On our first trip to Greece, we decided to visit Santorini because we were curious – we wanted to see what was all the buzz about and what this pretty island was really like.
Also, Ryanair and their cheap fares did help to make the decision.
Are you wondering if Santorini really is as beautiful as in the Instagram photos or tacky and overcrowded?
It can be both – it depends on how well you plan your trip and when you go.
These are our tips on how to enjoy Santorini and see the best of the island in just three days.
When to Go
Santorini is a busy place so try to avoid the main holiday season (June, July, August and September) if you can – the main spots get too crowded and it’s hot.
Spring or autumn is the best time to explore the island – the weather in winter isn’t great.
However, if you like hot weather and you want to enjoy the beach, summer will be the best bet for you.
We visited Santorini in November and it was great – the weather was still pleasant for exploring the island and even though there were still quite a lot of people around, it wasn’t too bad.
The main sunset viewpoints in Oia still got crowded in the evenings – we can’t imagine how busy they must be in high season.
But, the water was already too cold for swimming, so next time we would probably go at the end of September or in October.
3-Day Road Trip Itinerary
We suggest spending at least three full days in Santorini to be able to see the highlights without having to rush.
Santorini isn’t a big island and you can drive from one side to another (Oia to Akrotiri) in less than an hour, so just a small rental car is fine (unless you have a lot of luggage or passengers).
We booked our car rental on ArgusCarHire.com – we got a Fiat Panda with Caldera Car Hire with pick up and drop off at the airport.
It was just a small car but it was cheap and just fine for a few days on the island.
DAY 1 | FIRA AND OIA
Start by exploring Fira – the biggest town in Santorini located on a cliff with great views of the caldera.
Santorini is a volcanic island and the caldera is what remained after the volcanic eruption when the volcano collapsed.
Get lost in the narrow streets of Fira and admire the whitewashed houses perfectly complementing the dark-blue water of the sea.
In the afternoon drive to Oia (also spelt Ia) in the north of the island (25 minutes) and explore the town a little bit before sunset.
It’s so easy to get lost in the winding streets of Oia and fill your camera memory card with loads of perfect shots.
Move to the lookout point near the Byzantine castle ruins well before the sunset to secure your spot.
The sooner you get there the better view you’ll get – expect the place to be packed in the evening.
Enjoy one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world!
If you want to grab something quick to eat, try Lucky’s Souvlakis on Dekigala Street in Fira.
This is the place where the locals get their gyros – it’s delicious and cheap (we’ve been there a few times).
Are you wondering what the difference is between gyros and souvlaki because they look similar when served in pita bread?
The meat for gyros is cooked on a rotating skewer in the typical shape of a cone, while souvlaki is cooked on a stick.
We don’t really have any recommendation for a sit-down meal – we ate in a few restaurants and the food was quite average in all of them.
If you fancy ice cream, Mattonella near Koo Club in Fira is the place to go – yummy!
DAY 2 | FIRA-OIA HIKE AND ANCIENT THERA
Drive to Oia and leave your car at one of the car parks there, then take the bus back to the Fira Central Station.
It’s a good idea to get something to eat and drink before you start hiking (or a day before if you are starting early) because refreshment options on the trail are limited – we grabbed some gyros in Lucky’s Souvlakis.
The path starts in the square beside the Hotel Atlantic in Fira. Once there, just follow the signs showing the direction to Oia.
The trail will take you along the west coast of the island and you will get amazing views of the caldera, Fira and Oia.
The hike ends in Oia where you can take a break and explore the town further if you wish.
The walk itself isn’t that difficult and you don’t need to be super fit, but there are some steep sections and the path surface often changes.
It took us about three hours to walk from Fira to Oia, which is about 10 km (6.2 miles).
Today start early to avoid the heat of the day – most of the trail is exposed so don’t forget your sunscreen, hat and sunglasses.
Pick up your car and drive to Ancient Thera (25 minutes), which is located on the ridge of the Mesa Vouno mountain on the east side of the island.
You can either drive on the winding road from Kamari and park near the entrance (that’s what we did) or leave your car in Perissa and climb the steep path up to the mountain top.
This archaeological site consists of the ruins of an ancient city and it’s a great place to visit even if you aren’t into history – the views of the island from the top are stunning.
If you still don’t feel like heading back to your hotel, you can enjoy the nearby towns of Perissa or Kamari and their black sand beaches, or you can leave it till the next day.
Check the opening times in Ancient Thera online before you go – at the moment the site is open from 8 am just until 3 pm and it’s closed on Mondays.
DAY 3 | SOUTH OF SANTORINI
The south of Santorini has a different feel from the busy north – it’s quiet and secluded but there are a few great spots that shouldn’t be missed.
Akrotiri is a sleepy village on the south-west part of the island that is well known for the prehistoric settlement from the Bronze Age.
After a volcanic eruption, this Minoan town was covered by ash and that’s why the site is still very well preserved – it’s called the ‘Greek Pompeii’.
Today the site is covered by a roof so it doesn’t look very appealing from the outside but it’s one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece and it might have been the inspiration for Plato’s city of Atlantis.
Try to come early before the tour buses from the cruise ships arrive to avoid the crowds and check the opening hours beforehand – they vary in and off season.
While you are in this part of the island, check out the remote Akrotiri Lighthouse – it was built in the 19th century and it’s one of the oldest lighthouses in Greece.
Consider coming back in the evening for an amazing view of the sunset – it’s a great alternative to overcrowded Oia.
Don’t miss the photogenic Red Beach that is famous for its red volcanic sand and dark blue waters with the backdrop of the majestic red rock.
Leave your car in the car park and follow the footpath down to the beach, but be careful because this place is prone to landslides.
Drive along the coast to the east side of Santorini to explore its stunning black sand beaches in Vlichada, Perivolos, Perissa and Kamari.
On the way from Perissa to Kamari stop in the pretty villages of Emporio and Pyrgos for more amazing sceneries.
While in Akrotiri, try the small family restaurant Taverna Giorgaros – we had a huge veal steak and fresh seafood and it was really nice.
If You Have More Time
Now that you have seen the best of Santorini and if you are lucky and have more time to spend there, you can choose some of the tours – boat trips and wine tours are the most popular (and worth it).
Most of the tours can be purchased online or in many hotels and shops around Santorini.
For some, last-minute shopping or relaxing will do – the choice is yours.
We didn’t have time to do any of the tours but we would love to join one of the boat trips when we come back one day.
How to Get To Santorini
During the summer season, there are many direct flights from all over Europe but most intercontinental flights get you just to Athens.
We travelled off season so our flight options were limited – we had to fly via Athens to get to Santorini from Crete.
If you are thinking about island hopping and using ferries it’s much easier to do so during the main season because most connections finish after summer.
Also, you can join one of the Mediterranean cruises for a quick visit to the island.
Where to Stay
If you prefer to have some quiet and relaxing time without the crowds, head to Akrotiri.
Each of the beaches is unique so do your research before you book anything.
Our room had a balcony overlooking the caldera, the place was very clean and wifi fast but it was a little too quiet – probably because we stayed there off season.
What We Thought
Yes, Santorini is touristy and crowded.
Yes, Santorini can be expensive.
You’ve already seen the photos of the sunsets and whitewashed houses in Santorini a thousand times before.
But there is much more to this island – what an interesting place with a fascinating landscape, dramatic coast, stunning views, diverse beaches, friendly people, great food and wine.
If you are romantic, you will be in your element here – watching the sun going down in Oia, while the town gets lit up, really is magical.
Santorini is charming and our bet is that you are going to fall in love with this pretty island pretty quickly.
Are you planning to visit Santorini or have you already been there?
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