What to do on Santorini – Enjoy this beautiful Greek island
Eat, swim, watch the sunset – repeat. This could be enough of a program for one week of nice holidays. However, there is a lot to discover in the different corners of the island. Read this post and find out what to do on Santorini.
What to do on Santorini if you have little time
Browse the alleys and shops in Fira
Fira is the main city on Santorini. It’s where all the bus routes start and where you even find some international fast-food chains. Once you leave the main road and the outdoor food court you enter white alleys with cute tourist shops. In 25 minutes, you can walk down to the old port from where the island boat tours leave. Along the path, you will encounter several cute donkeys about which the opinions differ whether it’s okay to ride them in this brutal heat.
Watch the sunset in Fira
A must-do in Fira is watching the sunset, as it’s simply spectacular how the blue sea and the white houses turn golden and the sun disappears behind the volcano. I couldn’t get enough of this view. Either watch it from the pedestrian walk high on the cliff or choose a restaurant and sip a cocktail while enjoying the natural show.
Why I wouldn’t stay in Fira: It’s a busy city where all the tourists from the island get collected and then swarm out again. It’s much nicer to stay in a quieter area. Plus, there is no beach in Fira. However, if you are happy with a pool with a good view while being close to many shops and restaurants, Fira would be a good option for you to stay. For us, it was okay to take the bus back to Kamari after sunset or dinner but sometimes, we also just spent the evening in tranquil Kamari.
What to do on Santorini if you have more time
Walk from Fira to Oia (pronounced: eea)
Oia is a picturesque town with the most famous views of blue dome houses and a few other colorful houses. It lies at the Northern end of Santorini and is reachable by bus or car. However, one way you should walk there since you will have breathtaking views over the caldera.
In case you don’t want to do the full three-hour walk (it can be exhausting in the heat) you at least need to walk along the coastal path from Fira via Imerovigli. Especially that part is breathtaking since you are surrounded by pretty Greek architecture the whole time. Afterward, there comes a somewhat long and dry stretch down a hill and up a hill again. This is hard because you are completely exposed to the searing sun. Also, parts you walk on loose volcanic rock and, therefore, you should wear good sneakers or even hiking boots. After the chapel on the hill, the path gets prettier again as the view opens up on Oia. The village is very cute and touristy, and the rooftop terraces are nice spots for the sunset (perhaps even better than from Fira, so it’s worth checking out both towns).
The buses back to Fira leave hourly at 20 minutes past the hour and cost 1.60 EUR. The last bus was shortly after sunset but ask again to find out the correct time for your day of the visit. Also, it was very full, so that some people had to stand. Perhaps, you prefer paying a bit more and taking a taxi.
Half-day tour to the volcano and across the caldera
We booked our boat tour to the volcano, hot springs, and Thirassia the day before in a tourist office in Fira. It cost 26 EUR (38 EUR with hotel pick up).
We had to be down at the old port at 10.30 a.m. It took about 25 minutes (from the bus stop) to descend the windy cobbled stone steps.
Our boat was Calypso. We first cruised to the volcano in the center of the caldera. Surely, it wasn’t the most exciting volcano that we have visited (in case you have seen other volcanoes) but at some spots, stinky fumes came out of the ground, which was cool. The leisurely hike to the top took us about 30 minutes with some comments from our guide in between. The entrance to the volcano was an extra 2.50 EUR.
Back on the boat, we continued to the hot springs behind the volcano. It’s a small bay with muddy ground instead of sand. The “hot springs” would be 40 degrees but mixed with the seawater it was only about 25 degrees. So, since the sun was so warm, the water even started to feel cold quite quickly. Probably, the colder the air would be, the nicer the muddy hot springs would feel.
Our next stop was Thirassia. It’s a very small village and now, with COVID-19, only two restaurants were open. There wasn’t really a beach to swim at but you had to climb across some rocks and swim next to the boats. Hence, the two-hour stop was a bit long.
After Thirassia, we continued a bit slower and watched the marine life through the glass bottom of our boat. There wasn’t much to see though and soon, we were up on deck again to enjoy the scenery around us. The view of the cliffs of Santorini is very pretty. There are different colors in the rocks and you get to see Oia from a different angle.
Sit on the left side of the boat to have the best views. Then, you also get closest to a small chapel in the rocks and a waterfall.
Back in Fira, you can either take the tough walk (it’s hot, remember!) to the top on the cobblestone path (30 minutes) or you ride with the donkey or cable car for 6 EUR.
A tour of the South-West side of the island
For this tour, you best rent a scooter if you are one or two people and know how to drive a scooter. The feeling of freedom that curving on top of the cliffs or through narrow alleys gives you is indescribable. If you are more people or haven’t driven a scooter before, rent a car. It only cost us 20 EUR for the car for the day and the rental price for a scooter was 15 EUR.
- Ancient Thera/Thira
Since we were based in Kamari, we started the day by driving up the very windy road to ancient Thera. You could also hike up the same road for about 1 hour but we wanted to make use of our car and save our sweat for other hikes. The entrance fee to the archeological area is 6 EUR but we didn’t go inside as it didn’t look so interesting from the outside. However, the view up there is great as you can see across the beach of Kamari and the airport as well as the beach of Perissa on the other side. There also is a path down to Perissa (35 minutes). That path looks nicer than the one from Kamari as it’s a hiking path through nature and not along the road.
Back down in Kamari, we continued to the picturesque town of Pyrgos. This whole village consists of cute churches and white walls with blue doors and roofs. Even if you don’t have a car, you should come here by bus or taxi one day and stroll through the alleys.
- The heart of Megalochori
We stopped for lunch in a taverna in Megalochori with delicious food (as always in Greece) and the cheapest prices of Santorini so far. On the other side of the main road, there is a hiking path carved into the rocks. Somewhere in the rock, there is a hole which, with a lot of imagination, looks like a heart. It is even marked on Google maps. However, just for the “heart”, I wouldn’t stop here. Yet, you also have beautiful views across the water from the stairs and it would be a wonderful spot for the sunset. If you continue along the path on top of the cliff, there is a picturesque windmill. So, in case a white windmill is a must-see for you in Greece, you find one in Megalochori or Oia.
- Red Beach
On our way to Red Beach, we stopped at Akrotiri Village, which only took 10 minutes to visit since the castle mostly seemed to be a pile of rocks under construction.
Afterward, we drove to the parking lot by the sea. Again, we didn’t enter the archeological site there (12 EUR) since we have seen enough archeology in Athens but directly walked the 7 minutes to Red Beach. It is a slippery path on loose rocks. Therefore, bring good (water) shoes and not only flip-flops as it can be dangerous. Indeed, the gravel and sand appear dark red, which looks stunning next to the blue water. Through the sun, the sand and rocks radiate even more heat and the dip in the sea is wonderfully refreshing. From here, you could take a boat taxi to White Beach and Black Beach (10 EUR).
Be aware that there are no facilities at Red Beach and the heat and sun are very strong here. Hence, bring enough sun protection.
- Akrotiri Lighthouse
The drive to the lighthouse leads along cliffs and you have good views across the caldera. If you don’t like heights while driving, this road isn’t for you though. At sunset, the spot of the lighthouse must be very nice, however, we were there too early, and it wasn’t anything special during daylight.
Check out my Greece travel guide
If you would like to find out more tips about what to do on Santorini and in Greece, check out my “I love Greece” travel guide on Amazon. You can buy it in English or in German.