The Ultimate Santorini Travel Guide for First Timers

I’ve been dreaming of visiting Santorini like forever. This island is hands down the most famous one of the Greek islands, and for a good reason! Seeing the white washed cliff-side towns, the deep blue roofs and the endless views of the shimmering sea with my own eyes was an incredible experience.

Are you dreaming of visiting Santorini as well? If yes, I have some good news for you! In this Santorini travel guide I collected all the information you need to know before visiting this magical island. It’s especially useful for first-timers!

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The Ultimate Santorini Travel Guide for First Timers

Location & History

Santorini (officially known as Thira) is part of the Cycladic island group on the Aegean Sea, located roughly halfway between Athens and Crete. In the Ancient times the island was called Stongili (which means round in Greek) due to its round shape.

Around 1,500 BC the island suffered a huge volcanic explosion, probably one of the largest explosions on Earth in the last few thousand years. As a consequence, the center of the island sank and the rest of the island got heavily damaged.

What remains today of Santorini is a crescent-shaped island with a huge caldera (a crater created by the volcanic eruption) on its western side. The caldera is surrounded by the steep cliffs of Santorini and the island of Thirassia.

There are two islands in the middle, the smaller one is the remains of the old volcano (Palea Cameni) and the bigger one is a new volcano (Nea Cameni). Although the new volcano is still active, but right now there is no risk of eruption.

Santorini is quite a small island, the area is only 76km². The length of the island is 16 km and the width varies between 1 and 5 km. It takes roughly 45 minutes to drive from one end of Santorini to the other.

Population & Turism

Santorini is one of the most beautiful dream destinations in the world so it’s not a surprise that the island is really popular among tourists. Santorini is home to roughly 15,500 people and in contrast to this, the island received over 2 million tourist in 2018. Shocking, right?

And this number does not even include the cruise passengers who are only coming to the island during the day. Santorini is a really popular cruise destination, which means in peak season the number of cruise visitors can be as high as 15,000 per day. In addition to the 2 million regular tourists. Crazy.

Sunset in Oia, Santorini

Currency

Greece is a member of the European Union and they are using Euro (€) as their official currency. Credit cards are widely accepted across the country and there are many ATMs where you can withdraw cash. It’s always good to have some cash with you as the smaller bazaars usually don’t accept credit cards.

Visa

Many visitors can enter Greece up to 90 days as a tourist without having to apply for a visa. If you are traveling from another European country, from the USA, Canada, Australia, or Japan, you don’t need a visa for entering Greece. For a detailed list of visa requirements for each countries, visit the website of the Hellenic Republic – Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

How to Get to Santorini

By plane

The easiest way of visiting Santorini is by plane. Santorini has only one airport, Thira Airport (JTR), located on the east side of the island. The airport is close to Kamari village and it is roughly 6km from Fira. It’s a small airport with no special facilities or airline lounges, therefore sleeping at the airport is not allowed.

Getting to Santorini from Europe is quite easy, as in the summer period there are numerous direct flights from many European cities like London, Vienna, Paris or Amsterdam. The island can be reached all-year round with direct flight from Athens. If you’re planning to arrive via Athens and you have a few extra days, you might be interested in reading an article about how to spend 4 days in Athens as well!

If you wanna visit Santorini from the USA, Canada, Australia or other non-European countries, you must get a connecting flight to Athens or another European city that operates a direct flight to Santorini.

By ferry

The other option for getting to Santorini is via ferry. The ferry routes are very well established therefore getting to Santorini via ferry is very easy.

There are daily ferries from Athens, Naxos and Paros to Santorini all year round. It takes like 5-7 hours to reach Santorini from Athens, a one-way standard ticket costs between 33-70 EUR (36-76 USD). Since Paros and Naxos are closer, you only need like 2-3 hours to reach Santorini, a one-way standard ticket costs between 23-45 EUR (25-50 USD).

From mid-March until the end of September there are direct ferries connecting Santorini with many other Greek islands, so it’s the best and easiest way to get to Santorini from Mykonos, Ios, Milos, Folegandros or Crete.

Usually there are more ferry operator companies on the same route with various prices and duration. As a rule of thumb, longer duration means lower price.

You can purchase different ticket categories on a ferry like deck-lounge, standard seats, business, cabin or VIP. It kinda works like economy or business class on an airplane. The same rules apply here as well: if you pay more, you can have a higher comfort level.

We traveled from Mykonos to Santorini and vice versa with the cheapest ticket option and it was really good. So if you don’t have any special needs, there’s really no need to pay more for tickets.

If you’re planning to arrive to Santorini via ferry, you can easily check the ferry schedules with the help of the below search box.

