Andy's Symi Travel Blog

Flights, ferries, and travel tips to help visitors to the Greek island of Symi

Symi Visitor Travel blog

Winter mode on

After quite a busy weekend, Symi is now almost tourist-less as the end of season approaches alarmingly fast.

Many left this morning, including the visiting teams who  have been playing in the island’s junior football tournament, more, including me,  leave this afternoon.  Most direct flights to the rest of Europe end by Saturday when the international airline timetable change takes place.

Day trippers are getting fewer too. Three boats have arrived from Rhodes so far today, but only about 70 people have got off.

The Symi Bus is also now on the winter timetable, there is no 15:00 from Yialos/ 15:30 from Pedi, and the last bus from Yialos is now 21:00.

The weather is breaking up a little too. Yesterday saw some periods of heavy rain ,though late afternoon was sunny and the evening dry and warm. This morning everyone was woken up by thunder at 6am, but there was only light rain and now the sun is drying things up.

The Symi Bus

Residents and regular visitors will know the medium sized yellow bus that squeezes its way round the harbourside and through Chorio. For those who don’t, it provides an hourly service between Yialos, Chorio and Pedi all year round. Departures from Yialos are on the hour, from Pedi on the half hour. The first bus is at 8am, the time of the last one varies seasonally, currently 10pm but as late as 1 am in high season. In the off season there may be a timetable gap at 3pm while the driver takes his mealbreak. There’s a flat fare of €1.50 for all passengers and journeys.

This year the bus business is booming. Long term owner-driver Lakis has been joined over recent years by his son, which explains why they can  manage more departures than previously. For 2017 Lakis Travel has arrived. There’s a second vehicle, a silver coach-seated one that is used for transfers and private hires, a travel agency on the harbourfront, and cars for hire.

The yellow bus was delivered with tinted film on the windows to cut down solar glare and keep the inside cooler. Over time this was defaced by children and eventually removed. The bus now features Contravision – externally applied adverts for local businesses that do the same job the solar film did, still allows passengers to see out, and provides Lakis Travel with some extra revenue. No doubt those visitors who think nothing on Symi should ever change between their infrequent trips to the island will complain, they’d probably prefer the green Mercedes minibus with rusted floor of 20 years ago.

One thing that few will object to is the standard of service, though. On Wednesday evening the yellow bus refused to start at 10pm. Just as the 11 or so passengers were resigning themselves to walking home, the driver announced smoothly that there would be a 2 minute delay while he fetched another bus. And within the two minutes, the silver Lakis Travel coach appeared, and took us off up the hill – admittedly via Yialos Square as it needed to be turned round because it was facing the wrong direction. Another Symi  first – a relief bus!


Winter ferries – part 2

Blue Star are in the middle of releasing their schedules for the first part of the winter,up to the end of January 2018.

So far the main result is confusion. There’s no doubt that the Blue Star Paros will continue to serve Symi throughout this period, as the Patmos is still under repair.

The Friday sailings are exactly as they have been last winter and all this summer (leave Piraeus 15:00 Thursday afternoon, calling at Kalymnos, Kos, Nissyros, Tilos, Symi (o7:45 Friday morning) Rhodes (09:10 Friday morning) and Kastellorizo. The return sailing leaves Rhodes at 19:00 Friday evening and calls at Symi at 20:30 before returning to Piraeus by the same route as outbound.

Based on Blue Star’s on line booking system, and information from the local agent, Symi Tours, the Wednesday calls will have the same arrangements as last winter. However the online timetable  differs!

Assuming that the booking system  is accurate, Blue Star Paros will leave Piraeus 15:00 Tuesday afternoon,call at Patmos, Lipsi, Leros, Kalymnos, and Kos, reaching Symi at 05:50 Wednesday and Rhodes 07:05, then continuing to Karpathos. On the return journey she’ll leave Rhodes at 18:00 and Symi at 19:30. The Patmos was able to keep this schedule but I have doubts about the Paros. Her top speed is a little less, and the layout of the vehicle decks means more time at each stop loading and unloading. So this may simply be the best of a bad job, and some late running might be expected.

Finally, we can also expect odd calls by the third weekly sailing the Paros makes between Piraeus, Rhodes and return. Blue Star seem agreeable to diverting this via Symi if enough passengers or vehicles are likely to make it worthwhile. Both weekends of Panormitis festival will see this.

