What should you see and do in Santorini if you have very limited time? Here is the perfect day trip plan and the Best Private Day Tours for you!
Santorini, Greece: You have heard so much about it and probably also read so much about it. It is now your time to come and see it for yourself. But you only have one day to discover it all.
So what do you do in such a limited time? Where should you go and how should you get there? What are the places you absolutely have to see before you go? Where to start?
You have many questions, but I am here to answer these questions and hopefully help you make the most of the time you have and plan your perfect day trip to Santorini.
In this article you will find a Basic Day Trip Plan for first-time visitors in Santorini, additional suggestions for returning visitors, advise for cruise passengers and everything you need to know to get around without wasting any time. You will also find more information on Santorini Private Tours and of course…. A guide on food and wine!
Just keep reading..
VERY IMPORTANT TO KNOW:
Best Things to Do/See in Santorini (for first timers) in 1 Day:
- visit the amazing Oia village
- visit or swim at the Black Beach
- visit a winery and have a wine tasting experience
- visit the picturesque Pyrgos village or the Emporio village
- go to the Mount of Prophet Elias
- visit or swim at the Red Beach
Best Things to Do/See in Santorini (for returning visitors) in 1 Day:
- visit Akrotiri Lighthouse and the Akrotiri Archaeological excavations (see it on Google Maps)
- walk around and take pictures of the picturesque village of Imerovigli
- hike between Oia and Fira (video)
- visit La Ponta Venetian Tower
- hike to Ancient Thira (see it on Google Maps)
- visit the Santorini Prehistoric Museum
- visit the Santorini of the Past Museum
Best Things to Do after sunset in Santorini (e.g. if you leave late…):
- watch a movie at the Kamari Open Air Cinema
- have a cocktail close to the airport at the Night Flight cocktail bar
Best Things to Do after sunset in Santorini (e.g. if you leave late…):
- watch a movie at the Kamari Open Air Cinema
- have a cocktail close to the airport at the Night Flight awesome cocktail Bar
Best Private Day Tours in Santorini :
- Private Custom Tour: Santorini in A Day (book it here)
- Private Sightseeing Half-Day Santorini Tour with stops to the famous Oia-Fira hiking trail (book it here)
- Winetasting and Vineyard Tour in Santorini (book it here)
- Electric Bicycle Santorini Tour (book it here)
- Santorini Kayaking Tour (book it here)
Keep reading…there is more!
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Are you visiting Santorini for the First Time? Here is a Basic Plan For Your Day
Okay, so this is your first trip to Santorini. And you are very very excited about it, it has been on your bucket list forever, I know… And you want to make sure you don’t miss any of the important sights of Santorini.
Here are the ones I would suggest you visit:
1. Visit Oia Village
Oia is on the north edge of Santorini, perched at the edge of the cliff. It is the prettiest village in Santorini and the most popular one. Here is where you will find all the “postcard shots” you have probably seen somewhere on the internet, or…Instagram… 🙂 Oia is truly stunning.
Read Also: The 10 Best Hotels of Oia (wow…!)
Pictures you have seen really don’t do it any justice, so you have to come and see for yourself. There is a lot of hype about Oia, all of which is true. I can assure you. Oia is mainly famous for the sunset, but it is a lovely place to visit any time of the day, any time of the year.
Here is Oia on Google Maps.
Where are the famous blue domes of Oia ?
Oia is the place you will also find the famous blue-domed churches you are looking for and the ruins of a Venetian Castle. Many people go looking for this particular spot you can see on this picture with the two blue domed churches. It is actually super easy to find them. Start walking on the main path of Oia as if you are walking to the Castle, so with the cliffside on your left hand side. At some point you will see “Alexandros” Jewelery Shop on the left, right at the corner. Make a turn there and walk down the steps. You will find yourself standing in front of a door. Go to the right there and enjoy the view. Take as many photos as you can, sometimes you even have to queue to get a picture there – I am not joking!
Here are the famous Blue Dome Churches of Santorini on Google Maps.
2. Visit or even swim at the Black Sand Beach
There are a few black sand beaches in Santorini. The very best one is Perissa/ Perivolos on the south side of the island.
