Top of the list for many Greek island hoppers is a Santorini, Greece vacation. Santorini belongs to the group of islands known as the Cylcades and covers an area of just 96 km2, it is loved for its white-washed buildings, stunning sunsets, and Minoan history.
I recommend staying in Fira (Thira) which is the main town, a short (10 minute) bus ride to/from the ferry terminal. Fira is located on the caldera which means you can get those picture postcard-perfect views across to the volcanic island. You should know this part of the town is pedestrianized and a maze that Google maps cannot deal with so trudging luggage can be a chore, and getting lost is to be expected.
I spent 3 nights on Santorini in early September and decided to forgo the scenic views (and the higher price tag) and booked a room at the charmingly beautiful Hotel Thira & Apartments which is just off the main road on the edge of town and very easy to find when following Google maps so no time was wasted going round in picturesque circles!
With that must-know knowledge under your belt, and more tips and tricks available to read at Santorini, Some Things To Know, here’s how to spend the very best day on Santorini.
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What to Do in Santorini for One Perfect Day
It is possible to whet your appetite for Santorini on a day trip cruise, however, to get the full experience you should plan for two-three nights here. Plan for five nights if you plan on renting a car or quad bike and exploring off the beaten path. At an absolute minimum, you should allocate one night on Santorini if visiting May-September because of the crowds of day-trippers from other islands and cruise ship passengers who descend on Oia during the day and spoiling the iconic village.
For those who only have one day on this beautiful island, below is what to do in Santorini in one perfect day!
Explore Oia In The Early Morning
Oia Windmills © Emily Goodwin
Rise and shine, it’s time to start your Santorini vacation! Head out on the empty streets to get those perfect picture-postcard views. Even if you’re not a morning person, you’re going to thank me for this later, I promise!
Catch the early bus departing Fira to Oia at 6.50am so that you can explore the most iconic village on Santorini in relative peace and quiet, able to take all the photos you want without a million and one people getting in the way.
When asking for your bus ticket know that Oia is pronounced ‘ee-ah’, not ‘oi-ah’. The journey, by comfortable air-conditioned coaches, takes about 30 minutes so just sit back and snooze.
The only people you’ll see around at this time of the morning are locals who’ve been to the bakery, street cleaners, shop keepers just getting ready to open up, and photographers with brides and grooms all dressed up ready to get those iconic shots everyone dreams about – Simply not possible after 10 am when the first of the cruise ship passengers have disembarked to clog up the narrow alleys.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a corner of Oia that isn’t beautiful (perhaps the place where the bus stops being the least picturesque!) so wander the streets allowing your eyes to lead the way as you discover the old castle ruins, the windmills, the iconic blue-domed churches, and the quintessential Greek architecture.
After a late breakfast/brunch, you’ll likely be ready to leave around 11 am as you force yourself through the tour groups to be able to get down the street. Be prepared to fight to get on the bus back to Fira by this time of day but thank your lucky stars that you read this article and aren’t one of those tourists only just getting off the bus to explore Oia!
Beating The Midday Heat in Santorini
There are a couple of options for how to spend the early part of the afternoon depending on your likes and dislikes regarding the heat.
Option 1 – Visit one of the Santorini Beaches
Jump on a bus and head to one of the black volcanic sand beaches to cool down in the sea. This is one of the most popular things to do in Santorini Greece. Red Beach is famous but it’s not as spectacular as the Instagram photos make out (thanks Photoshop!) and requires a hike down the cliffside to reach so isn’t recommended if you’re short on time. Instead, chill at Kamari beach or Perissa/Perivolos beach, all are just 20 minutes away from Fira.
Option 2 – Museum Time
Prefer somewhere cooler and out of the sun? Head to one of the museums and indulge your inner culture vulture! The Ancient Thira Archaeological Museum and Santozeum which contains the Akrotiri Frescoes are 2 that I enjoyed but you might prefer the Folklore Museum or the Museum of Prehistoric Thira.
Late Afternoon / Early Evening in Santorini
Firosteffani © Emily Goodwin
Wander Firosteffani and Imerovigli
It’s difficult to see where one place ends and the next starts so if you follow the picturesque pathways by the caldera far enough, saying to yourself ‘I’ll just see what’s around the next corner… and the next corner’ you’ll soon end up at Imerovigli and the steps down to Skaros Rock.
There are lots of indie shops and art galleries to pause at along here and oh-so-many photo opportunities so you won’t realize how far you’ve walked, very pleasant when you have nowhere else to be and can just stroll and admire stunning Santorini.
The treck down and then up some 300 steps to the ruins on the rock might prove too strenuous but you can still admire the view at the end without going down, the church of St George making a great resting place before the return journey.
Eat at Da Costa
Whether you stop here for a late lunch or an early dinner, you’ll be hungry after your stroll so stop in at the stylish yet friendly Da Costa restaurant on your way back and enjoy more of that stunning view as you rest your feet and delight your taste buds. Be sure to try the traditional fried tomato balls (more like fritters) which are a specialty of Santorini, and/or tuck into the classic mousaka with a bowl of Greek salad.
The Best Way to Enjoy an Evening in Santorini
Relax at Franco’s Bar
Franco’s is the ultimate cozy relaxation spot from which to enjoy the sunset. Enjoy a cocktail, glass of wine, or some fresh fruit and ice cream as you listen to the soft jazz music playing in the background and watch nature put on its breathtaking sunset show right before your eyes.
