How to get to Greece
By far the easiest way to get to Greece is to fly, and there are direct flights to a variety of Greek destinations from all major UK airports. Even if your starting point is North America, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, the most cost-effective way to Greece may well be to get to London – or Amsterdam, Frankfurt or another Northern European hub – and pick up an onward flight from there.
Airfares are highest in July, August and during Easter week. But May, June and September are also popular, and since far fewer flights operate through the winter, bargains are rare at any time.
Overland alternatives from the UK or Northern Europe involve at least three days of nonstop travel. If you want to take your time over the journey, then driving or travelling by train can be enjoyable, although invariably more expensive than flying. We’ve included only brief details of these routes here.
When buying flights it always pays to shop around and bear in mind that many websites don’t include charter or budget airlines in their results. Be aware too that a package deal, with accommodation included, can sometimes be as cheap as, or even cheaper than, a flight alone: there’s no rule that says you have to use your accommodation every night, or even at all.
Flights from the UK and Ireland
Unless you book far in advance, there are few bargain fares to Greece. easyJet (easyjet.com) can fly you direct from Gatwick, Manchester or Edinburgh to Athens for less than £50 each way, but you’ll have to move very fast to find fares this cheap. Realistically their prices are little different from those of the scheduled operators – British Airways (ba.com) and Aegean (aegeanair.com) have frequent flights to Athens from Heathrow, Viking Hellas (flyviking.gr) from Manchester – and you can expect to pay £75–150 each way at most times of the year. From Dublin, Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) have three direct flights a week from April to September, with fares starting at around €100 each way, though you can easily pay twice that. Almost all airlines, including charter operators, allow you to book one-way tickets at no extra cost, so you can fly into Athens with one, leave from an island with another.
If your destination is not Athens, or you are flying from a regional airport, there’s a bewildering variety of options, many of them involving charter airlines. In practice these operate in much the same way as budget operators, albeit with clunkier booking systems and often less convenient flight times; most of them fly only in the summer months, from May to September. Regular scheduled flights include British Airways from Gatwick to Thessaloníki; easyJet from Gatwick to Thessaloníki, Corfu, Haniá (Chania, Crete), Iráklion (Heraklion, Crete), Kos, Mýkonos, Ródhos (Rhodes), Thíra (Santoríni) and Zákynthos, from Liverpool to Ródhos, and from Manchester and Bristol to Iráklion and Corfu; Jet2 (jet2.com) from Manchester to Iráklion, Kos and Ródhos, and from East Midlands, Leeds and Newcastle to Iráklion and Ródhos; and Ryanair (ryanair.com) from Stansted to Thessaloníki, Corfu and Ródhos and Liverpool to Ródhos. In addition, charter operators go from a variety of UK regional airports to all of the above, plus Kalamáta, Kavála (for Thássos), Vólos (for Mount Pílio and the Sporades) and Préveza (for Lefkádha) on the Greek mainland, and to the islands of Kefaloniá, Skiáthos, Sámos, Lésvos and Límnos. See the map for Greek regional airports. The main operators with whom you can book direct are Monarch (monarch.co.uk), Thomas Cook (flythomascook.com) and Thomson (thomson.co.uk); others may be available indirectly, through travel agencies or third-party websites.
Prices for regional flights are generally slightly higher than London to Athens; it may cost less to travel via Athens with a connecting flight.
Still more Greek airports are accessible on connecting domestic flights from Athens or Thessaloníki with Aegean, Olympic (olympicair.com) or Sky Express (skyexpress.gr). If you’re travelling out of season you may have no choice but to go indirect, and it’s possible that this may be the cheapest option at any time. Most commonly, from regional airports in the UK or from Ireland, this will mean flying via London (with British Airways, or BMI/Aegean). It can pay to think laterally however: one of the best routings from Dublin, for example, is on Malev Hungarian airlines (www.malev.com) via Budapest – with good prices and convenient connections to Athens and other Greek airports.
Flights from the US and Canada
Direct nonstop flights from New York to Athens – daily for much of the year – are operated by Delta (delta.com), Hellenic Imperial (hellenicairways.com), both from JFK, and Continental (continental.com) from Newark. Between May and October, US Airways (usair.com) also flies daily from Philadelphia to Athens. Code-sharing airlines can quote through fares with one of the above, or a European partner, from virtually every major US city, connecting either at New York or a European hub such as London or Frankfurt.
