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Santorini Travel Guide- Everything You Need to Know

Santorini Travel Guide Blue Domes Oia

Santorini is one of the most spectacular islands in all of Europe. It is full of natural beauty, whitewashed buildings, cliffs overlooking deep blue waters and has the most breathtaking scenery. The three most popular villages in Santorini Oia, Fira and Imerovigli sit atop of the crater and offer the most incredible views of the caldera and sunset. Santorini offers the perfect vacation to indulge in gorgeous views of the caldera and sunset, luxury cave hotels, great Greek food, great hiking and overall relaxation. Whether you want a romantic vacation, dreamy sunset dinners, a vacation exploring charming villages or exploring clifftop wineries, this Santorini travel guide will help you plan your first trip to Santorini.

Santorini Quick Links

Santorini Frequently Asked Questions

Why should you travel to Santorini?

You should travel to Santorini because it is a destination known for breathtaking beauty, iconic whitewashed buildings and blue domes, cascading cliffs and stunning sunsets. Santorini boasts some of the most picturesque landscapes in the world. Staying in a cave hotel is also an incredible experience. The villages of Oia and Fira are charming and the sunsets in Santorini are gorgeous. If you’re looking for a romantic, relaxing vacation, Santorini is the destination for you.

How to Get to Santorini

Getting to Santorini is easiest by plane or ferry. If you’re coming to/ from the mainland, the quickest way to get to Santorini is by plane. If you’re coming from another island, it will depend on which island but in most cases it is quickest to take a ferry to Santorini.

Direct flights to Santorini from the US

Santorini does have an international airport. To date, there are no direct flights from the United States to Santorini. You must fly into another airport and from there, fly to Santorini.

Direct flights to Santorini from Europe

There are many European cities that have direct flights to Santorini. The airport with the most flights to Santorini is Athens (ATH), though you can also find direct flights to Santorini from London Heathrow and London Gatwick, Paris (CDG), Amsterdam (AMS) Frankfurt (FRA),  Rome (FCO), Vienna (VIE) and Zurich (ZRH). Since it is expensive to fly to/ from Athens from the US, flying through another European city one way, whether as you are leaving or coming to Santorini, will help save you money.

What do I need to know before going to Santorini?

  • Hire transportation for when you arrive, especially if you are coming by ferry as there are a lot of people that exit the ferry at once and it gets quite chaotic. We used Welcome Pickups.
  • It is very easy to hop to different islands, and use the ferry to get to Santorini. There is a great ferry network in Greece, especially in the summer when they have the most routes. You can book your ferries through Ferry Hopper
  • Santorini is a gorgeous island, but don’t forget the most popular villages like Oia and Fira are at the top of a cliff. When you take the ferry to Santorini, a car or bus will need to drive up the cliff from the ferry port. The cave hotels in Oia also start at street level, and then go down the cliff. So, you may be walking down a few flights of stairs to get to your hotel room.
  • Walking around the villages like Oia and Fira is easiest early in the morning, as this is before the cruises dock and the passengers come on land. During the morning, it is much less crowded and easiest to get pictures without other people in it.
  • The cruises dock at the bottom of Fira and then the passengers take a chairlift up to Fira. Fira has the most crowds from cruises as a result.
  • If you take a ferry to Santorini or a boat ride, there is a chance the sea can be very choppy. Bring Dramamine with you and also understand that there is a chance the sea can get too choppy resulting in cancelled ferries and more often catamaran tours.
  • Because Oia, Fira and Imerovigli are at the top of the cliff, if you want to have a beach day it will be quite a drive to get down to the beach. Enjoying the beaches are better on other islands like Paros and Mykonos as a result.
  • If you leave from the Santorini airport and have a VAT tax refund, you will need to go to the Duty Free Shop and ask for someone to stamp your refunds. There is no desk with a sign you go to. They recommend doing this at least an hour before your flight takes off.
  • There are donkeys, especially in Oia on the steps between Oia and Ammoudi Bay, that can help take you around if you start feeling too to walk any further.
  • Many of the hotels in Oia have a caldera view – it is beautiful, but it also means you won’t have a sunset view and will need to watch the sunset from a restaurant, a popular sunset viewing place, or the sunset catamaran cruise.
  • Cruise ships frequently visit Santorini and the island is most busy when the cruise ship visitors are in Santorini. Explore villages early or late to avoid the biggest crowds. The cruise ship crowds will enter in Fira.
  • Ensure your passport is valid for at least 6 months beyond your intended departure date to ensure smooth travel
  • Europe is starting new visa requirements for US travelers, but this is now delayed until 2024 or 2025. When it starts, US travelers between 18-70 years old will need to fill out an ETIAS visa-waiver form prior to their trip, and pay a €7 entry fee, to travel to European countries within the Schengen Area. This will be valid for three years or until your passport expires. It’s expected to have a quick turnaround but it’s important to plan and submit ahead of your trip.
  • The official language is Greek, but English is spoken in many of the touristy areas. Many restaurants also have English menus.
  • For electricity, Greece uses the standard European two-pin plug (Type C and F). My favorite power adapter is this one, as it has every configuration you need in a compact plug.
  • Santorini has a typical Mediterranean climate and the climate feels hotter than the temperature suggests. Once the sun goes down, it does feel chilly than the temperature suggests so be sure to bring a jacket, especially on the islands.
  • The currency is the Euro.
  • Tipping is appreciated, but not expected. Some restaurants add service charges look for “Υπηρεσία” on the bill. At restaurants, if there is no service charge it’s customary to round up, leave small change or add 5-10%.
  • The food in Greece is fresh and incredible. Most of it is also very reasonably priced, though the touristy spots can be more expensive. We found the food in Santorini was cheaper than Mykonos.
  • Don’t miss out on trying local food specialties like feta wrapped in phyllo, tzatziki, Greek salad, gyros, souvlaki and honey pie.

