Iconic, unique, and instantly recognizable, this gorgeous island stands out as one of the authentic Greek holiday destinations. With a fame predating both Mamma Mia and Joni Mitchell’s California, Santorini adds a special twist to the general appeal of a typical Mediterranean destination. In addition to the crystal-clear waters of the South Aegean Sea and the perfects climate, this small island is also famous for the almost alien landscape of its red and black sand-covered beaches. Santorini’s ruins and its barren caldera stand in stark contrast with its quaint towns and villages, whose peculiar houses with bright white façades and blue rooftops shine in the midday sun. The rough, unforgiving landscape of the volcano, the high, rugged cliffs, and the odd beaches amid rocky surroundings give the island a perpetual sense of dynamism, of raw, untamed nature that is ready to burst at any moment. Perhaps it is precisely this sense of subtle danger paired with the seeming timelessness and perseverance of the scattered settlements that made Santorini one of the most popular marriage/honeymoon destinations in all of Greece. Whether you are looking to get hitched or discover new sights and life-affirming adventures, there are plenty of things to do in Santorini to make your stay there an unforgettable, extraordinary experience.
Plan your trip to Santorini
1. WHAT’S THE BEST TIME TO VISIT SANTORINI?
2. A FEW FACTS ABOUT SANTORINI
3. ONE DAY IN SANTORINI ITINERARY
3.1. Rent a Car or Plan How to Get Around
3.2. Visit Akrotiri First
3.3. Check out the Red Beach
3.4. Enjoy the Sweeping Views from Profitis Ilias
3.5. Explore Ancient Thera
3.6. Taste Some Excellent Greek Wine
3.7. Grab a Bite to Eat Before Moving On
3.8. Visit the Museum of Prehistoric Thira in Fira
3.9. Drive to Imerovigli
3.10. Continue to Oia
3.11. Set Aside 30 Minutes for the Maritime Museum
3.12. Take a Short Walk to the Byzantine Castle Ruins in Time for Sunset
3.13. Pick a Good Spot for Dinner
3.14. Enjoy Santorini’s Nightlife
4. WHERE TO STAY IN SANTORINI?
5. SANTORINI DAY TRIPS
6. EXTRA TIPS FOR VISITING SANTORINI
As per usual, there’s no such thing as the best time to visit Santorini. It all depends on your own needs and preferences, and, of course, your budget. You want to save some money on accommodation? Visit Santorini in winter, when visitors are scarce and the hotels are forced to lower their rates. If you want to spend some time at the beach and go swimming/snorkeling, you’ll have to visit between May and September, the absolute best time to visit Santorini when it comes to the weather. However, July and August are relatively poor choices in case you hate crowds.
On the other hand, the island hums with activity during the high season, with a subdued, yet vivid nightlife scene providing a refreshing alternative to the typical activities such as sightseeing, dining, and swimming. The sweet spot months are either April and May or October, certainly the best time to visit Santorini if you want to experience the best of both worlds – entertaining tours, long pleasant walks, and the occasional party – and all of that with lower prices and fewer tourists crowding the most popular landmarks.
In spite of its fame, very few people know Santorini’s actual name. Officially, the island is called Thira. Before its current name caught on, Santorini was mostly known as Kallístē (literally “the most beautiful one”). With only 15,000 permanent inhabitants, Santorini is not a particularly populous island, although more than 1.5 million visitors spend their vacation there every year.
The recognizable white houses with blue rooftops have become a veritable symbol of Santorini. This is not merely a stylistic choice. The colors imitate the blue and white of the Greek flag – the blue symbolizing the sky and the sea, and the white purity. The unique beaches – some of them black, some blue, and some white, are the result of ancient volcanic eruptions that shaped the island’s extraordinary landscape. Vestiges of the volcanic eruption that created Santorini are visible throughout the island, as well as the visible traces of a tsunami that affected Crete millions of years ago.
Santorini’s numerous hot springs are another result of the island’s ongoing volcanic activity. The most famous eruption on Santorini was the notorious “Minoan eruption”, which took place in the 17th century BC and completely destroyed the ancient civilization on the island. According to one theory, the massive eruption may have inspired the legend of Atlantis, a pervasive element in popular culture even today. The Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program rated the Minoan eruption a seven on its Volcanic Explosivity Index, which is the highest possible score for a historical eruption.
Apart from the enchanting landscape, Santorini’s world-famous wine and amazing local cuisine made it a very popular destination, especially among the rich and famous.
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do on your one day in Santorini.