Getting to Symi – the last bits

Although my last blog post covered getting to Symi overland, most visitors actually approach via Rhodes Airport, with a smaller number using Kos Airport. This post describes the arrival process  at Rhodes, getting to the port, and selecting and catching a ferry. Kos will be covered  in a  later blog.

When you arrive at Rhodes Airport you’ll notice that it has no airbridges, the links from plane to terminal. Instead you’ll get off using stairs (make a mental note of the name on the side of the stairs), and usually squeeze into a bus for the very short journey to the terminal, where you’ll be dropped at a ramp leading down into the building. The right hand set of doors at the end of the ramp are for passengers on flights from inside the Schengen Area (most of the EU and EEA countries except UK, Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia), and the left hand set, which takes you through Immigration, for everyone else. Don’t use the wrong doors, at best you’ll get shouted at, at worst arrested.

Whichever set you use, you’ll eventually end up in Baggage Reclaim. There are four sets of conveyor belts, with screens to show you which belt your flight will use. Rhodes doesn’t have a good reputation for fast baggage return, due to package holiday airlines scheduling their arrivals too  close together, though in practice domestic flights are speedy enough. While you’re waiting you can use the toilets but there’s not much else to do. Hopefully your bag won’t take too long and you’ll soon be on your way. If it doesn’t appear or is damaged you need to speak to the handling agent (could be Goldair, Skyserv or Swissport) who deals with your airline before you leave the airport. You can tell which by the name on the stairs you used to leave the plane. Their offices are in the baggage reclaim area or in the departures area (gates 1-14 zone). Leave the baggage reclaim area by the doors at the far end. Customs officers appear if there are passengers who started their journey outside the EU, otherwise just walk straight through, into a zone full of tour operators reps and taxi drivers holding signs with peoples’ names on. Unless you arranged a taxi when you booked your accommodation on Symi, keep going through the next set of doors into the outside world.

Now you have a choice – straight ahead across the drop-off area you’ll find the taxi rank – be careful crossing, driving can be erratic and you may be tired. The fare to Rhodes Town, including the port, is fixed, not metered, and currently is €25.00 per trip – up to 4 people. There are usually plenty of taxis but at busy times solo travellers may be asked to share with others going in the same direction, if this happens the fare is €25 per person or group, this is quite legal and you aren’t being ripped off. If you are going straight to the port, tell the driver the name of the ship you want and he’ll get you to the right quayside as close to the ship as possible.

Alternatively there is a bus service, two or three buses an hour between 6am and midnight in summer. Turn left and walk along the side of the terminal past the first departures zone until you reach the bus shelter by a little seating area. Ideally you need to get tickets before the bus arrives as it is dearer if you pay on board, the cafe-bar in the departures area (desks 15-36 zone, door near the bus shelter) sells them for €2.50 per person. If you intend to come back on the bus as well you can stock up on tickets as each ticket works for one journey in either direction, the driver cancels the ticket you use as you get on. Luggage accommodation is limited, and the buses stop along the way, but the service is much faster than it used to be, about 40 minutes on average to the terminus behind the Nea Agora building near Mandraki Harbour. You can also buy tickets from the driver at €2.60 per person (but you’ll probably need some Euro coins as change can be a problem).

Look for buses marked Rodos Center, some start at the airport and some start at points further west and call in on their way to Rhodes Town.The same bus stop is used for buses going to and from Rhodes Town so do make sure it is going in the right direction before you board. These are usually blue and white buses, but there are some in advertising liveries.

If you have decided to catch one of the high speed catamarans to Symi, these leave from Kolonna quay on the Rhodes waterfront. This is right by Rhodes Old Town walls (there’s a Kolonna Gate through the  wall) and is  an easy bag-trundle from the bus terminus at Averoff St. All other ferries to Symi leave from Akandia quay, which is  a long way further on.  I have walked it, but don’t intend to do it again on a hot day with baggage! If your ferry leaves from or arrives at Akandia, you are best advised to use a taxi. Akandia is served by Rhodes Town buses 6 and 12, but a peculiarity of the town service buses is that they have circular routes and only go one way round the circle. There is a flat fare regardless of distance, so going the long way round the circle isn’t any more expensive as long as you have 45 minutes to spare. If you still want to use these buses, the 12 runs hourly up to 3pm, and takes you to Akandia directly. The 6 runs hourly all day long and is a quick way from Akandia to the centre. These routes use a terminal on the seafront side of the road at Mandraki Harbour. Taxis can be picked up from the central taxi station at the Old Town end of the Nea Agora. A local journey to Akandia will be charged on the meter.

