This is what we did. There are flights from Athens, as well as other places. The flight from Athens was only about 25 minutes in the air so 45 minutes scheduled gate to gate. This was easy and I would recommend flying if you can!
Note that the airport seemed very small.
This depends where you are coming from. We did Athens to Santorini and Santorini to Mykonos. The ferry from Athens can be around 8 hours, so we opted NOT to do that. If you’re coming from a different island and then going to Santorini, then you may need to take a ferry. We took a ferry from Santorini to Mykonos
The ferries arrive and depart from Athinios port, which is about 15 minutes from Fira and 30 minutes from Oia without traffic. It took us almost an hour from Oia as we stopped in Fira and it took awhile to get down to the port with all the traffic going up and down hill. The road is thin so often only cars on one side of the road can move at a time if there are large buses and trucks.
There are about 50 taxis on the island, aka not very many. Thus, especially if you are there in high season, but also just for ease and comfort, I would recommend booking a transfer from your arrival point to your accommodation location. Our airbnb host organized this for us and it was very helpful and affordable. It took us about an hour to get from the airport to Oia at a cost of 30 euros for two people
The little towns can be covered by foot
To get between areas on the island I would recommend renting a car, ATV, 4-wheeler, scooter, or doing this with a private tour guide if you don’t want to drive. It would be a shame to come all the way to Santorini and not see more than just one town!
There is a bus system that works reasonably well. We never ended up using it as we rented a 4-wheeler for a day, but coach buses operate as buses for the area. Depending on where you stay (town) and where you are going will affect the number of transfers you will have to make (a bunch of transfers are made in Fira)
Not that many (about 50) but you can ask a restaurant or hotel to call you one. You can also go to a bus stop and wait for one there, but you could wait a few minutes or a lot longer, just depends on demand
This is the village on the northern tip of the island, right on the cliffs with a beautiful sunset view. It’s smaller than the capital, Fira, and very beautiful. It takes about 25 minutes to walk from one side of town to the other side.
We stayed here! It was beautiful. We had a little cliff house (more like a room with a bathroom) with a gorgeous caldera view and view over the water. I would highly recommend staying here. However, I’d recommend trying to get a place that has its own little pool (or staying at a hotel that has one) and, if you can swing it, stay on the side with the sunset view. This would be absolutely amazing. These two extra amenities definitely can be pricier, but I’ve heard going in off-season can make this a lot more affordable. This wasn’t a realistic option for my sister and I when we went in the height of high season (end of July).
This is the capital of Santorini, and is located in the “middle” of Santorini on a Cliffside. It has similar view to Santorini and feels much larger. Thus, there are more shops, but also more tourists and has a more touristy feel.
Since it is in the middle, it is closer to some places on the southern side of Santorini like the black and red sand beaches. Nevertheless, Santorini is not a big island and it can be driven easily in a day (depending on how much time you want to spend in different locations, could also break it up into two days ie if you want to spend half the day at the black sand beach – see “things to do” specifically driving around the island for more on this).
There are tons of little towns in Santorini like Pigros, Megalochori, etc. You can check out any of these. I loved Oia because it was a beautiful area with more going on than some of these smaller towns but not too much like Fira. Nevertheless, sunset time was crazy every night since everyone staying in Oia and in areas around flocked to one sunset spot.
Santorini has unique beaches, but it is not known for being an island where people vacation just for the beach. Thus, if you really want to spend more time at the beach, stay near Perissa, a black sand beach and known as the nicest beach on the island. However, I would recommend maybe having part of a day or two for beach but also exploring the island since there’s a lot to do on it and then going to another Greek island for the beaches and something different.
There’s one major pedestrian street. There are SO many picturesque places throughout the town so make sure to just explore and enjoy the beautiful town; turn off the main street on some smaller streets and you’ll see some gorgeous views or cute little houses. Tons of touristy shops.
300 steps down from the main town OR can access it from the road if have a car or ATV. You can walk back up or use the donkeys. (We walked to a beach from the bay so actually avoided both).
