Santorini is a destination on the bucket lists of most people, and it’s easy to see why. This island is extraordinary, with unique features. Whether it’s the volcanic rock formation; the picturesque, white architecture on cliff-faces; or the red-sand beaches, we’re sure you’ll be stunned at what it has to offer.
Located more southern in the Cyclades compared to its neighbouring islands, Santorini still makes the perfect island hopping trip thanks to the ferry schedule. We came here straight from Ios, but you can find a ferry from other islands such as Milos and Folegandros.
We hope that this guide will give you a comprehensive list of things to do for your trip to Santorini and also give you ideas on how to visit here on a budget. Despite its extortionate prices for certain things, we actually spent less here than what we did on our trips to other Greek islands!
How long to stay
Think about the things you want to do when visiting Santorini, and make a list. You do not want to rush your journey here and if its your first trip, then you need to make the most of it. We compiled a list of things we wanted to do and took into account the price of our accommodation. We were happy that 4 days would be enough to get a real experience of this island.
We were content that we would pay more for the accommodation so we had somewhere nice to settle in the evenings more privately and also have the option to avoid paying the drinks and restaurant prices by having an amazing view and private balcony already. This was our best decision, and we’ll go into more detail on where we stayed shortly.
How to get there
Conveniently, Santorini has its own airport which makes it perfect for a trip if you just want to visit here and no other island. However, because of this convenience you may pay extra on flights. To avoid this, you could try and find cheaper flights to Athens and then get the ferry. Check out Skyscanner to compare prices and decide which is best for you.
Most people who visit the Cyclades will be island hopping by the use of ferries, which is what we did. The most important thing is checking in advance which ferries arrive and depart on certain days. The timetable for ferries visiting Santorini is frequent enough to hopefully avoid any problems booking.
We used Ferry Hopper to organise all our travel around the islands and we were not let down once. Just be aware that ferries will usually arrive 1-2 hours later than schedule as they have a lot of stoppages at different islands. We usually just grabbed a drink / some lunch at a nearby cafe and waited.
Where to stay
When doing our research, we found some lovely villages to potentially stay at. However, when we looked further, it had to be Oia. Wow! Oia is the place where you see the photographs of Santorini and it is nothing short of spectacular. The sunsets here are phenomenal and it’s no surprise coach loads and ferry loads of people (usually staying in nearby villages) visit Oia every day.
The convenient thing about staying in Oia is that you’re here before all the coach filled tourists pack out the area. An early morning wake up is special as you walk the beautiful streets peacefully. This is a complete contrast to the evenings where people can be packed in the streets like sardines. That might put you off Oia completely, and it probably would have done for us normally. However, our accommodation was an apartment on the cliff-face with a private balcony and it just made our stay here so perfect. You can check out our accommodation here.
We were able to avoid being squashed on the streets and had the perfect view. We fully recommend paying extra for an apartment just for that luxury. If you’re wanting somewhere quieter which still has similar stunning views, check the nearby village of Imerovigli. This is another village sitting on a clifftop and overlooks Santorini’s caldera islands.
The last popular place to stay at is the capital, Thira. This is the closest town to the airport and port and is a hugely popular and well built area. It’s a glamorous place with dramatic volcanic landscapes and with the famous whitewashed buildings. This area is busy throughout the day, so if you’re after a quieter time it might not be for you.
How to get about
Unlike our visits to the other Greek islands, we actually stayed primarily around Oia during our Santorini stay, but we did have a day of exploring other villages across the island.
We recommend hiring an ATV or scooter to get around the island, but try to get one with a higher engine than 100cc. As the island is bigger, and has many steep roads you may find yourself struggling with anything smaller. We were very happy with Vazeos, who provided us with a reliable ATV.
Things to do in Oia
Get lost in Oia
As mentioned previously, Oia is just such a stunning place to see. It’s the village that is most iconic to Santorini and has the whitewashed house and pastel coloured building bay is the centre of the caldera. Get lost in the small streets and alleys and admire the beautiful views. You’ll be able to take extra stunning photos during sunrise and sunset. If you want extra special moments, set your alarm clock early and enjoy the tranquility and peacefulness of the morning where you have the streets to yourself. In the evening, this place will be rammed so secure your spot for sunrise a couple of hours before.
Stroll around Ammoudi Bay
The steps down and up are very steep from Oia to reach the bay, so make sure you’re prepared. There are donkeys that take people up and down but we didn’t think that was fair on them, especially in that Mediterranean, summer heat! Once at the bottom, you’ll see beautiful, crystal waters with some tavernas offering relaxed views. Now you’re at the bottom, it’s great to look at the white washed buildings on the edge of the caldera.
