I’ve come to realize something in my travels: the first time I do something, it’s stressful because it’s unknown. I make mistakes. I ask bumbling questions. But if I pay attention, the second time gets a lot easier.
This applies to getting around in Santorini.
Getting from the Port to Your Hotel
Initially I thought I would take the city bus to my hotel (turns out it would have been a stressful walk along a busy highway, so glad that didn’t pan out). The bus stop at the port is pandemonium right after a ferry arrives. Tourists and taxis everywhere.
If you do take the bus (it’s around $2), it’s an affordable and easyish option. You’ll most likely have to take the bus to the town of Fira and then transfer to one that takes you where you want to go.
But if you’re hot and stressed like I was, go for a taxi. I paid 20 euros to Megalachori, which is an inland town about 15 minutes from the port. Another driver quoted me 30, so don’t be shy about walking away if it’s more than you want to pay.
The nice thing is that you can now sit back and enjoy the view of the caldera as your driver navigates up the steep switchbacks away from the port!
Local Buses in Santorini
Oh, that first bus adventure wasn’t all that fun! I sat at the bus stop on the wrong side of the street for a while before realizing my error. The bus stops are usually marked with a green sign with yellow map. But in Oia, one bus stop simply had “bus stop” spray painted on the ground. So, yeah. Confusing. Ask a local if you’re in doubt.
You’ll have to look at the map to see which route stops at the town you’re headed to. For example, to get to Megalochori, I had to take the Perissa bus. It stops at points all along between Fira and Perissa.
Here’s another annoyance: the city buses look like the hundreds of tour buses on the island! Why they don’t just paint them some uniform color I don’t know. So you peer at the bus approaching you and look for the green and yellow Local Bus sign (or one with an electronic destination sign above). If it has a white or other colored card, it’s a tour bus so don’t make an ass of yourself by trying to flag it down.
The bus schedule will tell you when the bus is expected. Don’t believe it. You’ll stand there far longer than you think you should, but trust this philosophy: the bus will come. Stomping your feet will not make it come faster.
Get on the bus and sit down. The ticket man will come around and ask your destination, then charge you appropriately.
If you have to change buses in Fira, keep calm. You will hear a million frantic tourists ask when the bus to X is coming. If you’re quiet, you’ll hear one of them ask about the place you’re headed. And the attendant will call out the town when the bus is loading.
If it’s super crowded going or coming to Oia from Fira, you may have to stand. I don’t recommend it. That’s a long haul, and it’s a winding road, so you’ll annoy everyone around you by bumping into them. Wait for the next bus.
Taking the Ferry
Foolish me. I’d watched Mamma Mia and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and thought that a ferry to Santorini would be a small boat that could hold about a dozen people, weather permitting.
The ferry system is a streamlined money-maker. These boats are near cruise ship size and probably hold 500 people when they’re full. Wait at the port until the announcement is made to board, then follow the lemurs on board. Stow your big bags in the cargo hold below then go upstairs.
An employee will vaguely wave you to a large room with seats. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll think you can sit anywhere. You can’t. Yet. You have a seat number and letter, so look for your seat.
I was traveling in June and the ferries were never full, so people moved around once everyone had found their seats. That’s nice when you’re sitting next to a chatty Greek child or behind a couple who lay their seats back so they can sleep.
On the way to Santorini, about 3/4 of the way through, the staff told everyone they got a free upgrade, so we were able to move to the slightly nicer seating area. I don’t think it would have been worth it to pay for it, though.
Every ferry takes a different amount of time to get you to your destination. The two I took were 4-6 hours total. They stop at different islands, so it’s fun to check out where you want to visit next time. It’s so enjoyable to stand on deck and watch the islands pass by.
There’s a bar/restaurant on every ferry, so you can get your snack on while you travel. The food sucks and is overpriced, but what are you gonna do?
Oh and there’s no wifi, so bring a book!
Other Transportation in Santorini
I saw a ton of people who’d rented quads (four-wheelers) to get around the island. This puzzles me. They’re not going off-roading, and it’s probably incredibly hot with the sun beating down. So why not rent an air-conditioned car (which there were plenty of)? Maybe the quads were significantly cheaper. Either way, I didn’t want to deal with driving in Santorini.
Drivers are sane enough, but sometimes it’s iffy to know where to park. And of course, in the summer, it’s so crowded. So I stuck to public transportation and taxis.
Whatever transportation you opt for, please don’t ride a donkey! It’s cruel and incredibly cheesy.
Hope this helps you navigate transportation in Santorini!