Greece is glorious. There, that’s all you need to know.
That means it’s time to get excited and start to fully prepare for all the food, dramatic sights and stellar wine you’ll encounter on your next trip to Santorini, Greece, the off the charts beautiful Cycladic Island. Yep, it may not be the most “low key” island, but there’s a reason it is what it is and always will be.
Of all the blessed islands and viewpoints in this big wide world, it’s hard to even imagine another which offers the natural drama, beauty and color juxtaposition of this incredible island known as Thira – aka Santorini.
Some destinations are about exploration and discovery, while others are for hitting reset, finding your own little slice of heaven and relaxing to the max.
There’s plenty of exploration on offer in Santorini via hikes, boat trips, vineyard tours and nights out, but even the locals would excuse you for finding the perfect view, and not moving an inch.
Well, maybe just one or two to sip some wine or enjoy the truly up and coming dining scene.
If it’s your first trip to the island, choosing which village to stay in is absolutely crucial and each one will bring a completely different travel experience, so use this easy guide to help pick the best places to stay, find some restaurant gems and discover where to watch the sun set in ways that will take on an entirely new meaning!
Santorini Airport: Transfers And Chaos
Santorini Airport was a bit of a $h!tshow for the last few years thanks to constant construction and dated facilities, but renovations are complete! It’s like, not even that bad now. In fact, it’s easy.
Hot Tip: If you are flying into Santorini, you absolutely want to avoid being in the middle of the plane.
Get a seat in the front, or the way back, because almost all flights deplane using both doors, and last off will face the longest wait at immigration. If you’re in the middle, you will be last off.
Departing, it’s a fine dance between arriving as late as possible and saving enough time for immigration, but as a relatively small airport, you don’t need to get there in “panic early” kinda times.
For airport transfers from Santorini Airport (JTR), you’ll definitely want to arrange all this in advance with your hotel, or Airbnb. It’s all a bit of a hustle at the airport door, particularly if you don’t speak Greek.
Many hotels will arrange these for you with no sweat in advance, so if you don’t want to sweat it when you arrive – take them up on that offer. Seriously.
Santorini: Where To Stay
Santorini’s villages are dotted with boutique hotels, but you’d be excused for walking past most of them. Very few hotels feature grand entrances, with most simply offering a gate with a sign offering its name.
Don’t mistake that for modesty: the good stuff is down a series of steps with uninhibited Caldera views out to the sea below.
With an increasing number of cruise visitors and party people, choosing which village to stay in is everything. Here’s a breakdown, and a few suggestions for each. If you just want to skip to our two favorites, The Vasilicos and Santorini Sky win, hands down.
This is the town where all cruise traffic ends and begins, and to say it’s by far the most tourist centric is an understatement. Think: McDonalds, not moussaka, busses not bicycles and yeah, all that kind of stuff.
That’s not to say it’s not worth a visit, because there are pretty areas tucked away, but it’s just experiencing an incredible amount of traffic, without much of the charm you’ll find in smaller villages nearby. Enigma Suites or Aria Suites would be two options here.
With an enviably high position overlooking the island, this is a cool place to stay which is just outside the chaos, all with a very local and authentic feel. It’s easy to get around to Imerovigli and then onto Oia with amazing food all around town.
Another benefit? It’s generally a bit cheaper than the full on tourist scenes and it’s a great place, especially if you like Airbnb. Amazing villas can be had at prices half what you’d pay in other parts of the island for smaller places. Here’s the top Airbnb in the area, and Carpe Diem is a solid hotel option.
With the opening of Santorini Sky, there’s another top contender with social distancing at its heart, offering private villas replete with amenities – including a pool!
Sure, people go to Oia for sunset because that’s what they’ve been told, but Imerovigli may be the best value in Santorini, while also offering arguably even better sunset views. You get wow factor left and right, without the same hustle and bustle.
With a beautiful and safe walking path through the idyllic town that runs all the way to Oia, this is an amazing way to enjoy Santorini in a far more low key and authentic setting, without compromising on jaw dropping views.
The caldera is “right” there. There’s a place in Imerovigli which I think is beyond stunning and is easily one of the most private and secluded hotels in the area, with a huge distance between the fence (where people may try to take sunset pictures) and the actual hotel. That’s the Vasilicos.
This is the “scene” of Santorini, with the famous windmills, blue roofed churches – which are also in other villages by the way – and the buzzing restaurants. Oia is no longer the peaceful getaway it once was and sees more than 5,000 people descend upon it every night at sunset.
There are luxury hotels here which will blow minds, but it’s much more of a music by the pool with champagne than read a book and relax environment. Canaves Oia and Mystique are the high end options in this area, all of which will properly blow minds, and not just because of the price.
Santorini Must Do Activities
As most locals will tell you, experiencing Santorini isn’t about turning over every stone, it’s about finding the stone you like most and spending as much time enjoying the natural splendour of it all. In other words, don’t go crazy trying to tick all the boxes.
