Santorini island is located in the Cycladic islands in the Aegen Sea, a little under 8 hours by high speed ferry from Athens. This illustrious island is possibly the most famous in the Greek islands, with the famous shot of those blue-roofed churches appearing on infinite postcards and desktop backgrounds.
The island is in the rough shape of a C, overlooking the caldera bay and volcano in the centre, with the main towns perched impossibly on the side of 300m cliffs. These jagged cliffs are the product of the huge eruption that occurred around 1613 BC, and you can still visit the volcano’s centre today by boat. The volcanic rock terrain causes the whole island to appear somewhat barren and has given Santorini some of the most unique beaches in Europe – and contrary to popular belief, there isn’t just one black beach. A large portion of the south eastern side of the island has black sand beaches, including Perissa and Kamari Beach.
Cliff-side villas sprawl down the steep edges of the island, making the volcanic rim look like snow-capped mountains, and due to their high positioning above sea level, Santorini is treated to arguably the best sunsets in the world.
The magic and awe of this incredible island brings flocks of cruise-ships, tourists, backpackers and honeymooners every year.
How to get to Santorini
The only two ways to access the island of Santorini is by boat or fly.
Regular flights also connect Santorini with major Greek cities such as Athens and Thessaloniki, as well as most major airports in wider Europe. Google Flights is your best bet for searching for the most suitable flight.
How to get around
The bus system on Santorini is bustling and chaotic – filled with sunburnt backpackers and impatient tourists so be prepared. If you arrive by plane or boat, buses run regularly and will connect you to the main town of Fira. The bus station in Fira is just a few blocks from the main streets. Here, you can catch a bus on to all major sights including Oia, Red Beach, Thira Port and the airport.
You purchase a ticket as you get on the bus, and they cost around €2. Schedules can be found here.
Alternatively, hire a quad or scooter! The island is filled with tourists buzzing around, and it’s the best way to see all the sights. More on this below.
Where to eat
If you eat anywhere during your time on Santorini, make it Aktaion.
This tiny, hole in the wall, blink and you miss it, authentic restaurant
served hands down my favourite meals during my entire trip to Europe.
The family restaurant has been running since 1922 and dishes up the
most hearty, tasty, authentic meals at an incredibly surprising price.
It’s only a small restaurant so you’ll often have to wait for a table but
I can guarantee it is worth every second.
This quaint corner shop offers friendly staff, quick service, generous portions and the most amazing falafel wraps. For only €4 you can enjoy a huge wrap filled with home made hummus, tasty falafel balls, tabouli and salad. Perfect for a late lunch over a long day at the beach (or lazing by your Villa pool!)
When in Greece, you’ve got to have Gyros. Cheap, fast, delicious, gyros are one of my foods to eat on the road and Pito Gyros is probably the best on the island. This hole in the wall shop dishes up no fuss, fresh wraps for a great price.
Greece is famous for it’s yoghurt, and after a long day in the sun there isn’t much better than treating yourself to a big bowl of frozen yoghurt.
Chill is a self-serve frozen yoghurt store in the heart of Fira, where you can pick from an array of flavours and toppings.
Local Produce Picnic
Most small delicatessen sell an array of local produce – from Kalamata olives to feta and cold meats. Grab a selection of antipastos and a bottle of local wine and enjoy the endless choice of gorgeous viewpoints on the island and enjoy a picnic.
The Red Beach is one of the most popular tourist spots on the island. The steep red cliffs hang above the rocky shoreline, and while it isn’t exactly the most comfortable spot to laze about in the sun, it’s definitely worth a visit to see the gorgeous deep maroons and burgundy colours of the beach.
Kamari Beach and Perissa Beach (Black Sand)
Kamari Beach is situated on the southern end of Santorini, right next to Perissa Beach – however there is an enormous rock called Mesa Vouno between the two. They are connected by boat services, otherwise you’ll have to head back inland and around to reach Perissa. Both of these beaches have incredible black volcanic sand, which seems to make the water even more clear. Make sure you bring shoes (the black sand can get scoldingly hot!) and even consider splurging on a sunbed and umbrella.
Hiking Guide: Fira to Oia
Where to stay
Staying in Santorini is often a one in a life time experience. And in my opinion, it is the number one place above all to splurge. The cliff side of the island overlooking the caldera is lined with villas, in a chaotic array of order where it is hard to tell where one hotel starts and another ends.
Most villas have private spas or lap pools to enjoy, small balconies to sunbake on, cave-style rooms built into the cliff-side to keep the apartments cool, and of course… that view. Villas range in costs, depending on the level of extravagance however you can find surprisingly good deals, particularly if you are booking far in advance. You can book some cliff side villas for as little as €300 a night.
