Santorini's position as well as her popularity allow for multiple connections to the mainland and the other Cylcades islands. In high season there are two or three ferries that leave Piraeus for Santorini every day, and there are daily ferries to Paros, Naxos, Mykonos, Ios, and Anafi. Connections to Crete are spotty and less frequent though.
Somehow many ferry names in Greece imply "high speed", but that's not always the case, so check the amount of time they take to get to Santorini when you book your tickets. For example, "Highspeed1" ferry makes the trip Piraeus-Paros-Santorini in 5.5 hours, and costs almost twice as much as a regular ferry that makes the trip in about 9 hours.
The travel agents around the port of Piraeus and around Santorini can provide the tickets which must be purchased in advance. Some agents do not accept credit cards, so check before you purchase the tickets, or have cash available for the transaction. The majority of ferries that sail to Santorini stop also in the island of Paros.
Embarkation and disembarkation is very speedy and efficient, even if it looks chaotic to newcomers. The boats usually make a stop at Paros before reaching Santorini or Piraeus, and passengers and cars disembark and embark within ten minutes, so don't delay when you see the boat docking because it might take that much time to reach the gangway from the waiting area. You can eat your own food and drinks on any bar and lounge but not in the restaurants.
If you take the slow ferry and don't have an assigned seat, get to the boat early before it embarks and pick a comfortable seat for the whole trip. A comfortable couch in one of the boat's lounges is the preferred spot, especially one with a table. Many passengers choose to sit on the open decks, but remember that the wind can be annoying in the open sea, and the sun can be relentless if you are not in shade. If you choose to sit the trip out on the open decks, remember that the boat will turn during the trip and you might find yourself in a very hot and sunny spot.
The high speed ferries don't have any open deck space, and you'll be indoors for the whole trip, but the regular ferries have ample open deck space and even a swimming pool that gets filled if the sea is calm. Passengers laying on their own sleeping bag or foam mattress is common, as is sunbathing at the top decks.
One of the highlights of sailing to Santorini is the moment when the ferry enters the caldera and is engulfed by the entire island with it's tiny white houses hanging precariously above at the edge of the cliff. Ferries dock at the Athinios harbor which is not near the main destination towns of Santorini. The harbor offers no amenities and you must catch a taxi or a bus to the other towns around the island, so keep some cash available for the ride (there is an ATM at the peer). If you take the bus, be prepared to be packed like a sardine most of the days.
Santorini has an "International" airport. It's a small affair, and the name "international" means that flights from abroad land on it's tarmac. All of these are charter flights operated by foreign travel agents who usually sell vacations to Santorini as a "package" that includes the flight, hotel, food, and other amenities. If you do not purchase packaged vacation you would have to first fly to Athens and then catch a connection flight to Santorini.
The flight from Athens to Santorini only takes about twenty minutes and you must book your ticket well in advance. Aegean is the main airline company that offers flights to Santorini.
Every single cruise ship that sails around the Aegean will make a stop at Santorini for a few hours. Such short visit is never enough to absorb everything the island has to offer, but it will give you a good idea of the character, culture, and unique beauty of Santorini. If nothing else, your photos from Santorini will probably be the highlight of your trip.
Cruise ships never dock at the island's harbor. Instead, they drop anchor somewhere in the middle of the caldera and passengers disembark through an armada of large tenders. Getting to those tenders early should be your mission. Cruise ships give priority to those who have purchased one of their offered excursions, and you may find yourself waiting for over half hour to get to the island. This major bottleneck can diminish your time in Santorini, so make sure you get your tender number early so you get out as soon as possible.
The ride from a cruise ship to the tiny fishing harbor of Skala Fira's, right below Fira town takes about five minutes and the way to get to the town on the cliff above can be part of your cruise highlights. Although we wouldn not advice it, you may walk about 45 minutes up the cobblestone path, but keep in mind that you will be sharing the narrow path with many aggressive mules that walk up the cliff unattended. They have no regard for pedestrians and tend to leave large, ahem, pieces of their processed meals all over the place.
If you don't want to walk through such a minefield you may catch a ride with one of the mules at the harbor. Alternately, you can get a ticket for the cable car that connects the harbor with Fira. Both the mules and the cable car are more of an adventure than a ride and definitely not for the faint of heart. We recommend riding a mule up, and catching the cable car on your way back to the cruise ship. Be aware that the queue to the cable car on the way down will be very long, and your cruise ship crew will ask you to head for it at least half-hour before embarkation time.