While Santorini is not a very large island, it is still too big to traverse on foot. It takes 3 hours or more to get from one landmark to another or to cross the distance between the small towns. The easiest (and still very affordable) way to navigate the island is by car. You can rent a car or a motorbike at the Santorini Airport and basically every town, especially Fira, the capital of Santorini. Santorini’s buses (KTEL) connect all the villages, with daily routes to most of the major places to visit in Santorini.
However, the bus ticket costs up to 2.50 EUR per route, which means that you can rent a car (starting from 25 EUR per day) for the price of ten bus rides.
Located near the southern tip of Santorini, the prehistoric town of Akrotiri is one of the most important settlements discovered on the island. It is notable for its age, predating the Mycenaean Period, when the Greeks arrived on Santorini for the first time. Old Akrotiri is a Bronze Age settlement, belonging to the early Cretan civilization, as evidenced by the distinctive writing system (Linear A). There is evidence of habitation dating back to the late Neolithic, around the 4th millennium BC.
The settlement was very advanced, with a complex drainage system and sophisticated multistoried buildings whose numerous wall paintings and magnificent furniture indicate that the town vas very powerful, prosperous, and well-connected. A lot of the artifacts are well-preserved since they were buried in volcanic ash after a powerful eruption in the 16th century BC destroyed the town, preserving priceless wall paintings and everyday objects.
Akrotiri today is a minor town slightly to the north of the archeological site. You can park at the small parking lot near the Akrotiri Museum, a short walk from the excavations. Both the archeological site and the museum opens at 8, so try to get there as early as possible to get a chance to explore the site, in many ways reminiscent of Pompeii, which is more famous, in spite of being more recent.
Visiting the Red Beach is often touted as one of the top things to do in Santorini, and for good reason. The most famous and arguably the most scenic beach on the island is located approximately 1 km southwest of the Prehistoric Town of Akrotiri. You can get there on foot in 12 minutes or less, or you can drive to the nearby Saint Nikolaos Orthodox Church, a pretty little church whose white walls and blue windows stand out against the dark cliffs in the background.
Take the short path around the cape and you’ll get to the Red Beach, a unique sight due to its dominant red color surrounded by massive volcanic rocks washed by the crystal-clear deep blue waters. The beach is a bit touristy, but it is quite sheltered, with plenty of shade due to its orientation, which means that it doesn’t get as hot as some other places on the island. If you want to go for a swim, this is a great place, especially before it gets crowded later in the day.
After the Red Beach, go for a short 20-minute drive to Profitis Ilias, the highest summit on the island at 567 meters. The summit gets its name from Moni Profiti Ilia (Prophet Elias), the monastery that is located there. The Monastery, which was built in 1712, played an important role in Santorini’s intellectual and cultural life. During the monastery’s prime, the monks owned a ship and conducted profitable business that allowed them to amass an enviable collection of bibles, icons, ethnographic material, and ecclesiastical objects.
The on-site museum contains most of these artifacts. The best thing about the location, however, is the breathtaking view of the whole island essentially. It is one of the best places to visit in Santorini if you want to take some amazing panoramic photos.
Another scenic mountaintop spot, Ancient Thera is located slightly to the east of Profitis Ilias, although you’ll have to go the long way around to get there, through Pyrgos Kallistis, Exo Gonia, and Kamari. The latter is a small village and resort in the shadow of Mesa Vouno, a large, steep, rocky mountain to the south. The ruins of Ancient Thera are located at the very top of the mountain. A narrow, winding road leads up to the Ancient Thera Entrance and Parking. You’ll need to hike a short stretch to the top, past the Ekklisia Agios Stefanos (small old church) and Sanctuary of Artemidoros, a part of the ruin complex.
The rock carvings found there are impressive, although not as impressive as the remains of the public buildings in Ancient Thera, including temples, markets, baths, two cemeteries, and a theatre. Ancient Thera was founded by Doric colonists from Sparta, who recognized its strategic importance, but left few artefacts in terms of the arts, since they were quite conservative. The archeological findings are mostly comprised of statues, vases, and figurines, dating back to the 6th and 7th centuries BC. The view from the top, while not for the faint of heart, ranks among the most impressive things to see in Santorini.
If you are not sure what to do in Santorini, touring the local wineries is always a good start. And the very best winery on the island is Santo, located near the shore west of Pyrgos Kallistis. From the ruins of Ancient Thera, it takes approximately 20 minutes to get there (total distance: 8.5 km). Santo is situated at the very top of the caldera wall looking out towards the west and the Kameni islands in the middle of the famous caldera.