Where to Stay in Santorini

If you’re visiting Santorini for the first time, you might feel a bit overwhelmed when it comes to deciding actually where to stay in Santorini. The island has basically two different sides with many towns to stay in, so you need to pay attention which one you choose.

The caldera towns are located on the western side of Santorini and this is undoubtedly the favorite part of tourists visiting Santorini. The most popular towns in this part include Oia, Fira, Imerovigli and Firostefani.

The beach towns are situated on the eastern part of the island and if you’re looking for saving some money, it can be a great choice to stay at one of them. The most popular beach towns are Kamari and Perissa, where you can find beautiful black sand beaches.

If you’re interested to know more about each towns with detailed descriptions, pros and cons, and hotel recommendations, make sure to check out my in-depth guide about the best places to stay in Santorini! And if you want to make your Santorini trip even more memorable, check out my article about the most incredible hotels in Santorini with private pool.

In case you’re looking for a quick solution, you can check my top recommendations below.

Kima Villas Suites
Photo credit: Kima Oia Suites via Booking.com

LUXURY – Kima Oia Suites

Swimming in the outdoor pool and enjoying the view of the volcano is just another day at Kima Oia Suites in Oia. All suites have a private balcony and free Wi-Fi.

Prime Suites
Photo credit: Prime Suites via Booking.com

MID-RANGE – Prime Suites

Prime Suites offers a collection of individually decorated suites and studios on the top of the cliff, in Oia Village. Guests enjoy stunning sea views from private or shared terraces or balconies, some with hot tubs.

Laokasti Villas
Photo credit: Laokasti Villas via Booking.com

BUDGET – Laokasti Villas

The Laokasti Villas in Oia is a traditionally styled complex consisted of of 17 spacious and comfortable hotel studios, apartments and villas. The complex includes well-designed hotel facilities and offers excellent services.

Best Time to Visit Santorini

High season

High season in Santorini runs from late June to early September. As you can imagine, the island is full of tourists in this season and the prices are at their peak. The weather is usually hot and sunny, which makes it perfect for relaxing at the beach. If you are more into sightseeing or hiking, if you don’t tolerate the crowds too well or you are a first-timer, I would recommend to avoid the high season.

Shoulder season

Visiting Santorini in the shoulder season, typically in May-June or September-October is a great choice. You can still easily reach the island as the direct flights and ferries are still in operation. All of the hotels and restaurants are open, the prices are better, and there are less tourists on the island. Please note that in May and October the sea can be too cold for swimming, so if you want a beach weather, try to aim for June or September.

Low season

Originally all the hotels and restaurants were closed between November and April on Santorini. However, as the island got more and more popular over the years, more hotels and restaurants are staying open during winter.

The island is significantly calmer during the winter months and with lower prices and a mild Mediterranean weather, Santorini can be a great choice if you want to enjoy some winter sun in Europe. The temperatures are generally mild, around 15°C (59°F) during the day but if you’re unlucky, the weather can be rainy and windy as well.

How Much Time Do You Need to Spend in Santorini

While you can get a glimpse of Santorini in only one day, I don’t recommend this unless you are coming from a cruise. Getting in and out of Santorini can be time consuming so you will not have enough time to enjoy the breathtaking views during the day.

If you’re visiting Santorini for the first time, it’s best to spend at least 3 days in Santorini. There is so much things to do and see, so you will definitely need this time to properly explore the island.

If you prefer a more relaxed itinerary with lots of beach-time and shopping, you can easily spend 5-7 days on the island. However if you have 6 or more days, I would recommend to combine your trip with visiting another island instead of staying in Santorini for a week.

I personally did the same and we decided to visit both Mykonos and Santorini during our one week Greece trip. I wouldn’t have it any other way, it was perfect!

Getting Around in Santorini

Public transport

The cheapest way of getting around Santorini is to use the local buses. Fira is the main hub of the bus system and you can get a direct bus to almost every part of the island. However if you are stying outside of Fira, that means first you have to take a bus to Fira, and only then to your final destination.

Buses are operated by KTEL and they run regularly every day. Prices vary based on the routes, but usually a one-way ticket cost between 1.80-2.50 EUR (2-3 USD). You can check the timetable and the prices on the official website.

I’ve read many complaints about the buses in Santorini, but I personally never tried them, so I can’t share my personal experiences. That being said, try not to rely on public buses if you have an important appointment, like catching your flight or your ferry.

Car rental

Having a rental car can make your life so much easier on Santorini! If you are planning to explore the island this is definitely the best way to do it. However if you wanna spend most of the time around your hotel, you are better of with the occasional bus or taxi rides.

I recommend checking RentalCars for the various car rental options in Santorini. Usually the car rentals start from 35 EUR (38 USD) per day, excluding fuel. There are many pick-up and drop-off locations across Santorini like in Santorini Airport, Santorini Port, Fira or Perissa. I would suggest renting a car at Santorini Airport as it has like 10 different companies and it is very easy to reach from everywhere.