GREAT swimming spot! It’s beautiful, but BRING WATER SHOES. Like I mentioned earlier, Santorini isn’t known for it’s beaches so most beaches are rocky or pebble beaches (aside from Black and Red sand beaches).
Getting to Ammoudi Bay swimming spot:
After taking the 300 steps down from Oia, take a left and walk through a few restaurants and follow the rocks for about 5 minutes (opposite direction from the road). You will feel like you are not going the correct place, but keep following the path. You walk over a thin half crescent rock piece and then a bit further and you’re there. It’s beautiful! You’ll likely see people swimming or even sunbathing here (not many great places to lay out though). If you jump in the water and swim out to the smaller rock, there’s a good place to jump off that seemed about 5 meters up!
Even if you don’t want to swim, go check it out because it’s beautiful! Worth the climb down and back up if you ask me. Do note that there will be donkey droppings on the stairs down since the donkeys go up and down all day, but you can avoid them, just pay attention.
If you want to do what we did, we:
Walked down to Ammoudi Bay in the late morning
Then walked across all the restaurants and towards the road where we followed the road uphill. Beautiful views here! The road curved to the right, and we went left following the signs to Katharos Beach
We spent a few hours at Katharos Beach (there’s one restaurant slightly above the beach) and the black pebble beach at the bottom. It took us about 15 minutes to walk form Ammoudi Bay to Katharos Beach.
Note: quiet beach so bring your own towels/chairs/things you want
Restaurants down here that get away from the busier town
Famous bookstore that is on the main pedestrian road
There are also stairs so you can walk down and cable car up or vice versa.
We did not do this, but saw where it was
Small town that used to be the capital (nice to walk around in briefly while driving around the island; not much else to do here)
Black sand beach
Chairs for rent
We rented chairs for 5 euros a chair. You can walk up the beach (about 4 km apparently) and different companies own different parts of the beach. Thus, the different color beds are associated with different companies and different prices. 5 euros was the cheapest we were going to find.
We went to the spot that was about as far as we could drive on the road and parked
Another black sand beach (we only went to Perissa and spent a few hours at the beach there since it was supposed to be nicer; but this one is also a commonly visited one with beach bars, beach chairs for rent, and restaurants)
Kokkini but likely noted as Red beach on many maps and street signs
We just drove by, but would definitely recommend checking this one out, I really wanted to! You may want to call ahead ~ mainly if you want to go at susnet~ and see if you can reserve a time or just try stopping by when you drive by.
Lots of options if you’re interested
This is great way to see the island. I’ve never driven an ATV before and the woman renting them to us was not a fan of that so she wouldn’t rent one to us. Instead, we rented this buggy that had an open roof and looked like a mini-golf cart.
Make sure to bring your passport/ID card when renting (or a copy of it)
Tons of tourists rent these to see the island. Thus, a lot of people aren’t used to driving on the island so you do want to be extra cautious. Beware that it is a hilly island so you will want a powerful mode of transportation (ours was not very powerful so we would go up hills quite slowly and got passed quite a few times, but that was beyond our control). The roads are actually pretty good and wide enough for two cars everywhere (something I would NOT say about Mykonos).
We tried to plan what our route would be before we started, but quickly diverted and just had an idea in our heads of what we wanted to see and kept in mind where we were on the map/what we were close to and then would plan as we went. The map wasn’t that helpful, but still good to be familiar with. We ended up using the road signs a lot more as big things like the red sand beach, Perissa, etc are all noted on road signs.
Here’s some ideas on things to see while driving around the island. This is the order we saw them in while driving from Oia. Note there are a lot of gas stations along the way (just not right near or in Oia). We filled up a few times in our buggy to just be sure we did not run out of gas because it was very unclear how much gas we actually needed to see what we wanted to see and of course there was no gas gage or anything like it. Greece is like New Jersey, you won’t fill up your own gas, an attendant will do it for you and gas was CHEAP. We paid 8 euros, 5 euros and 2 euros the three times we stopped to fill up (did not need to the last time but wanted to return the vehicle with as much gas as possible so we would not be charged extra).
