Very few places in my experience have lived up to expectations as high as I had for Santorini, and we all know that not everything looks as good without an Instagram filter. Suffice to say I was ready for Santorini to not be quite as fantastically beautiful as the pictures might suggest. But Santorini is a rarity in that it looks exactly, if not more stunning than you can possibly imagine, and it didn’t take me more than 5 minutes to fall completely in love with the place. My boyfriend and I spent a very welcome week on the island, and I thought I’d share some of my recommendations for things to do- should you be thinking about going in the future. I can 100% recommend it, especially if you’re going with your significant other. It was the perfect little getaway for the two of us, and didn’t border on tacky-romantic, it was just the rustic paradise we had envisioned.
We stayed in Oia- something I would highly recommend. Having visited every corner of the island while we were there, there isn’t one place I would suggest to actually stay more highly than Oia. There is a good reason that it is constantly voted the most photogenic town in the world, it just is. Oia seems to be more cosmopolitan and perhaps more upmarket than some of the other towns on Santorini. We stayed in a very affordable hotel, but it does seem to be home to the more uber-luxe option. We stayed in MaryLouJohn Villas, the outdoor space and views were to die for, and we couldn’t fault them. The rooms were clean, spacious with great amenities, and we never spend much time in our room while we are away. The one thing that we didn’t have and would be the only thing we would change if we ever went again, would be staying somewhere with a pool. As Santorini is primarily a rocky island, there are no beaches to wander to from the towns, unless you are on the other side of the island, so it would have been nice in retrospect to have a pool to have a dip in in the afternoons or early evening after a long, hot day sightseeing.
But what sightseeing we did do- for such a small island, there is so much to see and do. The best ways of getting around in our experience would be on an ATV which you can hire for 24 hours for around €35-40. We hired an 150CC ATV (or quad bike) on two of the days we stayed on the island, and had an absolute blast driving around and exploring less populated areas and some of the more out-of-the-way things to see. The other option is to use the bus system- now don’t let this fill you with fear- it actually is extremely efficient, and unlike even some parts of the UK, actually arrives when it says it will. The bus system is amazing for getting to main tourist spots and serves the majority of the places you’d be looking at going to on the island, and it’s super easy to navigate and figure out. Most of the main buses run from Fira, so getting there first is the best bet, and from there you can get everywhere. Did I also mention it’s really cheap, they’re quite fancy coaches, and they have air-con? Ok, I’m done with my love letter to the buses now.
Oia is definitely worth spending a whole day on, as the beautiful winding streets will have you stopping every several paces to take more and more photos. There are innumerable cafes and restaurants to stop off at- but we’ll get to those later, and the little boutiques are a must-visit for any shopaholics like me, there’s such a variety, from affordable wallet-friendly options to super upmarket designer brands and everything inbetween. Definitely have a little wander to the castle ruins for the viewpoint, and walk down the donkey trail to Ammoudi Bay, famous for its seafood restaurants and turquoise waters. On this trail you’ll see the equally famous Santorini donkeys, clad in bells and pom-poms.
Fira is another town worth a visit, some parts of Fira are quite commercial and touristy, but the ‘Old Town’ on the cliff is much more picturesque and authentic. I’d highly recommend getting the cable car down to the Old Port, to watch the boats heading out to the volcano (or Nea Kameni), or little water taxis taking people to and from their cruise ships out in the caldera. We walked back up along the donkey trail in the early evening instead of getting the cable car back up, and it did take us a good 45 minutes and is a fair way, but the views it offers all the way up over the caldera are second to none, and again the pom-pommed donkeys are peppered along the trail.
The next place I’d recommend heading to is Akrotiri- we wanted to go especially for the archaeological site, an old Minoan city buried under tonnes of volcanic ash and debris that has been partly excavated and turned into a historic point of interest. The place is overwhelming in scale, and to think they have only excavated what they believe is 10% of the site boggles the mind. If you’re interested in ancient civilisations and history in general you will love this, and it was one of the highlights of the trip. If you can watch the documentary Ancient Mysteries: The Search For Atlantis before going- I would- it explains how historians believe that this very Minoan city was the inspiration for Plato’s tale of Atlantis, and may be the real thing- it’s truly fascinating.
For beaches, we loved visiting Perissa and Kamari- while more commercial than those you can find on the North Coast if you rent an ATV, they are much more inviting if you want to spend a whole day on the beach. We enjoyed finding the North Coast beaches on our ATV and stopping off along the way at Baxedes and Koloumpos, but they do tend to be windier and the sea a little rougher. We headed to Perissa and Kamari where we had great beach days, and it was nice to have amenities close by for getting a sandwich/using the loo/parking the ATV etc etc. We spent an entire day in Kamari, which we preferred to Perissa, and you can spend the day on a sunlounger for free if you buy drinks from the bar that services them. I loved lying with my book and ordering frappes- you can’t beat that. The water was great though, and there was a rocky outcrop a short swim away, which offered a great vantage point of the surrounding mountains and beach when you climbed up onto it. It was a super relaxing atmosphere and the perfect last day.
The last but by no means least thing I’d recommend doing, is the hiking trail from Fira to Oia (or the other way round if you fancy). We got the bus to Fira and wandered through the town, and joined the trail, walking ‘back’ to our hotel in Oia in time for the evening. It was around an 8.5 mile walk, and one of the best things I’ve ever done. It took us just over 3 hours, and the views over the caldera and out to sea were second to none. The trail takes you along the cliff edges through the picturesque towns and up the rocky landscape past quaint little churches. Turning back to look at the towns clustered on the cliffs behind you is absolutely stunning, and again if you’re into photography there are no greater vantage points for capturing the towns, the islands out to sea, and the curvature of the entire island in general.
All of that sightseeing and walking really built up our appetite, and we found some great little spots to eat there we even ended up revisiting. Our favourite place was definitely Skiza, and at one point or another we visited this place for every meal of the day. Their breakfast pastries are to-die-for, lunch is great, and they have some of the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life. The views also look out onto the caldera and the surrounding town, an absolutely beautiful spot to soak up the atmosphere in Oia and they did the best iced coffees, my weakness in life. My next recommendation would be Lotza, a family-run restaurant near the castle ruins in Oia, which serves an amazing fresh lemonade and great traditional Greek food. Definitely try the ‘kebab’- it’s not at all what you’d imagine- in the best way possible. Second to last I’d recommend The Dolphins in Akrotiri for seafood and traditional Greek sharing dishes. The restaurant is quite literally on the beach and the most relaxing place we visited, it’s a short walk down the road from the archaeological site, so well worth a visit after you’ve done that! Finally there’s a reason that the Sunset restaurant in Ammoudi Bay is famous, because the food is delicious and you’re right on the harbour, watching the world and the boats go by. I don’t think there’s a time of day that this place doesn’t look breathtaking.
That’s it for today’s post, I really hoped you enjoyed my not-so-succinct round-up of our recommendations for the island that is Santorini. Like I have said so many times in this post, we cannot recommend it enough, especially if you want to relax and unwind with your partner, as it is just so romantic and laidback. If you haven’t seen it yet my vlog of the trip is now up on my Youtube channel, so definitely check it out here for more Santorini sunshine! Let me know where you’d recommend we go next- I’d love to hear your suggestions and I will speak to you guys all really soon. Until next time…