The Practical Guide to Santorini in Greece: The Crown Jewel of the Cyclades
Santorini is quite possibly one of the most photographed places in the world, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why. It is arguably the most well-known out of the 220 islands that make up the Cyclades in the Aegean sea; much like Cinque Terre or Venice in Italy, officials have decided to limit the number of cruise tourists that are permitted to visit and even issue tickets during peak season for visits to Oia due to the massive number of visitors that flock to its volcanic shores.
When we planned our trip to Greece last year, we knew that in addition to Athens, Delphi, Meteora and Olympia, there was no way that we could possibly skip the Greek islands, and decided that our first port of call would be Santorini.
Santorini is the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in history; today, the large caldera left by multiple eruptions (watch this video to witness how Santorini was formed over thousands of years) is lined from head-to-toe with precariously perched houses and churches, and is famous for breathtaking sunsets that attract massive crowds. While it isn’t one of the most budget-friendly places in the world, to say that Santorini is a destination that you must visit an understatement. Read on for a complete Santorini travel guide to help plan your trip!
Where to stay in Santorini
Where is the best place to stay in Santorini? It really depends on what type of traveler you are and what your budget is. Oia, for example, is notoriously expensive but popular for couples. We split our stay in Santorini over 2 different areas – Fira and Oia, and would recommend the following hotels for the beautiful rooms and excellent locations:
Corrado Caldera Apartments, Fira: This property could not be in a better location! The hotel owner, Corrado, is extremely friendly and even offers airport pick up and drop off. The apartment is located on a quiet side street right at the mouth of the caldera, and the apartment is clean and spacious. The view from the shared terrace is stunning, and best of all: the price is incredibly reasonable compared to other properties in the area. Click here to book accommodation at Corrado Caldera Apartments!
Thirea Studios, Oia: Staying in Oia is expensive, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. We spent 2 wonderful nights at Thirea Studios and were a stones throw away from the heart of Oia. The surrounding area glistens under the sunlight and the rooms are tastefully decorated. The hotel restocks the mini fridge every morning so that you can brew a hot coffee and eat a simple continental breakfast while overlooking the Aegean. Click here to book accommodation at Thirea Studios!
How to get to Santorini and getting around
The best way to get to Santorini quickly is by plane! If you have some time and don’t mind sitting on a boat for hours on end, then look into taking a ferry from Athens to Santorini. If you are traveling from Athens, the plane takes off, and pretty much prepares for landing right after, and you don’t waste time getting from A to B. Flights aren’t too expensive and there are a number of flights each day. You can also take ferries or domestic flights from the other islands.
Once you have arrived in Santorini, there are a number of ways to get around the island:
Bus: There are buses on Santorini that operate between the towns and tickets are between 2-3 Euros. The buses can get crowded and hot during peak season so you may want to look into renting your own vehicle. The buses run frequently during the peak tourism season but may run fewer routes during the winter months. Read more about traveling by bus in Santorini here and here.
Car, ATV or scooter: I would not recommend hiring a car as parking on the island isn’t always easy, but is handy as Santorini can be extremely windy and chilly, even during the summer months. You’ll need to make sure that your accommodation in Santorini offers parking.
Another option is to hire a scooter to explore Santorini if you have prior experience driving a scooter: reserve your scooter ahead of time from Santorini Rent Me Love Me, and organize for them to drop off and pick up the scooter from your hotel for maximum convenience! We paid about 25 Euros a day for a scooter in Santorini and this option allows you to park pretty much anywhere you want and appreciate the extremely picturesque views along the coast. Quad bikes/ATVs are another popular option among travelers.
Looking for the best prices for rental cars around the world? Click here to book your rental car ahead of your trip. Bookings can be cancelled or amended if your plans change!
Tips you should know before you visit Santorini
Visiting Santorini for the first time? Here are some answers to common Santorini travel questions, as well as important Santorini tips for a fuss-free trip.
