As an avid watcher of the Mamma Mia movies, I was overjoyed when I arrived in Santorini and saw white homes with blue roofs clustered along the cliff side just like in the films. Admittedly, the filming of the first movie didn’t happen here, and rather took place on three other Greek islands. But the architecture looked the same to me so I was happy. (Recreating some of the movie scenes could be one of the things to do in Santorini, just sayin’.)
I visited this island when I was 18 with my grandparents and sister in celebration of my high school graduation. It was the last leg of our month-long European vacation and let me just tell you, I was exhausted. Traveling is not always as glamorous as it seems and by the time we embarked from Athens towards the island via a Ferry, I was hot, sweaty, and ready to nap. Despite all of this, or maybe because of it, when Santorini finally came into view over the deep blue waters of the Aegean Sea, I was mesmerized. I quickly forgot all about being sleep deprived and all I wanted was to jump into the water and swim towards the towering cliffs.
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Things To Do in Santorini Travel Guide
Arrive To The Island of Santorini
While there is an airport on the island, tickets can be very pricey, so the most common way to access it is to take a ferry from Athens to the port of Athinios. It’s also referred to as the “Port of Thira” (Thira is the ancient name for Santorini) or the “New Port.” There is also a port close to Fira, at a different place on the island, and that one is smaller and called the “Old Port.” Tickets for the ferry can be purchased online here. The journey from Piraeus in Athens to either port is about nine hours by regular ferry, or 4.5-6 hours by speed ferry.
I highly suggest booking your ferry tickets well enough in advance, about a month or two if you are able. Depending on the time of year that you go, tickets can be in very high demand. Aboard the speed ferry, which is what my family and I took, there are seats inside, places to stand and sit outside, as well as cafes to purchase food and drinks while aboard. The tickets are grouped by class, but once you get to your section you are able to choose your exact seat. The journey is long and can be rather boring, but it’s hard to beat the views of the sea, and staring out at the window anticipating what was to come helped to pass the time (also of course, lots of downloaded music and movies that I had on my phone).
Get To Your Accommodations
Disembarking from the ferry is also a little bit of a headache. Thousands of people all pour out onto the port all at once and it’s pretty chaotic to figure out next steps. Once you are off, there are three different options for how to get to the place you’re staying and they vary in comfortability. One option is to take a car or van up the cliff, and this is what we chose because it’s fast and we were able to easily bring all of our luggage on board with us. It was also the best call considering my grandparents were traveling with us. There will be many van options once you get off at the port, so finding transportation shouldn’t be a problem.
If you arrive from the Old Port, you have the option to take a cable car up the cliff. This is a great way to get up if it’s not too windy. The service shuts down on days with high wind to ensure the safety of the passenger. The only downside to this choice is that there are normally long lines so if you want to go this route, just be prepared to practice patience. Tickets for the cable cars are six euros for adults and more information can be found here.
The third and most traditional option is to ride a mule the 600 steps up the cliff. Up until the 70s, this was the only way to access the village of Fira from the Old Port (other than on foot). Today, it remains one of the most popular Santorini activities because of its deep historical and cultural connection. Bringing light luggage isn’t a problem as the mules can carry those too, but if you have a lot of luggage I would recommend selecting either of the first two options.
Travel To Red Beach
One of the most popular places to visit in Santorini is Red Beach. Many visitors refer to this place as Santorini Beach, because truthfully, there aren’t many beaches that are able to be accessed by road. The volcanic activity that helped shape the topography of Santorini also created interesting beaches that are unlike any other place in the world. Most of the beaches on the island are composed of black and red volcanic pebbles. The actual area available for sunbathing is limited, but a large amount of the fun is going to be found underwater anyways. While snorkeling, you are able to see fascinatingly different rock formations, courtesy of the caldera (crater) that lies underneath the island.
Access here can be achieved by car to the parking lot close to it, or by bus to the ancient village of Akrotiri. From the Akrotiri bus station, it is only a 10-15 minute walk down to the water. However a lot of people choose to stay up on the cliff and gaze down at the multiple shades of red below, or walk part of the way and decide to not trek all the way to the sand as the rocks you need to maneuver to get there can be difficult.
Lounge On Perissa Beach
If you visited Red beach and are hungry for other things to do in Santorini that center around beach activities, then you need to go to Perissa Beach. Black sand, beach bars and a quieter atmosphere all embody this idyllic town on the eastside of the island. Unlike Red Beach, there is much more space to lay out and soak up the sun’s rays. A lot of bars and restaurants also operate right on the sand so you and your party are able to dine in little hut-like spaces just steps from the water.
