Last Updated on 1st February 2023 by Sophie Nadeau
If you’re lucky enough to be planning your Santorini trip, then you will need to keep this useful guide at hand so that you know what to do at all times. Bookmark this post to the best things to do with 3 days in Santorini, I guarantee that you will live an unforgettable dream!
One of the most alluring destinations in Greece, Santorini, is a perfect destination all year round. Popular as well as romantic, the island receives hundreds of visitors eager to experience the postcard-like landscapes, out-of-this-world beaches, and magic sunsets.
A land of extreme raw beauty, the striking blue of the Aegean contrasts against the bare cliffs with whitewashed houses perched on the caldera. Incredible winding alleys adorned with fuchsia bougainvillea, blue-domed churches, and unparalleled vistas add drama to the best-known image of the country. For even more inspiration, be sure to check out our guide to the best things to do in Santorini.
- Why Three Days in Santorini?
- How to Get to Santorini
- Where is Santorini?
- When to Visit Santorini
- Moving Around in Santorini
- Best Areas to Stay in Santorini
- Is 3 days enough time in Santorini?
- Three Days in Santorini: Best Things to Do
- Day 1 in Santorini
- Day 2 in Santorini
- Day 3 in Santorini
Why Three Days in Santorini?
Of course, you can spend more days on the island, or even less, however, three days is the perfect time to see the most remarkable landmarks and spending a fun time in Santorini. The island is fairly small, so it will be easy to navigate and discover in three days.
This itinerary is also perfect if you’re island-hopping in Greece and plan to see more destinations during your vacation, such as the nearby Milos, or the cosmopolitan island of Mykonos, to mention just a few.
If you can’t decide between several islands, check out our comparison of Mykonos vs Santorini but if you ask us, there’s probably more variety of things to do and landscapes in Santorini than there are in Mykonos!
How to Get to Santorini
You can easily visit Santorini by plane, the island has an international airport receiving seasonal charter flights from Europe as well as direct flights from Athens every month of the year. When traveling to Santorini from non-European countries, then it will be necessary to fly to Athens or to connect via another European city.
Alternatively, you can take the ferry. Traveling to Greece by sea is an unforgettable experience that you should live at least once in a lifetime. There are frequent ferries connecting the port of Piraeus in Athens to Santorini every month of the year, with an increased frequency in the most popular months, between March and October.
Santorini is also connected via ferry to other Greek islands, including Rhodes and Crete, so if you have enough time, planning an island-hopping itinerary that includes several Greek destinations can also be a great and fun idea for your trip. The ferry ride from Athens lasts from 5 to 7 hours, depending on the type of ferry you’re traveling with (either fast ferry or conventional).
Where is Santorini?
The half-moon-shaped island of Santorini is situated in a fairly central position on the Aegean Sea, it’s about 2.5 hours from other Cycladic islands, including Naxos, Paros, and Ios.
When to Visit Santorini
Due to its huge popularity, Santorini can be seen all year round and it is almost always open to tourists. You will want to skip the colder months, but you can have a great time visiting anywhere from March to November.
If beaches are all that matter, then the best months will be from June to September. However, if you don’t want to battle with the crowds to visit the top sights, find accommodation, and a decent table at a restaurant, I suggest you skip the months of July and August. These months are not just more crowded, but also the hottest and the most expensive.
Moving Around in Santorini
Nothing will give you more freedom than renting a car to discover the island without needing to respect any fixed timetable. However, the island has an efficient bus network and taxis are also quite affordable.
Bear in mind, though, the buses tend to be super-crowded in the middle of summer and taxis won’t be so frequent. Besides, a car will also allow you to visit lesser-known spots that you would otherwise miss.
Best Areas to Stay in Santorini
If you’re planning your trip, this is one of the first things you want to consider right after you have booked your tickers. The island is really popular, receiving visitors from all over the world eager to book a room with the best views of the Caldera.
Moreover, being also a coveted destination for honeymooners and romantic couples in general, accommodation on Santorini sells fast! Booking way in advance will not just guarantee you more flexible rates, but also the best rooms available.
If you’re looking for dreamy sea panoramas, stunning sunsets, and authentic touch, then staying in the whitewashed settlement of Oia, on the northern tip of the island, is the best move. Highlights of Oia include Atlantis Books and the famous blue domes.
