The Practical Guide to Santorini: The Crown Jewel of the Cyclades
Santorini is quite possibly one of the most photographed places in the world, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why. It is arguably the most well-known out of the 220 islands that make up the Cyclades in the Aegean sea, and much like Cinque Terre in Italy, officials have decided to limit the number of tourists that are permitted to visit. When we planned our trip to Greece last year, we knew that in addition to Athens, Delphi, Meteora and Olympia, there was no way that we could possibly skip Santorini.
Santorini is the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in history; today, the large caldera left by multiple eruptions (watch this video to witness how Santorini was formed over thousands of years) is lined from head-to-toe with precariously perched houses and churches, and is famous for breathtaking sunsets that attract massive crowds. While it isn’t one of the most budget-friendly places in the world, to say that Santorini is a destination that you must visit an understatement. Here’s what you need to know to help plan a trip to Santorini!
Tips you should know before you go
How long should I stay? Santorini is not a massive island, but there are a number of different towns that are worth visiting. We opted to stay in 2 different towns over 5 nights so that we could get a feel for the different areas around Santorini. Also, there was no way we could afford 5 nights in Oia (pronouced “ee-a”!). I would recommend staying in Santorini for 3-6 nights.
When should we visit? Santorini is not a tropical island so the warmest months are between May and October, though tourism is starting to pick up during the winter months as well. If you’re dead set on sunny beach days, look into visiting in the peak season from July to September, but be mentally prepared for big crowds.
Where should we stay? Most travelers to Santorini opt to stay in Kamari, Perissa, Fira, Imerovigli or Oia. The accommodation rates vary across the different towns but Imerovigli and Oia tend to be the most expensive. The airport is on the east coast of the island and most hotels are within a 15-30 minute drive away. One of the most important things to think about when booking your accommodation (apart from budget) is how many stairs you will need to walk down (and back up) to get to your hotel. Some hotels will offer a porter service, but it seriously sucks if you have to lug your suitcase down dozens and dozens of uneven steps.
Are there ATMs? Most places accept card or have a minimum spend, but there are ATMs around. Some hotels may ask for payment in cash so double check the booking terms before your trip.
Is it easy to use my phone to navigate? Cell signal is good and Google Maps was pretty accurate, though it can get slightly confusing when you navigate the narrow paths within towns.
Getting there and getting around
The best way to get to Santorini quickly is by plane! If you have some time and don’t mind sitting on a boat for hours on end, then look into the ferry schedule from Athens or the other islands. If you are traveling from Athens, the plane takes off, and pretty much prepares for landing right after. Flights aren’t too expensive and there are a number of flights each day.
Bus: There are buses that operate between the towns and tickets are between 2-3 Euros. The buses can get crowded and hot during peak season so you may want to look into renting your own vehicle.
Car, ATV or scooter: I would not recommend hiring a car as parking on the island isn’t always easy, but is handy as Santorini can be extremely windy and chilly, even during the summer months.
Another option is to hire a scooter: reserve your scooter ahead of time from Santorini Rent Me Love Me, and organize for them to drop off and pick up the scooter from your hotel for maximum convenience! We paid about 25 Euros a day and this option allows you to park pretty much anywhere you want and appreciate the extremely picturesque views along the coast.
Quad bikes/ATVs are another popular option among travelers, but they just look…weird on regular streets.
Best things to do in Santorini
Surprisingly, there are a ton of different things to do in Santorini! I had originally envisioned sitting back and sipping cocktails all day long, but in reality rolled up my sleeves and spent almost all day exploring what the island had to offer. Here are some of the top things to do when you’re in Santorini!
1. Enjoy the sunset
A no-brainer! The sunsets in Santorini are unlike any other I’ve ever witnessed. Have you ever seen a truly pink and gold sunset? Brace yourself. Head to either Oia or Fira to watch the sunset, and while you can expect an insane number of people doing the exact same thing, wander a few streets away from the main viewpoints and you’ll find yourself a quiet little spot to watch the colours change across the sky.