1. How long should I stay in Santorini?
Wondering how many days in Santorini is enough? Santorini is not a massive island, but there are a number of different towns that are worth visiting. We opted to stay in 2 different towns over 5 nights so that we could get a feel for the different areas around Santorini. Also, there was no way we could afford 5 nights in Oia (pronouced “ee-a”!). I would recommend spending a minimum of 3 days in Santorini, though ideally you set aside 3-6 nights for the island.
2. When is the best time to visit Santorini?
Santorini is not a tropical island so the warmest months are between May and October, though tourism is starting to pick up during the winter months as well. If you’re dead set on sunny beach days, look into visiting in the peak season from July to September, but be mentally prepared for big crowds. The best time to visit Santorini is outside of the peak season, when the crowds (especially in Oia) can be overwhelming – try visiting from March to May or October to November.
3. Where is the best place to stay in Santorini?
Most travelers to Santorini opt to stay in Kamari, Perissa, Fira, Imerovigli or Oia. The accommodation rates vary across the different towns but Imerovigli and Oia tend to be the most expensive. The airport is on the east coast of the island and most hotels are within a 15-30 minute drive away.
One of the most important things to think about when booking your accommodation (apart from budget) is how many stairs you will need to walk down (and back up) to get to your hotel – this is one of my top Santorini travel tips. Some hotels will offer a porter service, but it seriously sucks if you have to lug your suitcase down dozens and dozens of uneven steps.
We stayed in Fira for our first few nights at Corrado Caldera Apartments. This property could not be in a better location! The apartment is located on a quiet side street right at the mouth of the caldera and offers a small balcony area overlooking the ocean. Click here for current room rates at Corrado Caldera Apartments!
Next, we moved onto Oia and stayed at Thirea Studios, a beautiful luxury boutique hotel in Santorini offering a sweeping view from the private terrace. It was just steps way from the main strip of Oia where all the shops and restaurants are located, and where you can find this iconic view of Oia. Click here for current rates at Thirea Studios!
Booking tip: if you plan on staying in Santorini for a few nights, do what we did and switch hotels halfway through your stay so you can experience different sides of the island. Click here for more Santorini accommodation options!
4. Are there ATMs in Santorini?
Most places accept card or have a minimum spend, but there are ATMs around. Some hotels may ask for payment in cash so double check the booking terms before your trip.
5. Is it easy to use my phone to navigate?
Cell signal is good and Google Maps was pretty accurate, though it can get slightly confusing when you navigate the narrow paths within towns. You may want to download maps for offline use just in case your cell service gets a bit patchy.
6. What are some dos and don’ts when traveling to Santorini?
- The blue domes of Santorini are iconic. But that doesn’t mean that you should climb onto roofs and domes for a photo, especially because it isn’t difficult to take incredible photos of Santorini from marked trails and steps or from a rooftop bar – be a responsible traveler in Santorini!
- Santorini typically welcomes more than 2 million visitors a year, the majority of which visit during the peak travel season from around June to September. Consider traveling to Santorini during the shoulder and off-peak seasons to help distribute the tourism load.
- Donkey rides in Santorini are extremely popular, but this weird obsession and novelty has led to extreme exhaustion in the animals, spinal problems and mistreatment. Considering there are other ethical ways to travel up the cliffs of Santorini I urge you to reconsider riding a donkey.
- Most hotels and restaurants will warn you not to flush any paper down the toilet. Unfortunately the plumbing system simply can’t handle it, and you could wreak havoc with this simple Santorini travel mistake.
- Do venture beyond the popular tourist villages in Santorini, especially if you have access to your own form of transportation such as a scooter or ATV.
- Don’t park recklessly – there are usually marked parking areas and lots, and outside of Oia and Fira you may be able to find street parking. Just make sure you aren’t blocking any traffic.
The best things to do in Santorini, Greece
There are a ton of different things to do in Santorini! I had originally envisioned sitting back and sipping cocktails all day long, but in reality rolled up my sleeves and spent almost all day exploring what the island had to offer. Wondering what to do in Santorini? Here are some of the top things to do and places to visit in Santorini.
