3 Things to Know About a Crete to Santorini Day Trip

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Oia Santorini village

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Inside: Visiting Crete and considering a day trip to Santorini? Here’s everything you need to plan your day from the best ferry to can’t-miss sights.

As a frequent visitor to the Greek Islands, I firmly believe that the hardest part about planning a trip to Greece is deciding which island (or islands) to visit. I love them all, and you probably will, too. 

But the islands of Crete and Santorini are two of Greece’s most popular islands to visit and it’s easy to see why. 

Read More: The 7 Best Greek Islands to Visit This Summer (2024)

Crete is Greece’s largest island and home to stunning beaches and fascinating historic sites. With its breathtaking caldera views and iconic blue-domed churches, the island of Santorini is a Bucket List travel destination for many. 

While the two islands offer distinct experiences, their close proximity means it’s entirely possible to see them both on one trip. After all, they’re only separated by a 2-hour high-speed ferry ride. 

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So if you’ve chosen the island of Crete for your Greece vacation, it might be impossible to resist popping over to Santorini for a day trip (or longer). 

But you may be wondering…

Can you take a day trip from Crete to Santorini?

The good news is that you absolutely can. The bad news is that it’s a LONG day and you won’t have enough time on Santorini to see everything you’ll probably want to once you get there. 

But, with that said, if it’s a day trip to Santorini or no trip to Santorini at all…I say go for it! A few hours on the stunning volcanic island of Santorini certainly beats never seeing it at all. 

Santorini Day Trip From Crete
View of Santorini from the ferry

And Santorini hotel prices are ridiculously high, so a Crete to Santorini day trip (though not cheap) just might be the most affordable way to see it.  

Now, let’s talk logistics…

3 Things to Know about a Crete to Santorini Day Trip

​1. Start with FerryHopper.com

First things first, the absolute best site for checking ferry schedules and booking ferries in Greece is FerryHopper.com.

Tip: They also have a great app that lets you track your ferry on the day of travel.

2. Heraklion is Best

The most important thing to know about visiting Santorini on a day trip is that it’s much easier to do if you’re staying near the main port of Heraklion. The most frequent ferry service between the islands is from Heraklion. Agios Nikolaos is about an hour away and possible to do but it adds 2 more hours to a long day.

However, if you’re staying in the lovely town of Chania (my favorite town in Crete), it’s not impossible. While there is no ferry service from Chania to Santorini, there is a direct ferry from Reythmno (about an hour away) during the high-season summer months. It typically runs only on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Check FerryHopper for the latest schedules.  

Santorini Day Trip From Crete Reythmno
An example of ferry times from Reythmno (FerryHopper)

3. Ferry Schedules = No Sunset

While the day trip is doable, the ferry companies don’t make it easy. Seajets is the primary ferry company servicing this route and the best choice for a day trip since it’s a fast ferry. Ferry routes and schedules can change but typically you’ll depart the Port of Heraklion at 8:00am and arrive in Santorini just before 10:00am. 

Santorini Day Trip From Crete Heraklion
An example of ferry times from Heraklion (FerryHopper)

Unfortunately, the last ferry back departs at a disappointing 4:00pm. This means you won’t be able to stick around for dinner or that world-famous Santorini sunset.

And that’s a big drawback of a day trip. I mean, even most cruise ships have late departures so passengers can enjoy the sunset. Sigh.

Seajets Fast Ferry Athens to Milos
The Seajets Fast Ferry

Crete to Santorini: Book a Tour or DIY?

​Okay, so you’ve decided to go for it and take a day trip to Santorini while visiting Crete. Now what? 

Now it’s time to decide the best way to do it. And that depends on what kind of traveler you are. But keep in mind that whether you book a tour or visit Santorini on your own, you’re working with the exact same ferry times. There are no tours that offer private boat service on a different schedule.

Let’s explore your options:

Option #1 – Do it Yourself (DIY) Day Trip to Santorini

The simplest way to do a day trip from Crete to Santorini is to book your own round-trip ferry tickets and just explore Santorini at your leisure once you arrive. 

  • Pros – This is the cheapest way to do it since all you’re paying for in advance are the ferry tickets. This way also gives you the most flexibility in your day. 
  • Cons – The biggest negative is that Santorini can be difficult to navigate. So having transportation pre-arranged from the ferry to the parts of the island you most want to visit will allow you to see more of the island in the few hours you have for sightseeing. 

Option #2 – Guided Group Tour Including Ferry Tickets

A guided tour from Crete to Santorini is a bit of a misnomer as they basically buy the same ferry tickets for you and then transport you around Santorini island once you arrive. 

  • Pros – An organized tour is one-stop shopping and it’s a nice, hassle-free option to have someone arrange the ferry tickets and take care of transportation once you arrive.  
  • Cons – If you don’t mind the group tour aspect of the bus rides from one place to the next, this isn’t a terrible option. You just won’t have any control over your Santorini itinerary.

