Planning a Santorini Holiday: Expert Advice from “Santorini Dave”
Note: In 2023, some transportation to and around Greece could be impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Please use ferryhopper and kayak to find the most recently updated routes and schedules. Things are nearly back to normal now and I expect 2023 to be almost completely like a pre-Covid year.
Santorini Holiday Map
Santorini Holidays – The Best Places to Stay
The hub and largest town on the island, great volcano and sunset views, moderate and luxury hotels, great restaurants, lots of nightlife, 10-minute drive to the airport.
Located at the northern tip of the island, great volcano and sunset views, moderate and luxury hotels, great restaurants, only one true bar, 25-minute drive to the airport, 15-minute drive to Fira.
Located a 10-minute walk north of Fira, great volcano and sunset views, moderate and luxury hotels, a few good restaurants, no nightlife, 15-minute drive to the airport.
Located a 25-minute walk north of Fira, great volcano and sunset views, mainly luxury hotels, several fantastic restaurants, no nightlife, 20-minute drive to the airport.
Located on the eastern side of the island (not on the caldera), pleasant sunrise and sea views, mainly moderate hotels, several good restaurants, some nightlife, 5-minute drive to the airport.
Located on the eastern side of the island (not on the caldera), pleasant sunrise and sea views, budget and moderate hotels, several good restaurants, some nightlife, 25-minute drive to the airport.
What to Do in Santorini in 1, 2, 3, or 7 Days
Holidays in Santorini – Essential Information
- Fantasy Travel – Good travel agency for planning trips to Greece and the Greek islands. (Generally, I don’t recommend using a travel agent but if you do, Fantasy is a trustworthy one.)
- There are many good cheap hotels in Santorini. But reserve early as the best budget hotels get fully booked 4 to 6 months in advance.
- What is the best time to go to Santorini Greece? April to early November is great for sightseeing, good weather, and tours. Late May to early October is best for sun and beach weather.
- Can you get an all inclusive holdiay to Santorini? Generally no. The best hotels, best deals, and cheapest flights are booked independently. Booking is easy and there’s no need to book a Santorini holiday package.
- Where should I stay in Santorini? The towns of Fira, Oia, Imerovigli, and Firostefani are magical and what make a Santorini visit so special. Just south of Fira is where the Kardashians stayed during their Santorini holiday.
- Is it easy to get around Santorini? Yes, very easy. The bus system is great and the main towns are very walkable. Renting a car in Santorini is easy and recommended if you want to get away from the most popular tourist spots.
- Do they speak English in Santorini? Yes, english is very common at all hotels and restaurants. Getting around without knowing Greek is no problem at all.
- Are there beaches in Santorini? Yes, most beaches are black volcanic sand and the swimming is absolutely wonderful. The best Santorini beaches are a 15 to 20 minute drive from the caldera towns.
- Which side of Santorini is better? The are two sides to Santorini. The caldera side (west) that looks into the volcano and has incredible views from the cliff-top towns. And the beach side (east) where the towns are at sea level. For most people the caldera side is better (great views, wonderful hotels, stunning sunsets). But if you want swimming, cheap hotels, and a more relaxed atmosphere then the beach side is a fine choice.
- Does Santorini have an airport? Yes, located almost directly in the middle of the island and about a 15 to 25 minute drive to most towns (by taxi, rental car, or bus).
- Which Greek island should I visit? Santorini is the most magical island in Greece. Incredible views, awesome food, luxurious hotels, great boat tours and wine tours.
- Santorini is the best Greek island for a honeymoon or romantic holiday.
- At least 3 full days in Santorini are needed for a good visit. But 5 to 7 days is what I recommend to really experience the best of Santorini.
- To get good Santorini holiday deals book hotels and flights separately. Don’t use a travel agent and don’t book a Santorini holiday package.
- Santorini Grace (in Imerovigli) and Katikies (in Oia) are fantastic places to stay and two of the best hotels in Santorini.
