This guide to sailing the Greek islands is a guest post by Emily.
Sailing the Greek islands is most people’s idea of a dream holiday, and it’s easy to see why. The Greek islands are some of the best cruising grounds in Europe, perhaps even the world. With countless secluded anchorages, the bluest seas I have ever seen and cute tavernas serving delicious food and wine, it is easy to see why people are drawn to Greece time and time again.
The Ionian islands have a reputation for being a little overcrowded, and this can certainly be the case with some of the more popular destinations (beauty does draw in the crowds!) However, it is easier than you might imagine to get off the beaten track and away from it all, you just have to know the right places to go.
After spending several months sailing the Ionian whilst living aboard our 38ft sailboat, I’ve put together a comprehensive guide for both sailors and landlubbers alike which includes all the must-see destinations in this stunning part of the world.
Why the Ionian Islands for Your Greek Island Hopping Route?
The sailing grounds of Greece are split into areas. The popular Ionian islands to the East, moving down the mainland coast to the Peloponnese. Then, you have the less well sailed Dodecanese, Cyclades and Aegean islands, and of course Crete to the south.
The great thing about the Ionian islands is that there are so many of them so close together, making it the perfect place to put together Greek island hopping routes that mean you’ll really get to see it all.
If you’re planning on sailing the Greek islands, heading to the Ionian will mean cheaper charter rates, calmer weather (on the whole!), plenty of town quays to moor up to and countless tiny bays to anchor out in and relax on.
You’ll avoid the awful Meltemi winds that blow through the Aegean islands during the summer months, and find that the wind is pretty consistent, with good sailing weather in the afternoons and nice calm mornings and evenings. Perfect for that holiday lie in!
Sound like paradise? Read on to find out more!
Finding a Sailboat for Sailing the Greek Islands
Lefkada is home to a huge number of charter companies, so this is a great place to start looking if you are thinking of hiring a sailboat for a week or longer.
If you’re keen to get sailing, then Nidri is the perfect place to charter a sailboat. I can thoroughly recommend the company Sail Ionian, who I completed my ICC sailing exams with and who have been recommended to me by other sailors along our travels.
This is an English, family-run company that offers everything from bareboat charter options for regular sailors to RYA courses if you want to learn to sail. If you can sail but you’re feeling a little rusty, then they offer a few days with an instructor to help re-build your confidence before you take the boat out alone.
If you’re not a sailor and have no interest in learning, but want to experience something a little different and more adventurous on your holiday to Greece, then you can hire a skipper to sail the boat for you while you relax with a cocktail and enjoy the views. Sounds good to me!
Greek Island Hopping Routes Without Your Own Boat
The route I’ve described below is completely possible without your own water transport. Because so much of the Ionian is made up of small islands, the Greeks here are well versed in providing transport by sea, and they do it really well!
From most of the larger islands, it is possible to hire your own small motorboat (no experience necessary!) Hiring a small boat for the day to explore the secluded bays and small neighboring islands is commonplace in Greece. You might want to have a little read up on the ‘traffic’ regulations when out at sea, but on the whole, the advice is just to keep out of the way of other vessels and people! I hired a motorboat from the island of Kephalonia and had an incredible day exploring little coves, picnicking on a private beach and snorkeling in crystal clear waters. If you have the nerve then it’s the perfect way to see the country.
If hiring your own boat sounds a little daunting then the Greeks have got you covered. Sea taxis are just that, taxis that travel by sea. They look like small ferries and will take you from island to island as you wish. It’s a great way of getting around if you don’t have your own transport.
Greek Island Hopping Routes – a 7 Day Itinerary
This itinerary includes some of the best islands to visit in the Ionian and gives details of some of the less well-known bays to anchor in or explore by day in smaller vessels. I’ve also given details of accommodation should you need it, though you should be aware that some of the smaller islands have very limited options, so may only be suitable for day trips.