You won’t be able to find any ferry times for summer 2018 for several months yet. The three operators are Dodekanisos  Seaways, who release their times early in the New Year, Blue Star who will probably do  it just before Christmas, and Sea Dreams, probably at Easter. Once the times are released, advance booking becomes possible, and is a good idea for the catamarans, but totally unnecessary for the Rhodes to Symi journey on Blue Star’s vast 1400-person capacity ships. There are ticket offices (or in some cases huts) right next to the mooring point of each company, and you can collect prebooked tickets or buy them direct there. Despite appearances to the contrary, you don’t need to find the main port agency to do this.

Baggage reclaim at Rhodes Airport

Overland to Symi

Well of course Symi is an island, so there’s always an element of ferry travel involved, but people can and do get here from Northern and Western Europe by car or rail. I covered this before in a now-lost post, but the information is updated to this week. For the rail options I cannot do better than refer you to that excellent website operated by The Man in Seat 61. 

There were once several international rail routes into Greece, but now there are only a couple of trains a day, so the alternative is to travel by train to one of the Italian Adriatic ports, catch a ferry from there to the Greek ports of Patras or Igumenitsa, express bus to Piraeus, and ferry for the final leg.

For the road option, I acknowledge the help given by the trustees and volunteers of the charity Next Stop Symi, who make regular trips by van from the UK to Symi as part of their work in delivering aid supplies to refugees in Greece, and are here collecting supplies from the depot on Symi for transfer to Rhodes and Athens.

Their preferred route again involves the Adriatic coast of Italy,which they find the quickest and easiest.While it is perfectly possible to drive through Bosnia/Serbia/Montenengro/Albania/FYROM on a variety of routes, as these countries are not EU members there can be customs and visa issues, there will certainly be border delays, and you need more expensive vehicle insurance.

Getting to the Adriatic coast does depend where you start from in Europe. All Alpine crossings are expensive to use, and both Austria and Switzerland require you to purchase and display a “vignette” showing you have paid local road taxes for your transit of each country.

Ports with frequent ferry links to Greece are: Venice; Ancona; Brindisi and Bari. It is a tradeoff between more time on the road and so more fuel used and road tolls incurred, and more time onboard ship and higher fares. The two main shipping lines are the ANEK/Superfast consortium and Minoan/Grimaldi, there are also some less reliable independents.

On the Greek side, some ferries use the port of Patras, some Igumenitsa, and some both. Igumenitsa offers a shorter sea crossing but a longer drive to get to your next stop (accompanied by more road tolls). You’re aiming for Piraeus, the port of Athens, which has daily sailings by Blue Star to Kos and Rhodes, two  or sometimes three a week of which call at Symi on the way.

Next Stop Symi offer two final invaluable tips: Always keep the ferry ticket stubs for your crossing from Italy. If you bring a motor vehicle into Greece for over 6 months, you must re-register it in Greece and pay import duty. The ticket stubs are your only proof of when your vehicle arrived, without them it may be impounded.

Oh, and have a teddy bear on board with you. The sight seems to make tollbooth operators and customs officers stop being officious and start laughing.

More airline news – October 2017

The last of the repatriation flights for Monarch customers leave today. In fact the last flight from Rhodes would have been yesterday, but so few people remained to be carried that they were bought seats on regular flights instead as a cheaper option. The same will happen for anyone who has a Monarch ticket, with ATOL protection,  from Rhodes dated up to 28 October, which would have been the last flight of the year. One result has been that direct flights from Rhodes to UK destinations, along with flights via Athens, have virtually sold out for the rest of this month and the beginning of next.

