Travel Tips for Santorini

When I recently shared a collection of travel tips for Japan, I must admit that self-deprecation aside, I was rather wary of it being a dull read. After all, my blog has never been about reproducing content from guidebooks written by seasoned travel professionals nor will it ever be an obedient slave to SEO tactics.

beautiful views Santorini

Much to my surprise though and serving up a much-needed boost to my unpalatable flickers of self-doubt, many of you liked that post. They may not go down in history as the most inspired pieces of creative prose but the feedback filtering my way suggested that I was under-estimating the value of such posts so after recently travelling to Santorini, I thought I would share a few pointers again for those who have never been. Don’t worry, it’s still filled with plenty of my archetypal waffle but hopefully with a practical spin!

famous Oia blue church viewpoint

Best Time of Year to Visit Santorini

When I was researching this trip, most of the negative energy I kept hearing about Santorini (and there wasn’t much) alluded to the island being crowded and busy, crowded and busy, crowded and busy. The wordy repetition became rather an ear-sore (is that a word?) to a lady wanting reassurance that she had made a good Greek island choice.

Santorini travel blog guide

Perhaps this was why it came as such a welcome surprise, when I eventually reached Santorini, to find that the crowds had largely dissipated, excluding specific locations, such as Oia Castle viewpoint at sunset. Two months earlier and it would have been a different scene altogether and the key reason why we had such a pleasant, crowd-free experience was because we went towards the end of the season in mid October.

best viewpoints Santorini

For Santorini, both from the point of view of climate and the degree to which the tourism industry is actually up and running, the season tends to span from April through to October and early November. Over the winter months, there are bargains to be grabbed with accommodation prices but many hotels and restaurants shut up shop so you need to weigh up your priorities in this respect. There were a couple of restaurants we spotted in October that were no longer serving their full menus as it was now off-season but other than this, it seemed business as usual.

bougainvillea photos Santorini

If you have flexibility, my suggestion would be to plan your visit either early in the season in April/May or towards the end of the season in September/October, thereby avoiding school holiday masses, escaping the scorching heat of the Southern Mediterranean at its hottest whilst landing on the island whilst it still has a bit of buzz. For bronzed skin without bus loads of tourists, opt for shoulder seasons.

photogenic stunning Greek islands

Avoid Cruise Ship Days

Ahhh cruise ships, you either love them or hate them and a few months ago, I shared my first cruise experience, which (spoiler alert), was generally a positive one. But when you’re not the one actually on the cruise, there is no safer way to spoil your tranquil Greek island afternoon than when 6000 people disembark their cruise ships en masse, clogging the streets in gigantic wedges, forming a virtually unbreakable border to those of us hoping to practice our agility by weaving through the masses.

cruise ship Santorini

We pre-empted this by referring to this site, which allowed us to get an idea of how many and which cruise ships would be coming into port on certain days. We then looked at our intended itinerary for Santorini to see if we could avoid being at port stops on those dates. Whilst it might not be possible to avoid the cruise ship crowds completely, they will certainly be more dense and cumbersome at the more popular parts of Santorini, such as Fira and Oia (especially at sunset) and if you already have some heads up, cruise ship days would be an ideal moment to explore some of the lesser known parts of the island.

Oia to Fira Hike

The other thing to note about cruise ships coming to Santorini is that many of them seem to either arrive early in the morning and depart mid afternoon or arrive mid afternoon and leave later in the evening so we chose to do the renowned Fira to Oia hike from around 10am – 2pm, thereby embarking on the hiking trails at a time when we could escape the cruise cohorts.

Santorini Weather

Shoulder season is often blessed with long, sun-soaked days and we certainly lucked out in that respect but this is obviously more of a gamble than booking for mid-summer. Are you the betting sort? Each of our five days in Santorini was bathed in blue skies and blazing rays, ideally suited for the shorts, T-shirts and sandals we had packed with oodles of zeal. The nights, however, were a different story and almost as soon as the sun would set, a steely chill crept through our sleeves, filling my arms with a cascading ripple of goosebumps.

Santorini colourful churches

Nights can get extremely windy as well – I’ll let the photo below do the talking so make sure you pack jackets, shawls or scarves and no matter how warm you are in the daytime, keep some layers with you for the evening. Every night, I made the same mistake, falsely reassured by the afternoon heat.

