With its white-washed architecture, cascading backdrop of the Aegean Sea, and world-famous sunsets, you really cannot escape the overwhelming beauty of Santorini. After exploring the most luxurious of Greek islands as a stop on my multi-destination honeymoon, I’ve created this essential Santorini guide which covers the first steps for planning your trip to this quintessential Greek island. From the best place to stay in Santorini, to how to get around, when to visit, and the top things to do, my expert advice will guide you in planning the perfect trip.
Best Place to Stay in Santorini:
Deciding Which Area is Right For You
There are three major areas that tourists consider when visiting and the best place to stay in Santorini depends on a few factors, including price and personal preferences. Keep reading to learn about the different areas, what they offer, and which is the best for you.
If a luxurious and quintessential Santorini experience is what you are looking for, stay in Oia (pronounced ee-yah), on the main stretch of the Caldera (cliff). Pick a cave hotel/cave house that suits your needs and budget. Many of the caves have their own private hot tub or pool, and serve breakfast daily on your private patio overlooking breath-taking Aegean Sea. Oia is also where many famous shops and restaurants are located in Santorini, and it is an extremely walkable area. Oia is by far the most Instagrammable area on the island, and is often what you see when viewing photos of Santorini.
The only drawbacks about staying in Oia are that Oia is usually the most expensive area to stay on the island, and it is very crowded. Accommodations are situated close together in narrow, pedestrian walkways, so privacy is not always guaranteed. You can expect lots of foot traffic at all hours of the day, but especially during Sunset where people flock to Oia’s old castle for 360-degree views. All things considered, Oia is the overall best place to stay in Santorini IF you don’t mind being in the center of all the action.
Oia is Best For: A picture-perfect Santorini experience.
Best Luxury Hotels in Oia: Santorini Secret Premium / Santorini Secret, Perivolas, Andronis Luxury Suites
If more privacy and romance are what you are after, Imerovigli is perfectly nestled cliff-side complete with dreamy Aegean Sea views but away from the main roads and tourist attractions. This village, known as “Santorini’s Balcony” is just as beautiful as Oia without the constant foot traffic. Imerovigli is also home to Santorini’s most famous hotel, Cavo Tagoo. This ever-Instagram-viral hotel is loved by influencers and honeymooners alike for its impressive views, private cave villas with outstanding swim-out pools, and the hotel’s very own breath-taking infinity pool. Even if you do not have the opportunity to book a room at Cavo Tagoo, I absolutely recommend reserving a table for dinner at the hotel’s restaurant Ovac, as it is the most romantic place to watch the sunset and the food is some of the best in Santorini. Being the highest set village on all of the island, Imerovigli is the best place to stay in Santorini if beauty and serenity are what you are after.
A drawback to staying in Imerovigli (if you can even call it that) is that it is slightly more isolated than other islands. It is not as walkable, and often requires motor transportation (via a quad or car) to visit top sites. That said, it is the perfect area for peace and serenity, and offers some of the most spectacular sunsets on the island.
Imerovigli is best for: Honeymooners
Best Luxury Hotels in Imerovigli: Cavo Tagoo, Grace Hotel, Iconic Santorini, Astra Suites
For the budget-conscious, there is the capital of Santorini, Fira, also known as/spelled as Thira. This area is most “city-like” in terms of having plenty of walkable places to shop and eat, yet it is also very close to the beach. Accommodations are much cheaper in Fira (though there are also a number of luxury accommodations here too), and several hostels are also present. I’ve heard this cave hostel in the town of Karterados (15-minute walk from Fira) is a great place to stay for a budget-friendly Santorini experience is what you are after. If you are a single or solo traveler, or wish to stay in a budget-friendly and walkable area, Fira/Thira is the best area for you.
If you are interested in nightlife, Fira/Thira has more options for clubs and bars than found in Oia or Imerovigli. With that, it is also a livelier (and more noisy) area. Located geographically lower on the island, it is also less beautiful.
Fira/Thira is Best For: Budget / Solo / Single Travelers
Best Luxury Hotels in Fira/Thira: Petit Palace Suites, Cosmopolitan Suites, Agialos, Astro Palace, Erosantorini
Best Time to Visit Santorini
High season in Santorini is from late June until early September. The summer months make for perfect weather, but with that comes lots of crowds and higher prices. I recommend visiting Santorini during shoulder season in September, when most of the high season crowds are gone and the weather is still hot, but before it gets too windy or rainy to be enjoyable. Off-season is from late November to March, and many hotels and businesses are closed for these months. However, more and more hotels are beginning to stay open through the off season; so if you’re looking for a deal, the best months to travel to Santorini are shoulder and off-season, March through May, and October through November.
How to Get to Santorini & How to Get Around
To reach Santorini, first you must fly into the Athens airport. (And you might want to spend a day or two to visit some of the amazing historical sites.) From Athens, you have 2 options. You can take a 45 minute from Athens to Santorini (prices vary but are generally not outrageous) or you can opt for the slow and scenic route and take a ferry.
The ferries in Athen depart from either the Port of Piraeus or the Port of Rafina. There are 3 options of ferries you can take:
- Cheapest and Slowest – The Blue Star ferries take about 8 hours and costs around 24 euro.
- Faster option – The Golden Star Supercat and SeaJet Sifnos take about 5.5 hours and cost about 28 euros.
- Fastest and most expensive – the High-Speed SeaJet ferries take you to Santorini in about 3.5 hours and cost about 80 euros.
Once you arrive in Santorini, the absolute best way to get around the island is by renting a quad. Aside from rentals being pretty cheap (between $10-$30 a day), they are so fun to drive around on. If you don’t want to rent a quad, a rental car is a good option too. I also recommend booking an early morning or sunset sailing tour. On the tour you will get to see beaches that are only accessible by boat, so you can see more of the island, and will get a chance to swim in the hot springs.
The Top 10 Things to do in Santorini, Greece
The following are the top attractions to visit during your stay in Santorini.
- Spend a day hiking the trail from Fira to Oia (or the opposite). This 3-hour hike isn’t for the faint of heart but gives you incredible views of many parts of the island.
- Walk and shop the Oia Caldera – Arrive an hour or two before Sunset, walk around check out the shops and this neat little bookstore on Oia’s Main Street, then head to the castle or reserve dinner at one of the many restaurants with patio views for sunset.
- Visit the Blackrock/black sand beaches of Perrisa or Kamari.
- Go cliff jumping at Amoudi Bay, then eat fresh seafood at Amoudi Bay Fish Tavern (during sunset!)
- Visit the red sand beach. Either with a boat tour of the volcano, or by hiking trail.
- Go wine tasting – Santorini is known for their local dry whites and sweet reds.
- Go shopping in Fira where souvenirs tend to be cheapest, (then head to Kamari beach.)
- Visit the ancient Akrotiri archaeological sites.
- Take a boat tour to the volcano and swim in the hot springs.
- Swim, snorkel, and scuba in the crystal clear Mediterranean waters.
While all the Greek islands are beautiful and have something unique to offer, Santorini and Mykonos undoubtedly compete for most popular. Of course, there are also many less-known Greek islands that are equally as amazing in their own ways. Compared to the pretty but party-laden Mykonos, I preferred staying in Santorini for its slower pace, more luxurious feel, and some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. Santorini is easily one of Europe’s best islands, and the island itself is relatively small, so you will be able to see most if not all of it over a recommended minimum of 3 days. No matter the length of your visit or where you choose to stay, Santorini will surely live up to your dreams and expectations.