When you think about the Cyclades Islands, images of Santorini will likely come to mind. Diverse and elegant, this Greek island is full of surprises and one of the most romantic places to get away from it all. If you dream of strolling through iconic villages and pretty narrow streets, here is a comprehensive travel guide to Santorini with everything you need to plan an unforgettable trip.
After visiting Crete and Rhodes, Santorini was next on my travel bucket list. I could not stop dreaming about those pretty white and blue houses and those beautiful sunsets.
That is how my partner Matt and I decided to book a trip to Santorini and enjoy this gorgeous Greek island for a week. It was the perfect way to take a break from work and enjoy the sun and the sea.
In this article, I share the best things to do in Santorini for first-timers (for a few days or a week) and give you what you need to create an unforgettable experience on this unique Greek island.
My Santorini experience: Duration 7 Days Dates visited Jul 02 - Jul 09 Season Summer
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- Overview: 10 unique things to do in Santorini
- Where is Santorini?
- Santorini, Greece – Map
- Top 10 fun things to do in Santorini
- 1- Wander through Oia
- 2- Enjoy an unforgettable sunset
- 3- Sail along the Caldera
- 4- Hike from Fira to Oia
- 5- Visit Ammoudi Bay
- 6- Go on a wine tour
- 7- Watch a film under the stars in Kamari’s open-air cinema
- 8- Stroll through the village of Pyrgos
- 9- Discover unique archaeological sites
- 10- Explore the beaches of Santorini
- Unforgettable experiences I recommend
- How to get to Santorini?
- Best time to visit Santorini (without the crowds)
- Where to stay in Santorini?
- How to get around Santorini?
- Sustainable travel in Santorini
- Santorini travel planning guide
- Santorini travel guide – FAQ
Overview: 10 unique things to do in Santorini
- Wander through Oia
- Enjoy an unforgettable sunset
- Sail along the Caldera
- Hike from Fira to Oia
- Visit Ammoudi Bay
- Go on a wine tour
- Watch a film under the stars in Kamari’s open-air cinema
- Stroll through the village of Pyrgos
- Discover unique archaeological sites
- Explore the beaches of Santorini
Where is Santorini?
Santorini is a Greek island on the southern side of the Aegean Sea and is part of the Cyclades islands.
The island has a distinct half-moon-shaped bay representing the centre of the caldera. When we were there, we learned that this shape was due to a volcanic eruption (sometimes known as Thera) during the Minoan civilization soaking a part of the island and eventually leading to their disappearance, just like Pompeii.
Santorini, Greece – Map
Click on the pin to display more information & top left of the map to display the list of locations.
Top 10 fun things to do in Santorini
Although Santorini is relatively small, there are plenty of things to do and see no matter how long you stay on the island. For example, we went there for a week and never got bored.
Here is a selection of my best things to do in Santorini.
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1- Wander through Oia
Oia is one of the most beautiful towns in Santorini, and you have probably seen a lot of images of this stunning place.
Located at the northwest end of Santorini, its white and orange houses have been impressively carved into the cliffs and overlook the incredible caldera. The caldera is a cauldron-like hollow formed after the magma chamber emptied in the Thera volcanic eruption.
Day and night, Oia is one of the most popular and vibrant places on the island, from luxury hotels to restaurants with a view and designer boutiques.
One of the best things to do is stroll through its narrow streets and white steps. It does not take long to explore the town, around 30 minutes to the sunset point. And, of course, you will want to take your camera with you, as every turn will surprise you with a beautiful vantage point.
However, it can get very crowded at sunset. But it is still worth your time. And since there are so many streets, you can always find another way to explore without too many people.
Finally, if you decide to visit Oia in summer, bring a hat and water with you, as it gets hot.
2- Enjoy an unforgettable sunset
You can not leave Santorini without having experienced a sunset. And luckily, there are many points of view to watch the sun slowly disappear over the horizon.
One of the most famous spots is in Oia. Head to the Castle and sit on the wall or stand on the steps to Ammoudi Bay and enjoy an iconic view.
