Santorini is the pearl of Greece, its mistress of the house, a wild volcano filled with romantic buildings and more unique than any other island on earth. It’s for this reason that this tiny speck of land is no longer a secret – numerous lovebirds and those enchanted by the island flock here. From the gorgeous beaches to the luxury restaurants there’s plenty to check out on this fabulous island. That’s why I’ve prepared a guide on the best things to do in Santorini for you so that you can enjoy your stay there to the fullest.
Santorini is an archipelago – a small group of islands together with surrounding waters. Originally the island was known as Thera but in the subsequent years, it has developed into Thira. The capital city of this Aegean Island is Fira Town. Fira is the cultural and commercial centre of Santorini. Another unique feature of the island is that it is one of the few places on earth where people live next to a live volcano! Unfortunately there are no direct flights to Santorini from Ireland. Get on a flight to London or change in Athens. The trip is definitely worth is, Santorini is simply stunning!
The island of Santorini is nothing short of stunning. No matter where you go on the island you are assured of some pretty spectacular views. Whether its rugged dramatic coastlines or those classic whitewashed buildings with the blue rooftops you’re assured of some breathtaking vistas.
If you happen to be looking for the classic postcard scenery with blue roofs, you won’t find them in the capital city of Firá! The view is gorgeous, there’s no doubt about it, but what you’re looking for is actually in the north of the island, in the small town of Oia. No matter where you go on Santorini you’re bound to find crowds. However, Oia is a much quieter town than the capital for obvious reasons.
One of the main things you should know about Fira is that countless daily cruise ships enter the half-moon-shaped harbour every morning. There’s no doubt that tourism on the island is unavoidable but if you’re looking for a more low key experience, head north!
How do I avoid the crowds?
If you like your holidays with a bit of peace and quiet, you should stay away at midday. This is the time that many people come off their ships and take over the city – they’re all gone in the afternoon though which means you can sit out and soak in those views. So my best advice is to explore the streets in the morning, since it’ll also be cooler, or grab a glass of wine in the evening and observe the departing ships, knowing that you’re able to stay on one of the most beautiful islands in the world.
How to get around Santorini
Probably the easiest form of public transport that you could use on the island is the bus. The company that operates the buses on the island is called KTEL Santorini and they have a pretty good website with plenty of up to date information.
The bus journeys are priced reasonably cheap at around €1-2 per journey. Its great way to get around the island because many of these bus services take in some of the most beautiful villages on the islands. Many of the buses are fairly high spec as well so you can expect air conditioning while you are travelling which is always a plus!
Car or Motorcycle
A probably obvious choice to a lot of people would be to rent your own car. Sometimes during the busier times on the island, the buses and island, in general, can get pretty crowded. This would be a good alternative if you’re looking to avoid long queues for the bus.
If you’re looking to travel around the island by motorcycle I would definitely advise caution. As you can imagine some of the roads can be pretty treacherous and the traffic can sometimes be dangerous. This method of transport is only for people who are pretty confident on a motorcycle.
Much of what Santorini has to offer is within walking distance. However, if you’re looking to get your luggage from the airport a taxi is probably your best option. These can range in price but a taxi from Fira to Oia is about €15. There are options to book ahead but remember that the taxi driver may add a surplus cost for this service.
The final option for transport around the island is to rent yourself a donkey. While some people may have a problem with this in terms of animal cruelty it can be a fun way to get around if you have children. As you can imagine riding a donkey was one of the typical ways to get around the island in times gone by. Now it is more of a tourist attraction and something that you can experience from the perspective of history.
You could also travel the island with one of the many boats or if you’re arriving at the harbour you can let them bring you straight to Oia. I find this an especially lovely option since you’ll be able to admire the gorgeous island from the sea below as the dark, steep cliffs rise from the water. The view is simply stunning! Apart from that there are still numerous buses travelling to the main town and back, but since they can often be quite full and manoeuvring through the narrow streets can take some time, you should avoid them if you’re in a hurry. But the price is unbeatable: approx. €1.80/£1.40 for a journey between Firá and Oia. You could also choose the comfortable option and rent a car, as then you’ll be flexible and able to explore the entire island.
