Santorini: Start to Finish
Your visit to Santorini in Ten easy steps
Santorini is one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Dark blue water, mouthwatering food, gorgeous views. Whether you’re traveling solo or with a partner, this captivating Grecian island offers plenty of history, beaches and activities to keep you occupied. No matter how long you plan to visit, these ten tips will help you prepare to have an adventure of a lifetime!
1. GETTING STARTED
Let’s be real: Santorini is hot! Between May and October, bring your swimsuit, sunscreen and sunglasses. After the sun goes down, it can get cool quickly, so make sure to pack layers. In the off-season, Santorini is cool and rainy, so bring colder-weather clothes and an umbrella. Remember to bring a refillable water bottle to fill up at water stations, as you can’t drink the tap water. An external phone battery is a lifesaver when you can’t find a place to recharge. Most restaurants are outside and therefore, do not have easily accessible outlets for charging devices.
The best way to see all the great sites – while still on a budget – is by renting a car. Spending a bit more upfront saves you heaps of money (and time!) throughout your journey. As for taking cabs, there are only 30 taxis TOTAL on the island, so just “calling a cab” is not as easy as it sounds. Depending on your starting point and time of day, the wait time for a taxi is between 1-3 hours – especially from the airport.
City to city public transit is few and far between in Santorini. Airport buses head to Fira between 4-8 times per day. However, if you’re heading to a different city, you must first head to Fira, and then board a separate (equally infrequent) bus to your final destination. A 20 minute journey could become a 2 hour hassle. I found it much less stressful (and more affordable) to stay in a smaller city, and drive to the bigger towns in the morning.
My articles do not promote specific hotel chains or hostels, but I will tell you that staying in a private room in a smaller town is a much better choice than choosing a big hotel in Oia. In quaint villages, lodging is often cheaper, more personal and quite beautiful. Rooms with the famous views in Oia are easily 300 Euro/night, whereas in Perissa, a town 40 minutes south, I found a practical single room with a comfy bed, a fridge and an incredibly kind host for 40 Euro/night. Do some research and make smart choices with accommodations. Spend your money where it counts.
HOT TIP #1
For me, I avoid using www.Booking.com. In my experience, there is little to no protection for the guest, so if something goes wrong or if the listing is inaccurate, the company will not reimburse you or help you find a new reservation, depending on the type of reservation made. I’ve found Airbnbs to be much more helpful and the hosts to be more honest and respectable, especially if you do your due diligence and read the reviews – yes, all of the reviews. If something goes wrong when renting an Airbnb, make sure to write to the host and Airbnb itself within 24 hours of checking in, in order to ensure that Airbnb will assist you with refunds/different accommodations, etc. After 24 hours, their refund abilities are limited.
2. VISITING OIA
What to Expect
Santorini is the remains of a volcanic eruption millions of years ago, so the island is fairly small. Everything is blue, white and gray, even the sidewalks. The airport is on the east part of the island, and the visitors get a great site of the volcano when landing. Oia lives up to its name with incredible views, beautiful people and lack of parking. The churches and houses-turned-into-hotels face the Aegean Sea, which is a deep blue and very calm. The locals are kind and generous, and the weather is phenomenal. Pink flowers blossom outside of every shop, and the smell of chicken and fresh spices waft through the air. People walk slow, taking in the incredible splash of blue from the water below, letting their hair and skirts flutter in the breeze.
Shopping in Oia
Oia is a two mile stretch of restaurants, breathtaking views and, of course, tourists. Take your time, and plan for a whole day to explore the narrow white streets and blue domed buildings that are recognized worldwide. Lining the main streets are restaurants and jewelry stores, interspersed between vibrant souvenir shops. Brimming with paintings, dishes and clothes, all spilling out onto the sidewalk, store owners sometimes try to physically pull you into their shops. In the off season, tourists aren’t as present, so shop sellers tend to be more pushy. Be friendly, but be firm if you are not interested.
Some people do not collect keepsakes from their adventures, but if you’re anything like me, I find souvenirs to be one of the best parts of traveling. Santorini – Oia specifically – is produces dazzling, colorful souvenirs – everything from pot holders and ceramics, to jewelry and clothes, and paintings and books are all available for the taking. In general, Oia is expensive, but the shop owners are reasonable when it comes to bargaining, and you have a special advantage during the off-season in terms of asking for 10-20% off.
Note About Tourism
Keep in mind that tourism is how the majority of the locals make their living. Your money goes a long way in Greece. People from Athens and other cities on the main land often work and live on Santorini during the tourist season to support their families for the rest of the year. Be a bargain buyer, but be kind.
On that note, make sure to get a post card or a magnet for your family, but the person who will most appreciate the colorful Santorini keepsakes…is you! Buy the items that bring you joy, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you spend a bit more than you were planning. These lively streets have a lot to offer.
HOT TIP #3
It is tricky to find shade along these narrow streets, as the city was built directly into the sides of the caldera. Make sure to bring a full water bottle, take breaks often, eat a snack every hour or two.
Take advantage of any covered areas, as all the main walkways are widely exposed to the sun. A great spot is under the large flowers next to the main entrances. Another option is to plop down next to the few tall trees planted around the island. Restaurants also offer great places to relax and cool off.
The food in Oia is notorious for big portions, big prices and extra lemons. One of the classic greek meals is the Chicken Souvlaki: a skewer of soft, flavorful meat interspersed with onions and peppers, topped with lemon. It arrives at the table steaming hot, with juices dripping onto bread soft bread below. Served with two kinds of sauces, salty potatoes and extra steamed vegetables, chicken souvlaki is – to say the least – delicious.
