SANTORINI: A GUIDE TO THE GREEK PARADISE

First things first, let’s get this out the way – Santorini is my idea of paradise. Cool beaches, amazing seafood, completely unique geography – and an alright view!

I may be a teeny tiny bit biased, but I do know my island. I landed there for a two week summer school in 2014, I got a job and stayed for three months because I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving. I have been back every year since and can’t see myself stopping any time soon.

So, credentials and back story aside – let’s get started!

Arriving

There are three options for arrival to Santorini – fly, ferry, or cruise.

I am not a big fan of the third option; the cruises show up every day, every one trudges up the cliff, runs for the bus to Oia, takes a selfie of the view, then races back to the boat to watch the sunset as the boat leaves the island. I have spoken to cruise goers who didn’t even have time for a coffee because the excursion was only 3 hours long.

So – assuming you’d like to spend more than a couple of hours on the island you are left with by plane or by boat.

Fly

The Santorini Airport is tiny – it technically has six gates, but I have only ever seen one open. Middle of high season the flights can be pricy and from most places outside of continental Europe you will have to change planes in Athens, or another major hub.

The airport is well connected to the rest of the island by road, both busses and taxis are available when you arrive. Most hotels and hostels also offer airport pick-ups, either for free around the most popular times or for a small fee.

You can also get a chartered helicopter flight if you are staying in one of the luxury hotels on the caldera but I couldn’t tell you how much it is because all prices are on request of booking!

Ferry

I choose to arrive by boat. Yes, it is slow (up to 7 hours from Athens) but it is, to me, quintessentially Greek to arrive to the island by sea. The islands have been travelled to by boat for millennia – and I guess in this case I am a big romantic. It is also cheap, even in high season I have never paid more than 60 euros return.

You can also get fast boats which take a much shorter time, but I feel so cramped inside – I like to be up on deck in the wind and the sun.

You get fantastic views, see the harbours of other islands, and to experience the wine dark sea!

The port is well serviced by taxis, and hotels offer pick up, as well as the several car and bike rental places.

Main Areas

There are two big towns on Santorini, Fira and Oia, both deserve a visit. But the island does have other towns!

Oia

The home of the famous, much photographed, and iconic sunset. Because, you know, the sun doesn’t set anywhere else on the island. Or so you would think if you were to listen to the tour sellers! Oia is beautiful, the sunset is incredible, but the best thing in Oia for me is Atlantis Bookstore. A lovely little cave house turned into meandering and well stocked bookshop.

Sure, go for the sunset, but don’t miss the unique places the town itself encompasses. Every view of the sunset is spectacular, and my favourite is at Santo Wines with a tasting flight and cheese plate!

Buses run from Fira regularly, and you can stay in Oia in a range of accommodations from a hostel to extreme luxury apartments.

Fira (or Thera on some maps)

Fira is the largest town on the island – it has the fancy shops and the bangin’ clubs. You can stay in Fira for much better rates than Oia, there is a great backpackers in Fira as well.

You can also find the most extravagant luxury accommodation there – a few years ago rumour had it that a royal paid over $10,000 USD per night for a luxury suite at an unnamed studio!

Fira is a great place to stop through, the bars there have the best view – especially at night when you can look out and see Oia sparkling!

Top Attractions

There are so many things to do on Santorini that I had trouble selecting them for this section. Rather than my personal favourite things, here are the things that I spoke with tourists about the most while living on the island.

Red Beach

This is a very cool place to see, but let me do my civic duty here – IT IS TECHNICALLY CLOSED! Due to rock fall, and you know…. danger of death. However, the reason I would not recommend actually going here is totally unrelated to death.

It’s kinda average. There are better beaches to lay on, that you don’t have to hike up a single trail and over big boulders to get to. Beaches that don’t have sellers every couple of meters trying to give you fruit and lukewarm water. Plus the beach area itself is small, you’re VERY cosy with the strangers sitting next to you.

Do an activity which includes a boat ride; like a catamaran tour (Spiridakos is my favourite!), or go scuba diving from a boat and check out the Red Beach from the water. Check it out in the afternoon, because it is iron oxide which makes it red – in the sun. In the morning and late afternoon it’s kinda …brown.

The Volcano

Ok so I have a confession, in all the years I’ve been going to the island and three months living there – I have never been to the volcano. Of course you can see it from everywhere on the caldera but I’ve never actually stepped foot on it.

There are lots of tours, most run from 30-60 euros and some include lunch. Typically they pick you up from the hostel or hotel in a bus, take you to their favoured port and give you a brief rundown of the islands history and volcanic eruptions (yes, it’s still active!).

There’s a short swim to the hot springs, then back on the boat and round to where you can hike up. It does smell of sulphur. It is a hike. Don’t be shocked by this.

Oh, and listen when they say wear clothes/swimwear that you don’t mind getting dirty. The mud at the hot springs absolutely will stain your light coloured clothes. I befriended a lad from Manchester who did not take this advice seriously. He had to throw his board shorts away before he got on the plane. Not, however, before walking around for three days with a crude graffito he had jokingly drawn on in mud. Despite washing them five times it was still there, clear as day. Don’t be that guy.

The Sunset

This has been touched upon in the Oia section, but two things:

Do not pay for a sunset tour; unless it is something very special like a boat tour – there are party options and relaxing options. But the sun sets *literally* everywhere. If you are on the caldera side, you will see a spectacular sunset with unique architecture and geological formations. These tours are the best example of needless expense – they pick you up from your hotel, drive you to Oia, deposit you into a restaurant with a fixed menu (sometimes meal isn’t even included), tell you to order a (not included) drink and watch the sunset. Then, charge between 30 and 100 euros for the privilege.

