One of the most popular islands in Greece, Santorini is known for its white-washed buildings, big windmills, dreamy sunsets, and black sand beaches. It’s one (out of 220) of the Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea, southeast of Athens. Funny enough, the island that is often referred to as “Santorini”, isn’t Santorini at all! While it’s part of the municipality of Santorini (there are five islands that when grouped makeup “Santorini”), the island is called Thera. But, for purposes of this post, I’ll be referring to Thera as Santorini, what it’s more popularly known as. Visiting Santorini was an amazing opportunity filled with adventuring around the island for three full days. Below you’ll find tips on navigating the island, where to stay, things to do, and more!
A Guide to Visiting Santorini
Before reading further, I have to tell you that while visiting Santorini was a bucket list, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it wasn’t my favorite Greek island. I thought that Santorini itself was incredibly touristy, overpriced, and crowded. While I still recommend visiting to see the beautiful village of Oia and venture around the island, you don’t need to spend more than a couple of days exploring.
For Greek islands that I would recommend over Santorini, make sure to check out
A Guide to Visiting Tinos, Greece
The Ultimate Paros Travel Guide
How to Get to Santorini
Santorini does have an airport, making it easily reachable from other cities in Europe. Plus budget airlines, like RyanAir and WizzAir, access Santorini so it’s an affordable destination if you’re flying within Europe. If you happen to be flying from Athens, the flight is only about 30-minutes into Santorini.
You can also reach Santorini by sea. To search for ferry tickets, check out this website.
If you’re coming to Santorini from Athens, make sure to read: How to Spend 2 Days in Athens
Where to Stay in Santorini
The two main villages in Santorini are Oia and Fira. Oia is located on the northwestern point of the island and is famous for its epic sunsets and white-washed cubicle houses. It may be one of the most romantic places I’ve visited and is suited to honeymooners and those who are willing to spend a pretty penny on an epic hotel.
Fira on the other hand is located on the west side of the island (south of Oia) and more suited to those who are looking to come to party and hang out. The village is generally more affordable than Oia and sees an array of tourists.
I based myself in Mesaria and thought it was decent. The good thing about Mesaria is that it’s only a five-minute drive from the airport, the village is less touristy and more affordable, and it’s in the middle of the island. What I didn’t like about Messaria was that everything that I wanted to explore still felt out of reach and taxis were wicked expensive. While there is a bus, it generally makes so many stops that the ride to get wherever it is you’re going is long and daunting.
If you do decide to stay in Mesaria I stayed in Villa Kavallaris and this cute cave Airbnb and would recommend either option.
Getting Around Santorini
If you’re visiting Santorini, I would avoid taking a taxi at all costs (unless you’re short on time). Taxi’s in Santorini are wicked expensive and they don’t use meters so you’re at the mercy of whatever the driver wants to charge you. If you do decide to take a taxi make sure to ask the price ahead of time. In my experience, you could negotiate about 25% of the time.
If you do decide to take a taxi, you can wave one down pretty much anywhere. I’d suggest asking the first driver for his business card and then using that if you need to schedule rides in advance.
The cheapest option, but the least convenient, would be to take the bus around the island. The main bus station is in Fira, and all rides essentially begin and end there. For a great resource to bus travel around Santorini, read this post on SantoriniDave.
In my opinion, the best option would be to rent. While it’s not the cheapest option, it’s by far the most convenient – especially if you’re short on time. There are rentals all over the island (cars, ATVs, and scooters), so it should be fairly easy to find a rental company. You do need an international driver’s license in Greece so make sure to get that ahead of time. Or if you’re short on time you can get an express license here.
The Best Time to Visit Santorini
The best time to visit Santorini is definitely in “shoulder season”, which is in June or September. While you can still expect crowds, the vast majority of tourists wouldn’t have arrived yet (or would’ve left by this time) and the weather will still be warm enough to enjoy the island.
In the winter months Santorini completely shuts down, so I would avoid it at this time. July and August are incredibly hot and see the most tourists of the year.
Highlights – The Best Things to Do in Santorini
Aside from what you commonly think of when you think of Santorini (Oia village – pictured above), there are a ton of other fun things to see and do around the island outside of Oia! Below you’ll find my favorite recommendations of what to do in Santorini and places to visit in Santorini.
CLIFF JUMP IN AMMOUDI BAY
This was one of the more fun and adventurous things that I got up to in Santorini. Below the village of Oia, there’s a small bay called Ammoudi, where you can hike to the beach (don’t be fooled – it’s a rock beach, not sand!) and jump from a big cliff in the middle of the sea.
If you decide to venture to Ammoudi, know that when you arrive you’ll be laying out on rocks, so if you don’t plan to get in the water and cliff jump then it isn’t worth it. If you do decide to visit make sure to wear tennis shoes as the climb is incredibly slippery and rocky. Lastly, once you get there you’ll more than likely see a ton of people laying around on a big flat rock. Keep walking past them and you’ll get to more flat areas where there will be fewer people.
RENT AN ATV TO SEE THE ISLAND
One of the best and easiest ways to see the island is by ATV! As I mentioned above, you will need an international driver’s license to rent one so make sure to grab that ahead of time! If you’re coming during the busy season, I’d also recommend reserving an ATV ahead of time. The price should be around 30-50 Euro for the day. If you’re not comfortable doing this on your own, join a group tour where you’ll be guided throughout the island!
