Santorini

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Europe > Greece > Santorini ( JTR )


Do you need a car in Santorini? The tiny island of Santorini is one of the most popular destinations in Greece, but it’s small size doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy to get around. So is it worth getting a hire car in Santorini or can you get around using local public transport?

Do I need a car in Santorini? Introduction



Why rent a car in Santorini?


  • Incomplete bus network – the bus network in Santorini is almost exclusively centred on the capital Fira. If this is where you are staying, then you should find it reasonably easy to get around the island, but if you are staying anywhere else, or even if you are staying on the edges of Fira, then you will find yourself having to get a bus to the main central bus station first and then another bus to continue where you want to go.
  • Oia: Even if you are just trying to transfer from the airport or the main ferry port to beautiful village of Oia, you will have to go into the bus station in Fira and then transfer to another local bus to get to Oia. The only real exception to this is if you are staying in the resort of Kamari, which is situated near the southern end of the airport runway. You are at least able to get from here to and from the airport without needing to go through Fira, although you will always need to double-check when getting on any local bus to make sure it is actually going where you think it is going.
  • Village to village: Generally, buses in Santorini are best for going between the major towns and villages, and not so good for hopping around smaller villages.
  • Around town: Buses are also of little use for getting around within the larger towns such as Fira, due to the limited number of stops, and poor reliability.
  • Bus reliability and information – the local bus network on Santorini isn’t just inadequate in terms of routes, it’s very difficult to get reliable information updates without actually going in person to the main bus station in Fira. There is no reliable Internet update service for local buses, although you should at least be able to find general information about typical frequencies. For example, there should at least be a twice hourly service between Fira and Oia, but because of the local traffic problems, buses in Santorini should never be relied on to be running exactly on time. However, in fairness, you are on holiday, and a typical 10 to 20 minutes delay really isn’t going to ruin it, unless of course you are trying to get to the port or airport in a hurry.
  • Overcrowded buses – it goes without saying that Santorini can get very hot during the day, and there is little by way of shelter when you’re waiting for a bus, especially if the queue is forming for that service that is already 20 minutes behind schedule. Buses on Santorini are also notoriously overcrowded, and at the busiest times, officials will keep cramming as many people in as they can until every last space is taken. Of course this might be no different to a crowded subway in your local home town, but don’t expect the air-conditioning to cope with this many people! If you are still asking “do you need to rent a car in Santorini”, then the buses will give you a good reason to want to sit in your own private box – but then a quick glance at the frustrations of many of the drivers will show you that the bus isn’t really that bad either (see “traffic” below)!
  • See the whole island – whilst local buses in Santorini will eventually get you to the most popular villages and resorts, if you really want to get out and explore the whole island then some form of private transport is going to be necessary. Essentially, any of the smaller villages and beaches on the eastern side of the island are simply not accessible by bus, so getting a hire car in Santorini is the best way to provide this flexibility.
  • Local quad bike and scooter hire – you might not feel it is necessary to pick up a hire car when you arrive in Santorini, but you might prefer to rent a car locally for a day or two. Other visitors prefer to opt for quad bike or scooter hire – neither of these options are particularly safe, but they are both extremely popular, much to the annoyance of pedestrians in the busy resorts! You should also be able rent a car in Santorini port, and quad bikes and scooters are also easily obtainable there, as they are in the major resorts, although generally from local suppliers, and not always bookable online.
  • Free parking – although you might not be able to park directly outside your accommodation if you are staying in the centre of Fira or Oia, parking compounds are usually available on the edge of each village, and these tend to be free. Private villas and larger hotel resorts should also have free parking, but it is always worth checking in advance before confirming any booking.