Fira (we just walked around here for a bit)
Drove through Megalochori (small town)
Santos Winery (we did not stop here BUT think it’d be very fun. This is the most commonly visited winery in Santorini and has a very nice wine tasting. Some people like to go at sunset but you should make a reservation for this). You will pass many more wineries while driving the island.
View point over the water. Not an official stop, but a place where a lot of people pull over on the right side of the road when driving towards the Red Sand Beach and Akortiri. Nice view over the water and the island here
Red Sand Beach (part of the beach is closed because there was a rockslide in the recent past, but you can walk out about 7 minutes from the parking lot to a nice view of it and walk along the beach ~~ you just can’t sit and hang out for the day on a piece of it). Go PAST the archaeological site and parking lot for the archaeological site and park as close to the beach as you can at the parking lot near the church marking the beginning of the walk out to the red sand beach. Otherwise, if you park up higher, you’ll end up walking a decent distance from your car to get to the beach.
Akortiri Archaeological site (we did not stop here but drove right by it minutes before arriving at the Red Sand Beach; would’ve been easy to stop though if we had wanted to!)
Akortiri (just drove through here)
Perissa beach – black sand beaches; we parked and walked around the area a bit but mainly spent time on the beach. We rented chairs for 5 euros a chair. You can walk up the beach (about 4 km apparently) and different companies own different parts of the beach. Thus, the different color beds are associated with different companies and different prices. 5 euros was the cheapest we were going to find.
Pigros – old capital of Santorini. Cute, small town, but we just walked around and wandered through the little streets here before heading back to Oia.
Make sure you park in a parking spot or parking lot, NOT just anywhere on the road as you will get ticketed.
Companies in Oia:
You’ll see a bunch of them but here are a few:
Holidays motorcar (this is where we rented from)
Usually costs about 50 euros give or take 15 euros depending on the company and time of year for 24 hours. You can fit 2 people on an ATV, 2 in the buggy we rented but 4 in some of the larger ones that look even more like golf carts.
Great spots in Oia to watch it which is where we watched every night since we were staying there.
The first night we watched at a restaurant where we made reservations (called Fanari Villas Restaurant ~ restaurant associated with those villas). We were lucky to get a reservation since most places with sunset views had tables that were already booked well before. However, this place was slightly hidden so we were able to get a table
Second night we watched with the masses near the sunset view “spot”. The spot filled up 1-2 hours before the sun even set in high season. And the walls and areas around it filled up early as well. This was my least favorite way to watch the sunset because it was stressful with all the people around. However, I would’ve loved to have actually watched from the sunset spot because it would have a beautiful sunset view and the beautiful cliff side white houses visible at the same time. After sunset, everyone was heading the same direction so it took awhile to get out of the town. If you’re having dinner after sunset in high season, make reservations!
This is called the Turret Viewpoint. Once in the town and you walk around/towards the sunset spot, you’ll know what it is, but here are some directions in case you need:
Start from the bus square and then walk up towards the water/main area where you’ll see the church which is where the main square is. Then take a right and walk for about 5 minutes. After a few minutes, the path will split, take the left side. Continue walking and veer left. Then you’ll go down some more stairs and see a nice viewpoint on your left and a blue house/church top in front of you. From here go right and eventually you will see the turret point on your left.
Third night we walked slightly out of the town and watched there, which was much nicer as it was more peaceful. We’d heard that Ammoudi Bay was a good place to watch because it was less crowded. Thus, when we went down there to check it out one morning (by stairs) and then walked up (on the road since we were going to a beach on the other side called Katharos beach), we found a bunch of great places to watch the sunset and headed out there on our final night! We ended up watching it in the parking lot near the hotel on the edge of Oia town as it had a great view! A lot of other people had this idea too, but nothing compared to the crowds in the town.
