Say hello to the fancy pants of the cyclades -SANTORINI. The most well known and travelled Cycladic Island, for a good reason. If you see any photos from GREECE, chances are its of SANTORINI. The fact that it was formed from a volcanic eruption that left behind a caldera (large volcanic crater) makes this place truly unique & picturesque. Yes, it is littered with tourists (mainly OIA), BUT you have to go & I am telling you, you will fall in love.
Where you stay will either make or break your trip. Before going, I was under the impression that you could take in all of the beautiful views by roaming through the whitewashed buildings-this is not the case. Unless you are a guest at a hotel or a customer at a restaurant, you will not be able to access some of those views.
I personally would avoid staying in OIA. All of the photos you see of SANTORINI are from OIA. It is SUPER touristy here. Since space is extremely limited in OIA, some public walkways literally cut through or right beside many hotels. Thus, your view will be ruined by the hundreds of tourists walking by your hotel and taking away the serenity & privacy you want to experience. Plus, even a decent hotel/Airbnb will be VERY pricey. Definitely visit and spend time in OIA, but don’t sleep there.
We stayed in a little town called MEGALOCHORI at the Grandview Hotel. The perfect combination of view, staff, food and serenity, made this place absolutely wonderful. The owner personally greeted us upon arrival, helped plan our itinerary and helped arrange transportation for us. The staff made you feel like you were part of a family. The facility itself was breath taking – the photos speak for themselves. As their website states, they truly are “Santorini’s best kept secret”.
Other towns I would recommend staying in are IMEROVIGLI & THERA (FIRA). These are the/ towns beside OIA. They too offer the same whitewashed buildings along the caldera as OIA, but are significantly less touristy, and better priced.
VISIT THE TOWNS – Of course, the most popular being OIA, pronounced as “EEaa”. They way the beautiful whitewashed buildings cling onto the cliffs is absolutely stunning. This is also the most famous sunset spot in all of GREECE. We spent one entire day in OIA. We did the hike from IMEROVIGLI to OIA, spent the day wondering OIA, watched the sunset and then bussed back to our hotel. Other towns to wander and get lost in are: IMEROVIGLI and THERA (FIRA). We really enjoyed IMEROVIGLI since it was very similar in appearance to OIA but with significantly less people.
HIKES – The hike to OIA is a must do. The starting point can either be from IMEROVIGLI or FIRA. We chose to start from IMEROVIGLI. This hike takes you along the caldera that offers panoramic views of the entire Island. It is a marked trail, so you don’t have to worry about getting lost. There isn’t much shade along the trail and the sun scorches down on you. So, start early, bring lots of water and load on the sunscreen. I put a lot of sunscreen on and still got burnt. Dan & I have done a lot of hiking on our trips and we would say this was an easy hike. As you can see – we did not dress appropriately for it, but that was planned since we only wanted to spend one full day in OIA. Running shoes are recommended, but if you need too, burks are fine.
WINE TASTING – Who would have ever knew that SANTORINI makes its own wine?! The volcanic soil and special climate make this wine unique – sweet and light. There are numerous wineries & vineyards located on the central and southern part of SANTORINI that you can visit alone or on a tour. We chose to visit Santo Wine’s and we were not disappointed. More on Santo Wine’s down below.
HOTELS – When I think of SANTORINI, I think of just relaxing and taking in the beautiful view. One of the best places to do this at is your hotel/airbnb/hostel. Your view won’t be disturbed by crowds of people and you can take in all the beauty. This is why I think your stay can make or break your trip. Put time aside to just enjoy the amenities of where you stay, you won’t regret it.
BEACHES – SANTORINI isn’t known for its beaches. There are many other Greek Islands that offer pristine crystal clear beaches (see my other posts on MILOS and IOS if you want to visit GREECE for the beaches). Personally, we didn’t come to SANTORINI to visit beaches, we came to take in the views, see the caldera, visit the small quaint towns & wineries. We briefly visited Red Beach and Amoudi Bay, but didn’t spend time swimming here.
There’s so many options! It all comes down to personal preference. My preference:
1. SANTO WINES – This offers a stunning uninterrupted view of the sunset with a wine tasting – can it get much better than that? One of the best moments Dan and I have had together on our travels. You MUST reserve a table in advance. There are only 4 tables that they gate off from the rest of the customers (which we got). That way, your sunset experience can be personal, beautiful and peaceful. If not, you will just get a standard table where everyone crams in and tries to get those sunset photos when the time comes.
2. OIA – OIA’s sunsets are famous worldwide. It has some of the best views of the caldera with the whitewashed buildings at sunset. You can either enjoy them at a restaurant (book in advance to get a table with a good view) OR you literally pick “your spot” somewhere along the street. It sounds crazy, but it is totally normal & worth it for the photo, if you love photography. Tip: pick your spot around 1700 and wait until sunset. If not, you will just have plenty of heads in front of you and if your short like me- it will be inevitable.
3. GRAND VIEW HOTEL – Like I said, your stay makes your breaks your trip. The Grand View offered a beautiful view of the caldera that was uninterrupted and private. We had dinner and drinks the one night there and just enjoyed the sunset. There was maybe 12 people there, if that. Spread out too.
Other spots that we didn’t have time to visit but were highly recommended: Skaros Rock at IMEROVIGLI, In front of the Orthodox Cathedral at FIRA, AKROTIRI Lighthouse or on a Sunset Cruise.
KATINA’S – When you visit OIA, go all the way down to AMOUDI BAY and eat at Katina’s or Dimitris Amoudi Tavern. Our hotel owner advised us to only to eat at AMOUDI BAY when visiting in OIA since OIA has a lot of “tourist food traps.” This is where places charge a ridiculous amount for only decent Greek food because they know a lot of tourists come and will never come back again anyway. KATINA’S specializes in seafood and is right along the water so you can take in the beautiful surrounding while enjoying a great meal for a good price.
TO PASARAKI – Okay, best seafood we have EVER had, hands down. Once again, the owner of our hotel recommended TO PASARAKI. He said it was the best seafood on the entire Island. Once Dan heard that, I immediately knew that we had to fit this in our itinerary somehow. Location wise, it is definitely out of the way, it’s located in VLICHADA (southern end of the Island) – but totally worth the drive. The catch of the day was barracuda, so we had to try it. We also had the swordfish which was wonderful.
TZANAKIS FAMILY TAVERN – If you stay in MEGALOCHORI, this is a very cute family owned restaurant that is local, not touristy at all. We stumbled upon this by accident. The owner brought us back to the kitchen and literally showed us everything she made that day. That was our “menu.” The food was delicious (I don’t have any photos from here, sorry!). The owners were very hospitable – at the end of our meal, they gave us each a free dessert. This happened to be my favorite dessert I had in all of GREECE.
You can either take a ferry or fly to SANTORINI from ATHENS or many other Greek Islands. We took the ferry to SANTORINI and then flew back to ATHENS.
Transportation is the most expensive on this Island – of course, like everything else. So, we planned our itinerary in such a way that we did not need to rent a car/ ATV/scooter everyday. We used transfers from the hotel, local buses, taxis, and renting a car to get around. Since we already got our ATV thrills out of our system on MILOS and IOS, we decided to rent a car. Depending on which town you stay in, I would recommend renting a car.