Beyond the island

  • Island hopping by car from Santorini – many visitors choose to start a tour of the Greek islands by flying into Santorini, which has a wide network of schedule flights to and from many airports throughout Europe.
  • Even if the benefits of having a car on Santorini itself are not particularly great, a hire car might be a lot more useful on other larger islands, especially as less populated Greek islands have very few bus services, if any. Bear in mind that in the peak season it can be difficult to book your car onto the interisland ferry services.
  • Unsurprisingly, car ferries can be very expensive if you only have one or two people in the car, but they can also be excellent value if your car is full.
  • Always check with your rental commpany before taking your car off the island, as many will have restrictions on taking your car onboard a ferry. Generally, one way car rental from Santorini to another island destination (or to mainland Greece) is very difficult to arrange.
  • For holidays on multiple Greek islands, it is best to travel by ferry as a foot passenger, and then to make a decision about whether or not you need a car on an isand by island basis.
Santorini car hire can be useful to get between villages, but it is often easier to take the bus.

Getting a hire car in Santorini can be useful to get between villages, but it is often easier to take the bus.


Why not? Visiting Santorini without a car


  • Small island simplicity – where is the need? Even though, as mentioned above, public transport on Santorini is far from perfect, you are never going to be that far from the place you are staying. Once you have made one or two chaotic bus journeys in Santorini you will soon get used to the way the system works, and there are always taxis available where it doesn’t. Is it worth hiring a car in Santorini if it’s often going to be more trouble than you need?
  • Best bits by bus – the bus network on Santorini might not be particularly comprehensive, but it will get you between the major resorts and it will also get you to and from most of the major attractions.
    Travelling by bus on Santorini might be frustrating, but so is motoring, and on balance in the sticky heat, you may well agree that it is better to let someone else do the driving, even if your car does come with air conditioning.
  • Cheap buses – local buses are cheap, with fares usually collected by a conductor soon after departure. For example, a bus from Fira to either the airport, the ferry port or to Oia should leave you getting change from €2. Although having a hire car will give you the flexibility and the freedom to see more of the eastern side of the island, this really is nothing like as spectacular as the most popular villages on the west.
  • Fira cable car – if you want to experience a way to glide up the cliffs like no other, then take the cable car from the old Fira port up to the main village centre. The cable car costs €5 each way, so you might prefer to walk down and then take the cable car back up, (whereas the adventurous might prefer to take the cable car down and then walk up).
    Walking down at a gentle pace will take around 15 minutes, and donkey rides are also available. Needless to say, there is no way of accessing the old Fira port in a hire car.
  • Oia sunset – on foot and by bus. It has been said that the sunset in Oia is the finest in the world, and there are certainly no shortage of visitors who flock to this village just to see it. Naturally, Oia gets extremely crowded around two hours before sunset and for the first hour or so afterwards, but this also means that the best parking spots fill up, as well as the local buses.
  • Fira – Oia Coastal Path – If you are staying in Fira, then my advice would be to set off for Oia about four hours before sunset and to walk along the coastal path to get there. Depending on your walking pace and how often you stop, this might take anything from an hour and a half (very brisk walk with no stops) to 3 or 4 hours.
    You will no doubt find that you can pick up the pace a bit later on so you don’t miss the sunset, and it will also be much cooler by then – but regardless, take plenty of water and some good sunscreen, because there are very few places to stop en route and get extra supplies.
    Then, as the crowds start to thin out after sunset, grab a leisurely evening meal, and take one of the later buses back to Fira. You should find that by then the buses are a lot less crowded. You should be able to get a seat on the bus later on without too much problem.
  • Local taxis – Greek taxis might not have a particularly good reputation, even amongst locals, but as long as you ensure the meter is running, you should never find yourself with an exorbitant taxi bill, because nowhere on Santorini is particularly far from anywhere else.
    However, there is an obvious caveat to this – if your taxi gets stuck in traffic, then the meter will still keep ticking, but if this is the case, it will probably be faster to walk anyway!
  • How Do you solve a problem like Fira? All of the major roads on Santorini congregate in the capital Fira, and this can create massive bottlenecks at busy times, or just throughout the day in the peak tourist season!
    Obviously, the congestion affects buses as much as it affects car traffic, but at least if you are on the bus you aren’t making the traffic problems worse. If you prefer a simple selfish reason to stick to the bus, then just ask if you’d rather be letting a local professional do the driving or if you prefer to be stuck at the controls of a car in this traffic sodden mess yourself?
  • Walking trails – whilst the cliff-top path between Fira and Oia is by far and away the most popular route to walk on Santorini, there are a number of other very scenic paths, and many of these can be reached by taking a bus first and then walking back or by using a combination of buses and/or taxis. In all cases, the usual commonsense advice about avoiding the midday sun and carrying loads of water apply.
  • Santorini tours by coach or minibus – numerous tour packages are available from the major resort centres, and these will save you the hassle of needing to get a rental car. The most popular excursions that cover destinations which aren’t so easy to get to by scheduled bus include the archaeological site of Akrotiri.
  • Boat tours and trips – a number of options are available to explore the caldera and neighbouring small islands by boat from the old Fira port, with a small number of tours also being available from Oia.
  • Staying in Fira – your choice of accommodation might have a substantial impact on how you choose to get around, because it’s far easier to avoid needing a hire car in Santorini if you base yourself in Fira and choose accommodation which is in walking distance of the bus station, as most is, including low cost backpacker options.
  • Cycle hire – cycle hire is available from one location on the southern side of Fira. With a hired bicycle you can explore some of the roads on the eastern side of the island, where traffic levels tend to be a bit lower. Although there are no dedicated cycle facilities on Santorini, many roads have very little local traffic, and the ascent up the side of Mount Profitis is particularly pleasant as it is tree lined, and it is not a through route for motor traffic.
  • Bumps and scrapes – if you look at the cars driven by locals in Santorini, you will see that many of them have their fair share of dents and scratches, which is hardly surprising on an island so full of narrow and congested roads.
    Whereas a minor scrape on a battered old wreck is just a modest inconvenience to a local, damaging a pristine hire car could mean a complex insurance claim with a high excess. Is it really worth the bother?