Day 1 — Start Your Sailing the Greek Islands Adventure in Nidri Bay
Nidri is the perfect place to start your Greek island-hopping adventure. The town itself isn’t the most beautiful, as it’s quite a tourist trap, but it’s like that for a reason. It’s only one hour from Preveza airport and a short ferry ride or sail away from one of the Ionian’s most stunning islands.
That being said, Nidri does have some great redeeming features if you do end up spending your first day here.
There are numerous cafes and restaurants in town, and because of this they are competitively priced. Keep your eyes peeled for chalkboards outside offering different daily deals such as reduced three-course meals or freebies. It’s the perfect place to get some souvenir shopping done, or perhaps shop for a line and hook so that you can give fishing a try while you’re hopping from island to island!
Top tip: About an hour’s walk out of Nidri, you will find the Dimosari waterfalls. It’s a pretty walk through countryside and farmhouses and leads to some beautiful waterfalls that offer the chance for a refreshingly cool swim.
Don’t miss seeing this spectacular area. It’s not very well known, so you’ll escape the crowds in town and have the perfect opportunity to cool down during the midday heat.
Where to Stay
Budget: Gogo Rooms provides simple accommodation in an excellent location. Expect to pay around £50 a night for a room here depending on the time of year you’re visiting.
Splashing Out: For a little more luxury try Palmyra Beachfront Studios, with it’s own private beach, swimming pool and gardens.
Get Away From It All: If you want somewhere a little less crowded then I’d recommend you stay just down the road, in the little village of Vliho. Vliho Yacht Club is along the only main road here, offering delicious meals and friendly drinks.
Where to Anchor
If you’ve hired a charter boat from here then you’ll have a space on the dock in either Nidri or Vliho, making life a lot easier! If you’re keen to make a quick escape from busy Nidri, then motor a few minutes down to Vliho Bay and anchor out.
This protected bay is far less busy than the neighboring town of Nidri (there is no supermarket here so stock up before you leave). There is one main street with a petrol station at one end that will supply Camping Gaz. Vliho Yacht Club is well set up for sailors, offering showering facilities, laundry facilities and the option to get post delivered here.
Day 2 — Sailing the Greek Islands to Meganissi
Now that you’re all settled in, it’s time to explore. First on the list is the beautiful island of Meganissi, literally meaning ‘Big Island’, so there is a lot to see here if you have the extra time to spare.
If pretty towns and nice restaurants make you tick, then Vathy is the place for you. Vathy boasts one of the world’s largest natural harbors, making it a popular place for boats of all kinds, so you won’t find peace and quiet here. What you will find however is a vibrant island town, full of tourist charm and a sprinkle of local culture.
A short uphill walk from here is Abelake Bay where you can enjoy your first swim in the sea. There is also a pretty taverna if the walk makes you thirsty! This bay is perfect for an afternoon of sunbathing and relaxation, and usually, the only visitors here are the ones from yachts in the bay.
Atherinos quickly became one of our favorite places on Meganissi. To get there, start by walking towards Abelake Bay and continue along the path. It’s a pretty coastal path that will take you past some remote beaches and give you lovely sea views.
There are two very decent restaurants opposite the town quay, and a short walk past the restaurants takes you to a lovely little beach complete with a reggae bar that is a perfect spot to watch the sunset from. There is quite a large reef here with some great snorkeling opportunities.
How to Get to Meganissi Island
If you’re not visiting on your own boat then not to worry. There is quick, easy and cheap transport from Nidri bay that will take you straight to Vathi on Meganisi. The ferry ‘Meganissi’ only takes about 20 minutes and runs regularly (in the winter only twice a day, and in August every 2 hours from early until late). It takes both cars and foot passengers, though it’s recommended you book to take a car across in the summer months.
Where to Stay
Budget: Vathy Studios is in a fantastic location if you want to be close to all the action. You can pay a little extra for a view of the pretty harbor, and the hotel looks out onto the main square which is the place to be in the evening.
Splashing Out: C. Katopodis Mansion is a great option if you’re looking to have a bit more privacy. It has its own outdoor swimming pool and fantastic views.
