When most people think of traveling through multiple countries in Europe over a summer, they picture trains and Eurail passes. In recent decades budget airlines like RyanAir, WizzAir, and Condor have offered a cheaper option—but with more restrictions. In the regions of southern Europe where there’s lots of water, however, the most pleasant way to get from place to place can be by ferry boat.
A huge fleet of ferries shuttles between the ports of Italy, Croatia, and Greece. Those ferries also take you to islands whose very names conjure up expectations of a vacation straight out of a movie. You can take a romantic jaunt to Capri, go explore the architecture of Malta, drink the earthy wine of Sicily, or visit the coast of Sardinia.
These are usually comfortable ships with liberal luggage limits, plus nobody is going to charge you extra to sit together as a family. Ferries will even transport you to another continent: there are routes to Morocco and Tunisia.
I look at that map and start drooling about the possibilities. It doesn’t take long for a dream trip by boat (and side excursions by land) to materialize. How about Morocco to Spain, then island hop to Italy’s Amalfi Coast? Down the coast to Sicily and Malta, then overnight to Greece. Hitting multiple islands there then up to newly emerging Albania. Finish the trip off with great wine and food in Croatia.
Planning all this is not as hard as it used to be. There are firms like OK Ferry that gather all the Mediterranean ferry boat options into one interface. Kind of like Kayak or Skyscanner for flights, it presents all the ship companies in one place. You simply figure out where you want to go and it presents the choices. Here are a few examples as of July 2016 to get an idea of prices. These can and probably will change by date and time of day.
Naples to Palermo, Sicily – €61 armchair, €168 in a sleeper cabin overnight
Tangiers, Morocco to Algeciras, Spain – €40 armchair
Bari, Italy to Durazzo, Albania – €49 armchair, €104 armchair seat and 4-door car
These rates include taxes and a booking fee. Insurance is offered automatically but can be declined. On some routes there’s a small charge to bring your bicycle along, but on many others it’s free.
There is a staggering string of special offers on the “Deals” page and it’s worth going through those to find a good match. Some include a rental car, some offer free or half price kids’ tickets, others offer a discount on the return ticket. Some provide discounts for seniors or students. Certain routes are on sale at any given time, like Ibiza-Formentera and vice versa from €17.50.
If you like the idea of traveling by boat but don’t like the idea of being trapped on a cruise ship, the ferry routes of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas offer a way to get that harbor arrival view without any further commitment.