What do you do when you want to travel to Greece, but don’t want to fly to Greece? Or you just want a new train adventure? For my trip to Greece, I decided to take the longer option and take the train to Greece from the Netherlands. It turned out to be another amazing train and ferry adventure, that brought me to Greece without flying. I’d like to share it with you!
In this post, I share my experiences on the train from the Netherlands to Greece. Of course, there are many different stories and experiences out there, but this is mine. I’ll do my best to provide as much general information as possible, including useful links and practical tips, in case you want to experience the same train journey to Greece.
Are you interested in prices and want to book the same journey straight away? Jump ahead to the section with the links to book your tickets. Otherwise, enjoy my story and experiences by reading it below.
I paid for everything in full myself. I was not paid or sponsored. All my opinions and experiences are my own.
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Train to Greece – route options
Although Greece has many glorious islands to enjoy, the mainland of Greece is well connected with the rest of Europe. This means you can (easily) travel to Greece by train. Greece itself has a network of railways, connecting Athens with Thessaloniki in the north of the country and Athens with Corinth in the Peloponnese.
The Greek railways are operated by Hellenic Train. Although I did travel to Greece by train (and ferry), I actually did not take a train in Greece. But we’ll get to that later.
Let’s explore first the options to get to Greece by train.
The old route: The Orient Express via Belgrade or Bucharest to Thessaloniki and Athens
The Orient Express is the ancient route that connected the major metropolis of London and Paris with Vienna, Belgrade and Istanbul. Back in 2017, I took this route myself, to travel by train to Istanbul.
I choose to leave the Netherlands and stop in Munich, Budapest, and Bucharest and connected there with a direct train to Istanbul. Part of the train would be disconnected in Bulgaria and continue to Thessaloniki, Greece.
Once in Thessaloniki, you can easily connect with the train to Athens. This journey will take you at least 3, if not 4 nights and you might want to allocate more time in either of these cities to explore.
You can also take ‘the Balkan route’. From Munich, you head further south to Belgrade and Skopje to arrive in Thessaloniki, Greece.
The fastest route: via Milan and Bari, by ferry to Greece
As I had less time, and had already ‘done’ that route, I opted for the fastest option: via Bari and then by ferry to Patras. As Patras is located in the Peloponnese, and that was where I was going, it seemed like the most obvious choice.
But how to choose? There are also ferries leaving from Brindisi and Ancona, or even Venice. I decided on the following plan:
I looked at my final destination (Kalamata) and made my way back from there. Then I researched the ferry and train times and checked for rough prices. It was quite the puzzle, I’m not going to lie, but that is why I’m writing this, so you’re well-equipped to plan it yourself.
I used a spreadsheet and filled in the dates, routes, and arrival and departure times. I started at the end of the journey, to calculate when I would have the leave and if I could make it work.
My journey by train to Greece: NL – Basel – Milan – Bari – Patras – Kalamata
In the end, I settled on this route. Surprisingly, for such a long journey, I only had to switch trains 3 times, 1 ferry and 1 bus. Of course, you can have an even faster journey if you’re prepared to switch trains more, but this was my journey.
In total, my journey took me 60 hours from departure in Den Bosch, the Netherlands until my arrival in Kalamata Greece. This included a night in a hotel in Milan, 4h wait for the ferry in Bari, and a 3h wait for the bus to Kalamata.
Why did I not go through Paris?
Another option is also NL- Paris – Milan and then Bari – Patras, Greece, etc. However, prices and options for the Eurostar train to Paris were limited 5 weeks in advance. You also have to switch trains in Paris, that leave from different stations across the city, so for now, I choose the route through Germany and Switzerland.
Why I Traveled to Greece
But let’s go back a bit. Why did I not go to Athens but needed to go to Kalamata, Greece?
Well, you might have never even heard of Kalamata. I sure didn’t. But as it turned out, it was the venue for a travel bloggers conference called TBEX. The seaside city of Kalamata hosted the event and therefore, I got to see a lot of the Peloponnese region of Greece.
So instead of traveling to Athens, my final destination was Kalamata. But even if you’re traveling to Kos or Rhodes or Crete, or Athens, you can still follow my journey.
Why I traveled to Greece by train and ferry
As you know by now, I love a good train adventure. After traveling overland to Nepal, via Tibet, I was hooked. It is actually my mission to cross every continent by train, once.
