With millions of visitors each year, a blog post about a one-day visit to Santorini isn’t unique, I realize that. However, so far I could not find any blog about visiting picturesque Santorini as a day trip from Chania/Crete. So her it is!
If you want to do this, there are a bunch of things that will be good to know in advance. This blog post will help you to save time and make the most out of your affordable trip to the beautiful Santorini! It is actually a bit mad house to do this trip in one day from Chania, but I simply could not resist and loved every minute of it!
Please also check out my other blog post Sweet Santorini: day dreaming on a picture perfect Greek island.
How to get there
The main thing to arrange is the ferry ticket from Crete to Santorini and back. There are numerous ferries departing from Chania, mostly with Blue Star, but unfortunately none of them goes to Santorini! Most ferries from Chania go to Piraeus, the biggest port of Greece, on the main land near Athens.
If you are anywhere west of Heraklion, so basically the whole western part of Crete including the Chania area, and you want to go to Santorini, you have – depending on the day – one or two options: go to Heraklion or Rethymnon and take a ferry to Santorini.
Unfortunately there are no flights from Chania or any nearby airport to Santorini. Direct flights from Heraklion to Santorini are not available either, only indirect via Athens and costs hundreds of euros (mainly with Olympic Air). If you are staying in Athens it will be easier and cheaper to reach Santorini by air. Anyways, going by air to Santorini is not something you can decide a few days in advance, unless you have a private jet?!
Heraklion (Iraklion) is the capital of Crete and the biggest port, on a 2-hour drive by car east from Chania. There are daily ferry possibilities between Heraklion and Santorini:
- Minoan: HER 09:00-10:45, JTR 17:25-18:50, EUR 36-45 one way adult, EUR 72-80 return
- SeaJets: HER 08:40-10:25, JTR 17:00-18:40, EUR 44.90 one way, EUR 89.80 return
- Golden Star: HER 09:30-12:45, JTR 19:15-23:30, EUR 39 one way, EUR 78 return
- Hellenic Seaways: HER 09:00-10:45, return only via other islands, EUR 62 one way
Note: the above mentioned options are in high season (mid-May till mid-Oct), out of those months the possibilities will be much more limited! Also, take into account the ferries may arrive up to 45 minutes beyond schedule.
Initially I wanted to take the Minoan ferry to Santorini, and go back with the Golden Star Ferry. This would give me as much time as possible on the island with my friend Marjolein from Sydney. But eventually I ended up booking a Minoan return ticket from/to Heraklion due to arrival and departure times. And it worked out fine!
If you want to catch the 09:00 ferry, you should leave from Chania by car around 06:15/06:30, which is already pretty early. The Minoan and SeaJets ferries are faster and arrive already in the morning, whereas with Golden Star your morning is already completely gone by the time you arrive in Santorini. The benefit of Minoan and SeaJets is that you can partly drive back during day light.
Going back with Golden Star Ferries seemed attractive due to the almost 2 hour later departure from, thus the ability to spend 2 hours extra in Santorini and see the sunset. However, a day trip is already tiring. If you stay in the Chania area, you have to get up in the morning at least around 05:30 or something due to the 2-hour drive to Heraklion. When taking the Golden Ferries back from Santorini to Heraklion, you will arrive just before midnight in Heraklion.
If you have a hotel in Heraklion, that mid-night arrival could be OK for you. But if you still have a 2-hour drive to get back to Chania or surroundings, it gets a bit tricky going that late. The ‘rally style’ roads between Chania and Heraklion will require your complete, awake attention. Buying two one way tickets from two different ferry companies also involves extra risks and complexity, see ‘Ferry ticket’ below. The Golden Ferries is also much slower than Minoan and SeaJets. It takes about 1.5-2 hours longer to make the crossing from Santorini to Heraklion.
Rethymnon is a smaller city between Chania and Heraklion (1 hour east of Chania). Only possible on a few days a week, currently Tuesdays and Saturdays (Apr-Oct, currently RNO 08:00-10:25, JTR 17:20-19:50). Ferry tickets from Rethymnon are more expensive than from Heraklion (EUR 68.80 one way, EUR 137.60 return). For more details go to seajets.gr.
