Crowded, expensive and completely unforgettable. Santorini is one of those places that despite all the bad things you’ve heard and read still manages to exceed your expectations. There’s nothing like it on the planet and if you are going to Greece, especially for the first time, you have to put it on your list. This 3 day Santorini itinerary allows you to explore all the good bits without tiring of anything, even the crowds.
When is the best time to visit Santorini?
The best times to visit Santorini are April-May and September-October. The weather will be a bit milder and it will be less crowded. High season is late June to early September, and prices will reflect that as will the number of cruise ships in port which is where most of the daytime crowds come from.
Easter is another great time to visit Santorini as it becomes very festive with stunning candles and bonfires lighting up the island at night and parades and parties day and night.
Best beach and swimming weather: June to September
Best sightseeing weather: March to June and September/October
How to get to Santorini
There is an international airport on Santorini and it receives daily flights from Athens. Between April and October, it starts receiving flights from France, Qatar, Italy, the UK, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Finland and more.
The airport is small and well overdue for renovation so be prepared for slow processing times and organised chaos, especially in peak periods. There are improvements underway but this can also cause delays.
The airport currently has one coffee shop and a cafe and most flights are met by Taxis.
The other way to get to Santorini, of course, is by Ferry. It is actually one of the most spectacular arrivals by sea in the world, as you near the island and witness the towering cliffs and the towns and villages high above you.
At the port, you can catch the cable car or a taxi to the top of the Caldera or have your hotel organise to pick you up. You will also see donkeys and mules for hire so you need to learn more about whether to do a Santorini Donkey ride.
Further reading: How to get from Santorini to Mykonos
Where to stay in Santorini
There are 14 towns and villages on Santorini. You often hear people talk about the crowds but really they are only experienced in two towns, Oia and Fira, and usually when the cruise ships are in during the day. It is really quite easy to avoid them!
Those towns are popular for good reason however. They are very charming, have incredible views and have been featured on posters and postcards across the world. They are still a good choice for first-timers as you will likely be out and about during the day anyway when the crowds arrive.
These are the most popular places for people to stay, especially on their first visit:
If you want to be right in the middle of the action and don’t mind paying a price for it, a stay in Oia is just for you. A great budget hotel is Kiklamino studios and apartments while Fileria Suitesis an excellent mid-range option.
For an unforgettable Luxury hotel: Canaves Oia opitime is quite incredible as is also a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
If you are travelling as a family or in a group then Aloia Villas are about the best value with the best reviews, with 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms plus a hot tub!
If you want some peace and quiet and impeccable views, consider spending your nights in Imerovigli.
A great budget hotel in Imerovigli is Villa Happening.
If you are travelling with children and your kids don’t mind sleeping on Sofa beds then check out SantAnna Luxury Suites. They are quite new, very chic and stylish and are showing huge pool front rooms & family suites at a reasonable price ( for Santorini).
For a truly memorable luxury experience its hard to beat Petit Palace Suites and Hotel.
Families and groups love Doukas Caldera Suites which are hard to beat, with 2 sofa beds, or Altemar Suites have 1 and 2 bedroom suites that can sleep up to 4 and they have Jacuzzis on the terrace with great views.
If you’re looking for cheaper accommodation and would like to be right on the beach, consider staying at Perissa (Santorini’s famed black beach) or Kamari which are both great for families.
Santorini on your Honeymoon
If you really want to be in Oia with the views of the Blue Church Domes etc…then look at Armeni Luxury Villas which are also more private than many. Cave Suite Oia is another. Aloia Villas face the other way from the church domes but are really quite amazing, as are Ducato Di Oia.
The other place you would like is Imerovigli which is near the capital Thira and south of Oia. Very popular with couples and lots of upscale hotels and restaurants including Kasimatis by La Perla which is adults only and Altana Cliffside Villas where you get your own plunge pool. Things are pretty heavily booked in these towns still so don’t leave this much longer!
Further reading: How to have the perfect Santorini Honeymoon
Santorini with small children
It’s important here to book something that is child friendly. There can be many steps and no balustrades or fencing so I’ve taken that into account.
