The Santorini airport is small, but there are flights from Athens, as well as some other places within Europe. The flight from Athens was very quick, 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.
Taxis are scarce on Santorini (about 50 taxis on the entire island). If you are visiting in high season, and also just for ease and comfort, I recommend booking a transfer from your arrival point to your accommodation location. Traveling from the airport to Oia took about an hour and cost 30 euros for two people.
Taking a ferry is another option if within a reasonable distance. Many of the Greek islands run ferries between the islands; we used the ferry system to travel between Santorini and Mykonos. The ferry from Athens to Santorini is rather long, nearly 8 hours so would recommend taking a quick flight from Athens instead. 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.
When exploring the towns of Santorini, these will be best covered on foot. The narrow streets and stone paths make any other option challenging.
To travel between areas on the island, you will want to rent a vehicle or plan to visit the rest of the island with a private tour guide. Rental options include cars, ATVs, 4-wheelers, and scooters. 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. As with any public transit, budget in waiting time and time spent at various stops. Depending on where you stay (town) and where you are going will affect the number of transfers you will have to make. As Fira is the largest town on the island, many transfers are made here.
Taxis are scarce on the island (about 50), but you may 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 depending on demand
This is the village on the northern tip of the island, right on the cliffs with a beautiful sunset view. It is smaller than the capital, Fira, and very beautiful. It takes about 25 minutes to walk from one side of town to the other side.
This is where we opted to stay and 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 as it is a decent size, but smaller than Fira providing a comfor to it. 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. These two extra amenities (small pool and sunset view) definitely will increase your price, but worth looking into. Also, if traveling in the off-season, you 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).
The capital of Santorini located in the “middle” of the island on a cliffside. It has a similar view to Santorini and feels much larger. Thus, there are more shops, but also more tourists and overall 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, you can also easily break the exploration up into two days.
There are tons of little towns in Santorini like Pigros, Megalochori, etc. You can check out any of these as other options for places to stay. I loved Oia because it was a beautiful area with more going on than some of these smaller towns, but not as busy as 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. I would recommend considering a partial beach day while also choosing to explore the island and then going to another Greek island for the beaches.
There is one major pedestrian street. Throughout the town, there are countless picturesque places so carve out time to just explore and enjoy the beautiful town. Along the main street there are lots of touristy shops. Turn off the main street onto some smaller streets and you will come across gorgeous views, quaint corners, and precious houses.
Beautiful and great swimming spot. Located along the water 300 steps down from the main town. It can also be accessed from the road if you have a car or ATV. To get back up to the main town area, you can walk back up or use the donkeys. (We walked to a beach from the bay so actually avoided both). BRING WATER SHOES when going down to the Bay. As I mentioned earlier, Santorini isn’t known for its 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 are there. You will 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 about 5 meters up.
Even if you don’t want to swim, go check out this spot. 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, head down to Ammoudi Bay in the late morning. Then walk 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. Spend a few hours at Katharos Beach which is a black pebble beach with one restaurant slightly above the beach. It took about 15 minutes to walk form Ammoudi Bay to Katharos Beach. The beach is quiet so bring your own towels, chairs, or other beach desires.
Famous bookstore that is on the main pedestrian road
Cable Car connecting the town of Fira to the Old Port at sea level. There are also stairs that can be taken so you can walk down and cable car up or vice versa.
Being the capital of Santorini, the town is larger, busier and feels more touristy than Oia.
Small town that used to be the capital. It is a cute town to stop in briefly while exploring the island and walk around, but not much else to do here.
Black sand beach and known to be the nicest beach on Santorini. There are chairs for rent along the beach, provided by different companies. 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. 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 our 4-wheeler in a small parking lot while spending some time out on the beach.
Another black sand beach that is commonly visited and has beach bars, beach chairs for rent, and restaurants
Red sand beach frequented by many island visitors. The beach itself is small and parking can be a bit challenging, but it is worth visiting to see the beautiful red sand and cliffs creating the unique color.
Winery on the island providing winery tours, wine tastings, and a meals. You may want to call ahead ~ mainly if you want to go at sunset ~ and see if you can reserve a time. If flexible, just try stopping in when you drive by.
Many different tour options available around the island
This is great way to see the island. Having never driven an ATV before, the renting company gave us a hard time when trying to rent a vehicle. Instead of an ATV, we rented a buggy that had an open roof and looked like a mini-golf cart. It drove similar to a car, but would have liked it to have more power and move faster on the road. The buggy struggled to get up hills and will form a queue of cars behind us at times until they were able to safely pass.
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 cautious. Beware that it is a hilly island so you will want a powerful mode of transportation. 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 saw where we ended up. The map was not 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.
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. In Greece, an attendant will fill up your gas for you and gas was very 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). When driving around, make sure you park in a parking spot or parking lot, NOT just anywhere on the road as you will get ticketed.
Rental companies include Drossos, Vasayos, and Holidays Motorcar among many others in the area. It typically costs about 50 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.