Where to Anchor
If you’ve arrived into Vathy then getting a space on the harbor wall may be a bit of a challenge in high season. As a result, we recommend calling restaurants ahead to see if they have space for you (the deal here being that you will eat at their restaurant).
You can anchor out in Abeleke, which is a well-protected bay, so if Vathy proves to be a little busy for your liking then this may be the perfect compromise.
Atherinos was by far our favorite place to moor on Meganissi island. You will find a free town quay that offers water and electricity for a small charge, and when we visited in high season the quay was rarely full.
Day 3 — Island Hopping to Pretty Kastos
Today take a morning sail or sea taxi over to Kastos island, and keep an eye out for dolphins! We spotted several on this journey. You could stop for lunch at the bottom of the neighboring island of Kalamos and take a swim in its crystal clear waters. Kalamos is imposing and more dramatic than Kastos, with its tall cliffs and rocky outcrops.
Kastos sits in its shadow. It suffered badly in the 1953 earthquake but has retained its charm and beauty. It is surrounded by the bluest waters I have ever seen, and the main town with its 80 inhabitants is one of the most authentic Greek villages in the Ionian.
Kastos town is the perfect place to potter around in the Greek sunshine, with its pretty winding streets and artisan stores. There is a small shop that serves bread twice a day (it sells out quickly!) and other basic supplies. El.a bar boasts the best views in the evening and serves the most delicious pizza and a wide range of cocktails (the owner is a huge music fan and will come and sit with you and chat on a quiet evening. Ask him about the guitar on the wall).
If you’re seeking something a little different, head to the windmill bar just outside of town. It’s a bit gimmicky but the views from here are incredible. Drinks here at any time of day are pretty special, and there is even a masseur who works from the popup tent just next to the windmill (we heard great things!) If it’s cocktails you’re after then head to El.a bar instead-we weren’t overly impressed with the ones from here and you’ll pay for the privilege of sitting outside a windmill!
If you’re after a bit of peace and quiet, and waters so clear you can see the fish without a mask, then pick any of the coastal paths that lead around the island. You will quickly come across the bay after bay, often completely empty. It’s also possible to hike around the whole island if you’re wanting to work off all the feta and hummus!
How to Get There
Without a sailboat, the best way to reach Kastos is by sea taxi. It is also connected to the port village of Mytikas on mainland Greece. A local ferry runs daily during the summer months.
Where to Stay
Your options are pretty limited. This small island is mostly visited by sailors, but over recent years a little competition has popped up due to the ferry service from the opposite mainland. Villa Tati has a swimming pool, a restaurant, and a garden. It also has stunning views of the sea.
It’s worth checking Airbnb and other independent villa companies as you will sometimes find newly available properties.
Where to Anchor
If you’ve arrived by sailboat you can anchor in the town of Kastos itself, taking long lines to the harbor wall as the depths close in slope off quickly. It was very busy here in the summer months so if you don’t enjoy having neighbors you can high five then we recommend you anchor out in one of the quieter bays just around the corner. If you plan on spending your time on land exploring then Kastos town is definitely the easier option as you will be within arms reach of the action!
If you’re looking for a quieter spot with clear water and good snorkeling head two bays down. From here it is a twenty-minute walk to town but is much more secluded, even in the height of summer. We had this bay all to ourselves a lot of the time. It is well protected from the northerlies and the holding is on the sand. You will even get an evening visit from the mountain goats! How very Greek!
Day 4 — Cliff Bay on Atokos Island
The small island of Atokos is only a few hours sail away and is an absolute must-visit when sailing the Greek islands. Atokos is a private island that remains uninhabited for most of the year. What it lacks in tavernas and nightlife, it more than makes up for in natural beauty, and it has remained a firm favorite for us out of all the many places we have visited in Greece this summer.
The most popular anchorage on Atokos is ‘One house bay’, aptly named after the one house found behind the bay. We can only think that it is so popular because of the easy access to land, making it possible to explore the little island on foot. It’s a very busy anchorage in the high season, and you won’t find the seclusion you may have been hoping for. But it is insanely beautiful, so you may decide it’s a fair trade-off!
