The beautiful island of Santorini Greece is about the most famous Greek island of them all. This Cycladic island is known for the beautiful town of Oia with its glorious sunsets and beautiful views over the caldera.
The ferry takes about 4 – 5 hours minimum to reach Santorini from Athens. And when they get there, many people focus solely on the village of Oia. You’ll have seen pictures of Oia with its spectacular views and traditional houses built like caves in the rock.
It’s totally understandable why, especially for people short on time. And particularly if they’re visiting for the day on one of the many cruise ships that descend in the high season.
But, I’d say it’s a mistake because there’s a whole island to discover. So let’s look at some of the day trips and tours you can do from Santorini.
Here I’m covering Santorini day tours of the best places to visit so that you can make the most of your time on this picturesque island.
There’s plenty around the island to keep you occupied even if you’re visiting the island for a week or more. I know most people stay for a shorter amount of time so there’re options for you, too.
Ok, let’s head into the best day trips from Santorini. (Note that not all of these day trips will run in the off-season.)
Watch the Sunset Over the Caldera
Ok so I’m starting with an evening trip but I think you’ll forgive me! Santorini is known for its beautiful sunsets and has won plenty of awards. And it’s true, the sunsets are spectacular.
Thanks to mass tourism on the island you’ll be jostling for a prime viewing spot on the streets of Oia if you go in peak season. But if you can visit in the shoulder season (May and September – October) you’ll have much more space on the village streets. Get there early and be prepared to wait for the show.
Don’t forget that you get breathtaking views of the caldera and sunset from pretty much anywhere along the west coast. If you head towards Akrotiri lighthouse there are some great parking spots off the road with a slightly different perspective.
Stop there for a quieter sunset experience while still getting the panoramic view of the caldera and Oia village. Of course, the lighthouse itself is another great spot but it too can get a bit busy in peak times.
Megalochori is another quieter spot. Head for the Heart of Santorini and get some photos at the church. If you’re feeling adventurous walk all the way down the path to sea level.
Sunset Cruise Half or Full Day Trips in Santorini
Alternatively, consider taking a sunset cruise. (I did this one.) You can choose something budget-friendly or go all out on a luxury catamaran option. Either way, the sunset is the same. You’ll set sail early evening and then cruise around the caldera to get the best view when the sunsets.
Visit the Archaeological Sites
The Akrotiri excavations are a really important historical site in Greece, not just on the island. It’s one of the best day trips on Santorini as the site is well organised. It’s also housed in a bioclimatic structure so it’s pleasant to walk around whatever the weather.
Because you probably won’t really know what you’re looking at it’s best to have a tour guide take you around. That way they can point out what you’re seeing and you’ll get a much more exciting picture of the history you’re witnessing.
Ancient Thira is another of Santorini’s well-organised ancient sites. It’s basically an old settlement at the top of the mountain between Perissa and Kamari. You can hike up from both villages but the easiest way is to get the minibus from the bottom of the hill.
I drove up which in the off-season was fine. In the busier months, I think it would be hard to park. Check with your hotel or local travel agency for information about visiting. It’s part of some full-day tours which will take care of all your travel arrangements.
Anyway, the site has enough information so that you can read the signs and imagine what the ruins would have been. The site also has the most magnificent views of the island and the sea beyond. You can get a really good view of Anafi as well as the planes coming into land at the airport.
If you’re planning to go to Akrotiri, Ancient Thira and the Archaeological Museum at Fira too, then get the combined pass that gives you access to all three places. It’ll work out a bit cheaper for you.
Go Shopping in Fira
Fira is now the capital of Santorini and is much fun to visit. There are lots of shops and art galleries plus coffee shops and restaurants. There are plenty of things to tempt you in terms of gifts for yourself and souvenirs to take back for others.
Spend a good bit of time wandering the narrow streets and follow your nose to what you fancy. In the main square, you’ll find buses and taxis if you want to go on somewhere else afterwards.
During your visit to Fira, you can also take the cable car down to the old port. Alternatively take the many, many wide steps down and get the cable car back up. You don’t need to be going on a boat trip that leaves from the harbour to use the cable car to enjoy the view.
Whether you decide to take the steps of the cable car please don’t be tempted to ride the donkeys. It’s an old tradition. But there are concerns about the animals’ welfare and how much they have to work.
The donkey owners receive a percentage of the money made via the cable car so know that you’re helping them even by going that route.
Visit the Traditional Villages
Outside of Oia and Fira, there are some other small villages that are worth visiting.
Imerovigli has pretty, traditional architecture and is the highest point of the caldera. You can do a lovely walk along the caldera from Oia or just take a walk out to Skaros rock.
Emporio is a lovely place to get lost in. With its restored Venetian castle and narrow streets from Medieval times, you’ll find those photogenic white-washed, blue-domed churches alongside outdoor tavernas, top wine bars and exquisite boutique hotels.
Pyrgos is a pretty village built on a hill and has a great sunset view from Franko Bar at the top. Visit the little shops you find unexpectedly at every turn on the narrow white pathways and have a coffee at Kantouni on the way back down.
Between Emporio and Pyrgos is Profitis Ilias monastery which is at the highest point on the island. Walk if you feel energetic or take the car up. But either way, stop on the way up to admire the amazing views. If you’re an early bird, you can watch the sunrise from here for a change from the crowded sunset view.
Local buses run between the villages but the easiest thing to do is to hire a car to get around. I wouldn’t recommend a scooter or quad bike on Santorini. It’s not a small island and I’ve heard about umpteen fatal crashes so stay safe.
