Santorini Travel Guide
Yasou intrepid explorers and welcome to our Santorini travel guide - the only place to find out everything you need to know before you travel.
Yasou intrepid explorers and welcome to our Santorini travel guide - the only place to find out everything you need to know before you travel..
Santorini is a rugged island, found in the southern Aegean, which was shaped by a large volcanic eruption in 16th century BC. It was this eruption which formed the instagram famous views out across the water - as the 'bay' is actually a giant water-filled caldera! These days it's hard to imagine its explosive history, as it's become one of the go to 'bucket list' destinations worldwide. Think idyllic white washed buildings, infinity pools, glorious sunsets and wine. Lots of wine. In fact, wine is more plentiful on Santorini than water. So if you're a fan of good views, good wine and good food - read on.
What we cover in our Santorini Travel Guide!
- Getting to Santorini
- Practical Info
- UPDATE: Covid-19 Advice
- Getting Around Santorini
- Top Places To Visit
- Best Beaches
- Santorini For Families
- Accessibility In Santorini
- LGBTQ+ Travellers
Getting to Santorini
As one of the most popular Greek islands for UK tourists there are daily direct flights to Santorini airport (also known as Thira Airport). It's a very small airport, so it's very easy to navigate and there's no long walk from the plane.
Once you have landed in Santorini the transfer time to your hotel is usually under an hour, we recommend pre-booking an airport transfer as taxis are limited on the island, only seat 4 people and you may have a long wait time.
Greek travel news
Updated: March 10th 2021
Overseas holidays are expected to begin again some time after 17th May, with the UK government's next announcement coming on April 12th. For more details see our guide to the route out of lockdown.
Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theocharis told a press conference on 9th March that Greece hopes to admit tourists from 14th May, with 80-90% of the protocols for visitors remaining the same as during summer 2020.
Holiday providers have already responded by increasing capacity on routes to Greece, Ryaniar already adding servides to the main islands from July.
If you haven't prebooked however you can hop in a taxi, however be warned there are no flat rate fees and you will be charged by taximeter based on distance (a taxi to Fira will be around €35, depending on traffic and time of day). There is also a shuttle bus which runs between the airport and Fira (€1.70 one way ticket), however these do not run that frequently so you may have to wait.
Santorini is one of the Greek Islands found in the Aegean Sea - just north of Crete.
Time zone: GMT +3
Power adapter: Greece uses type C and type F - these are both two round pins.
Flight time: Avg. 4 hours
Getting Around Santorini
Although Santorini is a small island, and it doesn't take long to get anywere, the public transport can be infrequent and doesn't take you to all parts of the island. So we highly recommend you hire a car for your visit - this gives you the freedom to see the whole island and do so at your own pace.
The roads can be quite narrow and winding in places - but will reward you with spectacular views. Just make sure to park up off the road and stop for a minute to take them in.
In some of the main tourist spots, such as Oia and Fira, the car parks can get very busy - so make sure to allow time for this in your day.
If you can't hire a car, then not to worry there is public transport available - this will get you between all the main villages and is very affordable. There's also plenty of lovely walks that will take you between the villages, as we said nowhere is really that far on Santorini!
Top Things To Do
Oia (pronounced ee-yah) is the most iconic spot on the island - chances are when you think Santorini you're actually thinking of Oia. Oia has the white washed buildings and famous blue domes, all with the stunning backdrop of the caldera below. Most people will visit Oia for it's sunset - and boy does it get busy. Everyone will crowd the steep steps to get that instagram shot. So our tip - reserve a spot at one of the cliffside resturants, that way you are guaranteed a view of the sunset and also get to enjoy some amazing greek food!
If you want to avoid the crowds completely however, then skip the sunset all together and head to Oia for sunrise instead. The views and colours are just as spectacular and you're far more likely to get a quiet spot to yourself.
Once you're done in Oia then why not enjoy the hike from Oia to Fira - the walk takes about 3 hours and is relatively easy as it follows the rim of the caldera. There's spectacular views throughout the whole walk, but there's little shade. So make sure to bring sunscreen and plenty of water! You can also walk it the other way, from Fira to Oia.
Fira, or Thera, is the captial of Santorini and is home to the old port. The main town of Fira is set in the cliffside, about 400m above sea level, and the port lies down the Karavolades Stairs (487 steps - yes we counted!). There is also a cable car that will take you down to the old port, and back up again. If you plan to walk up the steps it may seem hard work, but there are plenty of places to rest and take in the views along the way. Going down via steps and up via cable car may seem the most logical (and many prefer it) but your legs will definitely still feel the downhill walk the next day! You can also take a donkey ride, up or down, but we do advise against this - although donkeys are of culutral and historical important in Fira we aren't sure this is entirely harmless to the donkeys.
The most iconic view in Fira is probably that of the Three Bells of Fira - technically they are found in Firostefani, which some consider a separate village, but really this is just an extension of the main village of Fira and is simply named Firostefani as stefani translates to "crown" and this is a high point of the town.
Fira is also where the many cruise ships that visit Santorini make port, which can make certain times in the town very busy. It's worth checking the port schedule to see when a cruise ship is planned so you can avoid these times.
One of our favourite things to do in Santorini is to take a boat tour around the caldera. It's a great oportunity to see the island from a different angle, and get some amazing caldera views. The boat will take you out to the hot springs, where you can get out and take a swim in the warm water. Bring a snorkel (or most boats will have some you can use) as you'll also get opportunity to jump off the boat to swim in the beautiful crystal clear waters.
