My favorite thing to do is to travel. When I think of my “ideal future” it consist of the majority of my time jet setting around the world with my family with very little time spent settled into a home.
Over the past few years my husband and I have made this a priority in our lives. We’ve racked up a decent amount of airline miles but even so, every place we’ve traveled to has been what I would call comfortable. What do I mean by that?
The way I see it, until you’ve traveled to places where people don’t look like you, talk like you, and eat like you… have you really traveled? I travel to see the world through the eyes of another; to explore places I’ve never been, eat things I’ve never eaten, and learn how someone’s upbringing was different than my own. But if I’m being perfectly honest, the thought of traveling to a country where the locals don’t speak my language is a bit terrifying. I like control, and traveling without knowing the spoken language makes me feel very much out of control.
So began our first adventure to a country where we essentially walked in blind, left to figure it all out. What better place to visit than my husband’s bucket list trip of….*insert dramatic pause*
After much research and having spoken to a number of seasoned world travelers, we decided to spend our time on the island of Santorini, formally known as Thera. While I would have loved to island hop, my husband suffers from motion sickness something fierce, so instead we chose to make the most of our time on one island.
Travel time from our home to Santorini was roughly 24 hours. I won’t bore you with the details but in order to get from Athens (the capital of Greece,) to Santorini you have to take a 45 minute flight on a small plane (or a ferry, but we didn’t make that choice for obvious reasons.) My husband wanted to stay in Athens for a night and make the flight to the island the following morning. Personally, I figured we would be traveling the whole day anyways, so what’s one more flight? In the end we decided to take the last flight the same day and that’s a choice I am glad we made. We finished a long day in the darkness of Santorini, exhausted, and woke up refreshed to the most beautiful views the following morning.
I won’t lie. The first 24 hours in Santorini were less than desirable. I go back and forth about leaving this information in, but my hope is that it helps someone else be more prepared than we were.
We arrived in Santorini to a pre-booked taxi driver. We attempted to speak with him but spent the majority of the ride to our hotel in silence. We would be staying in Firostefani at the Blue Dolphin Apartment and Suites. He showed us to our room and we asked about checking in. He told us that the office was closed and we would have to check-in in the morning. By this point I was painfully hungry. It was dark, we knew nothing about our surroundings, and had no one to ask about food or our accommodations. To keep a long story short, we arrived to a situation that did not match my expectations, leaving me without things I needed, exhausted, and hangry. At the time I was seriously cranky, but I’m self aware enough to recognize that I was being an unreasonable princess, so I went to bed before falling further into my diva-ness.
We woke up the following morning and spoke to the hotel manager, a very kind man named Dennis. He recommended we visit the capital town of Fira, which would be about a 10-15 minute walk. In Fira you have access to everything including food, banks, transportation, and more. We spent the first full day in Fira and this is where things get a bit hairy. If I’m being completely authentic about our experience, our first day we interacted with a lot of people that were not very friendly and warm. I would describe it as such, but my husband is of the opinion that the people were outright rude.
I want to make it known that I don’t go into any new place with any expectations. I would never expect someone to cater to me, especially when I am in their home, disrupting their day. With that being said, we were just a bit caught off guard and didn’t want to do anything moving forward to disrupt anyone’s peace.
Ultimately we found that the individuals working in Fira’s town center were way less accommodating than the rest of the island. We also discovered that people were a little closed off at first, but became warmer the more they got to know us.
Allll of that being said, once we got past the minor discomforts of day one we had a marvelous time!
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On day one we went in with no plans whatsoever. We spent the entire day roaming the streets of Firostefani and Fira, eating everything in sight.
I had read that you shouldn’t take any of the island’s many tours because Santorini is an island that must be explored by yourself, on foot. I agree with that, somewhat. We did take some tours and we have no regrets (more on that later,) but I do agree that it is important to dig into the island yourself, without a guide. We averaged about 25,000 steps per day and often found ourselves strolling on beautiful walkways without any other people in sight.
On day two we took a full day sightseeing tour with Notos Travel and our brilliant guide, Katie. If you are limited on time in Santorini, this would be my go-to recommendation as you are able to experience Santorini’s ancient history, local culture, and famous views.
The first stop was at the renewed archaeological site of Akrotiri, considered the best-preserved Minoan ruins outside of Crete. My husband and I were fascinated by the history and some of the things we learned were simply mind-blowing. Hands down wouldn’t recommend visiting without a tour guide. FYI the entrance fee is not included so be sure to carry cash.
The second stop was at the 18th-century Prophet Elias Monastery, situated on the highest point of the island. Here you are able to take stunning photos while seeing the entire island.
