Regardless of the public transportation in a certain destination, I’ll never pass up an opportunity to explore by car. This could be partly an ingrained American habit or also just due to the fact I love creating my own schedule.
There’s nothing better than walking out your front door and putting keys into the ignition whenever you feel like it, with no bus to rush to or no train to buy tickets for!
Luckily, renting a car on Santorini is quite easy, even if you’re looking for automatic ones (I know, someone teach me how to drive a manual vehicle please!). So on one day, Christine and Raphael and I rented a small compact car for about €40. Not bad for this pricey Greek island.
Being that is was the very start of low season, the roads were calm and traffic was almost non-existent. Santorini is an easy island to drive around and you can get from one side to the other in about an hour. There are many little spots to visit, and with a car we were able to jump from one to the next relatively easily. Being that this was my last day on the island, exploring by car was the perfect way to see more of it before catching the overnight ferry to Athens.
If you happen to rent a car like us, here are my picks for making the most of your day exploring Santorini by car:
No better place to stay on the island in my opinion, Oia is a village straight out of a dream. It’s also perfectly situated at the top of the island, a convenient starting point for a road trip.
Exploring Oia itself can only really be done on foot. Most of the village is characterized by a maze-like assortment of cobblestone paths which don’t accommodate cars. Out of this world views are possible from almost anywhere in the village, but allow yourself to wander and get lost for a while.
When it comes to typical images of Santorini, this is it.
After leaving Oia, depart for Fira, the island’s capital. While also gorgeous and full of white-washed houses and churches, compared to Oia, Fira is much busier and commercial. There are more tourist shops, more bars and more activity overall. Still, it’s worth exploring and you should set aside a full hour or so just to walk around.
This would also be the place to have lunch or do some shopping. With more time, you could visit one of the museums or one of the marketplaces. There is also a cable car which takes visitors down to a small beach below the caldera.
Monastery of Profitis
One of the best spots to visit with a car is the Monastery of Profitis, sitting atop the highest point on the island. While the winding road up to the summit gets a bit scary (those drops are high, I couldn’t look!) the view is well worth it. From here you can see the entire island.
Park and walk up to the monastery, and if you’re lucky there will be some Greek ladies giving free samples of olive oil, olives and other goodies. Yum!
The Red Beach
What makes the Red Beach so stunning in my opinion is the contrast in colors. Like it was cut right out of the island, the cliff behind the beach is a striking red and the water a bright turquoise. Park and make the five minute walk over to the viewpoint, and if it’s warm enough, walk over to the beach and soak up some sun.
By this time, it was almost sunset. If you’re visiting in summer and/or got an earlier start than us, you’d probably still have a couple more hours of exploration available. Since it was going to be dark soon we headed to Santo Wines for our last stop.
The views from here might just be the best on the island. It’s also a phenomenal spot to watch the sun go down over the Aegean Sea while trying an assortment of local wine.
It’s really the perfect view to a close a pretty perfect day of travel, and the wine doesn’t hurt either. Just make sure someone in your group is prepared to make the 30 min drive back to Oia!
Other points of interest & things to note:
There are many other places to visit on the island, and with an early start or a long day of sunlight in your favor, you could visit all of the above plus one or two more. Perissa is a popular black sand beach resort full of many taverns and cafes. Pirgos is a small village typical of a Cycladic village and built around a Venetian fortress. Although the island isn’t that large, take in mind the slow speed limit. This is an island after all, and people tend to take it slow.
To rent the car, just ask your hotel or a tour agency. There are a few different rental car companies on the island. Strangely enough (and not to our liking due to travel insurance on my credit card) they only took cash. This left us a bit worried, but we rented regardless. A man came with the car, almost as if it was his personal vehicle, and handed over the keys. I suppose that’s another example of Greek hospitality for you!