In addition to being a winery, Santo is a remarkable historic institution which serves as the headquarters of the grape growers’ union. It is one of the best places to visit in Santorini because it pairs great wine and delicious food with sweeping caldera views from large terraces. Santo is dedicated to preserving the culture of Santorini, with regular winter workshops teaching the island’s children about their ancestors and long-forgotten customs.
Spend some time enjoying the breathtaking view from the terrace with a glass of wine. The 10-wine tasting is the best option, with excellent wines at a reasonable price (30 EUR). Two people can easily split the wine, unless you are a die-hard wine enthusiast. In case you decide to order some food, you can sit down at one of the best tables in the house.
The offer includes some great cheese and meat charcuterie platters, although you can also opt for the amazing complete tasting and gastronomy experience, whereby premium wines are ideally paired with dishes such as Octopus & Fava Mousse, Stuffed Pork Tenderloin, and Greek Santorini Salad. Other options include the excellent Vinsanto Chicken, Sea Bass Fillet, Grilled Beef Tagliata, and so on.
As soon as you feel ready to tackle some more things to do in Santorini, hit the road again and drive to Fira, the island’s capital. The Museum of Prehistoric Thira is one of the town’s biggest attractions. While small, the museum is an exciting find for everyone who appreciates ancient art. It is worth a visit for the beautiful frescoes alone, not to mention other priceless artifacts from the archaeological sites of Akrotiri, Potamos, and others.
The Archaeological Museum of Thera, located slightly to the north near the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, is a decent alternative, although slightly less popular and containing similar finds. The nearby Folklore Museum is also worth checking out if you want to learn about the more recent Greek culture and history. Located in a traditional house, the museum exhibits old furniture, clothing, utensils, and old family heirlooms.
A small village just north of Fira, Imerovigli is often listed among the most beautiful and scenic places on the island. It is particularly famous for its breathtaking sunset, as well as the way the houses are built around the caldera – like an amphitheater crisscrossed by narrow paths. After a scenic drive to Imerovigli, make sure to check out the Monastery of Saint Nikolaos, on the way from Fira, as well as the church of Ai-Stratis, in the center of the village. The main square leads up to the Caldera and the traditional cave settlements. There are several viewpoints in the village that offer amazing views of the volcano.
As the last stop of your one day in Santorini, make your way to Oia, another beautiful picturesque village near the coast north of Imerovigli. It takes about 20 minutes to get there by car. The village is filled with charming little churches, such as the famous blue-domed church in Oia. Notable for their classic Cycladic architecture, the churches are also excellent viewpoints, with spectacular views over the volcano and Thirassia, the nearby island. You can spend some time exploring the narrow streets filled with small shops, cafés, and numerous art galleries.
Although the Maritime Museum in Oia is not nearly as famous as the ancient ruins, visiting the museum is just one of those things you simply must do in Santorini if you want to learn more about the island’s history and see a bit more than the top one or two places. Simple and unassuming, the museum pairs sweeping views of the sea with exhibitions that include model ships, regional nautical artifacts, sailor chests, and portraits and preserved uniforms of notable local captains.
The museum is housed inside a gorgeous two-story mansion – one of several old captain’s houses in Oia, providing its visitors with a window back in time, when shipping was a vital part of local culture and economy, playing a major role in Santorini’s development. If you want to learn about the exciting evolution of Greek navigation, you’ll love the log books, delivery records, and numerous nautical charts on display. The museum is small and nice – absolutely worth the 3 EUR entry fee, and it takes only 30 minutes to see everything.
Located at the very edge of the cliffs south of the Maritime Museum, the 15th-century Byzantine Castle Ruins are among the best places to visit in Santorini, especially around sunset. As you stand there at the citadel and look out into the distance, you will notice that the quaint whitewashed buildings lining the hillside are just as photogenic as the sunset itself, especially when bathed in the warm evening reds and yellows.
If you are there during the peak season (July & August), you will have to arrive almost an hour early since the place tends to get crowded around dusk. Spend a couple of minutes exploring the remains of the hilltop settlement before you zero in on a great spot to enjoy the mesmerizing views.
While the castle ruins are ideal for watching the sunset, there are several restaurants and inns in Oia that offer equally uncompromising views, allowing you to try the best Greek dishes in the most extraordinary setting. One of them is Melitini, a charming tapas restaurant with a large terrace, opened by two childhood friends who left behind their stressful lives in Athens and came to Santorini in search of a dream. They serve only the best that traditional Greek cuisine has to offer, relying on trusty family recipes handed down from generation to generation.
The rooftop space is absolutely brilliant and ideally complements the delicious food. Try their beer (Melitini IPA – they make it themselves!) and their amazing desserts, especially the traditional Greek orange pie and the chocolate mousse. A real hidden gem.
