Updated: March 16, 2017
Getting Started – 7 Steps to Planning a Santorini Trip
1. When To Go
The best months to visit Santorini are from June to September when the weather is warm and sunny and the sea is great for swimming. Late April, May, October, and early November are good times if your interests tend more towards sightseeing than swimming and suntanning.
- More info: The Best Time of Year to Visit Santorini
2. Getting To Santorini
Most people arrive in Santorini by either ferry from Athens or another island (often Mykonos or another island in the Cyclades). But you can also fly, usually from Athens.
The best ferry to take to Santorini is the Blue Star. It’s slower than the high speed ferries but costs half as much and has an open-air deck that allows for an incredible view of Santorini as you move through the center of the volcano and stare up at the imposing cliffs. (The high speed ferries do not have decks and the windows are often covered in salt with limited views.) The sea can be rough any time of year and the Blue Star ferry has the most stable ride during windy weather due to it’s size.
For the great views of the island you want to arrive during daylight hours. The best ferry (the Blue Star) departs from the Athens’ ferry port in Piraeus at 7:25am, 7 days a week.
If you’re coming to Greece from Europe you can fly directly to Santorini on a budget airline. If you’re coming from outside Europe you’ll most likely fly to Athens first and then either ferry to Santorini or fly to Santorini on Olympic Air.
- Blue Star Ferry to Santorini (recommended)
- Kayak.com (international flights to Europe and Greece)
- Flight Info to Santorini
- More info: Athens to Santorini by Ferry
- More info: Mykonos to Santorini by Ferry
- More info: Crete to Santorini by Ferry
Also, cruises to Santorini suck. If you’re over 85 and the only way you can see Santorini is on a cruise – great! But for anyone born after 1930, please don’t come to Santorini on a cruise. You only get a brief stay on the island and it really doesn’t do it justice. (This applies to other islands too, but especially for Santorini because it’s so unique.)
3. Picking A Town
The west side of Santorini is a cliff that looks out into the caldera (i.e. the volcano). The towns on the caldera side are Fira (the hub of the island with the most shops, clubs, and restaurants), Firostefani (a short walk to Fira but quieter), Imerovigli (the best views on Santorini), and Oia (romantic with great sunsets).
The other side of the island (the east side) slopes towards the sea and has all the island’s beaches. It does not have the great views that you probably associate with Santorini. The beach resorts here are Kamari (nice family-friendly vibe with a pedestrian boardwalk), Perissa (nicest sand of any beach on Santorini), and Perivolos (a quieter extension of Perissa). They all have lots of hotels, a fun easy-going atmosphere, and lots of sun chairs along the sand. Kamari and Perissa are divided by a massive mountain of rock and there are shuttle boats between them that run every hour or so. The boats also go to a few other popular beaches (e.g. Red Beach) that don’t have accommodations.
4. Booking Hotels
The best advice I have is to book your hotel early (5 to 8 months in advance if possible). The best hotels fill early. The good cheap hotels fill early. The hotels with the best views fill early. (I think you get the idea.)
For last-minute hotels you have 2 choices: Use Hotelscombined.com to find available rooms (it searches 100s of hotel websites to find the best deals) or take one of the offers from the hotel owners that will greet you as you walk off the ferry. These hotels are usually small family-owned affairs a long way from the center of things – but they’re better than sleeping on a bench outside a cafe.
5. Getting Around Santorini
Bus is the easiest and cheapest way to get around Santorini. Buses are air-conditioned with lots of luggage storage. They cost about €2 a trip (a little more from the ferry port to Fira). The hub of the bus network is Fira so most trips that don’t begin or end in Fira will require changing buses in Fira.
There will be a bus waiting for all ferry arrivals regardless of the time. Buses also stop at the airport though this can require a wait of 30 minutes to an hour depending on the schedule. In the summer months buses run from Fira back to the beaches until well past midnight.
Renting a car is an excellent way to get away from the crowds and see the island at your own speed. Buses go almost everywhere but if you want to see more than one attraction in one day then figuring out bus schedules and changing buses gets tiring very quickly. Most cars have a standard transmission, so book far in advance if you want an automatic.
Scooters and ATV’s are available from many travel agencies around the island.
6. The Best Things To Do On Santorini
Some Greek islands have little else besides the beach but Santorini is loaded with lots of great activities. Here are my top 5:
- Watch a sunset from Oia – Large crowds assemble every evening to drink wine and watch the sun disappear. Sunsets Cafe has beautiful views if you prefer to sit and drink.
- Do a boat tour of the volcano and the small islands in the caldera
- Swim at Amoudi Bay beneath Oia. There is no beach here but jumping from the rocks is the best swimming spot on Santorini.
- Walk the path from Fira to Oia along the caldera’s cliff. It takes about 2 to 3 hours and has incredible views. This is many people’s highlight of their visit to Santorini.
- Tour a local winery. Santorini is known for its wine and the tours here are tons of fun with great scenery.
7. Where To Eat On Santorini
For 3 wonderful meals that perfectly complement each other and give a great overview of Santorini cuisine I would eat at Metaxy Mas (one of the best restaurants in Greece, reservations mandatory), Naoussa in Fira (great local tavern with traditional Greek food, a friendly atmosphere, and great views), and Taverna Katina in Amoudi Bay (fresh seafood in the fisherman’s port below Oia).
See Also: The Best Restaurants on Santorini
And the most important tip: Just Go!
I doubt anyone said at the end of their life, “My biggest regret is that trip to Santorini. We never should have went. I wish we spent that money on some furniture.”
You’ll remember a trip to Santorini for the rest of your life.
“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”
– Saint Augustine