What local transport exists?

Our intrepid adventurer, gazing resolutely into the future, prepared for every eventuality ... yea, whatever.

Rent a scooter and buzz the back roads - it's one of the most fun ways to get around. You can find helmets, but not in every location.

What are the trains like?
What about buses?
Are there domestic airline flights?
What are my transport options within a city or an island?
Should I rent a car?
Should I buy tickets for local transport before I go?
What about packaged cruises?
What about packaged land tours?
What travel tips should I remember?

Notice: I'm not in Greece day-to-day, things change. Use this as general background info; do not blame me if something changed.

What local transport exists? Greece has an extensive system of local transport consisting of ferries, air travel, buses and trains for travel between cities and more local transport options within a city or an island. You can travel to almost any location via public transport. This page describes all the options except for ferries including the wonderful flying dolphin hydrofoils which you can read about on other pages.

What are the trains like? There are two main train routes: from Athens to Patra and Athens to Thessaloniki. There are several trains a day on these routes, with reserved seats. The trains run fairly well on time and are comfortable. There is some food service on board, but nothing expansive. The train schedules are in the Thomas Cook European Railway timetable. There are two classes of trains. First class has reserved seats of adequate size and overhead racks. I've never traveled second class.

There are some narrow gage trains, including the rack system to Kalavryta.

What about buses? There is a very extensive network of buses. Buses are the cheapest way to get around, less expensive than the trains. They can be crowded at times, and if you have a bunch of luggage you have to struggle. With busses and trains both you will have to know the location of local terminals. Athens in particular has a number of terminals and not all busses depart from the same terminal.

Can I fly to the islands? A number of islands have airports including Crete, Rhodes, Samos, Kos, Thira and Mykonos, among others. The basic network is a hub and spoke system centering on Athens. There isn't much in the way of island to island flights. During summer there are generally several flights a day from Athens to each of the major islands. These flights generally take an hour or less.

Athens has a new international airport that is out in the country but connected to Athens by bus and subway..

Most island airports have some sort of shuttle bus from the airport to the center of the main city, though sometimes you have to wait for this to show up. Taxi drivers also meet the planes.

Domestic flights are at least double the cost of a fast ferry.

In considering your options, don’t forget about combined travel that could have the advantages of both. For example if your destination island does not have an airport you could fly to a nearby island and take a short ferry rude for the last hop. Fly to Samos, for example, and you can take a short hop to Patmos.

What are my transport options within a city or island? Locally, you will generally have the choice of a taxi or bus. Let's consider Athens first. Within Athens there is a maze of buses, electric buses and subway lines. It's all a little chaotic looking at first, but you can easily get around the city. You have to pay attention to which bus stops where. Tickets are less than a dollar. Buses go from the city center to the airport and ferry terminals. Note that there is no one central bus station for all routes.

On many islands there are some occasional buses along the main route. Often they run a few times a day at most. Islands will have small passenger boats that go to the most popular beaches as well, sometimes.

Now, what about the taxi? Of course they exist and offer the advantage of direct delivery and easy transport of your luggage. They will gouge you - while I remember the airport to city center bus was 300Drx, and the taxi was 3,000Drx.

Should I rent a car? Depends on your attitude towards near-death experiences. I lived in Boston before going to Greece the first time and so Greek drivers were nothing that were going to scare me. I have driven through Athens, and navigated someone else through it. It's like New York City only with worse insurance and fewer police.

Actually, everyone acts like driving in Athens is like Mad Max in an urban area. You need to keep alert, but you can do it if you need to. But do you need to?

Think about whether you really need a car. On most islands, there just isn't any place to go that the local bus can't get you. Renting a moped locally for a day would be more fun anyway. Maybe on Rhodes or Crete a car might justify itself. I did rent a car for a week to drive around the Peloponnese once, and that was fun. I rented a car to drive around Santorini because I couldn't get a moped - that wasn't fun.

Outside of Athens you can relax. Driving is normal.

But, I really think you have very little need to rent a car.

Should I buy tickets for local transport before I go? I'm not even sure you can purchase these sort of tickets from outside Greece. But, in any case, getting tickets for the buses or ferries before you go seems pointless to me. On the other hand, you can make reservations on the domestic airline flights as part of your international ticket and this seems much more useful. Some of the domestic flights do fill up especially in summer. Your travel agent can book the domestic airline flights just like any other flight.

What you should do is get your ferry tickets locally at least a day or two before your desired journey. Do not expect just to show up and get a ticket as you board.

What about packaged cruses? Depends on your attitude to travel. I think the cruses are overpriced, you have no time to explore, and you spend too much time with other tourists and eating American food. Then, you are often on huge boats that stay out of the island harbors and you have to spend too much time standing in line to get on the shuttle boats.

But, on the other hand, a package cruse takes all the uncertainty and stress out and allow some to relax. If you find dealing with the local arraignments daunting, the package can be a benefit. You can find cruses on sailing ships or smaller boats, these seem more interesting.

What about land tours? They do exist in various forms. A typical one is a half-day tour of Cape Sounion from Athens. There are longer tours as well based out of Athens. Are they a good idea? See my comments on packaged cruses. Here's a more interesting option. Get some friends, including ones you just met in Greece, and rent a taxi. From Athens in a day a taxi can take you to Corinth, Mycenae, Epidaurus and return. You’ll control the schedule yourself and hear lots of interesting facts, some of which might be true.

What travel tips should I remember? Glad you asked. Remember:
1. Not everything runs on time, but most things run close to on time.
2. Information is not integrated; you cannot find out all you need to know in one place.
3. Don't plan a trip where you come back to Athens on the last day before you fly out; wind and other weather conditions can stop travel to the islands. Give yourself an extra day.
4. Taxi drivers are the same everywhere.
5. Everyone you ask for information will have an opinion, but not everyone you ask will actually know anything. Always push back to the source for reliable information.
6. Pack light. You need to be able to walk a block or two over rough streets.
7. Things change. It is not my responsibility if they do.

Last modified 22 Jan 15; posted 8/8/2000; original content © 2015, 2000 John P. Nordin