Updated: October 5, 2017
The 7 Best Greek Islands for Families
What Are The Best Greek Islands for a Family Holiday?
- Best Greek Island for Families: Naxos
- Best Greek Island for Beaches: Naxos, Mykonos, Ios, Crete
- Best Greek Island for Families with Teens: Santorini, Mykonos, Paros
- Best Greek Island for History: Crete, Rhodes, Santorini
- Best Greek Island for Hiking: Crete, Folegandros, Santorini, Naxos
- Best Greek Island for Biking: Kos
- Best Greek Island for Luxury: Santorini, Mykonos
- Best Greek Island for Quiet and Solitude: Folegandros, Ikaria, Karpathos
- Best Greek Island for Outdoor Activity: Crete, Santorini
- Best Greek Island for Food: All of them
- Best Greek Island for Family Cruise: None of them – don’t do cruises, visit on your own
- Best for Island Hopping: Santorini, Naxos, Paros, Ios, Mykonos, and Milos are all well connected by ferry and great for island hopping
Should I book hotels in advance when visiting Greece?
- For July and August on the most popular islands — like Santorini and Mykonos — booking early is absolutely essential. It becomes increasingly less essential as you move away from those islands and those months. So, Naxos and Paros in June or September would be no problem at all to arrive at without reservations. That leaves a large gray area of course. Are reservations necessary for Santorini in June, Naxos in July, Paros in August? In general, booking early and making reservations will get you the best price.
- Flexibility is good (and fun). It’s nice to have some hotel reservations booked in advance – especially for your first nights on a new island – but it’s also nice to have some flexibility with where you’re going and how long you’re staying. Try to find a good balance – maybe have your first 2 nights on each island booked in advance, followed with a few days that you can fill as you wish.
- That said, flexibility might be a luxury that families don’t feel they can afford. In high season families and large groups should definitely book rooms in advance.
- If you do show up on an island without reservations you might see hotel owners greeting the ferry (like in this picture). These will often be budget hotels (but still nice, clean places to stay). If you do decide to stay with them try to walk to the hotel from the pier. (This won’t be practical on every island, eg. Santorini’s port is a long ways from anywhere.) Most main towns are right by the ferry port, so if they’re telling you that their hotel is right “in town” you should be able to walk there no problem, right? If instead they’re trying to get you and your bags into their pickup it’s likely it’s several miles outside of town. At the very least get them to pinpoint the hotel exactly on a map. Some hotel owners will “gently” lie but if faced with a precise question they’ll accurately tell you where it is on the map.
Special Considerations for Family Travel in Greece
Greece is a fun and easy vacation destination for families. There are no special vaccinations required. No special medicine prescribed. The food is wonderful and generally pretty kid friendly.
Transport, whether by ferry, bus or plane, is efficient and comfortable.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect for families is finding hotel rooms suitable for 4, 5, 6 or more people. The most common hotel room is small with 2 single beds with a small balcony and usually a small fridge. Many options do exist outside of these, but it will require some planning and booking in advance.
High chairs are rarely to be found in restaurants which can make a stroller an appealing option as a place to sit a baby or small toddler during meal time.
When is the best time to visit Greece for family vacation?
June and September are undeniably the best months for a holiday vacation in Greece. And if you’re really looking to narrow it down then mid-September is the absolute prime. The weather is essentially the same as late June but while the water can still be chilly in early summer, by September it’s perfect. The crowds arrive in late June and stay until the islands are packed until the last week of August. By early September you can feel a discernible difference in the number of visitors and hopping on a ferry, getting a seat at a popular restaurant, or finding a hotel room gets markedly easier.
The difficulty of peak-season travel can be exaggerated however. I’ve visited in the middle of summer on several occasions and had no trouble finding a hotel on a Greek island. But if you do travel during July and August you should, at the very least, book your hotel rooms in advance and be prepared for some intense bustle on the ferries and in the tourist hot spots.
May and October can be great as well but you’re taking a little bit of chance with the weather if your aim is beach and swimming time. On the other hand if you’re more interested in hiking, biking, and historical sites then mid-April to early June and late September until early November can be fantastic options.
How do I get to the Greek Islands?
These are the 4 easiest and most common ways to get to the Greek islands:
1. Fly to Athens and then ferry to the islands.
The classic Greek vacation. The pluses include breaking up your journey mid-way, having an opportunity to tour Athens and getting to enjoy a long, often relaxing, occasionally magical ferry ride from Athens to the Islands.