Next we continued on to Perissa Beach (aka Black Beach,) where we hung out on the unique black “sand” and enjoyed lunch at Aquarius. This was easily my favorite part of the island and I’m absolutely heartbroken that we weren’t able to return and spend more time exploring. Aquarius had the most delicious food and the wait staff was exquisite!
After lunch we visited Santo Wines, one of the island’s largest and most modern wineries. My husband and I don’t drink so we quickly made our way through the museum and skipped the wine tasting. It was intriguing to learn how the wine making process differs from the states, and even cooler to hear how it all works with very little rainfall and irrigation.
Lastly, we ended our day watching the sunset in Oia, considered one of the most photogenic places on Earth. Honestly, I didn’t find the [raved about] sunset anymore spectacular than the ones at home but it is an experience I’m glad we had.
10/10 recommend this tour!
On day three we took a daytime catamaran tour around the island with Spiridakos Sailing Cruises. After seeing the whole island by foot, we wanted to experience it through a different lens. Out of our five days on Santorini, this was the most fun by far!
We did go during off season so unfortunately the experience wasn’t as full as it would have been during the summer months. The tour promises stops to snorkel at some of Santorini’s most famous beaches (some only accessible by boat,) but due to weather and other conditions out of their control, we only made one stop. However, this did not stop us from enjoying a relaxing ride, engaging conversation, and great food!
Our one stop was at the hot springs inside the Caldera. I read previously that the stop wasn’t worth the price, and just due to our experience I would agree. I’m not sure how much the experience would differ during the summer but the water was cold and the “hot springs” was lukewarm at best. Our guide informed us that they call it “hot springs” for effect to help draw in tourism. Still, the ride and the experience was worth it in my eyes. We learned of a gentleman named Sostis who lives by himself (with his animals,) near the springs, surviving off of the land.
The trip was fantastic, but the thing that made it truly special was the crewmen. They kept us laughing the whole day, asking about our home countries, playing good music, and teaching us about the island. It was obvious that they enjoyed their job and didn’t feel obligated to show us a good time.
Worth noting, when I saw a “BBQ lunch” advertised I was worried I wouldn’t have anything to eat onboard. The reality is that I had the most insane pasta and greek salad (sans feta cheese.) Seriously, I couldn’t compliment the chef enough on her sweet spaghetti sauce. She even offered me the recipe!
On day four we spent the majority of the day exploring Oia. Oia is the island’s most famous, most photographed village and for good reason. During the summer months there are so many people present it makes it nearly impossible to get around. During the off season (November-March) there are less restaurants and shops open, but the lack of tourists made it the perfect opportunity for us to explore the village, picking up items at the gift shops, and eating good food with great views. Oia really is all it’s cut out to be. The beautiful white buildings on the mountain top, paired with the blue domes and stunning views alone make it worth spending a day exploring.
On day five, our final day, we spent the remainder of our time exploring Fira’s gift shops, sampling desserts and appetizers from restaurants off the beaten path, and relaxing on the veranda of our hotel. Fun fact, The Blue Dolphin Apartment and Suites has a resident cat that greeted me every time I left my room. We bonded immediately.
TLDR? Here’s what you should know.
The who’s, what’s, and when’s of Santorini ….
Who: Couples seeking a romantic getaway, or anyone interested in history alongside an island vibe.
What: Eat lots of food, take some tours, explore the entire island, and spend some time by the water.
When: Beginning around the third to fourth week of March all of the businesses start opening in preparation for “high season.” The best time to travel varies based on your preferences. For example, the best time to get the most out of the beaches is June-September. The most crowded month is August. April is best when you want slightly warmer weather, more choices, but less crowds. Do your research to determine the best time for you.
Where: Book your hotel in the center of the island in the village of Firostefani. Make a day trip to Oia, the most photographed village on the island and Perissa Beach for food, fun, and sun!
If you are looking for a calm, relaxing vacation, stay closer to the center of the island and take day trips to the surrounding villages.
If you are looking for fun and discovery, spend the majority of your time near Perissa Beach or Oia. If you stay in Oia, expect to be in a noisier environment with people walking by your hotel at all hours.
Perissa is a favorite amongst young people because of the water sports, live music, and bars.
Why? Why not? Duh.
Restaurants we recommend:
When we travel, we eat… a lot. There were quite a few misses for us, but these were some of our favorites!
- Cacio E Pepe ($$-$$$, Italian): So good we ate here twice! My husband says it is some of the best food he has ever had.
- Aquarius ($$-$$$, Mediterranean, Greek): My pick for favorite! The dessert was the best we had, plenty of plant based options, and the staff was friendly and accommodating.
- Nick The Grill ($, Mediterranean, Greek): This restaurant came highly recommended and for good reason. The food is pretty standard for a “fast food” establishment, but the service is phenomenal!