Other ferry ports Crete
There used to be a ferry from Agios Nikolaos, the cosmopolitan port 20 minutes out of downtown Chania, opposite of Souda Bay, but that one is no longer going. Sitia is another place on Crete where some ferries departure to Santorini, but that’s a 4-hour drive east of Chania, so better go to Heraklion or Rethymnon.
Buying an online ticket, download an e-ticket on your mobile phone and you can easily hop on a boat, simple as that right? Well no, not in Greece. That was a modern, digital bubble that busted right in my face. There is no such thing as a Greek ferry e-ticket (yet). This means you will have to either:
- buy your ticket online and pick up the printed ticket from the ferry company’s office in Heraklion before the ferry departs, or
- buy your ticket at a local sales office in/near Chania at least the day before to receive a printed ticket in advance, which you will bring to the ferry on the morning of departure.
Due to the early departure of the ferries, I was determined to get my ticket at least a day before. This meant I had to go to a local sales office in Chania. I did not want to risk having to find a parking spot and the ticket office on such early schedule. I bought my ferry tickets at the Souda Bay Port Office, open daily 08:00-23:59, free and easy parking. Minoan, SeaJets and Blue Star have ticket offices in Souda.
Since I could not find a local office of Golden Star Ferries in Chania, I did not want to challenge my luck of whether or not I would be able to buy a one way ticket back to Heraklion with a Gold Star Ferries office in Santorini, plus the driving time/risk as mentioned above, I decided to buy a return ticket with Minoan (instead of combination Minoan and Golden Star). And it worked out well.
When booking a ferry ticket to Santorini I am sure you will notice the name Thera or Thira somewhere. Thera is the classical name of Santorini, Thira the official name. There are actually six islands, of which the main one is Thira, which we know as Santorini. Just so you know.
From Chania to Heraklion
The road between Chania and Heraklion is pretty straight forward in the sense that it is easy to find your way. However, the roads are curvy, go up and down and are not particularly well maintained. I did not see many big holes in the asphalt like in Cuba for example, but there are many parts that looked very shiny, where the rough surface of the asphalt was completely worn away. So better pay some extra attention when braking and driving on a rainy day (no idea when that is on Crete, just imagining).
On Crete it is common to use and drive (partly or fully) on the emergency lane on the far right to ensure faster car can easily pass you. You will quickly notice this when driving on Crete. On the winding, narrow roads close to the cliffs this is not always possible. But let’s say your rental car is just a 1.1 engine (as so often happens…) and you can drive up the mountain pretty slowly, you better make space by steering on to the emergency lane so others can safely pass you. Driving the Crete way!
There are lots of speeding cameras between Chania and Heraklion. They are announced by road signs 100-500 meters before. No idea whether they all work or not, but speeding is not recommended on Crete. The first hour from Chania it’s mostly 60-80km p/h, the second hour more 80-100km p/h but also more up/down hill.
Don’t forget to bring your sunglasses when driving. In the morning from Chania to Heraklion you drive towards the sun (sunrise). And back from Heraklion to Chania (when taking the 17:25 boat from Santorini) you drive towards the sun again (sunset).
Parking @ Heraklion Port
The parking at Heraklion Port is really easy and cheap, only 3 euro per day. If you type Heraklion Port in Google Maps, chose Hellenic Seaways, route and you will arrive at the roundabout where you can chose the different parking lots. Be careful not to park at the small parking lot right in front of to the quay (straight at the roundabout), which is only for short pick-up and drop-off.
I look the third exit at the roundabout ¾ and parked at P2. The parking lots have plenty of space and are located at only a few minutes walking distance from the quay. Upon arrival at the parking lot you will get a ticket that you will need to keep and show to the gate officer when leaving again.