The train journey to Istanbul was already pretty epic, and I figured, this train journey to Greece would be quite an adventure. And I loved it. I highly recommend anyone interested to do the same. It was such a relaxed and effortless way to travel to Greece. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Netherlands to Basel, Switzerland by train
On Friday morning, my husband dropped me off at the local bus station and from there I traveled by bus to the city of Den Bosch (‘s-Hertogenbosch) in the south of the Netherlands. Luckily for me, the direct train from Amsterdam to Basel would leave from here.
Normally, this train stops in Utrecht and Arnhem, but now it departed from Den Bosch and headed straight to Basel Hauptbahnhof.
I took this train before when we set out on our epic 2-week Switzerland train itinerary. And when I traveled by sleeper train from the Netherlands to Basel.
But this time, I took the direct day train. It left Den Bosch exactly at 8.37 am and we arrived perfectly on time in Basel, at 2.47 pm (14.47h). It was a smooth, uneventful ride. There were a lot of people traveling to Frankfurt Airport and the train was quite busy between Cologne and Frankfurt. After that, more and more people left the train, until it was almost empty in Basel.
As I was afraid the connection with the train to Milan was a bit tight, and I really like Basel, I decided to allow myself a bit more time. I headed to the Botanic Gardens in Basel, but there are plenty of other things to do in Basel.
Train from Basel to Milan, Italy
If I would have selected to continue straight away, the train from Basel to Milan leaves at 3.03 pm (15.03h). It arrives in Milano Centrale at 7.50 pm (19.50h). This leaves you enough time for a nice carb-loaded dinner and a stroll around Milan.
I opted for a bit more time, and I took the 5.28 pm (17.28h) train to Milano Centrale. It arrived in Milan, right on time, at 9.45 pm (21.45h). By now, it was already dark and I didn’t feel like eating or even sitting up straight. I went straight to my hotel, close to the train station, refreshed myself and went to bed.
The train from Basel to Milan is operated by the Swiss Railway and is therefore run with efficiency. Once, we passed the border with Italy, Italian (finance) police and train staff boarded the train.
The train stopped in Bern, Thun (with great views of Lake Thun), and Brig, before we crossed the border into Italy, and passed Domodossola and Lake Maggiore, before arriving in Milan.
I booked the train ticket from the Netherlands to Milan, including the switch in Basel, directly on the website of the Dutch Railways. It is fast, you save on booking fees and you can select the times and trains you wish, compare dates and times, and then book and pay directly.
Milan to Bari with high-speed Italian train
I booked a hotel room close to Milan Central Station, as I knew I wouldn’t have time to explore Milan. I was back at the train station the next day, at 8 am.
The train from Milan would leave at 8.05 am. It is scheduled to arrive at Bari station at 3.27 pm (15.27h). You need to catch this high-speed train to Bari, because any later train, will not allow you enough time to make it to Bari harbor and check in for the ferry on time.
This train is a direct train from Milano Centrale to Bari Centrale. It is operated by the Italian Railways, and the train is called Frecciarossa 8803. This is the high-speed train and tickets are more expensive than the regional, slower trains in Italy.
But the Frecciarossa train covers the nearly 900 km (560 miles) in less than 7,5 hours, which is more than enough for me. I found the train ticket, booked in advance, very affordable for such a long journey.
We passed through Parma and Bologna, and then traveled for quite some time, by the seaside of the Adriatic Sea. At first, we were running behind schedule, but when we pulled into Bari Centrale, it was only 2.45 pm (14.45h) so almost 45 minutes before the scheduled arrival time.
This train ride was super comfortable, although the temperature inside the carriage was a bit high in the afternoon, as the blistering sun baked the train to smoldering temperatures.
I was seated in a first-class single-seater, with a silent couple. We were served breakfast cookies and teas and also got some other refreshments later in the afternoon. It was a very comfortable journey.
I booked my train ticket from Milan to Bari, via the website of Italia Rail.
Ferry from Bari to Patras, Greece
The ferry from Bari leaves from Bari harbor. You have to pick up your ticket and check-in for the boat to Greece.
Getting from Bari central station to Bari Harbor
Bari Central train station is on one end of Bari town. And the harbor, obviously, is on the other side. It is a 2.5 km (1.5 mile) walk or a 10-minute taxi ride.
As I figured, I had been seated already for almost 2 whole days, a bit of exercise would do me well. I ignored the taxis and set out for my stroll through modern Bari and the old town of Bari. I figured, I would find a nice gelato shop somewhere, and settle in for a bit, as I had plenty of time.