Santorini Sunset © Emily Goodwin
See a Show at White Door Theatro
Round off your spectacular day with an interactive theatrical performance like nothing you’ve seen before. The 2-hour show is a cross between Mama Mia 2 and My Big Fat Greek Wedding as the cast welcome you as a guest into their traditional home and courtyard to enjoy a story of love, family, and wedding celebrations complete with meze meal, wine, plate smashing, and Greek dancing!
Where to Stay in Santorini – Find the Best Hotel for Your Budget
The best place to stay in Santorini is the west coast side of the island, which offers the best views of the volcano, the caldera, and the sunset. The best towns to stay on that side of the island are Fira (nightlife and busy), Imerovigli (quieter and seclusive), Firostefani (walking distance to Fira but more quiet) and the town of Oia (most famous, best sunsets and most expensive).
Fira is the capital of Santorini and it is the liveliest place of the island. If you want to be closer to night clubs, restaurants, the shops and the local buses that can take you almost anywhere on the island then stay in Fira.
Budget Hotels in Santorini
For backpackers who need to find a budget-friendly place to stay for a night or two, you can find budget accommodation in the Santorini area from around USD $20-30 a night.
If you are willing to forgo the scenic views (and the higher price tag) book a room at the charmingly beautiful Hotel Thira & Apartments which is just off the main road on the edge of town.
Many hostels in Santorini offer unique accommodations, free breakfast, and some organized tours. The most popular Backpacker joints and budget hotels are Fira Backpackers Place, Galatia Villas and Villa Manos.
Mid Range Hotels in Santorini
Your low mid-range hotel choices start from around USD $100 per night. However, you’ll get a room with a queen-size bed, a private bathroom, television, and tea & coffee facilities. The best rated mid-range hotels to choose from include Laokasti Villas, Theoxenia Boutique Hotel and Myst Boutique Hotel.
Luxury Hotels in Santorini
If you’re seeking luxury, you’ll find a handful of five-star hotels offering high-class facilities and services, making your stay more inviting. The popular choices of luxury hotels include, but not limited to:
Grace Hotel Santorini, is an exclusive luxury boutique hotel and considered the best place to stay in Santorini. It’s situated in a spectacular location high on the Caldera and part of the Auberge Resorts Collection. It has been designed to integrate perfectly with its unique environment and offers 180 degrees of unobstructed views. From its setting on the exclusive Imerovigli hillside in northwest Santorini, guests can enjoy the famed Aegean sunsets over the Cyclades.
Katikies Hotel in Oia Santorini is renowned for its leading luxury, unparalleled services, warm atmosphere and sense of romance uniquely combined in an exceptional setting and natural environment in Oia Santorini, inviting its guests to experience moments of pure luxury.
Kirini Santorini Hotel, is a meticulously maintained, lantern clad verandas are interspersed by age-old Caldera rock outcrops and dramatic gnarled, windswept trees. Located in Oia, Santorini, it’s a member of Leading Hotels of the World. If you are looking for a luxurious Santorini Greece vacation, this is a must.
The Best Time to Visit Santorini
The best time to visit Santorini is between late April and early November when the weather is warm and there is little rain. For hot weather, nightlife, swimming, and sunbathing visit in June, July, August, or September.
The most crowded month of the year for Santorini is August, so unless it’s the only time you can make it, think about avoiding this month. On the flip side, some businesses, hotels, restaurants, cafes, and bars close between November-March.
Fun Facts About Santorini
- Santorini’s official name is actually Thira.
- The island sits in the water-filled caldera of a massive volcano that is thought to have ended Minoan civilization on Crete.
- Before it was called Santorini, the island was known as Kallístē, meaning “the most beautiful one.”
- Due to its volcanic past, Santorini has white, black, AND red beaches.
- There is so little rain on the island of Santorini, that wine is more plentiful than water.
- There are more churches than houses on Santorini, however, most are small and private.
- Only 15,000 people live on the island of Santorini, however over 1.5 million visit each year.
- The reason behind building houses with dome shape is because it’s more stable during an earthquake.
Day Trips from Santorini & Top Tours
Santorini is a stunning island and sometimes it’s easier (and more fun) to discover the best Santorini has to offer on an organized tour! Find the worldwide famous spot to catch the sunset, visit the Santorini caldera, volcanic cliffs dotted with whitewashed houses and more! I recommend Get Your Guide because you can cancel most bookings for free up to 24 hours before they start and their customer service is available 24/7 in multiple languages.
A few Top Tours in Santorini, Greece
Recommended Travel Resources
- Travel Insurance: World Nomads.
- Transport: AirfareWatchDog and Skyscanner (Best Sites to Research Flight Prices)
- Accommodation: Hotels.com and Orbitz
- Airbnb, Sign up here for a $40 credit.
- Top Santorini Hotel Reviews: TripAdvisor
- How to Pack for 2 Weeks in Europe (in one suitcase)
- Cheap Flights to Europe with Condor Airlines
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Emily is a mostly-solo traveller who loves exploring Europe. Though she primarily goes to locations that are on the tourist trail, she will walk in the opposite direction to the crowds once on the ground, enjoying peaceful walks in nature and wanderings along quaint and quiet back streets, camera in hand.