Santorini also known as the Pearl of Greece is one of the most romantic, picturesque and sun kissed islands in Greece and perhaps world. The enchanting crescent moon island filled with love and ravishing views of the Caldera that leaves you speechless anytime of the day is nothing short of a dream come true. From the famous white and blue buildings to the red and black beaches and history older than Pompeii, Santorini is about as diverse as the Greek Islands come.
About the Island
Santorini is one of the world’s top tourism destinations with over 2 million visitors arriving every year to admire its natural beauty. Just shy of 30 square miles it belongs to a group of islands called The Cyclades and is relatively a small island. . The Island is made of lava and has changed shape many times through Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. A volcanic eruption in 1950 followed by an earthquake six years later in 1956 left Santorini in ruins and most of the residents of the island had to leave.
They slowly came back and started re-building in the late 60s. The foundation for the new port was laid and in 1972 the airport was also constructed, leading the Santorini that we see now. Some say Santorini might be the Lost Atlantis and that is mainly based on its circular shape and the volcanic eruption.
Best time to go
Santorini is an incredibly beautiful island to visit but it depends on you what you wish to take out of this visit and cherish the most. Depending on your budget, needs and likings you can visit anytime from April to October but as far as the temperature is concerned June to September is the best. Like most of the Greek islands, the most popular time is from July to September when the weather is the hottest and it is also the busiest months. These are the months when the island buzzes with activity but keep in mind that you can’t avoid the big crowds, soaring prices for travel, hotels and long queues everywhere you turn up. On the other hand, if you want to enjoy the beautiful sightseeing and a more serene side of the island then the ideal months are June and October.
We visited the island in the first week of June when the weather was just warm enough to swim and you could relish long pleasant walks with far less crowds. What I also found was that during this time the accommodation, flights. Ferries and local transportation are more convenient and the prices much lower comparatively. So verdict – the best time to visit is Greece is spring and early summer (mid-Apr to mid-June) or autumn (late Sept to Oct). This way, you’ll avoid the summer high season, with its inflated prices, hordes of tourists and high temperatures (heat waves of 100°F/+40C are routine).
There are only two ways to get to Santorini – By plane or by Ferry.
By Air – There is an international airport in Santorini which is well connected to Athens and most parts of Europe and has regular flights through the summer months. It is about 20 minutes away from Fira (the main town of Santorini).There is a bus station and a taxi rank just outside the airport but again if you are visiting during the peak season try and book in advance due to the sheer volume of tourists coming in. The two main airlines that operate flights from Athens to Santorini are Aegean and Olympic. Athens to Santorini takes less than 45 minutes and prices in the winter can be as low as 15€ for a one way ticket. Please keep in mind that these fights are only seasonal, so you would have to check and see if they are available for your dates.
Ferry or speedboat – There are four main companies operating these routes: Blue Star Ferries, Hellenic Seaways, Seajets and ANEK Lines. You can get a ferry to Santorini both from the main port of Athens, Piraeus and Rafina in Mykonos. Journey time depends on the ferry or speedboat you choose and for the fast ones it is just under 3 hours with a single stop Naxos. We went with the high speed boat and booked directly with Seajet.(Business class tickets one way was €40 per adult from Athens and booked in advance.)
Once you get to the Port of Santorini named “Athinios” you can catch the bus or a taxi. You will see them both as you are exiting your vessel and there are plenty of shops and travel agents trying to get your attention to book transport. There are private transfer companies and few Taxis so the bus is probably a better choice. But if you are a family then a private transfer for 5 will cost you €35-€40. They will take you to Fira (the main town of Santorini). Other option is to speak to your hotel who can arrange a pick up and if you are lucky they may throw it in free.
Getting Around the island
There are a number of ways to get around the island from public transportation to rental car and is quite easy.
Buses are the most inexpensive way to get around the island and they stop at all of the major points of interest but yes during the peak summer months there could be a long wait and over crowded buses. All buses run through the main station at Thira (Fira) and travel to different destinations on the island.
