No visit to the Greek islands is complete without a visit to Santorini, at least for a couple of days. I spent a week here and got to explore different parts of the island during my time. That being said, I know not everyone has that long to spend here but, in my point of view, you should spend at least 3 days in Santorini. It may be small, but there is a lot to see and do and, as I found, part of the charm is being able to relax and just enjoy the atmosphere. Which is why I’ve created this Santorini itinerary.
This itinerary is for 3-5 days in Santorini and includes a little bit of everything to get the highlights. I’ll be honest and say that Santorini wasn’t my favourite island in the Cyclades, but I did love my time there and I hope you do too. With that in mind, here’s my take on a Santorini itinerary that’s perfect for first-timers.
The Best Time to Visit Santorini
If you are wondering when the best time to visit Santorini is, most people will say the shoulder season. So April/May then September/October. The weather isn’t quite as hot and it’s not as touristic as it is during the high season of the summer months. That being said, Santorini is an incredibly popular island even during the shoulder seasons so it is best to make plans and book in advance.
How to Get to Santorini
Before I get into my Santorini itinerary, I thought I’d share some helpful tips for how to get to this island. You can arrive either by ferry or plane. I arrived by ferry which is easy from nearby islands such as Naxos, Paros, or Mykonos but departed by plane to go back to Athens. Flying is a much smoother process and considerably easier for longer distances. It’s not that much more expensive either, even with a checked bag. That being said, depending on your schedule and where you are coming from, flying may not always be an option.
The ferry to Santorini arrives in the port at the base of the cliff. From here you can take the bus to Fira, then from Fira switch buses to get where you need to go. It is possible to get a taxi as well but they can be hard to find and taxis are quite expensive in Santorini. If you are travelling during the summer season it’s recommended to book your ferry tickets in advance. You can do so online here.
Santorini’s airport is quite small and easy to get through quickly. There is a regular bus that will take you to/from Fira where you can then switch buses as needed. Again, taxis are also available, however, they are pricey. If you are arriving at an odd time, or later in the evening, it might be worth your while to book a private transfer in advance. It will probably be cheaper than trying to find a taxi late at night.
Getting Around Santorini
Getting around Santorini is another thing you will want to consider. The best way to get around is to rent a vehicle, but this can be expensive and many people find it intimidating. The streets and area around Fira and Oia are chaotic, and roads in Greece can be tiny.
Some people rent an ATV rather than a car, however, this is only recommended if you have previous ATV experience. In fact, some rental agencies will refuse to rent you an ATV if you have never driven one before. It’s frustrating for some, but, at the end of the day, it’s all about your safety. ATVs can flip very easily and the roads on the Greek islands are not always the best.
There is a great bus system in Santorini that is cheap and easy to use. Tickets cost between 1.80 and 2 euro per way and the money is collected on board (they will give change). The main bus terminal is Fira, which means you need to go in and out of Fira to change buses, but it’s easy and the buses follow the schedule pretty well. You can find that schedule here. Sometimes the bus stop can be tricky to find though, so always ask when you get off where the pickup point is.
Of course, there are taxis. Taxis are pricey though and cost 25 euros or more in my experience for short 15 minute rides. At night, however, they may be your only option.
Finally, if you do day tours, many arrange to pick you up or drop you off from your hotel or a meeting point, which is pretty handy when going to smaller areas on the island.
Where to Stay in Santorini
Another popular question is where to stay in Santorini. I wondered this myself and ended up breaking up my stay between 3 different villages: Fira, Oia, and Akrotiri. Another popular place to stay is imerovigli. I loved that I chose to stay in 3 separate villages because it felt like I got to experience more of the island. However, if you only have 3 days in Santorini it’s probably better to stick to one (maybe 2) spots so you don’t have to move around as much.
I wrote a whole blog post on where to stay in Santorini based on your interests and the experience you are hoping to have. You can find that post here.
My Suggested Santorini Itinerary
3 Days Santorini Itinerary
Three days in Santorini are enough to see the major highlights and still have a bit of time to relax which, in my opinion (even as someone who suffers from FOMO), is one of the best ways to get that true Santorini Experience. For 3 days in Santorini I recommend staying in Fira since it’s the easiest to get around from BUT, if you are willing, I suggest spending one night in Oia itself. More on that in a bit.
