Santorini travel guide & Best places to visit

Whitewashed houses, blue dome churches, and stunning sunset views are what to describe Santorini. This Greek island has everything to be called a “paradise”. However, a trip to paradise may turn into a nightmare due to overcrowding and overpricing. So what is the best time to visit Santorini? What are the best places to visit in Santorini? I will clarify all the most searched questions in this Santorini travel guide.

Besides Santorini travel tips, I will recommend some places to visit and best things to do in this blog post.

1. You-may-not-know Santorini facts

Before sharing my Santorini travel guide, let me show you some you-may-not-know facts about this Greek island. 


1.1. Why are almost all houses in Santorini painted white and blue?

The first thing that will come to everyone’s head when talking about Santorini will be whitewashed houses with bright blue domes. So why are almost all houses in Santorini painted white and blue? Are there any relationship between this with the Greek flag colour palette. 

The majority of the buildings in Santorini were originally built from dark, volcanic stone due to wood scarcity. As a way to handle the pirate raids in the Aegean, most houses remained colourless which easily blended with the landscapes. 

From the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Greek were under the strict rule of the Ottoman and they would not be allowed to represent their patriotism for their nationality. When the new government established their power in 1938, a national order to mandate the painting of Greek island homes in blue and white was passed. It is believed that the law would inspire patriotism among the Greek. 

Since then, the Greeks started painting the houses with ecological paint of white later adding up the blue. And this is the reason why you can see this iconic house color in not only Santorini, but also other islands within the Aegean sea. 


santorini travel guide
White-washed walls and blue domes are commonly seen in Santorini

1.2. Is Santorini a real paradise?

Every paradise has its flaws… and so does Santorini. This island welcomes a huge number of tourists up to 2 million tourists every year. 

When the travel season comes, not only tourists, but also seasonal workers coming from all parts of Greece flock to Santorini. As a result, the main towns of Santorini are always overcrowded during summer time

That increasing number of tourists has turned tourism into the key sector of the island economy. As a result, inhabitants shift all their priority to tourism and move to the east side of the island whether the resort towns are located. This is the reason why other places except the main tourist towns are underdeveloped. 

Moreover, this Greek island represents a fragile volcanic area with poorly developed soils due to dry climatic conditions. Currently agriculture is being replaced by other land uses. And you will barely see any greenery on this island. 

You-may-not-know Santorini facts

  • Santorini was previously called Kallisti, Strongili, Tera. The name Santorini originated from the 13th from the character of St. Irene (It was coined from two words ‘Santa’ which means ‘Saint’ and Irenene which means ‘Irene.)
  • This Greek island welcomes nearly 2 million tourists every year though its residence is only 15,000. 


travel guide to santorini
… You will barely see any greenery on this island


2. Best time to visit Santorini

2.1. Santorini climate overview 

Lying within the Mediterenean climate, Santorini experiences hot, dry summers and mild to cool, wet winters. July is the hottest month in Santorini with an average temperature of 27°C (80°F) and the coldest is January at 12°C (54°F). 

Rainfall is not a concern in Santorini during summer with almost 0% chances of rain. The majority of rainfall occurs in autumn and winter (from November to February), with December being the wettest month of the year. 


2.2. Best time to visit Santorini 

Santorni is an ideal and popular destination for summer holidays. Summer experiences the most sunshine hours which lasts 13 hours of sunlight each day. It’s also the period when everything reaches its peak from temperature to hotel and flight tickets. 

Try to avoid this peak season which runs from the end of June to the beginning of September if you don’t want to compete for even “places to stand”. I’m not kidding. 

The best time to visit Santorini is from September to mid October and mid April to May when the weather is comfortable and the crowds are scarce. 

It will not be a good idea to visit Santorini during wintertime as some services are shut down due to limited numbers of tourists. However, you can grab some bargain


summer in santorini weather
Summer experiences the most sunshine hours which lasts 13 hours of sunlight each day.


3. How to get to Santorini

There are two ways to access Santorini namely by plane or by ferry. So which one is better, taking a flight or ferry ride? I will note down some key information about these two methods.


3.1. By plane

You can now fly directly to Santorini from big hubs in Europe such as London, Manchester, Paris, Milan… without transiting via Athens. Flying to Santorini is the quickest and easiest way, but not the most budget-friendly. 

Flights to Greek are more expensive compared to other destinations within Europe (it is even higher than a roundway ticket from London to Istanbul). It can take you up to 400€ for a roundway ticket to Santorini during peak season. 