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Beyond Santorini without a car

  • Island hopping by ferry – many long haul visitors to Greece will fly into Athens first and then take the ferry or an internal flight to Santorini before continuing onwards to other notable Greek islands.
  • Santorini also makes a great starting point for exploring the Greek islands for many visitors from throughout Europe because it has a good range of scheduled and charter flight services. Continuing onwards from Santorini to explore other Greek islands is relatively easy, with multiple daily departures to Athens and some of the most popular islands in the Cyclades. One of the most popular choices after Santorini is to continue on to Mykonos, with nearby Paros also being extremely popular.
  • As an individual foot passenger, you can expect to pay considerably less than a car driver, and you will also get into and out of the port a lot quicker.
  • More popular islands tend to have reasonable bus services, and it is often possible to stay within reasonable walking distance of the harbour – although Santorini itself is the notable exception to this.
  • Whether or not you prefer to island hop on foot or by car will obviously depend on which islands you want to go to and on the size of your group, but the other obvious advantage of island hopping as a foot passenger is that it’s a lot easier to fly into one airport and to fly out from another without incurring massive one-way car rental fees.

Santorini car hire scenario questions

Is it worth renting a car in santorini just for part of my stay?

Not really. If you are wanting a car for general usage and getting around the island, then it’s best to have it for all of the time that you are here. Overall, a full week of car-rental from Santorini airport will almost certainly work out as better value than renting 3 or 4 days from local rental providers elsewhere on the island.

However, if you just want to spend a full day touring around the island, then it probably would make a great deal of sense just to rent locally, and then to return the car at the end of the day so you won’t have to worry about parking.

Is it worth renting a car in Santorini even for backpackers, students and other travellers who are on an extremely tight budget?

Absolutely not – you are unlikely to save money as it is by renting a car on Santorini, any decision to drive here would only be based on convenience, and not on saving money.

Local buses are cheap, and Santorini is actually a surprisingly good place just to get around on your own two feet or perhaps a bicycle.

Do I need a car in Santorini if I am planning on staying in the centre of town (Fira)?