Day one, after you arrive, get ready to explore. If the weather isn’t too hot and you are up for an adventure, do the hiking trail between Fira and Oia. It’s about 3-5 hours depending on how fast you go and how often you stop for photos. Bring water and wear plenty of sunscreen. I did this hike in 2023 and absolutely loved it but would advise to go morning or evening as there is very little shade.
If you aren’t up for the hike, don’t worry, you can spend your day wandering the streets of Fira instead. There are plenty of shops, bars, and tavernas worth poking your head into. You can also head down to the Old Port. There are 600 stairs or you can take a cable car.
Around sunset time, head to PK Cocktail bar for a drink and some incredible sunset views (reservations required). Then, if you feel like a night out, check out the nightlife. Santorini isn’t known as a party island but there are some fun bars and clubs. We had a good time at Two Brothers when I was there.
Day two in Santorini should be a water day. After all, you are on the island! There are a couple of options I recommend depending on what you are most interested in.
Suggestion 1: take a day tour out to the volcano. You can do a full day or half-day, but the longer tours have more time to explore and you’ll get to add in a couple of extra stops to smaller and less touristic villages in the area. Plus, you can get the chance to swim in the volcanic hot springs (you’ll need to swim to get to them). It’s a fun way to spend the day and see a cool highlight of Santorini. After all, it’s not every day that you get to peek into the crater of an active volcano. You can book a volcano tour here.
If volcanos aren’t your thing, then consider a sailing tour. Spend your day out on a boat where you can swim, snorkel and explore Santorini from the water. Make it an afternoon sunset cruise too so you can watch the famous Santorini sunset from a different vantage point. You can book an afternoon and sunset cruise here.
If neither of those sounds appealing, then head to the beach! Kamari beach would be my pick. It’s a black sand beach although its actually rocks, not sand (so bring watershoes if you have them or comfortable flipflops because those rocks get really hot in the sun!), it’s a great spot to spend a few hours or a day. There are beach bars and restaurants, many which offer lounge chairs to those who buy food/drink and lots of cute shops in the area since it is a beach town.
Looking for a fun way to spend the evening but don’t want to hit the bars? Head to the Open Air Cinema in Kamari. Movies play at 9:30pm every night and there are snacks and drinks available for purchase.
For your third day in Santorini, I suggest a chill day. For the true Santorini experience, I also suggest splurging on a villa or cave hotel in Oia; one with a balcony overlooking the sea or maybe a place with a pool, and just relaxing. Oia is absolutely stunning and worth a visit but it gets way too crowded during the day. You can do a day trip, but by spending a night in this village you can explore in the evening when most tourists leave and get up early in the morning to take photos and wander before they arrive. Spending the night is honestly the best way to enjoy Oia and I was so glad I decided to do it. Ready more about why splurging on a luxury hotel in Oia is worth it here.
4 Days Santorini Itinerary
If you have four days in Santorini, I’d recommend spending a day exploring inland and getting a taste for the local life. If you have driven an ATV before or are comfortable renting a car, it’s a good way to explore. If not, then why not consider a local cooking class, food tour or winery tour.
It is possible to visit Santo Winery by bus, the stop is just a couple of minutes from the entry way which is easy to do on your own. Reservations are highly recommended, especially if you are visiting during high season. Otherwise, you can join a group tour to take you to some of the other wineries on the island without having to worry about needing to drive.
5 Days Santorini Itinerary
For five days in Santorini, I’d suggest having another beach day. If you didn’t go to Kamari Beach yet, it’s a good pick. I also liked Aktoriri which has the famous archaeological ruins and is about a 15-minute walk from the red beach which is sand, though the bottom in the water is very rocky so be careful getting in and out. It’s also much quieter than Kamari beach, however, there are no bars or shops nearby so come prepared with water and snacks. I should also point out that Akrotiri is a nice, quiet area to stay as well that has much cheaper accommodation options than Fira or Oia, so if you are looking to switch it up after a few nights, take a look at the properties in this area.
Have more time? Or maybe looking for some different ideas? Check out my list of 31 Unmissable things to do in Santorini here.
Whether you only have 3 days in Santorini, or 5, there’s no doubt that you will find lots to do to keep you entertained and busy. After all, there’s a reason why this island is such a popular travel destination.
A Note on Travel Insurance in Greece
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine multiple times. While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance as they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found, plus, they are who I use and I have had great experiences with them. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.