But it was busy. And hot. And although the stroll to the modern town of Bari, with its paved promenade and modern shops, was easy, dodging all the people was not. Once I got to the old town, I figured now was a good ice cream time, but it turned out, the old town of Bari is almost abandoned.
Before I knew it, I was at the deserted harbor side. No turning back now. So I kept going.
You need to get your ticket for the ferry at the harbor. The best option is the desk of the ferries to Greece.
Address: Corso Antonio De Tullio, 8, 70122 Bari BA, Italy or coordinates: 41°08’11.9″N 16°52’02.4″E
Here you’ll find the ferry desks, a toilet, a small shop and there are some cafes open (outside).
Boarding the ferry to Greece
Once I picked up my ticket, I had to wait for the boarding for the ferry. The ferry leaves Bari, Italy at 7.30 pm (19.30h) and will arrive in Patras, Greece, at 1 pm (13.00h) local time. Boarding didn’t open until 5 pm (17h) so that is good to know.
I waited until it was time to board the ferry and we could walk all the way to the dock. We passed behind trucks, went through some offices that didn’t want to scan my luggage, and then I walked on board the ferry.
The boat was massive! The diesel engine was already roaring and next to me, cars, campervans, and big and small trucks were driving on the ferry ramp.
I walked up to the reception desk and was escorted to my room, just as in a hotel. I had booked a 3-bed female room, with an ensuite bathroom. Finally, I could get rid of my luggage and explore the boat.
It was great, sitting on the deck, with a cold drink, watching the trucks Tetris their way on board. Slowly, more and more truck drivers joined us on deck and it was actually quite crowded.
Seats or beds on the ferry to Greece
As mentioned, I opted for a 3-bed female room, with an ensuite bathroom. They have also 4-bed rooms and you can also choose a seat. This is a very economical way to travel, as you don’t pay extra for a bed. This also means, you don’t have a bed and you’ll sleep in special chairs on the inner deck. Bring your sleeping bag and a pillow for some comfort.
I spoke with some budget travelers, who said they didn’t sleep at all as it is not very comfortable, but also, people stay up late on the ship. And some people get up early, as the ferry also stops at 4.30 am in Igoumenitsa, Greece.
The base price for a person traveling on the ferry, (with or without a car) is now €73. You need to find a chair on the deck. If you pay €81 you can have an ‘air seat’ which is supposed to be a bit more comfortable.
If you want to book a bed in a cabin, you have a range of options. There are 4-bed cabins without views, or you can have a 2-bed cabin for 2 people. If you book the 3-bed cabin, with a sea view, you’ll pay an extra €90.
All in all, I found the prices very reasonable. I shared my 3-bed cabin with 1 other lady, a truck driver, which was fine. Luckily, the bed above me was not taken. The prices are the same if you book weeks in advance or the day before. The options are just limited, especially in summer I recommend you book ahead.
What was the ferry to Patras, Greece like?
All in all, I loved the ferry to Greece. Once we left the harbor, the sun was setting. Then the on-sight cafeteria opened up and served a wide range of serve-yourself meals. It was my first Greek meal, so I loaded up on the tzatziki.
You can stay in the lounge or restaurant for the evening, but I headed to bed quite early. And slept like a baby! The roaring engine and the calm movement of the sea rocked me to sleep.
In the morning, I slept in, relaxed, had breakfast, and enjoyed the views from the side of the deck. The first sights of Greece proved very promising!
We passed by Lefkada island and the other Ionian Islands, and headed for Patras. The sun was glistening on the water’s surface, and the wind messed up my hair. But I didn’t mind. It was lovely. Such a nice, relaxed way to travel!
I booked my ticket for the ferry to Greece, direct via this website.
Bus from Patras to Kalamata, Greece
Exactly at 1 pm (13.00h) we arrived at the harbor of Patras. We had already picked up our luggage and check-out of the room.
And just like that, we could walk off the ferry and I was in Greece! That wasn’t that difficult at all!
We boarded a bus next to the ferry, that took us to the terminal building. From there, the sweet balmy scent of orange blossoms filled the air. Taxies were already waiting for the passengers. There was no bus in sight.
As I wished I had taken a taxi in Bari, for me it was a no-brainer to take a taxi to the bus station in Patras. In just 10 minutes, the taxi driver dropped us off at the bus station in Patras.
