The little island of Santorini Greece is famous for its photogenic old white-and-blue buildings, beautiful high end hotels with infinity pools, and sweeping views of the ocean.
Santorini island is almost synonymous with luxury nowadays, but it’s also possible to travel Santorini on a budget, and many of the best things to do in Santorini are free, such as strolling the historic towns, taking pictures, relaxing on the beach, and seeing the sunset.
A trip to the Greek islands wouldn’t be complete without seeing Santorini for at least a few days, and it’s easier than ever to get there from Athens and other major cities in Europe.
This Santorini travel guide will explain how to get there, where to stay, which transport options and tour packages to use, and some of the best things to do in Santorini Greece. I’ve also included a handy Santorini island map for your trip planning!
Best Santorini Tours
First of all, if you only have a short stay in Santorini, such as a few days or less, then a day tour can be a great way to see the island.
You can also hire a private photographer to take pictures of you in a flowing dress, with the Santorini white buildings and seascape in the background, like you always see on Instagram.
We’ve used this company for lots of day tours and activities around the world, and they’re great! Highly recommended.
Where Is Santorini Island?
Santorini is an island located in the Aegean Sea, southeast of mainland Greece. The distance from Athens to Santorini is about 230 kilometers (140 miles) as the plane flies.
Although it’s just one of about 30 main islands that make up the Cyclades group of Greek islands, Santorini is easily the most famous island in the group, and it’s probably the most famous island in the country of Greece!
Santorini had a volcanic origin, and there are still some natural hot springs and other traces of volcanic activity around the caldera, which can be interesting to see.
How To Get To Santorini Greece
Santorini island can be reached by flight or ferry.
Flying to Santorini is the easiest, fastest, and most expensive (but recommended) way to get there. The Santorini airport (JTR) is served by daily nonstop flights from Athens, as well as some international cities like Frankfurt, London, and Rome.
The flight time to Santorini from Athens is 45 minutes, and it costs anywhere from 50 to 100 Euros for a one way ticket with Aegean/Olympic Air or Sky Express.
The best airline to use is Aegean (or its subsidiary Olympic Air) instead of Sky Express if you have a choice, but any of them are fine. Free checked baggage is usually included in the ticket prices.
Taking the ferry to Santorini from Athens is a bit cheaper than flying, but it’s more complicated and quite a bit slower.
You first have to go to the harbor at Piraeus or Rafina, and then hop on the ferry there. Cost is between 50 and 90 Euros depending on what you select. The boat ride to Santorini takes around 5 hours with the fast ferries, or more than 8 hours with the slow ferries.
If you’re interested in doing some island hopping in Greece and you want to see more than just Santorini, you can also mix up the itinerary a bit.
For example, you can fly into Santorini for a few days, take the ferry to Mykonos, and then fly from Mykonos back to Athens. That can be a great option!
Transport: How To Get Around On Santorini
The towns in Santorini (such as Oia and Fira) are small enough to be walkable by foot for restaurants and most other things, but if you want to do some exploring outside of town you’ll need transport.
The bus can be a great way to get around in Santorini on a budget, and there are stations in all of the important places on the island, with the main hub being Fira. The bus in Santorini is cheap and especially easy to use in the summer months when Greece is busy with tourists. During the low season months, there aren’t as many connections so it may not always be ideal.
Another way to get around on Santorini island is by renting a car or ATV (4 wheeler). There are many companies offering car rentals on the island, but we recommend DiscoverCars! For short distance trips near town, there’s no Uber but you can hire a taxi.
Driving in Santorini is a little stressful, but not too hard, and most of the roads are in good condition. One of the main difficulties is finding parking. It’s pretty scarce since Santorini is a small island.
The other challenge is driving in the towns, where there’s more traffic and the roads are narrow, with lots of cars parked on both sides. Drive slowly in town and stay alert. Once you get out of town, the roads are smooth sailing for the most part.
Greeks drive on the right side of the road, similar to the US and Canada. The locals like to drive fast, and they frequently ignore speed limits and pass on double yellow lines. Just be aware of this, and move over to let them pass.
Since the law was changed in 2021, foreign tourists from Australia, Canada, UK and the United States do not need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive in Greece anymore.
The actual text of the new law (in Greek language) can be found in Law 4850, art. 25, par. η, page 10697, and it’s also been confirmed by the U.S. Embassy in Greece.
With that said, it still doesn’t hurt to have an IDP for Santorini in case there’s confusion from the authorities or your local car rental company. Many people in Greece still seem to be unaware of this change.
If you don’t feel like driving in Santorini, and don’t want to mess with the bus schedule, it’s also possible to see the island with a private tour or shared tour.
Best Things To Do In Santorini Greece
• Oia Village
Oia village (pronounced ‘ee-yuh’) has some of the most beautiful views and accommodation in Santorini, with historic churches, colorful flowers, and epic ocean views.