What are the best things to see on Santorini?
The Caldera – A Volcanic Wonder
Santorini isn’t just a pretty island, it’s also one of the only islands in the world that has an active, inhabited volcano. One of the items on your itinerary should definitely be your itinerary should be the isolated crater landscapes. The caldera – a cauldron shaped crater – in Santorini is absolutely stunning.
Over time it has filled with water which makes it seem like you’re on an island and not on the ridge of a crater. As you can imagine there are some hot springs to go along with this fantastic natural wonder. So you can look forward to booking yourself a relaxing soak.
As I mentioned above the original name for Santorini was Thera. For anyone who has any interest in ancient Greece then Santorini is a destination for you. This is for those who don’t just want to lounge in the sun but want to immerse themselves in a bit of Greek history and culture. All across the island, there are tonnes of stunning landmarks to ancient Greece. Even if you only have a passing interest they are well worth checking out.
One of the things that you need to remember as well is that where these ruins were originally built are some of the most beautiful places on the island.
This landmark shares a lot in common with Pompeii in Italy. It is a well preserved ancient city that was covered in volcanic ash after an eruption. Akrotiri is definitely one for anybody who has an interest in classical Greek history. There are plenty of guided tours and its one of the most popular landmarks on the island so it’s well worth checking out.
If there’s one place that you need to check out while you’re staying on Santorini, then it’s definitely Amoudi Bay. Probably one of the most popular attractions on the island Amoudi offers visitors some of the most stunning views on the island. The only catch is that its quite a long walk from Oia down a steep set of stairs.
When you do make it down though, you’ll be greeted with some stunning blood red cliffs that will take your breath away. You have also got the option to swim once you make it down and once you see the crystal clear waters in the inlet you’ll find it hard to resist! There are a few gorgeous restaurants there too where you can sample some of the catch of the day while you survey those dramatic cliffs.
If you want to see what Santorini was like before the advent of big tourism then Pyrgos is your spot. This is the quintessential escape from the hustle and bustle of the tourism on the island. Dotted around the village are plenty of small little shops that sell plenty of charming souvenirs. If you’re lucky enough to visit the island around Good Friday or any religious event the village lights up. The whole town is lit up with candles and you can see some fascinating traditional celebrations.
What are the best beaches on Santorini?
As we all probably know by now, Santorini is one seriously hot destination for a beach holiday. Of course, as it is an island, there are a lot of beaches in Santorini. One thing you might not expect is the Caribbean twist to a number of the beaches. This comes as a result of the Island being influenced by its volcanic neighbour. This kind of thing is exactly what makes this island so interesting for anyone paying a visit or you looking for things to do on the Island! Watch out though: black sand can get quite hot – very hot in fact, so don’t forget your flip flops!
This is probably one of the most upscale beaches on the island. There is a great vibe on the beach and it has plenty to check out on its long shoreline. If you’re looking for a place to chill out in the sunshine while dining on some gourmet food at the same time then Kamari is your place. On the beach itself, there is a dramatic cliff and some pretty rugged stretches of coastline. I would recommend wearing some pretty tough footwear because the terrain on Kamari beach can be pretty rough.
Quite close to Perissa, Perivolos is a gorgeous stretch of black sand shoreline. It’s not a densely populated as Kamari so it can be pretty handy to try and find your own stretch of beach to relax on. So if you’re looking for something a bit more low key then Perivolos is your beach. The thing to be aware of though is that it might be a bit more tricky to get something to eat when the time comes.