Santorini Holidays in 2023 – Travel Tips & Information
Santorini Weather – The Santorini climate and seasons are similar to the rest of Europe (just warmer) – hot in summer (June to September); warm in spring and fall (March to May, October, November); and cool and rainy in winter (December to February). The best time to visit Santorini is in the spring, summer, and fall. If you want beach weather with blue skies and warm temperatures then visit between late May and early October. July and August are the busiest and most expensive months, while June and September still have great weather but are less busy. If your interests are more focused around sightseeing, food, and wine then the best time to visit is from late March to early June, and late September to early November.
How to Get to Santorini From The UK & Ireland – There are direct flights to Santorini from London, Manchester, and Leeds with the majority of flights departing from London Gatwick and London Heathrow. If you’re flying from Bristol, Birmingham, Newcastle, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast, or Dublin you’ll most likely connect through Gatwick or Heathrow. Airlines with the most flights to Santorini are British Airways and EasyJet. Ryan Air and Aegean Airlines also have many flights to Greece from London airports but they usually stop in Athens and are not direct. Kayak.co.uk is the best website for searching for flights and finding the best fares.
How to Get to Santorini From The USA, Canada, & Australia – There are no direct flights to Santorini from the USA, Canada, or Australia. All travel to Santorini from these countries will require flying to Athens (then fly or ferry from there) or flying to a hub in western Europe (usually London, Paris, Amsterdam, or Rome) and then fly to Athens or fly directly to Santorini. Kayak.com is the best website for searching for flights to Santorini and Greece.
Fly To Athens Then Ferry To Santorini – Since there are more flights to Athens than to Santorini (and they are often cheaper) it’s common to fly to Athens, stay one or two nights to see the sights, then ferry to Santorini. This is very easy to do and ferries are modern, safe, and run on time. Most ferries to Santorini leave in the early morning from the ferry port in Piraeus (20 minutes by train or taxi from central Athens). The best ferries to take from Athens to Santorini are the Blue Star ferries. They take longer, but offer the smoothest ride. Ferries rarely sell out for foot traffic passengers but it’s still a good idea to book tickets a few weeks in advance. Search and book tickets through Ferryhopper.com. Unless you purchase e-tickets, you’ll need to collect your paper tickets at the ticket kiosk at the ferry port. The kiosk is easy to find and a short walk from the metro station. If you take a taxi ask to be dropped at the ticket booth.
Staying In Athens – Athens is not a beautiful city (don’t be expecting Florence or Venice) but there are some wonderful sights and it’s worth one full day of sightseeing if you’re transiting through the city. The highlights of Athens are the Acropolis, the Acropolis Museum, and walking around the Plaka neighborhood. The most convenient and central places to stay in Athens are the Plaka, Monastiraki, and Syntagma neighborhoods. They’re all central, walking distance to the top sights, and filled with good restaurants. The best hotels in Athens are the Grande Bretagne, King George, and the Electra Palace Athens. If you want to stay close to the Monastiraki metro station (which has direct trains to the Piraeus ferry port) then 360 Degrees and A For Athens are two good (moderately priced) hotels. There are many good cheap hotels in central Athens.
Staying in Santorini
Where to Stay in Santorini – The centerpiece of Santorini is the caldera (the cliffs surrounding the ancient volcano). The main towns along the caldera are Fira, Firostefani, Imerovigli, and Oia and this is where most visitors should stay for awesome views and lots to do and see. Fira is the largest town on Santorini and the hub of the bus system (making it easy to get to any other part of the island). Stay in Fira for shopping, restaurants, and nightlife. Firostefani is a 10-minute walk north of Fira. It’s much quieter than Fira but still close enough to almost feel like the same town. There are dozens of restaurants and several food markets in Firostefani but no bars or shopping. Imerovigli is another 15 minutes north of Firostefani. Imerovigli has the best views of any place in Santorini. It has a secluded, romantic atmosphere. There are a half-dozen excellent restaurants in Imerovigli, a few markets, but no shopping or nightlife. Oia is at the far northwest tip of the island and feels separated from the rest of the island. It has lots of shopping and places to eat and one small (but lively) bar. Like Imerovigli, it has a romantic vibe but is much busier and feels like a real town. These are the best hotels in Santorini and Booking.com is the best website for booking a place to stay.