Oia is one of the prettiest areas in Santorini, boasting cave suites with views of the sea and luxurious infinity pools even in your guest room. Although Oia might be expensive, it will certainly stand for an unforgettable stay on the island.
If you love this enchanted atmosphere, but prefer to avoid crowds and would enjoy a further touch of exclusivity, then choose Imerovigli or Firostefani. Both areas are equally beautiful but less busy than Oia or the capital, and certainly quieter.
If you’re traveling with friends, don’t plan on renting a car, and want to enjoy a more lively stay, then you have two options: The capital of the island, Fira, will combine traditional Cycladic architecture with a convenient location to witness the famous Santorini sunset, at a lower cost than Oia (although not cheap) but also providing night entertainment.
If you’re more of a budget traveler and would prefer to enjoy the beach over a stay in a traditional settlement, then head to the opposite part of the island and book a hotel in Kamari.
Kamari is one of the two black beaches on the island and it is a great place to stay by the sea with a lower price tag than what you will find in Oia and Fira. The area has plenty of entertainment options, including restaurants, bars, and pubs for a cocktail by the sea late at night.
Another option is Perissa, a bit more relaxed than Kamari, this is the other black beach on the island. It offers varied and pretty convenient accommodation just steps from the sea. If you plan on staying in any of these two areas, renting a car will save you tons of time and hassle by avoiding taking the bus to reach the capital.
Is 3 days enough time in Santorini?
Santorini is a fairly large island with plenty of attractions and even more to see. As such, you won’t be able to cover everything that there is to do in Santorini over the course of 72 hours. With that being said, you’ll certainly be able to cover all of the major attractions during your trip. The ideal amount of time to explore Santorini is anything from 3 to 7 days.
Three Days in Santorini: Best Things to Do
Once you’ve sorted out all the practical details of the trip, it’s time to start planning exactly what to do in Santorini in three days.
Day 1 – Whitewashed Landscapes: Settlements Perched on Top of the Caldera
Day 2 – History and Sights: Lesser-Known Villages and Ancient Akrotiri
Day 3 – Unique Santorini Experiences: Wine Tasting, Hiking, Sailing… Your Choice!
Day 1 in Santorini
See sunrise in Oia
It is a good idea to always start your day early when visiting such a popular spot, so set your alarm clock before the sun rises to get the most of Oia, the most visited settlement on the island, you won’t regret it!
Oia is located on the northernmost tip of Santorini and it is the first town we will explore on this day. This gorgeous area of the island is home to the most iconic views of the island and it is worth walking along the picturesque cobble-stoned alleys, especially if you enjoy taking pictures.
Early in the morning, the narrow streets are often empty, offering you plenty of opportunities to take the best snapshots of dozens of colourful homes in the backstreets of Oia.
The ruins of Oia’s castle are a favorite spot in town for sunset, it gets packed with tourists, tripods, and cameras and it is almost impossible to enjoy the experience in full. Exactly for that reason, what better idea than visiting the castle when the sun is about to rise?
The sky lightens up slowly and magically, gifting you with unique opportunities for perfect pictures of the sea and the small island of Thirassia, right in the heart of the volcano.
Once the settlement slowly wakes up, you can grab a cup of Greek coffee or enjoy a hearty breakfast with a view of the sea, you can also walk around and visit the dozens of charming stores selling gorgeous ceramics, leather sandals, home decor, and other colorful souvenirs of the island.
Right after, it is a good idea to hike down the steps on the cliff to reach Ammoudi Bay, make sure to head down quite early in the morning to avoid the midday sun when it’s time to climb back up.
Here, you can even go for a quick swim in the pristine emerald waters that sparkle in striking contrast with the rusty red rocks on the cliff. Soak in the marvellous marine atmosphere and enjoy the relaxing vibe of the place without hordes of tourists.
Slowly climb your steps back to Oia to move south. You can either take the bus or jump in your car to visit Fira. For now, we will skip a stop at Imerovigli (which you can do on your last day as part of the Caldera hike) and head straight to the capital of the island where there’s a lot to see and do during the rest of the day.
When in Fira, there are a few spots you will not want to miss. First off, head to the impressive Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral of Santorini, an incredible church with imposing huge white domes, majestic arches, and breathtaking artwork. Spend some time visiting and, right after, take a break for lunch.
There are many convenient places for lunch in Fira, especially if you move away from the caldera and head to the center of town, eating without the vistas can save you a good chunk of money that you can, later on, invest in a more upscale dinner, right?