Choose from the Many Boat trips
A boat trip from Santorini is a great way to visit a few of the beaches and experience the beautiful blue waters. If you’ve been visiting Akrotiri take a boat ride to the White Beach with its white cliffs behind the beach. You can probably get this same boat taxi to the secluded Black beach a bit closer to the lighthouse.
On the way, you’ll pass the Red Beach but you shouldn’t stop there as the area is cordoned off. People still go but I’d advise against it. There’s a real chance of falling rocks from landslides. A rock to the head while swimming is a surefire way to end the holiday fun. So a better idea is to stay well away.
Volcano Tour Day Trip from Santorini
You’ll also find boat trips that will take you across to the volcano site and its hot springs. Santorini island used to be a circular landmass, like a doughnut. But during a volcanic eruption, the volcanic island broke up into pieces.
So now there is Santorini, which is the largest island of the cluster. Then there are two smaller islets – Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni -and Thirassia island. The volcano is dormant although it is technically an active volcano. The actual volcano is under the water but boat trips will take you up to the islets so you can walk above it.
The volcanic hot springs off the coast of Santorini aren’t like you might find elsewhere. The boats drop you off a little way back and you’ll swim to the islet go where the spring water mixes with the seawater. The water heats up to about 32 degrees centigrade with the warmer input.
So it’s warm for the sea, but perhaps not what you think about when sitting in a warm spring. You can still have a good trip but just manage your expectations about what you’re going to. (Oh and top tip, be aware that the minerals in the water can stain so take dark clothes/ swimsuit.
Walk the Caldera
Unless you get up super early in the morning this probably isn’t an activity for the hottest summer months. But if the weather allows then hiking the caldera is a great activity while on Santorini.
You can walk it either way. But if the afternoon heat isn’t too much then it’s nice to walk from Fira and end in Oia for the sunset.
It’ll take a good few hours – up to five depending on your walking speed and how much you stop to explore – but it’s worth it. You’ll get everything, the breathtaking views of the caldera, traditional architecture and the blue-domed church roofs.
If you’re not going for the sunset or the heat is too much in the day, then start early. Remember to take water, a hat and sunscreen or something lightweight to cover up with.
Do a Wine Tasting on Santorini
It’s said that Santorini wine is the best wine in Greece. That’s thanks to the volcanic ash that’s prolific on the island. There are loads of wine tours for tasting the local wine.
You can also book directly with wineries on the island for a tour. (Don’t just turn up though as particularly the smaller ones might not be able to accommodate you with no notice).
But the best way to sample a variety of places is to join a tour. (I did this one.) Airbnb has a number of wine-tasting experiences on Santorini. Because wineries are quite different it can be a good idea to take a tour that goes to three or more wineries.
Have a Day at the Beach
Santorini is known for its black sand beaches thanks to it being a volcanic island. These unique beaches might look a little bit different but you can still have good times on the sand, swimming in the Aegean Sea or taking part in some of the water sports on offer.
There’s a huge stretch of sand on the southeast of the island where two popular beaches, Perívolos and Perissa, run into each other. It’s a popular holiday spot and there are plenty of umbrellas and beds that come free when you order something from the beach bars across the road.
Another well-liked beach is Kamari a bit further up the east coast.
Join an Organised Santorini Day Trip
If you only have a short time on the island, or if you’re first-time visitors taking a full-day tour could be a great idea for you. It can make for a long day but you’ll get to see a load of major spots in one hit.
There are daily tours running that include tours of the island plus a boat trip. You won’t necessarily have a lot of free time to wander about on your own but you can’t have it both ways.
For the best Santorini tours check out the reviews of Airbnb Experiences or Viator. Filter your choices so you’re not overwhelmed when you’re looking. You can also ask at your hotel or Airbnb for recommendations.
Another option is to book a completely private tour of the island. That could be the best choice for you if you really are stuck for time or just have some very specific places you want to visit. You’ll get a unique experience that allows you to go everywhere you desire.
Visit Nearby Islands as Day Trips from Santorini
Thirasia is completely doable for a full or half-day trip from Santorini. It’s is a small island about 7 minutes on the boat from Santorini (get on at Oia’s old port Ammoudi Bay). People say it’s like Santorini a long time ago before it was spoilt by tourism.
It’s a quiet and interesting place to visit and a great place to go if you need some respite from the Santorini crowds. I did an e-MBT biking tour there with Explore Thirasia. They also offer hiking tours which is a nice way to discover the island.
If you want to do a day trip it’s probably best to join a group or private tour rather than relying on the ferry schedules. I saw on Airbnb Experiences someone is offering a boat trip to Anafi beaches which could be interesting.
The island of Ios is only 35 minutes away. You’ll find ferry routes between Santorini and Ios island throughout the year. Check whether the best option for a visit to this party island is a day trip or whether the ferry times lend themselves more to a hop there before or after Santorini.
For ferry ticket prices and routes use Ferryhopper to check the dates and times you want.
Enjoy Your Day Trips From Santorini!
So there you go. I hope you can see you can have a great time in Santorini even if you’re there for just a short time. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Santorini is just Oia. Do the whole island justice and plan to see more than just the beautiful sunsets.
For more sightseeing ideas, things to do and advice on visiting this island have a look at these:
- 25 Best Things To Do In Mykonos Besides Party
- Best Spas In Santorini For Relaxation And Wellness
- Santorini: How To Get Around By Car, Quad, Bus & Taxi
- 15 Best Apps For Greece Travel In Athens & The Islands
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