You’ve planning a trip to Greece and decided to include Santorini on your island hopping adventure. The next step is figuring out whether you need to car and if so, how to rent a car in Santorini.
Keep reading to learn about everything you need to know about car rentals so you can make the best decision for your vacation.
Table of contents
- How to Rent a Car in Santorini
- Is Renting a Car in Santorini Worth It?
- Advice on Renting A Car In Santorini
- Alternatives to Car Rentals in Santorini
- Car Insurance
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Bottom Line
How to Rent a Car in Santorini
To make sure you’re fully prepared, we’ve compiled a comprehensive look at how to rent a car in Santorini. You’ll find all your questions answered below.
Prerequisites to rent a car in Santorini
Before you leave home, there’s one thing you 100% need to do before you go – get an international drivers permit (IDP)!
The IDP is a certified translation of your home license.
This is often misunderstood as a requirement for car rental companies but it isn’t. When you rent a car in Santorini, they won’t ask to see your IDP. The international drivers permit and your home license is actually needed for the police. If you get stopped by a cop or you get into an accident, they’ll want to see it. Your insurance can also be invalidated because without it, you’d be driving illegally.
Citizens of the EU are exempt which means you won’t need an IDP.
Rent a car at the airport
For those that are flying into Santorini, you’ll be landing at Santorini National Airport (JTR).
This is a small airport and once you pick up your bags from the carousel, you’ll be greeted by the arrivals area with a number of car rental kiosks.
The rental car companies that service the airport are:
- Avance, Avis, Autonion, Budget, Centauro, Enterprise, Europcar, Hertz, National, Sixt, Suntime, and Thrifty.
Once you’ve picked up your car, you’re only 10 minutes to Fira, 15 minutes to Imerovigli, and 25 minutes to Oia.
This is a major convenience for travellers coming in by air because this means you can grab your car and go as opposed to getting in line for a taxi which can sometimes get very long. Also to give you an idea, cab fare to Fira is 35 EUR and to Oia is 47 EUR but note that they are based on meter.
Rent a car at the Santorini port
For those that are arriving in Santorini by ferry, you’ll be getting off at the new Athinios Santorini port (aka Athinios Ferry Port and Santorini “New Port”).
It’s usually a chaotic scene when you disembark with either private pick ups holding up clipboards or people trying to snag your business.
The port has several car rental companies with storefronts but more often than not, reps will meet those that have booked with them and shuttle you up to a customer service center located nearby.
We don’t recommend renting a car at the port for a few reasons:
- The hectic aftermath of hundreds of people disembarking is overwhelming and means you’ll also be surrounded by a ton of large tour buses, vans, trucks, and motorbikes.
- There is a long switchback road that you need to drive up to the top of the cliff which is daunting. The turns are hairpin turns can be tight especially when there are giant trunks trying to get through and the barriers aren’t the most confidence inspiring.
Depending on what your plans are with the rental car and where you’re departing from (airport or port), you can consider this:
- Rent inland in the town you’re staying in and arrange for you to drop off the car at the port.
- Take a taxi or bus to the airport and rent from there instead.
Rent a car in town
Once you get into the village your accommodations are in, you’ll realize there are way more car rental companies that you thought there were on Santorini
Besides that and the airport, the rest are hyper-local companies and there’s nothing wrong with that. There are a wide selection of these unknown Greek companies dotted all around the island in key towns such as Akrotiri, Perissa, Kamari, Imerovigli, Oia, etc.
You have a few choices:
- Book with a big company – With the well-known companies above, you have the advantage of a robust online booking system, the chance to use coupon codes, and an overall standardized experience.
- Book local – Yes, you can try to pre-arrange a booking ahead of time through e-mail (if you can locate it and get them to respond back to you), but in most cases, you’ll be dropping by the day before or day of to book a car. It may feel like dealing with a shady used car salesman but I haven’t had any issues with them.
One really good reason to book something local is because this allows you to pick up and drop off your car near your accommodations. This gives you some flexibility to book for the day and not have to worry about parking.
Tips on booking with local Greek car rental companies
I get it. There’s a certain level of comfort with the bigger companies especially in being able to confidently secure a car in advance but the reality of the car rental market on Santorini is that there are actually a lot of cars and that it’s totally possible to get a car when you arrive.
If you’re not getting a car from the airport or at port, your best bet is to get a car from one of the many local Greek car rental companies.
This will feel a little nerve-racking as it was for us but you realize that once you hop around to other islands like Paros, Folegandros, and Milos, this is par for the course if you’re looking for a car, ATV, or scooter.