The minuses being that it takes up a few days on both ends of your trip. Stopping in Athens might not be the best use of time if you only have one or two weeks.
The ferry schedule can be erratic in August as high winds in the Cyclades (called the Meltemi) can play havoc with ferries schedules. (The Cyclades are particularly vulnerable to high winds.) Cancellations for more than a day or two are rare but your itinerary could be messed up with one ill timed delay.
2. Fly directly to a Greek Island from a city in Northern or Western Europe.
There are many cheap budget flight to a few Greek Islands from the main travel hubs in western Europe: London, Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, Milan.
Pros: It can often be ridiculously cheap to get a flight from Western Europe directly to a Greek island on one of the European budget airlines. Plus, if you’re coming from North America, Asia, or Australia, you can have a few days in London or Paris or whatever city you transit through.
Cons: Surprisingly difficult to arrange if you’re arriving from outside the continent. The low cost carriers often leave from smaller regional airports not the large hubs where your long haul jet landed. Getting from one airport to another can take the better part of a day. (For example, your flight from New York will arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, but your flight to Greece will leave from Orly – on the opposite side of the city.)
Also, only a handful of islands have direct flights from outside of Greece. Currently, the Greek islands that have international flights are Santorini, Mykonos, Corfu, Zakynthos, Crete, Lesvos, Samos, Kos, and Rhodes.
3. Fly to Athens, then fly to the islands.
Pros: More time on the islands. There are more islands you can fly to from Athens than from outside the country. For example, Milos, Naxos, Paros, and Karpathos all have flights from Athens but do not have international arrivals, so you if you want to fly to the smaller islands you’ll have to go through Athens.
Cons: You’ll miss out on island hopping by ferry. Though, of course, you can take ferries between the islands once you’re there it’s that initial trip from Athens out to the islands that’s filled with so much excitement and anticipation. Also, if you do stop in Athens it’s often easier (or just as easy) to go to the port and hop on a ferry as to make your way all the way back to the airport, go through security, and wait for your plane. When you factor in the extra time that taking a flight involves, a highspeed ferry will get you to some of the Cycladic islands nearly as fast as a flight.
4. Combine a Greek trip with a one of its neighbors to the east (Turkey) or west (Italy).
There are several options for taking ferries to or from Turkey and Italy. On the Turkish side ferries ply the waters between Lesvos and Ayvalik, Chios and Cesme, Samos and Kusadasi, Kos and Bodrum, and Rhodes and Marmaris. These boat rides vary in length but typically are about 1-3 hours long and can be booked the day prior to departure.
A fantastic itinerary might look like this: Fly into Istanbul, tour the Turkish coast, ferry to an eastern Greek island and island hop through 2 or 3 islands, ending your trip in Athens and flying home from there.
On the Italian side ferries run between the Greek island of Corfu and the Italian port towns of Ancona, Brindisi, Bari and Venice. These take between 8 and 12 hours and are often overnight ferries, so it’s best to book at least a few days in advance. Book far in advance if you want to take a vehicle or have a sleeping compartment.
What budget airlines fly to Greece?
There are a number of airlines that fly to Athens or directly to a Greek Island. Here’s a list of the most popular airlines that have at least one flight to Greece from cities and airports across Europe:
How to Travel with Kids on Greek Ferries
Ferries are one of the ingredients of what makes a trip to Greece so magical and unique. Ferry hopping around the islands — especially the Cyclades where the islands are very close to each other — is a ton of fun. And if you’re just going from one island to the next it’s very easy too.
Foot passengers usually don’t need to book far in advance – especially for ferries between islands – just buy a ticket the day before travel and hop on board. But for ferries from Piraeus (the port near Athens) to an island during high season it’s recommend to book at least a few days prior to your departure. If you’ll be in Athens for a few days before heading out to the islands this will be enough time to reserve a ticket through a local travel agent. (Pretty much any travel agent you encounter as you walk around Athens will be fine for buying tickets. You’ll see signs everywhere to buy ferry tickets so don’t worry about finding one.)
When you start doing more than a walk-on ferry ride from, say, Santorini to Mykonos, it gets more difficult. Here are some choices you may need to make for longer ferry rides:
- Do I want to take a high speed ferry, a catamaran, or a conventional ferry? If you want to take the a high speed ferry or catamaran to or from Athens then you’ll want to book a few days or more in advance.
- Do I want deck seating (also called 2nd class or airplane style seating) or do I want to reserve a sleeping cabin? If you want a cabin you’ll want to book a few weeks in advance.
