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. Here’s how to make the most of 3 days in Santorini which is enough to explore all the good bits without tiring of anything, even the crowds.
WHAT 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 day time crowds come from.
Easter is another great time to visit Santorini as it becomes very festive with stunning candle 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.
WHERE TO STAY ON SANTORINI
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 want some peace and quiet and impeccable views, consider spending your nights in Imerovigli.
A great budget hotel in Imerovigli is Villa Happening
For a truly memorable luxury experience its hard to beat Petit Palace Suites and Hotel.
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.
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 Santorini with 3 days
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!
Your first day on 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!
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.
Watch the 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.
I sometimes wonder how the whole island doesn’t tip over around 8pm each night in summer!
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.
Take plenty of water and don’t forget to wear a hat!
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. Visit a family home and accept their invitation to attend a family wedding where you will enjoy delicious Greek Meze, unlimited wine, traditional dancing and singing, and even plate smashing.
This is great fun and will remain one of your great travel memories of all time!
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!