Welcome to The Santorini Guide: the definitive instructional to visiting Santorini from someone who knows very little about the island. So with my little knowledge, here are a few recommendations I have before visiting the gem of the Aegean Sea!
Forget the beaches – When you think islands, you think beaches. But Santorini is a little different, the beaches are not the highlight, in fact if this were horse racing they would not even show. As I once overheard a local say, “I have lived here seven years and I have been swimming four times.” Enough said.
Breakfast is a must – The highlight of my day (every day), was breakfast with a view. Many hotels in Greece offer breakfast and if you can I would STRONGLY recommend finding a place to stay where you can enjoy breakfast with a view. If your accommodations don’t offer it, then find a nice little café that looks over the Caldera as you enjoy your morning libations (coffee and OJ, come on people Europe has not given me a drinking problem). Yet.
Stay below the main walkway – In the three major towns (Oia, Fira, Imerovigil) that overlook the Caldera there is a major street for pedestrians. It is lined with restaurants and shops and I strongly recommend you stay below it. Any accommodation that is on the walkway or above (and in view) of it will leave you greeting your 500 closest friends every day.
If you fly in, take a boat around – Seeing the island from the water is completely different than from on top. Even though it is prettier from up top, still take a boat through the Caldera to see how different it looks from below.
Hike Skaros Rock – There is a rock formation that jets off from the coast and I highly recommend you hike it. To get to the top bring running shoes and a rock climbing spirit. Also make sure to follow the trail all the way down away from the island and you will find a beautiful hidden church. A lovely place to take photos, particularly because it is much less crowded than other iconic scenes in Oia and Fira.
No pool, yes balcony – When looking for accommodations forget about having a pool and instead focus on a balcony. Pools are nice but the ones in Santorini often have little privacy and having a room with a balcony will offer FAR more pleasure offer your visit than staying at a hotel with a pool (and no balcony).
Not every meal needs a view – While it is tempting to always stick to eating with a view. Do not forget that there is much good food (and cheaper food) to be found a block or two inland from the view. A gyro is the ultimate bargain at just 2-3 euros a meal. If you are white make sure to ask for it with tzatziki sauce or else they might put a dreadful (thousand island-ish) sauce that British people prefer.
Oia, know what you are getting into – Of the towns I visited, I would say that I think Oia (the most famous) is the most charming in a traditional Greek way. But that being said it is also the most congested with Chinese tour groups and cruise ship passersby. So it is lovely, but I don’t think a small margin of victory on the beauty scale justifies the nuisance of the crowds. Some websites said that Fira was the most crowded, but I just found that to be completely untrue. Perhaps it was because it was the off-season, but from my experience Oia was simply too crowded to fully enjoy.
The bus is your friend – The local bus is cheap at fewer than two euros a trip. Getting between Fira and Oia, this should be your best friend.
Where to find the good view of the blue dome in Fira – From the website theplanetd.com, “Just up the stairs from Mama Thira’s house in the town of Fira, you will find this beautiful blue dome overlooking the Caldera. We searched all over for these three bells and it wasn’t until our second last evening on the island that we finally found it. So make your way to Mama Thira and walk up to the top of the cliff. You’ll come to a parking lot. Look over and there’s the dome.”
The Taxis are Nice – The taxis on the island are very ritzy. Expect to see many nice grey Mercedes waiting to take your around. Also, there is no cost difference between the cars (however they are all fairly pricey because it is an island) so hail down that E55 AMG!
The Ferry will take a day of your life – Coming by ferry to the island is affordable at 39 euros for a general ticket and 45 for a reserved seat ticket, but please be aware that it is often late, takes 8 hours on the water, and you must arrive an hour early. Yup, taking the ferry will take almost the whole day, just remember that.
Drink the wine, love the wine – The best of Santorini’s libations is surely its wine (but I did enjoy my morning coffee)! When there, drink the local wine and enjoy it. In fact if you have time I would recommend a vineyard tour. In particularly, I loved the work done by this vineyard, http://www.hatzidakiswines.gr/en.html.
When in Rome – When in Rome do as the Romans do. When in Santorini, STAY ON A CLIFF. I promise it will be pricey and it might not have a pool like the inland hotel, but staying on the cliffs of Santorini surrounded by the brilliant white of Greek stucco is the most picturesque “Greek Island” experience you can imagine. I certainly know it will be a sight I never forget.
– Robert Yeagle