How many days should I spend in Santorini?

How many days you should spend in Santorini ultimately depends on your interests, the activities you want to do and your budget. Santorini is one of the most expensive islands in Greece, especially when it comes to hotels. But, it was also our favorite island of the bunch we went to, and we wish we stayed another few nights. How many days you should spend in Santorini is a personal choice, but here are some considerations from our Santorini travel guide:

3 Days in Santorini

Spending three days in Santorini can be a good option if you have limited time, or have a limited budget. This gives you time to explore a few of the iconic villages like Fira and Oia, spend an afternoon on a catamaran, do the Fira to Oia hike and relax at your hotel for a bit. It will be a packed trip if you do all of this in 3 days though, once you include travel.

4 or 5 Days in Santorini

Spending four or five days in Santorini will give you more time to relax, and see everything at a more leisurely pace. You will really have some time to just enjoy relaxing at your beautiful hotel. In addition to spending an afternoon on a catamaran and morning doing the FIra to Oia hike, you can also visit a winery and enjoy lunch at Ammoudi Bay.

A Week in Santorini

If you have a week or longer in Santorini, you can really do all the things you wanted to do in Santorini and relax. You could even take a day trip to a nearby island, or explore some of the less touristy villages.

Best time of year to visit Santorini

The best time of year to visit Santorini is during the shoulder seasons which are spring (April to June) and Fall (September and October). During these times, the weather is more mild, the island is less crowded and lodging prices are a bit cheaper. At the same time, there are still a lot of ferries and flights to Santorini. During these months, you’ll enjoy pleasant temperatures, can still be out on the water, walk around the villages with less crowds and it’s easier to get reservations to dinners and the best things to do. The summer months – July and August – are most popular, and have the warmest weather, but are also the most expensive and most crowded. In winter, November to March, the temperatures are cooler, there are less flights and ferries and some hotels, restaurants and activities close for the off season. Ultimately, the best month to visit Santorini will depend on your personal interests.

What is Santorini famous for?

Santorini is famous for it’s breathtaking beauty, iconic blue domes and whitewashed buildings and stunning sunsets that you can view while atop rugged cliffs. The views of the Aegean Sea from charming villages like Oia and Fira are picturesque. Many of the famous cave hotel rooms have stunning views of the caldera. In addition to having a relaxing vacation, Santorini is also known for some more adventurous activities like the FIra to Oia hike, and catamaran tours where you can swim in the hot springs.