The Beach Towns Of Santorini – The beaches of Santorini are found on the opposite side of the island from the caldera. (Cliffs and caldera on one side, beaches on the other.) So visitors need to choose between a caldera view or a beach hotel – you can’t have both. As I said above, I would recommend staying on the caldera side as the views of the volcano and sunset are what make Santorini so unique. But it’s perfectly reasonable to stay near a beach then explore the caldera towns through the day. The primary beach towns are Kamari and Perissa. Kamari has a more touristy feel with a pleasant beach-front walkway and plenty of restaurants within a concentrated area. Perissa has a bit more of a party/hippy vibe and is a long strip of beach with hotels and restaurants spread along 3 or 4 kms (at some indistinct point Perissa turns into Perivolos but it all feels like one long beach town). Both Kamari and Perissa have pebble beaches but Perissa is more sandy and gets sandier still as you move south towards Perivolos. Swimming at both beaches is wonderful and incredibly refreshing.
Staying In Fira – Best hotels in Fira with caldera views: Aria Suites (luxurious family-friendly hotel) • Cosmopolitan Suites (trendy hotel with incredible infinity pool) • Kavalari (inexpensive hotel with gorgeous views). Good cheap hotel in Fira: San Giorgio (central location close to shops and restaurants, friendly owner, clean rooms).
Staying In Firostefani – Best hotels in Firostefani with caldera views: Tsitouras Collection (elegant and charming, helpful friendly owners) • Belvedere • Homeric Poems (stunning location and views). Good cheap hotel in Firostefani: Hotel Sofia (central location on main footpath, nice small pool).
Staying In Imerovigli – Best hotels in Imerovigli with caldera views: Grace Santorini (the best hotel in Santorini, wonderful pool, views, restaurant, everything) • Astra Suites (nice pool and friendly vibe, good privacy) • Cavo Tagoo (brand new, trendy, stunning). Good cheap hotel in Imerovigli: Imerovigliosso (friendly owner, good breakfast, small pool).
Staying In Oia – Best hotels in Oia with caldera views: Katikies Hotel (trendy, fun hotel with great infinity pools) • Canaves (luxurious and relaxing) • Perivolas (quiet are of Oia, 5-star everything) • Oia Castle (charming suites, sunset views). Good cheap hotel in Oia: Anemomilos.
Santorini Activities & Attractions
Best Restaurants In Santorini – Roka (Oia) • Ammoudi Fish Taverna (Ammoudi, below Oia) • Athenian House (Imerovigli) • Anogi (Imerovigli) • Avocado (Imerovigli) • Ouzeri (Fira) • Naoussa (Fira) • Lucky’s Souvlaki (Fira) • Metaxy Mas (Exo Gonia) • Cava Alta (Pyrgos)
Best Bars In Santorini: Tropical (Fira, great views and sunsets) • Kira Thira Jazz Bar (Fira, small club, cool vibe) • Two Brothers (Fira, fun, & friendly) • Koo Bar (Fira, best for dancing) • Hasapiko (Oia, the only true bar in Oia)
Best Things to Do in Santorini: Fira to Oia Hike • Visit Akrotiri • Swim at Ammoudi Bay.
Travel Tips for a Santorini Vacation
Best Views on Santorini: Imerovigli has incredible views of both the sunset and caldera (the volcano). Fira has great views of the caldera but its views of the sunset can be obstructed by the smaller islands to the west. (Imerovigli is at a higher elevation than Fira and doesn’t have this problem.) Views from Oia are dependent on where you are. Generally, the locations on the south end of Oia look into the caldera and do not see the sunset. Locations on the northwest side of Oia see the sunset but do not have a clear view of the caldera.
