After spending some time on mainland Greece, my friends and I were ready ready to do some island hopping. Our first stop was Santorini. This picturesque island is the one we had all seen in films and pictures with the beautiful white houses and blue roofs. Although it was the first time for two of us, our other friend had been there a couple of times before and was able to show us around. Below are some highlights from our visit:
Things to Do:
Beaches. When on a Mediterranean island, spending a lot of time on the beaches is a definite must. This island has three main beach areas, the red beach, black beach, and white beach, that are named for the color of their sand. During our short visit, I only got to go to the black beaches, which were the ones closest to where we were staying. This beach was nice, and for me the all black sand was unique. The water was warm, but the waves were a little rough so I did not spend too much time in the water. There were lots of chairs and umbrellas for rent, but I was able to find a place that you could get the chair and umbrella for free if you ordered from the restaurant. It was an easy choice to order drinks and food and stay here all day. We were not there during peak of tourist season so the beaches were not too crowded, and it was easy to find a spot to lay out. If I went back to the island, I would definitely want to try out the other beaches as well. Plan to spend all day on the beaches.
Santo Winery. Visiting this winery is a must do for wine lovers. This venue has a fantastic view and some nice tasting wines. Visitors have to take a tour as part of the tasting, but the tours are brief and informative. Even though I have taken many wine tours before this one, the way they grow grapes on this island is unique because of the dry climate. So I did learn something new. The real selling point of this place, though, is their 18 flights wine tasting package, which is what we chose to do. They do offer smaller flights, but unless visitors are short on time, why not go for the biggest one? When I booked this deal, I was thinking it would be small pours like at the French wineries but that was definitely not the case. We were pleasantly surprised to find out these are big pours so we got our money’s worth. I wasn’t even able to finish mine completely because we chose the last time slot in order to be there at sunset, and they were closing when we weren’t finished yet! So my recommendation for visitors who choose the 18 flights tasting is to go earlier in the day to have more time and to also order food ahead of time. The tastings do come with small bites, but visitors will probably need something more substantial if doing the large tasting. Visitors should also plan to be here at sunset because the view is amazing. We had a really fun time at this winery. Our tour guide was funny and informative, and the wines were great. Plan to spend 3 hours here if doing the large tasting.
Oia. This island is broken up into three parts (Oia, Fira, and the southern end). Oia is the northern part of the island that is shown in the postcards. This village is located on top of a cliff and has the cute white houses and churches with blue domes and the donkeys going up the cobblestone roads. Visitors will definitely want to come here for pictures and sunset one evening. It may be cliche but for a reason. The views are fantastic. There are tons of restaurants and shops in this area to peruse as well. Plan to spend half a day here walking around and admiring the cute village.
Ancient Thira. These ancient ruins are located on top of a mountain and make for a nice break from the beach if needed. To get up here, visitors can take a car, hike up a trail, or take a donkey ride. I recommend doing the hike. It is a nice mini workout and has some nice scenery along the way. The trail is carved out but parts of the path are still kind of rocky and narrow so I recommend wearing a good pair of tennis shoes and not sandals or anything lacking a grip. Also, pay attention to the direction as there parts that lead off to other places. Once up the mountain, there are some nice views of the city and of some ruins. There is a small fee to go in to see the ruins but worth it. Beware that it is super windy up here, so windy that some of the trees grow sideways. I saw several women wearing dresses and skirts to look cute but were having a lot of trouble walking around and keeping them down. This is not the place for a cute fashion shoot. Wear something sensible. Plan to spend 3-4 hour if hiking to here and 1-2 hour if driving.
This island has a lot of cute shops. Many of the items are similar to what can be found in Athens or the other islands. Travelers can find cute sandals, beach clothes, lots of items with the evil eye charm, olive oils, honey, and other spices. While any of these would make great souvenirs or gifts, I recommend buying some wine. This island produces most of the wine for Greece so it is something unique to the island. For those visiting Santo Winery, the gift shop there features all of the wines that are part of the tasting. I would only buy the other items mentioned above if travelers are not planning to go to other parts of Greece where these could be found cheaper or more locally.
What to Eat:
Santorini has a ton of restaurants to choose from, but where we were staying (near Perissa) the options were a little less so we did end up trying several of the restaurants on the main strip. We did find a good cheap eats place there where the prices were low and the portions were large. For travelers visiting the southern end of the island, I recommend going to Grandma’s Recipes. The extra large gyros were a great deal. Split one with a friend or keep the other half for another meal. We went back here a couple of times.
My other recommendation for food on this island would clearly be to find a nice restaurant in Fira or Oia that has good views and order some fresh seafood or pasta. There are so many to choose from that I would recommend doing what we did, which was walking to a nice spot and then looking at the menus of the restaurants in that area.
Where to Stay:
We stayed on the southern end of the island near Perissa and the black beaches because the prices here were better. We liked the area, but it is less developed than other parts of the island, which could be a good thing depending on what type of trip is wanted. There are less restaurants and shops on this end. For those travelers wanting to stay in a more central location, Fira is in the middle part of the island. Oia is in the northern part but has a lot of cute shops and tons of restaurants. Both of these places, however, will cost more to stay. Even though we were here in September, which is not the peak tourist season, prices remain high because of the island’s popularity. Try to book earlier to get the better deals.
We arrived to Santorini by ferry from Athens. The ferry ride takes between 5 and 8 hours depending on which one is booked and how many stops it makes. The ferries are large and have open seating that is not assigned. Travelers can pay extra to reserve seats in a private room with guaranteed seats that recline. We opted to take the night ferry and travel overnight. We also opted to pay less and not reserve seats. We found some nice chairs on one of the upper levels but they were not that comfortable for sleeping so travelers who need the rest and are light sleepers should probably opt to pay for the better seats. Also, it does get cold on the boat so bring a jacket. Once we arrived at Santorini we had already booked a ride ahead of time through our Airbnb. Since this is a popular island and it can get a little chaotic departing, I would recommend getting a ride ahead of time if possible to cut down on the confusion. On the island, there is a public bus system but it is not linked to google maps. Timetables can be found at the bus stops but the buses do not necessarily follow that exactly. And it can be hard to determine which buses are the public ones. They look just like tour buses. They pull over quickly so be ready to hop on and pay in cash after finding a seat. Someone will come by to inquire about the final destination and collect money so travelers need to know the name of their final stop. I would have found this whole process confusing if I was not traveling with someone familiar with this system and who spoke some Greek. For travelers who feel less confident navigating this system, taxis and other drivers are also available to take visitors around the island. Try to arrange one through the hotel or Airbnb. The major areas of the island are walkable. It is getting from one part to another that will require transportation. When we departed Santorini we took another ferry. We again arranged for a ride through our Airbnb and got there a little early to get our tickets printed out at the company stand and to get in the waiting area. The area is smaller but be ready to line up to board the ferry to not be the last ones on.
Santorini was a great introduction to the Greek islands. It really is beautiful and picture worthy, and I definitely hope to come back here in the future when I am visiting other Greek islands I did not get to on this trip. We were here in early September. The weather was still nice, and tourist season was starting to wind down so it was crowded but not peak crowds. I recommend that travelers spend at least three days here, but plan to spend more time if possible and if not going to other islands. This island is for travelers who want that ideal Greek island vacation seen in movies and travel blogs.