This is the place you always see in the famous postcard photos of Santorini Greece. There are a lot of things to see and do in Oia, and it probably has more photo spots than any other area of Santorini.
The main photo spot you can’t miss is the iconic view at Oia Castle, where you can see pretty much the whole town of Oia, with its whitewashed windmills and tightly packed buildings.
This is a very popular sunset spot, but we also liked it during the day when it’s less crowded.
Another good photo spot in Oia is the view overlooking the iconic three blue domes of Santorini.
You can take some amazing pictures of these churches from either side, although you’ll have to wait in line for a bit since it’s so popular. Remember to give photographers priority since their clients are paying to get special pictures.
When you get done exploring Oia town, walk down to Ammoudi Bay to see the fish tavernas and the Mediterranean Sea up close.
• Fira Village
Fira is the capital of Santorini Greece, and it’s also one of the main tourist areas on the island.
Like Oia, it has stunning views of the caldera, and lots of luxury accommodation and scenic restaurants to go with it. One of the main photo spots in Fira is the view overlooking the iconic three bells of Fira.
However, our favorite spot in town was above the Church of St. John the Theologian. It’s a wonderful old building with an equally amazing background.
If you enjoy museums, Fira has two of them to check out — the Archaeological Museum of Thera and the Museum of Prehistoric Thera.
Fira is the main bus hub of Santorini Greece, so it’s very easy to reach from anywhere on the island. You can even walk or hike from Fira to Imerovigli (or vice versa) in less than 30 minutes.
• Imerovigli Village
The village of Imerovigli is beautiful and underrated. In some ways, it has the best of both worlds in Santorini! It’s arguably just as nice as Oia or Fira, but it’s also a lot less crowded.
If you enjoy hiking, you can do the short trek out to Skaros Rock, which has great views of Imerovigli and the ruins of a Venetian Castle built in 1207 by Marco Sanudo, who was then ruler of all the Cyclades islands. Go a bit further to see the Theoskepasti Church.
From Imerovigli, you can even walk or hike to Fira (or vice versa) in less than 30 minutes, so it’s easy to visit Fira and access the main bus station there even if you’re staying in Imerovigli.
• Perissa Beach
Perissa is a laid back area in Santorini with a black sand beach that stretches more than 3 kilometers (2 miles) long, plus lots of hotels and restaurants near the beachfront.
Together with the Kamari area, Perissa is known for being one of the most affordable areas of Santorini. This is a great place to eat cheap Greek food and shop for souvenirs. We had some amazingly inexpensive gyros in Perissa.
The beach was also one of our favorites in Santorini. For sightseeing, you can take some pictures of the Church of the Holy Cross near the bus station.
If you’re interested in hiking in Santorini, climb up to the monastery on the side of the mountain near Perissa (Chapel of Panagia Katefiani).
It’s also possible to reach the ruins of Ancient Thera by this route, although you’ll be going all the way to the top of the mountain, so bring a hat and water!
There is accommodation for every budget in the Perissa area. Even though it has some of the cheapest hotels in Santorini, there are also luxury options as well.
Best Santorini Beaches
Most of the beaches in Santorini are black sand beaches because of the volcanic origin of the island. They’re still nice for relaxing and sunbathing, but don’t expect any dazzling white beaches like you might see on Kefalonia or other Greek islands. Santorini doesn’t have white sand beaches.
One of the most famous and photogenic beaches in Santorini is the red beach, which gets its striking color from volcanic rocks on the seashore. Even if you’re not a beach person, this one is well worth a visit to see the unique red color!
If you’re looking for beaches with accommodation (restaurants and places to stay by the beachfront), then the Perissa and Kamari areas are your best choices. They have nice black sand beaches with hundreds of choices of hotels and restaurants!
Santorini Island Map
Here’s a Santorini island map showing some of the best places to visit.
You can click the icons on this map to get more info on each point of interest, but keep in mind some of the locations may be approximate.
Best Sunrise / Sunset Spots In Santorini Greece
The main place to see the sunset in Santorini is at Oia, where hundreds of tourists gather at the Castle of Oia every evening to watch the sunset. It’s hard to move in the crowds, so get there very early if you plan to do sunset photography. For a less crowded sunset spot in Oia, you can also go to the iconic three blue domes.
Another great sunset spot in Santorini is Prophet Elias Mountain. We went up there one evening and it was very peaceful. It only takes about 10 minutes to drive to the top of this mountain from the nearby town of Pyrgos. From the top, you can see the entire island of Santorini!
For sunrise, the options in Santorini are a bit more limited, but you can see the sunrise at Perissa or Kamari Beach, the hillside of Ancient Thera, or Prophet Elias Mountain.
Last, but not least, there are lots of different sunset tour packages in Santorini that include free hotel pickup and drop-off. You can do a sunset cruise on a catamaran, go kayaking or horseback riding in the sunset, or see the iconic Oia castle sunset.
