People often ask us what to do in 4 days in Santorini. We’ve been there twice and have explored the popular volcanic island. Here are our suggestions for a 4-day Santorini itinerary.
How to spend four days in Santorini
Santorini is one of the most famous Greek islands. The strange volcanic landscapes, the blue-and-white churches and the spectacular sunsets make it one of the most popular destinations for international visitors.
While some people visit Santorini as part of a longer cruise boat trip, others prefer to spend more time on the island.
Generally speaking, 4 days in Santorini is a good amount of time to enjoy and get to know the island. Needless to say, this will also depend on what you like doing, what time of year you are going, and your budget.
We’ve put together this guide on what to see in Santorini based on our own experiences on the island in July 2020. Firs though, let’s take a look at which time of year might be best to visit.
Best time to visit Santorini
Most people visit Santorini in summer. As we have visited Santorini in both summer and autumn / winter, we would absolutely suggest visiting Santorini in the off-season if you have the luxury of choice.
While you might find that strange, we assure you that it’s better if you are after views, nature and hiking. Summers in Santorini can get uncomfortably hot, as the black volcanic rock attracts the sun rays. Most people wouldn’t really enjoy walking around for a long time in the peak heat of the day.
Moreover, several locals have mentioned that sunsets during the off-season are much better than in summer. We can actually confirm that – some of the Santorini sunsets we saw in summer 2020 were in fact not that special. Seriously!
If you visit during the off-season, you will also be more likely to find some quiet spots on the island and take photos without the crowds. We have seen this ourselves, so we are fans of visiting outside summer.
What are the beaches like in Santorini?
Finally, here’s our unpopular opinion: After having been to all the beaches in Santorini, we don’t consider Santorini’s beaches very special to swim on.
This is because we’ve been to several places and many islands in Greece, and we have our ever-expanding list of the best beaches in Greece.
In fact, this is one of the main reasons why we would prefer to visit Santorini during the off-season.
4 days in Santorini in summer
We get it though. Not many people can take time off in winter. In addition, Greece doesn’t really feature as a winter destination in most people’s book.
With this in mind, here’s a 4-day itinerary for Santorini during the summer months, allowing for sightseeing as well as beach time.
Getting around Santorini
Note that this travel itinerary is easier if you have your own transportation. We had our own car and so didn’t need to rent one. If you don’t want to rely on buses or taxis, you can rent a car, scooter or quad. You can also rent a car for part of your stay, and swap your activities around.
Before deciding what type of transport to rent, consider that many of the roads in Santorini are quite narrow and the road surface isn’t always great. In addition, many of the roads are unpaved, so a normal car might not be covered in terms of insurance.
The unpaved roads also mean that there is a lot of dust, so if you are driving a quad or scooter consider at least covering your face. This is our car after a few weeks on the islands.
Where to stay in Santorini
There are many hotels and rooms to stay in Santorini. They range from budget accommodation on the island’s beaches, to luxurious boutique hotels with private pools and views to the caldera.
If beach time is important to you, consider staying on one of the beaches. Kamari, Perissa and Perivolos have plenty of options to suit most budgets. We stayed in Kamari in June 2020, and the beach was literally a 3-minute walk from our hotel. On the plus side, we got to see the sunrise!
However, some people prefer to have the sunset views without having to drive, and don’t really care about the beaches. In this case, it’s best to stay somewhere on the west side of the island. Fira, Oia, or anything in between will be suitable for you. Just note that many of these hotels are not for budget travellers.
As a rule, Fira is more centrally located and somehow feels more “real” than Oia, which is a famous sunset spot. While Oia is very picturesque, it hasn’t kept much authenticity in our opinion, so we would vote for Fira over Oia.
Other people like to stay in Imerovigli, which tends to be quieter.
In any case, if you are staying on the cliffside, read your hotel’s description carefully. You may have to climb several steps to get to your room. This may not always be pleasant, especially when it’s hot!
What to do in Santorini Greece
Here then, is our 4 day itinerary of the best things to do in Santorini, based on our own time spent exploring the island.
Keep in mind that we had our own vehicle, and we’d recommend you hire your own in order to get around the island.
Day 1 in Santorini – Explore Ancient Akrotiri and the Red Beach, visit a winery, sunset in Pyrgos
As you know, Greece is full of ancient sites, like Mycenae, Epidaurus and Ancient Olympia, to name just a few. Santorini’s most popular archaeological site is Ancient Akrotiri, a prehistoric settlement discovered in the 1860s.
Ancient Akrotiri in Santorini
The ancient town of Akrotiri dates from the Early Bronze Age, though human presence in the area dates from the Neolithic times. The settlement was destroyed in the 17th century BC due to a volcanic eruption and was entirely covered by lava, ash and other materials.
