Greece, Travel

All the Things You Need to Know About Santorini Before You Go

April 3, 2023
Santorini blue domed churches

Santorini is many people’s dream destination, and it is the most famous island to visit in Greece. Here are all the things you need to know before you see the famous Santorini sunset!

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When Should You Visit Santorini

Since it is the most popular island in Greece, you will want to avoid July and August if possible. The best time to visit most Greek islands is September, but for Santorini, I would say later in September is best as it will be less crowded and not as hot. If you can’t go then, I suggest May, as it is just starting to wake from its winter slumber.

Remember that not everything will be open if you decide to come in the off-season, such as in March or November. Making hotel arrangements need to be done in advance and confirmed. You will also want to do the same with flights or ferries. The ferries do run in the winter but less often, and cancellations due to weather do happen, so keep that in mind.

Where to Stay in Santorini

There are many villages to stay in while in Santorini, Greece. The two most popular are Oia and Fira. Oia is where most people gather to watch the sunset. Fira is the capital. Of those two, I would choose Fira. It has a bit more space so it won’t feel as crowded and the main bus stop is there making it great for taking public transport. It also offers way more parking than Oia.

Click here to book a hotel in Oia or Fira.

View from Demeter Cave House in Pyrgos, Santorini of a blue domed church with sea in the distance.

Personally, I would pick another village entirely, such as Imvorgeili or Pyrgos. With Imovrgili, you still get a caldera view and aren’t far from Oia and Fira. Villages like Pyrgos are great if you are going to rent a car and want a less touristy feel.

Looking for a traditional Santorini Cave House? Stay at Demeter Cave House in Pyrgos.

How to Get to Santorini

Santorini is far from Athens, so keep that in mind when scheduling your travel to Greece. You have two options from Athens. You can fly or take the ferry. Flying from Athens is about 45 minutes. The flights run all year round.

The other option is to take the ferry. Ferries to Santorini island run from Piraeus, and during the high season also run from Rafina. The fast ferry to Santorini is about 5 hours, and the slow one is 8 hours. The fast ferries are okay but not for you if you get seasick easily. 

Book your ferry ticket to Santorini here.

I like to fly to Santorini as I don’t like the fast ferry. Also, there are only a few islands you can fly to Santorini from, such as Crete and Rhodes, so do your research if you need to make a quick connection.

What is the Weather Like in Santorini

Not only are July and August the busiest time of year in Santorini, but also the hottest. And it will feel even hotter again, the white houses that are reflecting the sun onto you. The volcanic beach sand will burn, so wear beach shoes!

Two blue chairs and blue table on Santorini with view of sea.

Again, September is not as hot. But October and May are the best if you want warmth but not scorching. You might even have some cool nights then, which will be most welcome. Remember that you may have some days of rain in October, but it usually doesn’t last long.

How to Get Around Santorini

Santorini is best seen by renting a car. There are public buses, but all go to Fira first before heading to their next destination, meaning you will need to switch. In the high season, they are very crowded and may be standing room only. There aren’t many taxis on the island despite its popularity. 

If you can’t rent a car, book your taxi in advance to pick you up from the airport or ferry terminal. Your hotel may be able to do this for you. If not, I recommend using a taxi service called Welcome Pickups. You book them in advance, and they have an English-speaking driver for waiting for you with a sign.

If you decide to use the bus, here is the current Santorini bus schedule. Remember that not all stops are listed, so if it doesn’t list each stop, ask at the ticket office or the bus driver. The complete schedule will be posted at the Fira bus station.

Where Should I Watch the Sunset in Santorini

As I mentioned earlier, most people go to Oia to watch the sunset. Most specifically, Oia Castle. If you have several nights in Santorini, this is worth doing at least once. It will be crowded, so my tip is to walk part of the way down the old donkey trail under the castle. You will have fewer people and an unobstructed view, albeit a bit smelly. Totally worth it to have more space and the perfect sunset shot.

Santorini sunset from the village of Pyrgos.

After that night, go to almost any west-facing village, and you will have a great sunset view. Pyrgos village is the highest point, so it is one of the best places to catch it from. Plus, on a clear day, you can see all the way to Crete from Pyrgos.

Book Restaurants in Advance

Given Santorini’s popularity, many of the more famous restaurants in Santorini will be booked well in advance. This is especially true if they have a sunset view. Once you have locked in travel days and hotels, booking restaurants is your next step. 

Two restaurants you should definitely make reservations for if you plan on going are Ammoudi Fish Tavern and Metaxi Mas.

Santorini Isn’t Just For Couples

Yes, it is a romantic destination, but there is plenty to do for the solo traveler and the group of friends. So if this is your dream and you aren’t a couple, go! Both times I have gone, I have been solo. Greece is safe and welcoming to all travelers, and then you can do what you want when you want. Meaning you can take a nap at 2 in the heat of the day or get up early to hike the Fira to Oia hike if you want!

YouTube video

A Few Practical Tips to Keep in Mind

What I have mentioned so far and the most important things to know before you book, but here are a few practical things you should also know before you arrive.

You can’t drink the water on the Greek islands. It won’t make you really sick if you do, but it might give you an upset tummy. You can use it to make hot drinks such as tea or coffee and wash fruits off but don’t drink it. Grab some bottles of water. Your hotel will likely have a few for you to get started with.

You can’t flush toilet paper in most places in Greece, including Santorini. The pipes are old and small. There will be a covered trash can with a liner next to the toilet. Don’t worry about this; the Greeks are totally used to it, and it will not smell!! I promise.

There are tons of stairs in Santorini. If you have mobility issues, this may not be the island for you. Some are steep, and some are not. Some are even marble. Go slow and hang onto the walls if needed.

A view of Oia, Santorini that shows the steep stairs down to hotels.

Santorini is expensive, especially in the high season. Your biggest expense will be your hotel. Book early and plan ahead. If you can’t afford a caldera view every night, book it for one night and move to a less expensive hotel. If you can, go in May or October, as prices will be lower for hotels and some transportation. 

Most of the beaches are not sandy and are volcanic rocks or sand. You need to remember that Santorini, Greece is an active volcano, and what you see is the top of the volcano. This means the beaches aren’t sandy and don’t slope into the sea. There is one sandy beach, but the red beach and black beach are rock and volcanic sand. You need to wear shoes on the beach to not burn them!

Most of all, enjoy it! 

If you need ideas of what to do on your Santorini vacation, I have an ebook for sale that include 1, 3 and 5-day itineraries.

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