Visiting Santorini: 5 Things to do for First Timers

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Santorini is the stunningly beautiful Greek island so often featured in photos of the Greek islands. The setting is dramatic, scripted in a Hollywood movie, with villages set high atop steep, jagged cliffs. To add to this impressive facade, the cliff faces are black, as it is actually the rim of a volcano or caldera upon which these precarious, stunning villages have been built.

Add the crystal clear turquoise waters, sunshine, and azure-blue skies – it is indeed hard to resist. However, be aware that like many places which have been in the limelight for a long time, Santorini has become arrogant. It is expensive, crowded, and lacks the charm and hospitality of many of the other lesser-known Greek islands.

But hey, if you know why you are going and what you are likely to get for your money, then go with your eyes wide open – and a good Santorini travel guide. Here are some of the best ways to experience Santorini for first-timers.

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As a first time traveler to the Greek islands, we decided on visiting Santorini as this would take it off the list and we would know what it was all about. We also figured it wasn’t going to get any cheaper or less crowded in the future and we were there right before peak season started, so we thought the timing was good.

To Do on Your First Time in Santorini, Greece

Santorini, Greece – as mentioned, is built on the rim of a volcano. If you head to the north end of the island toward Oia, you can clearly see the curve of the rim. Oia is a great place to see the sunset.

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1. Take a Boat Tour

The first thing you should definitely do in Santorini is take a boat tour. You can go out on a boat and gaze the island from the water.

Many of these tours also take you to the volcano where you can walk across it and see how the island was formed. It is an interesting trip but be aware there is no shade. We were there before summer and it was plenty hot. You will need to bring your own sunscreen, hat and water.

Our tour also stopped after the volcano visit for us to have a swim and enjoy a local hot spring, then we had lunch on one of the neighboring islands. These tours run daily and there is something for every price point. I would 100% recommend it as it gives you a totally different perspective of the island and was a very pleasant day.

2. Explore the Villages of Fira and Oio

Santorini in the Greek Islands is famous for it's stunning views and sunsets. Should you go? What else is there to do? 5 Great things to Do in Santorini for a First Visit www.compassandfork.com

Both Fira and Oia are picturesque, Greek villages on the rim of the caldera. If you’re wondering where to stay in Santorini, most people will book accommodation in one of these two villages or the small satellite villages nearby.

Check out some of our favorites for trip planning on Compass and Fork!

Fira is the busy capital of Santorini. So, any exploration of Fira is best done on foot as the traffic is congested and parking is hard to find.

Oia is the best place to watch the sunset. The village is smaller than Fira but it is also very popular and busy. If you plan to visit Fira at sunset, you need to arrive early to find a spot.  It won’t be a romantic, peaceful sunset though as you’ll be sharing it with hundreds of others.

If you want to eat dinner at a restaurant in either village, reservations are recommended as well.

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3. The Cliff Walk Between Oia and Fira

Walk between two of Santorini famous points of interest along the cliff walk from Oia to Fira.  Stroll through the villages, take in the fantastic views and enjoy some lovely scenery. You can take the bus one way and walk in the other direction.

Depending on where you are staying and the time of day, pick which direction you would like to walk. Again, there is little shade so I would recommend morning, or late afternoon, for your walk. There are plenty of places to stop for a drink or a rest along the way.

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4. Lounge by your Hotel Pool and Relax

Santorini is not known for its beaches, it is better known for its stunning views from the clifftops. One whole side of the island has no beaches or waterfront to speak of. The back side of the island does have some beaches, which are volcanic.

The afternoons can be quite warm so relaxing by the hotel pool is quite pleasant. Despite the lack of a swimming beach, taking a dip in the refreshing pool under the Greek sun is idyllic.

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5. Try the Gelato at Lolita’s in Oia

The best gelato we found, and the one most recommended by the locals, was Lolita’s Gelato near the bus station in Oia. It is truly fantastic – you can  try any flavor before you buy.

Some of them are quite different, like the rosewater pink pepper flavor, but all of them are good. For something local, try the Greek yogurt flavor.

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If You Travel to Santorini…

Santorini is busy and the traffic is a nightmare, which can make it tough to get around. While the distances are quite small, it takes a while to get anywhere, and it is slow and congested. There is a bus service, which is inexpensive but also crowded.

Think about what you want to do and see on the island and stay there, then you only have to rely on transport to go to do other activities. We stayed in Oia as I wanted to be near the sunset, rather than have to travel up there in the evening to see it and then deal with returning to the hotel with crowds of other people.

We were walking distance to sunset, restaurants and a shuttle came and picked us up for a brief ride to the port in Oia for a boat ride.

Book your hotel in Santorini early, it is a popular island!

It is expensive though, so keep this in mind on your Santorini travel journey. Meals and drinks were much more expensive than other Greek Islands we visited, including popular and well known Mykonos.

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Getting Around Santorini

You will need transport from wherever you arrive – either the airport or the ferry dock to your hotel. We came in on the ferry and arranged a shuttle to the hotel. This worked out well as the driver knew where we were going and could call someone at the hotel to meet us and carry the luggage down the cliffside to the hotel.

Due to the fact everyone arrives and departs at the same time, our pick-up to return to the ferry was several hours before the actual departure time (and then the ferry was delayed for hours).

Our Parting Words

If you are looking for great Greek food, white sand beaches and seaside taverns, maybe give Naxos a try. Santorini is all glitz and glamour, but if that’s what you’re looking for, it could be the place to go.

If you want to go island hopping in the Greek Islands.  It is easy to combine a trip through Syros, Mykonos, Naxos, Santorini and Crete.  Travel by ferry along this route is easy. If you are planning a trip to the Greek Islands please review our tips for traveling in the Greek Islands, you might find them helpful.

