Greece Travel Blog

Sailing Around Santorini: How to Choose and Book the Best Cruise

Swim off the boat, float in the hot springs of a volcano, watch the cliffs and caves of the coastline over wine and an excellent meal. Wonder at the clifftop villages from out on the water and far below! Sunbake, socialise and watch the sunset over the volcano. Life doesn’t get much better than this! The trouble is, there are over 200 possible sailing cruises you can choose to spend some time seeing Santorini’s sights from the water. But which tour is the perfect one for you that fits into your schedule, allows you to do all the things you want to do on a cruise, and is high quality, helpful and the best value for money? Read on and all of your questions about sailing around Santorini are answered and the best tours are covered with links to pricing and availability.

Akrotiri from sea while sailing

 

Why Sail Around Santorini?

Adventurers and traders have been sailing around Santorini for thousands of years. Every single one of these people, until Santorini airport opened in 1972, came by sea. Like all the great cities of the Mediterranean, Santorini is built from the sea up. When you cruise around Santorini you see the churches watching over the once mighty Santorini maritime fleet. You see the flooded caldera of the volcano and its ring of copper as the last of the heat of the Great Theran Eruption of 3,500 years ago slowly cools down. You see the two-storey homes of the wealthy ship captains built at the very top of Oia and the humble fishing ports along the water far below.

sailing around santorini

Of course, this is Santorini, and it is probably summer when you are here and so you also see a flotilla of catamarans and cruise ships. But who cares? You’re in one of the most beautiful places on the earth about to sail upon the sapphire blue Aegean! This is the kind of experience that makes lasting memories. Just be sure to choose the sailing cruise that includes most of the things that you would like to do on your day on the water.

santorini sunset over caldera

What Activities Are Available When Sailing Around Santorini?

Depending upon the time of the year, it is possible to do the following:

   Swimming off the boat

   Snorkelling

   Swimming in the hot springs

   Sunbathing on the deck

   Eating and drinking a substantial meal cooked on-board

   Watching the sunset

   Several ‘on-land’ experiences can be added to the cruise such a wine tasting tours, guided village sightseeing tours and exploring the volcano or the island of Thirasia.

Red_beach_Sailing_Santorini

Red beach, Santorini, from the water

What is Included in a Santorini Sailing Cruise?

Not all of the following options are available on the cheapest cruises. Below I describe my favourite Santorini sailing cruises and what is included in each of them. Most cruises include:

   Transfers to and From Your Accommodation

   4-6 hours sailing around the caldera.

   Short stops for optional swimming and snorkelling

   A short stop at the hot springs at the volcano for optional swimming

   A freshly cooked meal on board the boat while the boat is anchored offshore.

   Drinks, alcohol and snacks

   Towels, change rooms, toilets

   Flotation devices including life vests and pool noodles

   Areas for sunbaking

   Indoor and outdoor seating

   Music

Where Can You Sail?

The most popular cruises are a real production-line assembly process. As you cast off from Vlychada or Skala you can see in front and behind you, a flotilla of similar catamarans going to the same places. That doesn’t mean its not a great experience, but it means you need to have reasonable expectations. You can do all of the great activities mentioned above, but it won’t be just you, a crew and the sea!

The most common route begins at one end of the island and sails through the caldera on the western side of the island, to the other end of the island. The other popular itinerary is to embark and disembark the same port. There are a number of common stops or sights to see along the way. Embarking from Vlychada port in the far south of the island, these are:

   Akrotiri lighthouse and the Red beach (the boats often stop for swimming here)

   The White beach

   Anchored offshore for a meal

   The volcano and the hot springs (warning: these springs are not hot, they are at most ‘warm’ and in winter, they are not much warmer than the surrounding waters)

   Skala port (below Oia)

Hot_Springs_at_Volcano_Santorini

Hot Springs at the Volcano

Longer trips and some that embark and disembark from Skala port also include a stop at the small island “behind” (further west) of the volcano, Thirasia.

View_of_Thirasia_from_sea

View of Thirasia from sea

 

There are a good number of different options but this is by far the most common stops. It allows sunset over the volcano and wonderful views of the Caldera cliff edge villages. See the options below for booking different itineraries and adding on extras to your trip.

Main stops when sailing around santorini

How To Book the Perfect Sailing Cruise Around Santorini

 

Oia_from_sea_sailing_santoriniEach season there is some change, if only to prices.

Options keep expanding as Santorini hosts more visitors each year and as the winter and shoulder season periods become busier. It’s important to note that many tour companies close in December and January and sometimes a month or two either side.

The ever-expanding options include private, semi-private, luxury and individual cruises as well as on-land excursions.

Most of the tours include return mini-van pick-up from your accommodation and if not this is usually available as an extra.