Much to the archaeologists’ delight, the ancient ruins were very well preserved under the debris. The excavations provided helpful information about the life of the Minoans almost 4 millennia ago.
The site is protected by a shed, which also keeps the heat out. As such, you can visit at any time of day, though we would probably prefer to go first thing in the morning.
Booking a tour with a licensed guide will help you find out more about the region’s ancient history. For 2020, the site is open from 8.30-15.30 daily, apart from Tuesdays.
Beaches in Santorini – Red Beach
After Ancient Akrotiri, head to the famous Red Beach. While it’s very picturesque, we didn’t think much to it in terms of swimming. Furthermore, some landslides occurred in spring 2020. The authorities cordoned the beach off, but visitors were ignoring the “no entrance” signs.
There are many more beaches in the Akrotiri peninsula, not all of which are accessible on foot. As an example, the White Beach can only be reached by sea.
While we had heard good words about Vlychada beach on the south side, we weren’t exactly impressed. The landscape is pretty dramatic though, and it’s a popular option when the meltemi summer winds appear, as it’s fairly sheltered.
Here, you can also visit the tomato industrial museum, which is pretty unique, as are the Santorini cherry tomatoes. Did you know that they don’t need to be watered in order to grow?
One of our favourite beaches in this area was Mesa Pigadia. As it is quite pebbly, it tends to be quieter than other beaches in Santorini.
Here, you can find a small Trekking Hellas shed – this is a big outdoors company in Greece. Among others, and they organize kayak trips in Santorini. If you haven’t tried kayaking before, by all means try, as it’s a lot of fun!
There is also a small family taverna where you can have a nice traditional Greek meal. Say hi to Valanto, the mother-and-manager, and try to have a talk with her if she’s got time.
At the westernmost point of the peninsula, you will find the Akrotiri lighthouse. It’s not the island’s most popular spot for sunsets, so if you are still around the area in the evening, you might as well stay here and enjoy the views without the crowds. There is a small canteen here, and you can get a drink or even a full meal.
If not, you can always head to the nearby tavernas, which are run by very nice locals. We wanted to eat at Captain Dimitris but unfortunately they weren’t open yet. The old couple running the taverna were very nice and had just picked up a few kilos of fresh capers which they were very proud to talk about.
Visit a winery in Santorini
However, in the absence of a designated driver, you can also take a winery tour organised by a local company. You can plan your visit during the early evening, and stay for sunset at the Venetsanos winery.
Day 2 in Santorini – Visit Perissa and Perivolos beaches, spend the evening in Fira
Apart from the Red Beach, the best-known beaches in Santorini are on the east side of the island. They all have dark coarse sand mixed with pebbles in different sizes.
Perissa and Perivolos beaches in Santorini
Perissa and Perivolos are among the most popular beaches in Santorini. In fact, they are the two sides of a very long stretch of black / dark grey volcanic matter. The south side is called Perivolos, and the northern side is called Perissa.
You will find all sorts of cafes, beach bars, restaurants and tavernas all along the long beach. They offer several types of loungers and umbrellas, with varying prices.
When we visited in June 2020, there was plenty of free space where we could put our own towels. However, there is one thing to keep in mind. The dark pebbles get really hot!
You will either need to sit very close to the sea, or take your shoes with you when you want to go for a swim. In addition, a thin towel won’t really do it. It actually gets worse if you go later in the day, when the stones have absorbed the heat.
If you have your own transportation, note that the street in front of the beach closes for vehicles in the early afternoon. You can park here in the morning, just make sure you remove your vehicle before they close the gates.
Emporeio village in Santorini
On the way out of Perissa – Perivolos, stop at Emporeio village. This small settlement was built to keep out any unwelcome outsiders. There is only one entrance to the maze-like village, and you can easily find yourself getting a little lost while walking around.
Climb up the Venetian castle and enjoy the views. We were entirely on our own there, and it was almost eerie!
Fira town in Santorini
In the evening, go for a stroll around busy Fira town. You can easily walk around the whole village in a few hours. If you are staying in Fira, you will have more chances to find your favourite spots for the best sunset views.
You can have a drink or meal at one of the café-restaurants with a view to the caldera. As you might expect, these are not what you would call budget options. Like someone said, you get the billion-dollar view for a few extra euros.
Alternatively, you can choose to walk down the dozens of steps, until you find your own best sunset spot in Fira. Don’t expect to be on your own, but you never know!
