So unless you’ve been living under a rock that disconnects you from all of society, then chances are that you’ve heard of the Greek Island of Santorini, one of the most beautiful places to visit in Greece. You might even be curious about what to see in Santorini since you want to know what all the fuss is about.
I mean, the sunsets here are the stuff that Instagram dreams are made of. Just add in some rollings hills, vintage windmills, and iconic blue-domed churches and you can quickly see why tourists and cruise ship passengers flock here in droves.
Just do yourself a favor and visit in October since that is the absolute best time to visit Santorini. Not only is the weather in Santorini fantastic, but you’ll also avoid the hordes of tourists that plague the island during the peak summer months.
Because everyone likes being a tourist but no one likes dealing with them.
But once you hop off the ferry and set eyes upon these epic views of the Aegean Sea, er, um, now what? Do you roam around the capital of Fira or head over to Oia for the day?
Geez, for a smallish island there sure are a lot of things to do in Santorini.
Sorry, but most of us don’t get two months off in the summer so we need to travel as efficiently as possible.
That’s why you can’t waste time sitting around, sniffing armpits and contemplating what to do in Santorini. Hence this hopefully helpful Santorini travel guide that strips away the tourist traps and focuses on all the Santorini attractions that deserve your undivided attention.
This may be the only time you get to explore some of the best places in Santorini. So here’s to making it count (Titanic anyone?) and prioritizing the top things to do in Santorini during your Santorini vacation, especially if you only have one day in Santorini or are planning an exquisite, 3 days in Santorini itinerary.
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1. Watch the Sunset in Oia
Everyone goes weak in the knees for the sunsets in Oia, when the vibrantly colored sun gracefully sinks beneath the horizon and creates some stunning panoramic views of the Aegean.
In the background:
You see the quaint town of Oia; with its iconic whitewashed buildings, blue-domed churches, and archaic windmills, all perched atop a mesmerizingly beautiful sheer cliff faces.
Pretty dreamy right?
It is…until you see the mack truck size tour buses rolling up into Oia each night. But then you tell yourself, “Well maybe they’re just here for a party…”
Haha, in your dreams.
No way are you gonna have one of the most Instgrammable sunsets on the planet all to yourself.
You’ll be fighting umbrella-wielding tour guides with loudspeakers as you make your way to the beach just to get that perfect shot of those glistening colors that seem to dance along the water (cha-cha real smooth) as the sun sinks beneath the waves.
Like any good tourist:
I too wanted to experience one of the top Santorini activities and had a total fear of missing out. That’s why I tried viewing the sunset in the traditional way, where I did Mortal Combat with other tourists to procure the ideal picture taking location for this Santorini sunset extravaganza.
I hate crowds so this experience was not so awesome in my humble opinion.
The next night, I did it my way and peacefully enjoyed the sunset from the heavenly solitude of hotel room in Oia. I even set up my own little picnic with some local cheese (yum) and bread (yummier) that I bought on my way back to my hotel.
It was the perfect end to a perfect day and was infinitely better than gaging on exhaust fumes and having cantankerous kids squish my toes as I bobbed and weaved through the masses of families in Oia.
2. Hike from Fira to Oia
Okay, so I like to be brutally honest. Therefore, I must admit that I only did part of the hike from Fira to Oia.
I was gonna do the whole thing since the views are spectacular, but I got a little confused when following the signs and didn’t want to get totally lost and dehydrated.
So I turned back (I was also too prideful and nervous to ask anyone for directions but that’s something for my therapist, not you).
But since Fira is super touristy and basically just an overcrowded assortment of souvenir shops and overpriced restaurants, I highly recommend this hike.
Just make sure that you prepare yourself since the stairs will be steep and the sun will be strong. That’s why you need to pack plenty of water, sunscreen, a hat, and proper shoes since the path can be slippery and has some areas with loose gravel.
Also stock up on supplies before you begin the hike because later on, there won’t be any stores to stop at and procure food or water.
You may need to stop a fair bit though since although this is the most scenic hike in Santorini, it is also a hike of 9 km that will take you about three hours to complete (since this route connects the towns of Fira and Oia).
But you won’t mind the stops since the views along the picturesque caldera are stunning (seriously one of the best things to do in Fira Santorini).
***The path is really easy to find. Just take the main walkway heading out of Fira and continue straight, following the signs along the way that point to Oia. And if you do get lost, there are plenty of people around so you can always ask a local for help.***
3. Hike to the top of a Volcano (How James Bond of you)
Sounds cool right?
Kind of feels like something out of Indiana Jones where you’ll be weaving in and out of molten lava fields while carrying some long-lost buried treasure.
Well, not so much.
There is no magma or smoke or lava or buried treasure or irate locals chasing you (thank God). But there is a path up Nea Kameni that will take you and about 10,000 other people up to the top of this volcano since this place is a popular stop along the Santorini Volcanic Islands Cruise.
Okay, I know I’m making it sound pretty lame.
And it’s not bad. It’s just that I expected this epic crater filled with crystal blue water, or at least some smoke or something. But it was really just a giant hole in the ground with a bunch of black lava rocks.
