Santorini is the most picture-perfect of Greece’s holiday destinations. The small archipelago in the Aegean Sea is a beautiful mixture of rustic, rural charm coupled with luxurious holiday homes and colourful villas. It’s a place of good food, even better wine, and relaxing island idylls that will captivate you for days on end.
But below the idyllic setting, Santorini is also one of the most tumultuous islands in Greece. Santorini was shaped by an enormous volcanic eruption thousands of years ago, which dealt the end to the flourishing Minoan civilization that was rising in the Mediterranean. Santorini’s dramatic cliffs are the edge of a volcanic caldera, while the black sand beaches are the remnants of ash and lava.
Across Santorini, you can find the legacies of the ancient civilizations that lived here in the past, including Minoan archaeological sites, Byzantine churches and Venetian fortifications. It’s a fascinating place to visit, and to inspire your trip to the Greek Islands, here’s our ultimate travel guide to Santorini.
This ultimate travel guide to Santorini will show you all the most beautiful places in Santorini, what to expect when visiting, where to stay in Santorini and things to do in Santorini which will help you in planning a trip to Santorini.
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How to get to Santorini
Santorini is found within the Greek Islands, in the south of the Aegean Sea. The easiest way to travel to Santorini is to fly to the island, as the local international airport, while small, is well connected to the rest of Greece and Europe. The main town on Santorini is Fira, which acts as the hub for the island.
There are regularly scheduled domestic flights to Athens, the Greek capital, and to other neighbouring Aegean islands too, such as Mykonos and Crete. Budget airlines such as Ryan Air, Norwegian Air and EasyJet operate flights to Santorini from many European cities, such as London and Oslo. FlightHub is a great option to check out for cheap flights. Many of these flights can be seasonal, however, and during the winter low season, you will find that there are far fewer routes in operation.
A more traditional way to arrive in Santorini is by ferry. The Greek Islands are well connected by passenger ferries which ply the Aegean Sea through the year. There are ferries from Athens- a journey of 5+ hours depending on the service – and connections to other islands en route, while there are also ferries to Crete. Like flights, boat services can be seasonal too, and in rough weather, it may be advisable to not travel long distances by boat.
What to expect in Santorini
Santorini has long been a popular tourist destination in Europe and you’ll find that the island is well used to visitors. That doesn’t mean that Santorini has lost its local charms though, and as soon as you escape the popular tourist zones, you’ll quickly find yourself a world away.
Santorini can get busy in high season though, and it’s important to book hotels and flights in advance, as things can sell out. This isn’t a huge island, and the local population only numbers around 15,000 people.
The main currency in use is the Euro, as with the rest of Greece, and despite being a small place, you’ll actually find that there are a surprising number of ATMs everywhere, and even in many of the small villages.
The main language is Greek, but due to the island’s popularity with foreign tourists, you’ll find that English is widely spoken, even if it’s just at a basic level.
How to get around Santorini
Fira is the main hub and largest town in Santorini, but there’s much more to explore. Luckily, the island is well connected by public transport, and the main villages and towns are all connected by bus to Fira. Bus travel is cheap and the schedules are fairly regular.
There are also many private companies operating shuttle buses in high season specifically for tourists, while if you don’t have much time, an easy way to get around and to see everything is to simply join a private tour. You’ll also find that many local fishermen offer boat services, and you can take these water taxis from one village to the next along the coast.
To really explore though, you will want to consider renting a car, as the buses won’t be able to get you everywhere.
The best time to visit Santorini
Santorini sees a huge influx of tourists throughout the summer, while for much of the rest of the year, the island can be unnervingly quiet in comparison. This ensures that Santorini is very much a seasonal destination though, and in the low season, many hotels and businesses close up completely while transport links to the island become very infrequent. Low season travel to Santorini is more difficult, but if you want to see a different side of the island, it’s worth the extra effort.
The tourist season begins in April and ends in October. The start or end of the season can be a good time to visit when the weather is still great, but things aren’t so busy. The worst time to visit is between June and August. This is when Santorini is busiest. Cruise ships arrive daily while charters flights and package holidays are at their peak in terms of arrivals to the island.
Things to do in Santorini
The most iconic sight in Santorini is the Caldera. This flooded volcanic crater is found spreading across from the western shore of the island, and from the cliff tops at Fira or Oia, you can gaze right out across the Aegean Sea. You can explore the water by boat, or hike along the cliffs and beaches on the island itself.
Fira to Oia Hike
If you’re looking for a hike with excellent views, then nothing beats the Fira to Oia hike. It’ll take a few hours each way, but it’s a beautiful way to explore the island.
The hike leads you from the main town of Fira to the equally popular cliffside town of Oia. You’ll walk through small villages, and enjoy expansive views of the Caldera.
Santorini’s most famous beach is Red Beach, a stretch of coastline hidden beneath tall cliffs coloured red-brown due to high iron content. It’s a beautiful place, but it can be busy in high season.
The sand itself is red too, while the water in the bay is turquoise in colour, giving Red Beach a unique, contrasting appearance. Red Beach is located on the southern shore of Santorini.
Also along the southern shore of Santorini, you can find a black sand beach, which is known simply as Black Beach. This volcanic beach would look more at home in Iceland, rather than under the beating sun of Santorini, and it’s an unusual sight against the blue Aegean Sea.