Activities like jet skiing, parasailing and flyboarding are also widely popular here because of the extensive area of the beach. Visitors are also able to try snorkeling and scuba diving too to explore the underwater world. Of course, many people come to Greece in search of a wild party, and, courtesy of the popular beach resorts nearby, that is available here too. Don’t come here expecting something like the parties of Mykonos though. While a good time is always able to be had here, the overall vibe of the island is fairly relaxed so be conscientious of this if you choose to go out.
Take A Catamaran Cruise
One of my favorite things to see and do in Santorini is to take a Catamaran cruise around the Caldera. I visited in July so the weather was nice and hot as is typical of the Mediterranean during this time of year. In my opinion, it’s the best time to go to Santorini (although, understandably so, many people disagree). Stretching out on the mesh nets hovering over the waves as the ocean breeze cooled us off and only further added to the magic of the moment. My sister and I laid down and let the sun bronze our skin while we gazed upon the sturdy rocks in front of us.
The ship took occasional stops in the journey to allow us the opportunity to jump off the boat and swim. My favorite amongst the stops was at the hot springs of one of the volcanic islands, Palea Kameni. Due to the constant volcanic activity happening below, the waters remain between 86 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The water was so warm and pleasant that my sister and I even convinced our Grandma to join us for a dip. The tranquility of the atmosphere combined with the crystal clear waters have created a memory that will stay with me forever. The rest of the cruise consisted of a delicious meal and views of a breathtaking sunset that is always best experienced on the water.
Tour The Ancient City of Akrotiri
This prehistoric city from the Bronze Age adopted the name of the nearby town, as its true name is unknown. Archaeologists began uncovering this buried settlement partially in the 1860s and fully in 1967. Until this date, the town had been preserved in volcanic ash since 1500 BC. From the ruins, we are able to see the way of life of those that lived in Santorini long ago. The findings that people have been able to unearth point to what once was a prosperous port city. Its inhabitants lived in 2-3 story homes painted in beautiful frescoes, and they created their own wines, furniture and clay creations. It is also believed that they had heating and indoor toilets.
Its destruction came with one of the most powerful volcanic eruptions in history, creating a crater 4 miles wide, and covering the island in 200 feet of debris and ash. While the ash has preserved a decent amount of the city, it also means that the dig is difficult and strenuous. Experts believe that only a third of the city has been revealed, and new finds are happening constantly. Visiting this site created a new perspective on this great civilization for me. I firmly believe all of the visitors of this island should go see it. It’s located on the southern end of the island, only about a 20 minute car ride from Fira. There are also options for bus tours. Entrance into the building is around 12 euro for adults.
Hike Skaros Rock
In my opinion, a trip can’t really be complete without an adventurous activity. Thankfully, hiking is one of the things to do in Santorini. Hiking Skaros Rock is the perfect way to see a different side to Santorini while also doing something physically exerting in the best way. The rock itself jets out from the town of Imerovigli, and a castle used to rest at the furthermost point. Sadly, it was destroyed in an earthquake in the 19th century, so only some of its remnants are present today. An easily accessible trail created by the Agios Georgios Church links the town and the rock. Visitors are able to walk this path to get to the end of the rock.
While the hike isn’t long, it can be rather strenuous for people who have a difficult time walking up and down hills. The path to the rock follows the natural topography of the land and so there is a steep incline going down from the town, and then it rapidly increases in elevation as it nears the rock. Therefore I advise against doing this trek if you or someone in your party requires assistance while moving. There is still a lot to do from the town of Imerovigli, such as visiting one of their many bars or restaurants, and from there you are able to have stunning views of the rock from the comfort of a chair.
Santorini the Greek Island is unsurprisingly a fan favorite and it is definitely on the top of my list of places I want to return to. Whether you spent your trip diving into the deep history of the island, devouring Greek salad in a cliff side restaurant, or just wandering around the city, you are sure to be content. With so many different things to do in Santorini, it will have you returning back home sunkissed, with a full heart and a mind full of new traditions and cultural insights.
This island is a popular choice for honeymooners, and for good reason. There are so many different romantic spots on the island that will make you and your partner feel like you are in your own little world. One of the top things to do in Santorini is to rent an ATV and explore the island. This way you and your partner can enjoy some time alone while seeing areas that are not widely publicized. Or, you can visit Eros Beach, named after the Greek god of love and desire.
Santorini is going to be more expensive than other parts of Greece, due both to its remote location and popularity. Finding a place to stay is going to be your biggest financial hurdle, but if you want to stay on a budget there are hostel options available. If you want to save on transportation costs, you can always take the bus and explore cities by foot.
I have been to both islands, and love them both for different reasons. If you are looking for a party vibe, then Mykonos is definitely the place to go. The demographic of visitors to this island is younger, as people regard that island as a prime party location. Spots are also more easily accessible here as the town is not situated high up on towering cliffs like it is in Santorini. That being said, I really loved the more tranquil energy of Santorini, and while the beaches were harder to access, the island makes up for it with its stunning views.