We planned on doing this, but decided not to. However, with more time I think it would’ve been nice.
Directions I found online:
From Fira, head north through the adjoining villages of the Firostefani and Imerovigli. Then continue along the lip of the crater all the way to Oia – about 5 miles. Plan at least 3.5 hours one way (fairly strenuous with lots of ups and downs and little shade).
The route is not completely marked but fairly intuitive; stay on the path that follows the edge of the caldera and walk north (when in doubt, stay to the left/west). Note: in July/August, highly recommend starting early due to the heat and bring plenty of water
There a ton of different options. We did not end up doing one, but if this interests you just look them up. Here are a few examples
Volcano Tour – (we did not do this but looked into it; boat cruise to volcano and likely has a swim in the hot springs aka warmer water included too)
Swim in the Hot Springs (by boat tour)
Other island tour
We wanted a relaxing day, so we went to Katharos Beach (close to Oia ~ about a 15-minute walk from the town or you can walk from Ammoudi Bay like we did). This is a black pebble beach, but it’s quiet and very pretty (no companies with beach chairs or anything like that; just one restaurant slightly above the beach). Again BRING WATER SHOES because you’ll want them when you go swimming here. We wished we had them!
Great Greek food in Oia (located near the bus station). If you are walking on the main pedestrian road away from the sunset spot and church. Take a left once you pass the school and you’ll see a sign pointing towards Pita Gyros. It’s about 100 meters off the main pedestrian path. DELICIOUS food! We got this a few times and loved the chicken gyros. One night we took it to go and watched the sunset in a quieter spot with this for dinner.
More hidden restaurant that’s part of the Fanari Villas. Food was delicious, a bit pricier, but worth it for a nice meal and sunset spot. Make sure to make reservations if you want a sunset table.
Cute café on the main pedestrian road. We had a wonderful breakfast here with a very nice view! We tried the fresh squeezed orange juice, raspberry smoothie, Nutella crepe and fruit bowl
Decent Greek food again, near 218 (slightly less busy part of town as it is further down the pedestrian path away from the sunset spot).
Okay Greek food, great view over the water off the main pedestrian path. We just grabbed a late lunch here one day
Cute little wine shop near Pita Gyros and the bus stop. You can buy wine in any of the little mini marts too but we liked this place
There are mini marts throughout the town and a small small small grocery store near the bus stop. We liked getting some snacks and wine to sit on our patio with in the afternoon or at night.
WATER: we drank bottled water while on the islands in Greece. We read mixed reviews, some saying you could drink the water and that people often just did not like the taste and others saying you should avoid it. Thus, as large 1.5L water bottles were only 1 euro at most places, we opted to just play it safe and drink bottled water. We re-stocked often and had no problem finding water
High Season: as mentioned previously, I would HIGHLY recommend avoiding high season. Of course, this isn’t always possible (my situation), but you’ll get much better prices and less crowds at other times of the year (I’d say May and early June and then September and October would probably be better times to visit). More things will be closed if you go in the winter, and you’d need to check the weather
Crew ships – when you see crew ships docked in Fira, you know it’ll be a busier day in the town. We loved the days that there were no cruise ships
Overall, Greece is cheap, but the islands are pricier.
BEAUTIFUL island; I loved Santorini and would love to go back. We had 3 nights (2 full days and a ½ day). I wish I had 5 nights (maybe even 6 if I had a place with a pool) and would’ve broken up my days something like this (staying in Oia again)
Drive around the island (2 days for this so rent a vehicle two days and spend at least ½ a day to almost the full day at Perissa beach and also spend more time exploring some towns)
Wine Tour/Santos winery (1 day)
Hike from Fira to Oia and explore Fira (1 day)
Some type of boat tour (1 day)
Nevertheless, you do NOT need that long, it just depends on what interests you and what you want to see/how jam packed you want your days to be! I am all for having busy days, but when I’m in a place like Greece that is warm and sunny, I need some beach and relaxing time too!