Perissa/Perivolos is a really one long beach with two different names on each side: Perissa on one side and Perivolos on the other. The beach itself is about 4km long and has plenty of beach bars, restaurants, cafes to choose from (Tranquilo Beach Bar is one of the best). The sand is really black, because of the volcano. Have you seen a black sand beach before?
I love the contrast of the black sand with the blue water and sky. You will like it too!
3. Visit a Santorini winery & have the Ultimate Wine Tasting experience
There are so many wineries on the island to choose from.
Read Also: The 16 Best Best Wineries and Wine Tours of Santorini (seriously…this is the most detailed guide on Santorini’s wineries on the internet)
Some of them are more traditional, some have amazing views. Choose the one you prefer, just make sure it works with your schedule – in terms of location and distance. No matter which winery you choose it is important to try 2 wine varieties before you leave: Assyrtiko and Vinsanto. These two are the most popular and unique ones in Santorini.
4. Visit and get lost in Pyrgos and Emporio villages
Pyrgos village and Emporio village are two of the most traditional settlements in Santorini. They are both very beautiful and will give you a taste of how Santorini used to be and how local people live now. Both villages have ruins of Venetian Castles you can visit (check also our Guide on the Best Castles and Fortresses of Santorini).
Emporio is a bit easier to access and does not require you to walk for long, but Pyrgos is on higher ground so it offers better views. Pyrgos is also amazing during the Greek Easter time (read also our Guide for the Greek Easter in Santorini)
5. Visit the Mount of Prophet Elias for a less touristic amazing view
Prophet Elias is the highest point of Santorini. From up here you can see the whole island! This way you will get a better idea of how Santorini looks like and you will realise the huge difference between the touristic side on the cliffs to the west and the traditional side on the flat part of Santorini to the East.
At the top of the mountain, there is an old monastery, a small chapel you can visit and a shop where you can taste products and wine the monks make. Make sure to taste the honey, the olive oil and also the wine “Nama”. This is the one we use for “Holy Communion” here. It is rather sweet, but I quite like it.
Here is the Mount of Prophet Elias on Google Maps.
6. Visit, take pictures but don’t swim at the Red Beach
The Red Beach is really unique and it is worth visiting simply to admire it for yourself. It is not such a great place to swim though (too narrow, no amenities and super crowded in the summer), so I would rather go there just to see it and then go swimming to Perissa/Perivolos (Black Beach) instead.
Here is the famous Red Beach of Santorini on Google Maps.
How to organize your day to make all of this happen within a limited time on the island?
Here is what I would do if I were you:
- I would start from Oia. Ideally I would rent a car and drive there directly. If that is not possible, I would catch the bus. It is easy to do that from the main square of Fira. Taking into account some traffic or small delays, you would be in Oia in about half an hour. Maximum 40 minutes. Spend about an hour there. That is enough time to see the whole village, do some shopping and explore all the best spots along the way, as well as visit the castle and admire the windmills.
- Second stop would be the village of Pyrgos and/or Prophet Elias. These two can be well combined because they are close to each other. You can always choose one of them. Now the bus will delay you a bit, since you have to catch one from Oia to Fira and then another one from Fira to Pyrgos Village. At this point, I think you should be convinced that renting a car or booking a tour is really the best way to do this in Santorini! You have to walk in Pyrgos, so you need about 40 mins there. In Prophet Elias you can park just outside and enjoy the views, so it would take less than 10-15 mins. If you prefer to visit Emporio instead of Pyrgos, then you can do that on the way to the Black Beach, which is the next stop. In Emporio, you will need less than half an hour.
- Moving on to the Black Beach, I would again spend about an hour there and probably have lunch or at least a snack and a drink on the beach. I guess you will get hungry around this time of the day and what better place to eat than the beach! There is a bus that can take you to Perissa/Perivolos. Again that would be about 20mins to half an hour (from Fira).
- After the black beach, I would go to the Red Beach. The car again is ideal for this one, since the bus will drop you off outside of Akrotiri Excavations and that means you have to walk about 15 minutes to get to the red beach and another 15 mins to get back to the bus station. I know that is not a lot. But trust me…when it is 38 degrees C outside it feels like a marathon – to me at least.
