Santorini, Greece continues to be one of the top destination for summer travel, and for good reason! With unique beaches, white-washed villages, delicious food, and famous sunsets, it’s definitely a bucket list worthy stop on your trip to Greece. Be sure not to miss these Santorini highlights, and follow these tips to avoid the crowds!
Despite increasing in popularity and becoming much more touristic over the years, this island continues to take my breath away and enchant me. I traveled through Greece with Fantasy Travels and the entire trip an absolute dream, and Santorini was definitely a highlight. This island has some of the most stunning, unique beaches, delicious Greek food, picture-perfect old villages, and of course world-famous sunsets.
I promise you won’t want to miss Santorini on your next trip to Greece, and you’ll have an even better experience if you know how to explore the island away from the crowds! These are the best things to do in Santorini, and can’t miss stops for the perfect Santorini holiday.
These are the spots you absolutely can’t miss on your Santorini trip! Be sure to add these to your Santorini itinerary and follow my tips to help avoid the crowds — yes, it’s possible even during peak season!
1) Red Beach
The iconic Red Beach in southern Santorini is a can’t miss stop on your trip. With towering red walls of rock and dark blue, clear-as-day waters, it’s definitely one of the most unique places in Santorini.
This beach is easy to reach by car or ATV, and there’s a parking lot very close to the beach itself, as well as a few little stalls selling snacks, fruit, water, and other drinks. Please be careful to take your trash with you and do not leave waste at the beach!
TIP to avoid the crowds:
When heading down the main path toward the Red Beach, you’ll also see a fork with a smaller path leading to the left. This path takes you to a smaller section of beach with views onto the red rocks. It’s much less crowded for some reason, despite arguably better views!
2) Black Beach
You’ve seen the Red Beach, now it’s time to visit Santorini’s iconic black beaches, made of pulverized volcanic rock! Perissa has long been the most famous black beach, with lots of cute cafes, beach clubs and lounges, and hotels.
It’s definitely a fun stop if you want a high-energy beach day, but arrive early to get a lounge chair from a restaurant because they can fill up quickly! (You won’t want to lay on the black beaches with a towel or walk around with bare feet — the sand gets extremely hot!) My favorite restaurant in Perissa is Tranquilo (fresh vegan takes on traditional Greek cuisine) so try to snag a chair there in the morning and then eat all day!
TIP to avoid the crowds:
If you missed your shot at getting a beach chair in Perissa or simply prefer a quieter beach experience, head just a couple of kilometers south of Perissa beach until you get to Perivolos Beach. It has the same cute restaurants and beach lounges, but with far fewer people.
It would be impossible to leave Santorini without making a stop in famous Oia. This is probably the most beautiful village in Santorini, with excellent sunset views attracting thousands of people every night. If you visit for sunset, be prepared to be crammed on the streets with massive crowds of tourists.
Tourists and locals agree that Oia is probably the most beautiful village in Santorini. Along with it’s quintessentially Greek white washed homes and blue domed churches, Oia’s location on the northwestern tip of Santorini means you also get incredible views of the rest of the island from virtually any viewpoint.
You’ll also find beautiful boutiques, hip restaurants serving locals dishes with modern twists, and luxury boutique cave hotels. It’s definitely a spot you won’t want to miss on your Santorini itinerary, even if it’s just for a leisurely breakfast and quick wander through the streets.
TIP to avoid the crowds:
Oia at sunrise is incredibly stunning and underrated. The light is soft as it slowly peaks through the church domes and lights up the white houses. Plus it’s completely quiet! I definitely recommend catching sunrise in Oia rather than sunset, and then grabbing an early breakfast at one of the cliffside cafes (you won’t need to fight for the best seat, either, because you’ll be the first one there!).
Perhaps Santorini’s most famous activity is sunset-watching. The islands cliff-top villages, white houses, and vast sea views create some pretty epic sunsets where the sky lights up in orange and pink and the sun is big and round until it disappears behind the horizon.
The most popular spot for sunset-watching in Santorini is Oia, but it gets packed with thousands of people every night. If you’re looking for a more chilled, intimate sunset, there are plenty of places to visit that don’t attract nearly the same size crowds as popular Oia!
To be honest, if you’re on the west coast of Santorini, you could stop wherever you are and find an incredible viewpoint for sunset. Just make sure you are outdoors, can see the sea, and are facing west!