If you are looking to splurge (and good for you, so you should!), Vista Mare Suites is a top pick. Situated right on the cliff side of Imerovigli village, with that million-dollar view to the volcano and the deep blue Aegean Sea, I cannot recommend this villa higher.
If your budget really really doesn’t allow you to splurge on a villa (come on, even for a night or two?) there are a number of great hostels on the island.
Caveland Hostel is located in the middle of the island, giving you a nice hideaway from the craziness of Fira town. The hostel is open and spacious, with a large kitchen, free breakfast and a pool perfect to laze by under the boganvillia.
Alternately, Fira Backpackers is another great hostel, located in the centre of Fira town right amongst the bustling streets.
Example daily budget for one day in Santorini
€340 per day –
🏨 €300 per night for Villa (solo cost, try to split this!)
🍳Free Breakfast at Hotel
🥙Pita for lunch: €5
🏍Quad Hire: €20
🍛Dinner at Aktaion: €15
How long to spend in Santorini
This island seems endless with activities; whether you’re exploring the towns, the wider island, the beaches or just spending hot lazy days by the pool, spend as many days as possible on Santorini – you can. At a bare minimum; 4 nights, but one week is even better.
What to see and do in Santorini
Hike From Fira to Oia
Aside from lazing by your Villa Pool, this is the single best thing to do when visiting Santorini. The hike takes somewhere around 3 – 4 hours depending on how many stops you take for photos along the way. Starting from the main town of Fira, you walk along the edge of the island through towns neighbouring towns of Firostefani and Imerovigli.
Once you start to curve around the bend of the island it becomes mostly rural with only churches and donkeys on this stretch of path so be sure to pack plenty of water.
The cove right next to the Red Beach is known as the White Beach. It is very similar to the Red beach, however with black pebbles on the shore and the surrounding white cliffs. This bay is only accessible by boat, and the best way to get there is by water taxi from the Akrotiri pier, just down the hill from the Akrotiri ruins – a bus service stops here hourly from Fira. The water taxi leaves every half hour and stops in at Red Beach, White Beach and Kamari Beach. A round trip will cost you only €5. I would also recommend stopping in at one of the tavernas in front of the pier for lunch or a drink, to enjoy some authentic Greek cuisine!
This little gem is by far the best swimming spot on the island – but it’s not a beach. If you walk to the very end of Oia town and take the path down to the port, you’ll see some restaurants on the waters edge. Keep walking past the restaurants and around the base of the cliff, then you’ll reach a little bay (and possibly a handful of other tourists!). Secure a spot of the rocks and dive in to the impossibly clear sea. You can also swim out to the small rocky island nearby and if you’re feeling really brave, cliff jump off the side.
Explore Fira, Firostefani, and Imerovigli
Lose yourself in hidden alleys and paths and stairwells, and explore the endless magical views you’ll stumble upon as you wander through these towns.
Oia is the most famous town in Santorini, with plenty of views you will definitely recognise from post cards and Instagram shots. Wander through the streets and down alley ways and you’ll be sure to stumble across many views of those famous blue dome churches and bells. Head here as early as possible as the town gets almost unbearably crowded with cruise-ship day trippers by 10am.
Outdoor Cinema at Kamari
In the small town of Kamari, south east of Fira is a cute little outdoor cinema. Wine, beer, and simple snacks are available, so settle in with a cold local beer and enjoy a movie under the stars as the sun sets and the sky grows dark. You can see times and more information here.
Dotted with unique basket-shaped vines, prickly pears and volcanic black rocks, this barren landscape creates a perfect, dry but fruitful environment for grape growing. There are a number of wineries on the island; Santos Wines, Argyros Estate and Ventetsanos to name a few, all offering rich history and original wines to try. Ventetsanos Winery even produces a sweet dessert wine which tastes exactly like sultanas, perfect to sip on after a full day as you watch the sun set over the Caldera.
Visit the Volcano
Daily excursions leave the Thira Port out to the volcano centre where you can trek up the side of the dormant volcano and swim in the hot springs. It never gets hot but warm enough to never feel the need to get out. A word of warning – the volcanic mud does stain your skin after a while leaving you with a nice orange glow if you spend too long in the water!
Watch the Sunset In Oia
While watching the sunset in the famous town of Oia is on many people’s bucket list, it is a bit of an overly-hyped experience – in the peak tourist seasons the sunset can draw crowds of hundreds, huddling together in the streets of Oia all clamouring for a view of the sinking sun. However, the view of the sun setting is just as good in many other locations – Imegroveli, Firastephani, even one of the wineries which overlook the caldera.
Pack yourself a little picnic and a bottle of wine, and find a secluded spot in the many stairwells and pathways along the edge of the island – or better still, if you have your own villa, lap up the privacy and stay on your own balcony!