Heading to Greece? We share how to plan a trip to Santorini including how to travel to Santorini and the best things to see and do.
First things first, let’s get this out the way – Santorini is my idea of paradise. Cool beaches, amazing seafood, completely unique geography – and an alright view! It is stunning all year round and Santorini in the Winter is just spectacular.
Why visit Santorini?
Santorini is known for its white-washed houses and blue rooftops, but there is more to this instagrammable destination. The surface of the island is unique after a volcanic eruption transformed it centuries ago. That means the towns in Santorini almost spill over the land and give magnificent views no matter where you are.
You can witness beautiful sunsets in Santorini and there are plenty of luxurious hotels for you to choose from too. There are some gorgeous beaches in Santorini alongside historic sites that date back to the Bronze Age.
How to get to Santorini
There are three options for arrival to Santorini – fly, ferry, or cruise.
I am not a big fan of the third option; the cruises show up every day, everyone trudges up the cliff, runs for the bus to Oia, takes a selfie of the view, and then races back to the boat to watch the sunset as the boat leaves the island. I have spoken to cruise-goers who didn’t even have time for a coffee because the excursion was only 3 hours long.
So – assuming you’d like to spend more than a couple of hours on the island you are left by plane or by boat.
The Santorini Airport is tiny – it technically has six gates, but I have only ever seen one open. Middle of high season the flights can be pricy and from most places outside of continental Europe, you will have to change planes in Athens, or another major hub.
The airport is well connected to the rest of the island by road, and both buses and taxis are available when you arrive. Most hotels and hostels also offer airport pick-ups, either for free around the most popular times or for a small fee.
You can also get a chartered helicopter flight if you are staying in one of the luxury hotels on the caldera but I couldn’t tell you how much it is because all prices are on the request of booking!
I choose to arrive by boat. Yes, it is slow (up to 7 hours from Athens) but it is, to me, quintessentially Greek to arrive on the island by sea. The islands have been travelled to by boat for millennia – and I guess in this case I am a big romantic. It is also cheap, even in high season I have never paid more than 60 euros return.
You can also get fast boats which take a much shorter time, but I feel so cramped inside – I like to be up on deck in the wind and the sun.
You get fantastic views, see the harbours of other islands, and experience the dark sea!
The port is well serviced by taxis, and hotels offer pick up, as well as several car and bike rental places.
Where to stay in Santorini?
There are two big towns in Santorini, Fira and Oia, both deserve a visit. But the island does have other towns!
The home of the famous, much-photographed, and iconic sunset. Because, you know, the sun doesn’t set anywhere else on the island. Or so you would think if you were to listen to the tour sellers! Oia is beautiful, and the sunset is incredible, but the best thing in Oia for me is Atlantis Bookstore. A lovely little cave house turned into meandering and well-stocked bookshop.
Sure, go for the sunset, but don’t miss the unique places the town itself encompasses. Every view of the sunset is spectacular, and my favourite is at Santo Wines with a tasting flight and cheese plate!
Buses run from Fira regularly, and you can stay in Oia in a range of accommodations from a hostel to extreme luxury apartments.
(or Thera on some maps)
Fira is the largest town on the island – it has the fancy shops and the bangin’ clubs. You can stay in Fira for much better rates than Oia, there is a great backpackers in Fira as well.
You can also find the most extravagant luxury accommodation there – a few years ago rumour had it that a royal paid over $10,000 USD per night for a luxury suite at an unnamed studio!
Fira is a great place to stop though, the bars there have the best view – especially at night when you can look out and see Oia sparkling!
Top Attractions in Santorini
There are so many things to do on Santorini that I had trouble selecting them for this section. Rather than my personal favourite things, here are the things that I spoke with tourists about the most while living on the island.