 

 

This article contains affiliate links. That means I may earn a small commission when you use the links on this site. You will pay nothing extra for this, but you will be helping me to continue posting helpful articles for your travelling planning needs.

 

In order to keep up to date with the latest options and prices, I use Get Your Guide to see the options. The link to their Santorini activities page is here.

And now for the big question: Day Cruise or Sunset Cruise?

Should I Choose a Day Cruise or a Sunset Cruise?

There are four things to consider in order to make this important decision:

   Do I have enough time to get to and from the Boat? For cruise ship passengers, timing is everything. Similarly, many tourists need to fly out of Santorini after their cruise or want to get on a cruise after arriving by ferry from Athens or another island. Below you can read about the amount of time needed to get to and from each. cruise and how long in total each cruise will take.

   Do you want to see the sunset from the water? It is of course possible to see the sunset from Santorini and from the volcano and from Thirasia but it is a magical and romantic thing to see from a boat! If you choose to see the sunset then it will be cooler on the water and you will have less time swimming. Your itinerary may also be a little shorter. Check below for the best sunset cruises, where they go and what to take.

   Is swimming off the boat and/or snorkelling  a major reason for you choosing a cruise? If so, a day cruise gives you more time in the hottest part of the day. If you are a non-swimmer or are happy to have a little less swimming time, then the sunset cruise may be for you.

   Do you want to see as much of the island’s sites as possible? In general, day cruises have a slightly large itinerary, leaving from Vlychada in the far south of the island and disembarking at Ammoudi Bay below Oia in the north.

Sailing around Santorini sunset, Greece.

How Long Do The Cruises Take?

Most cruises take 5 hours and begin picking up guests from their accommodation an hour (and sometimes 90 minutes) before the cruise. Some cruises take 4 or 6 hours and a few take 10 hours. In terms of timing, depending upon where you are on the island, and the port that the boat leaves from in relation to your accommodation, you may be first or last to be picked up which means it could be 90 minutes or 20 minutes before the cruise or tour begins.

 

Transfers To and From the Cruise or Tour

You need to be a bit chilled about the transfer process. Traffic on a small island in peak season with everyone headed to the same places can be chaotic as is the process of getting hundreds of groups of people onto boats or off boats and into minivans.  It all works out and you get there within the allotted time and you have a fantastic time. But don’t expect military-like precision – this is a Greek island!

 

Can I Be Picked Up and Dropped Off in Different Locations?

Generally, yes. Once you have your accommodation booked you can email the cruises company and let them know the change to either your pick-up or drop-off location. They are generally flexible – this is Greece after all, where plans change all the time!

Sailing boats at Red beach on Santorini island, Greece

Can I Be Picked Up or Dropped Off From the Airport?

Some companies will drop off at the airport if you don’t have luggage. Pick-up form the airport is more tricky because there is no guarantee of the time a flight will arrive. Passengers arriving in Santorini must get on buses to go the extremely short distance from the plane to the airport and this takes a little time. Private cruises are more likely to allow this option and again, think about emailing the cruise company in advance if you need to arrive to and from the airport.

An easier alternative if you are coming from the airport is to arrive at the port yourself. Book a cruise that leaves from Vlychada Port in the south of the island and it is a very short taxi ride to the port.

 

What is the Difference Between Small, Large, Semi-private and Private Cruises?

   Private cruises are simply you and however many people you wish to travel with. You choose and you pay accordingly.

   Semi-private is a term used interchangeably with “small.” It is not a private cruise, but it does not have 100 people either.

    Small cruises tend to be a certain size boat that can only accommodate about 20 people. You will see ‘small group’ cruises as having a maximum of 12, 15, 18 or 25 passengers.

   Large cruises are anything larger than about 25 passengers and are often around 50.

 

What is the Difference Between the Standard, Premium and Luxury Cruises?

The difference here is in the additional items. Standard cruises may not have towels, for example. The main difference however is in the amount of food and the type of drinks you are given. Some standard cruises provide a snack and drinks, often no alcohol. Premium cruises generally have a Greek BBQ-style meal cooked freshly on board and unlimited alcohol and other beverages. Luxury cruises often advertise cocktails as an additional feature and the number of meat, fish and side dishes may be larger than on premium cruises. In general, a premium cruise represents the best value for money.

Below I have my favourite Santorini sailing cruises and what is included and what you need to need to bring along.

 

I Can’t Swim Or Am A Poor Swimmer

The water is too deep to stand in. Almost all cruises do not enter a beach. Swimming and snorkelling happens offshore from the boat. There is a railing around the boats and there are life vests and flotation devices. It’s not necessary to swim and there are lots of months of the year when its just too cold unless, like me, you’re mad enough to swim in the “hot” springs in the off-season.

 

When Is It Too Cold To Swim?