If you’re looking to grab a cocktail, head to PK Cocktail Bar in Fira or Kastro in Oia. Make sure you book a table ahead of time! PK Cocktail bar in particular served up some of the most delicious concoctions I have ever had the pleasure of drinking, and the service was incredible to boot. Their credit card machine was on the fritz and we didn’t have enough cash on us, and they just told us to come back another day to settle the bill like it was no big deal. Didn’t ask where we were staying. Didn’t ask for a contact number. I couldn’t believe my ears. Needless to say, we quickly ran to the nearest ATM and withdrew some cash to pay the bill immediately!
2. Swim in the Aegean
There are a ton of spots to swim at around the island, and the water is crystal clear! Unless you’re staying at Kamari or Perissa, there aren’t many public transportation routes that take you straight to the beach so your best bet is to rent a scooter or ATV. Our favorite swimming spot is at Ammoudi Bay (walk past the restaurants and walk along the cliffside), and others worth visiting are the red beach at Akrotiri, Kambia beach, Kamari beach and Katharos beach. Many hotels also have their own cliffside pool but be prepared to pay top dollar!
3. Explore the archaelogical sites and museums
Yes, you read right! Santorini has a number of archaeological sites and museums that are worth visiting. Buy the combined ticket so that you can go museum-hopping for a grand total of 14 Euros and learn about life on the island through incredible exhibits and findings from the settlement before the volcanic eruptions.
4. Hike Skaros rock
We stumbled upon this incredible hike while exploring Imerovigli on foot. In other words, we were entirely unprepared for this hike. Skaros rock was once an important fortress protecting the island from pirates, but is now uninhabited. It stands proudly in front of the town of Imerovigli and the walk towards the peak looks daunting with hundreds of steps that form a thin pathway. The entire walk takes approximately 45 minutes and starts with a breezy walk down to the base of the rock, followed by a rocky path up to the top. There is no path to the top of the rock but some people opt to climb up. I chose to stay 1 level down and was still rewarded with amazing panoramic views of Oia from afar and the caldera.
5. Go wine tasting
Santorini has a long wine-making tradition and wine tours are incredibly popular, although you can also visit individual wineries. If you’re planning on drinking make sure you book yourself onto a wine tour or organize a private driver.
Where to eat in Santorini
Mylos: Located in Fira, Mylos serves up delicious gourmet fare with an amazing view of the Aegean (with prices to match). Try the beef and save space for dessert. Trust me.
Taverna Katina: If you love seafood then this is the place to be! Located by the seaside at Ammoudi Bay, Taverna Katina offers beautiful fresh seafood and amazing Greek hospitality.
Avocado: Avocado is a small modern bistro in Imerovigli. There’s no view to speak of but the portions are generous, service is fantastic and prices are reasonable.
Catch: If you’re celebrating a special occasion, this is the place to be. The decor is modern and slick, but they back it up with great food and yummy drinks. Prices are on the higher side but this is the place to treat yo’self.
Where ever you decide to go, make sure you call or e-mail ahead to book a table, as places do fill up fast.
Where to stay in Santorini
Corrado Caldera Apartments, Fira: This property could not be in a better location! The hotel owner, Corrado, is extremely friendly and even offers airport pick up and drop off. The apartment is located on a quiet side street right at the mouth of the caldera, and the apartment is clean and spacious. The view from the shared terrace is stunning, and best of all: the price is incredibly reasonable compared to other properties in the area. Click here to book accommodation at Corrado Caldera Apartments!
Thirea Studios, Oia: Staying in Oia is expensive, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. We spent 2 wonderful nights at Thirea Studios and were a stones throw away from the heart of Oia. The surrounding area glistens under the sunlight and the rooms are tastefully decorated. The hotel restocks the mini fridge every morning so that you can brew a hot coffee and eat a simple continental breakfast while overlooking the Aegean! Click here to book accommodation at Thirea Studios!
Photo credit: Thirea Suites & Studios Facebook Page
Have you visited Santorini? What are your tips to travelers visiting the area?
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