- Bakaliarakia ($, Greek, Mediterranean): A hidden gem! On an island where overpriced food is the norm, you can’t beat this place. The owner goes above and beyond to satisfy you, the servings are large, and the price is unbeatable.
- Coffee Island ($) – The Starbucks of Santorini! Super cute coffee shop to relax and sip on some coffee or tea. FYI, cafe frappe is the most popular coffee beverage amongst the Greeks.
- Skiza Pizzeria Cafe ($$-$$$, Pizza, Cafe) – Another spot where the spaghetti sauce was divine. But if that’s not enough to pull you in, the owner’s dog hangs out in the front and I mean, that’s just cute, ya know?
*If you are new here, you may not know that I eat a plant based diet. I ate a lot of pasta and bread in Greece and not a whole lot else. My husband ate a typical, mainstream diet. These recommendations are based off of both of our meals/opinions. In addition, I have a gluten intolerance. While not impossible, I felt it was too difficult to do both (choices were limited) in Greece so I sacrificed the better of my health and indulged in gluten-containing items.
Random Tidbits (straight from the mouths of the locals):
- If you are looking for an authentic Greek experience, Santorini is not the best choice. The island has essentially become a tourist trap, attracting millions of visitors a year with the inhabitants and seasonal workers making up less than 10% of people on the island during the summer months.
- Santorini is incredibly safe. For the sake of the island’s continual safety I won’t go into specifics, but if you are concerned with safety on this island, don’t be! Santorini has very little conflict with the majority of emergency services being dispatched for vehicle collisions.
- The Greek eat a plant based diet from Clean Monday to Easter Sunday. Also, veganism is on the rise on the island and all over Greece.
- Greek coffee is originally a Turkish traditional recipe, but the Greeks have practiced it for so long they refer to it as “Greek coffee.” The more you know..
- If flying with RyanAir, you will receive an email telling you to arrive and check in hours before your flight. Allegedly, they do this as a way to make more money off of customers. If flying during off season, arriving one hour before your flight will suffice.
- There are cats everywhere and the majority are affectionate.
- There are steps. Everywhere. Be prepared. Wear comfortable shoes.
- Keep in mind that Santorini is busiest in the evenings. Because it is a “honeymooner’s island,” people tend to sleep in and stay out late. This means restaurants and shops typically open late, but stay open even later.
The DOs and DO NOTs of Santorini:
- DON’T stand on rooftops. I understand it’s the thing to do for a cool picture, but it’s unethical, damaging to the paint, and just plain rude. Also, it’s been done a million times so…
- DON’T throw toilet paper in the toilet. I realize it feels odd if you are from a country where this is not the norm, but with the millions of visitors coming to the island every year, think of how much harm you are doing to the under developed plumbing system.
- DON’T ride the donkeys. The donkeys you see walking up and down the cobblestone walkways? They fall often (just ask the locals.) Be nice to the donkeys. Don’t ride them.
- DO learn common phrases in Greek. A simple “geia sas” (γεια σας) will instantly warm up a Greek host.
- DO explore all parts of Santorini. So many people limit their time to Oia. BIG mistake!
- DO drink the coffee (sip on it slowly.) Greece is known for the coffee. Just trust me.
Before leaving to Greece I was told by many people that you should spend three days MAX on the island of Santorini. I completely disagree. In fact, we stayed five and could have EASILY spent an additional two days. We were out of our hotel room from sunrise to sunset and still weren’t able to do the famous hike from Fira to Oia or spend a beach day in Perissa.
Perissa was hands down my favorite part of the island. We were only able to spend two hours there, but in those two hours we ate the best food and encountered the friendliest people.
Take the tours, but also spend time freely wondering the island. My husband and I love to take tours when we travel because we learn the history of the people and the culture, making for a more authentic travel experience. We also enjoy “going in blind” and taking the day as it comes, something we did plenty of in Santorini!
Santorini is not a cheap island, but that is to be expected with the level of tourism they experience.
The most popular method of tourists transportation is a quad rental. It comes highly recommended, but I’d be wary. My husband and I saw a number of people driving places they shouldn’t have been because they didn’t know the area. We saw even more people barely avoid an accident because they didn’t know the rules of the road.
And lastly, be kind. Greece is going through an extraordinary government-debt crisis. Pretty much everyone we met came from Athens to work in Santorini during the busy season just to make ends meet. Santorini is especially overrun by tourism and many officials are worried about the long term health of their beautiful island. Keep all of this in mind while you are enjoying your vacation in someone else’s home. Santorini is a beautiful island with beautiful people and I hope I can be one small person of many to help encourage others to take care of it.
Hope you enjoyed Santorini through our eyes!
Until the next trip,