Fares vary greatly, so it’s worth putting in a little time on the internet, or using a good travel agent; book as far ahead as possible to get the best price. The lowest starting point is around US$900 for a restricted, off-season round-trip flight from the east coast, rising to about $1400 for a similar deal in summer; from the west coast, expect to pay ten to twenty percent more. The lower fares are rarely on the most direct flights, so check the routing to avoid lengthy delays or stopovers. Remember too that you may be better off getting a domestic flight to New York or Philadelphia and heading directly to Athens from there, or buying a cheap flight to London (beware of changing airports) or another European city, and onward travel from there.
As with the US, airfares from Canada vary depending on where you start your journey, and whether you take a direct service. Air Canada (aircanada.com) flies to Athens out of Toronto, with a stop in Montreal, from one to four times weekly depending on the time of year. Air Transat (airtransat.com) also have seasonal weekly flights from Toronto and Montreal to Athens. Otherwise you’ll have to choose among one- or two-stop itineraries on a variety of European carriers, or perhaps Delta via New York; costs run from Can$900 round-trip in low season from Toronto to more than double that from Vancouver in high season.
Flights from Australia and New Zealand
There are no direct flights from Australia or New Zealand to Greece; you’ll have to change planes in Southeast Asia or Europe. Tickets purchased direct from the airlines tend to be expensive; travel agents or Australia-based websites generally offer much better deals on fares and have the latest information on limited specials and stopovers. For a simple return fare, you may also have to buy an add-on internal flight to get you to the international departure point.
Fares from Australia start from around Aus$1800, rising to around Aus$2600 depending on season, routing, validity, number of stopovers, etc. The shortest flights and best fares are generally with airlines like Thai (thaiair.com), Singapore (singaporeair.com), Etihad (etihadairways.com) and Emirates (emirates.com) that can fly you directly to Athens from their Asian or Gulf hubs, though you’ll also find offers on Swiss (swiss.com), KLM (klm.com) and other European carriers. From New Zealand, prices are significantly higher: rarely less than NZ$2200, rising to over NZ$3000 for a more flexible high-season flight.
If Greece is only one stop on a longer journey, you might consider buying a Round-the-World (RTW) fare, although Greece never seems to be included in any of the cheaper deals, which means you might have to stump up around Aus$3500/NZ$4000 for one of the fully flexible multi-stop fares from One World or the Star Alliance. At that price, you may be better off with a cheaper deal and a separate ticket to Greece once you get to Europe.
Flights from South Africa
There are currently no direct flights from South Africa to Athens, though Hellenic Imperial plan to restart one. Alternative routes include EgyptAir (egyptair.com) via Cairo, Emirates (emirates.com), Etihad (etihadairways.com) or Qatar Airways (qatarairways.com) via the Gulf, or just about any of the major European airlines through their domestic hub. Prices start at R6500–7000 for a good low-season deal, to double that in high season or if the cheaper seats have gone.
As a result of the economic crisis, all international and some domestic Greek rail routes have been suspended. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t travel to Greece by train; the most practical route from Britain was always in any event to cross France and Italy before embarking on the ferry from Bari or Brindisi to Pátra (Patras) – with connecting buses to Athens – and that remains unaffected. The journey takes two-and-a-half days at least and will almost always work out more expensive than flying. It also takes a fair bit of planning, since there’s no through train and tickets have to be bought from several separate operators. However, you do have the chance to stop over on the way, while with an InterRail (for European residents only; interrailnet.com) or Eurail (for all others; eurail.com) pass you can take in Greece as part of a wider rail trip around Europe. Booking well in advance (essential in summer) and going for the cheapest seats on each leg, you can theoretically buy individual tickets for less than £150 each way, not including the incidental expenses along the way. Using rail passes will cost you more, but give far more flexibility. For full details, check out the Man in Seat 61 website (seat61.com).
Car and ferry
Driving to Greece can be a pleasant proposition if you have plenty of time to dawdle along the way. It’s only worth considering if you do want to explore en route, though, or are going to stay for an extended period. The most popular route is again down through France and Italy to catch one of the Adriatic ferries; this is much the best way to get to western and southern Greece, the Ionian islands, and to Athens and most of the islands except those in the northeast Aegean. The far longer alternative through Eastern Europe (Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria) is fraught with visa problems, and only makes sense if you want to explore northern Greece on the way.
Every mainstream tour operator includes Greece in its portfolio. You’ll find far more interesting alternatives, however, through the small specialist agencies. As well as traditional village-based accommodation and less-known islands, many also offer walking or nature holidays and other special interests such as yoga, art and above all sailing, with options ranging from shore-based clubs with dinghy tuition, through organized yacht flotillas to bareboat or skippered charters. Contact Eskapas Travel