Getting around in Greece is surprisingly easy and efficient using public transport! Despite the stereotype that public services in Greece and other countries of Southern Europe are inefficient or never function properly, you’ll find it’s the opposite in Greece!
Greek buses, ferries, and trains have frequent schedules and rare delays or cancellations. They can and will get you to everywhere you want to go in Greece with remarkable reliability.
What are the types of public transport available in Greece and how should you use them to navigate one of the Mediterranean’s most beautiful countries?
This guide will provide you with everything you need to know!
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An overview of public transport in Greece
Public transport in Greece consists of:
- Domestic flights
- Ferries of several types
- KTEL buses
- Trains (intercity and city ones)
- City buses
- Athens’ metro (the subway)
All of these are quite clean on average. Most offer air conditioning during the summer season, and in some, there is even free Wi-Fi. Within the cities, the bus network is the most efficient for taking you everywhere, with the train and metro networks a close second.
Between cities, the KTEL buses and intercity trains are very efficient. The same goes for ferries that connect islands. They are ideal for island hopping in Greece. Domestic flights can shorten the traveling times though they can be more expensive.
There are two main domestic airlines in Greece, Olympic Air, and Aegean Airlines. They handle most of the domestic flights, with Sky Express and Astra Airlines (in Thessaloniki) handling some charter flights during the summer season.
There are 42 public-use airports in Greece, of which 15 are international and 27 are domestic. If money is no object, you can easily fly everywhere in Greece in roughly a couple of hours!
Especially during high season, any airport that serves as international will have direct international flights that will fly you directly to that location, bypassing Athens. So, for example, if you want to fly directly to Mykonos or Santorini (Thera) without stopping in Athens for a moment, you can.
Domestic airports are all operational during the high season, but be aware that during the off-season some of them don’t offer their services. That means you will need to access some islands or certain locations via other transportation like ferries.
As is the case with most airlines, the earlier you book your tickets, the better: you will have a wider choice, lower prices, and more versatility in choosing the day and hour of your flight. Make sure you check all the allowances that come with your tickets, such as luggage specifications and carry-on specifications, as you might be charged extra if you don’t comply or are even not allowed to board.
To easily book your flight, compare prices, travel times, and more, I recommend using Skyscanner.
There is a wide range of different ferries available in Greece, each with its special qualities and characteristics. They sail in an extensive, versatile, complex network of ferry lines serving every island and port in Greece, under several private ferry companies.
There are three types of ferries you can choose from:
The conventional car-and-passenger ferries with several decks. They usually have two or three classes plus cabins for you to book, with the cheapest ticket being for deck seats. These ferries are the slowest in speed, but they are also the most reliable when it comes to heavy weather. If you suffer from seasickness opt for these, as they are the least likely to sway while sailing.
The hydrofoils are smaller ferries. They are also called “Flying Dolphins”. They have airplane-type seating and very little room to move around. They are very fast vessels but they also tend to be susceptible to heavy weather and can be grounded easily. They also may not be very forgiving if you are prone to seasickness. You will find them in island ports, connecting islands within the same cluster.
The catamarans are the fastest and most technologically advanced ferries. They can at times be called “Flying Cats” or “Sea Jets”. Some can carry cars, and usually, there will be lounges and other amenities onboard. They also tend to be the most expensive.
Locally you can also find caiques, which are bare-bones, traditional vessels designed to take you short distances around an island or across to another island. They usually only have seating outdoors on hard wooden seats, no toilets, and will sway a lot. They take relatively few passengers each time. However, they are excellent for picturesque and fun sailing.
There are two main ports from Athens that serve all the major island groups and Crete, except the Ionian Islands: Piraeus and Rafina. There is also Lavrion which is close to Athens which is more efficient for some of the islands as it is closer to them.
The Ionian Islands are connected to the mainland through the ports of Patra, Igoumenitsa, and Kyllini. Even during high season, you can book your ticket just before you sail for some of the ferries, but it isn’t advisable to risk it! The best thing to do is to book your tickets in advance, preferably online. You can do that through Ferryhopper which has all the available routes and tickets available for you to compare and choose.
When going to the port to get your ferry, it’s good policy to arrive an hour or so in advance. If it’s a conventional car-and-passenger ferry, two hours in advance might be better, especially if you plan to take your car onboard. That way you can board easily and be at the front of most queuing that will ensue. Keep your ticket and passport somewhere easily accessible to show to port authorities or the crew of the ferry.
Using the train network to explore mainland Greece is an excellent way to sit back, relax, and enjoy the gorgeous scenery. Trains in Greece are clean, well-maintained, reliable, and fast. To give a measure of the times, consider that the train ride from Athens to Thessaloniki is roughly 4 hours.
The trains in Greece are managed by Trainose, the Greek railway company. There are the city trains and the trains connecting Greek cities. Of those, the Intercity Network is the fastest one. It connects Athens with Northern Greece, Central Greece, Volos city, Chalkida, and the Peloponnese (Kiato, Corinth, and Patras).
The Intercity Network also serves some “tourist lines” which are more thematic and geared to sightseeing and have special cultural significance for the Greeks: these are the train from Diakofto to Kalavryta, the steam train of Pelion, and the train from Katakolo to Ancient Olympia. All three routes are extremely scenic and their stops are all culturally significant. These lines usually are operational during the summer and on the national holidays, so if you are interested in taking them, check the schedules and book in advance.