Visit the historical sites
Although Santorini is very much a modern tourist destination whose popularity has skyrocketed in the age of instagram, the island itself has a rich history. So a trip to Santorini really isn't complete without a visit to some of the historical sites. To the south of the island is Akrotiri, where you can find an anicent Minoan settlement that dates as far back as 4000 BC. The settlement was buried in ash in the volcanic event in 1627 BC - it is now being unearthed and you can visit the site and see the village preserved in time. It is also believed that Akrotiri was the inspiration for the story of Atlantis.
Elsewhere on the island there is another important historical site between Kamari and Perissa - Anicent Thera. This archaelogical site on top of Mesa Vouno Mountain gives you a chance to wander the ruins of this ancient settlement. You'll also get great views out over the Aegean!
Tour a vineyard
Santorini is a unique Greek island, and this carries over to the food and drink, too. The most unique thing on Santorini is the wine! Due to the volcanic history of the island, and the lack of water - the vines here do not grown in a typical fashion. Rather than the typical tall vineyards you can see elsewhere, vines here are grown in trenches in the soil. Due to the soil (a mixture of pumice, volcanic ash and lava) the small insects that like to feed to vine roots can't survive - this makes the the vines on Santorini some of the oldest in the world. This also gives Santorini wine a unique, almost metallic flavour. We highly recommend a wine tour during your stay on the island.
We'll preface this section with, if you're going on holiday for the beach then you'd be better off visiting a different Greek island, such as Zante or Kefalonia. Santorini is not known for it's beaches, largely because the ones it have are volanic beaches, with coarser black sand. That being said, this makes them an interesting and photo-worthy beach visit!
This is one of the most tourist friendly beaches on the island, with plenty of bars and resturants. You can hire sunbeds and umbrellas here - perfect for a longer day at the beach. The water here is beautiful and this is a great spot for those who enjoy water activites.
One of Santorini's most famous beaches - mostly due to the unsual red sand and cliffside. The beach is in the Akrotiri region, so can be combined with a visit to the lighthouse. The beach itself is quite small, so it can be crowded. Even if you don't set up towel for a day at the beach here, it's at least worth a visit for a view of the cliffs.
If you're looking for a more remote and less crowded beach then head to Cape Columbo, it's only 8.5 km from Fira. This beach can get quite windy, but it's a beautiful wild beach with stunning views. The water here gets really hot as it's closest to the active volcanic area of the island.
Should it be best infinity pools?
As we said before, Santorini isn't known for it's beaches - so maybe the better question is where are the best infinity pools in Santorini. Infinity pools are an iconic part of the caldera side experience, you'll be hard pressed to find swimming pools with better views in the world. But be warned, they come with a steep price tag. But if you want that iconic view, and you can afford it - then why wouldn't you?
Santorini For Families
Santorini has a reputation as a romantic location for couples, so you may be wondering is Santorini a suitable choice for your family holiday? There are definitely some pros and cons to consider when deciding if Santorini is right for your holiday, but overall there's no reason why you shouldn't choose Santorini - the views aren't just for couples after all!
The busy season for Santorini is July through August, and it gets busy - really busy. So we advise avoiding visiting at this time, it'll also save you money to go off season. The other main consideration is how easy it is to navigate around Santorini - it is after all a rugged volcanic island and the main attractions are built into the cliffside. The main pathways in Oia and Fira are easily accessible by pushchair, but when you start to head towards the caldera views the paths get much narrower and steeper. So if you have little ones, (or a particularly lazy teenager!) you may want to limit how far off the main path you go.
In terms of things to do, this is a great island to explore with kids. If they are learning about geology or love volcanoes they'll get a real kick out of the black sand beaches, a boat ride round the volcanic caldera or the mountainous red rocks. Or if history is their thing, then you can visit the bronze age setttlement at Akrotiri - it was buried by the volcanic eruption that shaped the island and is now being slowly uncovered.
We'll be honest, you may have more to do and see on one of the other Greek Islands, Naxos in particular is very child friendly. The caldera side of Santorini does have a lot of accomodation that doesn't accept children, so you may be better off staying at one of the smaller resorts (these also have better beaches!) such as Pyrgos or Perissa.
Accessibility In Santorini
Getting around Santorini may pose some challenges for those with limited mobility, but this doesn't mean you cannot access the famous views. The main towns of Fira and Oia are largely pedestrianized, with relatively flat main routes which can be navigated. However, once you leave the main routes the paths become much narrower and have a number of stairs due to the fact they are built into the cliffside.
But there is more to Santorini than these two villages, the village of Perissa is on the non caldera side of the island and is a mostly flat resort. In Perissa there is the famous black sand beach, with plenty of swimming opportunities. It's also much cheaper than staying in the main villages - and the money saved here can be used to day trip to Oia or Fira to take in the views.
As taxis are limited we recommend pre-booking, or even better hiring a car gives you the freedom to move around the island at your own pace.
Santorini is one of the most romantic travel destinations out there, and with gay rights in Greece improving in recent years you are unlikely to come across any trouble here.
That being said there are no gay venues on the island - if that's your scene you'd be better off heading to Mykonos. Santorini is more laid back - perfect for you and your partner to relax together.