Santorini weather October

Steps and Inclines

I confess that for many years, all I really knew about Santorini were the images of blue-capped churches scattered between layered planes of whitewashed buildings that have been slapped across the front covers of international glossy travel magazines time and again; but their draw was such that I felt compelled to visit on the basis of those images alone.

travel information for Santorini

The panoramas are well deserving of their worldwide acclaim but it goes without saying that any island lending such spectacular volcanic, cliff side views is going to be accompanied by climbs and in Santorini, stairs and steps will soon become your friend (or your nemesis if you are unfit like me!)

steps staircases Santorini

There are ways to minimise the number of steps to contend with in Santorini, which I will come onto in the next section, but if you too have drooled over those sapphire-domed, postcard-perfect vistas and have dreamed of staying in the thick of the idyllic Santorini hillside villages, then you cannot escape steps and you need to prepare for plenty of them.

pretty houses Santorini

To give you an example, at our hotel in Oia, there were around 90 (steep) steps up from our room to street level meaning that we were routinely doing the 180 step loop several times a day. Our hotel in Firostefani comprised fewer by a small margin but neither of these arrangements are atypical for the area and very few (if any) hotels come equipped with a lift.

Oia Amoudi Bay Walk

If you have mobility issues or experience difficulty walking on inclines, this may be a more challenging destination and it may also be worth finding out, before you book your accommodation, how many steps you will need to climb. This is not a destination, for example, that my parents would have coped well with, considering just how many uphill climbs were involved.

Oia blue churches sunset

Similarly, if you are travelling with buggies or little people, it can be done (though we didn’t see many couples attempting it) but you will certainly need bigger biceps than mine if you plan to carry a pushchair and a small person up a hundred steps in 28 degree heat!

We were very grateful to the hotel staff during both our hotel stays, who were kind enough to carry our bulky suitcase up and down from room to street level for us but if you are staying somewhere where this may not be the case, then be sure to pack lightly with something a little easier to transport around.

blog post Santorini

Where to stay in Santorini

So if you can’t do stairs, you can’t do Santorini, right? Wrong. Logic dictates that an island filled with hillside villages and towns must also have some activity at the bottom of those hills! If you and staircases aren’t yet on intimate terms, then you may prefer to base yourself in beachy areas of Santorini like Kamari Beach, Perivolos or Perissa Beach, filled with a number of coastal hotels and resorts, near or on ground level, easily accessible by car and from where you could still make day trips towards Oia and Fira without needing to deploy any luggage-laden, rock-climbing skills.

Kamari Black Beach Santorini
Kamari Black Beach

If you aren’t seeking a beach resort but are on a quest to find *those* postcard perfect views from the balcony of your hotel or apartment, it is more than likely that the image in your head is from Oia or Fira, the two most renowned regions of the island but also the two that will have you coughing up most dough and that receive most crowds (there’s that ugly word again!)

Santorini travel blogger guide

For all the sitting-on-the-fence, happy-medium sorts, dreaming of poolside relaxation with a view minus all things “touristy”? For you lot, I recommend Imerovigli or Firostefani instead, which are havens of serenity compared to the hustle and bustle of Fira without any compromise on the views. We chose Firostefani for part of our stay and given it was only a 10-15 minute walk from Fira, we found it gave the best of both worlds.

panoramic viewpoints Oia
The Magic of Oia, Santorini

Fira, Oia, Firostefani and Imerovigli all have hotels that afford aerial views over the Caldera in Santorini but if views are a high priority for you, make sure you clarify whether the “magnificent views” mentioned in hotel reviews or sites relate to sunset views, caldera views or views of the town. They are all beautiful in their own way but  you  don’t want to pay a premium for a balcony with “a view” if you’ve got the wrong end of the stick about what that view is. My preference was the Caldera view. There are many spectacular sunset locations in the world (you might remember that Jimbaran Bay, Bali was one of my highlights) but the Caldera view in Santorini was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

Caldera View Santorini

Transport in Santorini

You need wheels. There, that might be my most succinct sentence ever on Why Waste Annual Leave. Unless Oia and Fira are the only two regions on your itinerary, you will benefit from having some wheels at your disposal, whether that’s a cheap and cheerful hire car or dare I say it, even a quad bike. Pumpkin and I have never needed or chosen to use hire car services on our previous travels together but in Santorini, it gave us an enormous amount of freedom to travel to areas, which would have been laborious, at best, to reach by public transport.

top tips Santorini

Taxis are few and far between and unless you have prearranged cabs picking you up and dropping you off at set times, they are not easy to locate and hail on the streets. This is not Manhattan so don’t expect to find cabs floating around on every corner if you’ve had one too many Vinsantos at the end of a night (when in Santorini!)

hire car companies Santorini
The “3rd Wheel” on our Romantic Holiday 😀

That leaves the bus, which does travel directly from Oia to Fira and vice versa but for many other areas on the island, you will need to take the bus to Fira first and then change and these are not buses that rock up every 2 minutes so having your own transport makes life easier.