Car Rental – Possibly one of the easier way to travel the island is by renting a car and you can either get this through some of the larger rental companies like Budget, Rent-A-Car or Hertz or you can go with one of the many local companies like we did and no issues at all. typical cost to rent a 4 seater is anything between 30-40 euros a day.
ATV – You will see a number of people riding through most of the island on ATVs. The cost of renting one will range from €15-€75/ day (depending on the season), but it is a bit tricky if it is your first time so up to you.
Where to stay
A difficult question to answer! Santorini has several villages that stick out for their own beauty but depending on what ticks your box you can choose where to stay on this island. The most popular are Fira , Oia , Imerovigli, Firostefani and Pyrgos.
Thira or Fira is the capital and the largest and most cosmopolitan settlement of Santorini. If you’re traveling with a group of friends or looking to be right in the centre of the activity, then Fira might be your best choice, the epicentre of the island’s nightlife. This is where you’ll find most of the bars and nightclubs on the island. The central streets are filled with shops, restaurants, cafes and bars. Fira is also comparatively cheaper and offers more choice of accommodation then Oia. What makes it so ravishing is the Caldera view that leaves you speechless anytime of the day. Being the main city you can shop for souvenirs, taste local cuisine or simply stop for a drink at one of the cafes and bars overlooking the Agean sea with breath-taking views.
Oia, (pronounced ee-a) is undoubtedly the busiest village with one of the world’s most photographed sunset spots on the hilltop. It is the home of Port Ammoudi, the main port and many Strogili traditional houses, where tourists can stay during their vacation. Here, you can see the classic white-washed buildings, including the famous churches with their white-washed structures and bright blue domes. But hotels and apartments are a bit more expensive here vs Fira. The best place to watch the sunset is on the steps at Castle Oia where thousands of tourists flock every evening. This is a more romantic place to live filled with couples so if you are looking for that romance then Oia is the place.
Our choice was The Majestic Hotel in Fira, Santorini. The hotel is located right at the entrance of Fira, 500 meters from the main square and is 7 Km from the airport and 9 km from the port.
This is a five star property that offers high quality accommodation and service. Modern spirited and fashionable, it is one of the largest properties on the island.
The hotel offers a wide variety of facilities which include two restaurants, a pool bar, an indoor lounge bar, 3 fresh water swimming pools(1 of the pools heated), a children’s pool and a playground available for younger guests, health and beauty spa, sauna, Jacuzzi and a fully equipped and air-conditioned gym. 24 hour reception will assist you with any additional services you may require, including car rental, restaurant bookings and any excursions.
I must say we enjoyed our stay here and can’t think of any flaws. Free parking if you renting a car is an additional benefit and a free drop to the airport was a great touch to end a thrilling experience and an absolute luxury and relaxation stay in Santorini.
Things to do
Fira – All roads lead to Fira the main city, whether you are arriving from the airport or passing from village to village by bus. Fira has most of the archaeological and historic sights on the island including the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, Folklore Museum, and the Archaeological Museum. The other main sites include the Orthodox Metropolitan church and the Catholic Cathedral. If you want some more spectacular sights then take the cable car which takes you down to the old port and gives you some great views of the island. On the way back up you can chose to take the steps or the other more convenient way by trying the famous donkey ride.
Being the main city you get more of a choice when it comes to shopping. With a variety of shops selling local souvenirs, clothing , jewellery and accessories it’s a great way to spend a relaxed evening strolling along the narrow streets . As you wander around the streets of Fira and soak in the beautiful views there are plenty of art galleries that catch your attention and you can purchase some great pieces of local art here.
However, you haven’t truly experienced Fira until you’ve witnessed the city in its full glory at night with those spectacular views of the Caldera light up and the buzz of the nightlife. Fira is the place for nightlife and you can find some of the best cocktail bars, cafes, and clubs to go dancing or just chill after the long day and sip on a cocktail. Many of the bars and clubs stay open quite late.