Other Santorini Tips
- Credit Cards: You can pay by credit card for most hotels, restaurants, and other things in Santorini, but it’s still a good idea to carry a bit of cash (in Euros). Some smaller restaurants only take cash, or the card machines may go down.
- ATM: There are ATMs within reach of every corner of the island. We usually pulled 200 Euros at a time, and never had any issues. One thing to note is that the ATMs will offer you their own conversion rate (which is a really bad rate), or you can continue in Euros. Make sure you choose Euros without their silly conversion rate. This is a well known scam at ATMs in Greece, but it’s easily avoided if you know what you’re doing.
- Cell Service: Phone reception is strong across all of Santorini island, so you won’t have any issues staying in touch.
- WiFi: Internet quality in Santorini is better than the other Greek islands, in our experience. Don’t always expect WiFi speeds on par with Athens (or other European countries), but it’s generally good enough for emails, browsing, and streaming.
- Language: The local language in Santorini is Greek, of course, but almost everyone speaks and understands enough English for conversation. Lots of American and British tourists visit the Aegian islands, so the locals are accustomed to speaking English with travelers.
- Mosquitoes: We never saw any mosquitoes in Santorini, and the island isn’t known to be home to the West Nile Virus, so it’s not really a significant concern here.
- Water: The tap water in Santorini is supposed to be safe to drink, but it doesn’t taste good. It’s better to drink bottled water, which is cheap and can be found all over. You can use the tap water for cooking or brushing your teeth.
Is Santorini Safe?
Yes, Santorini is a very safe place to visit, even outside of the resort areas. We spent weeks exploring every corner of the island, and never felt unsafe at all.
Greece has one of the lowest homicide rates in the world. Just take normal precautions and you shouldn’t have any issues with crime. You don’t need to feel worried at all.
Santorini On A Budget — Is It Possible?
Believe it or not, Santorini isn’t only for the super rich — even though many Americans have that image of it! It’s certainly possible to do Santorini on a budget, although you won’t be staying in a luxury hotel with an infinity pool or ocean views.
On our first visit to Santorini, we stayed in Perissa near the beach, and used the public bus to cheaply visit other areas like Oia, Fira, and Imerovigli.
We weren’t staying in the fanciest areas of Santorini, but we could reach them easily for sightseeing and photos, which was good enough for us. We rented a car for a couple days to get to some of the more remote places that are harder to reach by bus.
We got wonderful meals in Perissa for as low as 3 Euros per person, and our hotel (Studios Apartments Kapetanios) was 65 Euros per day. That’s still not exactly super cheap, but it’s not bad at all either.
Keep in mind, this was one of the popular summer months (September), and it was a year that happened to be unusually busy for tourism in Greece (2022). So you could conceivably do everything even cheaper than we did.
Overall, I’d say it’s certainly possible to do Santorini on a budget if you plan it right!
How Long To Stay In Santorini Greece
Santorini is one of those places where you feel like you could stay forever. Relaxing in a pool, soaking up sun, being by the ocean, and eating Greek food never gets old.
As far as sightseeing goes, you can see the highlights of Santorini Greece — namely Oia, Fira, Imerovigli, and Perissa — in 3 or 4 days. If you want to travel at a more relaxed pace and also visit extra places like Pyrgos and Megalochori, then a week or more is good.
We spent almost two weeks in Santorini, and while that’s probably more than most people will need, it gave us plenty of time to relax by the pool and see almost everything on the island at a relaxed pace.
Santorini Greece Itinerary
Here’s what a sample 3-day itinerary for Santorini island could look like, assuming you want to spend the time mainly for sightseeing:
- Day 1: Oia. Stroll the streets of Oia town and soak up the views of the historic whitewashed buildings and Santorini windmills. Pay a visit to the Castle of Oia for an iconic view of the town, and then walk down to Ammoudi Bay to see the fish tavernas. Have a nice meal at one of the many scenic restaurants overlooking Santorini, and then finish the day with sunset watching at Oia Castle.
- Day 2: Fira & Imerovigli. Walk around Fira town and see the iconic three bells of Fira, and the Church of St. John the Theologian. Next, go to Imerovigli town and see the photogenic churches, flowers, and ocean views. Hike to Skaros Rock and Theoskepasti Church.
- Day 3: Perissa. Visit the Perissa area, relax at the black sand beach, shop for souvenirs, and enjoy some cheap and amazing food at one of the many Greek restaurants. See the Church of the Holy Cross and take some pictures. If you’re interested in hiking, climb up to the monastery on the side of the mountain (Chapel of Panagia Katefiani). End the day by driving up Prophet Elias mountain for sunset.
I hope this gives you some ideas for your own trip to Santorini! Of course, you could easily spend longer exploring these places.
If you have 4 or 5 days in Santorini, then spend a full day each on Fira and Imerovigli rather than doing both places in the same day.
More Greece Travel Guides
Thanks for looking! I hope you enjoyed this travel guide for Santorini island in Greece.
We have more travel guides for the Greek islands coming soon, so don’t forget to check back later!