Cars in Santorini

As we arrived via ferry from Mykonos, we decided to rent a car at the Santorini Port. AutoUnion is the only company that operates there, so we booked a car for 3 days that cost us 99 EUR (108 USD). We drove across the island in these 3 days many times and we ended up paying 33 EUR (36 USD) for fuel, so the whole renting process was 132 EUR (145 USD) for us for 3 days. I think it was totally worth it!

One practical tip: If you are planning to rent a car at the ferry port as well, leave yourself enough time for the drop off prodecure! There is only one narrow, zigzag road that leads you down to the port. Given that the port is little and there is not too many place for cars, the road usually gets very busy. That means most probably you will be stuck in traffic. It’s only a 3.5 km long road, but it can take up like 30-45 minutes just to get down to the port. So definitely plan some extra time for that!

ATV rental

I know renting an ATV or motorbike in Santorini is really cool, but I would strongly advise against it. It can be very dangerous and if you don’t have any experience you can easily hurt yourself.

Renting an ATV roughly cost the same as renting a car. It is fine for a shorter ride but if you are planning to drive all the way down to the other side of the island it’s not so comfortable. In a car you usually have an air-co while if you are sitting in an ATV you are exposed to the sun all the time. Plus it’s far more dangerous than having a car. Do I need to say anything else?

Sunset in Oia, Santorini

Best Things to Do in Santorini

Watch the sunset

Sunsets in Santorini are totally out of this world! If you are in Santorini, try to watch as much sunsets as possible! Luckily you have many great viewpoints along the caldera. Oia is known as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and it’s also the most famous place for sunset watching on Santorini. However, Fira, Imerovigli and Akrotiri have some amazing viewpoints as well! For a more detailed guide check out my post about the best places to watch the sunset in Santorini!

Go on a boat tour

Boat tours are one of the most popular things to do in Santorini as they offer an incredible view of the caldera and the surrounding towns. There are tons of different options to choose from, you can’t go wrong with any of them. The best ones are the volcano tours and the sunset tours.

Boats on the sea at sunset in Oia, Santorini

Take a self-guided photography tour

Santorini is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful islands in Greece, it’s so picture perfect! The blue rooftops mixed with the white walls and the pink flowers are really like a dream and they grant an amazing backdrop to every photo.

Many companies offer photography tours, with ridiculously high prices. Trust me, you don’t need them! If you want to find the best photography locations on the island by yourself, check out my post about the best Instagram spots in Santorini! And if you’re planning to visit Mykonos as well, here’s another guide about the most instagrammable places in Mykonos.

Hike from Fira to Oia

If you are into hiking, you will love this! Oia is located roughly 10 km from Fira and you can hike from one town to another. It is completely free and the views along the road are incredible. The hike can take like 2-3 hours, or even more, depending on how many times you stop for photos.

The hiking roads from Fira to Oia in Santorini

Try the local cuisine

Greek food is simply amazing so trying the local cuisine in Santorini is really a must! You can find many authentic restaurants across the island. Definitely try the gyros, souvlaki, tzatziki, greek salad and baklava!

Final Thoughts

So these are all the important things you need to know for planning your dream holiday in Santorini. Hope you guys liked them and this Santorini travel guide will help you to make the most of your visit at this postcard perfect place!

If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email, I always love helping you out! Have you already visited Santorini? Leave your comments and tips below!

xoxo, Kriszti


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8 thoughts on “The Ultimate Santorini Travel Guide for First Timers”

  1. This is an amazing guide with so many great tips. Santorini looks beautiful and I would LOVE to visit someday. Saving this guide for when I do 🙂

    Reply
  2. This is an amazing article Kriszti! I need to get back to Santorini and do all the things you mention in this post and also eat at some of those amazing restaurants! Your photos are once again so breathtaking!

    Reply
    • Thank you so much Taylor! Santorini is really so postcard perfect, I would love to go back and spend more time on the island as well!

      Reply
  3. Your photos are stunning! I’ve never been to Santorini, but I’ve visited Mykonos before and absolutely loved riding around the island on ATVs, exploring local cuisines and enjoying the beach. I’ll be pinning this for later for future trips!

    Reply
    • Thank you! I visited both Mykonos and Santorini on the same trip and to be honest with you I liked Mykonos a bit better 🙂

      Reply
  4. Santorini has been on my list since forever. It looks like such a fairytale town and I swear that the sunsets here are some of the best in Europe! One day! 🙂

    Reply
    • Totally agree with you! The sunsets in Santorini are truly magical, they are definitely one of the bests in Europe 🙂

      Reply

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