Santorini, one of the better known Greek islands, is a dream vacation for many, with its iconic white and blue houses amidst a backdrop of sunny clear blue skies and beautiful sea view. The best time to travel there is during the hotter periods, which is between June to September. However, you can still head there during the slightly off peak periods of April, May and October, when the weather is not too cold and prices are definitely cheaper.
If you have finally decided to travel to Santorini, here are some tips to help you along:
1. Ferry To Santorini
There are many ferries that travel to Santorini, but there are generally two types – the fast ferries and the slow ferries. Fast ferries such as the Hellenic Seaways and SeaJets will take about 4-5 hours to get you to Santorini. Otherwise, the slower and bigger ferries such as the Anek Lines and Blue Star Ferries will take almost twice the time (about 8- 9 hours) to get you there. Anek Lines and Blue Star Ferries are generally more comfortable because you get to walk around the vessel and there are lounge areas serving food and drinks.
Based on internet reviews and recommendations from some locals, Blue Star Ferries is the best of all the ferry operators. Both Blue Star and Anek Lines have overnight ferries to Santorini and also offer cabins accommodation (bed and bathroom).
I took the Anek Lines overnight ferry cabin room (because the timing for Blue Star did not fit my itinerary) and although the surroundings did not look very impressive at first, I must say that the room was pretty clean, with comfortable beds and fresh bath towels provided.
Some Tips If You Are Taking Anek Lines:
- If you have a lot of things to charge (e.g. camera, phones), you should bring a multi-plug on board because there is only 1 power socket.
- Food is available on board - they have a lounge area as well as a self-service canteen. However, the food variety is limited so I suggest you bring your own food on board.
- If you have booked your tickets online, you need to collect your boarding pass at least 2 hours prior to departure. Most ferries will have an office near the port. For Anek Lines (and I think for Blue Star too), if you arrive at the port after their office hours, you can collect your boarding pass at the ticket booths located near the ferries at the port.
- Although the time to travel to Santorini as stated in the booking reference is about 8 hours, don't expect the ferry to be on time. For me, it actually took about 10 hours to get from Athens to Santorini (after all the mini delays here and there). Therefore, I would not suggest planning anything (e.g. a flight) too close to the arrival time stated in your booking reference.
- When you are on board, I would recommend that you check with the information counter on the estimated time of arrival after the ferry has departed from the port. This will help you plan your activities on board (e.g. wake up time if you are on an overnight ferry). The crew will only knock on your door (if you stay in a cabin) about 20 minutes prior to arrival. They also make announcements when the ferry is about to arrive at a certain destination, but I find that the sound system is a little soft so I could not really hear what they were saying.
- Bring toiletries as the ferry only provides towels.
2. Transport In Santorini.
There are many forms of transport in Santorini. You can hire a taxi, rent a car (there are a couple of car rental companies at the ferry terminal and airport) or take a local bus upon your arrival at Santorini.
For me, I booked a local driver via the website Welcomepickups.com to pick me up from the ferry terminal. You just need to provide them with some details (e.g. flight or ferry arrival, passenger and luggage numbers) and they will provide you with the driver's details (including the driver's picture and contact information) upon confirmation of the driver. Welcomepickups have good reviews on Tripadviser and we had an excellent travel experience with our local driver.
Take A Local Bus
There are plenty of local buses that will bring you to the most visited places in Santorini. One of the most popular routes is from Fira to Oia. If you look up any of the Santorini travel guides, you will see a recommendation to hike from Fira to Oia. When I was in Santorini, I tried to do that, only to realize that the hike was really quite tiring as there were many steep slopes, uneven roads and steps to cover. In the end, I decided to take a local bus to Oia.
If you are in the main touristy area between Fira and Oia, there is one main road (that you definitely will not miss) that many people will take to get to and fro these 2 places. If you intend to take the local bus on this route, the bus route covers from Fira Central Bus Terminal to Oia Bus Terminal with several bus stops in between. The total journey time from one terminal to the other is about 15 to 20 minutes.
The bus stops are not really obvious (at least not to me). You have to look for the bus stop sign (refer to picture) and wait at the side of the road in the direction that you are heading towards (either to Fira or Oia). The buses are basically big coaches with the sign "local bus" and the bus frequency is about every 20 minutes.
When we were there, my husband literally typed "bus stop" on his Google map and it led us to a local bus stop at Imerovigli – although we made the mistake of standing at bus stop going to the opposite direction of where we wanted to go and wasted a good 15 minutes.
Local buses also cover other routes, such as Fira Central Bus Terminal to the airport or the ferry port. Don’t worry if your ferry arrives at Santorini at odd hours (I reached Santorini at 6am plus). There will still be local buses waiting to pick up passengers.
There is a bus conductor who will collect the bus fare before you board the bus. At the time we were there, the bus fare only cost 1.80 euro per person. To find out more about the local bus services, you can visit their website.
You can also rent an ATV to go around Santorini. I think it's generally quite safe (definitely not as hectic as Athens road), but do take note of the local buses. The drivers can be a little reckless and sometimes the roads can be a little narrow.