Here are a few insider tips you should know:
- What you see listed on the website or even on their printed posters isn’t the price they offer. There’s always an element of negotiation or sometimes they just offer automatic discounts when you sit down in their office. This may be dependent on the season but you can definitely get a very good deal.
- They will of course try to up-sell you on insurance. Know what you have ahead of time. If one of your premium travel credit cards has coverage built-in, you can confidently decline.
- That said, many of the discounts they offer are only if you pay by cash. Have cash on hand if you want to take advantage of this.
- Potentially more limited office hours. In Jimmy’s case, they operate from 9AM – 7PM. Since in our particular case, we were looking to drop off on the same day, we needed to plan to be back before closing.
- It’s worthwhile to do some digging online for reviews. No rental company is perfect but if you see consistent bad reviews.
To give you a general idea, our small manual transmission VW Up cost 40 EUR for the day at the beginning of June (low season). An automatic transmission was offered for 45 EUR.
Booking a car rental online
This is the best way to rent a car in Santorini is to book online ahead of time. The reason you want to do this is to secure a vehicle before they sell out and to also lock in a good price. If you need an automatic transmission car, since they’re limited and in such high demand, you’ll definitely need to jump on it as quickly as possible.
As a first step, I recommend surveying all the car rental companies at once and you can do that with RentalCars. Think of this as a big search engine and you’ll be able to see all in one page who has availability and sort them by price.
Once that’s done, you can either continue onwards to book with RentalCars or go directly to the companies and compare the rates. When doing this, make sure to take advantage of car rental discount codes for the larger car rental companies.
TIP: Make sure to look very closely at the transmission type (automatic or manual). This is also referred to as a gearbox as well.
Is Renting a Car in Santorini Worth It?
If we take a step back do you actually need to rent a car in Santorini? This isn’t a one size fits all kind of question so let’s dive into this for a second.
Do you need a rental car in Santorini?
The island is a small but large island at the same time. If you’ve read our piece on the best areas to stay in Santorini, you’ll know that there are several main towns and there’s a significant distance between many of them.
There are a couple of ways to get around the island:
- Vehicle (car, ATV, scooter)
- Local bus
- Santorini tours
Your decision of whether you should get a car or not for the trip will be based on these variables:
- Villages you’d like to visit
- Days on the island
- Comfort driving
- How car rental aligns with your trip plans
When you should rent a car in Santorini
To make it as clear and succinct, let’s go over the reasons why you should book a rental car.
- Freedom – Travel on your schedule and pace.
- Go off-the-beaten-path – With a car, you’ll be able to farther corners of the island that are harder to get to with other modes of transportation. For instance, a drive up to Ancient Thera is easy with a car but on foot, you’re looking at a pretty serious hike.
- Bus experience – While it’s certainly not terrible as they use large coach buses, but let’s just say it doesn’t always feel like a professionally run company and when it’s busy, it can be pretty chaotic. The schedule also isn’t the most accurate.
- Visit the best restaurants – Especially when it comes to dinner, without a car, you’re stuck with where you end up being in the evening or where you’re staying. With a car rental, you can visit some of the best restaurants that aren’t in the most central areas.
- String together more complicated itineraries – Even with a bus, transfer times, schedules, and slow speed make it hard to do a lot of different things in a day. With a car, you could in theory go from Oia to Kamari to Akrotiri all in a day with ease with a car.
- Random roadside stops – Some of the best things on a trip are the ones you don’t plan and with the flexibility of a car, you can stop at the random roadside stalls selling wine, or unmarked viewpoint.
- You need groceries – If you’re staying in a villa with a kitchen or looking to save some money by stocking up on local snacks, water, and other food, having a car is super handy to make a big run at the beginning of the trip.
When it’s not worth renting a car
Of course, there are a number of things that will put a spotlight on why it doesn’t make sense to rent a car.
- Price – Car rentals in Santorini aren’t ridiculously expensive but they can add up. Ultimately, taking the bus is a lot cheaper.
- Availability – If you don’t book in advance through something like RentalCars, you might not find any cars or only manual transmission is available.
- Not needing it every day – Think about this carefully. Do you need to use the car everyday? On most itineraries such as our 3 days in Santorini, you’ll find that some days will be devoted to a booked tour and others that are perfectly suited for walking around your local area, hiking the Fira to Oia trail, or taking the bus.
- Parking – This one is probably the easiest to overlook. If you plan on staying in Fira, Firostefani, and Imerovigli, the parking there can be disastrous. Street parking spots fill up quickly which means you’ll be forced to come back earlier to make sure you snag a spot. You might also need to work on your car maneuvering skills.
Advice on Renting A Car In Santorini
The how of renting a car in Santorini is pretty simple but there a few more things to cover all the bases.