- I would leave the wine tasting for last, so I can enjoy my wine without having to rush or worry about not seeing all the places I wanted to see. This is the perfect ending to a great day!
Are You Coming to Santorini on A Cruise ?
If you are arriving to Santorini on a cruise ship please be aware of the following facts:
- Your ship will most probably dock just outside the Old Port in Fira.
- From there, you will take a tender boat to come into the Old Port and then the cable car up to the town of Fira.
- It is either the cable car or 600 steps to get to town and I wouldn’t recommend the steps. By steps I don’t mean exactly what you have in mind. I mean you have to step up, then walk three or four steps and then reach the next step.You have the alternative of getting a donkey to take you up, but I am not a big fan of that either to be honest. I just feel so bad for the donkeys….
- There are queues everywhere! You usually have to queue to get into the tender boat, and then to get to the cable car. From what I hear (from other cruise passengers I have met over the years) some cruise lines give priority to people paying for ships excursions. Which means they will leave the ship first and you might have to wait a bit.
- On the way back, you might also have to queue to get the cable car down to the old port.
When I am on tour, I usually bring people back to Fira one hour in advance (one hour before their last tender) just to make sure they will be there on time. My point is that all these will take up some time, so do factor that in when you are planning your day. I have been at the top of the cable car so many times waiting for my tour for an hour, an hour and a half or even more..
- Bottom line is you need to plan your day to make the most of it.
- There are some cruise ships that dock at the port of Athinios, but that is rare.
- Most people coming to Santorini on a cruise get about 5-6 hours on the island.
- Furthermore, I am sad to say that they rarely get a chance to watch the sunset, as their ship usually leaves earlier.
Now I know you all want to see the sunset from Oia, but just in case that is not possible, here is what I would suggest for you:
- Once you get off the boat and into Fira town, start from Oia. Whatever you have planned for the day it is wise to start from there. This is because Oia always gets busier in the afternoon (because everyone wants to watch the sunset from there). That also means that you might find traffic, you might struggle to find a taxi and the bus might be delayed. I know there are a lot of “mights” in this sentence, but honestly I don’t think you would want to take your chances and miss the cruise ship.
Just saying, this is what I would do… 🙂
What to Do in Santorini if this is your 2nd time on the island?
Well if you have been here before, you already know which place you wanna go back to – Did I hear you say Oia? If you missed out on some places from the basic plan last time, you can always start from those. But in case you need some ideas, here are some additional places you can discover:
Best Places in Santorini for Photography lovers
You can walk around in Imerovigli, explore one of the traditional villages (like Pyrgos, Emporio, Megalochori), take pictures of a Venetian Castle or go to the southern part of Santorini to discover the lighthouse in Akrotiri. If you can, watch the sunset from there. It is such an amazing place…
Best Places to visit in Santorini for culture and history
There are many museums and archeological sites you can visit in Santorini.
- Akrotiri Excavations is one of the most important prehistoric settlements of the Aegean. Think of it like Pompeii. This was a city buried under lava when the volcano erupted and it is just so impressive to see how advanced that civilization was. It should take you about an hour to visit Akrotiri, but the good thing is that it is indoors, so you do not have to worry about the sun and the heat. (Akrotiri Excavations on Google Maps)
- There is a Prehistoric Museum in Fira that also explains the geology of Santorini and how it took the shape it has today. I believe the Prehistoric Museum explains in a way a lot of the things you will see in Akrotiri, so it will all make more sense if you can visit both places. Please keep in mind the museum is closed on Tuesdays. (The Prehistoric Museum of Thira on Google Maps)
- Ancient Thira is a settlement from the 9th century BC. Do you know Santorini is also called “Thira”? This is where the name comes from. This is a very interesting place to visit, but it does require a bit of walking and it can be too hot during the summer (see Ancient Thera on Google Maps). Here is a video of how the place looks like:
- Santorini of the Past is a museum in Pyrgos Village with many pictures from santorini through the years as well as artifacts from older times and everything you need to know about the culture and traditions of Santorini (find it on Google Maps).