 

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40 Responses

  1. Lynn Nevins
    | Reply

    Not sure if this particular site is still in operation but…when I was there in 2000, there was an archeological dig that tourist could visit. I forget the exact name of it, but I found it very interesting!

    • Editor
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      Lynn, not sure if the dig is still there or not. We didn’t notice anything about it but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Thanks for your comment.

  2. I love Santorini! Haven’t had the chance to go back for 5 years but I am looking into visiting Europe again next year! How’s the safety situation there?

    • Editor
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      Trisha, It was fine when we were there. I think there are a small number of islands that are not tourists areas really that have been affected. In most of the tourists spots it is business as usual.

  3. Thanks for your guide and tips. One of my dream destinations in Europe. I can’t wait to have a photo op on its white and blue building 🙂

    • Editor
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      Santorini is just one of those picture perfect postcards. You have to pinch yourself that it is not a dream.

  4. evan kristine
    | Reply

    I love your advices! They are indeed great, I’ve never been to Santorini but now it is for surely on my list!

    • Editor
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      Santorini is just one of those iconic places. I’m glad we visited, such fabulous memories and scenery.

  5. Mar Pages
    | Reply

    Thank you for an honest recount on the crowds. The photos I usually see are pristine and look quiet, but I would definitely expect a crowd knowing its popularity. Will check out Naxos too!

    • Editor
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      Mar, Yes, they never do show you the crowds! It is a beautiful place though- just stunning (which is why it has a crowd really). Naxos is much more laid back. Beautiful, great food and beaches and not as touristy.

  6. Jessica
    | Reply

    Amazing tips! Made me change some plans. Maybe short time here and head to Naxos.

    • Editor
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      Jessica, Sounds like a plan! Lots to do on Naxos (it is huge). But I do think Santorini is worth seeing.

  7. Kevin Wagar
    | Reply

    I’d always thought of Santorini as overly touristy and was worried it wouldn’t live up to the hype. It looks like there is a lot more to do there than I’d originally thought and I’m looking forward to my chance!

    • Editor
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      Kevin, It is really touristy! But I think it does deliver on the hype. If you can avoid the summer peak I would try! Very beautiful place.

  8. chandi
    | Reply

    It is so beautiful. I haven’t been there in 25 years. It was so interesting to see your comment that traffic is a nightmare because there was pretty much no traffic when I was there 25 years ago.

    • Editor
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      Chandi, I would love to have seen it 25 years ago. We almost went about 20 years ago, then it just fell off the list for awhile. I am glad we had the opportunity to finally go.

  9. Annemarie
    | Reply

    Always wanted to visit Santorini. Thanks for the newbie tips! 🙂

    • Editor
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      Annemarie, Hope you make it! It is a beautiful place.

  10. Claire
    | Reply

    Awesome – the villages around look absolutely charming! I love Greece but have never been to Santorini. But it’s on my list!

    • Editor
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      Claire, It was on our list for a long time. Glad we finally made it! Hope you do as well.

  11. Alexa Meisler
    | Reply

    The Cliff Walk Between Oia and Fira sounds amazing!

    • Editor
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      Alexa, The views were fantastic and it was all quite peaceful. (a bit hot but good nonetheless!)

  12. I think the great white building are so Iconic in Santorini that would be the top of my to do list. The cliff walk between the two cities lokks really cool as well, though I would want to feel so luxury there relaxing and eating in Oia, how nice.

    • Editor
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      The architecture is quite unique, the cliffside building is very dramatic. The pictures I had seen didn’t quite prepare me for the reality! It is amazing.

  13. Authentic Travels
    | Reply

    I am trying to go and visit Santorini for a long time. This post really made me to do it in the near future.

    • Editor
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      It was on our list for a long time. I hope you make it! It is a beautiful place.

  14. Christina
    | Reply

    I will definitely be doing everything on this list when we go to Greece. For sure the kids will insist on the gelato!

    • Editor
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      Christina, I am sure they will- but as an adult I’d make sure to go too!

  15. Christina Guan
    | Reply

    Thanks for the guide! I definitely want to do Greece at some point and Santorini is of course at the top of the list. Yeah it’s busy and quite touristy, but I think those postcard views are worth it. 🙂

    • Editor
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      Christina, That was what we thought! And the views are stunning. It is a beautiful place. I would combine it with visiting another island so you get a different perspective.

  16. Jennifer St Louis
    | Reply

    I have always wanted to visit Santorini. It looks so romantic!

    • Editor
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      Jennifer, It is a very romantic spot. Especially if you stay on the caldera side. Great place for a honeymoon or big anniversary!

  17. Tom
    | Reply

    These are some great tips for visiting Santorini! I hate crowds when travelling, but that is a part of travelling now unfortunately. That last photo is absolutely spectacular!!

    • Editor
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      Tom, I agree. Things seem much more crowded than even 5-10 years ago. We were there before the busy period and it was busy!

  18. We are planning Greece at some point and Santorini of course! This will be a good guide to remember!

    • Editor
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      It is a spectacular place. We have a whole host of Greek posts here.

  19. Kerri
    | Reply

    Love love love Santorini. I simply couldn’t believe that everything I saw was truly as beautiful as all the photos suggested. We did all of these things you’ve mentioned except for the cliff walk. We walked a lot of the streets to and from Fira, Firastefani and Oia but not the cliffs.

    • Editor
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      It is a great place to wander around isn’t it? It is like being in your own postcard. Thanks for your comment.

  20. Tarah Vongbouthdy
    | Reply

    Great tips! We are hoping to get to Santorini in the fall, so will definitely reference this post then! Santorini looks so beautiful!

    • Editor
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      It is a surreal place to visit. I hope you enjoy your trip. Thanks for your comment.

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