Getting to Greece from Italy by ferry is a slow, albeit a pleasant experience.
You can board a ferry in several Italian ports (Venice, Ancona, Bari, Brindisi) and get off at either Corfu, Igoumenitsa, Kefalonia, or Patra in Western Greece.
Getting to Greece from Italy by Ferry: Orientation
Getting to Greece from Italy by ferry takes anywhere from 25 hours (Venice to Igoumenitsa) to 14 hours (Brindisi to Patra), and the ferries available range from semi luxurious, to ones that seem to cater mostly to the trucking industry.
Minoan, ANEK, Superfast Ferries, Endevor, Blue Star, Agourodimos, Ventouris, and European lines are some of the companies that operate ferry lines for getting to Greece from Italy and vice versa.
The ferries are very large and handle even rough seas with grace, while they can pack hundreds of cars and trucks in their bellies.
If you travel with a car, or if you desire a cabin (recommended) you must book your ticket ahead of time, otherwise you might find yourself crowded on a deck corner for a day or so.
You can buy a “deck” ticket and camp out on the deck in a sleeping bag, a cabin ticket (with private bathroom – interior cabins cost less), or an airline seat.
Alternately you can buy airline seat tickets. “Airline seats” are large and comfortable, similar to what you will find in an airplane business class, with ample leg space, but you still have to share a space with fifty to a hundred other passengers and their spread-out belongings.
If you buy ‘deck’ tickets, you should be prepared to rough it out.
While the name “deck” indicates that ticket holders will be camped on the outdoor deck, in reality, all ferry companies turn a blind eye to the multitude of campers who cram the ship’s hallways (with the exception of the bars and lounges) and stair wells.
The ferries depart exactly on time from port (so don’t be late) and you may board three hours before departure if the ferry is there.
Getting on board from Italy to Greece and vice versa is a simple affair. You check in at the company’s office at the port, and then head for the ship where an officer will take your ticket stub as soon as you get on board.
You can then take the escalator up to the reception where you can get your cabin key (assuming you have a cabin) and a steward will carry your bag and lead you to your cabin (gratuities are not expected but welcomed – one euro should be enough).
There is no passport control since both Italy and Greece are “Schengen” countries, but border agents perform random passport checks en route to and out of the boat, so keep your passport handy.
The most comfortable way of getting to Greece from Italy by ferry is to have your own cabin.
The cabins are small, but comfortable and clean with private bathrooms, showers, and clean towels. The walls are paper thin, and noise from those who camp on the hallways outside the cabins can keep you up until late (one area the crews should do a better job keeping clear of campers, but they don’t).
All cabins have one electrical outlet (usually 220V) in the cabin, and one (usually 110V) outlet in the bathroom. If you have multiple devices to charge, you might want to bring along a power strip. Speaking of electrical outlets, the hallways are full of them (all 220V) so if you have deck tickets, you can always find a free one to charge your phone.
Traveling with Deck Tickets
Tickets for getting to Greece from Italy can be pricey so many travelers opt to purchase the aforementioned deck tickets.
If you travel with deck tickets, getting on board as early as possible would help you get a good spot for your sleeping bag. As you look for that spot, calculate how the boat will turn on it’s way to it’s destination, and how the space around will be used once under sail.
A shady spot might end up sun-torched once the boat turns, and a quiet spot in the morning outside the ship’s disco might turn out to be the most noisy one all night long.
If you are traveling with “deck” tickets, you will have to rely on the ship’s communal bathrooms. Their condition deteriorates as the trip goes on, but not usually to a condition where they are unusable.
In indermediate stops the ferries only stop for half hour at the most, so if you are not ready to board, you might miss your boat. Consider the time it would take for you to get from the terminal to the boat as you are waiting for the ferry.
If you are getting to Greece from Italy by ferry in high season (July and August) you should board as early as the ferry allows.
That’s because every possible comfortable corner of the deck, and internal hallways is taken by the early birds that spread their sleeping bodies, sleeping bags, small tents, towels, inflatable mattresses, or blankets all over the place.