- Factor in fuel costs – When deciding whether you want a car or not, remember that gasoline is not included.
- Filling up gas – In almost all experiences in Greece, we never received any cars topped up (genius strategy by the car rental companies) so 1) take a picture of the fuel gauge and 2) fill up way less than you think you need to get to where you started. As a point of reference, for our day rental, we spent 8 EUR and even then that was more than what we needed.
- Credit cards are accepted – Most gas stations we encountered accepted credit card but always have cash on hand in case.
- Parking costs – Surprisingly, parking is free anywhere you go on the island. In most places you’ll find large lots or street parking. The challenge is more of finding a free spot when it’s busy and determining which areas you can’t park.
- Parking in Fira – The best free and easy spot to park is the lot right next to Hotel Nemesis south of Fira. It’s a 10 minute walk into town.
- Grab your evening spot early – If you can, get a spot earlier in the evening before everyone else comes back from dinner/sunset. In Imerovigli, I noticed this was a big challenge since they don’t really have a big parking lot. Most of their spots are all street parking.
Booking in advance
- Book in advance – Book in advance if you require automatic transmission, if you need a larger vehicle (i.e. SUV, or van), or you’re hoping to lock in a good rate with one of the bigger companies with a discount code.
- E-mail local car rental companies – It’ll take some detective work but some of the local Greek car rental companies have websites/FB pages that lead to e-mail addresses. You can reach out to them in advance to make a booking but in my experience, it doesn’t mean anything. You show up, and you can reference your e-mail but you’re basically making a new reservation on the spot. They run a very day-to-day business.
- Book in-person – You don’t have to worry too much if you didn’t book in advance as there’s a good supply on the island. For most local companies, you can’t even really book in advance anyways!
- Get a compact car – We recommend getting as small of a car as possible. This makes parking and driving so much easier.
Best practices when picking up your car
- Some car rentals offer transfers – Most of the large car rental companies offer airport pick up and drop off so take advantage of that if it makes sense for you.
- Photos – Take a photos of the exterior of the car and interior as well if you feel like it’s not in good condition
- What to pay attention to – Look out for rim curb damage, dents, scratches, and cracks in the glass
- Fuel gauge – Covered above but a reminder to check
- Test electrical equipment – Make sure the lights, wipers, AC, radio, windows, and cigarette adapter work.
Dropping off the car
- One-ways – Some companies have the option of allowing you to pick up the car in a local village and drop it off at the airport or ferry port. This could make a lot of sense for you to eliminate the cost of a private transfer. That said, most of the times it is not free. We were offered 30 EUR to be able to do this one-way drop off.
- Remember to fill up – Before returning the car, make sure you don’t forget this step.
- Drop off during office hours – Most rental agencies don’t allow off-hours drop off so when you plan your trip, make sure you account for this.
- Take a photo of the fuel gauge – This might be a little paranoid but just in case, take a photo as evidence that you had the fuel gauge back to where it was when you picked up the car.
What to pack for the car
- Baby seat – Yes, you can rent them but they’re usually gross or not up to standards so it’s recommended that you bring your own.
- Charging equipment – For long days on the road, bring gear to keep your phone charged. Typically, you get faster charging by plugging in via a cigarette USB charger.
- USB cable – Useful for charging but also for cars where you can connect with to play your own tunes.
- Snacks – Bring snacks in the car except for the things that’ll melt (i.e. chocolate).
- Cellular data – While you could pack an old-school Garmin GPS (with Europe Maps), you’ll most likely be relying on your phone. Make sure you have a SIM card solution, or wifi hotspot like Skyroam or Pokefi (use code GAP21630 to save $25 USD so you can use turn-by-turn directions and custom Google maps (provided in Santorini itinerary).
Road conditions and driving safety
- Honestly not hard – Some make it seem like driving is a disaster in Santorini but we didn’t find that to be the case when sticking to the main roads.
- When it gets tricky – What will test your patience and driving skills is when there’s traffic, you encounter crazy Greek drivers, maneuvering around donkeys, and one way alleys. Patience and staying calm is usually the best way to deal with everything. I remember driving in Imerovigli and coming head on with large truck on a one-way street. Evaluating my surroundings, I knew I had to back up and let the truck through first.
- Right side of the road – Greeks drive on the right side of the road which means North Americans won’t have any issues.
- No tolls – There are no tolls you need to worry about.
- Mostly paved roads – I can’t think of too many instances where you’ll need to go off road. Almost all the driving you’ll be doing is on paved roads.
- Road signs – Road signs are pretty clear and easy to read as they are mostly in Greek and English.
