitors to get around in the islands is by moped. You can rent one in just about any small town in Greece, and at about €20-30 per day, they are a bargain. To rent a moped usually one has to exhibit a driver's license (a Greek or international license is not required most of the time), pay the daily fee, and to leave a passport as guarantee that the moped will be returned.

While renting a moped is the most efficient way to get around the immediate area, they do become dangerous in the hands of an inexperienced driver. While most opt for the complete freedom of feeling the wind through the hair, wearing a helmet is strongly advised. The roads around Greece, and especially around the islands, are narrow, ill maintained, and car drivers drive like, well, Greek drivers. Mopeds are responsible for many tourist visits to the emergency room every year.

I do not recommend renting a moped in Athens or in any of the other big cities. It's an option best considered in the small islands. Even experienced motorcycle riders would find driving around Athens a major hazard.

Getting Around in Athens

In Athens the best way to get around is on foot and with the newly built Athens Metro. For destinations out of the Metro's reach getting in a Taxi would be the best option.

Taxis

Taxis in Athens are very hard to flag down, and would only stop to pick up passengers if they head towards their general direction (which is illegal, but don't waste your vacation on taxi disputes.)

Taxis in Greece are allowed to pick up passengers at will until the taxi is full. This means that you can still try to flag a taxi that already caries passengers and see if they are heading your way, and it also means that if you get in a taxi as the sole passenger you might find yourself in the company of several other travelers that head in your general direction. Everyone pays their fare, so if you get in a Taxi and the meter already has 2 Euro on it, and when you arrive it says 6 Euro, you would only pay 4 Euro for your fare! Simple math.

Every ride must have the taxi meter running from the moment the passenger gets in. The driver will turn the meter on (which will kick in the minimum payment, so don't panic if it does not start at zero,) and you are not expected to leave a tip.

Most taxis have GPS units in them, and most taxi drivers know how to get around Athens, but telling them an exact address, might not help you in some cases. Be prepared to know the general area of our destination as well to avoid misunderstandings since a street name might exist in several different areas.

Some enterprising taxi drivers frequent major hotels and tourist hubs and will offer tours around Greece for a price. Make sure that you have a complete and clear agreement about all chargers before you enter such a deal.

How to flag a taxi in Greece

To flag a Taxi, stand on the side of the road that leads towards your destination. When you see a taxi approaching at a reasonable distance raise your arm and stare at the driver.

If he is not carrying any passengers he will stop an would expect that you tell him your destination before you get in, so he can decide if it is worth taking you. The correct think to do is to open the passenger door (or the back door if you prefer) get in and then tell the driver where he should take you. He should turn on the meter at this point and lower his flag (although the taxi flag is kind of a meaningless sign in Greek taxis).

If the taxi you are flagging down has other passengers in it already the taxi driver will slow down near you so you can shout your destination to him/her through the passenger window. If he stops, it means your stop is before, or a little bit after his final destination. Get in the taxi and note the amount already on the meter. Many taxis have electronic meters that track multiple fares so you don't have to worry about this part. The tricky part here is to make sure that your destination is in concert with the other passengers' destinations so you will not be taken for a ride around Athens needlessly (and pay for it).

In key points in the city, like train stations, metro stations, ports, airports, etc., you will find taxi stations (ask a local for a "piátsa taxí"). You have to enter the first taxi in line and then tell him/her where to take you.

Taxis in small cities in Greece are less complicated. They usually are stationed at strategic points in the town and don't just drive around to be flagged. Just ask a local for the Taxi "piatsa" (station).

For a fee, you may also use "radio taxi" to pick you up at your place. You call the taxi company (use the general information phone number 11880 to find a radio taxi in your area), and they will pick you up for a fee plus the price on the meter plus a small fee for the radio call. We used Cosmos Taxi that responds all over Athens and the service was always prompt and the drivers very courteous and helpful.

By far, the best way to get a taxi in Athens is through the phone app "Beat". It works beautifully in Athens. You may request a taxi through the app, and it will find the nearest taxi to your location. Beat works with professional taxi drivers that have been vetted for good service as opposed to using anyone who might be able to drive.

Because of the vetting process, because you get to choose the taxi or driver you prefer, and because passengers get to rate their driver on the app, the taxi ride is almost guaranteed to be a good one and free of worries.

It also provides security since it also shows you how much the ride would cost (the extra fees like airport fees are added at the end), the route it will take, and it follows you on a map throughout the ride.

Since you are dealing with vetted professional taxi drivers, it also ensures that all taxes to the state are paid, something that Greece needs these days. This is an additional reason we don't use other apps for our taxi rides in Greece.

Donkeys

Including donkeys here under "transportation" is obviously a joke, since donkeys are not really used for transportation.

Donkeys are used on many islands for rides but mostly to take tourists around for a stroll. In Santorini for instance you can climb up to the town from the harbor either on a donkey, or a cable cart. On many small islands few locals still use donkeys for transportation since they are very efficient on steep narrow streets.

 

Also see: Prices in Greece

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