No – if you are staying right in the centre of any of the towns and Santorini, then you will actually find that you can walk to most places and then use the buses to travel around the island. A rental car is much more useful if you are staying in a more modern property outside town centres, where you are more likely to have driveway parking provided.

 

I usually try to avoid driving if I can – so should I hire a car in Santorini?

No! If you usually try to avoid driving, then there’s absolutely no point in considering getting a rental car on Santorini!

I love driving, and I prefer to hire a car when I can, should I still rent a car in Santorini?

Probably not – the island just isn’t big enough to really enjoy any kind of driving experience, so renting a car here is simply about whether or not this will give you more convenience than visiting Santorini without one. Every time you find an open road you feel like you are just about to enjoy, you will no doubt find that there is another small village or another queue of traffic. Even the quieter roads on the island are actually just as easy to appreciate on foot anyway. No distances here are really all that great.

If you want to enjoy great driving roads on Greece, then you really will be much better off renting a car on the mainland, or possibly on a larger island such as Crete or, dare we say it, Rhodes!

I am a train enthusiast – do I still need to hire a car in Santorini?

No. There are no train services on any of the Greek islands, but Santorini does at least have a cable car. Local buses will take you where you need to go.

You might still enjoy travelling between the Greek islands by ship, but for the best train experiences in Greece you really need to start in Athens. Buses also provide easy connections to both the ferry port and the airport.

I am mainly interested in architecture and urban/cultural attractions – should I still hire a car in Santorini?

Possibly. Santorini is famous for its whitewashed houses, but it’s the way they cling to the cliffs that makes them so truly spectacular.

There is absolutely no need to rent a car just to get between the major towns and villages on the island, but having a hire car might be useful for stopping off at one or two quirky places that you might discover, but which you would only see in a passing glimpse if you viewed them from the back of a bus.

I am mainly interested in landscapes rather than cities. Do I need a car in Santorini?

Not really. In Santorini, the landscapes and the architecture are really one and the same. There are very few places in the island where you could go to find any kind of landscape that is truly untouched. To get to more remote locations, you would actually be better off taking a ferry from either Fira or Oia and exploring some of the islands which our nearby, including those which sit in the dramatic caldera, such as Thirasia or Nea Kameni.

You absolutely don’t need a hire car for any of this, and the ferries won’t take cars in the first place! Parking around the port is always going to be a challenge. It’s much easier to walk, or in the case of Fira, to take the cable car if you prefer.

How many people would we need in the car before a rental becomes better value than using transit?

It won’t matter. It’s never worth hiring a car in Santorini to try to save money, it is only going to be a choice based on convenience, so it really wouldn’t matter whether you were just a solo traveller or if there were 3 or 4 of you travelling together.

The only difference would be that if you are a slightly larger group, that’s going to make it harder to hold together on a crowded bus, whereas you can always hire a larger estate or people carrier to stay together. However, given that Santorini is full of narrow winding roads and that it’s also very difficult to park here, we would always advise getting the smallest economy car that you possibly can.

 

What about families?

Santorini can test the patience of any families with children, but renting a car doesn’t necessarily make things better if that means a lot of sitting in traffic.

Kids will still be truly amazed by the stunning landscapes of the caldera, which really are totally unique anywhere in the world. Your best bet might be to take some boat trips. You don’t need to hire a car in Santorini just to get to and from the ports, or the airport. Instead we’d suggest that if buses aren’t convenient, use local taxis. At least you won’t then have to worry about parking.

We are senior citizens (or travellers with restricted mobility), should we still rent a car in Santorini?

Yes, if you were planning on doing so anyway (given the other points made here).

Driving customs in Greece are much more haphazard than they are in northern Europe, but since this is a tourist focused island, you will find that most drivers are actually quite courteous. However, no amount of good manners can erase the endless flows of traffic through small towns and villages.

It’s difficult to find public conveniences when you are stuck in a long queue of traffic, but crowded buses can also present a huge amount of hassle here. Generally, the best way to reduce the stress of trying to get around Santorini is to travel in the off-peak season if you can and to try and do as much walking as possible, and to use any kind of motorised transport sparingly.