Pay a visit to the Museum of Prehistoric Thira, where the story of Akrotiri and other ancient settlements is vividly told through a stunning collection of Neolithic and Bronze Age artifacts.
There are some excellent bakeries and cafes in Fira with the best chocolate mousse cake and Spinach pie found in Greece.
Relax and spend time in one of the cafes as some of them have a rooftop patio with some great views overlooking the town.
Oia – Like Fira, Oia overlooks the caldera, and it’s said to have one of the best sunsets in the world. Although the sunsets can be enjoyed from many different points in Santorini you have to experience the vibe from sunset point in Oia.
It is a photographers paradise with breath-taking views at every corner. A maze of small shops, restaurants and cafes with spectacular views of the rest of the island and the caldera. It has some beautiful hotels with pools connected to your bedroom and great views of the Agean sea.
Oia has some very highly rated restaurants like the Ambrosia which serves a Greek infused menu with unique flavours. Ochre is known for its sunset views and a spectacular collection of wines from all over the world.
The beauty of Oia is impossible to describe in words or photographs, you have to experience it to know what it is all about. White houses with cobalt blue, oyster pink and earthy red roofs. Narrow winding whitewashed paths that interconnect by small churches and at almost every corner there is something new to discover.
The next two towns are Firostefani and Imerovigli which are like the suburbs of Fira and are walkable from Fira on a footpath along the caldera. Both are much lower key than Fira and have more affordable accommodation.
Pyrgos – For me the most beautiful village I visited was Pyrgos. What makes Pyrgos unique is being the highest village on the island thus providing panoramic views of both sides of the island. A short drive from the main town of Fira it is bout 8 kilometres south and a pleasant journey. Pyrgos remains a less commercial and more of a traditional greek village and in accordant to the Cycladic architecture. The main church in the centre is just stunning with some undeveloped houses that add character to the whole village. Narrow, winding paths and stone houses makes it picture perfect against the white backdrop.
Santorini has some very impressive beaches, from the warm black pebbled beach of Perrissa to the famous Red Beach.
Perrisa Beach – Flanked on one side by the enchanting rock formation called Mesa Vouno, Perissa is a 7 kilometre long stretch of black pebbled beach lined with hotels beach bars and restaurants. It is child friendly and a visit to the Beach Bar since 1974 is a must. Take a stroll along the water or sip a cocktail in the many beach bars it is a perfect place to relax and soak in the sun.
Red Beach – One of the most famous beaches of Santorini aptly named because of the surrounding red rock formations and yes the beach itself is not red.
The beach is quite small in comparison to others but it is very picturesque with the dark sand and towering red cliffs. It is short hike from the main parking lot but is surrounded by signage stating danger due to the loose rock. You can sit here and enjoy the views or simply have a dip in the water.
Kamari Beach – This is another famous beach situated 10 kilometres from Fira quite near the airport. Kamari is a cosmopolitan beach resort which has been awarded the Blue Flag status and is child friendly. Very similar to Perissa but much more activity and the town around it is quite lively at night.
Kamari is well organised offering a wide range of facilities like sun-beds, umbrellas and various types of water sports. Lined by the traditional houses of the village it offers some beautiful views. You can take long walks along the waterfront or simply relax in one of the many restaurants, cafes or bars. If you want to party then you can dance the night away in one of the night clubs which is quite popular during the peak season with tourists. It is very famous with back packers as well.
Where to Eat
Santorini many nice restaurants with beautiful views of the Caldera however the restaurants located in the narrow lanes are just as nice and offer some delicious food.
Pelekanos: Does not impress as you enter but once you are seated upstairs on the white terrace the view of the sea is stunning. Enjoy some authentic Greek and Mediterranean cuisine.
Passaggio: A nice little place for breakfast or to have a cocktail in the evening. Has a nice roof terrace.
Catch: Roof terrace with a sea view, but high in demand so make a reservation beforehand. On the menu is modern Greek food and fresh catch of the day as the name suggests.
Pito Gyros: Gyros cravings in Santorini, then it has to be Pito Gyros. There might be a line to this small snack bar which sells out quite quickly. .
