Whitewashed buildings set against the stunning blue sea, the incredibly beautiful caldera, thousands of years old and superbly fascinating history, and fantastic Greek food – the volcanic island of Santorini is one of the best places to visit in Greece. As hyped as it is, this is a place that lives up to all its high ratings! (Just don’t pick the peak summer season to visit and you’re golden!) Santorini is an island that I’ve been to twice and each visit has made me love the place even more. The best things to do in Santorini are surprisingly cheap so you can always splurge on a great place to stay! (P.S. The cave hotels are really worth staying at! Head down to the section on where to stay in Santorini for more)
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Things to do in Santorini
A. Explore the caldera
Caldera path between Fira & Oia
The most beautiful walk in Santorini is the caldera path between Fira and Oia. The best views of Santorini are guaranteed on this walk! From expansive spectacular views over the sea and the incredible caldera to the pretty whitewashed buildings on the island. It’s one of the most beautiful walks I’ve ever been on, even including some of the most stunning ones in the Swiss Alps!
I’m not even calling this walk a hike since it’s fairly easy with a good walking path and very little ascent. All you need are good shoes, sunblock, water & snacks, your camera and a hat – you really really need a hat since the walk is all out in the open with hardly any shade!
About the walk
Distance: ~10 km (one way)
Time required: 3 – 5 hours (though it might take longer since the beautiful views will tempt you to stop and take pictures at every step!)
Key milestones: Starting point – Fira. Villages you cross: Firostefani, Imerovigli. Ending point: Oia
Path: Mostly broad and flat – cobbled in the parts of the walk that are in villages and dusty dirt paths elsewhere. There are signs pointing towards Oia that you can follow, though these are few and far between. However, it’s quite difficult to get lost since you can see for miles around from most parts of the hike! Just keep the sea & caldera to your left and walk towards Oia!
When to go: Avoid the afternoon. Start early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
Suggested itinerary for the day: Do the walk in the first half of the day to get to Oia and spend the rest of the day exploring the beautiful village of Oia. Take the bus back from Oia to Fira.
Less tiring option (‘coz you can bet the lazy me will always find one!): You can either do the entire ~10 km length or you can start in Imerovigli towards Oia, and explore the remaining villages of Fira and Firostefani separately. You’ll be able to do all of it in a much more leisurely way and isn’t that what you’re going to Greece for?
Plus Imerovigli is the highest point on this walk so why not start there – it’s mostly downhill after this!
My favourite part of the entire walk is the Imerovigli – Oia path since it’s almost entirely in the open and at a good height so you can have fantastic views all around you. You can still spend the entire morning on this part since it’s so difficult to stop taking pictures!
The first time we were in Santorini was in late April so the weather was amazing for the walk, still hot by mid-day though. The second time was in July and the heat was oppressive! No way could we have done this walk if we hadn’t started early in the morning.
Boat tour of the caldera & Nea Kameni (or a day trip to Ios)
Other than the caldera walk, the best way to take in the volcanic islets and the beauty of the stunning blue sea is on a boat tour!
The harbour of Santorini itself is beautiful with clear blue waters and the drive down to it is breathtaking. The boat tour to the dormant volcano on Nea Kameni is one of the most popular excursions on the island. You can walk up to the top of the volcano for 360-degree views around the caldera.
You can also take a boat to one of the nearby islands (Ios is the closest one) on a day trip or for a longer stay (Paros is a fantastic island to add to your list!).
The views of Santorini from the Aegean are stunning – steep cliffs topped with whitewashed villages make for a ridiculously beautiful sight!
Find the best tours for your trip
B. Take in the towns & villages
Fira is the main town in Santorini, it’s where all buses run from and where the cruise ships arrive at.
Despite being busy, Fira is an absolute fairytale-like town – bougainvillaea laden whitewashed buildings, beautiful blue windows & doorways, cobbled winding streets & stairways, and stunning views over the caldera & the Aegean.
Fira is the perfect place to take a stroll through the markets (and get some of the charming Greek souvenirs!), relax at one of the numerous bars & restaurants, and take in the sunset.
Fira is also full of beautiful small churches – explore the streets to find them. One of the most iconic of these, and the most photographed is The Three Bells of Fira, officially known as The Catholic Church of Koimisi Tis Theotokou.
During both of my trips to Santorini, I preferred to spend time in Fira over Oia since I found it less crowded and much cheaper, but just as beautiful – one of the absolute best things to do in Santorini!
Santorini’s poster child, Oia is a postcard-perfect town! Oozing Cycladic charm with its whitewashed & blue-domed buildings and spectacular views over the caldera, it’s no wonder that Oia gets very crowded!
Our preferred way to visit Oia has been on a hike from Fira and then relaxing at one of the many lovely restaurants in the town. Strolling through the markets in Oia and the multiple hidden pathways and stopping every so often to take pictures makes for a wonderful afternoon spent in the town.
Located at the edge of the island, Oia is famed for its sunsets – find the nearest least crowded spot (easier said than done!) and enjoy the views.
Famously known as the ‘balcony to the Aegean’, Imerovigli features buildings laid out around the caldera amphitheatrically.
Imerovigli is one of the best towns to stay at in Santorini – beautiful cave hotels facing the caldera line the entire route along the cliff. Catching the sunset from the luxury of your own terrace in Imerovigli is a magical experience!
While there isn’t much to do in the town, you can stroll around and take in the whitewashed buildings while on your hike from Fira to Oia. The best thing about being in Imerovigli is the unobstructed view – since it’s at the highest point of the Fira-Oia hike, the panoramic sights around are breathtaking. And if you’re staying in Imerovigli, you don’t even need to walk too far to see them!
