When you think of budget destinations, the Greek islands aren’t normally at the top of the list. And while Greece may not be the cheapest place you can go, it is definitely possible to stick to a small budget when traveling there.
01 Stay on a lesser known island
There is more to Greece than Mykanos. Yes, it’s a beautiful island, but Greece has tons of smaller, underrated islands where accommodation will cost you a fraction of what it will on Mykanos or Santorini. If you really want to see one of the popular spots, you can easily pick up a ferry and hop over for a day.
For example, on my recent trip I stayed on the island of Skopelos, the twin to Skiathos. Skiathos has an airport on it, so it naturally draws a bigger crowd, but Skopelos is no less beautiful, and there was plenty to do and lots of small, private beach coves to enjoy the sun in.
Some other fantastic off-the-beaten-path islands include Rhodes, Helios, and Kos. If you’re wanting to stick to the mainland, Corfu boasts some really nice beaches as well.
02 Fly into a less expensive airport and take a bus from there
Depending on where you’re arriving from, flying into the main airport in Athens can be really expensive. Coming directly from the U.S. a ticket can easily cost you upwards of $1,200. Look up flights to the smaller airports and you’ll sometimes find better deals. If you’re already in Europe, check the budget airlines that fly into the smaller airports. I was able to get a Ryanair flight from London to Thessaloniki for £35 (about $70). From there the bus cost €18 ($25) and the ferry €22 ($30) so I was able to get to my island destination for around $125. Not too bad at all.
03 Avoid the peak season
It’s no secret that prices skyrocket in most European countries during July and August. Schedule your trip for the shoulder season, either May or late September. You’ll still get to take advantage of the beautiful weather & miss the rainy months, but the islands will be less crowded and prices will be down.
04 Book ferries early
I booked my ferry from Volos to Glossa about a month in advance, which everyone said was crazy, but I paid only €22 ($30) for the fast ferry. Prices at the port were €40 for the same boat. If you can, always book online in advance for significant savings.
05 Choose an island with budget accommodation
Not all islands have budget hostels on them, although most of the bigger ones do. Even if you plan to island hop a bit, do a little research and try to stick to the islands that have options besides expensive hotels and villas. If you’re a serious budget traveler, you could easily couchsurf your way through the Greek islands as well. I updated my CS itinerary to include Greece and I had about 20 invitations in a week. (As always, use discretion when couchsurfing.)
06 Cook your own food or eat from street vendors
If you’re a true budget backpacker, you’ll already know that cooking your own food is a great way to save money, so hit up the local grocery stores, buy whatever is in season & have a cookout with some new friends. If you’re not able to or not in the mood to cook, browse the street vendors. When we think fast food joints, we think of greasy, fatty burgers and fries. Not always the case in Greece. Take-away food is nowhere near as unhealthy as it is in America. You can pick up lamb kabobs, friend tomatoes, or pork or chicken gyros for €2-3 ($3-4) that will leave you quite full.
07 Shop where the locals shop
There will always be tempting shops lined up near the water selling everything from colorful scarves to handmade jewelry. If you’re looking for souvenirs you’ll find no shortage of them here. But if you’re just looking for the necessities, like groceries or replacing a broken pair of sunglasses, you can find better prices by walking a bit further off the beaten path. You won’t always learn this from talking to the locals, because they (rightly so!) want to boost the economy by pointing you towards the “tourist shopping.” A great resource I’ve found for learning the discount shopping spots is expats.
08 Don’t order the big fish
Eating out in Greece is a spectacular event, and I highly recommend you splurge a few times, but even eating at a restaurant or taverna doesn’t have to break the bank. If seafood is your thing, stick to the smaller fishes, like arrogant or grilled sardines ($6-7). Even friend squid (calamari) won’t put you over budget ($8-9). Octopus or mussels in wine sauce are both fantastic, and a bit more ($10-13) but nowhere near what you’ll pay for something like swordfish, which will run you between $60-75.
09 Take slow or overnight ferries
Inter-island ferries can really add up if you’re wanting to do a bit of island hopping. I’d recommend strategically scheduling your excursion so as to spend a few days on each island and take the slow or night ferries. I find the ferries to be one of the most comfortable ways to travel, and much easier to catch a few zzz’s on than a plane.
10 Drink at tavernas instead of clubs
Some of the clubs on the popular islands charge up to €50 ($68) just to get in. On the flip side, walk along the water-front tavernas and you’ll see chalkboards advertising €1-2 beers during happy hour. It’s also advantageous, if you’re staying put for a week or two, to frequent your favorite taverna. The Greek people are very generous, especially if they remember you. It’s not uncommon to get offered a free bottle of wine or fresh fruit at the end of your meal.
11 Rent a moped, take the bus or hitchhike
Scooters and 4-wheelers are everywhere in Greece, and can be rented for anywhere from €10-15 ($13-20) a day. They’re a great way to get around the hills and see the different towns & cities, and quite a bit cheaper than renting a car. If you’re traveling with a family this may not be the most practical option, but for 1-2 travelers it’s a nice way to go. Most of the islands also have inexpensive buses that run routes in between the main towns. Hitchhiking is relatively common for backpackers on the islands, and this is one of the few places that I would feel comfortable doing so as a solo female traveler.
Like any other destination, Greece can be budget-friendly or insanely pricey, depending on your travel style. If you’re dreaming of a Greek island paradise vacation on a budget, it can be done!