1. Enjoy the sunset
A no-brainer! The sunsets in Santorini are unlike any other I’ve ever witnessed. Have you ever seen a truly pink and gold sunset? Brace yourself. For the best sunset views in Santorini head to either Oia or Fira, and while you can expect an insane number of people doing the exact same thing, wander a few streets away from the main viewpoints and you’ll find yourself a quiet little spot to watch the colours change across the sky.
If you’re looking to grab a cocktail to go with your Santorini sunset view, head to PK Cocktail Bar in Fira or Kastro in Oia. Make sure you book a table ahead of time as the best sunset spots in Santorini fill up quickly.
PK Cocktail Bar in particular served up some of the most delicious concoctions I have ever had the pleasure of drinking, and the service was incredible to boot. Their credit card machine was on the fritz and we didn’t have enough cash on us, and they just told us to come back another day to settle the bill like it was no big deal. Didn’t ask where we were staying. Didn’t ask for a contact number. I couldn’t believe my ears. Needless to say, we quickly ran to the nearest ATM and withdrew some cash to pay the bill immediately!
2. Swim in the Aegean
There are a ton of swimming spots around Santorini, and the water is crystal clear! Unless you’re staying at Kamari or Perissa, there aren’t many public transportation routes that take you straight to the beach so your best bet is to rent a scooter or ATV.
Our favorite swimming spot in Santorini was at Ammoudi Bay (walk past the restaurants and walk along the cliffside), and others worth visiting are Kambia beach, Kamari beach and Katharos beach. Many hotels also have their own cliffside pool but be prepared to pay top dollar!
You won’t want to miss the Red Beach at Akrotiri, one of the most unique beaches in Santorini. It gets its maroon and copper tones from the volcanic rock from the caldera. If you are visiting the Red Beach you’ll need to wear appropriate footwear as there is an unpaved path with many loose rocks and pebbles that lead you down to the beach itself.
3. Explore Santorini’s archaelogical sites and museums
Yes, you read right! Santorini has a number of archaeological sites and museums that are worth visiting. Many people skip the museums and archaeological sites to spend more time at the beach, but the history of the island and how it was formed is fascinating – visiting the ruins and excavation sites is one of the most unique things to do in Santorini.
Buy the combined ticket so that you can go museum-hopping for a grand total of 14 Euros and learn about life on the island through incredible exhibits and findings from the settlement before the volcanic eruptions. We enjoyed our deep dive into the history of Santorini at the Archaeological Museum of Fira as well as the Museum of Prehistoric Thera.
4. Hike Skaros Rock for the best views in Santorini
We stumbled upon this incredible hike while exploring Imerovigli on foot. In other words, we were entirely unprepared for this hike (bring water and wear walking shoes!), but it is one of the most unique things to do in Santorini. Skaros rock was once an important fortress protecting the island from pirates, but is now uninhabited. It stands proudly in front of the town of Imerovigli and the walk towards the peak looks daunting with hundreds of steps that form a thin pathway.
The entire Skaros Rock walk takes approximately 45 minutes and starts with a breezy walk down to the base of the rock, followed by a rocky path up to the top. There is no path to the top of the rock but some people opt to climb up. I chose to stay 1 level down and was still rewarded with amazing panoramic views of Oia from afar and the caldera. Don’t skip Skaros rock if you want the best views in Santorini!
5. Go wine tasting
Santorini has a long wine-making tradition and wine tours are incredibly popular, although you can also visit individual wineries. If you’re planning on drinking make sure you book yourself onto a wine tour or organize a private driver – you won’t regret adding wine tasting to your Santorini itinerary.
Where to eat in Santorini
Mylos: Located in Fira, Mylos serves up delicious gourmet fare with an amazing view of the Aegean (with prices to match). Try the beef and save space for dessert. Trust me. It’s perfect for special occasions or date night.