What are the best things to do in Santorini?

The best things to do in Santorini include exploring the charming villages of Oia and Fira, where you can see the iconic blue-domed churches and stunning caldera views. Watching the sunset in Oia, or doing a catamaran sunset cruise is also often one of the best things to do in Santorini. In Santorini, you can also visit wineries such as Santo Winery which has incredible views of the island. The Fira to Oia hike is another very popular thing to do in Santorini. Santorini is also a great island to just sit back and relax.

Is Santorini Safe?

Santorini is generally considered a safe destination for travelers. The crime rates are low and violent crime is rare. Like many tourist destinations, it’s important to take precautious for theft and watch out for pick pocketers. If you are driving a car, or driving an ATV it’s especially important to be aware of the windy, steep roads. Currents can also be strong in the sea, so take care when swimming and be aware of any warning signs.

What is the best area to stay in Santorini?

The best area to stay in Santorini depends on your personal preferences and budget. OIa is the most famous village and is most renowned for its stunning sunset views, whitewashed buildings, blue domed churches and luxury accommodations. Oia is ideal for couples wanting a romantic getaway.

Fira is another popular area to stay, and as the island’s capital, has a bunch of shopping, dining options and easy access to transportation hubs. This is also the first village that cruise travelers will visit when they arrive in Santorini so it is a bit more crowded.

If you want a relaxed environment, and don’t care about a lot of dining and shopping within walking distance Imerovigli is a great option. It is in between Oia and Fira and also offers stunning sunsets and luxury accommodations.

What are the best beaches in Santorini?

Santorini is known for it’s unique beaches with various colored sands and crystal clear waters. If you have a chance to make it to the bottom of the cliff to enjoy some of the beaches here are the best beaches in Santorini. If you go on a catamaran cruise, you can also visit some of the beaches that way.

Perissa Beach is known for it’s long black sand beach. It has a variety of water sports and restaurants and is located on the southeastern coast. Next to Perissa is Kamari Beach, which is another black sand beach and has similar amenities. Red Beach, or Kokkini Paralia, is one of the most iconic beaches in Santorini. Red Beach is named for its unique red volcanic sand and red cliffs. White Beach is located near Red Beach and features white cliffs and pebbles. It is only accessible by boat from Red Beach.

Driving in Santorini

Driving in Santorini is not like driving on other islands. While cars do drive on the right side, like they do in the United States, the roads in Santorini are windy and on the sides of a cliff. The roads can also be steep and have sharp turns. Additionally, parking can be limited in popular tourist spots like Oia and Fira. To get around Santorini, there are plenty of other options besides renting a car. There is a bus system in Santorini, that we found easy to use from Fira to Oia after we hiked from Oia to Fira. It is also easy to ask your hotel or restaurant to call you a taxi, or arrange private pickup to or from the airport or ferry. The easiest way to get around Santorini is to stay somewhere where you’ll easily be able to walk to restaurants and shops from your hotel, so you limit the amount of transportation you need while staying in Santorini.

How to save money traveling in Santorini

Santorini is one of the most expensive islands in Greece, but there are a few ways to save money when you travel to Santorini. The most expensive expense will be the hotel, so arriving to the island early, and getting a very late flight out can help maximize your time on the island, while minimizing your hotel bill. You can opt for accommodations in less touristy areas, but then it is harder to get around the island and you may not be in the village you truly want to stay in. You can also consider booking hotels in two villages during your time in Santorini, so you get to stay in your top choice but limit how many nights you pay the more expensive hotel bill. Booking a hotel early so you can get one of the cheaper rooms and then calling later to switch it to a non-refundable rate is always an option. If the cheaper rooms are sold out, check periodically to see if they’ve had any cancellations.

The catamarans in Santorini are more expensive than other islands, so you may decide to do a boat day on one of the other islands to save money. For example, a boat day in Paros is much cheaper. The food in Santorini, like all of Greece, is incredible. It is easy to eat incredible food at places like Lucky’s for very cheap. Opt for the less touristy restaurants, and the restaurants that don’t have the sunset or water views to save some money. Shopping in Santorini is also more expensive. If you want to save money shopping, shop in Athens instead.

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