In terms of shore excursions, they are yet another way for cruise ships to make some money so they promote them like crazy. In other islands such excursion are necessary, but in Santorini they are of little value during a short visit. If you opt for a bus ride to Ia, most of your time in Santorini will be taken with the bus ride, and if you opt for a boat trip to Kameni island you'll miss out on Santorini altogether. Neither would be a bad experience, but the best attraction of Santorini is walking through the cobblestone streets of Fira or Ia, and enjoying a drink overlooking the caldera and the sunset.
There are plenty of hotels and apartments for rent in Santorini, but staying at a place with full view of the volcano caldera is the best way to experience the unique character of the island. Of course, you'll pay a premium price for a room with a caldera view in Fira, Imerovigli, and Ia towns, but there are bargain accommodations if you are willing to look around a bit. In high season you should book your hotel in advance, but with the exception of late July and August, there will be plenty of hotel and room owners who will meet passengers disembarking at the harbor to offer them their services.
Fira is the most popular town to stay at. It has many hotels, restaurants, and shops, and the views of the caldera are beautiful. Imerovigli town, is really an extension of Fira and just as beautiful of a place to spend your vacation. Ia town at the northern part of the island has the reputation as the most romantic vacation spot in Greece and many couples choose it for their wedding or honeymoon. Ia is the town with the blue church domes you constantly see featured on countless postcards and Santorini posters.
If price is not an issue, you can opt for some of the more luxurious hotels on the caldera. They offer fantastic views, and some have swimming pools that would make your stay even more memorable.
For the budget conscious, you'll get much better prices in other villages around Santorini, especially in Kamari and Perissa where beds are plentiful and there is no shortage of bars and beaches. This being Santorini, one of the most popular islands in the world, the prices will still be higher than other Greek islands, but not forbidding.
If you opt for a hotel on the east side of the island, you can still get to the best views of Fira and Ia via bus or by a moped or car rental with ease. You can drive from one end of the island to the other in about one hour, and between the main towns in about half-hour.
The beaches of Santorini are not the first attraction that entices visitors to the island, but they are worth including in your daily activities.
There are several beaches on the island, each with its own character and beauty. Most famous are the "black beach", named for the volcanic black pebbles that line it, and the "red beach" that takes it's name from the red rocks that make up the whole landscape around it.
Visit the Santorini beaches page for more information...
Kameni are the little islands in the middle of the crater and there are several boats that offer day-visits to it.
The biggest attraction of the island is that it is the living manifestation of how active the volcano is. There are hot springs where the boat will let passengers swim, and a footpath through the charred landscape to the top of the little island where guides explain the volcanic activity.
The island is completely black and grows visibly though the volcanic activity, and it's dark color retains a great deal of the summer heat, so be prepared with hat and sturdy shoes. Most of the cruises from Skala Fira harbor and also include two hours of lunch and swimming in the little island of Thirasia after visiting Kameni islands.
Thirasia is a small, and very quiet island opposite the main island of Santorini and it too is part of the volcano's caldera.
Once the sun begins its descent, the west part of Ia town becomes packed with people who gather to enjoy a beautiful view of the sunset. It's a rite of passage for all visitors to Santorini, and especially young couples who get to enjoy a romantic sunset and an unforgettable view of the sea, the island, the volcano, the sky, and the sun.
While there is no shortage of bars and clubs in Fira and Ia, night life is more intense on the shallow coast of Santorini, away from the dramatic cliffs and the volcano, and especially around Kamares.
A little known fact is that Santorini is wine-producing country. If it is true that the best wine comes from vines that suffer much, Santorini vines produce some exquisite wine.
The island is so windy most of the year that local wine producers have developed a unique technique to keep them protected. The vines are trained low to the ground, and they are braided into a reath shape.
There is a wine Museum near the village of Messaria, and several companies that offer tours of the islands wineries.
Santorini is blessed with not only unparalleled beauty, villages, and spectacular geology, but also with a long and very active history that goes back 3500 years! Visit the museums and the archaeological sites of Santorini and marvel at the sophistication and advanced character of the Bronze Age culture that flourished on the island. This is a more expansive topic, so it gets its own page, so click here to read more about the archaeological sites and museums of Santorini...
There is no shortage of restaurants in Santorini, and most of the ones that line the caldera in the towns of Fira and Ia are of the expensive variety. As a rule of thumb restaurants with a view are pricey all over the world, and Santorini is not an exception.
If price is not an issue, having every meal overlooking the caldera would be a wonderful option every time and every day. But if you are on a budget, there are ways to stretch your money by choosing special days to enjoy dinner with a view, and days when a meal without the view would keep your expenses low.
The restaurants at Amoudi harbor, right below Ia village have excellent fresh fish dishes at very good prices, and the Just 4 Beer Restaurant in Kamari has an expansive collection of beers from all over Europe.