- Know your local road etiquette –
- Hazard/emergency lights means a driver is about to do something unexpected so keep your distance. Flashing headlights means the driver is coming through and not giving way to you.
- If there is a roundabout, you are expected to let incoming traffic into the round about.
- Lastly, Greeks don’t really give way to pedestrians using the zebra crossings so avoid stopping abruptly here if there’s a car behind you.
- Is it safe? – Yes, driving is safe. Aside from some tight squeezes and needing to back up on one-way streets which could be tricky, it was never unsafe.
- Know your emergency number – Not that you’ll need it but in Greece, it’s 112.
- Be careful around ATVs and scooters – Their driving can be erratic and their peripheral visibility is not great so take care when overtaking them.
- Cats and dogs – There are many stray cats and dogs all around so watch out for them.
Alternatives to Car Rentals in Santorini
The other vehicles you can rent on Santorini besides cars are scooters, motorbikes or ATVs (4×4 or quad).
These will certainly feel very popular because you see them all over the island but the general consensus is that they’re not recommended if you don’t have too much experience with them.
I’ll admit, I’ve rented an ATV on Santorini before. It’s a fun half day adventure especially if you’re staying in one of the smaller towns such as Perissa and you have wide open roads to say Red Beach, or the drive around the Akrotiri peninsula, but here’s why it’s probably not a good idea to rent one of these alternatives:
- If you’re going to get into an accident on Santorini, it’ll be because you’re driving one of these.
- ATVs, scooters, and motorbikes are notoriously unstable, easy to slip out of control (sharp bends and wind).
- Depending on your policy, these may not be covered by travel insurance.
If you do end up renting one of these, here are a few tips:
- Think about renting these on one of the smaller islands where the roads are quieter and navigation is simpler. We did this on Folegandros and Milos.
- Wear a hat and tons of sunscreen.
- Think about what you’ll be carrying with you and the amount of storage your vehicle has (i.e. camera and beach gear).
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Like travel insurance, this is another tricky and touchy subject. The question of course is “do I need car insurance in Santorini?”.
The short answer is, yes. Don’t leave it up to chance. Make sure you’re protected.
The more complicated answer is the how you’re covered.
Here’s how your car rental can be covered by insurance:
- Add insurance with your car rental – This usually comes in the form of a CDW (collision damage waiver) or LDW (loss damage waiver). The cost of this is typically something around 8-10 EUR a day. Make sure to read what they actually cover because this is not standardized.
- Credit card – If you pay for your car rental with your credit card and it has car insurance built-in, you can decline the CDW, LDW, or equivalent. Note that one thing they don’t cover is personal injury or property damage liability.
- Travel insurance – Insurance providers like World Nomads has good coverage for adventure activities (ATV/scooter) but this type of insurance is for your own person and not for the vehicle itself.
As insurance goes, I’m not saying that you’ll need it but you should have it in case something happens. What you need is:
- Travel insurance – If you get into an accident, you have health coverage for yourself. If you need help with this, learn more about how to buy the best travel insurance.
- Car insurance – See if your credit card covers car rentals and if not, consider adding on coverage.
Frequently Asked Questions
Greece roads and set up to drive on the right side of the road.
Yes, driving is easy on the island but can be a little challenging in certain situations especially narrow alleyways of the caldera towns.
The alcohol limit is 50mg per 100ml of blood but it’s recommended to not drink and drive at all.
As a rule of thumb, the speed limit is 50 km/h. Otherwise, follow the signs marked by circular signs outlined in red.
No, there are no tolls on the island.
If you need an automatic car during high season (summer), this is recommended. If you require a very specific car such as a larger SUV or van, booking in advance is a good idea as well. Lastly, if you want to lock in a good rate early especially if you’re using a discount code, make sure to do this early rather than later.
If you are booking a car rental in advance, you should do it 2-3 months ahead of time.
There’s some variability here but for many car rental companies, high season is from July 15 to September 15. This is when the rates jump up.
The minimum driving age in Greece is 18 but most car rental companies require drivers to be 21 and up. Also expect an additional surcharge for renters under 25.
Most car rental companies don’t allow you to do one-way rentals from Santorini to other islands. If you manage to find one, it is not recommended as driving a car onto a ferry can be very intimidating.
There is a lot to go through when it comes to how to rent a car in Santorini but what it really starts with is whether you need it, and if so, for how long.
Every itinerary will look different so there’s no right or wrong answer. Some will get a car for the whole trip, some only a day or two, and others won’t need it at all.
The good news is that driving in Santorini isn’t all as bad as people make it out to be and once you know how everything works (booking online, insider tips, driving etiquette, etc.), you’ll be all set for your trip to Santorini!
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