However, Santorini is completely unsuitable for anybody with physical mobility difficulties – there are simply too many steep steps in all of the historic cliff hugging towns and villages, and even if you just came here and stayed in a modern apartment, you would be missing out on all of the things that make the island so fascinating.

Any suggestion on whether or not it would be worth renting a car in Santorini based on convenience for more cautious or less able visitors really wouldn’t be about a decision of car versus no car, but simply a decision about whether or not you would be able to get around the island at all.

Do I need a rental car if I am flying into Santorini airport but staying in another destination elsewhere?

Staying in smaller towns on the island of Santorini

Possibly. It doesn’t really matter where you stay on the island, you should be able to get where you need to from the airport using local buses. However, always check first whether or not a direct bus is available to your destination from the airport, as in some cases you will have to change in the main town of Fira. However, you really shouldn’t rent a car in Santorini just because it gives you a more convenient way of getting to and from the airport. It will be far more convenient, and probably a lot cheaper, just to make a small number of journeys on the island by taxi, rather than getting a rental car.

Staying on other islands

Almost certainly not. The first thing you will want to do will be to transfer between the airport and the port. Doing this by bus is a pain, since there is little demand for such a service, so you’ll have to go through Fira. That’s no bad thing in itself, but if you just want a transfer, take a taxi.

Whatever other island you are going to, there’s little point in hiring a car in Santorini just to put it on an expensive car ferry. You will also have to pay a heft insurance premium to do this.

Instead, we would recommend looking at hiring a car from the port of the other island you are visiting. For smaller islands, this might not be possible anyway, in which case you won’t really need a car anyway.

If I’m planning on touring around, is this best done in a rental car?

Within Santorini

No. However you want to get around Santorini, you can reach all corners of it in one day, and this would be the case whether you rented a car, whether you asked a taxi driver to take you around the island, or if you used local buses.

Other islands

It might be worth hiring a car in Santorini and then using it to tour other Greek islands, effectively forming a road trip with a lot of assistance from car ferries (see below)! However, many of the nearby islands don’t have car ferry service, as there’s little need for it. You really can do a great deal both on and around Santorini without a hire car.

Should I hire car in Santorini to start a road trip?

Maybe! Any road trip from Santorini would involve putting your car on the ferry for a lot of the time, but it would still be a fascinating way to see a sequence of Greek islands. However, beware that take your car on the ferry can be costly – not just because of the cost of the car onboard the ferry itself, but also because you may well be required to pay for extra insurance to do this.

Remember that Greek island ferries are very different to the sort of large car ferries used on many routes from the UK. Most passengers will be foot passengers, and the ferries have large seating decks for this. There isn’t so much space allocated for transporting cars, and during the busy season, you can expect to pay a great deal for the privilege.

You will also be spending a lot of money hiring a car that isn’t actually going to be used for a lot of your trip, because it will just be sitting on the ferry deck. Since most Greek island ferry ports are within the major towns and villages, you’ll still be able to see a great deal on each island without actually needing to rent a car in the first place. You will also need to plan your Greek island road trip carefully to make sure that you have time in the case of ferry delays and cancellations.

Generally, we would advise that the best place to start a Greek road trip is actually in Athens. There are some really good places to drive to both in mainland Greece and also in the Peloponnese, without needing to worry about dealing with ferries.

Should we try to visit Santorini without a car because that’s better for the environment?

Absolutely! The local environment on Santorini suffers immensely from all of the problems created by heavy traffic. If you rent a car here, you can only make things worse.

Whereas in larger cities, there are substantial problems created by air pollution from vehicular traffic, the main problem in Santorini is simply that the small clifftop towns and villages were never built to cope with cars in the first place. This congestion also makes the local environment extremely unpleasant for walking.

The general lack of road space means that there is a huge problem with parking, unless you are staying in a more modern resort that will have been developed with suitable space from the outset.

