The Ultimate Travel Guide to Iconic Santorini, Greece

Santorini is a small, whitewashed paradise island, only slightly larger than Manhattan, and is credited to a massive volcanic eruption from the 16th century BC. It is the most prominent island in the Cyclades archipelago, and if you are a fan of the Greek Islands, chances are you have seen Oia on Instagram. This famous village offers an iconic view of the turquoise seas of the Aegean and breathtaking sunsets and is one of the masterpieces of Santorini. If you plan to visit Santorini, this is your complete guide to help you explore everything from the sweeping cliffs to the incredible beaches, picturesque whitewashed villages, and the calderas under the sea. Fun note: Thira is the official name of the island, Fira is the capital, and Santorini is what they call it.

Scenic village of Oia, Santorini.
Scenic village of Oia, Santorini / Wesley Edwards

Key Things to Know About Santorini

Language • Greek is the oldest of any European language — and the official language spoken in Greece, but English is the dominant foreign language. So, you’ll also find that most people speak good English for everyday interactions.

Currency • Same as for the majority of European countries, Greece uses the Euro €

Purchases • Most of the hotels, restaurants, and stores on the island are happy to accept credit cards, making transactions a breeze. It’s best to make sure to use a card with no foreign transaction fee. Occasionally, you might encounter a small, locally-owned establishment that only accepts cash. However, with numerous ATMs scattered across the island, you can easily withdraw cash in the local currency (always decline the currency conversion).

Weather • Santorini has warm beach weather from April to October. Summer months are hot and dry, often over 100°F (38°C). Winters are mild and humid, with afternoons around 65°F (18°C).

Best Time to Visit • Greece experiences its best weather and climate during the shoulder season, which runs from about April to May, and then a second wind from about August to September. September is my favorite season; it is absolutely perfect. The stampede of summer tourists is gone, but the incredible weather is still lingering.

Safety • Santorini is very safe and overly welcoming to tourism; it is their primary economic driver. I cannot emphasize enough, though, to be careful when driving on the roads, whether it’s a car, scooter, or ATV; they drive fast and all over the place, and they have some very narrow streets, so take your time and pay attention to other traffic.

How to Get Around Santorini

Getting around Santorini can certainly be hectic. If you are staying at one of the luxury or boutique hotels nestled in Fira or Oia, then you will most likely not have parking for a rental car or ATV, so public buses or private taxis will be your best bet. I highly recommend renting a car or ATV for the day, even if you are staying at a hotel, to really get out on your own and explore.

Oia – This is the place you see in all of Greece’s Instagram photos, postcards, and advertisements; it’s also where we stayed during our extended weekend in Santorini. Oia is quintessential Santorini, but it will definitely cost you ultra-luxury prices.

Imerovigli, Firostefani, and Fira – The capital city of Santorini has all the usual city amenities, such as traffic, crowds, and hustle and bustle. However, Fira is an incredibly easy option. You can easily walk the scenic path connecting Imerovigli, Firostefani, and Fira in under 40 minutes. Staying in Fira is a more affordable option than staying in Oia. Fira also has some great restaurants and shops that you can enjoy. Note: Fira is where the cruise ships anchor out and bring passengers ashore.

Megalochori – This charming and picturesque village is rich with history and will show you authentic Greek life and how it used to be. For all of my wine lovers, it is the origin of wine production in Santorini.

Perissa – Going to the complete other end of Santorini, you will stumble upon the quiet village of Perissa. Not much here to see, do, or eat, but you can find some incredible value in villas and hotels out here.

If you are thinking of getting married in Santorini, there is an incredible venue between Meglachori and Perissa called Cavo Ventus, it’s actually where my Fiance and I are getting married later this year, and it is stunning!

Main promenade in Oia Santorini Greece.
Main Promenade Oia / Wesley Edwards

Where Should You Stay in Santorini

Santorini is filled with luxury boutique hotels, five-star villas, and luxury resorts offering spectacular views, infinity pools, and personalized service. Here are some of the best hotels and my personal favorites.

The Mill Haven Santorini – Mill Haven accommodates 4 guests in 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. it has a rooftop jacuzzi with stunning views of the surrounding caldera cliffs, all housed within a traditional Cycladic windmill. You can catch some of the world’s best sunsets from the rooftop jacuzzi and the picturesque village of Oia, dotted with its blue-domed churches.