So don’t book the round way ticket to Santorini (since it will be more expensive). Book the open jaw ticket instead as nobody flies all the way to Greece, just to visit Santorini. Besides Santorini, I pay a visit to the capital city Athens. 

The airport of Santorini is situated 6km southeast from Fira and close to Kamari village. It used to be a relatively small airport with minimal services despite serving international flights. However, this airport has undergone some renovations and is expected to be fully operational by summer 2021. 


ferry from santorini to athens
I booked the earliest ferry departing at 4:00 a.m and caught the sunrise over the Aegean Sea

3.2. By ferry

Ferry is the only way to get to other islands within the Aegean sea from Santorini as there are no flights operating between islands

When it comes to reaching the capital city of Athens, ferries are considered a budget-friendly option. However, it takes more than 8 hours to reach Piraeus port (Athens) from Santorini. There are numbers of ferry companies that run between Santorini and Athens: 

  • Anek Lines/Aegeon Pelagos.
  • Sea Jets.
  • Zante Ferries.
  • Blue Star Ferries.
  • Hellenic Seaways

My recommendation is to book the big ferry to avoid a bumpy ride and book the early morning or late ferry to save money. I booked the earliest ferry departing at 4:00 a.m and caught the sunrise over the Aegean Sea. At first, I didn’t expect much, however it turned out to be one of the best decisions so far. 

Most ferries do not sell out and you can usually buy an economy class ticket the departure day. Make sure to book the ferry as early as possible (2 months before the departure date). If you cancel your trip, you can contact the ferry company for a refund (note that each company has different refund policies).

Keep in mind that ferry will not always punctual as my ferry ride Athens came 1 hours later. Athinios is the main port of Santorini and lies approximately 10 kilometers away from Fira. You can get to the port by bus or minivan



4. How to get around Santorini 

Moving around from places to places in Santorini may be tricky though the island is small in size. There are several ways to get around Santorini namely bus, minivan and vehicle rentals. Here are some key notes about these.  


4.1. By Bus

Among all transportations operating within the island, the bus is the most convenient and  budget-friendly one. A 1.8€ to 2.5€ bus ride can take you to main areas all over the island. 

The central bus station is located in Fira town, where all the itineraries depart and return. And keep in mind that you will need to transit via Fira to access other places within the island. For example, you can’t go straight from Akrotiri to Oia, you have to take a ride from Akiroti back to Fira and board another ride to Oia instead. 

The central bus station is such a mess which lacks signs and staff. I couldn’t find the bus to Oia, so I came to the service booth to ask whether the bus to Oia starts or not. The staff did not say a word, just pointed her fingers to somewhere among the crowds. And then she went back to her “Europe to Asia” chat with friends. 


  • As the bus ride is a cash-only service, so remember to have loose change with you when you board the vehicle
  • Bus doesn’t operate 24 hours a day. For more info about the bus timetable, visit this link


church in santorini
Some of the typical churches in Santorini

4.2. Minivan

Minivan is the best option when bus service time is over as it is operated 24 hours for your services. You can book this service with your accommodations or tour operators just 2-3 hours before departure. 

As my flight from Manchester, UK arrives at midnight and my ferry ride to Pirates departs at early morning, so the only way is to take the minivan. It costs 8 – 10€/ride/pax


4.3. Rent a vehicle 

There are many vehicle rental shops in Santorini. Rentals start from 20€ ($22 USD) per day in the off-season, or you can even get an ATV starting from 30€ ($33 USD) per day. 

It is required to have an international driver’s license for those who don’t have a non-Eu license. However, shop owners won’t “play it too hard” and non-Eu driver licenses are flexibly accepted. Make sure to send the shop an inquiry in advance. You can see this link more rental rates and 


4.4. On foot

Santorini’s towns are located on caldera which means narrow and hilly roads. As a result, there is no better way to move around towns like Fira or Thira on foot. Just make sure to keep an eye out for steps.


house overlooking aegean sea
house overlooking Aegean Sea


5. Santorini Best places to stay

5.1. Santorini’s accommodation overview

Almost all hotels and guest houses in Santorini are renovated from local houses which are primitively made from volcanic stones. It will be an extraordinary thing you can not experience in other travel destinations. 

However, it will be such a challenge to reach some accommodation due to its location nowhere in the epic cliffs. Make sure to book an accommodation which can be easily accessed if you are not a view-craver. 