However, Santorini really isn’t the sort of place where you can just enclose yourself in your metal box and forget about the traffic problems. If you do choose to drive here, you will probably find it even more frustrating than walking at times. Even if switching to buses and taxis doesn’t completely get rid of the traffic problem, you are at least leaving a much smaller footprint, especially as you won’t need to take up a parking space.

Your best option really is to try and walk as much as you can, and however you choose to get around, to come here outside the main tourist season if you can. Santorini has many truly stunning coastal walks, and even though there is little tree cover, you are usually well out in the open, and easily cooled by the sea breeze.

I’m used to driving an automatic car on North American roads. Should I rent a car in Santorini?

Almost certainly not! Driving conditions here are very different, and the road layouts are hugely different to what you will find in more modern American or Canadian cities.

Are there automatic hire cars in Santorini?

Economy cars tend to have manual transmission. Whereas you should be able to rent an automatic car in Santorini, it will probably be a more prestige model. This would be a really bad idea here! You won’t just be paying a fortune for luxury features you don’t really need for making short trips around the island, but you will also be taking a much higher risk of getting bumped and scratched, especially when you are trying to park!

Even relative to roads in mainland Greece, you will find Santorini challenging, yet there are few really great driving roads here. If you want to drive in Greece, and you are also visiting Athens, then we would suggest looking at some driving circuits from there (just avoid the city centre!).

Will my Santorini rental car have air conditioning?

It almost certainly will, as this is now a standard feature on even economy models used for European car hire. The only exception would be if you used a local rental provider who had a much older fleet. Check this locally, and always make sure it is working before you drive away.

Generally, you won’t have too much of a problem once you are moving and away from towns, but being stuck in traffic without air conditioning isn’t pleasant.

Should I rent a car in Santorini and return it somewhere else?

We really don’t advise one-way rental anywhere on the Greek islands, simply because you should expect to pay exorbitant charges, in the unlikely case that any rental company will actually allow you to do this.

This is because it costs car-rental companies a great deal more to move cars around when they have to do so using ferry services.

Should I rent an RV / motorhome / caravan in Santorini, instead of a car?

Absolutely not! The roads are Santorini really are unsuitable for recreational and camper vehicles and caravans, and there are few facilities for them.

However, there are more conventional campsites if you are travelling with a tent, or if you want to stay in static facilities.

Depending on your equipment, you may be able to take this as hand luggage, or otherwise put it in the hold. There’s still little need for a car to get around the island, or to get from airport to camp site.

However, you may still want to hire a car in Santorini for general use. We’d recommend keeping it as small as possible!

James says - a few trip notes:


I spent three lovely nights near the centre of Fira in 2015, and got around the island fine by using buses and doing a lot of walking. I also hired a bike for one day. Since I’m someone with itchy feet, I got here by taking the ferry from Athens. This was one of my all-time favourite boat trips, especially the incredibly dramatic arrival into Santorini’s giant caldera.

If I visited again, I’d want to continue on to other nearby islands. Do you need to rent a car in Santorini? I’m not sure that a hire car would really be much use for doing this, let alone for just staying on Santorini, but as I hope the text below points out, buses here aren’t exactly that great either, so this isn’t as simple as it looks at first glance.


Do I need to get a hire car in Santorini? Verdict

The choice of whether or not to hire a car in Santorini might not be quite as clear-cut as it initially looks, because even though the island is crowded and chaotic, a hire car is still going to give you that little bit more flexibility, especially if you aren’t staying in the centre of Fira. A hire car might also be more useful if a group of you want to hop around different islands.

But there is certainly no need to hire a car in Santorini and at times you will find it much more of a burden than an advantage.

Even if you have to take one or two longer taxi trips, this is still going to end up costing you a great deal less than the cost of getting a hire car. When all the other hassles of renting a car are taken into account, you will probably find that these outweigh the hassles of not having one.

Therefore, the Carornocar verdict for Santorini is still a solid no!



 

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