If you walk along the coast, you’ll come across rocks and see families setting up beach towels, ready to take the dip in to the sea. We loved joining in the fun and the scenery was beautiful. Oia doesn’t have any traditional beaches, so if you’re wanting to relax here and go in the sea, this is the spot for you.
Be sure to visit the Kastro, we chose this spot for a sunset moment. It gets very busy but it’s a special moment watching on towards the pastel orange and white buildings, with a backdrop of windmills and the ocean. Come evening time, there is usually a local man playing Greek music which makes the moment extra special.
Not far from the Kastro, you will find the famous windmills. These are iconic and even from here you still see the beautiful views of Oia.
Find that perfect photo spot
There are lots of places to find that perfect, intimate photo spot. Please be respectful though as a lot of these buildings are churches or people’s homes and there should be no climbing. We saw many people told off by angry locals for being disrespectful – they were climbing on top of churches just for the perfect insta shot! Other popular places to see in Oia are Steps to Art and Atlantis Books, thought this was unfortunately closed during our travels.
Exploring the rest of Santorini
We’ve only discussed just a fraction of what Santorini has to offer so far. There are natural phenomenons, beaches, and some incredible villages you just have to visit. We mentioned Thira (the capital) and Imerovigli as potential areas to stay and if you choose not to, they are well worth a visit for a different experience of Santorini. If you like to see more traditional villages we have just the places for you.
The capital has a lot going on and has some amazing sights to see. Again, Thira is famous for its whitewashed buildings and volcanic landscapes. There is plenty of places to eat and drink and is much livelier than the other areas of the island. There is also a cable-car which will let you take in the stunning views.
Imerovigli sits on a clifftop overlooking Santorini’s caldera islands and is next to Oia. A bit quieter than its neighbouring village, you can enjoy spectacular views without being trapped by thousands of tourists. If visiting here, check out its landmark, Skaros Rock.
A lovely, charming village with the similar styled buildings you associate Santorini with. Megalochori is a very quiet place where the people are extremely friendly. A worthwhile place to walk around to see another side of Santorini and an experience to get lost around the windy alleys. Try and find the ‘caved in’ church, Agios Nikolaos.
Pygros is a medieval settlement located up a steep hill. Its steep, medieval alleys are home to wine bars and tavernas, galleries, and boutiques.
Emporio is located in the centre of the island. What we liked most about this place is that mixed in with the classic whitewashed buildings was a different type of architecture of different, darker colours. Again, you can see the medieval element of this village.
Akrotiri is south-west of the island, and you will find the famous red beach in this area which is a must if you are here, as well as a visit to the lighthouse.[
Other beach coastal villages
The beach villages include Kamari and Perissa, these have black sandy beaches and if it’s more relaxing that you’re after, check them out.
Places to see
The Red Beach
Wow! The landscape around here is incredible. If you’re thinking of a beach to relax at then this might not be it due to the overcrowding, but the geology here is amazing and a must visit!
Palea Kameni & Nea Kameni
These islands are part of the caldera which you can see from Thira and Oia. The best way to visit is by booking a boat trip. We booked with Spiridakos, they provided lunch, free drinks and picked up and dropped off at any hotel on the island, we highly recommend. Palea Kameni has hot springs, where you can swim. The sulphurous waters offer a natural spa but be warned that the this water can affect the colouring of your clothes.
These islands are part of the caldera which you can see from Thira and Oia. The best way to visit is by booking a boat trip. We booked with Spiridakos, they provided lunch, free drinks and picked and dropped off at any hotel on the island, we highly recommend. Palea Kameni has hot springs, where you can swim in. The sulphurous waters offer a natural spa but be warned that the sulphurous water can affect clothes.
Nearby is Nea Kalemi, which is the northern cove of the volcano, and ideal for swimming and snorkelling. When on land here, you get to walk around the crater and explore the wonderful views.
Relax on beaches
Santorini is not famed for its beaches but you will still find nice beach areas to relax. These tend to be on the east side of the island. Popular ones with nice villages to explore include Kamari and Perissa.
Find your own hidden gem
Santorini is a very popular island and you might think that there isn’t hidden gems, but you would be wrong. Hire a vehicle and explore the roads, we found ourselves finding destroyed windmills, walking through fields to look at buildings and even random, open white doorways to nothing but lovely views. You can have so much fun exploring this island with no map, and you might find something surprising.
Where to eat
As we paid extra for our accommodation, and had one of the best views in Oia, we didn’t want to miss out eating and drinking in our private terrace looking out to sea. Because of this, we mainly ordered from a restaurant and brought it back to our place. We ordered from Lotza, you can find our review here. If you fancy an evening with some entertainment, then check out Kypdia. They had awesome food and amazing, live, traditional Greek music.
We hope you find this guide useful. We loved our special stay and can’t wait to visit again in the future.
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