If you head a little further around the island you will reach our favorite anchorage of all time – ‘Cliff Bay’. It is perfectly situated to protect from any northerly winds and is large enough to make you feel that you have the place to yourself. This anchorage is surrounded by incredible cliffs and the snorkeling here is unreal with water so clear that you can see the sheer cliffs drop down into the depths below.
If you enjoy a little fishing, the bream here are big and delicious! Catch a few and cook them on fire on the beach for your dinner! There are a few trip boats that arrive during the day, but come sunset it will just be you and the hoots of the scops owls (listen out for their distinctive sonar-like mating call!)
How to Get There
Given how remote this little island is, really the only way to get here is either by your own sea transport or via a sea taxi or tour from one of the Ionian’s bigger islands. If you’re interested in hiring a boat to get here then check out the options from Kastos harbor.
Where to Stay
Sadly, there is nowhere to stay on Atokos, so if you took a sea taxi here then you’ll need to make it a day trip destination. It will possibly the best day trip you ever have though, so make sure it has top priority in your Greek island hopping route!
Day 5 — Sailing the Greek Islands to Vathy on Ithaki
Ithaki is one of the Ionian’s larger islands, but no less beautiful and a must-see destination on your Greek island hopping route. Set in another superbly sheltered natural harbor, Vathy is Ithaki’s main town and its most lively. It is still relatively quiet and untouched by tourism and you will find the place buzzing with local activity as the fishing boats come and go and the tavernas do their evening business.
The town has a well-stocked supermarket (I’m guessing you ran out of beer on your night in Atokos!) and numerous tavernas all competing for business. Visit the fish tavern Poseidon and you will find lots of fresh local fish at really reasonable prices along with traditional and local Greek dishes, traditional pies, many ouzo meze dishes and grilled meat on the grill.
If it’s beaches you’re after then Vathy has several great ones within walking distance. Head to Sarakiniko Beach or Dexia Beach for the ultimate rest and relaxation.
If you’re craving a bit of culture then the small town of Vathy has it’s very own folklore museum! It’s tucked away behind the harbor front and will set you back €4. It has a large collection of artifacts and is worth a visit if you have a little time on your hands.
Where to Stay
Budget: Mouzika Elegant Suite is in the perfect location to explore the town of Vathy, at a reasonable price.
Splashing Out: Set in a listed Venetian house in Vathi, boutique hotel Korina Gallery is a Venetian listed house with all the luxury you’d expect from a 4* hotel. It offers views of Vathi port, a smart-looking pool and you can even hire a limousine if you fancy! If you’re looking for indulgence on your Greek island hopping route then look no further!
Where to Anchor
You can come stern to on the town quay here (but be careful not to take the charter company spaces), or you can anchor out in the bay. Many people find the holding here excellent, but we had trouble, so make sure your hook is dug in well before the afternoon winds pick up!
If you want somewhere you can swim then anchor out near the harbor entrance, in Skhoinos Bay. This bay is much quieter and wilder than the town but is still well protected and sheltered.
Day 6 — Explore the Beautiful Town of Kioni
If today is your last day island hopping in Greece then there is no better place to spend it than in the pretty seaside town of Kioni.
Kioni is North of Vathy and is one of the most picturesque towns we have come across in Greece. We really fell for the tiled red-roofed houses and whitewashed buildings, and the gorgeous views out to sea from the range of coastal walks.
Kioni town itself has a friendly and local vibe, but is still well set up for tourists, with a good-sized supermarket and numerous inviting bars and tavernas. It’s famous for its independent jewelry stores which sell pretty handmade crafts. Go on, treat yourself!
If you’re keen to explore then the walk to the three windmills is well worth breaking a sweat for. It is about a 40-minute walk from the center of town and the path winds through the woods, offering numerous photo stops with views out to sea.
The windmills themselves are not in use, but you can explore the surrounding area. Check out the map of walking routes in the center of town for even more treks, all of which lead to historic monuments or interesting viewpoints.