Campers and RVs
Getting to Greece from Italy by ferry is a good way to do it if you are driving your own camper.
Look into Minoan lines (more will undoubtedly offer similar services by the time you read this) that allow campers to pay for “camping ticket”, where you can park on a special deck and stay in your camper, hooked up to the ships water lines.
Amenities on Board
Swimming Pool on Board
While getting to Greece from Italy by ferry you can start on your suntan on board.
Most boats have a small swimming pool on the top deck, and most fill them with sea water once the ship leaves port and the sea is calm. The pool is usually small, so don’t plan on swimming laps, and fill quickly with children. Some ferries have a baby pool as well.
They do have a life guard (a crew member, fully dressed watching over the pool), but always use caution anyway.
Around the pool, there is plenty of open deck where crowds enjoy the sun and a drink from the pool bar. In essence, you can treat the sailing time from Italy to Greece and back as a low quality cruise.
Food on Board
Tip: if you buy the bar sandwiches, ask for them to be toated. Not all bars have a toaster, so find the one that has it.
The ferries we have boarded (the identical Olympia Palace, and Europa Palace by Minoan, and the Ionian Queen by Endevor Lines) have two restaurants that open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
One is a “self-service” restaurant, and the other one is full service. Before you enter, read the menu posted at the entrance carefuly and note the prices, because you can get sticker shock once you reach the cash register with your tray full.
The prices we paid were comparable with prices you would pay in a Venetian restaurant, sitting by the passing gondolas!
The food at the restaurants is of good quality and if money is not an issue, you will probably enjoy the meals, but if you are not careful, you can blow a considerable part of your budget on three to four meals on board.
The only alternatives to the restaurant include some sad looking cheese pies and pizza slices at the various bars.
By Greek law (designed to provide alternative nutrition to passengers who don’t want to be goughed by the ferry restaurants) all Greek ferries are required to provide at minimum ham and cheese sandwiches at regulated prices which you can find at the ship’s bars.
If you plan ahead and bring your own food on board, you can save a considerable amount of money on your way to Greece or back home. Most seasoned travelers, especially those on deck know this and travel with enough food for the duration of the ferry trip.
Water on Board
The water on board is potable, but it’s not a bad idea to err on the side of caution and drink bottled water. It’s a small investment for peace of mind.
Internet and Cellphone Service on Board
Internet on board the Italy to Greece ferries is available. Some (like the Minoan Lines Olympia Palace and Europa Palace have a small communal area where you can use your pre-purchaced internet card, while others (Endevor’s Ionian Queen) offer pre-paid WiFi on board.
Call your ferry to find out the specifics. Internet access is usually pricy, and the speed is usually slow, but if you are desperate to check your email or to update your facebook status, it’s more than adequate.
In both of the Minoan Lines we traveled with, internet was available on a little communal “internet corner” donning a sign warning of slow speeds.
If you are getting from Italy to Greece by ferry, you can expect that cellphone service is not available once at sea (except for super-expensive satellite coverage), and by extend, there is no G4/LTE internet either.
From the port to the rest of Greece
If you are getting to Greece from Italy by ferry, you will disembark at one of the western ports of Greece.
If your final destination is the island of Corfu, then you are set and a short ride by taxi or bus would take you to your hotel, but chances are that neither Igoumenitsa, nor Patra will be your final destination in Greece.
If you plan to visit central or northern Greece, then Igoumenitsa should be your final port, but if you want to visit the Peloponnese, Delphi, Athens, or any of the Aegean islands, or Crete, Patra will be your port of disembarkation.
Either port would leave you with the slight problem of getting from there to Athens and beyond.
From Igoumenitsa or Patra, you could rent a car. Check with the rental company ahead of time to see if they allow you to return the car at a different location.
Alternatevly, you may use the Interstate Bus system site (KTEL) that’s inexpensive, clean, and efficient, but there might not be busses departing for Athens close to the time of your arrival.
Minoan operates it’s own bus from Patra to Athens. It leaves soon after the ferry arrives and it costs around 20 euro. You pay for the bus tickent on the ferry. Other ferry companies might have similar services so contact them before you purchace your tickets.