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:
Fira – We just walked around here for a bit
Megalochori – Drove through the small town
Santos Winery – The most commonly visited winery in Santorini and has a very nice wine tasting. Note – 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 (Kokkini) – You can walk out about 7 minutes from the parking lot to a nice view of the beach and walk along the beach. When approaching the beach, drive past the archaeological site and parking lot for the archaeological site. Instead, park as close to the beach as you can. The parking lot near the church marks the beginning of the walk out to the red sand beach. If you park up higher near the archaeological site, you will 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. It would have been easy to stop
Akortiri – Drove through the town
Perissa Beach – Black sand beaches. Park and walk around the area and then enjoy relaxing on the beach. We rented chairs for 5 euros a chair. You can along the beach for about 4 km
Pigros – Cute, small town that is the Old capital of Santorini. Take a short rest stop and wander through the little streets here before heading back to Oia
Countless great spots in Oia to enjoy gorgeous sunsets:
Fanari Villas Restaurant – A somewhat hidden restaurant facing West and giving “dinner with a view” a new meaning. We were lucky to get a reservation since most places with sunset views had tables that were already booked well before. Prime tables were booked first, but our spot was still more than sufficient.
Turret Viewpoint – This is the “sunset spot” in Oia where massive groups of people gather to enjoy the sunset. The terrace known for the view was full 1-2 hours before the sun even set in high season and the walls and areas around it were crowded early as well. Although a beautiful view, this was my least favorite way to watch the sunset because it was stressful with all the people around. There are other more relaxing and less touristy options to view the sunset. The main reason this spot draws so many visitors in is not only its view over the water, but also its view of the cliffside white houses with the sunset. After sunset, everyone heads in the same direction, making the narrow streets crowded and it took awhile to get out of this part of town. If you’re having dinner after sunset in high season, make reservations!
To find the Turret Viewpoint, start from the bus square and then walk up towards the water/main area where you’ll see the church. This is the main square. Then take a right and walk for about 5 minutes down the main path. 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.
Anywhere facing West – On our third night we walked slightly out of the town and watched there, which was much nicer as it was more peaceful. We 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.
Ammoudi Bay – Facing West and located at sea level makes it a good spot to catch the sunset with less crowds. Many are deterred by the stair climb to get back to the main part of Oia from Ammoudi Bay.
Santos Winery – The Winery offers sunset wine tastings and meals that can be reserved in advance
On the Sea – Schedule a sunset boat tour and enjoy the view from the sea
We planned on doing this, but decided not to. However, with more time I think it would’ve been nice. Directions I planned to use if we had decided to hike:
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
Many different packages or types of trips offered by different companies including:
Volcano Tour – Take a boat to the volcano and swim in the hot springs (warmer water spots)
Swim in the Hot Springs – Access by boat
Other Island Tour
Take a day to relax if you are tired and just want to enjoy the nice weather and vacation pace of life. This beach is located about a 15-minute walk from Oia town or a similar walk from Ammoudi Bay. It is a quiet black pebble beach. There are no companies with beach chairs and just one restaurant slightly above the beach. Bring water shoes if you have them as you will want them when you go swimming here.
Great Greek food in Oia (located near the bus station). When walking on the main pedestrian road away from the sunset spot and church, take a left once you pass the school and you will see a sign pointing towards Pita Gyros. It’s about 100 meters off the main pedestrian path. This quick stop offers delicious Greek options on the go. 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.
Hidden restaurant that’s part of the Fanari Villas. The meal is a bit more expensive, but easily worth it for a nice meal and sunset spot. Make sure to make reservations if you want a sunset table. We were lucky to get a table on the day we wanted a reservation during busy season.
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 in a slightly less busy part of Oia. It is near 218 and away from the Turret, near 218 and away from theTurret Point.
Easy and okay Greek food, but has a great view over the water off the main pedestrian path. We grabbed a late lunch here
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 loved this place. There are mini marts throughout the town and a very 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.
As mentioned previously, try to avoid high season. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but you’ll get much better prices and less crowds at other times of the year. Overall, Greece is cheap, but the islands are pricier. Shoulder season is a great time to visit (May and early June or September and October). More things will be closed if you go in the winter, and you would need to check the weather. If visiting in high season, note that the days when cruise ships are docked in Fira will feel much busier than those when cruise ships are not around. The ships are unloaded with tourists looking to see Santorini’s highlights in a day and the towns feel much more crowded.
While on the islands in Greece, we purchased and drank bottled water. Reviews on water quality were mixed as some said visitors should avoid drinking tap water while others simply noted it tasted different. Large 1.5L water bottles are cheap and may only 1 euro so may be worth playing it safe and drinking bottled water. We re-stocked often and had no problem finding water.
You can see Santorini in 3 days or can easily spend an entire week on the island. We had 3 nights (2 full days and a ½ day). I wish I had 5 nights (maybe even 6 if I had accommodations with a pool) and would’ve broken up my days something like this (staying in Oia again). Spend day 1 and 2 driving around the island, spending at least ½ a day to almost the full day at Perissa beach. Allow more time to take it easy and explore the towns. Spend day 3 on a wine tour and visiting Santos Winery. On day 4, get some physical activity in and hike from Fira to Oia and explore Fira. Take day 5 to get out on the water and take a boat tour.
Transportation and Accommodations
Things to do and see
Food and Drinks