A complete guide to experiencing the most of Santorini in just one day. How to do it, where to eat and what to do! All on a backpackers dream solo travel budget without feeling limited.
In August 2021, I travelled for my first time during the pandemic. Did you travel internationally in 2020 and 2021? Travel procedures were still new with a lot of unpredictability, but most places were less crowded with many people still too hesitant to leave home. I travelled through Greece, Croatia and a few other countries in the Balkans and first started off the whole trip with one day in Santorini!
Why only 1 day?
I opted for just 1 long day in Santorini because I wanted to spend most of my week in Greece exploring more historic and mainland parts of the vast country such as Athens, Meteora and Thessaloniki. I didn't want to only see the islands and main sites in Athens. I wanted more of a feel of the whole country, being my first ever trip to Greece! But at the same time, I didn't want to go all the way to Greece and completely miss out on the Cyclades experience. I also knew I was likely getting myself into an overly touristic place so I didn't want to be here very long. One day also creates an ideal budget way to experience Santorini as you'll see!
Is 1 day worth it?
I thought so! I got a really good feel of the whole island and got to see all the places I wanted to in a short period of time. But spending a few extra days or going to another island would be ideal if you are looking to relax for a longer time out on the Cyclades.
5 things to experience in Santorini
Greek cafe, preferably in the more local part of the island
Wandering non touristic places on the island
Boat tour to the volcano, swimming in healing waters and Thirasia island
The stairs and cable car, shops and restaurants in Fira
Sunset and nightlife in Oía
Let me tell you more about how I experienced all of these in 1 day!
Right next to the airport, I started the early morning at Apollo cafe for cafe freddo, freshly baked croissants and my suitcase storage. I worked at a greek owned cafe in Chicago enjoying freddo and pastries, so it felt just right to start with my first taste of Greece in this way! The owner was really friendly and welcoming, more of a local vibe.
It's an easy taxi or bus ride over to the main parts of the island, but I decided to begin with a walk for part of it to see the surroundings and be able to pop in and out of places along the way. The middle/most of the island is dry, quiet and not picturesque to be honest. I enjoyed this walk, the shops, the wine museum and especially a huge plant nursery that I stumbled upon, until deciding to hop on the bus to get to the touristic part of the island and hopefully catch a tour.
Island hopping boat cruise
After a 15-20min bus ride, I arrived in Fira, the capital city of Santorini. It felt like being deep in the sisterhood of the traveling pants and other movies. I didn’t book anything in advance and I was glad because I saved about 30 euros by purchasing the tour package on arrival rather than online as well as going to one area of the island myself rather than on the tour. (As traveling gets busier again, it is advised to book in advance.)
The boat tour was fabulous in all honesty. It's a very common one to do, but regardless, I'd definitely recommend it, especially to see a lot in a limited amount of time. It was completely full of tourists which gave me cultural shock on my first day of traveling on a different continent in 2 years, but the views and places were amazing.
First stop: The volcano. I met another girl who was also solo traveling and we quickly hit it off! We decided to not hike up the caldera and instead admire it from down below and chill on the boat to have some down time, break from the crowds and plus the perk of saving our energy! I think it was just 5-10 euros to hike up the caldera and others said they enjoyed it but we didn't miss much. We then met 2 other solo traveling ladies and the 4 of us enjoyed the rest of the 4 hour boat trip together.
Second stop: Swimming in the sea and healing spring waters, this was the highlight for me!
Third stop: Thirasia island. The restaurant food here really was nothing to write home about, just overpriced mediocre seafood despite being right on the sea. The views and experience was magnificent though! Some people chose to hike up and down this island too, we did not.
On the way back, we passed Oía which is the picturesque Santorini and part of the island full of beautiful white chalets with pools overlooking the sea. But from the sea, I thought it looks like a dry desert mountain with snow or bird poop on top, truly nothing aesthetically pleasing from below, nothing like the photos we always see of Santorini…but from up top and close within, the white washed buildings and views are absolutely breath taking!