Traditional church belfry and sailing boat at sunset in Oia, Santorini, Greece

There are people who go nude bathing at the winter solstice in Northern Europe so clearly, for some people, it’s never too cold! I have a great post about weather, sea temperatures and the best times to go to Santorini that you can read here.

For me, it is too cold to swim outside of the summer months. But then, I’m Australian, and I don’t like the cold. I am happy to swim in the hot springs of the volcano at any time of year, but you have to swim through the frigid water to get there!

A note on the hot springs. They’re not hot. They’re warmish in summer and slightly less than cold in the off-season.

 

Why Do I Need To Give My Passport Details When Booking?

Because you are leaving the “land” of Greece, it is a Greek Port Authority rule that all passenger details are recorded. It is the same throughout the country.

 

Should I Book a Santorini Sailing Cruise in Advance?

Most definitely! Cruises book out quickly and most people only spend a few days on Santorini and so have limited choices. This is especially true for June – September. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t yet booked accommodation, you can update your booking with those details at any time. And once you’ve booked a cruise, you can plan all the other great things to do on Santorini around it!

 

Can I Give A Cruise As A Gift?

Yes! When you click on the links below to check prices, reviews and availability, there is “Give This As A Gift” link below the cruise cost. What a great honeymoon or birthday gift!

Sailing around santorini island

The Best Cruises for Sailing Around Santorini

 

Best Private Day or Sunset Cruise

Santorini: Private 5-Hour Day Or Sunset Cruise With Catamaran

This very popular and well reviewed cruise sells out fast so book it as soon as you can. The tour sits between the premium and luxury categories of cruises. It has the usual itinerary of red and white beach, volcano and hot springs, sunset at sea and a great Greek feast on board.

This is a fantastic and well-priced option if you have a family, are honeymooning or are travelling with a group of friends.

The cruise is well matched with passengers coming in off the large cruise ships because this company will pick you and and drop you back off at the port where your ship is berthed. This makes it a little easier to meet the sailing deadlines of the large cruise ships.

Best For:

  Cruise Ship Passengers as driver will pick you up and deliver you to the Port where your ship is berthed.

  Groups or honeymooners wanting a private experience that includes all of the stops of the regular cruises

Groups who want a well-priced trip with friends.

What to Bring:

   Swimsuit (not white if swimming in the Hot Springs)

   Change of clothes

   Sunglasses

   Hat

   Sunscreen

   Sweater or wind jacket on windy or cold days

   Camera

Check Prices, Reviews and Availability here

 

Best Premium Day Cruise

Santorini: 5-Hour Small Group Catamaran Cruise

This cruise has vegetarian and fish options in its Greek lunch and provides more than enough for everyone. Only 16-18 (12 the day I took this cruise). It sells out fast because it is often recommended by the hotels on the island.

I recommend this as the best day cruise because of it has the best itinerary – leaving from the south of the island (Vlychada Port) and disembarking at Ammoudi Bay, below Oia. This allows you to sail across the whole of the caldera, seeing all the cliff-edge caldera villages, the main beaches as well as out to the volcano.

I chose the premium cruise because it included unlimited alcohol and the quality of the lunch.

Best for:

   Sailing through the whole caldera from south to north.

   Great food and unlimited beverages, including alcohol.

   Small groups on board (18 maximum)

What to Bring:

   Swimsuit (not white if swimming in the Hot Springs)

   Change of clothes

   Sunglasses

   Hat

   Sunscreen

   Sweater or wind jacket on windy or cold days

   Camera

Check prices, reviews and availability here

Best Standard Sunset Cruise

DreamCatcher Sunset Sailing Cruise in the Caldera

Dreamcatcher is a very popular boat that always has great reviews. It is a standard 5-hour cruise that embarks and disembarks at Vlichada port near Akrotiri on the far south of the island.

Best for:

   Viewing one of the most magical sunsets!

   A high quality and reliable cruise with good food and a great sunset-viewing experience for a very reasonable price.

  Swimming and/or snorkelling in the bays and at the Hot Springs of the volcano

A good Greek BBQ at the Hot Springs

Not for: People wanting to embark or disembark at Oia.

What to Bring:

   Swimsuit (not white if swimming in the Hot Springs)

   Change of clothes

   Sunglasses

   Hat

   Sunscreen

   Sweater or wind jacket on windy or cold days

   Camera

Check prices, reviews and availability here

 

Best Luxury Sunset Cruise

Santorini Platinum: Luxurious Small Group Catamaran Cruise

This cruise has a maximum of 15 passengers and serves a great meal before seeing a great sunset! The cruise is a standard itinerary for sunset, leaving and returning to the same port. It includes swimming or snorkelling time at the red and white beaches and the obligatory stop at the Hot Springs of the volcano.

The meal includes pork, chicken (or a vegetarian meal option), seafood,  dolmadakia, Greek salad, pasta with red sauce, bread and tzatziki. Also served is white wine, beers, soft drinks and water.