My suggestion? Stay light grabbing a quick gyro wrap or a Greek salad, don’t forget there’s still a lot more to explore in the afternoon and you want to keep active and going.
Recommended places for lunch in Fira
Falafeland (Michali Danezi St., Fira) serves delicious falafel, tasty Greek snacks, sandwiches, hamburgers, and gyros for convenient fees.
Tsipouradiko (Agious Athanasius St., Fira) is a comfort food place, loved by locals and visitors alike, where you can have a more complete lunch and prices are quite affordable too.
Yogi Gyro (25 Martiou St., Fira) is another very affordable place for a quick lunch, specializing in delicious gyro wraps and souvlaki.
Once lunch is over, head back to the heart of Fira (only a few blocks away), and pay a visit to the different museums in town. The most important of them is the Archaeological Museum of Thera, small but packed with unique discoveries and objects that will provide an interesting insight into the history of the island and the whole area of the Cyclades. Here you can see sculptures, vases, art, and artifacts dating back from the third millennium BC until the Classic times.
Right next to the museum, you will find one of the prettiest churches in Santorini, the Catholic Church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. The small building features a gorgeous dome and colorful bell tower, one of the most distinctive traits of Fira’s skyline.
Also in the area, the Museum of Prehistoric Thira is another museum you don’t want to miss. Here you can check objects that have been unearthed in the ancient settlement of Akrotiri, on the southern area of the island, pieces that were sheltered by the thick layer of ashes from the volcanic explosion including unique frescoes, figurines, and utensils for everyday use.
Wander around the alleys of Fira, discover the magnificent chapels, art galleries, jewelry stores, and souvenir shops while spending time walking the different areas of the settlement, get ready to witness your first amazing sunset on the island by finding a great spot early.
Remember that even in summer, when the sun sets quite late, people start sitting at different cafés and restaurants with a view so as not to miss a minute of this iconic moment: the sun setting on the Aegean.
Dinner in Fira
At night, you can have dinner or even go for a drink around Fira. These are some of the best places for dinner in town:
Parea Tavern (Donkey St., Fira) is one of the most popular dinner spots in Santorini, it pairs a quiet, laid-back atmosphere with stunning views and traditional Greek music. The food is to die for.
The Vine Cocktail and Wine Restaurant (Ipapantis St., Fira) is another place worth checking out either for dinner or for a glass of Santorini wine in the evening.
Volcano Blue (Donkey St., Fira) is one more stunning place for dinner or simply a snack with amazing views of the sea, offering mouthwatering fish dishes and tasty desserts with a glass of local sweet Vinsanto wine.
Day 2 in Santorini
Today we will explore a lesser-known side of the island venturing along the roads that take us to unique, historic settlements, black beaches, and one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece.
If you are planning to rent a car just for one of the three days, then this is the day when having a car will pay off. It is a day devoted to the exploration and venturing off the beaten path.
Start early in the morning by setting your GPS to Pyrgos, a remarkable settlement in the heart of the island, and one of the former most important towns in Santorini. The small, forgotten town is a maze of ancient houses climbing up the Profiti Elias hill leading to an ancient castle, one of the ancient five castles of Santorini, from where you can enjoy the most impressive views of the island you can imagine.
A walk around town can be a rewarding experience if you are interested in experiencing the authentic lifestyle on the island. The place is not a tourist spot, so it is easy to see the most authentic traits of Santorini.
Here, you can take your time, sit at a local café and savor a bowl of authentic Greek yogurt topped with nuts and local honey for breakfast… because is there a better way to start your day in Greece?
Once you’ve explored the local blue-domed churches and tranquil alleys of the settlement, drive back to the main road and head south to Perissa, the most important Black Beach on the island. You can spend some time on the shore, discover the small and gorgeous churches in the area, or simply indulge in amazing greek dishes right by the sea.
Local’s tip: If you’re traveling on a budget but still want to take a few souvenirs back home, you can find a few interesting souvenir shops in Perissa that sell about the same kind of stuff you can find in Oia, for at least at a quarter of the price!
The area has a great selection of traditional taverns and fish restaurants, all of them certainly cheaper than the ones you can find in Oia or Fira. Perissa is a great place for water sports or simply swimming and sunbathing.
