Greek Islands Guide: Things to Do in Santorini

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Of all the Greek Islands — and there are thousands of them — Santorini is probably the one most people have heard of. And also probably the one that most people dream of visiting. Santorini is where you will find the red cliffs, black beaches, white windmills, and blue domes that adorn so many postcards.

Yes, this is Greece's “postcard island.”

Church in Oia, Santorini

Because Santorini is such a popular destination (including with cruise ships), however, I was a bit apprehensive about visiting. I wanted so badly to see all those windmills and churches and beaches — but I didn't relish in the thought of competing with hordes of other tourists in order to do so.

Thankfully, Santorini did not disappoint. It is just as stunningly beautiful as the photos and postcards lead you to believe — and you can easily avoid the cruise ship crowds if you time things right.

And, bonus: Santorini isn't *just* about blue domes and sunsets. There are lots of cool things to do in Santorini, too!

Oia, Santorini

Fun facts about Santorini

  • Santorini's official name is actually Thira.
  • The island sits in the water-filled caldera of a massive volcano that is thought to have ended Minoan civilization on Crete.
  • Before it was called Santorini, the island was known as Kallístē, meaning “the most beautiful one.”
  • Due to its volcanic past, Santorini has white, black, AND red beaches.
  • Despite a harsh, dry climate, Santorini has a flourishing wine industry.

Octopus in Oia, Santorini

Things to do in Santorini

It would be very easy to simply find a terrace with a view on Santorini and never leave it. Sip wine, eat sweet cherry tomatoes, and watch the sun set into the Aegean each evening… But in case you actually DO want to get out and do something, here are some suggestions for the best things to do in Santorini:

Shopping in Fira

Fira is the capital and main city on Santorini. It is where most of the cruise ships dock, and also where the ferries arrive/depart. It has a host of accommodation options, and also some of the best shopping on the island. Especially if you're looking for souvenirs, jewelry, or artwork, the narrow streets on the cliffs of Fira are where you want to be.

Fira, Santorini
Fira at sunset

Sightseeing in Oia

A must-see while on Santorini is the village of Oia (pronounced “ee-uh“). Here you'll find those red cliffs, white windmills, and blue-domed churches from the postcards. I went to Oia twice in 2.5 days on Santorini — once for sunset, and once to explore the town in the afternoon. And I fell in love. Oia is absolutely stunning, and is worth a few hours of your time at the very least.

You can easily catch a bus here from Fira — and do it in the afternoon so you catch the best light AND avoid the cruise ship crowd at sunset time.

Oia, Santorini

Oia, Santorini

Oia, Santorini

Head out on the water

Along with visiting Oia at least once, I also highly recommend somehow getting out on the water in Santorini's volcanic caldera. I was exploring the Greek Islands with Intrepid Travel, and my group (with the help of our tour leader) decided to pitch in to charter a traditional Greek boat and captain for a few hours one evening.

Captain George took us out into the caldera to swim, snorkel, drink wine, and even cover ourselves in mud from a volcanic hot spring. This was one of the highlights of my entire trip, and I would highly suggest doing something similar if you can. (Here's a caldera cruise to check out.)

Ammoudi port in Oia, Santorini

Volcanic mud at Santorini hot springs
Covered in volcanic mud

Watch the sun set

Our boat charter ended with watching the sun set opposite Oia. Watching the sunset on this end of Santorini is incredibly popular. You can book places on sunset cruises, as well, if you'd like to kill two birds with one stone. (Though, as I mention in another post, sunsets from other parts of the island are just as pretty as the ones in Oia.)

>> Book a sunset catamaran cruise here.

Sunset in Oia, Santorini

Try a fish spa

I've heard of “fish spas” before — but mostly in Asia. On Santorini, however, I saw no less than 3 in Fira alone. If you've never heard of a fish spa before, basically you stick your feet in some water and have tiny fish nibble all the dead skin off. I convinced two other girls from my tour group to join me in this adventure. None of us left our 30-minute session convinced that our feet were any smoother or healthier, but it was a fun, giggle-filled experience nonetheless.