An extension of the town of Fira, Firostefani is located on the highest part of Fira. Winding paths and narrow stairways, all opening up to the magnificent Aegean make this small town a delight to visit (or stay at!).
Firostefani looks even more beautiful at night with its paths softly lit and the swimming pools glowing.
Another amazing thing to do (especially for all Mamma Mia fans!) is to elope in Santorini and have your ceremony here!
C. Enjoy the sea
One of the most spectacular of Santorini’s beaches is the Red Beach, located near Akrotiri village in the southernmost part of the island. This sandy, pebbly beach is surrounded by tall, imposing, bright-red cliffs and the colour of these cliffs against the stunning blue water makes for an incredible sight.
Red beach is quite a narrow strip of beach which leads to it being crowded during the busy summer months. The beach is also prone to rockfalls and there are multiple warning signs so you need to be careful when visiting. I wouldn’t suggest this beach for swimming/ sunbathing. In fact, Santorini is not the best island for either of those activities. If you’re looking for beautiful, pristine beaches, head to the island of Paros!
For us, the best views of the beach were from the hiking path down to the beach and from the parking area further up since they enabled us to capture the entire cliffs & the sea together!
Amoudi Bay is one of the best places to enjoy the sea at Santorini. Whether it is swimming in the crystal clear waters or enjoying a meal next to the sea, Amoudi Bay is a striking place to visit.
Surrounded by tall, red cliffs and dotted with whitewashed buildings, this port is easily reachable from Oia – well, easily reachable since it’s a downhill walk of ~300 steps. Getting back up is another story! Bring your comfortable shoes!
D. Travel back in time
Visit ancient Akrotiri
One of the most significant archaeological sites in Greece is the prehistoric settlement of Akrotiri, also known as the ‘Greek Pompeii’ since the site was buried in volcanic ash in the 16th century BC. At 4000 years older though it makes Pompeii look young!
This site will leave you awestruck at the advancements its people had made in architecture and drainage systems. The volcanic ash perfectly preserved the Minoan ways of life and as you wander around the remains you’ll get to see several artefacts (including a bathtub!) and interesting frescoes.
The historic site of Akrotiri is located in the south of the island, about ~30 minutes’ drive from Fira. Regular buses run between Fira and Akrotiri. The red beach is located just a few minutes’ walk from the ruins of Akrotiri so you can easily combine the two in a day trip.
Essentials for your trip to Santorini
How to get to Santorini
An international airport at Santorini makes it the gateway for visiting the Cyclades islands. Connected to most European cities and other large cities, flying in is the easiest way to visit Santorini. During our most recent visit, we flew direct from Zurich to Santorini.
You can also take a ferry from mainland Greece to the island. During a previous visit, Athens was our first stop in Greece. We had then taken a ferry to get to Santorini.
When to visit Santorini
The shoulder months (April-June, September) are the best time to visit. The crowds are much thinner and the weather is spectacular. Avoid the summer months if you’d like to enjoy the island in peace.
I’ve visited in April and July and my experience during the April visit was much nicer (not to say the July visit wasn’t fun – just more tiring because of the heat and the crowds).
Where to stay in Santorini
During our visits, we’ve stayed at Santorini Princess Spa Hotel in Imerovigli and Galini Hotel in Firostefani, both cave hotels and both excellent. At Santorini Princess, we had beautiful views of the caldera right from our room and we spent hours gazing out over the sea – unarguably, one of the best things to do in Santorini! This hotel is located right on the famous Fira – Oia caldera path so you have the added bonus of starting your hike from here.
During our more recent visit, we stayed at Galini Hotels which was a bigger villa facing the caldera, and with a hot tub on the terrace. Soaking in the hot water (especially after a tiring day walking!) with the caldera and the sea laid out in front of us was an unforgettable experience! We were spoiled silly at this villa – with lovely breakfast served to us at our terrace, beautiful local food available for us in the kitchen and the help provided with all transportation & bookings.
How to get around Santorini
We did not hire a car during either of our visits even though it’s the most suggested way to travel around Santorini. It did not make sense to us at all since you anyway have to park your car and walk (a lot of walking is involved in visiting Santorini!) everywhere. Plus the bus connections are numerous and excellent. Pick the right place to stay at and you do not need to worry about transportation.
Our hotel at Firostefani was located about a 10-minutes’ walk from the main bus station in Fira. We just had to walk down to it (the charming walk through the beautiful streets made it no effort at all!) and hop a bus to our destination.
How many days to spend in Santorini
Consider spending at least 4 days in Santorini to be able to enjoy most things the island has to offer, and have a chance to relax. If you have fewer days than that, prefer spending time at Fira & Oia and don’t spread yourself too thin trying to cover everything on the list!
Practical tips for visiting Santorini
- Bring comfortable shoes. There is a lot of walking (including up and downstairs) and hiking involved in visiting Santorini.
- Carry a wide-brimmed hat – The sun is extremely bright and unless you want to get burned, carry a hat
- If you’re taking a ferry, make sure you book in advance and complete your web check-in. Some ferry companies require you to visit their office to collect the boarding pass while some might let you use a printout.
- Ensure you have enough buffer time when taking a ferry if you have a flight to catch. Ferries are known to be delayed or cancelled due to weather or other reasons.
- Don’t try to cram too much into your itinerary – Santorini is one of those places where just chilling in your hotel balcony in front of the caldera is one of the best things to do!
- Explore the surrounding islands. One of the best islands to visit is Paros which offers the best of other more popular Cyclades islands without the panic-inducing crowds or the crazy exorbitant prices.
Have you been to Santorini? What has been your favourite experience?
Are you inspired to visit? What would you love to do first?
Let me know in the comments below!
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