I loved those moments. Everyone sat there quietly, patiently waiting for the night to come. And when the sun finally disappeared, we were all cheering, almost as if we were welcoming a new beginning. And it was as if the island had two faces – daytime and nighttime.
It reminded me of a quote I love – “Every sunset is an opportunity to reset”.
Be careful. This area gets busy in summer, so I recommend arriving an hour before if you want to capture this memorable scenery. But do not worry, Oia is not the only place where you can enjoy a sunset.
You can head to Ammoudi Bay and watch the sun go down whilst swimming in clear waters or go to one of the beaches on the north coast (like Baxedes Beach). You can also enjoy it from your hotel or Airbnb. We had a direct view of the sunset every night, and it was incredible.
3- Sail along the Caldera
As someone with a passion for the sea, sailing along the coast of Santorini was on my bucket list.
We asked our host for advice on the best cruise and decided to go with Sunset Oia. And we had a great time, so I recommend them.
You will find on their website different tours and types of boats depending on what you want to do and your budget. We were on the Diamond cruise, and I loved it. As there were a maximum of 20 people, it was intimate and very calming. We also had drinks onboard and a barbecue with fresh local products.
The boat left in the morning and sailed along the caldera to the volcano. First, we stopped to swim in the hot springs and continued our way to the Red Beach, where we stopped again for a swim.
It was incredible to experience Santorini from this point of view. And it was a perfect day to unwind.
We finished sailing in Oia with an unforgettable sunset from the boat.
4- Hike from Fira to Oia
Hiking is another great activity for discovering the beauty of this Greek island.
Unfortunately, we did not have the chance to do this walk, as the temperatures were hot, and I was not feeling 100% (I got sunburned on the first day). But, it is something you should consider when visiting Santorini.
It is a 10.5km scenic hiking trail along the cliffs from Fira to Oia, with many beautiful viewpoints. It can take 3 to 5 hours, and the path is for pedestrians only.
You can start from Fira or Oia, depending on where you stay, and you will have the chance to pass through local villages such as Firostefani and Imerovigli. It is a great way to experience local culture and architecture and meet with locals.
5- Visit Ammoudi Bay
Nestled at the end of Oia, Ammoudi Bay is a small port and a fantastic place for food lovers. It is one of the best places on the island to sample traditional Santorini cuisine and fresh seafood whilst enjoying a sunset.
To reach Ammoudi Bay, walk through Oia and descend the 280+ steps to the bay. You guessed it, the way back up is quite challenging. Go slow and do breaks.
As I am allergic to shellfish, I was not very interested in the restaurants.
However, if you continue walking along the left side, you will find a small place to relax on the rocks and swim in clear blue waters – I loved it.
If you are adventurous, you can also jump in the water from the little island.
6- Go on a wine tour
As we drove across the island, we asked our host about the odd vines in the field. He explained that the vines were twisted into baskets to protect them in the moisture-containing volcanic soil rather than growing in the usual vertical way.
That is how we learned that Santorini was renowned for its wine.
If you want to discover more and taste its unique production, book a tour and explore one of its best wineries, such as Venetsanos Winery, Domaine Sigalas or Santo Wines.
Wine tasting is a great experience to meet with locals and learn more about the island and its culture.
7- Watch a film under the stars in Kamari’s open-air cinema
Outdoor cinema is a concept I discovered from a Greek friend, and I thought it was such a great idea. During my stay in Santorini, I found Kamari and its beautiful lush garden, projecting English-speaking films in a unique setting.
You can find the program on their website. The cinema displays recent films such as Fantastic Beast or Top Gun – and Mamma Mia!
What could be better than enjoying a movie under the stars after a long day of walking and exploring?!
Definitely, something you should try.
8- Stroll through the village of Pyrgos
As we wanted to experience more of Santorini, we rented a car for a day and explored the island. Not far from Fira, we found Pyrgos, a hilltop village perched on Mount Profitis Ilias and surrounded by vineyards producing renowned Assyrtiko white wines.
Its picturesque medieval and narrow alleys are home to many bars, galleries and shops. I loved its atmosphere and views – Pyrgos is the highest village on the island, providing stunning panoramas of both sides of Santorini.