- Do I need to take a vehicle on board? If so, booking several weeks in advance is recommended as spots in the car garage are in short supply.
But — and here’s what makes planning a Greek vacation a little tricky — ferry schedules are almost never released more than a month or 2 in advance and buying ferry tickets from outside the country is not as easy as it could be. Figuring out the schedules and using the ticketing websites is a pain. If you’re trying to buy tickets online and feel like slamming your head into the wall don’t blame yourself – it’s confusing.
Greek Ferries for Families
- Ticket prices on a similar ferry will always be the same between 2 ports (the prices are set by the government) but services, speeds, and amenities can vary greatly between ferries and ferry companies.
- Most islands are connected to Athens by at least one ferry a day — even in winter.
- A subway connects downtown Athens with the port of Piraeus making getting to your ferry cheap and easy.
- But … the port is huge and confusing to figure out for a first timer. Plan to get to the port at least an hour before your ferry departs.
- There are lots of places to eat and buy snacks in Piraeus before you get on your ferry.
- A suburban train route connects the airport with the port of Piraeus where the ferries leave for the Greek islands. If you’re flying to Athens bu don’t want to visit you can almost completely bypass it.
- Most ferries to the islands leave early in the morning so even the best executed plans will have you staying the night in Athens.
- High speed ferries, catamarans, and Flying Dolphin hydrofoils will cost about twice the price of a conventional ferry. (Believe me, if you think keeping all the ferries straight is confusing, I know. I’m very familiar with the different types and I can just barely remember which is which.)
- You’ll almost always be able to buy a deck ticket on any ferry to any destination. The only time it might be an issue is during the last days of July, the first days of August (especially if the month-changeover falls on a weekend) and the days leading up to the August 15 holiday when all of Greece returns to their hometown.
- Cabins are a good option for the long overnight ferries to Crete, Rhodes and other islands far from Piraeuss (Athen’s port).
- Check the ferry schedule closely when planning your return to Athens. This is especially important if you’re planning stops on the smaller islands. They might have only 1 ferry a day and it might not be going where you are. If you’re on a inflexible schedule make your final island (before returning to Athens) a popular island so they’ll be lots of ferries going your way.
- Don’t assume there are ferries going between every 2 islands in Greece. Far from it. Ferries tend to move within island groups – between different Cycladic islands for example – with the most popular islands within a group serving as a hub to neighboring island groups. This makes the idea of vacationing in just one island group a good plan to follow unless you have lots of time to spare.
- During high season from June to September there are departures to all the most popular islands every day – usually multiple departures. There are far fewer ferries in the winter months, but at all times of the year there will be the following departures:
- Piraeus to Syros, Tinos and Mykonos
- Piraeus to Paros, Naxos, los and Santorini
- Piraeus to Kythnos, Serifos, Sifnos and Milos
Evening overnight ferries
- Piraeus to Hania, Crete
- Piraeus to Heraklion, Crete
- Piraeus to Rhodes and neighboring islands
- Piraeus to Lesvos and Chios
The best sites for viewing ferry schedules for Greece:
The best sites for booking ferry tickets for Greece:
What are the Greek Island groups and why do they matter?
The Greek Islands are divided into several island groups. In part for administrative reasons, but more commonly for shared history and island geography. Ferries and catamarans run more frequently within island groups than between them, so don’t assume that 2 neighboring islands will have daily ferry connections if they lie in different island groups. The most popular island groups for tourists being:
Saronic Islands – a few hours by ferry from Athens. Most popular islands: Hydra, Aegina, Poros, Spetses.
Cycladic Islands – in the middle of the Agean Sea, about 4-8 hours from Athens by ferry. Most popular islands: Santorini, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Ios, Milos.
Dodecanese Islands – in the southeast of the Aegean Sea, off the southwest coast of Turkey. 10-18 hours by ferry from Athens. Most popular islands: Rhodes, Karpathos, Kos, Patmos.
Aegean Islands – off the central coast of Turkey. 8-15 hours from Athens by ferry. Most popular islands: Samos, Chios, Lesvos.
(Northern) Sporades: – in the northeastern section of the Aegean, closer to Thessaloniki and Istanbul then to Athens, 2-5 hours by ferry from Thessaloniki. Most popular islands: Skiathos, Skopelos and Skyros.
Crete: – the biggest island in Greece and thus it’s own island group, 10-15 hours by ferry from Athens. Main Cities: Iraklio, Rethymno, Hania.