Bear in mind that dark sand beaches on the island are pebbled beaches. These small, black, volcanic rocks get extremely hot in the central hours of the day, so flip-flops are a must to go to the sea.
Lunch in Perissa
It’s already time for lunch after that refreshing swim, so check any of these places for a quick meal before we start the second part of our day.
Mezedaki (Main Beach Road, Perissa) is one of the most popular places to eat in Perissa, Mezedaki is located right by the sea and also offers loungers on the beach if you want to spend the whole day relaxing in the area. They offer traditional staples of the Greek cuisine and the staff is really friendly.
Tranquilo (Main Beach Road, Perissa) is probably the best-known place for food and cocktails in Perissa. It also offers a great seaside setting and you will find both vegan and vegetarian options on its menu.
Back on the road to explore, the afternoon starts heading to the village of Akrotiri, where there is also plenty to see and discover. Once you’ve reached the area, go straight to the Archaeological Site of Akrotiri, one of the most important ancient ruins all over Greece.
Often nicknamed the Pompeii of Greece, Akrotiri was home to a striving civilization that flourished in the Mediterranean during the Bronze Age. The remains of this former town show clear signs of how advanced this civilization was.
Archaeological remnants showcase perks such as hot and cold running water, drainage systems, multiple-story houses, and flourishing maritime trade of metals, vines, and saffron with other Mediterranean cultures, located as far as present Egypt and Syria.
The visit can last from 1 to 2 hours, depending on your interest in the culture and the past of the island, it will be a refreshing and different moment that will certainly show you a completely unexpected side of Santorini.
Prices: A regular ticket is €12 (reduced tickets are €6). There is also a special 3-day ticket (€15) available that includes access to the Akrotiri Archaeological Site, the Archaeological Site of Ancient Thira, and the Archaeological Museum of Prehistoric Thera.
Local’s tip: When visiting in summer, it is a good idea to leave this excursion for the early afternoon, when the sun is really hot as most of the site is under shade and the building surrounding the structure is ecologically smart, thus saving you the extreme heat of Santorini’s midday hours.
Another thing to remember is that the site is closed on Tuesdays, so plan your days accordingly to fit your visit.
The next stop of our day is another gorgeous beach on the island, famous for its unique marine landscape and therefore attractive for fans of snorkeling and scuba diving, the Red Beach.
Locally known as Kokkini Paralia, the Red Beach of Santorini is located just minutes on foot from the archaeological site. To reach the seaside, you need to hike for a few hundred meters along the side of the incredibly red cliff.
The beach has some organization and it is possible to hire a sunbed and umbrella for the afternoon. Do bring drinks and snacks as the local tavern tends to have quite a price tag even for simple drinks.
Do not forget the sunscreen or a hat either and bear in mind that the beach is well sheltered from the winds, this means that it tends to be hot, so better visit after 3 or 4 pm.
The impressive red volcanic rocks, pebbles, and rusty sand on the beach offer a unique panorama, the place is especially beautiful right before sunset, when everything seems to catch fire and the colors are simply spectacular.
Lighthouse of Akrotiri
However, it will be better to hike back to the village before the sun starts to set as there is a much more romantic spot in the area to discover during sunset, the lighthouse of Akrotiri. Built back in 1892, this landmark is an excellent stop to have a closer look at Santorini’s rugged coastline.
Located on top of a small house, the former house of the lighthouse keeper, the Akrotiri Lighthouse is ten meters high and still in working condition, emitting a bright beam of light over the sea every 10 seconds.
Since this place is among the most popular places on the island for sunset, it tends to be crowded, but not as much as Oia or Fira, so don’t miss a chance to spend some time in the area.
Dinner in Akrotiri
Dinner in Akrotiri can be an unforgettable experience, especially if you enjoy traditional, family-run places serving authentic comfort food. If that’s your style, then you will feel more than welcome.
Melina’s Tavern (Akrotiri Beach) is a popular, family-run Greek taverna with inspiring sea views and a varied menu full of Santorini’s specialties, including Santorini tomato fritters, cappers, and fava spread with fresh onions and extra virgin olive oil.
The Dolphin (Akrotiri Beach) is a place boasting excellent reviews in the Akrotiri area. It is conveniently close to both the Red Beach and the archaeological site, offering tasty Greek dishes and perfect sea views.
