Travel Guide: Santorini

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Greece, with its rich history and beautiful islands, has had its magnetic pull on me for the looooongest time.  So, naturally, it was hard resisting the temptation to hop over to Greece on my big gallivants around Europe; but I knew that this country had so much to do and see that I had to set it aside and experience it all on its own.  So, there it stood on my list of wanderlusts for what seemed like ages… until… of course, very recently!

If you’ve been following me on instagram (and if you’re not, where have you beeeen?! hahaha), you’ll be well aware of the fact that I’ve recently escaped the worst of winter and jet-setted over to Greece for a good 2-ish weeks.

OVERVIEW:  We went to Athens (stayed for 3 nights as Marco had his conference there), then took a boat out to Santorini (3 nights), then to Milos (3 nights), and back again to Athens for 4 nights.

Read on for the first instalment (of three!) – tips, observations, and recommendations for Santorini!  And of course, them money shots!

ON EVERYONE’S HIT LIST: SANTORINI (Greek: Thera)

Blue-domed churches and white-painted villages nestled into the island’s cliffs, the unique Santorinian landscape and its sunset allure have graced many a postcard, been the topic of many a blog post (case in point), and the subject of countless paintings, movies, youtube videos, and screensavers.  Like many others, I have drooled over said postcards, videos, and screensavers.  And so upon arriving on the island, I was kind of really excited.

Where to stay in Santorini & a bit about the Santorini’s famous villages:

  • Getting there:  Many of the accommodation in Santorini will require you to get there by foot (or donkey, but poor donkeys!) – shuttles and buses can only get you so far.  Check your precise directions to your accommodation ahead of time (google maps + get some data) and pack LIGHT (wheeley bags don’t do great on these villages’ cobblestones + all you really need in the Santorinian heat is your swim gear, shorts and tops, and one nice dinner outfit anyway!).
  • Booking:  We found booking.com really handy, and in many instances cheaper than air bnb.  And trust me, we hunted for ages.  We booked really late and paid the price for it!  So definitely book your Santorini accommodation well ahead of time – you can get some really amazing accommodation on both booking.com and air bnb if you’re organised!
    • TIP:  Use google map street view to check where your prospective accommodation is – how accessible / is it down a huge cliff and so you have a shitty view / is it facing the Eastern sea (your standard sea view) or the West into the caldera (famous views)?
    • Also, having a pool at your accommodation is quite a nice option as you would want to relax and not do so much walking during the day (it gets really hot).  Also, activities in Santorini is rather limited (more on this later) and the activities depend on your freedom to get around the place.  But by no means is having a pool the be all and end all!

Pick your village:  I read a lot about this and we decided to stay in Oia in the end.  Here’s a bit on each village:

  • OIA (pronounced EE-AH):  the sunset village – people from all over Santorini come to Oia to watch the sunset (although I’ve heard the sunset view in Fira and Imerovigli are also stunning).  Amoundi Bay is also right at the bottom of Oia. and walk around in – you haven’t been to Santorini if you don’t go to Oia.  Oia has amazing nooks and crannies for those classic Santorini views too.
  • IMEROVIGLI:  on reading about this place and also wandering by the town, Imerovigli is a lot more quiet and also full of expensive resorts.  I didn’t go to its centre but it really seems more like a place you stay and chill, and do nothing.  I hear there are some great food options there though!
  • FIRA:  is the cheapest of the three villages along the Western side of the island.  Fira is the main hub of all the busses (all busses terminate here, and you have to change busses for your journey here), has tonnes of food places and shops.  It is also where there’s more of a night life compared to Oia and Imerovigli.  Fira has a pretty church and it’s also where you want to start your hike (if you want to do one – more on this later) to Oia.

What to do in Santorini

Bear in mind that Santorini is meant to be a place of relaxation and sunset views – so don’t go to the island expecting a tonne of activities!  What would be awesome is having an amazing accommodation with amazing caldera views to chill out during the height of the daytime heat, and come out for some activities in the late afternoon (after having been there, I think this is what I would do next time!). And of course explore the little township itself! There’s some beautiful alleyways dotted with gorgeous Santorinian buildingsviews at dusk are very romantic <3.

  • Sunset viewing:  Of course, a trip to Santorini would not be complete without watching the sunset.  I did my research on this and the best spot is Oia – although the crowd is just insane.  You really do have to go like 2 hours before sunset to get a good spot to check out the sunset.  It is just crazily packed, and there’s hardly any room to stand.  This is probably the only place you’ll hear people clap for a sunset – like, “good job Sun, see you tomorrow”.  My personal thoughts on the sunset?  Yes, it was indeed very beautiful but coming from New Zealand and being spoilt with amazing natural beauty here and also various island holiday trips in Thailand, I have been really spoilt when it comes to sunsets.  The Santorinian sunset is indeed incredible still though as you get a clear view of the sun and if you get a good spot you kind of feel like you’re on the edge of the world. And with the Santorinian architecture, in the foreground to boot, you’ll be in for a treat no matter where you are.
    If you think the crowd will be too much for you, I have heard that sunset views from Imerovigli is also equally beautiful (and hey, the Aegean sea is big so you can see beautiful sunsets from most islands – including my favourite, Milos – more on that later…).

  • Amoundi Bay and Oia Castle:  Walk towards the end of Oia village (towards the sunset spot), stop by at this gorgeous little bookshopAtlantis Books (some nice views on the top floor where you can also sit and read some books).