This village felt way more traditional and peaceful than Oia – a true hidden gem that should be on your Santorini bucket list.
9- Discover unique archaeological sites
If you decide to rent a car or ATV for the day, take the time to discover more about the history and heritage of Santorini.
First, you can find the well-preserved city of Akrotiri, a prehistoric settlement which was one of the most influential Minoan urban centres and ports in the Aegean Sea.
The settlement was destroyed in the Theran eruption in the 16th century BC and buried in volcanic ash, which preserved the remains of fine frescoes and many objects and artworks.
Secondly, you can head to the top of the Mesa Vouno Mountain and discover Ancient Thera, one of the most significant historical periods representing a great ancient civilization, where you can admire the remains of churches, temples, shrines and theatre.
This site lies to the east of Prophet Elias Mountain and separates the villages of Perissa and Kamari. It is about 365 meters high and is an ideal observation point over the Aegean Sea.
10- Explore the beaches of Santorini
Santorini is an ideal place to relax at the beach and swim in crystal-clear waters. However, the island is also volcanic, and most beaches will be black pebbles. Plus, the wind can be strong on some parts of the island. So plan your beach trip accordingly.
Two of the most popular and worth-visiting beaches in Santorini are Kamari and Perissa. We decided to go to Kamari for the afternoon and rented a lounger. We also stayed to eat at one of the restaurants on the beach later in the evening. It was lovely.
Other beaches worth a look at are the Red Beach, Perivolos and Vlychada. We stopped at the Red Beach with the sailboat, and it was great.
In addition, do not forget Ammoudi if you are in Oia and want to get refreshed.
Unforgettable experiences I recommend
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How to get to Santorini?
Although Santorini is one of the smallest in the Cyclades islands, it is well accessible from the rest of the world by plane or ferry.
Flying to Santorini
Santorini has an international airport offering many direct flights to other European cities outside Greece, such as London, Paris and Amsterdam.
Check availability with Skyscanner (my favourite tool for choosing a flight. Plus, you can select flights with lower CO₂ emissions).
If you can not find any direct flights, you can stop in Athens and easily take the ferry. Use Ferryscanner to find your route.
Finally, to reach your hotel or Airbnb from the airport, I suggest pre-booking a private transfer. You can find taxis outside the airport, but their fare can sometimes be excessive.
Another way is to take the bus or ask your hotel or Airbnb directly. Our host came to pick us up for a fair price, and it was very convenient and stress-free.
Taking the ferry to Santorini
The ferry is another great way to travel to Santorini or go island hopping. The ferry frequently runs through all the islands, even the most remote ones. For example, it connects Santorini with Athens and smaller islands, such as Ios, Naxos and Paros.
Island hopping is a unique method to discover many different and secluded areas of Greece. You can arrange a day trip to a nearby island or go on a multi-day expedition and explore.
Visit Ferryscanner to plan your adventure and book your ticket.
Best time to visit Santorini (without the crowds)
The best time to visit Santorini is from May to June and September to October. During these times, the weather is lovely and not too hot, the island is less crowded with tourists, and you can still experience the best activities Santorini offers. Prices are also relatively lower.
Peak travel times to Santorini are July and August when the island is buzzing with activity. Prices boom and most areas become overpacked with tourists.
We decided to visit the island in July based on Covid restrictions. We knew it was not the best period, but we needed a break. It was busy in Oia, but I did not find it extreme. Again, this was during the pandemic.
However, I would remain cautious. Most villages in Santorini are pedestrians-only, and streets can be very narrow, so when it becomes crowded and hot, it is challenging to move around and enjoy.
Where to stay in Santorini?
The best places to stay in Santorini are on the western side of the island in the towns of Fira, Imerovigli and Oia. These areas will give you stunning views of the cliffs overlooking the volcano and the caldera. However, keep in mind that this part of the island is also the most expensive and busy.
The area you want to stay in will also depend on your budget and requirements.
Fira is the capital, therefore the liveliest and most cosmopolitan town on the island.
Oia is a perfect romantic gateway and the best place to enjoy unforgettable sunsets.
Imerovigli is quiet and an ideal location to relax and unwind, away from the hustle and bustle.