TIP to avoid the crowds:
Try catching sunset from Firostefani or Imerovigli, two towns near Thira with excellent sunset views but that are much quieter at night. Imerovigli is amazing because you can have views of Skaros Rock, or even climb Skaros Rock to catch the sunset!
Another option is to head south to the Akrotiri Lighthouse. You may only find a dozen or so other people there for sunset, so you’ll really have an amazing semi-private experience. This view is unique because, as the lighthouse sits at the southwestern tip of the island, you get views of the entire island of Santorini and all the villages lining the coast.
One of the few foods that grow on the arid island of Santorini is grapes. And with the mineral-rich volcanic rock and hot sun, the island is the perfect climate for producing delicious wines.
You’ll see wineries all over the island where you can do tours and tastings, the most famous being Santo Winery. Of course this winery is beautiful, and has amazing views of the sea at sunset, but keep in mind that it’s become very popular over the years and therefore can get very busy.
If you want a quieter wine tasting experience with more personalized attention from the staff, try visiting one of the smaller wineries on the island! There are plenty of them, and you’ll get a more personalized tasting experience and won’t miss out on quality, either.
TIP for avoiding the crowds:
My favorite wineries were Argyros Estate, Vassaltis Vineyards, and Domaine Sigalas. They have beautiful spaces, and Argyros and Vassaltis also have pretty great views of the island! Also try Artemis Karamolegos Winery (right next to Argyros, with an amazing food menu) and Gaia (which is one of the few wineries you’ll find in the world that is located right on the beach).
Santorini food is something that can’t be missed. You’ll find so many cafes, restaurants, and beach clubs in the popular towns and, to be honest, they are all probably pretty good with fresh ingredients.
Many get packed during meal times, and it’s not uncommon to be turned away or sat in some dark inside corner if you’re traveling solo (where’s the hospitality, folks??). Plus, those restaurants in trendy towns like Oia with views of the ocean are much more expensive and tend to be less authentic.
Many of these hip, popular restaurants have modernized their cuisine which can be fun too! But if you’re looking for affordable, local cuisine, you may struggle a bit to find it along the coast in Oia or Thira. I suggest exploring the smaller villages inland to find more “hidden gems” with local, authentic cuisine.
TIP to avoid the crowds:
If you’re looking for a more unique experience with authentic Greek food, head inland to one of the smaller villages for a bite to eat. I recommend Metaxi Mas which served me one of the best meals I had in Greece, along with super friendly service and outstanding views of the island from the hilltop village in which it’s located.
To be honest, you’ll definitely encounter “crowds” here, but they’re crowds of locals! And crowds of locals at a small restaurant is definitely a good indication of excellent food. Come for lunch (less busy) or for amazing sunset views, or head there after your beachside sunset is over. If you want a spot on the patio, make a reservation!
One of the things that makes Santorini so charming is the many little villages scattered around the island. Each has its own character, as well as the iconic white washed houses and occasional blue domes that you’ll see in any Santorini postcard.
Oia and Thira are the two most popular villages on the island, and they’re fun to visit for bustling crowds, cute (but pricey) boutiques, and trendy restaurants and bars.
But don’t miss some of the quieter towns as well. You can easily drive around Santorini on your ATV and stop whenever you see a cute town and just explore. The locals are super friendly and you’re sure to find great photo-ops wherever you are!
TIP to avoid the crowds:
The town of Pyrgos is a great option if you’re looking for an authentic Santorini village (think: still active churches, locals who don’t speak English, donkeys, etc). Plus, not many tourists come here, so it won’t be nearly as packed as Oia and Thira. It’s still very photogenic, however!
Perhaps the best way to see the Greek Islands is by boat, and Santorini is no exception! This was the highlight of my Santorini trip and I can’t recommend it enough. I did a sunset cruise around the island that began in the afternoon, visiting the Red Beach, White Beach, some epic rock formations, hot springs, and ultimately settled out at sea for the most spectacular sunset I’ve probably ever seen… ever.
The tour also included a delicious multi-course dinner cooked by our skipper, and unlimited wine, beer, and other beverages. It was the perfect way to see some of the best spots in Santorini completely away from the crowds!