If you choose to go with a group tour, there are two primary tour options that are fairly similar. They both provide transportation to Oia and Fira and give you plenty of free time to explore each town on your own.

Round the World Trip Greece
Fira, Santorini

You’ll also have the option to do a sailing excursion to the volcano (for an added fee) instead of spending time in Fira. Tip: The sailing trip to the volcano is a great tour, but if you’re just visiting Santorini on a day trip I’d probably skip it and enjoy the time in Fira, it’s gorgeous!

Here are the two top-rated group tours from Crete to Santorini (they both depart from Heraklion):

Option #3 – Book Your Own Ferry & a Private Santorini Day Tour

This is probably my favorite option because it gives you the best of both worlds. With 4-5 hours you can see more of the best things Santorini has to offer.

  • Pros – Splurging on a private guide for your brief time in Santorini allows you to see so much more of the island. With a dedicated driver, you can see Red Beach, the black sand beach, and other Santorini highlights instead of just Oia and Fira.  
  • Cons – The biggest drawback to this option is that ferries can and do get canceled due to rough sea conditions. If you book your own ferry and schedule a tour guide on arrival, you may not be able to get your money back for the tour if the ferry cancels on the day you plan to go. Discuss this possibility with your guide in advance. 

5 Tips for Planning a DIY Day Trip

If you do opt to go it on your own, here are a few more tips to help you maximize your day: 

  1. Check Schedules & Book Tickets on FerryHopper.com: Research round trip ferry times early from Crete to Santorini and purchase tickets a few weeks in advance, especially in the peak high season months of July and August.
  2. Don’t Rent a Car: Parking is not easy in Santorini and you don’t want to waste time on your short day trip searching for parking. Take a local taxi or, if you prefer to explore independently, consider renting one of the island’s ubiquitous quad bikes. They are much easier to park!
  3. Plan Your Itinerary: Decide on the must-see locations. Besides the iconic Oia, consider Red Beach for its unique landscape, Akrotiri for historical context, and Fira for shops and cafes with breathtaking views.
  4. Allocate Enough Time: Ensure you allow enough travel time between locations on your Santorini tour and don’t try to pack in too much.
  5. Monitor Return Ferry: Keep an eye on the time to avoid missing your return ferry to Crete (the FerryHopper app has a great feature for that). Aim to arrive at the port about 40 minutes before your scheduled departure to be safe. 

Santorini in 4 Hours: Must-See and Do

By the time you disembark from the ferry at Santorini’s Port of Athinios and get your bearings, you’ll have about 4 solid hours to explore before you have to start making your way back to the ferry port. No, that’s not much time. But luckily, Santorini isn’t a big island like Crete. 

With just 4 hours to soak in the magic of Santorini, you’ll want to focus on the places that make Santorini unique. There is no other Greek island with the dramatic clifftop white villages that Santorini has, so allocate most of your time there.

Here are my three favorite spots to visit:

  1. Explore Oia Village
    • Stroll through Oia: Begin with a walk through the charming streets of Oia. This picturesque village is famous for its whitewashed houses carved into the cliffs, blue-domed churches, and stunning views of the Aegean Sea. Don’t miss the iconic view of the three blue domes, a sight that’s quintessentially Santorini.
  2. Fira for Gorgeous Views and Culture
    • Take in the views from Fira: Head to Fira, the island’s bustling capital. Enjoy panoramic views of the caldera from a variety of lovely terraces. It’s the perfect place to sip a locally-grown wine or sample Santorini cuisine.
  3. Red Beach
    • Hit the Beach (if there’s time): Santorini’s Red Beach is a striking natural attraction known for its dramatic red and black volcanic sand and the towering red lava cliffs that backdrop it. The vivid colors of the Red Beach make it unlike any other beach you’ll find in Greece, or even the world.
Red Beach Santorini Greece
Santorini’s famous Red Beach

Sailing Back to Crete

 After a short but full day in Santorini, your return ferry trip to the Heraklion port will come all too soon. But I’m willing to bet you’ll agree with me that it was worth it.

No, a day trip from Crete to Santorini isn’t a perfect way to see this brilliant island. But it’s a great experience and one of the best day trips to take if you have a little extra time on Crete.

Of course, if you can spare even more time, an overnight stay in Santorini (at least one night!) is the best way to check that all-important Oia sunset off your Bucket List!

Oia Santorini Sunset Greece
The sunset views from Oia.

And hey, I found a few terrific (and affordable) Santorini hotels on our previous visits. So, it’s not impossible!

Read More: How to Plan the Perfect Santorini Honeymoon (on a budget!)

And for more great ways to spend your time on Crete, start here:

Things to Do in Crete Greece (Plus the Perfect 5-day Crete Itinerary)

Crete to Santorini Day Trip
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