If you go to Oia for the for the sunset, get there early because mad keen photographers will fight for their two square feet of tripod territory like a mean old guard dog. Also, DO NOT CLIMB ON THE ROOFS. Yeah it’s pretty – it’s also trespassing, disrespectful, and dangerous. I personally like it from the castle look out – you get the full panorama from up there!

My Advice

Spend three days, minimum, on Santorini.

Get an ATV (or small hire car if you’re not motorcycle-y inclined), your hostel or hotel will have partners who will give a discount, but do have a scout around.

Go to the light house (Pharos or Faros on signs) and check out the view of the whole island, it is beautiful!

Read about Akotiri – it’s very cool, preserved town from the major eruption. However if you’re not a big archaeology fan I would suggest the museum in Fira instead of the ruins themselves.

If you want a nice experience, go to Santo Wines for a flight or some snacks and check out the view. However, the best wine I have ever had in my life if from Hatzidakis Wines in the middle of the island. Had I the funding and the liquids allowance, I would have purchased seven out of the eight wines we tried there.

Get down to Perissa beach, and hang out there – it is so much calmer than Fira and the black sand beach is awesome!

There is an outdoor cinema in Kamari, with movies in English with Greek subtitles. Sit back, have a cocktail or a beer, and relax in the Greek night air.

Finally – Go to Amoudi Bay, eat at one of the restaurants down there and marvel at the colour of the water!

Thank you to Sam from Carry on Or bust – we loved your guest post! Don’t forget to check out Sam and her travels over on her Instagram page.

Where is your favourite paradise? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Showing 19 comments
  • Lisa
    Reply

    I love Santorini, but I don’t think it’s the best Greek island in my opinion. Great tip on the sunset, you can see it anywhere, so don’t pay for it! Can’t wait to return to Greece this year.

  • Rashmi and Chalukya
    Reply

    This post refreshed our wonderful memories of our visit to this amazing Greek Island of Santorini. We did a Catamaran tour which covered most part of the island and was a great experience. Cant wait to revisit the island.

  • Heidi
    Reply

    Santorini is high on our list of places to get to. I admit to being completely in love with it without even a visit yet and your post just added to it. Thanks for the tip to avoid the ferry tour. That’s just not enough time to do it justice and to watch the sunset from the boat, not land. So sad. Nope, it would be a glass of wine, some food and of course snapping photos from somewhere for us. And wine flight?! Yes, please.

  • Sippin Gypsy
    Reply

    Sam is a great writer and always gives truly insightful tips on what to do and maximizing your experience there! Thank you for sharing!

  • Samarpita Sharma
    Reply

    LOVE Santorini, such a photographer’s delight! Loved the pics here, undoubtedly <3

  • Kate
    Reply

    I love those destinations that get under our skin and keep us coming back! So glad you’ve been able to keep returning to Santorini after your initial 3-month stint. We still haven’t been to Santorini, but hopefully soon! I had never considered using a motorbike on the island, but now that you mention it, renting a motorbike and hunting for beautiful views along the coast sounds heavenly.

  • Sam
    Reply

    So happy to be guesting here! Thanks 🙂

  • Jyoti
    Reply

    Such a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing your experience. Very engaging and informative indeed.
    Reminders me to our trip to the Amalfi coast a few months ago.

  • Chef Mireille
    Reply

    All the Greek isles have been on my bucket list for a while but Santorini looks just amazing as always. Photos are just stunning..I am so jealous!

  • balir villanueva
    Reply

    Indeed Santorini is a paradise! I am fantasizing of having a pre-wedding shoot here with my Amore, or even a romantic date night. And of course enjoy the spa and the beaches 😀

  • Denny George
    Reply

    Greece in general and Santorini in particular has been on my wishlist for a long time now. Usually you see only photos of the stark white villages hugging the coast. Thank you for highlighting the other sides of the island as well.

  • Abhinav Singh
    Reply

    I think Santorini is on the wish list of every traveler. Your pictures does justice to the ‘paradise’ that Santorini is. Your tip on the sunset tour makes sense. Why pay for something which is actually free. Good that you also warned against Red Beach. No point visiting an average beach when better options are available.

  • Parnashree Devi
    Reply

    You have given me every reason to go to Santorini. This is the most picturesque location in the world. I am so much fascinated by the history and the breathtaking scenery that I can’t wait to visit this destination. Thanks for the details.

  • Taryn
    Reply

    Wow! I am so envious that you go there so often. It is one of my favorite places. I’ll have to contact you whenever I go back since you’ve got the ‘scoop’.

    I never tire of seeing photos of the scenery in Santorini

  • Yukti
    Reply

    Your post on Santorini revived my visit to Santorini during last year. I agree with you that renting a car is the best option in Santorini. All beaches of Santorini are very beautiful and must visit. Though Red Beach is not upto expectation, but I find it amazing due to natural colored red soil. Very informative post on what to do in Santorini.

  • Mayochup
    Reply

    Love the way you write and the layout of the post. So easy to read.

  • Moimehr
    Reply

    This Greek island is a photographers dream come true destination. Just like you even I don’t like the cruises. I don’t like the thought of being suspended in between two places and not being able to do things on my own. Lovely post. I look forward to Sam’s post.

  • Rhiannon
    Reply

    Ya know, I’ve seen LOADS of posts and articles about Santorini, most of which featured about 2500 photos and no words. It was great to actually read a bit about the place for a change, alongside some fab pics! It looks like an absolutely heavenly place, I can’t wait to visit one day!

  • Mohammed Alkaf
    Reply

    I wish there were a guide like this for every destination on my bucket list XD ,, It is amazing and thank you for sharing. Bookmarked for reference use when going to Santorini.

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