If you really want to stay in amongst the famous Blue Church Domes and white cave hotels and restaurants, then Anemi House is great as it has it’s own enclosed courtyard for Isla to run around. Compass Villa is also gorgeous with amazing views from a fully fenced terrace and a hot tub!
Further reading: Santorini with Kids
Top restaurants in Santorini
If you are staying in a hotel on Santorini it is highly likely your breakfast will be included in the tariff. These are usually big buffet spreads and are rather impressive with a wide variety of both hot and cold dishes. Make sure you have the yogurt! Even if you think you have had Greek Yoghurt before – you haven’t. Drizzle it with local honey and nuts and you will know what I’m talking about.
For your first dinner in Santorini book a table at FlyAway Creative Restaurant or Lycabettus. Both with incredible views and both very special. A great budget choice with a view is Mythos Grill in Pyrgos or Aroma Cafe in Fira. Vegans will be very happy at Katharos Lounge Vegan Meze Bar.
Ammoudi Bay down under Oia is also a great spot for a meal and you can watch the small cruise boats go in and out all day. It’s also where you will find some of the best sunset restaurants in Santorini. There is a row of good seafood tavernas around the bay. Our pick is Dimitri’s, right at the end.
Things to do on your 3 day Santorini itinerary
Despite Santorini’s diversity, the island is rather small so you can really see it all, even with limited time.
Here are my top recommendations on things to do with 3 days on Santorini below, either experienced personally by me or by people we love and trust. If you have longer or this isn’t your first visit there are even more things to do on Santorini than you think!
3 day Santorini itinerary – Day One
Your first day in Santorini will be full of excitement and wonder. If you are staying on the Caldera you will literally be picking your jaw up off the ground as you walk outside your room.
It truly is stunning and even better than you have read or heard about!
Hopefully, you have arrived early enough that you can get right into exploring the island and making the most of your time.
Tour the island
Spend the day getting to know Santorini by renting an ATV (quad), dune buggy, scooter, or car or better yet let a local drive you around and worry about insurance, parking and driving conditions ( which can all be challenging).
Get lots of inside knowledge and information about local things including hidden gems that most visitors don’t discover.
Get to know the lie of the land and which villages and beaches you would like to get to know. A half-day tour is probably sufficient.
Red Beach is one of Santorini’s most unique spots, and not to be missed! Note that the sand is full of volcanic pebbles and you will need to take a 15-minute mini-hike to reach the beach down below.
Perissa is made of black volcanic sand which can get VERY hot so take your sandals with you if you go into the water. This stretch of sand is lined with restaurants and bars, and be sure to grab a gyro and a cocktail here!
Those azure blue waters are just aching to be photographed and a swim could be in order too.
If you’d prefer someone to drive you book this great tour which also visits Prophet Elias Monastery, Megalochori village, and Akrotiri Archaeological Excavations, which are much more interesting when someone else is explaining everything!
**note, in 2022 Red Beach was closed to pedestrians due to landslides. Enter at your own risk.
Oia is one of the most photographed towns in the world and for good reason. The views, the architecture, and the sunset really are mesmerizing and you may find yourself quickly under the Oia spell.
There is a fair bit to do in Oia including looking at the local churches, exploring the many shops such as the very quirky and infamous Atlantis Bookshop.
There are many cafes and tavernas, galleries and souvenir shops although it can be very busy when cruise ships are in so either visit very early or very late.
After exploring the main town make your way down the many steps to Ammoudi Bay, the little fishing village below. This is where the local fishing boats are and there are many good seafood restaurants on hand for a great meal.
See the famous Santorini Sunset
Yes, the sunset in Oia is pure magic, but the sunset from Imerovigli is just as good, even better as it is slightly higher and there are much smaller crowds.
If you have your heart set on the famed Oia sunset, be sure to get there especially early in order to claim your spot.
Many head to Oia Castle at the most northern tip where you will see all of the sunset including it dipping behind the sea. It can be enjoyed from anywhere on the Caldera however in terms of the big pink/orange and even purple hues that flood the evening sky.
Another popular way to enjoy the sunset is to book a table at a great restaurant like Lauda, Lycabettus or Oia Gefsis and have a lovely meal while enjoying the view. Book early though as these can be hard to get into in summer.
When does the sunset in Santorini?