Vedema Resort – Tucked away within the medieval village of Megalohori, the enchanting Vedema, a Luxury Collection Resort, has evolved from a 400-year-old wine cellar and a 100-year-old mansion into an authentic, Cycladic-styled property. Dedicated to the needs of seasoned travelers, Vedema houses 74 spacious suites and villas, all with their own terraces and many with jacuzzis or private pools. (Note: This is a Marriott property, so you can use your points here)

Katikes Garden – Located in the charming town of Fira, Katikies Garden is a luxurious holiday retreat that blends the history and traditions of Santorini with modern comforts. Featuring 40 elegant suites and a range of wellness and leisure activities, Katikies Garden stands out among the top-tier luxury hotels in Santorini for its immersive and experiential offerings. We are putting several members of our wedding party here, and we cannot wait for them to experience it!

Andronis Arcadia – Andronis Arcadia is the epitome of luxury in Santorini, offering 114 luxurious suites and villas, Evexia Spa, Pacman Restaurant with live music, Beefbar Santorini, ARCADemy kids club, and meeting rooms. Nestled in Oia, it is close to the town but ensures a serene atmosphere. Every suite exudes sophistication with bespoke services. You can indulge in private pools that showcase breathtaking views of the Aegean Sea and legendary sunsets.

Andronis Luxury Suites – Nestled in Santorini’s enchanting Oia, Andronis Luxury Suites is a haven that boasts 33 luxurious suites and villas, each designed to offer a refined and elegant experience. The property offers private infinity pools, cave pools, and heated hot tubs, providing guests with an indulgent and relaxing escape.

Canaves Oia Suites – Canaves Oia Suites is a luxurious hotel located in the picturesque town of Oia, on the beautiful island of Santorini in Greece. The hotel boasts breathtaking views of the Caldera and the emerald Aegean Sea. Guests can expect exceptional service and extravagant accommodations that will impress even the most discerning travelers. Whether you’re seeking a romantic getaway or a relaxing vacation, Canaves Oia Suites is the perfect destination.

Mill Haven villa view in Oia, Santorini.
Mill Haven villa view in Oia, Santorini / Wesley Edwards

Related: Best Things To Do In Corfu, Greece On A Cruise Day

Best Places to Eat in Santorini

MIA’s Restaurant – MIA’s started from a strong memory that became the foundation for a place to pull up a chair, sit back, and enjoy the Caldera, sea views, and sunsets unfold before your eyes.

We had the Oxtail Pastitsio and MIA’s Traditional Lobster Pasta. Both were incredible, and I highly recommend trying them. MIA’s had some of the most delicious food I experienced in Greece.

MIA's Restaurant in Oia, Santorini.
MIA’s Restaurant in Oia / Wesley Edwards

Pito Gyros Greek Grill – There is not much to say here other than that it serves up incredible traditional Gyros from a small shop in Oia. Nothing fancy, just a tried-and-true authentic Gyro that might be the best in Greece. Great lunch spot when you are out exploring the forever-long promenade or for a quick, no-fuss dinner after a long day.

Pito Gyros restaurant in Oia, Santorini.
Pito Gyros restaurant in Oia / Wesley Edwards

Volkan on the Rocks – Located just on the edge of Fira and about 20 minutes by car from Oia, Volkan on the Rocks offers a true dining-on-the-edge experience as you are nestled into the cliffs of Fira high above the Caldera and Aegean Sea, providing for some of the most incredible sunset experiences you will ever have. The atmosphere and vibes at the multi-level outdoor restaurant are incredible!

You must try “Soutzoukakia”, it is incredible! And the Island Herb Grilled Pancetta was also to die for.

Sunset From Volkan on The Rocks in Fira, Santorini.
Sunset From Volkan on The Rocks Lower Dinning Level / Wesley Edwards

Lauda – Santorini is packed with restaurants, but Lauda is on another level. You won’t find any fake “local culture” here; Lauda is the real deal. It was the first restaurant in Santorini when only 300 people called the island home. Lauda opened its doors in 1971, and it quickly became a popular spot for locals to hang out, chat, and use the village’s only phone. What makes Lauda stand out is that it uses locally sourced and fully organic ingredients to create a delicious and authentic menu. So, if you want to experience Santorini’s true taste and fine dining, Lauda is a must!