For this contrast though, it makes for a unique natural attraction, and it’s well worth spending a few hours lounging on the black sand and taking in the views.
For a more traditional looking beach, then head to White Beach – which again, is found on the southern shore of Santorini, between Red Beach and Black Beach.
This secluded beach is hidden beneath tall cliffs, and due to its remote nature, it’s usually one of the more peaceful spots in high season. White Beach isn’t so easy to get to, and you’ll need to either hire a boat from nearby Red Beach or take a long hiking trail down the cliffs.
Akrotiri is one of the must-visit spots in Santorini if you have even a passing interest in the island’s ancient history. This was once an ancient Minoan settlement, but over 3000 years ago, when the civilization was at its zenith, the Santorini volcano erupted.
Akrotiri was buried under the ash, but much of the was preserved in the process, making this one of the foremost archaeological sites in Greece.
If you’re interested in archaeological sites, then take a trip to Ancient Thera, where you can find the ruins of another historic settlement.
Located high above the island, on the Mesa Vouno Mountain, Ancient Thera is thought to have been founded some around the 9th century BC, and it was abandoned around the 8th century AD.
What to eat in Santorini
Santorini has a range of restaurants to try, but to really delve into the traditional local cuisine, you’ll want to eat and drink at the Tavernas in the towns and villages.
Given the fertile, volcanic farmland, there are plenty of vegetable dishes on offer, including an abundance of unusual White Eggplants. There are lots of olives, lots of cheese and lots of wine.
You’ll also be trying lots of local seafood too, given the island’s rich fishing traditions. Dried, salted fish is a local favourite, while Atherinopita is a traditional dish where small fish such as whitebait are fried up with onions and flour to create a fritter-like, or pie-like meal.
Where to stay in Santorini
Budget – Hostels aren’t really a thing in Santorini, but on the island’s east side, you can find good value accommodation, although you’ll be away from the most iconic sights. There are lots of cheap rooms and hotels in Perissa, where you can find the likes of Youth Hostel Anna.
Mid Range – The western side of the island is the most expensive, but if you are looking for a more authentic experience, you can find more secluded and quiet accommodation on the eastern side of the island.
Luxury – The most expensive hotels and villas tend to overlook the caldera, along the cliffs of Fira and Oia. One of the most luxurious offerings in Santorini is the Mystique in Oia, where you have sea views and private spa pools.
Airbnb is also a great option for short or long stays.
Tours to do in Santorini
One of the best ways to see the best of Santorini’s natural attractions is to join a Catamaran Cruise. These sleek boats sail along the island’s extensive coastline, calling into hidden bays beneath the volcanic cliffs and stopping off at white or black sand beaches.
You’re usually provided with drinks and a seafood barbecue, while during the day you’ll have the chance to go swimming or snorkelling in the Aegean Sea. The best part though is when you get to admire the sunset from the Catamaran as the day comes to a close.
Santorini’s volcanic soil and Mediterranean climate make it the perfect location for growing grapes, and over the centuries the locals have mastered the art of wine production.
Across the island, you’ll find vineyards in beautiful, rural locations, and many will offer tastings and tours to visitors looking to indulge in a few glasses of the good stuff. The most famous local grape is Nykteri, and you’ll have plenty an opportunity to sample the wines made from it.
Snorkelling or Diving
Santorini is surrounded by excellent snorkelling and diving sites, with plenty of coral and marine life waiting to be explored.
You can snorkel off many of the popular beaches, and will soon be immersed in the island’s underwater world, but you will want to join a dedicated snorkelling or diving excursion to find the best spots out there.
Day trips from Santorini
Nea Kameni is one of the islands that make up the wider Santorini archipelago, and it’s found within the caldera caused by a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago.
You can visit Nea Kameni on a day tour, and it’s possible to hike across the island and around the entire circumference of the volcanic crater that’s found here.
The island of Thirasia is found on the western edge of the Santorini caldera, and it makes for a great day trip from the main island itself. Thirasia is much smaller than Santorini, but it’s also much quieter.
Here you can explore small fishing villages, and discover a destination that’s very much how the main tourist towns in Santorini used to be a few decades ago.
Ios is an island which is found to the north of Santorini, a journey of at least one hour by ferry. This small island hasn’t quite been discovered by tourism yet – or, at least not on the same scale as Santorini has – and it makes for a great place to explore if you are looking for a way to escape Santorini in the busy summer months.
There are whitewashed towns perched on hilltops, ancient Grecian ruins and much, much more waiting for you.
Recommended tours in Santorini
- Santorini Caldera Cruise Including Full Greek Meal and Drinks
- Small-Group Santorini Wine Tasting and Vineyard Tour
- Private Custom Tour: Santorini in a Day
- Santorini Sunset Luxury Sailing Catamaran Cruise with BBQ and Drinks
- Private Classic Santorini Panorama: Visit the most popular destinations of Santorini!
- 6-Hour Private Best of Santorini Experience
- Ancient Akrotiri and Santorini Wineries Tour
- Santorini Small-Group Cooking Class and Wine Tasting
- Santorini : Morning Sea Kayak Tour
- Full Day Santorini Highlights and Venetian Castles Small Group Tour
- Petra Kouzina Cooking Experience