Best for:

   Viewing one of the most magical sunsets!

   A high quality and reliable cruise that sells out fast and has excellent reviews, especially for its great food.

  Swimming and/or snorkelling in the bays and at the Hot Springs of the volcano

A true small group experience, even in peak season, with a maximum of 15 passengers.

Not for: People wanting to embark or disembark at Oia.

What to Bring:

   Swimsuit (not white if swimming in the Hot Springs)

   Change of clothes

   Sunglasses

   Hat

   Sunscreen

   Sweater or wind jacket on windy or cold days

   Camera

Check prices, reviews and availability here

 

Best Volcano and Thirasia Island Cruise

Volcanic Islands Cruise with Hot Springs Visit

This cruise goes to the Volcano. You land here and walk upon the volcano before swimming at the Hot Springs. The cruise then sails to the island of Thirasia and it’s main village, Manolas. This tour is more of a means of transportation to the volcano and Thirasia and, if you wish, onwards to Oia. You are essentially left alone at these three locations.

Timing: This cruise takes 6 hours if you choose the standard route but takes 10 hours if you go onwards from Thirasia to Oia to watch the sunset from Oia. Pick-ups begin up to 90 minutes before the cruise starts at Athinios Port.

Best for:

   Visiting and walking upon the volcano (at Nea Kameni)

  Visiting the island of Thirasia

   The cheapest way to sail across Santorini’s caldera and for people who don’t mind there being about 50 passengers (everyone does have a seat)

Not for: People with limited mobility due to the uneven walking and steps at the volcano and the steps at Thirasia to the village of Manolas

What to Bring:

Walking shoes

Towel

   Swimsuit (not white if swimming in the Hot Springs)

Money, including entry fee to the Volcano (2 Euros)

   Change of clothes

   Sunglasses

   Hat

   Sunscreen

   Sweater or wind jacket on windy or cold days

   Camera

Check prices, reviews and availability here

 

Best “Traditional Fishing” Cruise

Santorini: Traditional Fishing Trip and Fresh Fish Lunch

A highly reviewed cruise with only excellent feedback. The duration of this cruise is 5 hours. The Cruise leaves in the morning and returns after lunch.It includes swimming or snorkelling.

Best for:

   Catching your own shrimp and octopus and fishing from the boat

  Sailing with a Greek fishing family

   Sailing on a wooden boat

   A fresh fish lunch on-board

What’s included:

   All fishing equipment

   A fresh fish lunch, drinks, snacks, beverages

   Snorkelling masks

   Towels

   Toilets

What to Bring:

   Shoes suitable for fishing

   Swimsuit

   Change of clothes

   Sunglasses

   Hat

   Sunscreen

   Sweater or wind jacket on windy or cold days

   Camera

Check prices, reviews and availability here

 

Best Sea Kayak Tour at Sunset

Santorini: Sea Kayak Tour at Sunset

How amazing to get down to the level of the water to see the sunset. And entering the sea caves and snorkelling from the beach – what a wonderful combination of experiences!

The tour starts at Mesa Pigardia, a black beach (you have return transfers from your accommodation included in the price of this tour). Paddling east, you pass the White and Red beaches before disembarking at Kampia Beach. Here you are given snacks at a traditional taverna. Snorkelling from the beach is then an optional activity. You then paddle west and view the sunset before leaving the water at Mesa Pigardia. You change your clothes and have dinner at a taverna before being transferred back to your accommodation.

Best for:

   Having an adventure away from the crowds

   Watching the sunset

  Entering the sea caves

   Dinner in a traditional tavern

   Snorkelling from Kampia Beach

Not for: People with back problems

What to Bring:

   Shoes that are suitable for getting wet but will stay on your feet

   Swimsuit

   Change of clothes

   Sunglasses

   Hat

   Sunscreen

   Sweater or wind jacket on windy or cold days

   Camera

Check prices, reviews and availability here

Most cruises have cancellation up to 24 hours before the cruise so you can book early and be sure to get the right cruise that fits with your time on the island!

Links and Further Information

   Choosing where to stay in Santorini can be hard. See my comprehensive breakdown of the villages of the island, the pros and cons of staying in each location and the best hotels for different budgets in each village here.

   More detailed information on how to book transport, airfares, accommodation and travel insurance is available on my Travel Resources page.

   Get Your Guide Santorini activities are here.

   For three things to know before you book your trip to Santorini, see my blog post here

   For another “must do” activity on Santorini, check out my blog post on Ancient Akrotiri and wander through the city built by the villagers of Santorini more than 3500 years ago!

   And for what just might possibly be the best walk in the whole world- and yes, that’s a big call- see my post on the Caldera Cliff-Top Hike from Fira to Oia.

 

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