This has been touched upon in the Oia section, but two things:
Do not pay for a sunset tour; unless it is something very special like a boat tour – there are party options and relaxing options. But the sun sets *literally* everywhere. If you are on the caldera side, you will see a spectacular sunset with unique architecture and geological formations. These tours are the best example of needless expense – they pick you up from your hotel, drive you to Oia, deposit you into a restaurant with a fixed menu (sometimes the meal isn’t even included), and tell you to order a (not included) drink and watch the sunset. Then, charge between 30 and 100 euros for the privilege.
If you go to Oia for the sunset, get there early because mad keen photographers will fight for their two square feet of tripod territory like a mean old guard dog. Also, DO NOT CLIMB ON THE ROOFS. Yeah, it’s pretty – it’s also trespassing, disrespectful, and dangerous. I personally like it from the castle lookout – you get the full panorama from up there!
Ok so I have a confession, in all the years I’ve been going to the island and three months living there – I have never been to the volcano. Of course, you can see it from everywhere on the caldera but I’ve never actually stepped foot on it.
There are lots of tours, most run from 30-60 euros and some include lunch. Typically they pick you up from the hostel or hotel in a bus, take you to their favoured port and give you a brief rundown of the island’s history and volcanic eruptions (yes, it’s still active!).
There’s a short swim to the hot springs, then back on the boat and round to where you can hike up. It does smell of sulphur. It is a hike. Don’t be shocked by this.
Oh, and listen when they say wear clothes/swimwear that you don’t mind getting dirty. The mud at the hot springs absolutely will stain your light-coloured clothes. I befriended a lad from Manchester who did not take this advice seriously. He had to throw his board shorts away before he got on the plane. Not, however, before walking around for three days with a crude graffito he had jokingly drawn on in mud. Despite washing them five times it was still there, clear as day. Don’t be that guy.
This is a very cool place to see, but let me do my civic duty here – IT IS TECHNICALLY CLOSED! Due to rock fall, and you know…. danger of death. However, the reason I would not recommend actually going here is totally unrelated to death.
It’s kinda average. There are better beaches to lay on, that you don’t have to hike up a single trail and over big boulders to get to. Beaches that don’t have sellers every couple of meters trying to give you fruit and lukewarm water. Plus the beach area itself is small, you’re VERY cosy with the strangers sitting next to you.
Do an activity which includes a boat ride; like a catamaran tour (Spiridakos is my favourite!), or go scuba diving from a boat and check out the Red Beach from the water. Check it out in the afternoon, because it is iron oxide which makes it red – in the sun. In the morning and late afternoon it’s kinda …brown.
Spend three days, minimum, on Santorini.
Get an ATV (or small hire car if you’re not motorcycle-y inclined), your hostel or hotel will have partners who will give a discount but do have a scout around.
Go to the lighthouse (Pharos or Faros on signs) and check out the view of the whole island, it is beautiful!
Read about Akotiri – it’s a very cool, preserved town from the major eruption. However, if you’re not a big archaeology fan I would suggest the museum in Fira instead of the ruins themselves.
If you want a nice experience, go to Santo Wines for a flight or some snacks and check out the view. However, the best wine I have ever had in my life is from Hatzidakis Wines in the middle of the island. Had I the funding and the liquids allowance, I would have purchased seven out of the eight wines we tried there.
Get down to Perissa beach, and hang out there – it is so much calmer than Fira and the black sand beach is awesome.
- We LOVE this camera for our travel photography.
- For a cheap, easy and compact camera, we use this to vlog and take photographs.
- We use this travel drone (but make sure to check drone laws in your chosen destination first).
- This is our favourite travel insurance because it covers so many activities and travel situations that could arise on longer trips but also offer year coverage.
What to pack
- No matter where we travel to, I always take these trusty hand sanitisers and a mini first aid kit.
- We love these toiletry bags (especially great for smaller bathrooms) and choose a laptop bag like this as our hand luggage.
- We keep our devices charged on long travel days with these lightweight battery packs and bring these worldwide travel adaptors on all our trips.
- I still struggle not to overpack so stick to using an expandable suitcase like these and always take my trusty luggage scales to avoid being charged at the airport.