If you want to see the island by ATV make sure to head to Red Beach, Perissa Beach, Oia, Fira, and down to Vlyxada if you’re looking for a more quiet day.
LEARN ABOUT WINEMAKING ON THE ISLAND
One of the more interesting wine tours I’ve taken, (and I’ve taken a lot!; read about them here), was with Santorini Wine Adventure. We visited three different wineries, learned about how wine is uniquely made on the island, and got to taste incredible wine and food! If you’re interested in wine I highly recommend this tour.
WATCH THE SUNSET IN OIA
By far one of the top 10 things to do in Santorini is to watch the sunset in Oia. Oia is located on the northwestern-most tip of Santorini, so you can watch the sun disappear behind the sea. Although it’s quite touristy, it’s still 100% worth it.
My suggestion is to go at least two hours early for a good spot as it tends to get incredibly crowded. Before claiming your spot, head to a market nearby and grab a beer and/or wine to drink while you’re waiting!
EAT TRADITIONAL FOOD NATIVE TO SANTORINI
Two traditional dishes that are native to Santorini are fava and tomato keftedes (or tomato fritters). Although every restaurant puts their traditional spin on fava, fava is a puree of split-peas. It’s a great “dipping sauce” so make sure to ask for bread to accompany it!
The other native food to Santorini is fried tomato fritters (tomato keftedes). These are usually served as an appetizer, sometimes with dipping sauce and sometimes without!
To ensure you get to taste the island, join a food tour!
The Best Restaurants in Santorini
There are tons of quaint restaurants located around Santorini. Below are some of my favorite spots that I experienced on the island.
ANHYDROUS – Fira
While Anhydrous is commonly known for wine tasting, they do serve food as well! I originally visited Anhydrous for wine tasting, but the small plates that I sampled were some of the best on the island. The deconstructed moussaka was simply divine and if they have it on the menu, you’ll want to try this dish!
Please note, if you’re doing the wine tour with Santorini Wine Adventure, you’ll visit Anhydrous so I don’t recommend going beforehand.
DIMITRIS AMMOUDI TAVERNA – Ammoudi
Located under Oia and just before reaching the cliff jumping in Ammoudi, there are three+ small restaurants located right on the bay overlooking the sea. Dimitris had an incredibly quaint atmosphere and views that were to die for. If you visit, I recommend coming early for drinks and appetizers (don’t miss trying the fried feta) before watching the sunset in Oia and going to dinner elsewhere afterward.
KOKKALO – Fira
Kokkalo is a traditional Greek restaurant that serves a spin on classic Greek foods. The interior was well designed and they have big windows that open up and face the ocean. Eating at Kokkalo was one of the highlights of my trip!
PANIGYRI FESTIVAL FOOD – Fira
Another highlight of my trip was dining at Panigyri Festival Food. This restaurant came recommended by a local and I’m sure glad that I listened. It’s an outdoor dining space decorated with twinkle lights, a cozy fire, and a bustling bar. The food was simply out of this world!
TO STEKI TIS GIAGAS (FISHERMAN’S HOUSE) – Vlyxada
A complete under-the-radar spot to visit is To Steki tis Giagas (also known as Fisherman’s House). When a local recommended it to me, she didn’t even know the name of the restaurant! She just said, “head to Vlyxada, you’ll see a market, it’s right next to it and you can’t miss it”. She told me that a local Greek couple owns the restaurant and the man goes out to catch fresh fish for the day and the wife helps prepare it.
If you like seafood, I would opt to grab lunch here one day while you’re out exploring. I recommend asking for the catch of the day!
Please note: If you put this in Google Maps it might make it seem like it’s taken you to the wrong restaurant. From what I gather, To Steki tis Giagas and Fisherman’s House are the same restaurants. I can’t quite figure out why it has two names but if you’re next to a small market store and near the water, you’re in the right spot!
Proposed Itinerary for Exploring Santorini
If you’re looking to quickly explore the island of Santorini before moving on to other Greek islands, here’s how I would do so. Begin your day wine tasting with Santorini Wine Adventure (I believe the first tour runs at 10 am). From there ask them to drop you off as close as they can to Oia. Hike down to Ammoudi Bay to cliff jump. After cliff jumping head to Dimitris Ammoudi Taverna for appetizers and drinks before hiking back up to Oia to watch the sunset. Make sure to get to Oia at least two hours before sunset, and don’t forget to pack a bag with you that includes a swimming suit and a change of clothes.
After the sunsets head to Fira to eat at Kokkalo or Panigyri Festival Food.
If you’re spending another day in Santorini, use this day to rent an ATV and explore the rest of the island. Make it a priority to head to Vlyxada to eat at To Steki tis Giagas.
I hope this Santorini travel guide helps you plan your visit to the island. As I mentioned earlier, visiting Santorini was an incredible experience, one that I hope everyone gets to take advantage of. However, I don’t recommend spending more than one or two days on the island and if you’re limited on time, perhaps skipping it altogether in favor of lesser-known Greek islands.
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For more on Santorini (and Greece in general), make sure to check out my Instagram page/highlight reel by searching “#ppingreece” or watching my highlights, “Greece”.
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