Santorini itinerary for 3 days: explore all of the volcano island

Santorini itinerary for 3 days: explore all of the volcano island

The volcano island of Santorini is one of Europe’s most interesting destinations, packed with iconic sights that you think of when someone mentions the Greek islands.

Whitewashed houses, blue dome churches, magnificent sunsets over the Aegean Sea, volcanic sand beaches, ancient culture, and cosmopolitan flair – Santorini is all of it and more.

So here’s my personal Santorini itinerary for 3 days covering all major attractions and activities, including tips to avoid the biggest crowds, how to see more of Santorini than just its tourist spots, and where to eat like a local.

Map of Santorini

Map of Santorini
Santorini Map

Major attractions in Santorini

The first time I visited Santorini was for a brief 3-day stay and that is an absolute minimum you should consider for this island.

Oia village, Santorini
Oia village, Santorini

With many attractions, some considerably crowded, it took me more time for sightseeing and getting around than I had expected.

With thousands of cruise ship passengers coming on shore each day, Santorini is one destination where planning ahead will really pay off.

Caldera life – Fira town, Imerovigli, Firostefani, and Oia

Present-day Santorini was created after an enormous volcanic eruption some 3600 years ago destroyed the whole island of Thera, leaving it in pieces floating in the Aegean Sea.

The blue-domed Santorini churches are as wonderful close up as they are in photos

On the largest piece left and along its inner rim overlooking the volcano’s caldera, emerged several villages with sparkling white houses, elaborate and blue-domed churches, and a bustling social life that witnessed the passage of empires and the advent of mass tourism.

These villages, especially Oia, are among top 3 most photographed sights in Greece and the quintessential image of a Greek island.  They are THE reason to visit Santorini.

Luckily, they are connected by a beautiful walking path along the edge of the caldera.

Amoudi Bay (Ammoudi Bay)

This once-upon-a-time fishing village turned traditional taverna hotspot is another iconic feature of Santorini.

Amoudi Bay, Oia, Santorini
Amoudi Bay, Oia, Santorini

Below the Oia village and built into the island’s red rock cliffs, is tiny Amoudi Bay – a place to eat, swim, take the best ‘sun-drying octopus’ photos on the island, and watch the sunset without major crowds. 

Santorini’s inland villages

Santorini’s villages are not limited to the caldera and in a 3-day Santorini itinerary, you do have time to see the other essential island villages.

The landscape, architecture, and history of Pyrgos, Emporio, Megalochori, Messaria, and a dozen other villages add to the essential experience of Santorini and provide a welcome break from the crowds in Oia.

Megalochori village, Santorini, Greece

Ancient Akrotiri

Greece has its own Pompeii at the site of ancient Akrotiri. Remember the eruption? As well as splitting the island into tiny pieces, it also covered the ancient Minoan settlement of Akrotiri with lava and volcanic ash.

Inside the Ancient Akrotiri archaeological site
Inside the Ancient Akrotiri archaeological site

It is one of the most interesting ruins in Greece (you can even walk along an ancient street with the three-story wealthy homes around you).

It’s one of the major hypothesized sites of the missing city of Atlantis, in part because no bodies have been found here.

Cable car and the old port

You can trace the history of the island by visiting its ports. My favorite is the old port of Fira, called Gialos, which served as the most important maritime point of the island until recently.

Old port of Gialos, Cable car and the donkey trail leading to Fira town
Old port of Gialos, Cable car, and the donkey trail leading to Fira town

It is also connected to Fira by the famous Santorini steps and even better – a cable car.

This is where the biggest cruise ships dock and passengers are tendered ashore here and take the cable car to Fira.

Stunning Sunsets and Aegean Sea views

Together with Santorini’s architecture, its sunset views are the stuff of dreams and one of the few places along the Greek islands where the sun drops into the unobstructed sea horizon.

As the most sought-after experience out there, it can get quite crowded anywhere around the caldera villages, especially Oia and Oia castle.

Sunset in Santorini, Greece
Sunset in Santorini, Greece

Volcanic tours to Nea and Palaia Kammeni

The small Santorini islands that you can see from the island’s rim are parts of the volcano that are not submerged.