Fish Spa, Santorini

Fish Spa, Santorini
Needs more fish

Go on a hike

Lastly, if you are up for it, it's quite popular to hike along the caldera all the way from Fira to Oia on Santorini. I opted out of said hike since it can take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours and offers little to no shade, but I know others who have done it and absolutely loved it. You can also climb to the site of Ancient Thira on top of the island.

Oia, Santorini

One thing I DON'T recommend in Santorini: A donkey ride

Many people (probably those who have watched movies set in Greece) dream of riding a donkey up a steep trail on a Greek island. And there are indeed donkey trails in Santorini, in both Fira and Oia that overlook the caldera.

I urge you to forego these rides, though. After walking the donkey trail in Oia from bottom to top myself, I feel truly terrible for any animal who has to carry a human up it. While none of the donkeys I saw looked blatantly mistreated on Santorini, they didn't appear to have access to drinking water, and they certain did not look very happy.

Donkey in Oia, Santorini

Donkeys in Oia, Santorini
I skipped the donkey ride

Beaches in Santorini

Santorini is most well-known for its cute villages, but it has some pretty incredible beaches, too. I personally didn't spend much time beach-hopping, but here are some suggestions for you anyway:

Perissa Beach

With fine black sand and crystal-clear water that is the perfect shade of blue, Perissa may have been my favorite beach in Greece. Yes, it's an organized beach — you'll pay 5 Euro for 2 sun beds and an umbrella, and there are restaurants and taverns nearby — but the sand and water were just perfection (though, beware that black sand gets HOT in the sun!).

Perissa Beach, Santorini

Perissa Beach, Santorini

Others

Other popular Santorini beaches include Kamari Beach (another organized beach, this time with pebbles), Monolithos Beach (a kid-friendly beach), and Red Beach (an isolated red-pebble beach that requires hiking to reach).

What makes Santorini special

Yes, Santorini is touristy. And yes, Santorini CAN get crowded. But what makes Santorini really special is that it is still able to live up to your expectations of a Greek island paradise if you let it.

Oia, Santorini

Oia, Santorini

The practical stuff

Where to stay in Santorini

There are plenty of Santorini hotels and guest houses to choose from. Many people want to stay in Oia for its pretty views, but you can almost certainly find better prices staying in Fira. Fira is also the site of Santorini's main ferry port — so look for a hotel that offers a shuttle service to/from the port. This will save you trying to catch a cab (nearly impossible during high season), cramming into a cable car, or schlepping your things up 500+ steep steps on the donkey trail.

I stayed at Pension Petros, which is a small, family-run hotel close to Fira's main square but away from most of the noise.

Another great option in Fira is the Evgenia Villas & Suites, which is often rated as one of the best-value hotels in Santorini.

If a luxury hotel in Oia IS what you're looking for, check out Katikies Hotel (often named the best hotel in Santorini) or the Astra Suites.



Booking.com

Where to eat in Santorini

Believe it or not, food on Santorini is actually affordable — less expensive than on Mykonos, in fact! Some Santorini specialties include cherry tomatoes and white eggplant, along with fresh seafood. For breakfast, check out Corner Crepes and Waffles (near Pension Petros in Fira) for delicious crepes, waffles, and fresh orange juice. If you head to Oia and want a meal with a view, visit Seagull for fresh salads and seafood — and a killer view of the Aegean and one of those blue-domed churches. If it's cheap you're looking for, go for gyros at Nick's in Fira's main square.

Oia, Santorini

Getting around Santorini

Santorini has a fairly decent bus system that will get you to/from Fira and Oia and also to the most popular beaches. Frequency of buses depends on the season and where you're going, so simply stop at the bus station to grab a timetable (they always had them in Fira) before you plan your outings. Bus tickets cost 1.60-2.20 Euro.

You can also rent cars on Santorini, though renting ATVs (quad bikes) is probably more popular. I would warn you, however, that the roads on Santorini can be twisty and narrow and kind of terrifying.

How to avoid the crowds in Santorini

I won't sugarcoat it: Santorini CAN get crowded. If you want to avoid the cruise ship crowds, explore Fira early in the morning or evening. If you want to go to Oia, go in the afternoon; most people turn up for sunset, but the afternoon hours are best for photography anyway. And, of course, you can always head to quieter parts of the island if the crowds get to be too much.