  • Take some steps (ok more than some… but trust me it’ll be worth it) up to the Byzantine Castle Ruins/Oia Castle, for a breathtaking and unobstructed view of the Oia village.  Then make your way back down towards Amoundi Bay (when in doubt, follow the direction from which people in swim gear are coming from).  The way down to Amoundi Bay is the donkey trail (be warned, pretty stinky – and yes, you can get a donkey back up but we chose to walk).  Once you’re at the bottom of the steps turn left and continue walking until you see an obvious point where lots of people are gathered – this is the spot where people swim and jump from a cliff a wee bit out from the coast.  One thing I would say is that the rocks closer to the coast is pretty jagged and sharp so be careful!  I saw quite a lot of people with swimming slippers/footwear and thought that was the most brilliant idea ever given how jagged the landscape was!  Chill for ages here – the climb back up in the heat will dry you off.
  • Fira to Oia:  Because we stayed in Oia, we took the bus out (super cheap) to Fira and then did the Fira to Oia hike.  We explored Fira (beautiful church and cute little alleyways) and had the famous Lucky’s souvalaki.  We also tried out Falafeland, which served up amazing fresh falafel!  The walk from Fira to Oia is pretty long, we did it in the afternoon and the sun was beating down on us pretty strong (maybe do yours in the morning…)  Along the way you’ll have such an amazing view of the entire Santorinian landscape (more photo ops! 😛) and a couple more beautiful churches along the way – it’s totally worth the sweat.  TIP:  wear appropriate shoes – some parts are pretty rocky, and make sure you’re hydrated (some small little shops along the way selling big bottles of water for $1.50 to $2.50 euros) and of course be sun-smart – you’ll have plenty of opportunities to tan in Greece (actually this is practically all the time from mini walks from A to B and sitting out in the sun at cafes)!

  • The best place for food in Oia:  OKAY.  Serious talk time.  FOOD.  There’s only one place you really need to go to and that’s Lotza – amazing traditional Greek food, an amazing view of Oia, decently priced (fairly cheap by Oia-an standards), and that family-owned restaurant vibe… honestly, I fell in love with this restaurant.  We went twice – just couldn’t get enough of their Oia’s pasta.  Their imam was also amazing.  Their fava dip mhmhh.  And their baklava was also pretty great (although the best I’ve ever had is still at the spice market in Istanbul – a post to come…).  [MORE ON FOOD – what to eat/try]

  • More time?  Other things to do:  there are also other beaches in Santorini that we didn’t get around to (you can always catch the bus though, or rent an ATV).  The most popular being the Red Beach and Kamari (black sand beach).  You can also catch a boat out to the volcano in the middle of the caldera (and do the volcanic hike!) and also do a sunset boat cruise.  Lots of information and providers doing those things in Santorini, and easy enough to sort out when you’re there!
  • TRANSPORT TIP! If you’re staying in Oia/around Oia, and you’re relying on bus as your transport to other parts of the island – make sure that you catch the bus from Oia centre itself – line up outside this tourist info centre shop!  We waited for two full buses that drove past where we were originally waiting (some ways a bit out of the Oia centre) and soon realised that the busses were filling up at the terminal and couldn’t pick up any other passengers along the way!  More on transport further below:

And of course don’t forget to take in that beautiful night view of Santorini <3

Transport, the port and getting to the villages

The port is nothing like what you would expect if all you’ve seen is the peaceful and serene sunset pictures and videos of people relaxing by the pool.  Bustling would be an understatement.  What might look like a calm and peaceful pit-stop on your approach bursts into life as soon as human cargo starts unloading and walking dazedly out of the ship.  As you head down the port in the blazing heat, you’ll be faced with a tonne of people lining up to board the ship you’ve just stepped out of and local business people calling you to come in and check out their shuttle/transport services.  The port is simply a taster of what Santorini is like in its peak tourism season.

So, how do you get from the port to anywhere?  Well, I didn’t really do any research beforehand and with the sun so glaringly hot and hardly any shade in the area, I was delirious and very tempted by the shuttle services.  We talked to a couple of shuttle services and were told that because Oia is really far away, the charge would be about 50 euros (compared to Fira which would have been around 25 to 30 euros).  I was determined not to pay such a hefty sum and we kept walking and go slightly different offers from different vendors.  I was about to try to figure out the local bus system but was told by another shuttle service that they could get be on their shuttle for 40 euros for 2 people.  At this stage, I was sold.  So we paid the somewhat-still-hefty price but boy, the long ride was comfortable and we were no longer out in the crazy heat.  But if you’re prepared, definitely check out the local bus services which would be a lot cheaper.

Where we stayed in Santorini

We stayed at Georgis’ Apartments, which we booked off booking.com – one thing I’d say was that it was really hard trying to find our way to our accomodation.  More specifically on Georgis’ Apartments:

  • Getting there:  In my case, we got dropped off at a parking lot, from which we wandered around for ages because we didn’t know where it was until someone told us to follow the blue arrows – if you’re staying at Georgis’ Apartments – FOLLOW THE BLUE ARROWS!!  (I’m not usually this unprepared, I swear).  The last thing you want to do in the heat is wander around aimlessly… (luckily I had my very own personal donkey service – my very sweet bf haha).  When we left the apartment though, we were helped with our bags by the owner’s very cute and sweet donkey and got a ride from him to the port for 30 euros per person.  If you ring ahead upong arrival, I think you can also get Georgis to pick you up.
  • Room:  is very clean, simple, large, and modelled off the Santorinian cave-house style.
  • View:  we got ours with a sea view (the East side of the island) – note, this is not the classic Santorinian view (but those are very expensive by the time I was booking).
  • Perks:  lovely breakfast which comes delivered in this sweet basket / stocked in your fridge every night – and the goodies are pretty yummy – yoghurt, grilled eggplant, sandwiches, pastries, and juice.  Pool – there’s a nice pool in the common area (no view from the pool though), which was great for cooling off! Cute more “local”area with gorgeous Santornian architecture that is not far from Oia centre.

Postcards from Santorini