3. Old Port
Most people who travel to Santorini will go for the volcano and hot spring tour or visit the surrounding islands/areas via small ferries at the Old Port located at Fira (this port is different from the ferry port that Anek Lines docked). You can go down to the Old Port by walking down (which is a really long way down – 587 steps to be exact) or taking a donkey or a cable car (both cost 5 euros each, one way).
According to my hotel reception, there are 2 daily tour timings that go to the volcano and hot springs. I am not too sure if this only applies to the time I went to Santorini (in Oct) or throughout the year, but you can check with you hotel. The tour timings are 11am to 2pm and 2pm to 5pm. I arrived at the hotel at 9am and managed to sign up for the 11am tour occurring on the same day.
If you are interested to take tours that set off at the Old Port and would like to take the cable car down, I would recommend taking a morning tour as the queue for the cable car can get very long in the afternoon. There are some big luxury cruise liners that will dock close to the Old Port and their passengers will disembark and take the cable car to go up and down throughout the day. If you take the cable car down in the afternoon, most of the cruise passengers would be heading down as well to return to their cruise ships, so the queue can get a little crazy.
You can opt to walk as well, but do note that it’s a long way up or down and you will be sharing the route with donkeys, so the road is littered with what I like to call ‘land mines’ (i.e. donkey poop). It can get a little dangerous or scary for some as well because the donkeys sometimes walk towards your direction and you may get knocked by them or pushed into a tight corner.
But personally, I find that walking is safer than taking the donkey.The donkeys do walk pretty fast and when you are sitting on top of the donkey, you are above the low safety barrier of the hill slope walkway.
4. 24 Hour Bakery At Fira
If you are looking for a bite to eat at odd hours, don’t fret. There is an amazing bakery (serving coffee as well) which opens 24 hours at Fira Central so you can grab an early breakfast and enjoy the fresh morning air. There are no tables and chairs, so it’s really a grab and go establishment. However, at Santorini, it’s definitely easy to find a spot with a great view to enjoy your food. Try the classic spinach and cheese pie and their pineapple and vanilla croissant.
The bakery is next to the MacDonald's along the main road. For the exact location, you can refer to the picture of the location map, which was located just opposite the 24 hours bakery.
5. My 2 Day Itinerary At Santorini
Below is my 2 day itinerary at Santorini, which may help you gauge how much you can cover if you do not have much time, but would like to cover the main attractions at Santorini.
6 - 7am: We arrived at Santorini and went to our hotel located at Firostefani (which is a 20 minutes walk from Fira Central).
9am: We checked into our hotel and booked a volcano and hot springs day tour with the hotel reception. The tour starts at 11am at the Old Fort and we were advised to go there 1 hour prior to the start time. Took a leisure 20 minutes walk to Fira Central and took the cable car down to the Old Fort (no queue at all - awesome!).
10am: We arrived at the Old Fort and was advised by the tour operator to be at the ferry boarding point 10 minutes before 11am. Had a quick and awesome lunch at the Old Fort (if you go to the restaurant below, I recommend that you to try their lamp chops).
11 am to 2pm: The volcano walk and hot spring tour took about 3 hours in total. I would advise that you wear a good pair of walking shoes as the path on the volcano is pretty rough, with a lot of loose rocks. If you want to swim in the hot spring, do wear swim suit when you go for the tour as we were expected to jump directly off the ferry and swim to the hot spring).
2 - 3pm: We arrived back at the Old Fort and took the donkey back up to Fira Central because the queue for the cable car was too long. Took a leisure walk back to the hotel.
3 - 6pm: Rested at the hotel before dinner. The water in our room's outdoor Jacuzzi was warm so we had a great time soaking our tired bodies from the volcano walk.
6pm: Had dinner while watching the sunset at a restaurant facing the volcano.
8am: Went for a morning stroll to Fira Central to buy breakfast from the 24 hours bakery (can enjoy the beautiful morning view, fresh air and the quietness).
12 - 2pm: We checked out of our hotel, left our luggage at the reception and started our hike towards Oia. Midway through our hike, we reached the Skaros Rock (which is a beautiful place and definitely worth checking out) and had a late lunch at a restaurant around there.
2 - 3pm: Took a local bus from Imerovigli bus stop (which is short walk from Skaros Rock) to Oia.
3 - 6pm: Walked around to explore the more scenic side of Oia.
6 - 8pm - Took a local bus back to Fira Central, had dinner and walked around Fira Central which was quite lively at night.
8pm - Took a leisure walk back to hotel, in time to catch our transport to the ferry port for our overnight ferry back to Athens.
You can swap the itinerary of each day if you want to watch the famous Oia sunset (i.e. have dinner at Oia on day 1). However, I did read some internet reviews that it can get so crowded that you would not be exactly enjoying the view.
Of course, if you have more time to explore Santorini, there are also many beaches such as the Red Beach with its red and black volcanic pebbles, Kamari beach and Perissa Beach that you can go and while the time away.
I hope you find these tips helpful when you are planning to travel to Santorini on your next vacation. Enjoy!
Travel Chef from Manila on September 11, 2018:
The port in Fira is so crowded, but I still enjoyed strolling around the area. The cable car line was totally crazy long one! I was able to go up riding onto the cable car, then decided to come down taking the steps. It was really fun!
Alexander James Guckenberger from Maryland, United States of America on January 03, 2018:
I love the photos! Amazing.