Getting around Santorini is easy. The island’s small size means distances and journey times are short and options are many. A comprehensive bus network runs during the tourist season with frequent service and cheap fares. Taxis are plentiful and affordable.
You can hire a motorbike or car for maximum flexibility, although parking the latter can be a challenge in July and August. A few public boats serve the surrounding islands or you can get a cheap ride on a small boat (caïque) to scenically shuttle along the shore between beaches. There’s even a cable car serving the main town of Fira.
A comprehensive network of buses covers Santorini. Run by the national collective KTEL, services run throughout the day and you can get to most important places on the island, including the airport, for about €2 ($2.30; fares vary slightly depending on the distance of the trip). Services are reasonably frequent, e.g. from the main town of Fira to the beach town of Kamari buses run every 30 minutes throughout the day, with last buses late in the evening. Travel times are short.
Incongruently for an island where journeys are measured in minutes, the buses are those typically found on long-distance coach services complete with narrow entry doors. This only compounds the crush of riders in summer when demand easily outstrips the supply of seats and you may have to wait a while for your turn.
Buses meet all ferries in the port of Athinios, but service down to the port is sporadic, so you’ll need to check schedules in advance of your boat.
It’s simple to rent a car on Santorini, either from a well-known brand name or from one of dozens of local vendors. Arrange in advance or prepare to bargain a bit on arrival.
It may be easiest to hire a car through your accommodation, although cars can be a hot commodity in summer when rates soar with the temps.
Note that a car can give you full freedom to explore Santorini but there are drawbacks, especially in summer. The relatively short drives along the island’s diminutive road network can be harrowing due to narrow lanes, cliffside plunges and incessant peak season traffic. Parking is also stressful in Fira and at the beaches; expect hefty fines if you decide to leave your car in an unapproved spot.
A good strategy is to rent a car for just a day or two of exploration, thus saving yourself from the attendant hassles other times.
Making the steep climb back up to Fira after a languid day at the beach is reason enough to rent a motorbike. Buzzing about Santorini on two wheels is an excellent alternative to driving a car as the narrow roads are less of an issue and parking is much easier. It’s very easy to rent a motorbike or scooter but there is an important caveat for non-EU residents – you’ll need a motorcycle or motorbike license valid in your home country.
Steep twisting roads and very narrow lanes with myriad blind curves are just some of the challenges to riding a bike on Santorini. Add in drivers maniacally speeding to make up for time spent stalled in traffic and the challenges multiply. Still you can easily rent a bike on the island from multiple sources. Ask about e-bikes, which are becoming more available on the island, unless the many hills fit into your training scheme for the Tour de France.
Taxis are plentiful on Santorini. You’ll find them at the airport, the ferry port and at a taxi stand near the main bus stop in Fira. Fares are reasonable: from the port in Athinios up to sprawl of accommodation around Fira is €10-€15 ($12-18). Luggage may cost a bit more. Most places to stay will also pick you up at the ferry port for about €10 ($12) if you arrange it in advance.
You can easily call for a taxi or you can use the Uber app. If taking a taxi to spend a day at a beach, you can ask the driver about a pickup later in the day.
Regular boats make the short run to the charming island of Thirasia, just across from the little waterfront village of Ammoudi at the north end of the main island. The fare is €5 ($6). There is less-frequent service from the main port of Athinios, check schedules in advance.
Excursion boats will take you to the uninhabited volcanic islets in the middle of the caldera and may include a stop in Thirasia as well. Such trips start at about €30 ($35) and are heavily marketed around Santorini. Other possibilities include day trips to various beaches, which can be a fine (and very scenic) way to beat the crowds and traffic on the sinuous roads across the hills.
Small boats (caïques) can be hired from busier beaches to reach smaller and inaccessible ones for a modest fee.
Just like in the Alps, but with endless cerulean water-views replacing snowy vistas, a cable car system zips up and down the steep mountainside between the main town of Fira and the tiny port village of Fira Skala some 400m (1300ft) below. Service is frequent in summer when cruise ships dock here, less so other times. The fare is €6 ($7).
Walking on Santorini is more an excuse for a vigorous activity than a legitimate means to get around. The steep hills and lack of footpaths are just some of the challenges. For example, the footpath from the cruise ship docks at Fira Skala up to Fira has over 600 steps. A notable exception are the walks between popular beaches such as those in and around Perissa.
One popular route, although it’s more of an excursion than a practical jaunt, is the 10km-route (6 miles) from Fira to Oia.
Accessible transportation in Santorini
Accessible transportation is very limited on Santorini. The public buses do not have wheelchair access nor do the taxis. Steep stone stairs abound and crowds jam village walkways in summer. For more information on accessible travel, see the Lonely Planet guide to accessible travel, a free download.
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