Moreover, there are barely any international hotel brands operated within the island. But I think it will be the best way to keep Santorini’s own charm.  


5.2. Best places to stay in Santorini 

The four towns Fira, Oia, Imerovigli, and Firostefani are where most hotels and guest houses are located. Located on the caldera, these towns have great views of the sunset and volcano. However, everything you need for a vacation (tour operators, supermarkets, restaurants, tourist attractions…) are just a walk away in Oia and Fira. 

Fira outweighs Oia to be the best place to stay, since it is the main transport hub of the island. Oia offers the most extraordinary sunset and caldera views when compared to other towns. As a result, accommodation here can be overpriced (average 100 – 250/room/night). And you will pay for what you see. The more you pay, the better views and facilities you get

Perissa, Perivolos and Kamari are perfect for the beach as they are closer to the beaches, but offer minimal services for tourists.


6. Santorini best place to visit 

6.1. Oia

Situated on top of an impressive cliff, Oia boasts the most picturesque scene among all towns in Santorini. This town has gained much Instagram popularity for stunning sunset views overlooking caldera. National Geographic has listed Oia’s sunset among the Top 10 in the world.

For that reason, Oia is always busy (or overcrowded) over the course of the day, especially during golden hour. 


Oia windmill
Oia boasts the most picturesque scene among all towns in Santorini.

6.2. Fira

Being the main town of Santorini, Fira is where you can find everything you need for a vacation such as shops, restaurants and bars. This capital town is overshadowed by the glamourous Oia for no reasons. 

However, Fira offers lively sides of Santorini with bustling shopping streets, vibrant nightlife and some cultural centers. 


6.3. Fira Old Port

Previously the main commercial port of Santorini until the bigger port of Athinios took over, Old Port – Skala is where the legacy of Santorini lies within. 

Located at the bottom of the Caldera Cliffs in Fira, getting to the port may be tiring. And you will bump into some “stinky things” along the way. If you don’t want to walk all the way down, there are two ways to “make things easier” namely cable car (5€ – 13 minutes) and donkey ride (€5 – 35 minutes). 


6.4. Three Bells of Fira

Although there are many blue-roofed churches on Santorini, the Three Bells of Fira (officially known as the Catholic Church of the Dormition) is literally the most famous one. Three bells, blue dome anđ picturesque views overlooking the Aegean sea are good recipes for a perfect Instagram feed. 

However, it seems like an “adventure game” to reach this place. Google Maps leads me to a parking lot, instead of the Three Bells of Fira. And it takes me more than 30 minutes to find the way back to the place I wish to go. 


6.5. Atlantis Bookshop

Nestled in the busy street of Oia, Atlantis Bookshop is an unusual place in this Greek island. There is no room for white washed walls, blue domes or caldera views, but a rustic bookshop. You can find a selection of English-language books and some classics in modern Greek also. 

It’s not difficult to find this bookshop as it stands out among the streets of Oia by the yellowish paint. If you are not sure, just ask other store owners for “bookstore”, they will point you right away. 


Beaches in Santorini
Because of their volcanic formation, the beaches in Santorini are different from other beaches in Greece.

6.6. Nea Kameni

Nea Kameni is a small uninhabited island located opposite Santorini. Originated from volcanic eruptions, this small island offers dark cliffs sculpted from lava rock which creates an out-of-this-world landscape. 

Hot springs which contain a large amount of sulfur and are characterized for their therapeutic purposes are another not-to-miss things in this small island. 


6.7. Beaches in Santorini 

Because of their volcanic formation, the beaches in Santorini are different from other beaches in Greece which range from black to red and white. And here are some key information about some of the best beaches in Santorini: 

  • Black beach: Black-lava sand beaches are commonly seen within the island. And Perissa and Kamari are two preferred places to experience black volcanic sand. If you can’t decide on which to go, don’t worry since there are small taxi boats connecting Perissa to Kamari, as does a regular bus service.
  • Red beach: Covering the shores was red and black volcanic pebbles provide a picturesque ambience of unique beauty. 
  • White beach: The cove right next to the Red beach is known as the White beach. The white cliffs that encircle this small beach create a perfect backdrop for a summer day. 


7. Best things to do in Santorini 

7.1. Watch the famous sunset in Oia

Watching the sunset in Oia is definitely the top recommended thing in every Santorini travel guide. So I am eager to see this well famous sunset? However, it turned out to be stressful and frustrating as all I can see is large crowds.  