Fira steps and cable car
We said goodbye to 2 of the girls as they ventured off to the famously red colored beach (which they told us was not as bright as they expected as it appears brighter in photos). I took the cable car down so I thought why not experience these famous steps. This is also where you can take a donkey ride up but it didn’t feel ethical to us. Well note to self and everyone, take the stairs down - not up! And if you do take them up, make sure you don't go at the hottest time of the year, during an extreme heat wave, while you are tired and haven’t slept properly in 2 days, exhausted from traveling and new experiences….let’s just say heat exhaustion was real. (Not to mention that I had been sick for 5 months so I was nauseated by many experiences daily - which this trip totally healed, by the way!) Anyway, we climbed the almost 700 long stairs and survived it all.
This is one of the unique experiences of Santorini whether you go by cable car or stairs.
The Cliff Restaurant in Fira
With an absolutely stunning view, it gives you the Greek island feels, affordable prices, yummy food and drinks, friendly staff (not as friendly manager) and would be a fantastic place to watch the sunset. We enjoyed their tzatziki with pita bread and olives, a Greek yogurt fruit and nut bowl and refreshing drinks. Before dining here, we walked around the shops and thoroughly enjoyed the iconic feel. This is probably a better place to watch the sunset from, but I couldn't miss out on the famous Oía.
Suneset and nightlife in Oía
To continue my day tour of Santorini, I hopped on a bus to Oía to see what they say is one of the best sunsets in the world. Well everyone had the same idea obviously because this was the tourist trap of the most touristy trapped places on earth. But yet again, I get why - it is absolutely gorgeous!
I went down a number of back alleys until I found a private place where I had a magical time soaking in my first European sunset in 2.5 years and my first ever Greek sunset overlooking the Aegean Sea. I had a travel size bottle of wine so I popped that open with a few snacks and thoroughly enjoyed my first “me moment” on the trip. I watched from a distance, away from the crowds and traffic, and felt grateful to have found my own lane. This was me, this was my trip, this was where the discovering would begin.
Once the sun fully set, I made my way to the white washed parts of Oía. I took in the beauty of the night lights over such a city set on the island hill. I meandered through shops, noticed families and groups of teenagers full of that holiday high. I went to the lookout to see the panoramic view of Oía at night and looked below at the boats and dock where Lina from the sisterhood of the traveling pants met her long lost Greek lover. After many a moment in awe, I walked back up the white stone steps, the churches and more shops. I stopped for frozen yogurt and paid too much but I didn't care. I sat in front of the blue domed church with the Greek flag flying and enjoyed that froyo more than ever.
I still had plenty of time for my bus to the the airport back so I went and waited. Well the bus was 30minutes late so by the time it arrived, the last airport bus was gone. I reluctantly paid 20 extra euros and hopped in a cab. The driver was very nice, albeit tipsy, and got me to the airport safely at a lower rate than typically. He told me about the other islands that are better to visit and apologised for the way Santorini is…which all in all, I did love it despite its tourist town feel.
Luggage logistics of a one day trip
I flew straight from the airport upon my arrival in Athens, to avoid more back and forth to the airport later and I thought I'd keep my bags in the airport storage and call it a day. However at the time, the Athens airport had limited hours for bag storage so last minute I had to pay more than my flight to fly my bag to Santorini where they also had no airport bag storage, oh my! (Limited hours during 2020-2021, so it should be open 24/7 now.) Thankfully I found a cafe that was willing to store it and keep it safe for 5 euros for the full day from 8am-midnight.
There were a few reasons I only went to Santorini for one day as mentioned above, but one of the greatest perks was how affordable it was to experience!
$140 return flight Athens to Santorini (including the unplanned, extra luggage fees and taxi/bus transportation on the island...return flight alone was only $65)
$35 island hopping tour and cable car
$30 breakfast, coffee, lunch, light dinner, frozen yogurt
I hope this helps you as you plan or consider visiting Greece and potentially Santorini. What was your experience of Santorini or other Greek islands if you've been?