Fira has two archaeological museums, the Archaeological Museum of Thira and the Museum of Prehistoric Thera. You can buy a combined ticket which covers the two museums and the site of Ancient Akrotiri and is valid for 3 days.
These museums are normally open until 20.00 on a daily basis. For 2020, they are only open from 8.30-15.30, and are closed on Tuesdays.
In terms of meals, there is a wide choice in Fira, ranging from cheap souvlaki to more upmarket options at caldera-view restaurants. If you are visiting Santorini in summer 2020, ask around, as not all restaurants have opened this year.
Fira is also good for bars and nightlife. There are plenty of options for all tastes, including Irish pubs and jazz bars. It’s not exactly the party-lifestyle of Mykonos, but you will definitely find something you like.
Day 3 in Santorini – Visit Kamari / Monolithos beach, spend the evening in Oia
If you haven’t had enough of the black beaches yet, you can go for a morning swim in Kamari or Monolithos. Spend the evening at the world-famous Oia, and have fun trying to take photos without any people in them!
Kamari beach in Santorini
Similarly to Perissa and Perivolos, Kamari is a black sand beach. You can walk on a promenade running alongside the beach, where you will find many cafes, restaurants, bars and ice-cream places.
We liked Kamari more than Perissa and Perivolos, and were happy to stay there for a few days. By Santorini standards, it was one of our favourite beaches.
We preferred the far south end of the beach, which was also more protected from the winds and ideal for children.
Monolithos beach in Santorini
If you are in Santorini on a non-windy day, you could visit Monolithos beach instead. Due to its orientation, this beach is not protected from the strong meltemi winds that blow in summer. As a result, it might not be ideal when you visit.
Monolithos is a long, natural beach where there are normally many sports facilities. It’s popular with locals, and whereas there are some tavernas all around, it’s nowhere as crowded as Kamari, Perissa or Perivolos. This would probably be my favourite beach in Santorini on a non-windy day.
Note – as we visited in June 2020, there wasn’t much in terms of facilities. Kostas, who rents out loungers and sports equipment, was very helpful and chatty!
Sunset in Oia Santorini
With the Oia sunset being so famous, few people can resist seeing it with their own eyes. The small town just on the edge of the cliff is pretty unique.
Aim to arrive in Oia in the early evening, which will give you plenty of time to explore. If you are feeling energetic, you can walk up and down the (literally) hundreds of cliffside stairs in the village. Many of them will lead to hotels and private villas, and access is often restricted.
There are also stairs to Ammoudi beach, where you can find a few tavernas as well as a small port. You can also walk down to Armeni beach, which is popular with locals.
Most of the buildings you will see in Oia are hotels, villas and restaurants, so if you are looking for authenticity you will probably be disappointed. That said, the town is incredibly photogenic, and there are many beautiful spots to watch the sunset from. Perhaps the most popular one is Oia’s castle.
You can also choose to watch the sunset from a café or restaurant. If you are going in peak season, bookings are recommended, if not essential.
In our experience, we arrived in Oia around 4.30 pm, and walked up and down for a couple of hours. It was hot! If you are not used to the heat, it’s probably better to get there later, especially if you are planning to climb many steps.
And by all means, wear comfortable shoes! I saw more than one barefoot lady, carrying her high-heeled shoes in her hand. Here’s my guide on what to pack for Greece, based on my experience of travelling around my country for 40+ years.
Day 4 in Santorini – Visit the inland villages, take a sunset volcano tour
Santorini has a few inland villages that are absolutely worth visiting. Apart from Emporeio, you can visit Messaria, Megalochori and Pyrgos, where you can see the traditional architecture from hundreds of years ago.
Pyrgos village in Santorini
Pyrgos, also known as Pyrgos Kallistis, is an impressive Venetian settlement on the top of a hill. While you will often see it described as a Venetian fort, it really doesn’t look like the fort you may have in mind. Much like other Greek villages, the houses were built to keep intruders away.
There are several cafes, restaurants and tourist shops all around the area. Climb up the stairs and uphill alleyways, and you will eventually reach a great viewing point. In fact, sunset views from up here can be interesting, though the one we saw in June 2020 was not very impressive at all – I didn’t even take a photo!
Megalochori in Santorini
Megalochori was another village we quite liked, as there is a mix of new and old houses, which makes it feel more authentic.
There are a few cafes and restaurants in the village where you can have a break – we had a nice meal in a taverna called “Marmita”.
If you walk up from the main square, you will also find Gavalas winery, which is one of the oldest in Santorini. The entrance is pretty impressive! If you would like to visit, make your booking in advance.
Messaria in Santorini
Messaria is another pretty village that you can stop by. The way Santorini’s villages go, this may be the one with the most churches! You will immediately notice the blue-and-white pattern everywhere.