Day 3 in Santorini
To make this an epic last day on the island, I’ve decided to propose to you three different activities according to your travel style and interests. You can combine two of them for a day packed with fun, choose just one of them if you want to take it easy, or use them as ideas for a longer stay on the island.
Wine Tasting in Santorini
The wine industry in Greece has seen impressive growth in the last decade, and Santorini has been one of the wine regions in the country that has led the way with its unique and impressive wine labels. As such, going wine tasting in Santorini is a must-have experience while on the island.
The Santorini vineyard has been producing excellent wines for ages, the island’s flagship wine, Vin Santo is among the most delicious dessert wines in the world, praised and celebrated all over the Mediterranean for centuries.
A huge part of Santorini’s land is devoted to the cultivation of grapes, over 3400 acres of cultivated land that produce more than 500 tonnes of grapes year after year. Santorini is also home to a fantastic grape variety that makes some of the top white wines in Europe, Assyrtiko, which has been known on the island since at least 1500 BC.
According to winemakers and other experts, the particularly volcanic soil of the island offers this grape variety of unique mineral traits to the wines that make them special. The island is home to some spectacular wineries that you can visit to taste different versions of this grape.
There are dozens of wine tours available in Santorini, but you can also pick one or two wineries and visit them on your own if you are in the mood. Remember to exercise precaution if you’re going to drink Santorini’s wines and drive.
The island features hilly terrain and roads are winding, so be careful… or even better, join an organised wine tasting tour like this one with transportation to fully enjoy the wine tasting adventure!
Hiking from Fira to Oia
This is one popular way to spend your time on the island and it can be an epic way to end your vacation. The coastal hike takes you along the side of the caldera cliff to marvel at the beautiful landscape, passing also through the lesser-known villages of Imerovigli and Firostefani.
You can even make the hike shorter, starting your walk at any point you want and not just at the beginning in Fira. So this trail can last all the time you want from just an hour to almost four hours. It is a good idea to avoid the hottest hours of the day when hiking this road, especially in summer.
The whole path is about 10 km long starting from Fira, it is a well-marked trail but wearing adequate shoes is a must if you don’t want to end up super tired after stepping on the harsh volcanic rocks with just a pair of flip-flops.
The trail is not under the shade, so wear a hat and don’t forget sun protection either. Carrying your photo camera and plenty of water is also important to face the adventure.
No matter which of the two adventures you may have picked for your morning, whether it is wine tasting or hiking along the cliff, the best day to end your day is by witnessing the sunset in Oia, and you can do so simply by heading to the Castle of Oia, or – even better – embarking on a sunset cruise.
One of the trendiest and most rewarding experiences when visiting Santorini is to enjoy the sunset and doing it onboard a sailing boat or a yacht can be completely awe-inspiring.
On the island, you will find different tour options available, although I highly recommend you book your tour online and before reaching Santorini to find availability. For the ultimate sunset experience that you’re likely to remember for the years and decades to come, you might even consider booking this Santorini Catamaran Red Cruise with Meal & Drinks.
This is, in fact, a very popular experience and it can be very frustrating to arrive on the island to find that there are no sunset tours available for you to join. Or worst, that only the more expensive experiences still have a few spots left.
Tours vary in itineraries and prices according to what they offer, there are exclusive tours with champagne and fancy diners on a yacht, often catering to couples or very small groups of travellers.
Alternatively, you can opt for a more popular catamaran tour, that takes more people on board, thus reducing by a lot the price of the experience. No matter which of them you choose, the sunset will remain equally fantastic in your memory!
There are also other tours available, they are longer, often a whole day boat trip, that includes stops in the nearby islets of Thirassia and Nea Kamini, a swim in the sulfurous waters of Palea Kamini, a grill or lunch, and sailing at sunset near the area of Akrotiri. This can be a great whole day activity if you are not much into hiking or don’t enjoy drinking wine.
As you can see, the island offers tons to do no matter when you visit or how many days you stay. This basic three-day list of activities can be easily split into more days if you prefer to take it easy and explore the island at a more relaxed pace.
It doesn’t matter which of these things to do in Santorini you finally do or which ones you skip, the island is a truly wonderful destination, and you will certainly have the time of your life during your time there!
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Gabi Ancarola is a journalist and travel writer who has lived over 20 years in Italy, and has been living in Crete for the last five years. She hosts culinary tours, translates and writes for her Crete travel blog The Tiny Book. She’s written for Greek Reporter and published several travel guides about Greece.