When it come to things to do in Santorini, partying all night rarely makes it to the top of the list. Most visitors agree that the options are somewhat underwhelming – or perhaps just overshadowed by all of these other things that Santorini is famous for. If you want to have a few drinks after dinner, you should return to Fira, home to a large number of mostly quite upscale wine and cocktail bars. One of the best ones is Casablanca, located in the heart of old town Fira’s jewelry area. Unlike many other nearby bars, which are quite mellow, Casablanca can get very loud due to its location – and they often book great live bands and renowned DJs to bring the house down.
Kirini Santorini, The Leading Hotels of the World
Main Street, Oia
The only thing better than enjoying the dramatic sight of Santorini’s volcano island in the middle of the crystal-clear blue waters is to do so from the comfort of Kirini Santorini, The Leading Hotels of the World’s cliffside and pool area, with facilities for relaxation carved into the rock. This luxury hotel, located in Oia, perfectly utilizes the island’s traditional architecture spread across the multi-levelled terraces. All of the suites have been recently decorated, with high-quality wooden floors, top-shelf bath amenities, and gorgeous open verandas looking out over the iconic Caldera.
Main Street, Fira
With an excellent central location in Fira, Santorini Palace is the perfect distance from all of Santorini’s most popular towns. Gorgeous views of the Caldera can be enjoyed mere steps from the hotel, as well as a breathtaking sunset to rival the famous Oia sunset. In terms of amenities, the hotel features a free-form pool, a fitness center with a jacuzzi and sauna, and a modern fitness center. All of the air-conditioned rooms come with a balcony, with a view of either the Aegean Sea or the well-manicured garden.
Makris Beach Hotel
On the other side of the island, Makris Beach Hotel overlooks the famous Kamari black pebble beach, with views of the sea or the hotel’s garden available from the well-appointed, comfortable apartments. As the Kamari beach is one of the most inviting places to visit on Santorini, Makris Beach Hotel is an ideal choice if you plan on spending a large portion of your time swimming and sunbathing. Everything else is also within easy reach, however – including the ruins of Ancient Thera and the airport (only two and a half miles away).
Located in Perissa, a small village stretching along the coast under Mesa Vouno, Villa Kasteli is a welcoming, family-run hostel with comfy, air-conditioned rooms and a large balcony. The black sandy beach of Perissa is within a short walking distance, and all of the most important places to visit in Santorini can be reached by bus – with the bus stop only a couple of minutes away. The hostel’s guests are primarily blown away by Vicky, the friendly owner, who makes excellent free breakfast every morning and makes sure that all rooms stay clean and tidy, with fresh towels every other day.
With so many quaint little towns, ancient ruins, and remarkable natural wonders, there are enough things to do in Santorini to keep you entertained for a long, long time. If you don’t feel like doing it all on your own, or if you are just looking for a good introduction to Santorini, you can opt for one of the many organized Santorini day tours. Examples include the various private tours to some of the most important landmarks on the island – all of them with dedicated, informative drivers ready to share every little detail.
For those looking for something a bit more nuanced, the Santorini Wine Tasting and History Tour stands out as a great option, with a tour of the island’s top three wineries where you can learn about traditional winemaking techniques and their importance in the island’s long vinicultural history. You can also opt for a day trip from Athens to Santorini. In fact, you can come to Santorini on a day trip from many of the major Greek cities – a great opportunity if you want to be pampered and if you’d prefer not to count your wine glasses. For a complete overview of the available options, make sure to read this article.
The easiest, most efficient way to arrive in Santorini is to book an experienced local driver to pick you up at the airport. The best service in that regard is offered by Welcome, which acts as your personal travel assistant. In addition to transfer, you can count on expert advice and recommendations, as well as a simple, to-the-point welcome package to get you started, with museum tickets, passes, maps, and everything else you may need on your one day in Santorini. Instead of running around, you’ll get it delivered to you at the airport by the very driver who will take you anywhere you want to go.
While donkey riding seems like one of those cute, harmless things to do in Santorini, you may want to take the cable car instead when descending the steep Caldera wall in Fira. The animals actually do suffer injuries – some of them not immediately visible, such as ropes cutting in under their tail.
The atmosphere on Santorini is more relaxed compared to Ios and Mykonos, so don’t be surprised if the party scene isn’t all that hot.
While the official language on the island is Greek, you can count on most people speaking pretty reasonable English, with the staff in hotels in restaurants fluent in multiple languages.
The official currency on Santorini is the Euro. You don’t necessarily have to stock up on cash prior to arrival, seeing as there are numerous banks and ATMs across the island.
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).