No visit to the Greek islands is complete without a visit to Santorini, at least for a couple of days. I spent a week here and got to explore different parts of the island during my time. That being said, I know not everyone has that long to spend here but, from my point of you, you should spend at least 3 days in Santorini. It may be small, but here is a lot to see and do and, as I found out, part of the charm is being able to relax and just enjoy the atmosphere.
With that in mind, I’m sharing my suggestions for a Santorini itinerary to help you get the best of your visit. This itinerary is for 3-5 days in Santorini and includes a little bit of everything to get the highlights. I’ll be honest and say that Santorini wasn’t my favourite island in the Cyclades (that honour belongs to Paros), but I did love my time there and I hope you do too. With that in mind, here’s my take on a Santorini Itinerary that’s perfect for first-timers.
Getting to Santorini
Before I get into my Santorini itinerary, I thought I’d share some helpful tips for how to get to this island. You can arrive either by ferry or plane. I arrived by ferry but departed by plane so got to experience both and can honestly say that flying is a less stressful and less chaotic experience. Plus, it’s not that much more expensive either, even with a checked bag.
The ferry to Santorini arrives in the port at the base of the cliff. From here you can take the bus to Fira, then from Fira switch buses to get where you need to go. It is possible to get a taxi as well but they can be hard to find and taxis are quite expensive in Santorini.
Santorini’s airport is quite small and easy to get through quickly. There is a regular bus that will take you to/from Fira where you can then switch buses as needed. Again, taxis are also available, however, they are pricey. If you are arriving at an odd time, or later in the evening, it might be worth your while to book a private transfer in advance. It will probably be cheaper than trying to find a taxi late at night.
Looking for flights to Santorini? Try Skyscanner, they are my go-to for finding cheap flights.
Getting Around Santorini
Getting around Santorini is another thing you will want to consider. The best way to get around is to rent a vehicle, but this can be expensive and many people find it intimidating. The streets and area around Fira and Oia are chaotic, and roads in Greece can be tiny. Some people rent an ATV rather than a car, however, this is only recommended if you have previous ATV experience. In fact, some rental agencies will refuse to rent you an ATV if you have never driven one before. It’s frustrating for some, but, at the end of the day, it’s all about your safety. ATVs can flip very easily and the roads on the Greek islands are not always the best.
There is a great bus system in Greece that is cheap and easy to use. Tickets cost between 1.80 and 2 euro per way and the money is collected on board (they will give change). The main bus terminal is Fira, which means you need to go in and out of Fira to change buses, but it’s easy and the buses follow the schedule pretty well. You can find that schedule here. Sometimes the bus stop can be tricky to find though, so always ask when you get off where the pickup point is.
Of course, there are taxis. Taxis are pricey though and cost 25 euros or more in my experience for short 15 minute rides. At night, however, they may be your only option.
Finally, if you do day tours, many arrange to pick you up or drop you off from your hotel or a meeting point, which is pretty handy when going to smaller areas on the island.
Where to Stay in Santorini
Another popular question is where to stay in Santorini. I wondered this myself and ended up breaking up my stay between 3 different villages: Fira, Oia, and Akrotiri. I loved that I did it that way because it felt like I got to better experience the villages. However, if you only have 3 days in Santorini it’s probably better to stick to one (maybe 2) spots so you don’t have to move around as much.
I wrote a whole blog post on where to stay in Santorini based on your interests and the experience you are hoping to have. You can find that post here.
3 Days Santorini
Three days in Santorini are enough to see the major highlights and still have a bit of time to relax which, in my opinion (even as someone who suffers from FOMO), is one of the best ways to get that true Santorini Experience. For 3 days in Santorini I recommend staying in Fira since it’s the easiest to get around from BUT, if you are willing, I suggest spending one night in Oia itself. More on that in a bit.
Day one, after you arrive, get ready to explore. If the weather isn’t too hot and you are up for an adventure, do the hike between Fira and Oia. It’s about 3-5 hours depending on how fast you go and how often you stop for photos. Bring water and wear plenty of sunscreen. I’ll be honest, I did not do this hike because it was too damn hot and I’m a whiny baby when it comes to that, but friends did and I’ve seen their photos.