The good thing though is that once you hike to the top, you’re rewarded with fantastic views of the surrounding islands; views that you would never get from Santorini itself.
Just keep your expectations low and you’ll enjoy the hike up this ancient volcano since this is one of the top ten things to do in Santorini.
***If you decide to do this hike, be aware that it is mildly strenuous and goes uphill for about 30 minutes. The trail is also littered with loose and craggy, black lava rocks, so bring a good pair of sneakers or hiking boots, as well as some water since there is nothing on the island (not even a toilet).***
***Also, separate from the price of the tour, there is a national park fee (you must pay €4.00 in cash) that you must pay to gain access to the island. Gotta love capitalism.***
4. Ammoudi Bay, Oia
This tiny fishing port lies at the base of Oia and is a nice respite from the crowds that overwhelm the old port.
You’ll find more mules (and horses) than people which is lovely until you step in big, steaming pile of something not so nice and get way more than you bargained for.
It’s a total pain in the ass to get down here (and back up again if your hotel is in Oia) since you have to either ascend or descend 300 tortuous steps while simultaneously dodging piles of excrement that is not so delightfully rotting in the sun.
The physical pain is worth it. Okay, I’m being a bit melodramatic. It’s really not that bad. I mean, I survived and just used it as a great excuse to eat more for lunch.
What really sets this village apart is that there is a quaint feel here that reminds you of a time when Santorini was nothing more than a small island littered with tiny fishing villages; not some ultra-exclusive honeymoon destination filled with a bunch of high end villas that are fully equipped with their own infinity pools (I’m not bitter or anything).
Now, if you can catch your breath long enough to admire the scenery:
You’ll notice an authenticity about this port that is devoid from other, busier places. Here there is an assortment of charming and colorful fishing boats that are docked up against a series of mesmerizing, blood-red cliffs.
It is in this moment that Ammoudi reminds you of the beautiful and exciting culture that exists here, once you strip away the designer boutiques and souvenir shops on the main streets of Oia.
And since you’ve gone to all the effort of getting down here, might as well enjoy the pricey but delicious fish tavernas that sit along the water’s edge.
It worked out well for me since my day tour let me off here so I could sit and enjoy this charming port as the sunset in the sky.
***Do NOT ride the horses and mules up or down the steps. I spoke with a local who warned me against this since the animals slip on the ground and people do get hurt quite often.***
5. Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral
I know I might get called out for saying this, but I kind of felt like Fira was a giant cultural wasteland, littered with overpriced souvenir shops and restaurants that capitalize on the stunning views but have absolutely nothing to do with Greek culture.
That being said;
The Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral in Fira is the exception. Nestled right on the caldera edge, this prominent Orthodox Cathedral is one of the best things to soo in Fira.
Built in 1827:
The church’s stunning architecture was badly damaged during an earthquake in 1956. But thanks to the awesomeness of modern technology, this house of worship was fully renovated soon after and contains some beautiful arches and mosaics that are enhanced by an impressive bell tower that hides a quaint and peaceful courtyard.
Before you leave though:
Be sure to visit the inside of the church and see some of the lovely frescoes there, that were painted by local artist Christoforos Asimis.
6. Ancient Akrotiri (History nerds rejoice)
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Shocker, there are ancient ruins on Santorini. I know, pick your jaw up off the floor.
Okay but in all seriousness:
I had no idea that there were ancient ruins on Santorini before I visited. However, it’s not surprising since this is Greece, one of the most ancient civilizations in the world.
But that’s fine by me because these ruins are pretty cool to explore, and right next door to one of the best beaches in Santorini.
Uncovered in 1967:
Ancient Akrotiri was rediscovered when archeologists found a Minoan City buried underneath ash from a volcanic eruption in 613 BC.
The site sits underneath a protective structure that prevents further deterioration by the surrounding environment. Plus, wooden walkways are in place to help you easily move through the city without damaging it.
Peek inside some of the three-story buildings and explore the roads, drainage systems, and pottery that stand here and pay tribute to the civilizations of the past.
***Guided tours are available and cost €10. And since there aren’t a lot of information placards, you may want to purchase a tour. This site is also deceptively big so I would allocate about two hours for your visit, depending on how much you enjoy ancient history. There also great views here but it’s rather windy so hold onto your hats. ***
7. Take a Dip in the local Hot Springs
Oh, how charming, you can take a dip in some nutrient-rich, volcanic hot springs… that smell like ass because of all the sulfur in the water.
And yes, the water also dyes your jewelry a lovely shade of yellow. Just what I always wanted to do! Yippee skippy!
I kid but not really.
Well, let me back it up for a hot minute. So if you book a day tour to the volcano of Nea Kameni then chances are that your tour will stop at the local hot springs, which are created by the upwelling of warm water from a nearby volcano.
My inner science nerd is showing.
And this all sounds great in theory until you actually do it. Not only does it smell like rotten eggs, from all the sulfur in the water, but the seafloor is lined with squishy algae that are not super awesome to walk on.