The bulk of Air Berlin has been sold to Lufthansa, this includes operations that Air Berlin had been flying under contract for Lufthansa and its lowcost subsidiary Eurowings; and Air Berlin’s subsidiaries LGW (mainly German domestic flights) and Niki. It is Niki that interests us most as it is the part of Air Berlin that operates the summer sun routes to Rhodes from Germany and Austria. However, Niki is registered in Austria, and the Austrian competition authorities have launched an investigation. Some of the Air Berlin operations out of Berlin itself, and the aircraft maintenance division, are rumoured to be sold to easyJet.

Alitalia has a life extension – a further bridging loan from the Italian government which should last until March 2018.

Having failed to find a buyer for the entire airline ,they’re now trying to  sell it in pieces. My recommendation is still to avoid booking with Alitalia as anything might happen.

Panormitis Festival ferries

Dodekanisos Seaways have now released their sailings for the period 1 to 12 November. This is when the great festival and religious pilgrimage to Panormitis Monastery happens each year. All three ferries operate an intensive service but quite often they call only at Panormitis rather than the usual Yialos. That’s the destination for most people, at this time after all. However if you do want to get to/from Yialos or Chorio,it mean using the bus,a taxi, or getting a lift to cross the island.
The timetable is complex and rather than try and list it, here’s a link to Dodekanisos Seaways website. When you use it, don’t put in the place names. If you do, you may not see all the sailings, since some use only Yialos (Symi) and others use only Panormitis. Very few use both.
We still don’t know what Blue Star will be doing after 31 October. This is due to the continuing absence of the Blue Star Patmos, still under repair outside Piraeus, which must be seriously complicating the winter timetable planning.

Those who remember the confusion last year about which ships could carry vehicles to and from Symi during the festival will at least be pleased that the Panagia Skiadeni is functioning as a passenger and vehicle ferry this time,and sailing at least daily to/from Rhodes.

Turkish ferries-part 2

Update 14th October. Situation resolved,normal service expected soon

So today, 13 October, no Turkish boats have so far left Marmaris or Fethiye for Rhodes. The King Saron has left Rhodes on a day excursion for Marmaris though, but of course she’s Greek registered so not affected by any ban.

Confusingly, several Turkish-registered ferries/excursion boats have departed Bodrum for Kos this morning. So even the Turkish officials on the ground don’t know what they’re supposed to do. No wonder passengers are puzzled.

Then there’s the hydrofoil Flying Poseidon which is en route from Fethiye to Rhodes. tells me she’s registered in Togo, of all places. So the ‘flag of convenience’ trick seems  to be a possible workround for other ships next season.



Turkish ferries

Update – ferry crisis now resolved after talks at ministerial level between Greece and Turkey.

Followers of international news will know that President Erdogan of Turkey recently issued a decree banning Turkish-registered passenger vessels from sailing to Greece. There has been a great deal of confusion about what exactly is meant, which ships are covered, when the ban takes effect, and why he thinks it is necessary.

It is claimed to be in retaliation for Greek seizures of 11 smallish commercial yachts for breaches of international regulations. The Turkish ban took effect on 25 September for commercial yachts (chartered yachts and gulets). It is supposed to start today (12 October) for larger cruise ships and passenger ferries. However, Turkish registered ferries have arrived today in both Rhodes and Kos, so maybe the implementation date is for sailings leaving after 12 October rather than on that date, or implementation has been suspended, or the shipping operators are ignoring the ban. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.

There’s not been a ban on Greek-registered passenger ships sailing to Turkey, (which would be against international law), or on people sailing on Turkish registered yachts they own themselves.

But I’d certainly avoid planning any kind of holiday that involves crossing between Turkey and Greece by sea for next year until things get clearer.

This comes in addition to the current spat between Turkey and the USA which involves the suspension of issuing visas to each other’s citizens. Visas already issued will be honoured.


October ferries and beyond

Again replacing what has been lost, here is the combined ferry timetable for the rest of this month. We’re waiting for early November (Panormitis Festival) times, and for Blue Star’s complete winter programme. No doubt Blue Star want a definite return to service date for the Blue Star Patmos so they can post a timetable without having to change ferries after bookings have already been made.

Dodekanisos Seaways however have released times from 12 November 2017  up to 31 March 2018. Predictably this is a 4 sailings a week service for Symi, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, with a morning departure northbound from Rhodes, returning in the late afternoon.