At the station, I bought my bus ticket to Kalamata and waited. And waited. And waited. It was quite a long wait, as the bus didn’t leave until 4 pm (16.00h).
But, right on time, the bus pulled into the terminal and I could board the bus for the final stretch of my journey to Kalamata! By now, I was a bit tired of waiting and the 4-hour bus ride seemed to take forever. We stopped almost in each tiny little village, but I arrived in Kalamata in the end. Exactly at 8 pm (20.00h) I was in Kalamata.
A whopping 60 hours since I left home, I arrived at my final destination. Yes, it is nothing compared to a 3-hour flight, but I still preferred the train and ferry to Greece over flying!
Alternative: bus or train from Patras to Athens
If you want to travel to Athens, either to explore the city or to catch a ferry from Piraeus to one of Greece’s other islands, you’ll have 2 options.
You can take the bus from Patras to Athens (Patra to Athens). There are regular buses, that stop in Corinth (Isthmia) or go direct to Athens. And there are express buses that are faster. It will take you 3.5 to 4 hours to travel from Patras to Athens.
Another option is the bus/train combination to Athens. You’ll take the bus from Patras train station to Corinth. And then you’ll change to the train to Athens. This journey will take between 3 and 3.5 hours.
My personal experiences on this train journey to Greece from the Netherlands
At first, I was a bit apprehensive about the trip. With all the strikes going on in Europe at airports and with national railways, I really hoped I would make all my connections.
I had a conference to attend and my schedule didn’t leave any room for delays. In the end, it worked like clockwork and every train connected perfectly to the next.
Although the travel days were long and I was tired at the end of the day, the journey itself was relaxed. I just sat back in my wide, comfortable chair, gazed out the window, and made stories for Instagram. I might have dozed off for a bit on the second day on the train to Bari.
And then there was the ferry. No idea what to expect, but with the calm Mediterranean Sea, a nice cabin, good food, and fun company aboard the ferry, I had a great time! What a way to travel.
I would do it again in a heartbeat and I was actually bummed I didn’t take the same route back home (full disclosure: I flew back from Athens).
And I hope everyone gets to experience a trip like this once in their lives. I even met some people who departed earlier and still had 2 more days of travel by train and ferry, as their final destination is Kos!
As you can see, you can travel almost anywhere in Europe, without flying. You just need a bit of time.
How long does it take to travel by train from NL to Greece, via Bari
It took me 60 hours to reach my final destination in Greece. I left at 7 am on Friday morning and arrived at 8 pm on Sunday evening.
Here is a breakdown of my travel time:
- A 1-hour bus ride to Den Bosch Central Station
- Then 45-minutes waiting for the train
- A 6-hour and 8 minutes train ride from Den Bosch (NL) to Basel (CH)
- I had a 2-hour and 41-minute stop in Basel (CH)
- Basel to Milan train took 4 hours and 17 minutes
- My stop-over in Milan (IT) was 10 hours and 20 minutes. Most of that time I slept.
- Milan to Bari train took 6 hours and 40 minutes (scheduled for 7h and 22 minutes)
- I then had to wait 4 hours and 45 minutes before the ferry left Bari (IT).
- The Bari to Patras ferry took 16,5 hours, most of which I spent relaxing, eating and sleeping
- I had a 3-hour wait before the bus left Patras (Greece)
- The bus from Patras to Kalamata took 4 hours
The total travel time (in transit) was: 38h and 35 minutes (of which I slept in a bed at least 8 hours). I spent 21 hours and 31 minutes waiting for connections and/or sleeping in a hotel.
What did the journey by train and ferry to Greece cost me?
Once I decided to take the train to Greece, I had to figure out what the cost of the journey would be. As I wanted a bit more comfort and luxury, I decided to book 1st class train tickets.
The grand total of my train journey from the Netherlands to Greece was: €466.56
I booked 5 weeks in advance, maybe the trip would have been cheaper if I booked it 3 months in advance. Here is the breakdown of each section:
- Train from NL to Milan, via Basel in 1-st class seats with seat reservation: €184.90. I don’t know exactly what the economy price was, I think it was around €115
- Train from Milan to Bari, in ‘business area silenzio’: €81.90. Their standard seat is €68.90 and executive is €185.90
- Ferry from Bari to Milan: in a 3-bed cabin with sea view: €176,96. You can travel as cheap as €73 for this part of the journey
- Bus from Patras to Kalamata: €22.80. The bus/train and/or bus to Athens should cost no more than €21 per person
I think if you’re on a really tight budget, you can get by with economy class and sleeping on the ferry deck for €275 per person.
