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Visiting the Greek Islands? Yay! I’ve created this quick and easy Santorini for first timers travel guide for you to read before you visit. Enjoy!
When you think of dreamy holiday destinations, the Greek island of Santorini is probably going to be on your list.
You’ll only need to scroll on your Instagram explore page for a few minutes before you come across an iconic blue dome and whitewashed buildings.
Santorini is known for its sunset and tourists head there every summer to get a slice of the action.
If I’m honest, there are pros and cons to the little Greek Island. But for today, I’m going to prepare you for your first visit to Santorini.
In this Santorini travel guide, expect everything you need to know before you go.
It’s a quick one-stop guide for Santorini for first timers!
🌎 Travelling for the first time? You’re in the right place! Check out my essential travel kit for EVERY type of trip, big or small!
Know before you go: Santorini
Santorini for first timers: let’s begin with the basics.
- The flight time from London to Santorini is around 4 hours.
- The local currency is Euro. The current exchange rate (March 2022) for pound to Euros is 1 EUR = 85p.
- Locals in Santorini will speak Greek, but many do know English. We learned a simple ‘hello’, and ‘thank you’, and always had Google translate ready on our phones.
- Cars and ATVs are easy to rent on the island. You can do this through your hotel, or from operators in any of the main towns. They range between 40-100 EUR a day.Check out my how to get around Santorini guide here.
- Taxis are expensive. Even a short journey will put you back over 20 Euros, and from one end of the island to another, it can cost up to 70 EUR.
- During peak season, you will need to book everything early. We visited in August, and couldn’t get a single booking for a cliffside restaurant in Oia, even up to 4 days in advance! Do your research and pre-book!
- Greeks drive on the right hand side of the road.
- Vegetarian food is HARD TO FIND. There were a few times I just had to eat pitta bread and tzatziki! I’d recommend staying in Thira if you are a vegan, vegetarian, or have dietary requirements, as the capital has the biggest variety of food options.
- Sadly, the island still uses donkeys as a mode of transportation for luggage and uphill climbs. As most of the villages and towns are on top of the cliff tops, the locals use donkeys to transport heavy loads from the port up over 600 steps in the unbearable heat. Please, under any circumstances, do not ride the donkeys. This is animal cruelty and there really is no excuse!
- You cannot drink tap water anywhere on the island. This is due to there being no water source on the island, and all drinkable water is imported.
Costs and budgeting in Santorini
Santorini is not cheap, but it IS possible to visit on a budget.
There are many free activities, and watching the famous sunset every night from a viewpoint won’t cost you a penny!
If you want to visit Santorini on a budget, check out my guide here.
🎒Need new luggage? Check out my favourite, the Osprey 65L wheeled backpack. It’s dreamy for long-term trips or when you need more than a carry-on!
Getting around Santorini
Santorini is only a small island, and takes about 40 minutes to drive from one end to the other.
Getting around Santorini isn’t difficult, and I’ve written a comprehensive guide explaining all the ins and outs of moving around the island. You can check it out here!
Where to stay in Santorini
Santorini has a few different places to stay and it’s important to do your research before you book your accommodation.
From a few Google clicks, you will see how Oia is regarded as one of the main tourist spots.
This is down to it being a tourist paradise; with luxury accommodation and restaurants. But it comes at a price.
If you want to stay in Oia, you’re going to be looking at an incredibly expensive trip (and nowhere near a backpacker budget).
If I’m honest, while I enjoyed visiting Oia for a short time, I didn’t feel the need to stay in Oia. It was way too chaotic for me and I found there were towns just as pretty elsewhere!
(Spending upwards of £3000 a night would never be worth it for me!)
Some of the best places to stay in Santorini are Thira, Megalochori, Imerovigli, Oia, Firostefani, and Akrotiri.
All of these towns are situated on the western coast of the island, and have views of the caldera and the sunset.
The towns definitely have their pros and cons, and each one is suited to a different type of traveller.
Check out my post on where to stay in Santorini for a more in-depth guide 🙂
MY OPINION: My favourite place to stay in Santorini is Megalochori. A traditional Greek village south of Thira, it’s a perfect distance from the island’s capital, and you feel like you’re away from the hustle and bustle, whilst getting to experience a bit of Greek culture. (Plus it’s way cheaper than Oia or Thira!)
4 of my favourite things to do in Santorini
As I’m someone who can’t lay around on a sunbed tanning all day, whenever I travel, I need lots of things to do and places to explore.
This was tricky in Santorini. It’s definitely more of a sunbather’s holiday, with the attraction being more on a lucury break and the views.
But have no fear, there are a few things to do in Santorini if you need to be out and about exploring!
Check out my Santorini 3 day itinerary here, or read about my favourite things to do in Santorini below 👇🏽
Here are 4 of my favourite things to do for Santorini for first timers…
1. Go on a sunset cruise
Even though the catamaran cruises can be pricey, they’re so worth it!
Easily my favourite day on the island, we spent an afternoon and evening on a catamaran, sailing the entire island.
The cruises range in price from between 90 EUR – 200 EUR, depending on which package you pick and where you want to go.
I’d recommend any trip that sails by Red, White and Black beach, the volcanic hot springs, and then finishes around the port of Oia for the sunset (as you can actually watch the sunset in peace from the Oia angle here!)
We paid 140 EUR for a 5-hour Santorini Yacht Club tour, which started around 3.30pm. This included unlimited alcohol, soft drinks, and a choice of a meat or vegetarian buffet dinner.
Most trips will stop off for you to snorkel, swim in the ocean and take a dip in the volcanic hot springs, ending near a port for you to watch the sunset.
It might be a bit expensive, but it’s well worth it!
