All you need to know about ferries, busses, rental cars, taxis, and donkeys in Greece!
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.
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 our 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 for a higher price.
This is a big topic so we have created a couple of dedicated pages to the Ferries in Greece subject:
Traveling by ferry in Greece
Italy to Greece by Ferry
The distances within Greece are small, so the furthest destination would be about half an hour flight from Athens.
“Eleftherios Venizelos” Athens International Airport in Athens receives the bulk of inbound international flights. Airports at Thessaloniki and Heraklion also serve international airlines less frequently.
Athens airport is a small affair compared with other European capital airports, with only one terminal, but it’s pleasant and eficient.
Athens airport offers free wifi for 60 minutes and charging stations for cellphones of every kind. On the second floor there is a small open museum with artifacts, photos, and narrative that explains what was found on site while building the airport. It is a quiet corner and many travelers with long layovers find it a convenient spot to sit around (and I have seen several travlerers laying in their sleeping bags) on the floor while waiting for their flights.
There are plenty of shops in Athens airport. First, just before you enter the building you will find an open air cafe and several benches where you can grab a quick coffee. The area is shaded and being in open air, it’s a popular spot for smockers.
Once inside, the check-in area, you will find few shops and restaurants, but beyond passport control you will find even more of the same alongside duty free shops, news stands (international press included), electronic and apparel shops and much more.
Once you pass security and enter the gate where you will wait for your flight, you can still get a bite to eat and an a newspaper in the few kiosks there. That’s a good place to buy bottled water and anything else you need for your flight.
If you travel with a pet, especially dogs, you will find the Athens airport pet-friendly. It’s quick to get out into open air, and on the ground floor (if you are in departures upstairs, exit the building and walk across the road, and then down the stairs) there is a long stretch of shrubs.
There are several options to getting out of the airport. You can take the “periferiakos” train into the city of Athens (all the way to Syntagma or Monastiraki) or by taxi.
The train connects with the city metro system so you can get near to your final destination painlessly, and from there there is usually a line of taxis waiting outside.
The train ride will cost 7 Euro (2010 price), and a taxi ride to the center of Athens will cost up to 50 Euro. For any other destination in Athens outside the city center you should budget about 35 euro if you go by taxi.
In the airport you will also find car rental places as well as long and short term parking.
If our plan to get your VAT refund for purcases you made in Europe as a non-European citizen, you need to head for the Customs office (also labeled VAT Refund). To find it, go past the check-in counters and turn to your right.
Move straight ahead and soon you will reach the passport control check point. On your right hand side you will see the VAT Refund sign on the door (it might be obscured by the passengers lined up to go through to their gates). The office is before the passport control so don’t go through the checkpoint.
Note that it is not an actual “refund” place, but simply a place where you can stamp your receipt for your purchases. You present the items you bought (must be over 150 euro worth and it must not be used while in Europe), your receipt, and your boarding pass. The customs agent will stamp your receipt and then you can mail it in for your refund either by check or straight to your credit card.
Ask the shop when you buy your items for instructions on where to mail your stamped receipt. If you fly out of Greece but you make another flight connection before you fly out of Europe, your receipt must be stamped at that final airport before you exit the continent.
Athens International Airport
Renting a Car in Greece
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 quote wildly different prices for the same class car, based on season and availability. Booking before you go with an online service like Expedia.com might save you money on car rentals, especially if you also purchased airline tickets or booked hotels from them.
In general, it’s 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 and you will have more options.
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 AND an International 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 will ask you to buy extra insurance. 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 covers 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 itself), but it might be possible to purchase similar insurance ahead of time. Do your research to find what’s of most benefit to you.
For example, purchasing Collision Damage Insurance at the time your reserve the car with a travel agent (expedia .com for example), can cost four times lower than the one offered by the rental company at the counter, so it pays to do some shopping before you commit.
Information about driving in Greece
Information about driving in Athens
Renting a Moped or Four-Wheeler
The most popular way for visitors to get around in the islands is by moped. You can rent one every touristy town in Greece, and at about €20-30 per day, they are a bargain.
To rent a moped, usually you have to show a driver’s license, 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.
It’s tempting to opt for the complete freedom of feeling the wind through the hair, but 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. As a result, mopeds are responsible for many tourist visits to the emergency room every year.
We 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 in Greece
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.
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 are usually 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.
Including donkeys here under “getting around” 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.
You will find them in Santorini for instance, where you can climb up to the town from the cruise ship harbor either on a donkey, or a cable cart. In Lindos, in Rhodes they are also used to take tourists to the acropolis there. We’ve also seen reports that they are used by enterprising locals as “donkey taxis” in remote venues such as Balos beach.
Hiring a donkey ride in such places is not cheap (over €20 in most cases), and the ride is at best precarious, but it’s quite an adventure, so if you get the chance to do it, go for it.
On the other hand, if you walk on the same path where these donkeys ride all day, be prepared to step around a lot of donkey-poo, or better yet, find a different route to your destination because they don’t like sharing the road with pedestrians.
On many small islands few locals still use donkeys for transportation since they are very efficient on steep narrow streets.