Ionian Islands: – the only group on the west side of Greece, 1 or 2 hours by ferry from the western ports of Igoumenitsa and Patras, or overnight ferry from Bari or Brindisi in Italy. Most popular islands: Corfu, Kefalonia and Zante (Zakynthos).
Travel tips & advice – Odds and Ends
Best months to visit for good weather: June, July, August, and September.
Busiest months: July and August, specifically July 15 to late August.
Cheapest destinations: Ios, Naxos, Lesvos, Chios.
Most expensive destinations: Santorini and Mykonos.
Electricity: 220 volts AC, 50Hz. Outlets use round two-pin plugs.
When to buy tickets to Greece:: Either really early when you can still purchase the few discounted tickets on flights or late when prices drop if holidays makers are going elsewhere. (The last 2 years have seen large discounts and falling prices for tickets to Greece in late spring and early summer.)
1 week recommended itinerary for Greece:
2 or 3 islands — probably in the Cyclades as they’re relatively close to Athens and ferry rides from one island to the next are short and tickets are easy to book. The best islands in the Cyclades: Naxos, Santorini, Folegandros, Paros, Mykonos, Milos. Finish your trip with 1 full day in Athens.
2 week recommended itinerary:
Do 1 week in Crete and then the 1 week itinerary described above.
1 month recommended itinerary:
Start in Lesvos or Samos in the Aegean islands, either by direct flight or ferry from Athens. Spend a week in those two islands before moving on to the Dodecanese spending a week in Rhodes, Ikaria and Karpathos, then continue with the 2 week itinerary above.
Destinations and Planning
- Island hopping is what it’s all about. There are so many great islands in Greece it’s almost mandatory to visit more than one. With the exception of Crete (see below) don’t limit yourself to 1 island.
- But … don’t visit too many islands. 2 nights (3 or 4 is best) is the minimum time needed to feel like you’ve seen an island at all, don’t spread your time too thin among the islands.
- Crete is a big island and requires at least a week to see well. If you’re on a tight schedule and want to see a bunch of different islands Crete might not be your best destination. It’s a fair distance from any other islands (and Athens) and takes a while to get around due to its size. The island could very easily keep you busy for 2 or more weeks and it has a bit of everything: arts, culture, cities, beaches, and quaint idyllic ports. If you have at least 10 days and want to visit Santorini – its closest neighbor – that might is very doable.
- Hotels and restaurants on most islands close during the winter months. You’ll always find something open but things can be very quiet in the off season. On the less popular islands things close down even earlier in the fall and open up later in the spring. For example, Santorini will get very quiet by mid-November. The hotels and restaurants that close will start to reopen in late March. But a less popular island like Folegandros will start slowing down significantly in late September and not be completely re-opened until mid-May.
- Depart and arrive from different cities. Having to return to the city that you first arrived in is a waste of time and money. Open-jaw tickets cost a little more but you’ll save that money by not having to buy tickets back to a place you’ve already been. Example 1) Arrive Thessaloniki travel through the Aegean and Cycladic islands and fly home from Santorini. Example 2) Arrive in Istanbul, visit the Turkish coast, ferry to a Greek island and then more ferries and islands on your way back to Athens for your flight home. Example 3) Fly to Heraklion on Crete, tour that island before visiting Santorini, Mykonos, Naxos on your way back to Athens and home. These are just a few of a number of very good routes and options – all made easier and funner by not having to return to the city that you flew into.
- Don’t ignore Northern Greece — Thessaloniki, the Halkidiki, and the North Aegean islands are less popular than the southern destinations but have some great sights and make a great vacation destination. If you’re looking for quieter towns and secluded beaches the north is great.
- Consider combining a vacation in Greece with a visit to a neighboring coutnry, most likely Italy or Turkey. The Ionian islands in northwest Greece are an easy overnight ferry from Italy’s eastern coast. The Sporades and Aegean islands make a good circular route with Thessalaniki in Northern Greece, Istanbul and the very popular Turkish coast and beaches.
- The winds can be intense in summer, especially in August and especially in the Cyclades. The wind blows from the north so beaches on the south coast of an island generally are the least blustery. Naxos in particular has a long string of protected beaches on it’s southwest coast.
- There are different spellings for the same islands and places – usually becasue of differences between their english and greek names. The ones that cause the most problems: Zante and Zakynthos are the same island, Corfu is Kerkyra, Santorini is Thira, Chania – the city in Crete – is also Hania, and Heraklion is also Iraklion. Thessalaniki and Salonika are the same city. Piraeus is the port the ferries leave from near Athens. It is often used interchangeably with Athens when discussing ferry routes.