Santorini is one of those places that routinely makes it onto all of those ‘most beautiful places in the world’ lists. You’ve all seen the photos: stunning sunsets over the Aegean Sea, startlingly white buildings with blue domes, precipitous cliffs and black sand beaches. Completely idyllic.
See? Idyllic Oia
Having been to Santorini a few times now, I can safely say that its beauty lives up to the hype. So naturally, we had to stop there for a few nights on the tail end of a month travelling through Spain and Greece. After all the museums, cathedrals, palaces, etc., I could think of nothing better than beach, sun, and relaxation. With that in mind, here is my suggested way to spend 5 days in Santorini.
5 Days in Santorini – Day 1:
Coming from Athens, you can hop on a ferry at the port at Piraeus or catch a flight. The ferry is often a bit cheaper, and can be sort of fun, but does take much longer at 5-6 hours compared to a 45 minute flight.
Where to stay
There’s not really a bad area to stay in. The island is small enough that it is easy to get around. That said, my preference has been to stay away from the ritzier (more expensive) caldera-side towns of Oia or Fira and instead stay on the black sand beach side of the island, in the village of Kamari.
As I said, if I’m going to Santorini, I’m going for the relaxation. I’d rather stay close to the beach and make my way into town when I want to do some shopping and wandering, rather than the other way around. There are plenty of hotels, apartments, both along the main boardwalk and further inland. My go-to for accommodations is Airbnb, and I felt like I won the lottery when I was able to book the only beach house along the main strip – lovely hosts, right off the beach, with a great terrace for sunbathing and people watching.
Once you’ve settled into your accommodations, take a walk down the boardwalk, chill, and stop in at one of the many seafood restaurants for some fresh fish and calamari.
Wandering the boardwalk of Kamari beach
5 Days in Santorini – Day 2:
First full day in Santorini calls for a beach day. As with most beaches, you can rent a lounge chair by buying a drink from one of the beachside restaurants or cafes. That black sand (actually, volcanic pebbles rather than true sand) gets really hot, so I recommend the chair. When you get too warm, the water is always beautiful. For the thrill seekers, try some cliff jumping off the 35-foot rock wall at the south end of the beach.
When you get hungry, it’s time for gyros. The Souvlaki Stop has my vote, with great, filling pita gyros for 2 euros a pop. Add a Greek salad (aka village salad), and you have the perfect lunch meal that will fill you all day.
Kamari’s black sand beach
5 Days in Santorini – Day 3:
Exploration and archaeology
Day 3 means it’s time to explore the island. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s really easy to get around the island. There’s a decent bus system run by KTEL; from Kamari, all busses go to Fira, from which you can transfer to the other towns.
My recommendation, however, is to rent ATVs to scoot around the island. A favourite choice among tourists, these babies are available from a zillion places to rent for quite cheap. We just wandered up to the nearest rental agency up the road and, before we knew it, were on our way.
Once you’re all set, make your way to the archaeological site of Akrotiri. I say, without any exaggeration, that this site is amazing, at least if you’re an archaeological nerd like me. This early Bronze age site is the Pompeii of Greece, preserved by the Theran eruption in the second millennium BCE. The site is well-protected and indoors. 12 euros gets you into the site, or you can get a 4-day pass for 14 euros that will also get you into the archaeological museums in Fira and the site of ancient Thera. Fair warning – it’s predominantly just the structures preserved at the site. If you’re looking for the famous frescoes (which are stunning and absolutely worth finding), you can find some of them at the Museum of Prehistoric Thera in Fira or at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
While you’re in part of the island, drive up the road from Akrotiri to the parking lot near the aptly named Red Beach. From here, it’s a clamber around the path to the beach itself. The beach itself isn’t great, in my opinion, but it’s a fun little hike.
5 Days in Santorini – Day 4:
More exploration, more ATVs (or bus, if you prefer)! Today, it’s finally time to make your way up to the beautiful town you’ve all seen the postcards, Oia. Before you head up, call ahead to make reservations at one of the many restaurants for sunset (if you’re there in high season, best to call a few days ahead). There are plenty of restaurants to choose from with a huge price range; the one that’s best known for its sunset views is Kastro.
Once you set off for town, you may want to first head to Amoudi Bay, the seaside village at the base of Oia, for lunch. Seafood, of course. If you’re feeling ambitious, park up in Oia and make the hike down (and later on, back up) the 300 steps between the bay and Oia Square. Mind the donkey droppings!
Iconic sign at Atlantis Books
In Oia, it’s all about the views, white buildings with blue domes, and the shopping. Spend the time between lunch and dinner wandering town and poking into shops. My personal favourite is Atlantis Books, possibly the most charming book store in the world. When you get too hot, stop for a Yellow Donkey beer.
As the heat of the day passes, show up for your reservation and sit back to enjoy a stunning sunset, ideally while sampling some Santorini wine.
Not a bad sunset, even if we didn’t make reservations ahead of time
5 Days in Santorini – Day 5:
Hiking vs. relaxing
For your last day in Santorini, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having another beach day. If you’re feeling a little more ambitious, I strongly suggest you hike up the Mesa Vouno mountain from Kamari beach up to ancient Thera. You can also drive up the crazy narrow switchbacks, but where’s the fun in that? It’s about a 45-60 minute following the road. Bring water and maybe snacks – there’s not a whole lot up at the top in the way of amenities!
If you bought a pass when visiting Akrotiri, it also covers entry to ancient Thera. Otherwise, it’s 2 euros to enter the ancient city. While the area was occupied as long ago as the 9th century BCE, most of the ruins you’ll find are from the Roman period. Even if you’re not interested in the archaeology of the site (though I find that hard to believe!), you’ll get some spectacular views overlooking both Kamari and Perissa.
Conquering ancient Thera, overlooking Perissa
Once you’re ready to hike back down to Kamari, keep an eye out for a path coming off the road that will lead to the teeny church on the side of the mountain, Zoodochos Pigi. Meaning ‘Life-Giving Fountain’, you’ll find a small cave with a natural spring. Chances are you’ll be the only ones there at the time, so it’s easy to feel like you’ve rediscovered something no one’s seen a long time.
Finding a new path down Mesa Vouna
And with that, our 5 days in Santorini have come to a bittersweet end. Not bad for a short visit: relaxation, a little bit of adventure, history, shopping, food, and sun. At the end of my time in Santorini, I was ready to head back to the mainland and explore new parts of Greece, though it wasn’t long before I was looking forward to my next trip back to the island.