In summer you may need to get a good spot as early as 6 pm for a 9 pm Sunset. Book a restaurant table for 8.
In winter the sun will set around 5:30 pm and the rest of the year it will be between 6pm and 7pm.
Day Two Santorini itinerary
By now you should have your bearings and also perhaps be feeling a little ordinary from some overindulgence on your ‘first-night frenzy’.
Time to get some exercise with one of the world’s most scenic ‘hikes’ ( its really just a long walk) and then indulge some more in some of the gastronomic gems that Santorini is known for.
There is a flat seam that runs across the spine of the island ( with a little man-made help) and enables people to walk between the main towns. This is a very popular hike and has to be one of the most scenic in the world. The walk takes about three hours, but the views are 100% worth it!
Leave early to avoid the heat and pass through the lovely village of Imerovigli for 360-degree views of the whole island and surrounds. If you would like to shorten the length you can start in Imerovigli instead. The hike is:
Length: 10.5 km
Duration: 3.2 hours
Take plenty of water and don’t forget to wear a hat!
Further reading: Hiking in Santorini
With some of the most delicious and nutritious food on the planet you may well want to learn more about how to make it at home yourself.
This is a great way to spend half a day visiting a couple of fantastic wineries before learning how to cook some traditional food with a professional Chef. Taste traditional Greek aperitifs such as Raki and Ouzo, and enjoy your lessons and your lunch in a traditional restaurant.
Greek wine has come a long way since the days of Domestica and Retsina and are now considered some of the best in the world.
There are very unique conditions in the Cyclades islands and Santorini wines are some of the best in Greece, with a distinct saltiness from the seaspray.
This half-day wine tour takes you to three of the best wineries on the island with a qualified Sommelier.
Not only will you sample 12 different wine styles but you will also get to try the local cheese, salami, and olives. Plus the local insider knowledge with a well-known expert!
This a fantastic night out performed by the local actors at the White Door Theatre in Fira.
Chances are you won’t get to attend a real Greek wedding whilst visiting Greece but this is the next best thing. The show is set in the 1940’s and you will be a guest at the wedding reception. Visit the family home and enjoy their tradition hospitality where you will enjoy delicious Greek Meze, unlimited wine, traditional dancing and singing, and even plate smashing. This is an interactive experience where guests are encouraged to join in but if you’d rather just sit back and watch that’s fine too.
This is great fun, that the whole family will enjoy and will remain one of your great travel memories of all time!
Note: the show starts at 9pm and lasts 2 hours. Most people do not feel the need to also get dinner as the portions are generous. It is mostly outdoors so weather dependent (although it typically does no rain in summer).
Day Three Santorini itinerary
A Day trip to Thirassia
Santorini is actually made up of 3 islands with Thera being the best known. Right next door to Thera and part of the same magnificent caldera is the island of Thirassia ( or Therasia).
With a population of less than 400 spread over 3 main villages, Thirassia is how Fera used to be 30 years ago with little development other than a few shops and tavernas.
It amazes me that more people don’t visit Thirassia. I guess you really need that extra day or two but if people want to see what Santorini was like before tourism really hit it, there it is staring right at you!
There are 3 ferries a day over to Thirassia from Ammoudi Bay near Oia, then a bus up to the top where you can walk or hire bikes to explore the island.
There is no better way to end your visit to Santorini than a sunset cruise. Reflect on your time and soak up those last rays of sun, sea and magic. Also you will beat the crowds and enjoy the sunset even more on the water!
The sunset on Santorini is one of the most photographed and romantic events in the world. With only a small group of people to keep you company, you will visit the hot springs, enjoy a dip in the caldera, marvel at the towering cliffs and have a delicious BBQ meal.
We’ve done this cruise and would happily do it again!
Still looking for more to do on Santorini?
If you have kids we highly recommend doing the 6D Lost Atlantis experience – a big hit with children and adults alike.
It’s located right in the between Akrotiri Archeological site and a few of the best wineries so can easily be combined with visiting those attractions.
Shopping is a major past-time for visitors to Santorini and you will find plenty of things to buy for people will all budgets. The higher-end stores are found in Oia while Fira has Sephora, H&M, and other high-street brands. Both have plenty of souvenir shops and specialty stores too with jewelry and local produce popular things to take home.