There’s no deep underground or West Village full of boutique shopping to get lost in for days. Come, relax, eat delicious food and take in vantage points that you can’t believe with your own eyes, even when you’re standing there. With that said, there are a few great things to do…
A Boat Tour
If you do one thing, and only one thing: take a boat ride. But don’t just take any boat ride, hire a private or semi private boat from a boutique operation which isn’t packing 100’s of people onto a deck that feels as if you’re on a pirate ship.
Know this: Santorini, more than most destinations, is all about peeling back the layers between tourist gouging and local relationships, so it’s fully possible to hire a private boat for the same price mainstream tourists will pay to sit arm to arm with 100’s of others.
For a really fun day, hit up George at Santorini Yachting Club, we took the Captain Lambros traditional boat and loved every minute.
Imerovigli – Oia Hike
By hike, we really mean a nice walk on a well manicured path, but the steps will definitely make it feel like quite a hike. The walk takes around two hours, so don’t expect it to be the fastest thing you do, but it’s definitely one of the most rewarding.
Each lookout provides another photo you’ll never forget and there are so many great little cafes and tavernas to grab anything from a cold water to a nice glass of assyrtiko, and definitely a mouth watering Santorini salad too. Once you’ve done this, you’ve really seen a lot, and still have at least half a day left. You can always cab it back…
Wine Tasting Or Vineyard Tour
Other parts of Greece have done well with dry red wine, but Santorini is the new hot spot for the world’s top mineral driven whites.
The assyrtiko grape is an incredible expression of rich, opulent flavour, all with the minerality you’d expect from a black soil, black rock Volcanic island. Vassaltis offers an amazing experience as far as high end wine goes, and Santo Wines offers truly stunning views with great menus. Booking ahead is likely a great idea.
Check Out Red And Black Beaches
Santorini is not the island you come to for beaches. In fact, it’s one of the worst in that regard, at least if you ask a Greek. To me, it’s still pretty cool!
Although they’re more soften volcanic rock than soft white sand, these beaches are dramatic, picture worthy and are a great place to relax for the day, particularly if you don’t have an amazing view or private pool where you are staying.
Red Beach, Perivolos and Kamari are all great calls if you want to dip your toes in, or just take a walk. There’s also a big emergence of Mykonos style beach clubs, so toast the trip with a glass of rose and some European dance tunes?
Perhaps it’s the weather, but whatever you think you’ll be craving here, the heat of Santorini in summer tends to make all the amazing vegetables and fresh produce shine to levels which make your tastebuds even more overjoyed than imagined.
Think fresh caught fish crudo or carpaccio, aromatic herbs over fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and local cheese and all sorts of lovely dishes involving honey, yoghurt and all that good stuff. Here’s a few places sure to delight…
Laid back, delicious and with enviable views over Oia, Melitini is such a great call. Prices are extremely fair – think €10 for a main course – and made with real attention to detail. This menu isn’t fussy but offers a truly local take on the best of Greek food, with friendly and forgiving staff. You can’t go wrong for lunch or dinner.
Modern, sleek, upscale – Kaliya is a stellar option for a nice meal. This isn’t budget dining, but it’s brilliant dining for sure. Think raw bar, incredible salads, market fresh catches and inventive twists. It’s not grandma’s food, but it might taste just as good, or better.
This is the go-to for slightly more sophisticated dining, and although prices are a bit higher than elsewhere, the food really doesn’t disappoint. Go for the views, stay for the food – you’re paying for both. Can’t go wrong with the squid or the smoked eel, if it’s in stock. Marios Tsouris the chef has worked in some of the best kitchens in the world and for a special meal, Red Bicycle is way up there.
It’s popular, but with good reason. This is yet another great example of low key delicious food with great service aiming to please. Metaxi Mas books up fast on a pretty night, so don’t sleep on it if you want in. Of course, there are less crowded places to go – but this is a good one.
Looking for lunch? Ding, ding-ding. This is modern Greek done right, with exacting presentation and style but all with the laidback vibes you are looking for on an island vacation. Aroma Avlis prices are fair, views are nice and lunch is definitely the best value with fewer crowds too. And hey, it’s a winery, so you know they’ve got that covered too…
Seafood, seafood and better seafood? Here you go. Salty Bone uses ancient Greek recipes and unparalleled fish market access to bring truly outstanding fresh fish and seafood to life. Some is cooked, some is not, but it’s always presented and dressed in ways which make you so glad you came. This is a must.
The Vasilicos is a hotel with perhaps the best view of Skaros rock at sunset. This makes for the true definition of “jaw dropping” views in every direction from the hotel terrace. Dinner is on a reservation only basis and the food is outstanding, albeit a bit pricey – but the sunset views definitely help justify the cost, and there’s no other way to get in if you’re not staying…
What’s your best Santorini tip?
Thanks to our friends Greek for Points for showing us around, year after year to keep these guides on point : )