Best Things to Do in Santorini

The amazing thing about Santorini is that almost anything you do will have an incredible ocean view or picturesque villages surrounding you. Whether you are looking for a wine tasting, cooking class, exploring the Caldera by boat, visiting archaeological sites, hiking from Fira to Oia, or a relaxing spa day at your hotel – there is something for every activity level of traveler. Here is a list of some of my personal favorite things to do in Santorini.

Walking Tour of Fira – Experience the scenic capital of Santorini by taking a walking tour of Fira while sampling local foods and drinks.

Santorini Sunset Walking Tour – Walking along scenic footpaths from Firostefani to Fira, tasting fresh fish and sipping on Greek spirits. Ending the tour, you will reach the Caldera for the spectacular sunset showcase.

Perissa Beach – The black lava sand beach is a true gem of Santorini and one of the most picturesque beaches. Fair warning: the jet-black sand gets scorching hot!

Explore the Wineries – Greece is one of the greatest Mediterranean wine producers. All the bars and restaurants in Santorini showcase the best local vintages from the region. Santo Winery is among the most popular, and the one we did. They have many phenomenal wines to taste your way around.

Explore Akrotiri – This quaint and charming village is rich in history and culture. It is an ancient city dating back to the Bronze Age, and parts of Akrotiri are also an archaeological site with artifacts still remaining. It’s the perfect spot for ultimate relaxation and unplugging.

Visit Some of The Churches – Santorini has roughly 450 churches scattered around the island. The two most photographed churches in Santorini are located in Oia: the churches of Agios Spiridonas (Saint Spyridon) and Anasteseos (The Church of the Resurrection). Both have beautiful blue domes and are built at the edge of the cliffs right next to one another.

Blue Dome Church in Oia, Santorini.
Blue Dome Church in Oia / Wesley Edwards

Ancient Thera – Visit the ruins of Ancient Thera, once a village colonized by Spartans, located atop Mesa Vouno mountain. Get there by taking the winding road from Kamari.

The Hike From Fira to Oia – The Fira to Oia hike is the single-handedly best thing to do in Santorini, followed closely by a day on the water. The Caldera path or “Calderimi” winds along the Caldera cliff, showcasing stunning ocean views and through the quaint towns of Fira, Firostefani, Imerovigli, and Oia. The hike takes between 3 and 5 hours and is roughly 6.5 miles (10.5km).

Watch The Sunset in Oia – The best views of the sunset in the famous town of Oia are at the Oia Castle, which unfortunately can get a little overcrowded. I recommend arriving fairly early, grabbing a drink at the cafe directly behind the center point, venturing off a little, and finding a hidden alleyway to sneak down. This is the perfect place to get all of your sunset photos!

Rent an ATV and Explore on Your Own – By doing this, you can venture out to every corner of the island and every beach and really get to experience all that Santorini has to offer. I would recommend making a little bit of a game plan before heading out, like a mini tour of your own, or just wing it, explore, get lost, and live life! (my preferred choice) This may honestly end up being the best part of your trip.

Red Beach – Definitely one of the most popular and beautiful beaches in Greece, this must be on your list of must-visit places in Santorini.

Cooking / Culinary Class – Learn to make Greek specialties and savor the local flavors! Plus, what is a better souvenir than having something you can recreate that takes you back to the wonderful memories of Santorini?

Boat Day – On a boat in the Aegean Sea, you can explore some of the hard-to-reach beaches, swim in one of the most beautiful seas in the world, check out the stunning cliffs from below, and even do an amazing sunset cruise. A boat trip or Catamaran tour is really one of the most beautiful ways to experience Santorini!

Stark white village of Oia, Santorini on the cliff.
The stark white village of Oia on the cliff / Wesley Edwards

Bottom Line

Santorini is one of the most romantic and beautiful destinations in the world. You can visit the island with a romantic and relaxing itinerary or explore and discover its rich culture and history, dating back to the Bronze Age. Either way, you can not go wrong visiting Santorini. Whether it’s your first time or your fifteenth time…Santorini will always leave you in awe of its beauty. There is just something so romantic, adventurous, and exciting around every corner; it’s an idyllic feeling to experience Santorini. Use this ultimate guide to Santorini, and you will surely experience the best the island has to offer.

Getting there from the United States can be a trek, but don’t let that steer you away. I recommend flying into London and then connecting directly to Santorini, which is what we did, and it was a breeze! The Santorini airport was very easy to navigate, and only took about 15 minutes from deplaning, customs, and baggage collection to get in our private transfer to the villa.

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