The hot springs are near the island shallows so you basically have to jump off the boat, into the frigid water, and then swim over to the hot springs themselves.
And because the warm water from the volcano is emitted unevenly, you basically have to try and swim from one pocket of hot water to the another.
So that’s what the hot springs are really like.
And it’s not even that it was awful, The experience just wasn’t what I expected. In truth, it really was fun to jump in the water and splash around in the Aegean Sea.
And added bonus:
The nutrients in the water are great for your skin. So the trip really was worth it and I’m glad I went.
8. The Red Sand Beach
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If you’re headed to ancient Akrotiri anyway, might as well check out the Red Beach in Santorini since it is less than a mile away and one of the best beaches in Santorini.
I’m sure you probably figured out that this beach is named for the dark, almost reddish sand that is surrounded by sheer red cliffs and crystal clear, aquamarine water.
The perfect spot to snap an Insta-awesome picture and then take a dip right?
Well, while I think this is an amazing place to photograph, I wouldn’t want to swim here, per local advice. Not only is the path to the beach rocky and difficult to traverse but landslides are a major threat to the area since many of the cliff rocks are quite loose.
So if you’re braver than me, which is not hard to do, make sure you bring proper footwear to navigate the path to the beach.
Be sure to get here early so that you can snag a coveted beach chair and umbrella since the beach is small and fills up quickly.
The sand here is rather rocky so you don’t want to have to sit on the shore if you can avoid it. You can also try a bit of snorkeling since many of the rock formations here are quite interesting.
***If you want to see the Red Sand Beach without visiting the site directly, you can also see some of the stunning cliffs here from Amoudi Bay. You can also access the beach by taking a boat from the port at Akrotiri. ***
9. Take a Cable Car Ride
While in Santorini, I wanted to check out the Old Port of Fira. But I didn’t want to hop on a local mule since they have a not so spectacular reputation.
That’s why I opted to walk the 600 steps down to the Old Port and take the cable car back up.
Near the Old Port:
You’ll find a bunch of souvenir shops, restaurants, and tour agencies that sell day trips to various local attractions I mentioned above).
Since I had already booked my tour:
I basically snapped a bunch of photos, relaxed for a few, and hitched a ride back up in the cable cars. The ride was fun and the view was lovely so it was one of those places to see in Santorini that I really enjoyed (way better than walking back up and made me feel like a total kid again).
Be prepared to go either early in the morning or late in the day since this is one of the most popular things to do in Santorini. As a result, the line gets incredibly long, and as quaint as this ride is, it is NOT worth waiting an hour in line for.
***Tickets cost €5 for adults one way and €2.5 for bags and children one way (Because bags and kids are obviously the same. LoL) They have bathrooms here so it’s a good place to stop if er um, nature calls.****
10. Eat A Santorini Salad
Normally, I’m not a huge salad person.
Somehow, chomping on a head of lettuce is not my idea of an awesome dinner. Plus, before any trip, I try to eat as healthy as humanly possible so that while I’m away, I can eat all the fat and carbs I want without feeling insanely guilty.
Therefore, I’m not usually in a salad mood while I’m on vacation.
However, the salad’s in Santorini are like food crack since they don’t even come with lettuce (yippee) and are served with the most glorious, rich, and flavorful feta cheese that I have ever tasted (the stuff they call feta in the US is craptastic by comparison).
Add in some cucumber, grape tomatoes, feta (had to throw that in there again because it’s so good), capers, red onion, Greek olives (duh), and some extra virgin olive oil and ta-da!
You have an awesome Santorini salad that even I would eat.
If you’re really lucky, you’ll get a salad with toasted sourdough or brown bread. Obviously, I like this one better because it’s served with some crunchy carbs.
And carbs ALWAYS instantly bring me to my happy place.
So make sure you stop at a local restaurant and try this salad. Not only is it tasty, but it’s light and refreshing, which is great since no one wants to feel like a bloated, beached whale while walking around in their swimsuit.
***Salt and Pepper in Fira is known for their salads, some of which are served with sun-dried tomatoes. I mostly ate in Oia since my hotel was there, so I would check out Nikos Place, Lotza (for great caldera views), and Sunsets Cafe (for stellar sunset views). These places are known for great food in general, not just salads. There is also a great Greek bakery on your left as you walk down the main road from the central Oia bus station (Just ask the tourist information desk. This place is cheap and has awesome baked goods).***
11. Visit Atlantis Books
Atlantis Books is one of those quirky little bookstores that I can never actually leave without buying at least one book that I really don’t need.
Found along the main marble street in Oia:
This cozy bookshop is lined with floor to ceiling shelves that are filled with new and used books that come in English, French, Greek, German, Chinese, and Spanish languages.
With an emphasis on modern fiction and non-fiction classics:
Atlantic Books is the perfect place to relax and enjoy an amazing view of the Santorini Caldera after a long hike from Fera to Oia.
Just take your time and meander through their assortment of rare, first edition, antique books. Afterward, enjoy your new purchase at Meteor Cafe, along with a refreshing cup of iced coffee.