Santorini’s caldera and volcano are what make the island so spectacular, and a good chunk of your one visit should be spent experiencing them in one way or another. The main towns of Santorini (from south to north: Fira, Firostefani, Imerovigli, and Oia) are spread along the cliff overlooking the caldera. It would be easy (and fun) to spend an entire day somewhere along the rim of the caldera. You could do the complete walk from Fira to Oia. Or do just part of the walk. If staying in Fira, you can walk to Imerovigli, have lunch, and return to Fira for shopping, dinner, and an evening of nightlife. If staying in Oia, you can walk to Imerovigli for lunch, then bus or taxi back to Oia for dinner and sunset. There are a hundred variations on this and more than enough awesome viewpoints, enchanting little lanes, and spellbinding stairwells to easily fill a day.
Most boat tours of the caldera begin in the late morning or early afternoon and include hotel pickup. If you get an early start you can explore the views of the caldera in the morning (as described above) then hop a boat tour in the afternoon. All boat tours have incredible views of the caldera cliffs but offer many different options: private boat tour for a small group • boat tour with volcano hike and swimming in the hot springs • boat tour with hot spring swimming and sunset.
Santorini has some wonderful wines and charming family-run wineries. Doing a wine tour is one of my top recommendations for Santorini. However, most wineries are located inland from the caldera so you are giving up some time experiencing the caldera views. If you only have one or two day then it’s a tough trade-off. With three or more days then a wine tour is easily incorporated into any itinerary.
If you’re in Santorini for just one day you’ll only have two meals to enjoy the incredible food that Santorini has to offer. (Most hotels provide free breakfast and there are few good breakfast options so it’s usually only lunch and dinner.) If you do a tour that will further cut into your options. But assuming you have two meals to fill I’d do Argo or Ouzeri in Fira or Avocado in Imerovigli for lunch, or Naoussa in Fira if you really want a view restaurant. (Not all restaurants are open for lunch so some planning is wise.) For dinner go to Athenian House in Imerovigli, Roka in Oia, Ammoudi Taverna in Ammoudi Bay (for fresh seafood right on the water), or Metaxi Mas in Exo Gonia (but it does require a taxi or rental car to get to). If you have more than 2 days then you should try to visit as many of these restaurants as possible. If you’re lucky enough to have one week in Santorini then you might even want to revisit 1 or 2 of your favorites.
Most of the nightlife options are found in Fira. (We’ve got a great map of these places on our Best Santorini Bars & Nightlife page. Or just ask any shop owner, and they’ll point you the right direction.) My favorites are 2 Brothers (crazy fun), Kira Thira Jazz Club (small and intimate), Tropical (cool vibe with great views), Franco’s Bar (just below Tropical and more of a wine bar usually playing classical music), and the Koo Club (dancing late into the night). If you’re in Oia you’ll only have one choice for nightlife but it’s a good one: Mary Kay’s (very small but super fun and a local old-school vibe).
One Day in Santorini
Do the Fira-Oia Hike or if that’s too much explore the caldera paths in Oia or walk between Fira and Imerovigli.