We had planned which areas we wanted to visit that were not within easy reach on public transport and therefore calculated we only needed the hire car for around 36 hours to see those areas, notably Perissa, Perivolos, Kamari beaches and the Akrotiri ruins.

Akrotiri Ruins Santorini
Akrotiri Ruins

Put the Camera Down

Yes, that’s right, I said put it down. Santorini is spectacular. I know that people describe many smaller and equally beautiful Greek islands that are under-hyped and I look forward to acquainting with them one day. Until then however, I only have my own Greek experiences in Corfu, Crete and now, Santorini to reflect upon and even after seeing all the images, trawling through all the blog posts and sifting through gazillions of Instagram photos, this island left me lost for words with its endless whitewashed streets, architectural bursts of colour pop and cathartic Caldera views.

travel tips Santorini

So many tourists come here with a focused ambition to conquer that flawless Santorini view they have spent years dreaming of seeing. They while away the hours, aiming for the meticulously positioned snap with the blue church behind them at exactly the right angle, the sleepy sunset filtering downwards, their hair delicately caressing both shoulders in harmonious symmetry whilst their patient travel partners assume all manner of yoga positions to try and get the full outfit in.

sunset view Firostefani Santorini

Take photos by all means, heck it was the photos that first caught my eye and we fumbled around clumsily ourselves on a Santorini photo shoot remember) but please PLEASE, at some point, put the camera down and take a moment or fifty to admire this majestic volcanic island without the aid of a gadget.

Fira blue churches

No image, no matter how many settings you use, will ever bear the clarity, colour and vivid beauty of Santorini the way a pair of attentive,absorbed, fully functioning eyes can so if you’re lucky enough to have a pair of those, do not let Santorini be a destination where you forget to use them.

pink pastel buildings Santorini

Have you ever been to Santorini? Do you have any tips to add to this list?

39 thoughts on “Travel Tips for Santorini

  1. We were looking at going last year and didn’t purely because pregnant me didn’t fancy hoiking the child up and down endless steps and we wanted the famous views.. so I’m thinking this is high on my list for our 10 year anniversary sans kids… I’ll get those babysitters lined up now 🙂

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 19, 2017 — 1:50 pm

      Line them up, it’s so worth it! And definitely worth staying somewhere with the view – it was knackering but strangely quite rewarding doing what felt like a work out multiple times a day up and down all those steps!😁

  2. I’ve been to a few Greek islands but never Santorini. This post is so useful for when I eventually go! Beautiful photos and great tips!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 19, 2017 — 1:52 pm

      Thank you so much! Hope it does come in handy one day if you go! I’ve been to 3 Greek islands but have always loved them & found them so relaxing, friendly & beautiful. Would love to discover even more of them in the coming years! Which has been your favourite so far?

  3. Loved reading your post. Reminded me of the time I was there. It is indeed one of the most beautiful islands ever 🙂

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 19, 2017 — 1:53 pm

      Thanks so much for your kind comment Anushree 😊 So glad to hear you enjoyed it out there too! I’d love to return one day!

  4. A great post! I went to Santorini about 5 years ago. We went in September just after schools went back to avoid crowds but still get good weather. And yes, I made the same mistake most nights and didn’t bring enough layers!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 19, 2017 — 1:55 pm

      Haha, every evening I thought to myself, “pack a cardi tomorrow night” & every day, I got falsely reassured by how hot it was in the day! September is perfect I think as although we got lucky in October with the weather, I know it can be more hit and miss! Thanks so much for reading 😊

  5. Hey girl I love your work and your blogs are a great inspiration to me.

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 19, 2017 — 1:56 pm

      Thank you!

  6. I would love to go to Santorini and generally I’d imagine it would be crowded year around.

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 19, 2017 — 1:58 pm

      I think you’re probably right Julie – compared to many other islands, it probably is more crowded year round but so many things shut up shop over the winter that those times are much quieter, perhaps too quiet so shoulder seasons can be a good compromise in that respect but I guess it all depends on individual preferences & priorities. Thanks so much for reading 😊

  7. …………. fantastic …. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 19, 2017 — 1:58 pm

      Thank you!

  8. What a timely post! We’re going on Saturday 🙂 Staying in Oia.

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 19, 2017 — 1:59 pm

      Hope you are having a wonderful time out there Angie! Despite the fact that Oia can be quite crowded & touristy, it was still my favourite place there overall but everywhere we visited on the island was beautiful!