You will be spoilt for choice when it comes to eating out. We ate at Mills taverna and I can thoroughly recommend the mushroom risotto! Spavento Bar near the bakery is the perfect place for after-dinner drinks when it is lit up by candlelight and filled with the quiet chatter of locals. Ask for a decaf espresso martini for the best night’s sleep you’ve ever had!
Where to Stay
The Captain’s Apartments in Kioni offer the most amazing views looking down onto the town and harbor and they also have a bike or car rental service for exploring the island further.
Where to Anchor
You can anchor on the town quay (there is a truck that brings water for a fee) or tie lines to shore just outside of the town itself. It is easy to dinghy into town from there.
The other option you have is to anchor just off Katina Beach near the entrance to the bay. It is less well protected here (though you will still find adequate shelter), the holding is good and you may well have the whole bay to yourself. There is a path through the woods that leads to the town (about 10 minutes away), take a torch if you’re returning in the dark!
Top tip: If you happen to be here on a Friday then the daytime beach shack taverna stays open into the evening and you can enjoy a meal under the fairy-lit trees, watching your boat sway gently in the breeze. We recommend the saganaki cheese!
Day 7 — Island Hopping Route Back to Nidri
Sadly, if you’re only here for a week then it’s probably the end of your adventure sailing the Greek islands and time to head back to Nidri. You can take the large ferry service from near Kioni straight back to Nidri, which should make life a little easier.
If you have time and you aren’t ready to leave quite yet then you could make a lunchtime stop at Pananikolis Cave and explore it by dinghy. It’s a popular tourist attraction often frequented by day boats so take care if you go for a swim! It is easy to hire a small motorboat from Kioni town harbor and visit the caves this way, or there are lots of tours leaving from the harbor too if you’d prefer.
Top Tips for Sailing the Greek Islands
Greece may be part of Europe, but don’t let this fool you. The summer months are hot, hot, hot. Sometimes unbearably so. Sticking to the coastline will help, as the winds here are more frequent and cooling, but be prepared to look for shade during the day and make sure you have sunhats and light shirts to cover up just in case.
Many of the small Greek islands do have small supermarkets where you can buy some food supplies, but you should be aware that you will pay and have a limited choice. If you can, the best thing to do is stock up in the larger supermarkets in Nidri before you set off on your island-hopping adventure. We didn’t come across any shops that wouldn’t accept cards, but you should be prepared just in case.
Many people won’t drink the water in Greece, so make sure you provision accordingly, preferably before heading off sailing the Greek islands. Or an even better option would be to come armed with a bottle that filters out the nasties, saving you money and helping keep the plastics down!
Where to Next?
After seven days of covering the Greek island hopping routes you should have an idea of the beauty and diversity Greece has on offer. From vibrant towns to pretty fishing villages, clear blue waters to rugged, wild coastlines and ruby red sunrises to skies full of endless stars, I would be surprised if you could find something Greece is missing!
If your holiday doesn’t end here and you can continue sailing the Greek islands, or keen to do something a little different next year, then Kephalonia should be next on your list. Spot turtles in Argostoli, snorkel with brightly colored fish in Antisamos or explore the boutique town of Fiskardo.
I hope you found this guide for sailing the Greek islands helpful in planning your trip. Let us know in the comments below which island(s) you’re most excited to see!
Emily is a keen traveler, adventure seeker, and Scrabble fanatic. In an attempt to follow her dreams of learning to sail, she quit her full-time job as a primary school teacher just over a year ago, bought a sailboat in Sicily called Hot Chocolate, and now explores the world from her tiny home on the ocean. She writes travel guides and blogs about her experiences at sea and documents her adventures through film. You can find out more at Two Get Lost.
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Nina Ragusa is an adventurer, messy bun master, breakfast fan, and full-time travel blogger. She’s been abroad and epically failing at the American Dream since 2011. Her sassy yet informative blog, Where in the World is Nina? is all about how to work abroad to live a more adventurous life. If you want to travel longer you have to work to wander.