Santorini, a beautiful island in Greece's southern Aegean Sea, is where one of history's largest volcanic eruptions took place during the Minoan civilization between circa 2700 and circa 1450 BCE. The distance between Athens and Santorini—known as Thira by the Greeks—is 146 miles (234 kilometers) or 126 nautical miles (203 kilometers). The island is the biggest one in a small archipelago also called Santorini.
Arriving in Santorini by ferry—docking at the bottom of cliffs that form the famous volcanic caldera—is breathtaking, especially in the late afternoon. Online ferry schedules are not always accurate; they often change seasonally and differences in the weather can cancel sailings last minute. If you prefer to have everything pinned down and paid for before you arrive, you may want to fly to Santorini, which can be a much faster option (with variable prices). There are more ferries and flights per day in the high season of April through October than in the winter.
How to Get from Athens to Santorini
- Flight: 45 minutes, from $16 (fastest)
- Ferry: 5 hours, from $44 (scenic route)
Going as a foot passenger on a ferry to Santorini is usually much cheaper and you can rent a car, a moped, or a scooter when you arrive. Besides, if you take a vehicle by ferry, you'll have to negotiate a terrifying road up the side of the caldera with several hairpin turns.
Reserving your ferry far in advance is unnecessary and often not possible. Booking and ferry websites often contradict each other and are unreliable. Foot passengers can almost always get on a boat when buying tickets in person a day in advance—or at the docks just before boarding—except around the Greek Orthodox Easter in the spring and in August, when local families take island vacations.
It's helpful to use a Greek travel agent to get both your hotel and ferry tickets, as the agent will be legally obliged to get you to your destination. You can also purchase your tickets from Aktina Travel Group at Athens International Airport. Travel and ticket agents are around the tourist areas, near Syntagma Square. The Amphitrion Group has offices in Athens city center and Santorini. You can also ask at your hotel for the closest reliable ticket seller or try near the port docks.
Most people choose the port Piraeus, located south of and closest to Athens, as it offers the biggest choice of boats year-round. Rafina, north of the city, is closer to the airport in Athens. Several ferries a day leave Piraeus between April and October, and a few depart from Rafina daily. From November through March, the ferries run much less frequently. There are several kinds of ferries. Whether you take a fast or slow boat, allow the better part of a day for travel, as the journey takes between five and eight hours—and sometimes even more.
Modern sea-going ferries travel between Athens and Santorini, carrying as many as 2,500 people as well as hundreds of cars and trucks. They have airline-style seating, private cabins, restaurants, bars, and some outdoor sundeck areas. It takes anywhere from seven to almost 14 hours for a puddle jumper that visits eight other islands before it arrives at Santorini. You'll save money compared to the high-speed boats and get the feeling of a real ocean cruise while you dine, drink, and shop. Most boats stop at several different islands before arriving at Santorini so you can quickly look at the diversity of portside life, though there is not enough time to disembark.
Hydrofoil or jet ferries travel at speeds of between 35 and 40 knots. Most are catamarans, though a few older jets are monohulls, which can carry between about 350 and 1,000 passengers and some vehicles. Depending on how many island stops they make, they take between four and a half and five and a half hours. There are lounges for drinks and snacks. These boats shave about three hours off your trip and are easier to book in advance, but cost about twice as much as a conventional ferry and offer no outdoor space. Most of your time you're strapped into an airplane-type seat and miss the dramatic arrival at the bottom of the cliffs, one of the highlights of any trip to Santorini. Also, the speedboats can cause motion sickness and are more often canceled because of bad weather than conventional ferries.
Several ferry companies serve the Athens to Santorini route, with frequently changing fares and schedules. Blue Star (about $44 one way) is said to be the most comfortable and smooth—a plus for those who may get seasick—though your ride will take almost eight hours. Seajets run high-speed jet boats, with one-way fares of approximately $87. The trip takes about five hours each way. Return trips may take an extra hour.
You can fly from Athens International Airport to Santorini National Airport in about 45 minutes with Ryanair, Sky Express, Aegean Olympic Air, or Volotea, usually via direct flight. In the summer, visitors will find about 20 flights a day, versus in the winter when usually only a few flights per day take off. Some airlines fly daily and others go certain days of the week, starting at $16 and up one way—reserve in advance for the best deals. Ryanair is typically the cheapest airline.
What to See in Santorini
Travelers enjoy walking around Fira. The caldera side offers great views from many local restaurants, cafes, bars, and more, and you can stop at The Museum of Prehistoric Thera to see the ruins of Santorini's ancient cities. Additional attractions include the coastal town of Oia with whitewashed houses atop the cliffs and Atlantis Books, globally famous for its beautiful ocean and cliff views, plus a nice selection of foreign and antiquarian books. The former Oia Castle is known for its gorgeous sunsets. Some beloved beaches for swimming and eating include Perissa, Kamari, and Perivolos. Most of the island's beaches have dark volcanic sand and lovely views.