TIP to avoid the crowds:
If you want a more chilled, private experience, I recommend booking a private or semi-private boat tour with Santo Cruises, rather than joining a giant group boat tour which can get a bit rowdy. I joined a family group as a solo traveler and we all bonded immediately — it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Santorini!
Santorini Travel Tips:
Be sure to read through these Santorini travel tips for information to help make your visit as easy as possible!
Getting to Santorini
You can get to Santorini by taking a ferry boat or flying. I recommend at least take a ferry boat from Santorini, because the airport is way too small for the amount of travelers it hosts each day, and it was probably my least favorite airport on the planet, so you won’t want to be waiting around there for your flight. However, flying is a bit quicker, so it’s up to you if you’d rather try to same a couple of hours and brave the Santorini airport.
Ferry boats to/from Athens are around 4.5-7.5 hours, and it generally won’t take you more than 3 hours by ferry to travel between any of the Cyclades islands (including Mykonos, Naxos, and Paros islands. From Crete (Heraklion) the ferry takes around 2 hours, depending on the type of ferry you take.
Getting Around Santorini
It’s possible to visit most of the popular spots in Santorini by bus, but you’re a bit limited if you want to check out places early in the morning or late at night.
I recommend renting an ATV for that full Santorini experience! Costs range depending on company and time of year, but expect to pay around 25-35 Euro during low season and 35-45 Euro during peak season.
Additionally, you can rent a car or scooter in Santorini, but many companies are strict about having an international driver’s license or motorcycle license to do so. You may be able to find a company that will rent to you without this license, but you’ll need to ask around and your hotel probably won’t be able to recommend one to you. A scooter is probably the cheapest vehicle you can rent on Santorini.
Finally, while it’s technically possible to walk between many of the popular towns in Santorini, I wouldn’t recommend it during the summer. It can get very hot and the trails are not short (and are very hilly with lots of stairs!).
How to dress
In terms of dress, pretty much anything is appropriate in Santorini. You’ll see scantily clad locals and tourists alike at the beaches and beach towns, and there are even some nude beaches on the island. Of course if you’re visiting churches, you’ll want to cover up a bit to show respect.
Santorini is very hot and sunny, and without much shade. If you’re spending a lot of time walking around or driving an ATV, you might want to wear light colored, loose pants and long-sleeves to avoid getting scorched by the sun.
Perhaps the most important note of etiquette to mention here is about climbing on top of buildings to get photos. This has been common since the beginning of Santorini tourism, it seems (or at least since Instagram began), but locals find it highly disrespectful to see tourists stomping around on the tops of churches, and it’s just outright rude to be climbing on top of a stranger’s house without permission just to get a photo.
It’s your holiday, but their home. Please do not climb on top of churches for photos (I don’t care how cool the photo looks, this is blatantly disrespectful to the locals and their culture), and do not climb on top of random houses. Would you want to constantly hear the footsteps of strangers on your roof while you’re trying to eat dinner? Didn’t think so. So please, don’t do it.
I traveled through Greece with Fantasy Travel Greece and can’t recommend their services enough! They planned the perfect custom itinerary for me as a solo traveler, including all flight/ferry/private driver transfers, giving me just the right about of freedom and flexibility to not feel like I was confined by a tour schedule.
They also gave me 24/7 support, personalized recommendations for local restaurants and activities, access to their huge variety of tour partners all over Greece (including that amazing sunset cruise in Santorini and a wonderful walking food tour in Athens), and assistance when I was in a bind (such as needing to rent a car last-minute in Crete during peak season when everything was fully booked… oops).
Where to Stay
You’ll be able to find tons of incredible accommodations around Santorini ranging from basic homestays to luxury hotels. You can find some really unique accommodation options on Airbnb — click here to get $40 off your first booking (or make a new account with a new email address to get your discount!).
If you prefer to stay at a hotel, I recommend Volcano View Hotel in Fira. The location was perfect, views are unreal, staff is spectacular, and the breakfasts were out of this world. They even have live music some nights, three ocean view pools, and can help arrange activities, ATV rentals, and more.
I hope this guide has gotten you excited about visiting Santorini! Be sure to add these top things to do in Santorini to your travel itinerary and follow my tips to avoid the crowds, especially during peak season.
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Have any questions on traveling to Santorini? Leave them in the comments below!
This post is in partnership with Fantasy Travels Greece.
All opinions are, as always, my own. :)