  9. Such a great post, so well put together! These are fantastic tips for anyone planning a trip to Santorini. Also, it brought back such beautiful memories from my Santorini holiday from last year. We visited in early May and stayed in Imerovigli to beat the crowd. Hiking from Imerovigli to Oia was epic, the Caldera views were simply breathtaking. Santorini lived up to all the hype and I can’t wait to go back 🙂

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 19, 2017 — 2:25 pm

      Thank you Ameeta! 😊 Totally agree it lives up to the hype ! I’d go back in a heartbeat too & that hike was so worth the huffing and puffing! Imerovigli is the perfect balance between gorgeous views minus the crowds – was so peaceful when we were walking through it!

  10. Planes & Champagne June 13, 2017 — 10:27 pm

    What a great post Shikha!! This reminded me of Mykonos a lot actually – we visited last May just before the start of the season and it was the perfect time to visit as there were no crowds. We even talked ourselves into hiring quad bikes – although I was somewhat of a liability lol! Santorini is high on my wishlist – I’m definitely going to look into going this October for our wedding anniversary as we haven’t made any plans yet and it looks just perfect! xx

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 19, 2017 — 2:44 pm

      Do it Maggie! We went in October & it was perfect! Funny you say that about Mykonos as that was the other island we were thinking of & they both looked & sounded so stunning that we didn’t know which to pick but knew we would want to go to the other one at another time in any case!

  11. I’ve wanted to visit Santorini for so long!! Probably not ideal with a baby now though with all those steps so it may have to wait a while. Beautiful pics though. Santorini is just picture perfect 🙂

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 19, 2017 — 2:46 pm

      Lol, it can be done Ayla, just depends how good you are at carrying babies up dozens of steps!😀 It really is like a postcard & although some people disagree, for me personally, it totally lived up to the hype!

  12. so I’m guessing that u rather liked Santorini?? I looks marvelous. i would have trouble putting my camera down to be honest I think..

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 20, 2017 — 5:30 am

      It was tricky, Andy! But so many people were photographing constantly without taking even a minute to stop & stare at how gorgeous it is even without a lens!

  13. I’d love to visit it one day, off season, of course:)

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 20, 2017 — 5:31 am

      Yes, would definitely recommend the shoulder season if you ever decide to go Tanja!

  14. My sister went to Santorini for her honeymoon and saying she can’t get ‘santorini’ out of her mind. She keeps looking at the pictures ( and keep posting them too !) Infact they have planned to get the Santorini theme for thier new home. Your pictures are seriously amazing and what detailed description. Loved it( specially the ones with Bougainville ) 😊

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) August 6, 2017 — 4:25 pm

      Oh wow, a Santorini themed home sounds so magical! I can see why she was so mesmerised – it’s a truly spectacular island! Thanks so much for reading – I’m so glad you liked the pics! Bougainvillea always reminds me of holidays in sunny places☺

  15. What a brilliant post, have been considering going for a while so thanks for the detailed and entertaining read! Also great pics

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) August 26, 2017 — 5:09 am

      Oh thanks so much for the lovely comment. Hope some of the tips come in helpful if you do end up going. It’s a stunning island to visit!

  16. Nice photos! Santorini, my dream destination ❤️

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) August 26, 2017 — 5:19 am

      Thanks so much Seth! It was really one of my dream places too. Even when it’s a bit crowded, it’s so pretty ☺💙

  17. Great tips, we were thinking about going to Greece soon, so this is perfect! We just recently got back from Bora Bora, French Polynesia and posted tips on how we saved over 66% on our trip there.

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) September 27, 2017 — 10:51 pm

      Oh my gosh, I’m so jealous as would LOVE to go to French Polynesia & if you’ve found a way to do that more cost effectively, well then that’s a blog post I’ll definitely be checking out! Santorini was beautiful & still so many other Greek islands I want to visit still!

  18. Great post! These tips are so helpful – I’m hoping to head to Santorini sooner rather than later! The photos are always amazing, and usually photos don’t do justice, so I’ll probably die from beauty overload when I get there, but that’s alright with me 🙂

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) October 29, 2017 — 8:53 am

      That’s exactly how I felt, like the beauty everywhere was just overwhelming even after I’d seen hundreds of photos! You know a place is spectacular when it not only lives up to its huge hype but also exceeds it, though I imagine even many of the lesser talked about Greek islands are just as magical! So glad you found some of these tips helpful & hope you have the best time when you do go!😊

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