The best tours in Santorini

Check out these popular Santorini tours:

Is Santorini on YOUR travel wish list? What would you most like to see there?

 

Pin it for later:

Santorini Travel Guide

*Note: I received a complimentary Greek Islands tour from Intrepid Travel through my partnership with them, which included my visit to Santorini. All opinions, as always, are entirely my own.

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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73 Comments on “Greek Islands Guide: Things to Do in Santorini

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  1. Am planning to visit santorini in the month of November for my honeymoon! But i keep getting advises from people asking me to drop the idea of visiting Greece coz of the economic problems it’s been facing for the past few months! Is it still safe to visit santorini coz I still want to be there for my honeymoon!

      The thing about Greece is, the Greek Islands are completely different than mainland Greece. Throughout all of Greece’s economic struggles, the islands have been absolutely fine because tourism is much more stable than everything else. Santorini especially should be 100% safe – and gorgeous, of course!

      You can check out my friend Kate’s post about being in Greece during the economic collapse: http://www.adventurouskate.com/is-it-safe-to-travel-to-greece-right-now-absolutely/ She had NO problems on any of the islands. Her only tip is to take some extra cash so you don’t have to rely on ATMs as much.

        We’re planning to make a trip to Greece in December and asked a travel agency for guidance but they said there won’t be any ferries operating to Santorini or Mykonos from Athens until the end of March! So is there any other way we can travel to those islands?!

          I would double check on that if you can by going directly to some of the ferry websites. Things DO slow down in the winter, but I can’t believe that there would be absolutely NO ferries to the most popular islands in December. I’m not a travel agent, though, and I can only speak from my own experience visiting in September. But I would definitely do some more research! If the ferries aren’t running, I think your only other option would be to look into flights (there *are* very small airports on some of the islands).

    I love this post! I just wrote one similar – 10 Things To Do in Santorini. And man, wasn’t it so incredibly stunning? Everything you wrote is so spot on, great info. And the pictures – gorgeous. It truly is a postcard destination. Thanks for sharing 🙂

      Thanks so much, Allie! And yes, Santorini was incredible! I’ll definitely be going back someday!

    I’m thinking of visiting Santorini and Oia this summer, but I’m not sure how long I want to stay? Would you recommend one or two weeks? 🙂

      The island isn’t big – you wouldn’t be rushed at all if you only stayed for one week. I guess it depends how much time you want to spend relaxing! 🙂

    This is making me so excited to go to Santorini! I’m flying there in TWO DAYS. Ahhh! I’m definitely going to take your advice on hiring a boat – sounds like a fab idea 🙂 What the hell – I’m just gonna bookmark this article and refer to it when I’m there. Thanks a lot for this fantastic post 🙂

      Ahhh I’m so excited for you! Santorini is a really amazing island. I hope you love it as much as I did!

    Wow these pictures are gorgeous!! I think I would be WAY too tickleish for the “fish spa” I’m doing a Study Abroad program to Greece in May and can’t wait!

      I thought I was going to be too ticklish for the fish spa, too, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared! Have a great time in Greece. And definitely get to Santorini if you can!

    Gorgeous photos Amanda. I hope to follow in your footsteps next year to see some of these islands.

      Thanks, Andrea! I hope you get a chance to go to some of these places next year.

    had such a great time in Santorini, its an amazing island and I would say built for the tourist and traveller and the likes of anyone haha. We ended up continiously extending our trip whilst in Santorini, jsut did not want to leave

      I can understand that! I wanted to stay longer, too.

    Great shots, I especially like your zoomed in shot of the buildings. Looks like an amazing place. It’s always been high on my list and perhaps it’s time to go! Thanks for sharing.

      Thanks, Ed! It’s not difficult to get some great shots on this island though, to be honest. You should definitely cross it off your own list soon!

    This is my dream destination …..your pictures are so tempting …wish you be in the postcard island some day 🙂

      It was a dream destination for me, too, and I was really happy that it lived up to my expectations.

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