In comparison, a direct flight from Amsterdam to Kalamata with Transavia, incl. priority boarding and 30kg of checked luggage would have been €200. Because it leaves Amsterdam at 6 am, I would have to take a hotel near the airport to make it on time.
Use Interrail or Eurail to travel to Greece by train
If I would have selected their Global Pass (4 days in 1 month), it would have cost me €258 for 2nd class seats. The upgrade to first class would have been €328. If you’re under 27 years old, it is less than €200 for economy class.
This is excluding any reservations for seats. And because I took the direct train to Basel and Milan, and the highspeed train to Bari, this would have meant additional costs.
If you have more time and want to explore more of Europe, these Interrail and Eurail passes are a great way to see Europe.
Is the train to Greece a greener alternative than flying?
With the roaring diesel engine of the ferry blasting black clouds into the clear blue skies of Bari, I questioned if this is really a greener solution than flying. Let’s do some math.
I use this source to calculate Co2 emissions for train routes. As the route NL to Kalamata doesn’t give any results, I broke it down:
- NL to Bari by train: 65.9 kg
- As a foot passenger on a ferry that travels 590 km (Bari to Patras): 11 kg (source)
- I don’t have any information about the bus from Patras to Kalamata, but it can’t be that much. Let’s round up the total journey to 85 kg
- Flight from Amsterdam to Kalamata: 392 kg
If my math proves me correct, it is a 78% reduction in Co2 to take the train and ferry vs flying.
Practical tips for this train journey to Greece
If you want to have the same railway adventure as I did, you might want some practical tips for your train and ferry rides. Here are some random tips about my route:
- Look for the best summer packing list and what to take on a rail adventure in Europe, at my post by clicking here.
- Of course, you can book via an agent or broker, but I found, booking the tickets direct is much faster and cheaper
- Milan has several train stations, but the train to Bari leaves from Milano Centrale.
- On the train, the best views from Milan to Bari are on the left side of the train (riding direction). For hours, you’ll see the Adriatic Sea
- Upgrading to 1st class is priceless on such a long train journey. I also was very happy with my 3-bed sea view cabin.
- Greece is 1 hour ahead of NL, Switzerland, and Italy.
- Make life easier for yourself, and take a taxi in Bari. It is a 30-minute walk through town. The part through the old town is not really suited for any type of suitcase. If you only travel with a backpack, you’ll be fine.
- Each seat on each train has a power outlet and some even have USB ports. Perfect for some work on the train.
- On the train from Basel to Milan, I was seated in the wheelchair area. This was no problem for me, only the area was not used for wheelchairs but for some reason, 3 families with strollers and whiny toddlers joined me. For me, it was a bit much after such a long day of travel.
- Switzerland has CHF (and not euros) and the region is not included in my phone’s roaming plan. I preloaded the route I wanted to take before I entered Switzerland. There is free WiFi at the station and on the Swiss trains.
- You can bring your own snacks and drinks on the train but each of these trains had a cafe-bar carriage with a wide variety of dishes. I enjoyed a currywurst with a beer on the train to Basel, and a nice pesto panini on the train to Bari.
Useful links to book your train journey to Greece
Of course, I wouldn’t be me, if I didn’t have some useful links to share, to make things easier for you.
- Book your train tickets from the Netherlands to Basel and Milan, or to Paris and Milan, via this link.
- I stayed at a hotel in Milan, just 200m from the train station. Check for rates and availability by clicking here.
- Are you looking for a different hotel in Milan, here are more options to choose from.
- Book your train tickets for Milan to Bari via this website.
- Book your ticket for the ferry to Bari here.
- For information about bus schedules and tickets for the bus to Athens, check the website here.
- For more information and tickets for trains in Greece, visit their website here
- Look for prices and options for Interrail or Eurail by clicking the links.
Of course, there are plenty more stories about my train travels and journeys across Europe. Here are some more links for more reading:
- Eurostar train from Amsterdam to Paris
- Is the Eurostar train to London faster than flying?
- From Amsterdam to Bordeaux by train
- My 5 Minutes of Fame on the Bucharest to Istanbul Train
I hope I inspired you with my story to see that the options to travel by train to Greece are there. Hopefully, my tips and experiences will help you with the practical side of things. In case you have any questions, let me know.
I can offer a bespoke travel itinerary for your needs at a fee. Contact me for more details.