Tourists start flocking to popular sunset spots within Oia during the golden hours. Early birds took their places, and late birds had nowhere to go. When I got to the Castle Ruins – one of the most popular spots 30 minutes before sunset, there were no available spaces (even a small one). 

I had to go my own ways rather than joining the crowds. And this is one of the best decisions so far, you can see the result below. 


sunset oia santorini travel guide
Extraordinary sunset in Oia

7.2. Admire the sunrise in Fira

Sunset is what everybody craves for, so how’s about sunrise? Most of Santorini’s travel guides I can barely find any tips or advice about watching the sunrise. So I just went out my 

When the dark is gone, the whole town is awakened under different hues from dark violet to clear blue. You can enjoy the whole beauty by yourself without competing with anyone like what typically happens during sunset. 


7.3. Hangout at some of the extraordinary beaches

The Mediterranean region is known as one of the best places for beaches, and so does Santorini. Since I studied in the United Kingdom where the weather is cold most of the year, me and my friends were craving for beaches.

As I mentioned before, the special volcanic formation has created extraordinary color for beaches in Santorini. And it is the reason why you can see white, black or even red beach.

And you can see all these colors in Akrotiri. After boarding the taxi boat, it will get you around and stop at any beach for your request. Make sure to bring along some cash since this service is cash only


beaches in santorini
White Beach in Santorini


8. What to eat in Santorini 

Being named one of the most favourite getaway in Europe, most Greek delicacies can be found in Santorini. Some of the must-eat food includes Greek salad, gyros, keftethes, moussaka, saganaki and Greek yogurt.

Eating out in Santorini is cheaper when compared to other travel destinations within Europe. It takes about 12 – 15€ for a main course, and of course some of the amazing views of the Aegean Sea. 

Some restaurants also offer a complimentary glass of wine. However, make sure to dine during daytime, before sunset. As when the sun goes down, all you can see is a black sky. 


santorini best places to eat
Some of the best bars for sunset in Santorini


9. Santorini travel itinerary

My recommendation is spending at least 3 days in Santorini. You can spend more than 3 days if your wallet doesn’t ask for a loan (just kidding). In my opinion, 3 days are enough to see most of the top tourist places in this Greek island. 

And it will be a good idea to visit other places in Greece like Athens, Mykonos or Thessaloniki. As Santorini offers summer and beach vibes, the ancient capital Athens would be definitely the preferred next destination for your Greece trip. 

You can find my Santorini travel itinerary below (and note that this itinerary is for reference only)

DAY 1: My flight was delayed for 3,5 hours and I got to Santorini at midnight. 

DAY 2: After watching the sunrise in Fira (I was eager to see Santorini so I woke up early to catch the sunrise), I spent my whole day in Oia

DAY 3: I spent the morning for the beaches. In the afternoon, we went to Three Bells of Fira and explore the town until midnight.

DAY 4: I wake up at 4am and board the ferry to Athens. Make sure to book a minivan pick up service in advance because there are no public transports operating at that time.


fira in dusk
I was eager to see Santorini so I woke up early to catch the sunrise


10. Santorini travel budget

What surprised me is that I only spent 355,2€ for my 4D3N trip to Santorini. At first, I thought I would spend more than 500€ . As most of my budget is spent on flight tickets so make sure to book your ticket in advance. 

 You can find my Santorini travel budget below (and note that this budget table is for reference only)

1. Flight Manchester-Santorini 65 € * One way ticket
2. Ferry Santorini- Piraeus 31 € * One way ticket
3. Airport pick-up minivan (1 way) 10 € * Book via my accommodation
4. Port drop-off (1 chiều) 10 € * Book via my accommodation
5. Transport fee in 3 days 21,2 €
7.  3 nights stay in Grey Villa 110 €
8. Rent beach chairs 10 €
9. Souvenir 5 €
10. 3 days eating 93 €
TOTAL  355,2


santorini views
Santorini is what dreams are made of


11 Summary: Santorini Travel Guide

11.1. Santorini travel tips

– Don’t rely too much on Google Maps as it will lead you to nowhere. And it takes time to get out of the places Google leads you to.

– Book your accommodation and flight or ferry ticket in advance. I used Skyscanner to scan for cheap flights and to reserve my recommendation. 

– One thing I don’t know is whether the Greek can speak English well or they are unfriendly or not. When I asked them something, they didn’t say anything, just pointed their fingers. 


11.2. Santorini travel guide summary

Here is my Santorini travel guide. If you need any further information related to Greece, see other post below:



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