We chose Finikia, a town bordering Oia, as we wanted to be near restaurants, bars and activities but far from the noise. And it was perfect!
Finikia is only 15 minutes walk from the centre of Oia and is the ideal place to enjoy the quietness and incredible views. You will also find a bus stop, car park, grocery store and delicious restaurants – our favourite was Meze Meze.
Here is the Airbnb we stayed in – Casa Itaca, and I could not recommend it enough. The experience was incredible, and our host was lovely.
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How to get around Santorini?
As Santorini is not huge, you can efficiently get around on foot. Walking was our favourite way to move freely and reach Oia and different beaches. However, the weather was sometimes so hot I was struggling to breathe.
If it is too hot to walk or if you need to reach more distant or remote parts of the island, you can either use the bus, book a taxi or rent a car or ATV.
Buses are affordable and run through the entire island. They will connect your hotel to most beaches, although they can be unreliable.
I would not recommend taxis, except to go from and to the airport.
I suggest renting a car or ATV to move smoothly on the island. We rented one for a day, and it was perfect! We could explore the entire island (yes, it is not big!) and stop in local villages. It can be expensive but is totally worth it.
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Sustainable travel in Santorini
Sustainable travel means exploring the world whilst being aware of your surroundings and having a positive social, environmental and economic impact on the places you visit.
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Here are some tips for responsible travel in Santorini:
- Book direct flights and offset your carbon footprint. But, do not use carbon offsetting as a complete solution. Combine it with other sustainable practices, like avoiding single-use plastic on the plane and mindfully packing your suitcase to be ready for your green adventure.
- Be mindful of your water consumption. As you can imagine, it does not rain a lot in Santorini, especially in the summer. So please, be careful of your water usage. Plus, bring your own reusable filtered water bottle to reduce waste.
- Buy and eat local and seasonal. Santorini is heaven for food lovers! I loved our local grocery store next to our Airbnb as it had so much local and fresh produce such as tomatoes, cucumbers and olives! And feta, of course. If you love seafood, Ammoudi Bay is the place for you.
- Explore the island by bike or public transport. Yes, I know we rented a car to explore the island, but since I was not feeling my best on this trip, the car was the easiest for us to move around. However, if you can, I would recommend walking as much as possible and renting a bike or using public transport to get around the island and go to the beach.
- Always respect the local heritage. Treat people and their surroundings with respect. Sustainable travel is not only about the environment but also about the local communities. So, always be respectful and try to learn a few Greek words!
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Santorini travel planning guide
Yes, buying insurance is always valuable when travelling abroad. Enjoy your sunny trip to Santorini stress-free with one of my favourite providers, Nomad Insurance.
Our host advised us that drinking tap water in Santorini was not recommended. That is why I suggest travelling with the UltraPress Purifier Bottle, a lightweight filtered water bottle perfect for reducing plastic and staying hydrated.
Yes, renting a car in Santorini is easy and is a great way to explore the island freely. I recommend booking yours with Rentalcars.com – they offer a variety of operators for all budgets.
The best way to book your accommodation in Santorini is with Booking.com – my favourite platform to compare and reserve places to stay each night, from affordable guesthouses to luxury resorts.
I recommend booking your plane with Skyscanner. It has been my favourite platform for years, as it allows me to book the cheapest flights whilst lowering my carbon emissions.
Santorini travel guide – FAQ
4 to 5 days is an ideal amount of time to discover Santorini and experience the best of this Greek island. You will have time to explore Oia, the volcano, unique beaches and more!
The best way to travel around Santorini is by car. It will give you flexibility and allow you to discover remote parts of the islands and local villages. Of course, you can also walk, rent a bike or use public transport.
The best month to visit Santorini is May to June and September to October. The weather will be pleasant and not too hot, the island will be less crowded, and you will be able to experience the best activities Santorini offers.
Oia, Fira and Imerovigli are the best places to stay in Santorini for first-timers, as they offer the best views and activities the island offers. However, this will depend on your budget and requirements.
And you, have you ever visited Santorini or would you like to go one day?
Let me know in the comments below!
With love ♡