Dimitris Ammoudi: Located in the old fisherman’s harbour surrounded by cosy fish restaurants. Try and visit just before sunset and make sure to ask for a table by the water. You won’t be disappointed by I promise.
Black Rock Restaurant: The location of the restaurant comes with some beautiful views of the Caldera and perfect location for a romantic dinners in Oia
Santos Winery: Santos Winery is your place to taste some local wines situated on the Eastern side of the island. They have a restaurants below which stands out in the area of Perivolos!
Terra Nera: This famous restaurant is located just behind the Black Beach and perfect to have a bite before you go to the beach. You can also rent a sunbed for the beach from this restaurant.
Forty One 41: This fun beach club is open till late at night. Nice anytime of the day starting from a coffee in the morning to lunch or dinner. It’s perfect for a cocktail in the evening as well
Savvas: Chilled out and perfect for some good food at the beach with light interiors and plenty of seafood on the menu.
La Maison Restaurant: Perfect sun set and beautiful views of the Caldera along with some really delicious food and to top it very good service.
Argo: Argo highly recommended food place with authentic taverna food. They work a lot with local products and you will need to make a reservation a couple of days ahead to be sure of a seat during sunset. In the heart of Fira so very popular.
Koukoumavlos: Your answer to fine dining in Santorini. Koukoumavlos is the place for a gastronomic evening by the award-winning Chef Nikos Pouliasis. Reserve a table on their terrace.
V-Lounge: V-Lounge is located on the promenade in Fira and perfect for a relaxed drink during sunset along with some finger food .
Don’t miss Lolita’s Gelato in Oia! This delicious gelato is the perfect treat to beat the Santorini heat.
Fira is in the main entertainment hub when you think of nightlife in Santorini. Here people can find most of the island’s clubs and bars. For stunning views of the Caldera it has to be the Tango and the PK Cocktail Bar which are very stylish and chilled out.
The Koo Club and Enigma Club are the most popular and amazing clubs if you are after a late night. Marvellous cocktails with some local Greek performers. The one other place which I really liked for both Greek traditional and modern electronic music was Mamounia.
The open-air beach bars along the promenade in Perissa and Kamariare are a great evening out as well.
Going home –
I must say it was tough saying goodbye to the Greek Island. We started from the capital Athens on to Mykonos and finally to tick of by bucket list with Santorini. Its been an incredible trip with so much to see and soak in. From the historic Acropolis in Athens to the beaches of Santorini it has been the travellers dream holiday.
Finally we head to Santorini Airport which is a 15 minutes drive from the city centre but just keep in mind there could be along wait to check in as this is a small airport and it does get very busy during the summer months.
Fly back on the national carrier British Airways and the only thing on my mind was when do I return to this paradise.
Watch the sunset from Oia
Enjoy a movie at an Open Air Cinema http://www.cinekamari.gr/
Visit the archaeological site of Akrotiri
Eat at a Classic Taverna
Have a romantic dinner overlooking the Caldera
Take in the view from the Akrotiri lighthouse
Walk down the steps from Oia to Amoudi Bay
Drink a Donkey Beer
Swim in the backdrop of the Red Sand Beach
Take a Cable Car Ride down from Fira to the old port.
Hire a quad bike and drive around the island
Sip a coffer at a rooftop café and gaze over the Agean Sea
Enjoy a boat trip to the volcano island.
Visit a local winery for some of the best wine on the island.
Stay in a Cave house in the Caldera.
Taste the local cuisine and enjoy a gyro.
Go cliff jumping at Ammoudi Bay
Hike the trail from Fira to Oia
Eat Frozen Yogurt and check out Chillbox.
Sunbathe on the black sand beaches.
Dance the night away at the Koo Club.
Arguably the most famous of the Greek Islands, Santorini is a place you must visit once in your lifetime. I had seen, read and visualised this beautiful island but only after experiencing it did I realise why Santorini is what it is.
Watch the best sunset in the world and fall in love with Santorini……..