You can visit them, walk the arid volcano landscapes, and even plunge into hot-spring mud baths (they’re really only warm springs!).

I loved it and if you choose to visit the islands, you can just swim off the shore to the hot springs.

Walking on the Volcano, Santorini, Greece
Walking on the Volcano, Santorini, Greece

Santorini 3-day itinerary

Let’s put all these great sights together now into an unforgettable experience:

Day one – the landscapes of the caldera

Hike and explore the caldera villages where the most of the attractions are, followed by the afternoon swim and lunch in Ammoudi Bay and then watch the sunset from Oia.

Today you’ll see the Santorini architecture, blue dome churches, narrow alleys, shops and piazzas, dramatic caldera landscapes, and the multicolored cliffs around the island. 

Greek breakfast and find the start of the hiking trail

Start early to avoid the crowds, grab a Greek spinach pie and a freddo cappuccino to go while soaking up the morning sun on one squares of the Fira town, before finding the start of the trail northwards, in front of the Atlantis hotel.

Firostefani village

You will quickly reach Firostefani as nowadays it is almost attached to Fira.

Break free from the trail to explore the village and visit two famous blue-domed churches: Agioi Theodoroi Church and Church of Agios Gerasimos.

Agioi Theodoroi Church, Firostefani, Santorini

Imerovigli Village

Continue north towards the monastery of Agios Nikolaos, founded in 1651 and moved here in 1820.

Note the folklore and ecclesial museums within its premises, especially the collection of Byzantine icons.

Skaros Rock, Imerovigli, Santorini
Skaros Rock, Imerovigli, Santorini

In Imerovigli, wander through the village’s narrow streets and visit Skaros Rock.

Apart from being a fun walk out the rocky outcrop, it’s where the medieval castle stood and here you’ll find the beautiful and intimate chapel of Panagia Theoskepasti which boasts great views.

Oia Village

By the time you reach Oia, you will need a break, so explore the village while looking for the perfect place for a coffee break.

Atlantis Books, Oia, Santorini
Atlantis Books, Oia, Santorini

Check out the windmills, Panagia Platsani Church, the super cute Atlantis bookshop, and the ruins of the famous Oia castle before walking down to Ammoudi.

Ammoudi Bay

This is the place where Poseidon takes a break, has lunch, and probably takes a nap before plunging back into the Sea Aegean. It is literally that beautiful!

Amoudi-Bay-fish-taverna, Santorini
Amoudi Bay fish taverna, Santorini

So, follow in his footsteps by descending a kilometer-long, 300 stone steps pathway from Oia to Ammoudi (easy hike) to find a perfect tavern by the sea for lunch (one of my favorites is Katina).

Walk past the last fish restaurants for 10 minutes to reach rocky Armonio Beach, lay your towel, and doze away waiting for your lunch to settle.

The small island with Agios Nikolaos church just off the shore is the best rock-jumping spot on the island and I can sit for hours here watching the cliff jumpers.

Armonio rocky beach and St Nicholas church on the island below Oia
Rocky Armonio Beach and St Nicholas church on the island below Oia

Head back to Ammoudi to take a taxi back to Oia for the sunset and dinner.

TIP: If elbowing for a sweet spot to watch the famous Santorini sunset is not your thing, book a dinner table and enjoy spectacular views with Greek food and wine.

Day two – Fira, old port, inland Santorini, and Ancient Akrotiri

Today we’ll explore the treasures of Fira town, and check out its old port, museums, squares and churches.

In the afternoon, take a short drive to the villages of Pyrgos and Megalochori, tour the amazing ruins of the Ancient Akrotiri archaeological site, before having a hillside taverna dinner or a sunset wine-tasting experience on the caldera at Santo Wines.


Fira is the main town of Santorini and a maze of interesting streets, all leading to quiet non-touristy spots to photograph or just soak up that Cycladic vibe.

Candlemas HolyOthodox Metropolitan Cathedral, Fira, Santorini
Candlemas HolyOthodox Metropolitan Cathedral, Fira, Santorini

Avoid the main shopping street full of travel agencies to get away from the crowds.

Head instead to its churches (definitely check out both the Orthodox and the Catholic Cathedral) and museums (Museum of Prehistoric Thera, Archaeological Museum, and the Folklore Museum).