Taverna Katina: If you love seafood then this is the place to be! Located by the seaside at Ammoudi Bay, Taverna Katina offers beautiful fresh seafood and amazing Greek hospitality.
Avocado: Avocado is a small modern bistro in Imerovigli. There’s no view to speak of but the portions are generous, service is fantastic and prices are reasonable.
Catch: If you’re celebrating a special occasion, this is the place to be. The decor is modern and slick, but they back it up with great food and yummy drinks. Prices are on the higher side but this is the place to treat yourself and get dressed up.
Where ever you decide to go, make sure you call or e-mail ahead to book a table, as places do fill up fast.
Santorini hotel booking tip: Most people book hotels in Kamari, Perissa, Fira, Imerovigli or Oia. Look through the hotel photos to see if your room comes with a view! Click here for more Santorini accommodation options.
Headed to Greece? You might also enjoy these articles:
- For more Greece travel inspiration check out this gallery of photos to stoke your wanderlust
- Heading to Athens before or after your Santorini trip? Here are 7 archaeological sites and museums not to miss
- Once considered to be the centre of the world, the ancient sanctuary of Delphi is a great day trip from Athens
- Mainland Greece is absolutely chock full of archaeological ruins and cultural treasures. Read my mainland Greece road trip itinerary to plan your journey
- Did you know that you can visit the site of the first Olympic Games? Read on for what to do in Olympia, Greece
- Do not miss this heritage site – these hanging monasteries of Meteora are practically suspended in the sky!
Have you visited Santorini? What are your tips to travelers visiting the area?
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This is so helpful. I’m planning a trip later this year and this post made me want to book immediately!
Hi Samantha, thank you so much for taking the time to read this! Enjoy your time in Santorini, it really is a stunning island!
Hi Flo! I really loved this guide! I’m heading to Santorini on Friday and will definitely use all these tips! What time did you guys book for the cocktail bar? I have such a hard time with reservations because you just never know where you will be on vacation, but I noticed a lot of restaurants in Santorini need reservations!
Hi Julie! Thanks so much for checking this out! We booked an hour or so before the sunset, I believe, and you’re completely right – almost every restaurant requires a reservation but I think your visit falls under Santorini’s shoulder season instead of peak, so it might not be 100% necessary if you don’t manage to make one for any reason.
Oh my gosh, Flo! This post is very helpful! I think I’ll skip taking a cruise after all and stay a few days around Greece. Thank you 🙂
This post is amazing! Thanks for taking the time to be so detailed!! Can’t wait!
Have an amazing time! Book a table at PK cocktail bar ASAP! 🙂
Ahh Flo!!! I’m dying to visit Santorini, it’s just so far away! Loved your post and all the great tips you’ve shared. I’ve book marked this one for when I do finally make it to this gorgeous island 🙂
It really is very far, especially if you’re based in Asia! It’s not the easiest place to get to but so worth it 🙂
Wow, out of all the blogs that have written a guide to Santorini, this is by far the best. Number one is my favorite…would you recommend I face east or west if I want the best view?
West! You’ll get a great sunset from Oia or Fira. Thanks for taking the time to read this!
Santorini is very popular, how about staying 3 nights? Will that be enough? I am a very budget contious traveler. I think everyones list santorini is always included
You can definitely get a good feel for Santorini after staying 3 nights.
Flo, I really liked this detailed post on Santorini. Everything you need is in one place. We have still to explore that part of the world. I will save this link for sure.
What I wouldn’t give to be in Santorini right now?! The photos are stunning and the place (just like I’ve always imagined) looks spectacular! Don’t get me started on the sunsets, LOVE!
It’s almost like Santorini is closer to the sun than everywhere else – just spectacular!
Santorini is so gorgeous and I hope I will get to visit it one day. The entire post is filled with so many useful tips and it is a great help for people planning to visit Greece soon. Sunsets look magical.
Thanks for checking this guide out, Soumya!