Don’t go mid-day in the heat, go later in the afternoon and try to time your arrival to catch sunrise in Oia. The castle is the best place to see it, though know that it will be crowded.
If you aren’t up for the hike, don’t worry, you can spend your day wandering the streets of Fira instead. There are plenty of shops, bars, and tavernas worth poking your head into. Around sunset time, head to PK Cocktail bar for yummy drinks and some incredible sunset views. Then, if you feel like a night out, check out the nightlife. Santorini isn’t known as a party island but there are some fun bars and clubs. We had a good time at Two Brothers when I was there.
Day two in Santorini should be a water day. After all, you are on the island! There are a couple of options I recommend depending on what you are most interested in.
Suggestion 1: take a day tour out to the volcano. You can do a full day or half-day, but the longer tours have more time to explore and you’ll get to add in a couple of extra stops to smaller and less touristic villages in the area. Plus, you can get the chance to swim in the volcanic hot springs (you’ll need to swim to get to them). It’s a fun way to spend the day and see a cool highlight of Santorini. After all, it’s not every day that you get to peek into the crater of an active volcano. You can book a volcano tour here.
If volcanos aren’t your thing, then consider a sailing tour. Spend your day out on a boat where you can swim, snorkel and explore Santorini from the water. Make it an afternoon sunset cruise too so you can watch the famous Santorini sunset from a different vantage point. You can book an afternoon and sunset cruise here.
If neither of those sounds appealing, then head to the beach! Kamari beach would be my pick. It’s a black beach and while it’s rocks not sand (so bring watershoes if you have them or comfortable flipflops because those rocks get really hot in the sun!), it’s a great spot to spend a few hours or a day. There are beach bars and restaurants, many which offer lounge chairs to those who buy food/drink and lots of cute shops in the area since it is a beach town.
Looking for a fun way to spend the evening but don’t want to hit the bars? Head to the Open Air Cinema in Kamari. Movies play at 9:30pm every night and there are snacks and drinks available for purchase.
For your third day in Santorini, I suggest a chill day. For the true Santorini experience, I also suggest splurging on a villa or cave hotel in Oia; one with a balcony overlooking the sea or maybe a place with a pool, and just relaxing. Oia is absolutely stunning and worth a visit but it gets way too crowded during the day. You can do a day trip, but by spending a night in this village you can explore in the evening when most tourists leave and get up early in the morning to take photos and wander before they arrive. Spending the night is honestly the best way to enjoy Oia and I was so glad I decided to do it. Ready more about why splurging on a luxury hotel in Oia is worth it here.
4 Days Santorini
If you have four days in Santorini, I’d recommend spending a day exploring inland and getting a taste for the local life. If you have driven an ATV before or are comfortable renting a car, it’s a good way to explore. If not, then why not consider a local cooking class, food tour or winery tour.
5 Days Santorini
For five days in Santorini, I’d suggest having another beach day. If you didn’t go to Kamari Beach yet, it’s a good pick. I also liked Aktoriri which has the famous archaeological site and is about a 15-minute walk from the red beach which is sand, though the bottom in the water is very rocky so be careful getting in and out. It’s also much quieter than Kamari beach, however, there are no bars or shops nearby so come prepared with water and snacks. I should also point out that Akrotiri is a nice, quiet area to stay as well that has much cheaper accommodation options than Fira or Oia, so if you are looking to switch it up after a few nights, take a look at the properties in this area.
Have more time? Or maybe looking for some different ideas? Check out my list of 31 Unmissable things to do in Santorini here.
Whether you only have 3 days in Santorini, or 5, there’s no doubt that you will find lots to do to keep you entertained and busy. After all, there’s a reason why this island is such a popular travel destination.
A Note on Travel Insurance in Greece
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine twice before (once for damaged luggage, once because I developed a lung infection while traveling). While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance. With prices starting at $37 for 4 weeks, they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.