If you are interested in neoclassical architecture, it’s worth stopping by Argyros mansion. Built in 1888, it belonged to the winemaker George Argyros. After a strong earthquake in 1956, part of it was demolished, but it was restored in the 1980s. Today, guided tours are available during summer.
On the way out of Messaria, you can’t fail to notice a crumbling neoclassical mansion. This beautiful building was built in 1893 and belonged to the wealthy Saliveros family.
Unlike the Argyros mansion, it was abandoned after the earthquake in 1956. Apparently, there are plans to renovate it and use it as a museum, but we didn’t see any signs when we were there.
Sunset volcano trip in Santorini
Another unique thing to do in Santorini is a sailing trip to the uninhabited volcanic islets, Nea and Palea Kameni. We took a volcano trip in November 2015, and it was absolutely fantastic.
The boat took us to the volcanic islands, and we had the chance to walk on the caldera and take in the otherworldly views. We also had a chance to have a swim at the thermal springs.
If you are visiting Santorini in summer, the last thing you will want to do is climb up a black-pebbled volcano during the heat of the day. We heard that temperatures can reach 50 degrees (122 F). I’m not sure this is anyone’s cup of tea!
Instead, you can opt for a sunset volcano sailing trip. Many of these tours include a swim, meal and drinks, and a sailing boat is a unique spot to watch the sunset from. Bring your swimsuit and enjoy your last evening in Santorini!
And what about the famous hike from Fira to Oia?
You didn’t mention the Fira to Oia hike, I hear you say, and you are right. While I absolutely loved the hike from Fira to Oia in November, with a temperature of 22-24 degrees (71-75 F), I wouldn’t recommend doing it in summer.
However, if you are a morning person, you can comfortably do it. Aim to start your hike just after sunrise, or at 7 am at the latest, to avoid the excessive heat. The hike is truly a memorable experience, and I will definitely do it again if I return to Santorini in the off-season.
Food in Santorini
Where should I eat in Santorini? This is the million-dollar question! When Santorini wasn’t all that famous abroad, there were actually rather few options on the island. My parents’ recollection of food in Santorini back in the 80s is that it was “very bland”. Who would have thought?!
Nowadays, there is an incredible number of restaurant and taverna options that would suit most budgets. Many restaurants, especially those with a view to the caldera, would need an advance booking. However, if you don’t like planning your whole day, it’s always possible to eat something quick at a random taverna.
All in all, do not leave Santorini without trying their fava, which is different to the fava you will find in most other areas in Greece. Its flavour is richer, and it’s attributed to the unique soil of the island. You should also try the famous Santorini cherry tomatoes, fresh fish and seafood. Finally, by all means try the wine, even if you are not going on a winery tour.
This article will help you when it comes to ordering Greek food, especially if it’s your first time in Greece.
Best places to eat in Santorini
We cannot provide our own list of the best restaurants in Santorini, simply because it would take ages to try them all and we don’t live in Santorini! Plus, when we last visited in June 2020, many of the restaurants were closed, and others only served grilled food and salads. Finally, let’s face it – our budget is limited. As a result, we don’t have much experience of restaurants in Santorini.
The best restaurant we have been to is Kapari in Fira, and I still remember that meal 5 years later! Unfortunately, Kapari is closed for 2020. The small family taverna in Mesa Pigadia was also pretty good, though at the time we visited they only had a limited menu. We also enjoyed our meal at Marmita in Megalochori.
As for the best value for money? Our vote goes to Lucky’s Souvlaki in Fira – even though I don’t really like souvlaki myself, I have to admit these are very good!
Here are some more places that I often see mentioned in other travel guides, in both Greek and English. If you go, please leave a comment and let us know what you thought, as it may help other people!
- Metaxi mas, Episkopi Gonias (this would be my number one choice to try)
- Ambrosia, Oia
- Katina’s and Dimitri’s, Ammoudi bay in Oia
- Mezzo restaurant, Imerovigli
- Aktaion, Firostefani
- Selene, Argo and Parea, Fira
- To Psaraki, Vlychada
- Giorgaros and Captain Dimitris, Akrotiri
- Seaside and To Pinakio, Kamari
- Poseidon and Frantzeskos, Perissa
- Terra Nera and Savvas Popeye, Perivolos
Arguably, 4 days in Santorini won’t be enough to try them all, so you may have to return…
Your favourite things to do in Santorini
If you haven’t been to Santorini, I hope that this article will help you plan your time there. On the other hand, if you have already been there, what was your favourite thing to do? Let us know in the comments!