• More Information: The Best Views on Santorini
Best Sunset Views (Restaurant): Elinikon Taverna in Oia. Reserve a table a day in advance and go for drinks and shared plates. Views are amazing. In Imerovigli the Athenian House has an amazing view (and great food).
Best Sunset Views (Hotel): Imerovigli has the best sunset views and Absolute Bliss has wonderful views and not as expensive or hard to book as Grace. It’s one of the hotels with the highest elevation and has clear uninterrupted views of the setting sun. Good swimming pool too (though not an infinity pool).
• More information: The Best Hotels on Santorini with Sunset Views
Best Beaches in Santorini: The beaches are on the opposite side of the island from the caldera and thus do not have views of the volcano. Kamari and Perissa are the most popular beach towns on Santorini. Kamari has more restaurants, shops, and bars. Perissa has a nicer beach and more of a backpacker vibe. But both places are very laid-back and cheaper than the towns along the caldera.
• More information: The Best Beaches on Santorini
Best Cheap Hotels in Santorini: The bad news is that many hotels on Santorini are expensive. The good news is that even the cheapest hotels are good. They’re simple and clean, well maintained, and run by friendly owners who go out of their way to be helpful. Some of my favorite inexpensive hotels are Pelican Hotel (Fira), Anemomilos Hotel Apartments (Oia), Blue Dolphin Apartments (Firostefani), and Narkissos Hotel (Kamari) – but there are many good inexpensive hotels.
• More information: The 40 Best Cheap Hotels on Santorini
Cheap Package Holidays to Santorini: Package holidays to Santorini are generally a bad deal and should be avoided. It’s much better to book flight and hotel separately. You’ll get better value and stay at better (more interesting) hotels than if you booked a Santorini holiday deal. (Note: there are few alternatives to Thomas Cook now that they’ve gone out of business.)
All-Inclusive Holidays to Santorini: There are no all-inclusive resorts in Santorini. And even if there was I would not recommend them as eating lunch and dinner at Santorini’s great restaurants is a highlight of a Santorini vacation. Most hotels do provide breakfast with any booked room.
Last Minute Holidays to Santorini: Finding last minute flights and hotels is often possible but the very best hotels will be fully booked months in advance. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a great holiday just know you probably won’t be staying at one of the 5-star hotels along the caldera.
Self Catering Holiday to Santorini: Some Santorini hotels with kitchens do exist but there aren’t many and they get booked well in advance. Renting a Santorini villa is probably best if cooking and having access to a kitchen is important.
Book Hotels As Early As You Can: Hotels sell out very early on Santorini. Most hotels (from budget to luxury) are small and have just 5 to 20 rooms. Many hotels can be fully booked by April for dates in July and August. And once you have booked something, don’t worry about the hotel you’ve picked. I hear from more people that are fretting about this little detail or that little concern. I’ve never stayed at a bad hotel on Santorini – so stop worrying. This is vacation. Do your best to plan a great trip, but once the details are arranged just go with it and have fun. Worrying doesn’t get you anywhere.
• More information: How to Book Hotels in Greece
An Introduction to Santorini
Getting Started – 7 Steps to Planning a Santorini Holiday
1. When To Go on Santorini Holiday
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 information: 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 way to search for and book ferries to Santorini is through Ferryhopper.com.
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.
- Search for Ferries to Santorini (Blue Star ferries are recommended)
- Search for Flights to Santorini (international flights to Europe and Greece)
- Flights to Greece
- Athens to Santorini by Ferry
- Mykonos to Santorini by Ferry
- 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 World War I, 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 Booking.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.
Private car service is an excellent, pre-booked way to get from the airport or ferry port to your hotel. Larger parties can be accommodated (taxis take only four passengers) and child car seats are available on request. My favorite private car service on Santorini is Welcome Pickups.
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. Elinikon Taverna 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 4 wonderful meals that perfectly complement each other and give a great overview of Santorini cuisine I would eat at Metaxi 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 Ammoudi Fish Taverna in Ammoudi Bay (fresh seafood in the fisherman’s port below Oia).
And the most important tip: Just Go!
I doubt anyone will say 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