The Minoan ferries are comfortable and affordable. They have leather business seats in economy class, with 2 to 4 seats in a row. Almost no-one sits on the seat assigned by the ticket so just find yourself a free seat that you like. The window seats have 220V sockets. Minoan also has a catering shop on board, where you can buy sandwiches, pastries, snacks and drinks. And of course a little souvenir shop.
Arriving @ Santorini
All ferries arrive in Santorini at Athinios Port. Upon arrival in Santorini it is pretty chaotic with hundreds of people, taxis, touring cars, etc. and they all have to go up to the main road via the narrow wining road from the port down at the sea. Luckily my friend picked me up and we could immediately drive away from the chaos towards the island’s points of interest.
Getting around on Santorini
Bus, e-bike, ATV (quad), scooter, car… There are many options to drive around the island of Santorini. We carefully considered them all and eventually chose to rent a cabrio car (Fiat Mini 500C) for 60 euro a day (plus gas). Air-conditioning, open roof, the ability to store our luggage in the trunk, music, no fuzzy, sweaty hair due to a hot helmet… and look how cute he is! We really loved this cabrio car!
We did consider to bring my rental car from Crete on the boat to Santorini, but on this particular day it would have been more expensive (EUR 94 for car ferry return ticket) than renting a car on Santorini itself (EUR 60). It can be worth looking into for your trip because on certain days this is cheaper (starting from EUR 27 one way). This would save some hassle (parking in Heraklion, picking up and renting a car on Santorini); you can simply drive off the boat and go (although pedestrians go off the boat first).
We were lucky finding a parking spot everywhere quite easily (yes, even in mid-August!). Gasoline was about EUR 15 for the full day. Some of the boats also allow cars and other vehicles for an extra price. Please always check with your rental agency whether they allow this or not.
Bus, scooter or quad
The public bus is considered the cheapest transportation method on Santorini (app. 3 euro per ride per person), but also the least flexible and uncomfortable. Do you see yourself waiting at the bus stop while it’s 35 degrees Celsius, losing valuable time? No way, not for me!
Scooter or quad then? Rental agencies on Santorini require a specific scooter license, unless you have an international driver’s license that clearly states your car license also allows you to ride a scooter. Driving a quad can be a cool experience, but is also dusty, hot, noisy and still pretty slow. Not that you can drive very fast on Santorini, but a car is definitely faster than a quad, which definitely counts on a day trip!
Are you alone or want to avoid having to arrange and/or drive your own vehicle around the island? There is always the possibility of booking a private customized day tour around the island. Prices vary between EUR 67 to 99 per person excluding entrance fees, lunch, etc.
Just please do me a favor and do not take a ride on one of those poor muzzled donkeys or horses in Oia, OK?
Just make sure you will be back at the port in time, before your ferry heads back to Crete at the end of the afternoon. Be there at least 15 minutes before departure! It can be busy on the road down, so take that into account too when timing your ride back to the ferry.
What to bring
- Ferry ticket
- (International) driver’s license
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Camera, smart phone, selfie stick
- Sunglasses, hat
- Bottle of water
- Swim wear, beach towel and water shoes
- Wallet with euros
- A good mood
Getting up very early (around 5am) and getting back in Chania late in the evening, it definitely was a long day! Was it worth it? Yes, it definitely was for me! I really liked seeing Santorini, which was already quite long on my to do list. You do need some determination doing this from Chania. I do not believe that everyone will enjoy it as much as I did because it is quite an undertaking, but if you do not mind the effort, you can have a really fun day on Santorini while staying on Crete.
A day trip from Crete to Santorini is a relatively cheap way to see something of Santorini. OK, the ferry ticket is not particularly cheap, but a hotel room on Santorini can easily be hundreds of euros more expensive per night than on Crete, so that ferry ticket is earned back quickly.
An extra big benefit for me was also the opportunity of meeting up with my friend from Sydney. She happened to be on Santorini for holidays and had exactly the day available. Meant to be! That get together obviously made it extra worth it for me to travel all the way to Santorini for a day.
Did you already check out my other blog post Sweet Santorini: day dreaming on a picture perfect Greek island? Please feel free to let me know about your plans via a comment below.
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