- La Ponta is a Greek bagpipe exhibition and workshop. It is hosted in a 13th century Venetian tower in the castle of Akrotiri. Yannis will take you on a journey through time and teach you about our history and culture, Greek mythology, tradition and so much more. All through music. The best part is you get to participate as well and play one instrument. It is like you are in a small band (see La Ponta on Google Maps).
Best Beaches to visit in Santorini (if you’ve already visited the Black and the Red Beach…)
If you have been to the black sand beach in Perissa and Perivolos already and you have seen the Red beach as well, there are two more places worth discovering: Vlychada and Kamari beach. Vlychada Beach looks like a white sand beach (Vlychada on Google Maps).
I always say it looks like you are walking on the moon. Very very different and very unique, this is a less touristic place. Close to the beach there is a small port for fishing boats and some amazing fish restaurants. Try “To Psaraki” restaurant. It has some of the best fresh fish I have ever tried and some tasty starters to choose from. Try their grilled octopus and their pastry rolls with “Chloro” local cheese, sundried tomato and spearmint. Nom nom nom…
This is the type of place where you can see the fish and choose the one you like. Fish fans around the world: you will enjoy it!
In Vlychada you will also find the (really unique…) Tomato Museum of Santorini !
Kamari Beach on the other hand is worth visiting to go on a lovely walk by the beach. You can find many shops and beach bars here. The beach itself is not the best, since it has pebbles and small rocks which hurt your feet but the overall experience is great. Kamari is also a great place to come in the evening for a walk and a drink or maybe go to the open air cinema if you have time!
Best Areas for Shopping in Santorini
Shopping is very straightforward in Santorini. There are three shopping places: Fira, Oia and Kamari. Fira has a wider choice of shops, Oia has more brands and expensive boutiques and Kamari offers a cheap alternative combined with a walk on the beach.
Leaving late at night? Things to do in Santorini after sunset
If you are catching a late flight, you can go to the open air cinema in Kamari. It is such a lovely place. (see it on Google Maps) You can also go for a drink at Night Flight, which is close to the airport.
How can you get around Santorini?
When it comes to getting around Santorini you have four choices: getting a taxi or the local bus, renting a car/ ATV or booking a private tour.
There is a Taxi Station in the main square of Fira. You can catch a taxi from there. Do keep in mind that there are less than 40 taxis in Santorini, which means it is hard to find one in high season. Furthermore, taxis do not have meters, so make sure to check the price with your driver.
Here is where the Taxi Station in Fira is on Google Maps.
Buses run regularly in the summer. You can catch a bus to any direction from the main bus stop in Fira.
SEE ALSO: Santorini Bus Timetables
Here is where the bus station in Fira is on Google Maps
Rent a car or ATV
This is probably the best choice if you want to be flexible. Same rule applies for any Greek island you plan on visiting. You can arrange for a car or ATV in advance and pick it up from the port or the airport as soon as you arrive. This way you will not waste any time.
Rentalcars has the most available cars on the island.
Book a Private tour
This is the ideal solution if you are visiting Santorini for the first time and you want someone to show you the very best spots. Also, a great choice if you are like me and can’t be asked to drive when on holidays!
Should you book a Private Day Tour in Santorini?
There are Day Tours, Wine Tours, Walking Tours, Photography Tours and so much more to book in Santorini. I really think there is a tour to match your taste.
What should you expect from a private sightseeing tour?
If you are going on a private tour, your tour guide will come pick you up from the cable car or the airport (or any other place you choose). Once you meet with him, you can discuss what you want to do. There is always a set itinerary for the tour that you have probably read before you booked it. But because it is a private tour, most companies are rather flexible. Which means you can pretty much go anywhere you want.
You tour guide will suggest a few places if you ask him and you can always tell him if there is some place you absolutely want to visit. On my tours, I have met people who wanted to stay in Oia the whole day, others who only wanted to visit wineries only, others who wanted to hike. And they’ve all booked the same tour! Bottom line is… It is your tour.
Have it your way!