If you only have time for one museum while you’re in Santorini, make it the Museum of Prehistoric Thera.

Akrotiri fresco, Museum of Prehistoric Thera, Santorini
Akrotiri fresco, Museum of Prehistoric Thera, Santorini

Take a bottle of water and descend on foot the longest series of steps in Santorini, from Fira to the old port of Gialos at the bottom of the caldera cliff.

The 587 steps zigzag downhill (and uphill, for strong ones and the unfortunate donkeys) and offer spectacular vistas.

Getting back is easy – take the €6 cable-car back to Fira, hop in your rental car and drive inland.

Fira cable car to the old port
Fira cable car to the old port, Santorini

(I have to admit, once I’ve taken the stairs from Oia to Amoundi Bay, and made the wonderful hike from Fira to Oia, I’m done with steps. I take the cable car in both directions!)

Pyrgos and Megalochori villages

Pyrgos is almost on the rim of the caldera, but safely away from it to form its own trajectory. It is a little microcosm of the best parts of Santorini.

Explore the village with coffee on the central square and admire the 360 views of the island, before checking out Pyrgos Castle and the Santorini Museum of the Past.

I can spend hours here wandering the cobbled alleyways.

Beautiful traditional houses in Pyrgos Village, Santorini, Greece
Beautiful traditional houses in Pyrgos Village, Santorini, Greece

Drive on to Megalochori village to admire its bell tower and free-to-visit underground caves. This is another village worth spending a few hours wandering around.

If chasing that perfect snapshot is your thing, head to “Santorini’s heart,” a hollow rock with a million-dollar view.

Visit the Ancient Akrotiri archaeological site

End this exploratory day with a guided tour of the Akrotiri site and learn all about the natural forces that created and destroyed the Minoan Santorini, as well as the ways this island played an important role in the past of the Eastern Mediterranean.  

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Don’t miss the surprising site, which truly is Greece’s “Pompeii.”

A hillside taverna

I love inland Santorini for its unique heartbeat and insular essence that is different than the spectacular but over-touristed villages on the caldera rim.

This is why Metaksi mas is my favorite restaurant on the island and not only due to its location – on the village square next to the church. You’ll find it high above sea level in the village of Ekso Gonia.

Day three – volcanic cruise, beaches, and winery visit

Day 3 Option 1:

There are two ways to order today depending on your preference for a sunset cruise.

If it’s July or August, I’d opt for the sunset cruise and spend the day on the beaches and in the beach bars of Karami and Perissa Beach, and then take a wine-tasting tour.

Choose the sunset cruise option for this best-selling boat trip below:

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This means the late afternoon and evening will be spent (i) swimming near the Red Beach, (ii) swimming in the hot springs of the Volcano, and (iii) ending with watching the sunset from the sea as you sail from the volcano to Oia.

Does a day get any more perfect?

6 Best Santorini Greece Boat Tours

Day 3 Option 2:

The other option is to take it easy during the day on a day cruise where you’ll swim off the red beach, swim in the Hot Springs of the volcano, and end your boat tour in Oia.

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Alternatively, you can choose among the many island volcano boat tours and visit New and Palaia Kammeni by sailing inside the caldera perimeter.

Once on Nea Kammeni, walk on petrified lava, and on the islet of Palaia Kammeni, the hot springs and mud baths show what it really means to live on volcanic soil.

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This gives you the afternoon and evening of your last day in Santorini to discover the unique wines of Santorini that have been grown in volcanic soils, since Venetian rule.

So end your 3 days in Santorini at one or more of its famous wineries that produce local varieties by employing a special way of treating the wine, protecting it from the winds, and keeping the vines close to the ground.

My favorite is definitely the Venetsanos winery, family-run since 1947.

TIP: Wine-tasting lovers visiting Santorini can skip all the above for day 3 and book a full-day wine tour around the Santorini wineries.   

Final Thoughts

This Santorini itinerary is practical and covers the main sights and adventures you can have in only 3 days on the world’s favorite Greek island.

It has missed many other treasures, such as the Akrotiri lighthouse and the village of Emporio.

For more ideas and info, you can read my complete Santorini Travel Guide, a detailed list of all the best things to do in Santorini, and where to stay in Santorini.