As a solo diner, the servers sometimes seem a bit confused, surprised that a woman was eating alone. Throughout my time here, I received quite a few offers from giggly Greek men in their 80’s, offering to dine with me, but the servers usually remained professional and friendly. Was I exhausted, sweaty, and extra hungry? Very often. But was I lonely? Never.
HOT TIP #4
Remember – everyone needs to eat! If you’re feeling a bit shy, the best way to slip into the crowd is by dining at the bar. This way, you have the bar tender and other solo diners to chat with, if you’re wanting some company.
4. BOOK LOVERS!
Atlantis Books, one of the top 10 bookstores in the world, sits on the main pathway in Oia, eclectically nestled into the caldera. Walk down the narrow staircase and enter into the small but magical world of ancient stories, new novels and classic reads.
If you buy something, you can climb into the Reading Nook and relax. You have to be pretty limber though, because Reading Nook visitors must shimmy up the small footholds in the wooden rafters (there are no stairs). Also, you better be nice to the book seller, because the reading nook locks from the outside. Don’t get trapped inside! 🙂
In all seriousness, the shop owners are some of the nicest people on the island, offering advice, directions and a friendly face to chat with. Atlantis Books is an unforgettable experience.
HOT TIP #5
When you have access to a toilet, take advantage of the opportunity! I felt like I was in a constant state of dehydration AND having to use the bathroom, as you can’t drink from the tap, bottled water is outrageously overpriced, and bathrooms – free or otherwise – are few and far between.
Animal tourism is not classy: do not ride the donkeys. They are in pain and not well taken care of, mainly from carrying overweight tourists up the hill. If you cannot walk up a hill without an animal’s assistance, perhaps you are not physically ready to travel to Santorini. Please respect the animals on the island and do not take a ride on an unhealthy and unhappy animal. They are given little water and almost no rest. No matter what the sellers tell you, the animals are underfed and exhausted. Do not make their lives worse just for a selfie.
6. HIDDEN GEMS
Around just about every corner is a hidden spot that may or may not have the best view on the whole island, but you never know until you take a look! I discovered some of the most magnificent viewpoints by wandering onto the small paths connecting to the main street.
People Live Here
Even while being surrounded by all this beauty and attempting to relax while being on vacation, be mindful that people do still live on this island. These families are not on vacation – kids go to school, moms and dads get ready for work, and families grab a bite eat. They also play in their backyards. They might even have a beautiful view from said backyard. With that in mind, if there is a DO NOT ENTER or PRIVATE sign, please respect it.
HOT TIP #6
A good way to find dozens of amazing views (that are open to the public) are to follow millennials, dressed to the nines, holding tripods and cellphones. I’ve found quite a few breathtaking views with this following after the beautiful young people, polished and ready to pose for their Instagram audience.
Santorini is full of cats, dogs and honeybees, nipping at the food scraps and colorful flowers next to local shops. The dogs are not necessarily homeless, as many people believe that keeping them inside all day long is cruel. However, this does not mean that they aren’t thirsty. If you are able to put some water in a small container, most animals will be very appreciative.
As for cats, there are quite a few strays lounging around the island. Give them some wet food if you are able, as many are dehydrated and malnourished.
7. FIRA AND PERISSA
Fira: the Capital
Fira, the capital of the island of Santorini, is a large city on the west coast. This lively city offers diverse restaurants, fun walking tours and the Museum of Prehistoric Thira, which has items dating back to 1200 BC. Known as more of a party city, this lively place will keep you busy with gorgeous views in the morning, delicious food in the afternoon and a great party scene at night.
Perissa: the Copycat
Perissa is a small town with quaint restaurants, affordable rooms and a black sand beach. Blue and white colored buildings line the streets, overflowing with pink petunias and honeybees, quite similar to the well-known Oia. Perissa’s black sand beach sits close by, a 5 minute drive the shoreline. This small town is relaxing, quiet and the perfect place to rest after hiking through Oia.
FOOD in PERISSA: There are numerous Greek restaurant, many open until the wee-hours. I found one with an older Greek man, who brought me a wonderful greek chicken salad spoke excellent English, as he had lived in NYC for 22 years! Many restaurant owners have great English skills, and the majority stay open until after midnight (depending on the weather), as both tourists and locals often relax outdoors for hours after the sun sets.
8. UNEXPECTED SNAPSHOTS
Santorini is the perfect place for taking all kinds of pictures. The cliffs offer a variety of angles and the sun makes just about every pose look amazing. As you drive along the main North-to-South highway, you’ll go from the high peaks on the caldera, down to the water’s edge.
NOTE: Although very excited for this “Naked in Nature” shot, this was the one time where I felt anxious about traveling solo. Needless to say, with some quick camera clicks and swift hand movements, I succeeded in my mission and felt even more confident with my abilities as a solo traveler.
Santorini has black, red and white beaches. The Red Beach on the island has been closed since 2013, as the area known to have landslides. Tourists can still visit the black and white beaches: Perissa has a quiet black beach, and the small village of Akrotiri has an alluring white beach.
NOTE: As enticing as these beaches are, do not take sand from Santorini. It is illegal, and customs officers specifically look for it at the airport. You could be fined or banned from traveling to Greece – or worse. Santorini is old, and sometimes crumbling, so leave nature where it is. “Take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but footprints…”
10. Relax & Have Fun!
Santorini is one of the best places in the world to take a break and relax. Have some delicious meals, buy something sparkly and soak up the breathtaking island views. You can enjoy an incredible sunset, and eat, drink, be merry!
I thoroughly enjoyed my time on this wonderful island, and I hope that this article helps you plan for the vacation of a lifetime. Santorini is a place that everyone should explore, so let’s help it last for years to come. ❤
What’s your favorite part of Santorini?
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