Greece is comprised of 3000 islands. I am sad to say I can only speak to the beauty of one, but if my time in Santorini is any representation of what the rest of Greece is like, I really don’t think you can’t go wrong.
Santorini is the largest island in a small, circular archipelago remnant of a volcanic caldera. Legend has it that when the Thera volcanic eruption occurred there 3600 years ago, it not only broke Santorini into many islands, but it also destroyed the underwater civilization of Atlantis. Even today, many Greeks living in and around the area will tell you that Santorini is where, one day, Atlantis will finally be uncovered.
The other thing that Santorini is most famous for is its sunset. J and I stayed on the Northern tip of the island in a town called Oia (don’t ask me to pronounce it). This town offers the most legendary unobstructed views of the sunset, and people crowd the Northern cliffs to watch it set each evening.
So let me back up for a moment. J and I visited Santorini in July, and I will confidently say that we did this trip well. Greece is a hot spot for tourists, particularly Santorini in the summer time. Cruise ships pelt the coastline daily with thousands of tourists hitting land for just a few hours. I abhor cruises for many reasons — one being that I’m terrified of large boats (they WILL tip over or give me Norovirus). The other reason I don’t like them is that traveling by cruise ships allows you no time to get a feel for the places you visit. You’re on and off the boat in just enough time for lunch, a quick picture and a souvenir. Plus, you’re constantly traveling in packs of a thousand or so. Unfortunately, Santorini must weather these crowds all summer long.
Luckily, Santorini has two main towns – Fira and Oia. Fira is the largest and most central town, and home to the cruise ship boardwalks. It’s packed daily and filled with every tourist trap you can imagine. Now that’s not to say it’s not beautiful, it’s just crowded and a bit contaminated in the summertime.
J and I stayed in Oia. After what could be classified as the most harrowing cab ride of my life, up the side of a cliff from the Fira airport, I realized why it’s far less populated. Oia and Fira are separated by a 20 minute drive along a beautiful and terrifying road; however, the risk is worth it (I don’t know if I’d be saying this had my cab ride not been a successful one, but the driver ensured me that only a few cars veer off the road each summer, and it’s always the tourists’ fault).
The town is carved into the side of the Northern cliffs, with stunning views of the sea. It’s filled with hotels, however, due to the size and steepness of the terrain, everything is quaint. Affordable restaurants abound and the locals are friendly and welcoming.
So what do you do when you get to Oia? The majority of our time was spent eating Greek yogurt (which I do not regret).
Probably my favorite thing that we did was a day trip out on a catamaran. There’s a little house in the center of town where you can stop in a book the day out. It’s about a hundred dollars each for the full day on a group boat (about 20 people – never felt crowded at all). The boat takes you around the island to all the famous beaches, the hot springs (more like lukewarm), and the staff cook an amazing meal while the sun sets. All in all, if it had been an option for me to live on this catamaran permanently, I probably would have.
Another day, we rented a four-wheeler to explore the island. Again, just walking into the little town of Oia, you can easily find places to rent from. A note of caution–many tourists rent the scooters over the four-wheelers, but the roads really are treacherous between Fira and Oia, so four wheels is definitely a better option than two. We rented for 24 hours for 30 euros.
During out exploration, we went up to the top of the now dormant volcano to walk through the ancient town of Thira. Some people try to walk to the top, but judging by the despondent looks we got on the way up, I’d recommend a modern means of transportation.
Also, when in the possession of our 4-wheeler, we drove down to a restaurant at the bottom of the cliffs North of Oia called Katikies Bar & Grill. We could not figure out why this restaurant wasn’t better known — the food, the views, and the restaurant itself were amazing. All the seating was outdoor, overlooking that famous sunset over the water, and on weekend nights, they brought in a band! We ended up going back to this same place three times over our trip because we were so impressed. Worth finding even though it’s a little off the beaten path.
My last major recommendation would be a day trip with Santorini Sea Kayak. We chose to do their paddle boarding excursion. Basically, this small, family run business sets you up with a private, friendly guide, lessons, an adorable snack break (think freshly cut watermelon and granola), and candid photos to take home with you. Overall, I was super impressed with our day out with them. It also is located on the more local South side of Santorini, which is fun to experience. They even set up transfers all the way to and from Oia for no extra charge! It’s super windy around Santorini, so don’t expect a leisurely paddle around the island but a great experience nonetheless.
Santorini is one of my favorite places I’ve ever visited. The views, the food, even the wine are delicious, but to be honest, I’d say the best thing about the island was the people (and no I don’t mean the cruise-shippers). The Greek people were so welcoming and friendly and proud to show off everything the island had to offer (which is a lot). You don’t need to plan anything before you get there. Just take advantage of every opportunity that falls into your lap…
…and enjoy that amazing sunset.