Santorini is the stunningly beautiful Greek island so often featured in photos of the Greek islands. The setting is dramatic, scripted in a Hollywood movie, with villages set high atop steep, jagged cliffs. To add to this impressive facade, the cliff faces are black, as it is actually the rim of a volcano or caldera upon which these precarious, stunning villages have been built.
Add the crystal clear turquoise waters, sunshine, and azure-blue skies – it is indeed hard to resist. However, be aware that like many places which have been in the limelight for a long time, Santorini has become arrogant. It is expensive, crowded, and lacks the charm and hospitality of many of the other lesser-known Greek islands.
But hey, if you know why you are going and what you are likely to get for your money, then go with your eyes wide open – and a good Santorini travel guide. Here are some of the best ways to experience Santorini for first-timers.
As a first time traveler to the Greek islands, we decided on visiting Santorini as this would take it off the list and we would know what it was all about. We also figured it wasn’t going to get any cheaper or less crowded in the future and we were there right before peak season started, so we thought the timing was good.
To Do on Your First Time in Santorini, Greece
Santorini, Greece – as mentioned, is built on the rim of a volcano. If you head to the north end of the island toward Oia, you can clearly see the curve of the rim. Oia is a great place to see the sunset.
1. Take a Boat Tour
The first thing you should definitely do in Santorini is take a boat tour. You can go out on a boat and gaze the island from the water.
Many of these tours also take you to the volcano where you can walk across it and see how the island was formed. It is an interesting trip but be aware there is no shade. We were there before summer and it was plenty hot. You will need to bring your own sunscreen, hat and water.
Our tour also stopped after the volcano visit for us to have a swim and enjoy a local hot spring, then we had lunch on one of the neighboring islands. These tours run daily and there is something for every price point. I would 100% recommend it as it gives you a totally different perspective of the island and was a very pleasant day.
2. Explore the Villages of Fira and Oio
Both Fira and Oia are picturesque, Greek villages on the rim of the caldera. If you’re wondering where to stay in Santorini, most people will book accommodation in one of these two villages or the small satellite villages nearby.
Check out some of our favorites for trip planning on Compass and Fork!
Fira is the busy capital of Santorini. So, any exploration of Fira is best done on foot as the traffic is congested and parking is hard to find.
Oia is the best place to watch the sunset. The village is smaller than Fira but it is also very popular and busy. If you plan to visit Fira at sunset, you need to arrive early to find a spot. It won’t be a romantic, peaceful sunset though as you’ll be sharing it with hundreds of others.
If you want to eat dinner at a restaurant in either village, reservations are recommended as well.
3. The Cliff Walk Between Oia and Fira
Walk between two of Santorini famous points of interest along the cliff walk from Oia to Fira. Stroll through the villages, take in the fantastic views and enjoy some lovely scenery. You can take the bus one way and walk in the other direction.
Depending on where you are staying and the time of day, pick which direction you would like to walk. Again, there is little shade so I would recommend morning, or late afternoon, for your walk. There are plenty of places to stop for a drink or a rest along the way.
4. Lounge by your Hotel Pool and Relax
Santorini is not known for its beaches, it is better known for its stunning views from the clifftops. One whole side of the island has no beaches or waterfront to speak of. The back side of the island does have some beaches, which are volcanic.
The afternoons can be quite warm so relaxing by the hotel pool is quite pleasant. Despite the lack of a swimming beach, taking a dip in the refreshing pool under the Greek sun is idyllic.
5. Try the Gelato at Lolita’s in Oia
The best gelato we found, and the one most recommended by the locals, was Lolita’s Gelato near the bus station in Oia. It is truly fantastic – you can try any flavor before you buy.
Some of them are quite different, like the rosewater pink pepper flavor, but all of them are good. For something local, try the Greek yogurt flavor.
If You Travel to Santorini…
Santorini is busy and the traffic is a nightmare, which can make it tough to get around. While the distances are quite small, it takes a while to get anywhere, and it is slow and congested. There is a bus service, which is inexpensive but also crowded.
Think about what you want to do and see on the island and stay there, then you only have to rely on transport to go to do other activities. We stayed in Oia as I wanted to be near the sunset, rather than have to travel up there in the evening to see it and then deal with returning to the hotel with crowds of other people.
We were walking distance to sunset, restaurants and a shuttle came and picked us up for a brief ride to the port in Oia for a boat ride.
Book your hotel in Santorini early, it is a popular island!
It is expensive though, so keep this in mind on your Santorini travel journey. Meals and drinks were much more expensive than other Greek Islands we visited, including popular and well known Mykonos.
Getting Around Santorini
You will need transport from wherever you arrive – either the airport or the ferry dock to your hotel. We came in on the ferry and arranged a shuttle to the hotel. This worked out well as the driver knew where we were going and could call someone at the hotel to meet us and carry the luggage down the cliffside to the hotel.
Due to the fact everyone arrives and departs at the same time, our pick-up to return to the ferry was several hours before the actual departure time (and then the ferry was delayed for hours).
Our Parting Words
If you are looking for great Greek food, white sand beaches and seaside taverns, maybe give Naxos a try. Santorini is all glitz and glamour, but if that’s what you’re looking for, it could be the place to go.
If you want to go island hopping in the Greek Islands. It is easy to combine a trip through Syros, Mykonos, Naxos, Santorini and Crete. Travel by ferry along this route is easy. If you are planning a trip to the Greek Islands please review our tips for traveling in the Greek Islands, you might find them helpful.