And because there aren’t heaps of things to do on the island, we found the price to balance out pretty well.
2. Eat gyros
Gyros – a typical Greek dish that Santorini first timers MUST try.
You can find gyros being sold all over the island. And the best thing? It’s cheap!
Choose between pork, chicken or halloumi to be wrapped in a soft, warm pitta, combined with a handful of chips, fresh salad and a dollop of tzatziki (my favourite).
Prices range between £1.50-£3 per gyros, and they’re generally big enough to have on their own as a meal.
We found our favourite in Thira, but to be honest, every place we ate gyros at was just mouthwatering. It’s a definite must when visiting Santorini!
3. Visit the black sand beaches
Most of the beaches in Santorini are composed of dark, black volcanic sand that is soft to touch but gets super hot during the day (trust me, even a run to the ocean will leave you with burnt feet).
The beaches are full of activities, sunbeds, restaurants, and bars, and you can easily spend a day lazing on the sand and swimming in the crystal clear ocean.
Perissa and Kamari were the two beaches that we enjoyed the most, due to them having a good variety of food and drink options, and it was super easy to rent a sunbed.
4. Admire the sunset
As previously mentioned, Santorini is known to be the ‘island of sunsets’.
Watching the sunset is one of the ultimate activities of Santorini for first timers.
As the island is so tiny, and most of the main towns are balanced on the western cliff edge, the views of the ocean, caldera, volcano, and surrounding islands are just spectacular.
Seriously, it’s hard to put into words just how beautiful it is.
🦉 TOP TIP: You do not need to stay in a fancy hotel to see the sunset (even though they’ll tell you this). There are hundreds of FREE sunset spots on the west side of Santorini. Head to Megalochori or Thira for some of the best spots!
Santorini for first-timers: In a Nutshell
Santorini is just a really bloody beautiful island. It’s the perfect place to visit if you want a holiday to just reset and relax.
If you’re more of the adventurous type, I’d recommend visiting Santorini for around 2 days only.
Catch a ferry or flight to another island (although I know the ferries can be very choppy, so you might want to choose the plane!)
As much as we loved Santorini, and could really appreciate the landscape, we prefer more naturally beautiful places with a bit more going on (we did have a great time, but it personally didn’t suit my personality type).
A lot of Santorini is artificially beautiful (the gleaming white buildings, the picturesque villages, the blue domes, the perfectly placed pink flowers) and I’m all about the natural features a landscape can throw me.
If I were to return to Santorini, I’d probably cut my time down and visit some of the smaller Greek islands, like Naxos and Milos.
However, we didn’t stop laughing from start to finish AND had some of the best Greek food I’ve ever tasted. So all in all, our trip was a success.
Let me know what you think!
Jennie 🙂 x
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Santorini is a small island of Greece, which is in the south east part of Europe. It is probably the most visited Greek island and one of the most popular travel destinations all over the world as it owns an extraordinary natural beauty that made it famous.
Tap water in Santorini is not drinkable. You can use it for washing up and brushing your teeth, but make sure you have always bottled water with you for drinking.
We recommend 3 to 5 days in Santorini in order to visit as many places as possible. Santorini is a very interesting island and except for Oia, the volcano and the amazing views, there are many things to see and do. But you can also do it in 24 hours and many day trips are proposed from other nearby islands.
Santorini has a mediterranean climate with hot dry summers and mild winters. If you enjoy hot perfect sunny days the best time to visit Santorini is between June and September. The hottest month of the year is August with an average daily maximum of 30 C and an average low of 24 C.
There are actually several villages on the island, which are all quite far from each other (by that I mean that you would not be able to walk everywhere) so pick your location well! The two main villages, and most “touristy” ones (for the right reasons!) are Fira and Oia (pronounced Ea).
3. Flushing Toilet Paper. This one may take some getting used to, but Santorini's sewage system can't handle flushed toilet paper. That trashcan placed next to the toilet is for all (and we mean all) of your soiled paper products.
Tipping in Santorini, as well as in the rest of Greece is optional. The amount of the tip you wish to leave is up to you. If you don't like to count the percentage, which is usually the case, we might help you with that.
One of the commonest questions first-time visitors to Greece ask is “is it true that you can't flush paper down the toilet?” Unfortunately, in the vast majority of accommodations, cafes, bars, shops and restaurants, the answer is “yes, it is true!”
The scenery, views, sunsets, and natural beauty of Santorini are unrivaled by Mykonos or any other Greek island. Mykonos is not without its beautiful spots but for scenes that are truly jaw-dropping, Santorini wins hands-down. Santorini is more romantic and much better suited to a honeymoon or couples vacation.
Oia is arguably the most beautiful village in Santorini. Home to magical sunsets, chocolate-box architecture, and delightful art galleries, it is also its most frequented destination. Clinging to the rim of the caldera, on the northern tip of the island, this whitewashed marvel is worth visiting for the views alone.
The best way to get around Santorini is on foot or by bus. You'll see that it's easy to walk around the tiny seaside towns, but the bus is best to get from one town to another. There are KTEL bus routes from Fira (the capital city) to many different destinations around the main island.
The cool season lasts for 3.9 months, from December 1 to March 29, with an average daily high temperature below 63°F. The coldest month of the year in Santorini Island is February, with an average low of 49°F and high of 58°F.
It can get pretty cold as it is also windy and humid (no snow or below 0 temperatures though…). Remember: Santorini is an island! As a rule of thumb also, bear in mind that January and February are the coldest months in Santorini (and in Greece), with the most unpredictable weather (but no extremes…don't worry).
And last but not least, a good news for those who love be comfortable: no heels in Santorini! The pebbles streets make impossible to wear heels. However, if you can't do without them, choose flat heels the protagonists of this season!