If you’re looking for a serious natural wonder then Red Beach is the place to be. As the name might suggest it has a burnt red colour all along the coastline. This beach is not, unfortunately, a place you can relax on in the same way as Kamari or Perivolos. Red Beach is more of a natural wonder. Over the years its proximity to an active volcano has shaped its dramatic coastline.
Where are the best hotels in Santorini?
Oia and Fira
One tip that I can’t stress enough is to book decent accommodation. If the city is too crowded for you and the beach too hot, there’s nothing better than retreating to a quiet hotel or a private house to cool down in the private pool or closing your eyes for a minute in a shaded area. In Oia and Firá you can find the famous ‘cave homes’, which are the typical white houses built directly into the rock.
These places are obviously some of the most desirable on the island but you don’t have to spend that much money to have a great time. You could book a hotel or even a villa on the island. I would recommend checking out Hotels.com or Trivago for some of the best value when it comes to accommodation.
If you feel like you don’t want to deal with the crowds in Fira, then Firostefani is a seriously viable option. This town is smaller and good bit quieter than the bustling hub of Fira. The great thing is though is that you’re only a 15/20 minute journey away from Fira.
Again this is another option for you if you’re looking for something a little more low key. It is the next village after Fira and Firostefani. The big selling point of this area is the fact that its one of the highest points on the Island. So as you can imagine some of the views are absolutely stunning. Another name for this village is ‘The Balcony of Santorini’ so you can imagine the kind of scenic locations you’ll encounter.
As Oia and Fira are some of the most iconic cities on the island you can expect to pay a premium if you want to stay there. Another alternative is to check out Perissa, which can often work out a bit cheaper! You don’t have to worry about compromising either because the beach at Perissa is absolutely breathtaking!
Where can I eat in Santorini?
Naturally, my Santorini guide has to include the excellent Greek cuisine. This is the type of cuisines that will make the heart of every fast food lover skip a beat. Hundreds of taverns offer some shade, filled grape leaves and all kinds of dishes from the most beautiful island in southern Europe.
Try to diverge from the main roads, climb a few steps, look behind a few corners and discover your own insider’s tip. Party animals will have the best time in Firá: the PK Cocktail Bar is a hotspot with a view that’s simply priceless. Fans of a good drink can enjoy countless wine tours on Santorini, wine tasting included.
When you’re sitting down to eat and want to sample that Mediterranean cuisine, I would really recommend picking out some mousaka! Its probably my favourite Greek dish and something that’s well worth giving a try. However, there’s no doubt that there are plenty of delicious foods like lamb shank, tradition Greek yoghurt along with plenty of sumptuous treats.
The Best Restaurants to Eat in Santorini
Type of Food
Casa di Te Santorini
5 out of 5 on TripAdvisor
5 out of 5 on TripAdvisor
Greek with Contemporary Twist
Jaipur Palace Santorini
4.5 out of 5 on TripAdvisor
4.5 out of 5 on TripAdvisor
4.5 out of 5 on TripAdvisor
Seafood and Mediterranean
What is the most essential thing to do in Santorini?
In my opinion, the sunsets on the island are the most exclusive in the world. If there are three words that typify Santorini its sunsets, sunsets and more sunsets! They cost nothing but a moment of appreciation and attention. Put your phone away, take your partner by the hand, maybe open a bottle of wine and simply look out at the sea which seems to shimmer under the setting sun. This moment should be just for you and remind you of this wonderful island for the rest of your life.
Santorini is a dream everyone should experience it at least once – not just on the backs of postcards! Immerse yourself in the unique Greek island and the sea lying at your feet. Once you visit, the island will stick in your memory for the rest of your life. It’s a priceless experience and I hope that my Santorini tips can help you achieve it.
If you like what you've seen on this page so far, why not check out our shiny new podcast. Holidayguru's Gurucast is our newest way to inspire and interact with you beautiful people. Here you can learn about new and exciting places, pick up some great tips on how to save on your travels and also listen to interviews with some of the world's most influential personalities. Happy listening! :)