If you had not figured it out yet, Santorini has a special place in my heart. It may look like a banal statement, you may have heard it a million times, but it really is like everyone tells, and even much more. To judge you have to visit it, experience it, explore it. And you will love it for sure, I can assure.
Santorini will fascinate you with its amazing sunsets, but also with its sunrises – more discreet and quiet – characterized by marvellous pastel colours. It will dazzle you with its pure white typical buildings in contrast with the darker colours of the rocks of its land, it will amaze you with its domes, windows and small gates at the entrance of the houses, all of them distinguished by their brilliant turquoise. It’s not surprising that these colours are the symbol of Greece! You will experience the strong gap between the luxury boutique hotels and studios and the poor farmers’ life which are still using donkeys to move. You will see whole families placed at the sides of the streets trying to attract tourists and to convince them to purchase their products.
Below you can find a list of the main attractions of the island, if you are looking for some suggestions on what to visit and about things to do in Santorini, you can get some ideas. : )
Fira is the capital city, it’s a complex of small white houses characterized by the distinctive Cycladic architectural style, built like climbed on the cliffs overlooking the caldera and crossed by an extensive network of lanes. Full of bars, shops, cafes, restaurants and ice cream shops, it’s the perfect choice for the ones who are looking for some nightlife (nothing to compare to the nearby Mykonos). We were based here during our stay, in a hotel that was very close to the city centre, from which we were able to move on foot during the evenings.
2. FIROSTEFANI and IMEROVIGLI
Going north of Fira, you will find two wonderful villages: FIROSTEFANI and IMEROVIGLI. FIROSTEFANI is the small Fira neighborhood, within easy walking distance from the capital (it is only 1 km far). It’s the highest point of view over the caldera, we have been here in the evening and we were able to enjoy the magnificent view of Fira at night. From here, you can hear the chattering of the people at the restaurants, the small lights will give you the impression of being in a Christmas crib, a fresh and wet wind rising from the caldera will give you chills on the skin. Further north there is IMEROVIGLI, a very quiet luxury area which is full of the best hotels, apartments and restaurants. Only for those on who have no budget limits.
Probably the most picturesque village, it’s located on the northern part of the island and it’s built on the border of the caldera. It is well known for its breathtaking sunsets and for its lovely windmills. At the feet of the town, there is the stunning Ammoudi Bay: a small charming harbour surrounded by amazing red cliffs where the water is crystal clear. This place is perfect for a fresh fish lunch just a few steps from the sea. (here lots of pictures of Oia)
KAMARI and PERISSA are the perfect place to relax yourself; although it was August, their beaches were not crowded. Beach umbrellas and sunbeds were spaced enough to be free to enjoy your time peacefully.
The famous RED BEACH is a beautiful and unique place with its rust coloured reef, but I would not recommend it as a beach where to stay for a whole day. It was very hot due to lack of wind, the beach was rocky and uncomfortable, there was landslides danger, there were many algae on the shoreline and some trash left by uncivil tourists. We found this situation after walking through an impervious path to reach it. Not really paradise!
If you like, from here you can reach the nearby WHITE BEACH by boat.
I would recommend to go to VLYCHADA beach, very nice. The white rocky walls behind it create a beautiful contrast with the dark sand. I can not give an opinion on the North-Eastern beaches – such as Baxedes – because during our stay they were always hit by the Meltemi, the typical strong Greek wind.
5. AKROTIRI Archaeological excavations
Unfortunately, we couldn’t visit them because they were closed for renovation. However, I think you can’t miss this important piece of history during your trip to Santorini. The site shows the ruins of an ancient city conserved under layers of lava which dates back to 3,500 years ago. I’ve read contradictory opinions about it, there is someone who say not worth it. If you get the chance or there’s a bad weather day and you don’t know what to do, you can try!
This is the highest point of the island, it was the ancient capital of Santorini where there is the monastery of Prophet Elias. From here, you can enjoy an amazing panoramic view over the Aegean Sea! But.. don’t do like us, before leaving to reach the top of the hill, make sure you have a full tank of fuel : )
7. NEA KHAMENI and THIRASIA
There are some tours by boat which include the visit to Nea Khameni volcano, Hot Springs and Thirasia. You can also go to Thirasia by yourself, leaving from Ammoudi Bay harbour. We decided for the second option because it was really very hot; I’m a bit sorry because I haven’t visited the volcano, but weather conditions were really hard during those days. When you are in Thirasia, you can feel a big difference in comparison to Santorini: there were just the locals on the pier, there were few shops and restaurants, the style of the village is pretty basic. It’s recommended for people who want to visit a place which has not been contaminated by mass tourism yet.
8. TOUR OF ‘SOUTH’ on scooter: FAROS, RED BEACH, VLYCHADA
I wouldn’t stop here the whole day. We decided to go for a tour, stopping from time to time to capture the most interesting places. Go along the spectacular Lighthouse Road which brings to the lighthouse located in the south west peak of the island. From here, you can have the widest view over the caldera,with an extensive sight over Fira, Oia and the entire west side area.
9. SANTORINI WINEYARDS
The peculiarity of Santorini vineyards is their basket shape and the fact they are grown at ground level to protect the grapes from the strong winds that hit the island.
The vines are able to survive despite the aridity of the summer season thanks to the precious dew that settles down on the ground during the night: this is their main source of irrigation.
And now, some practical TIPS.
How to get around Santorini?
The island is small and quite easy to get around. To be completely free to discover it, I would recommend to hire a scooter. A convenient, fast (more or less..), cheap vehicle. Other options? The quad bike, which is perfect to drive over dirt tracks. I wouldn’t recommend to rent a car because of the higher cost and the lack of parking. Keep in mind that roads are not so good in Santorini: at night there is no lighting system and the streets are slippery. So, my advice is to travel during the day and move as less as possible at night.
Where to stay?
If you prefer to stay close to the seaside and to go to the beach on foot, I suggest to choose among Kamari, Perissa and Perivolos. These villages offer very nice and bustling happy hours and there are plenty small restaurants and taverns nearby. Kamari is the most lively in the evening and it’s well-located to reach Fira (it takes only 10 minutes), it has a stoney beach while in Perissa and Perivolos you will find the classic dark sand.
If you like to enjoy a bit of nightlife, I would choose Fira. Oia is a peaceful place and it’s located at the north of the island. If you decide to stay in Fira or Oia, you necessarily have to move by scooter / bus / car to reach the seaside. Select the location depending on what you prefer to do during the evenings: distances are short – the island is about 25 km long – but it takes some time to move by scooter and I would not recommend it during the night as the roads are very dark. In addition, there is lots of humidity: the dew often covers the entire island and you’ll turn completely wet!