Intercity trains have economy class and first-class seat options. The first-class seats have more privacy and a folding table. They also give you more legroom and extra storage capacity. Economy class seats are still quite wide at the shoulders and comfortable but there is less privacy.
While you can book your tickets at the station, it’s not advisable to rely on that during high season. You can book your tickets online at Trainose’s website or app on your phone.
You might also like: Renting a car in Greece – Everything you need to know.
The KTEL buses
The KTEL buses comprise the bus network that connects all the cities of Greece with each other. They are an efficient and relatively inexpensive way to travel around Greece. There are two types of KTEL buses: the intra-regional ones and the local ones.
The intra-regional ones are the buses that connect cities with each other and will go on the main highways to do it. The local ones will not go on the highway and will instead use the regional roads and connect the many villages of an area with each other. Local KTEL buses are what you will find on the island and in areas where there are clusters of villages to explore.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a site that aggregates all the KTEL routes in one place. You need to google search “KTEL” and the region you are interested in to get the sites that contain information. For example, the information about all the KTEL buses of Attica is on the “KTEL Attikis” site. You don’t need to book in advance for KTEL buses, as they run the same line several times in the day.
Most of the inter-regional buses start off from the two main KTEL stations of Athens: Liosion station and Kifissos station. Liosion station serves buses going north towards Thessaloniki and Kifissos station serves buses going south of Athens towards the Peloponnese.
Some of the most popular Ktel busses in Greece are:
- Ktel Attikis (you can use it to go to Sounio)
- Ktel Thessalonikis (if you want to go Thessaloniki by bus)
- Ktel Volos (if you want to visit Pelion or take the boat to the Sporades islands)
- Ktel Argolidas (if you want to visit Nafplio, Mycenae, and Epidaurus.
- Ktel Fokidas (if you want to visit the archaeological site of Delphi)
- Ktel Ioanninon (if you want to visit Ioannina and Zagorohoria)
- Ktel Mykonos (public transport around the island)
- Ktel Santorini (public transport around the island)
- Ktel Milos (public transport around the island)
- Ktel Naxos (public transport around the island)
- Ktel Paros (public transport around the island)
- Ktel Kefalonia (public transport around the island)
- Ktel Corfu (public transport around the island)
- Ktel Rhodes (public transport around the island)
- Ktel Chania (Crete) (public transport around the Chania area)
Public transport in Athens
Athens deserves its own section in this. Not just because it is Greece’s capital, but because it has its own intricate public transport systems you will come into contact with in your travels- unless you fly straight to the islands or to Thessaloniki!
There are buses, the subway (or metro), trains, and even trams and trolleys to use to go everywhere in the sprawling metropolis.
The train line is the oldest and connects Piraeus with Kifissia, a suburb in the north of Athens. It is also called “the green line” and you’ll see it annotated with green on the railway maps in train stations. Trains run from 5 am to midnight.
The Athens metro has the “blue” and “red” lines, which expand the “green” line further, to Syntagma, the Acropolis, and Monastiraki regions respectively. These are the latest lines, and the trains run from 5:30 am to midnight.
The Athens tram is a great way to see the city, including the scenic beaches of the Saronic Gulf. You can take the tram from Syntagma Square (red line) which ends at the Peace and Friendship Stadium, or from there you can take the blue line to Voula or the Peace and Friendship Stadium.
The buses (this includes trolleys) are typically colored blue and white and they have bus stations scattered everywhere in Athens. To know which bus route to choose when you are exploring Athens, use the dedicated site to find it with the tools provided there. Just like the trains, the buses run from 5 am to midnight. However, there are some special 24-hour service buses that connect the airport with Syntagma Square, the KTEL stations of Athens, and Piraeus.
To book a ticket, you can use the vendors you will find at every train station in Athens to issue yourself an anonymous ATH.ENA card. This card can be loaded with a single fare of 90 minutes (1,20 euro) for all public transport (train, metro, tram, trolley) or a 24-hour or 5-day one or a special airport ticket. There is also a special 3-day tourist ticket that includes a 3-day pass for all public transport plus a 2-way ticket to the airport. Detailed prices and access-list can be found here. You can also issue your card online if you follow the instructions on the official site.
Lastly, you can use taxis to go everywhere in Athens or even across cities. In Athens taxis are a yellow color (they’re often different colors in other cities) and you can hail one down as they cruise by, by raising your hand so the driver can see you. Alternatively, you can get a cab from areas where they line up, parked, waiting for a fare. These are called “taxi piazzas” and aren’t on any official map. You should ask locals where they are located.
The best and safest way to use taxis though is through an app service like Taxi Beat or Taxiplon, which will give you an estimate of the fare for the ride you wish, will show you the ID of the taxi you are going to use and will guide the taxi to where you are. This is especially convenient if you find yourself in areas where taxis are scarce.
Note that the ride from the airport to Athens is a fixed price of 38 euros during the day and 54 euros when it is nighttime.
There are discounts you can get if you are a student (so make sure you have your student ID ready!), if you are over 65 years old, and more. However, to be able to get a discount on Athens’ public transport you need a personalized ATH.ENA card, which requires some paperwork.
Children up until 6 years old often get to travel free on public transport but make sure to ask first before you use the transportation.
And there you have it! That’s everything you need to know about public transport in Greece. All you need to navigate it like a pro is to do your homework in advance, book tickets when you can, and arrive to issue everything else a bit ahead of time. Happy travels!