All of the romantic visions that you have of Santorini are true. Cycladic style houses, castles and churches cling to a rocky Greek island volcano caldera, their whitewashed facades and powder-blue roofs offering a lovely contrast to the azure sky and the calm waters of the Mediterranean Sea, some 300 meters below. Santorini is everything you would hope for and more, but to make the most of your trip there, it’s best to know a few of the top places to see and how to get there.
We recommend renting a car or a motorbike for the duration of your stay. We had a moped and it was good for two people, but if you have a family or a group of friends, it’s probably better to rent a car. Check out Enterprise as they currently have 10% off rentals in Greece.
The island of Santorini isn’t huge and there are some good local buses and taxis, but to really see the island and get a feel for its many hidden corners, a car or motorcycle will give you the freedom you need to explore at your own pace. If you are taking local buses and taxis, it’s best to ask your hotel or guest house where to find them and how much they should cost. Taxis are generally charged at a fixed rate on Santorini, but unsuspecting tourists are sometimes overcharged.
Once you’ve figured out how you’re going to get around the island, it’s time for the fun part… planning what to see! We spent 10 days here and it simply wasn’t enough time. There are so many sights and experiences to enjoy on Santorini, but it’s the things that happen in-between your plans that make it special. When you’re heading to a church that you’ve placed on your itinerary and you pass by a sign that says “free wine tastings”, don’t miss it! If a local invites you over for Ouzo, you should go.
Always leave some room in your schedule for spontaneity because without it, you’ll be missing out on part of what makes Santorini so special.
Santorini is said to have some of the nicest sunsets in the world, so it’s no surprise that one of the quintessential Santorinian experiences is watching sunset from a cliff-side high above the Mediterranean. Here are a few great places to watch the sun slip into the sea (don’t forget to bring a bottle of wine):
The Akrotiri Lighthouse: As the sun reddens and dips low in the afternoon sky, this lighthouse, known locally as “Faros”, is a stunning place to witness the famous Santorini sky spectacle. The warming light of the setting sun brings new colour to this white tower and after night falls, the rotating light romantically brightens the night sky as it spins.
Hillside Behind Oia: This was our favourite sunset spot in Santorini and we headed here night after night. It’s just off of a dirt road north of Oia. If you’re driving around the area near sunset time, locals will know where to point you. You’ll have to bring your own blanket and just set up in the field, but the views here are breathtaking.
Donkey Stairs of Naoussa: When the time comes to watch sunset, hordes of tourists flock to Oia’s cliffs like flies to a light, but if you’d like to be away from the crowds and actually have a place to sit, consider the donkey stairs that lead to the old port of Naoussa. Typically during the day, this path is used for touristy donkey rides up and down the hillside, but during sunset they offer a great vantage point for those “in the know”. Here you can watch the sun paint Oia’s whitewashed buildings a golden hue before disappearing beneath the horizon.
Of course you’ll have your own itinerary with a few of the main sights that you really want to see while you’re in Santorini, but consider these few side trips that not many people know about. Try to add one or two of these into your Greek vacation and you may just find that they become the highlight of your visit.
Gavalas Vineyard: We actually just stumbled upon this place when we were driving by on our way to Oia from Perissa Beach, but we’re very glad we did. We sat down and enjoyed some delicious tapas and a few free tastings of their best wines. The romantic setting was made even better by excellent service and delicious reds and whites.
Perissa Beach: This little piece of black-sand paradise somehow keeps its name off of most of Santorini’s “best beaches” lists, but it definitely deserves a visit. We stayed in one of the best value apartments we’ve ever had, just a few minutes walk from this beach. It was called Sandy Villas, and there are car rental shops, motorcycle rental shops, bars and restaurants all along the beach. This is one of our favourite areas in Santorini.
Volcano Tour: Santorini is home to one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, so while you’re here, you should definitely check out some of the unique topography created by this geological phenomenon. This is going to be a bit touristy, but it would be a shame to miss. The tours generally leave from the old port of Fira around noon and head out to Nea Kameni where you actually get to walk around the active volcano craters! The smell of sulfur and hot rock fill the air as you transverse a narrow path along the edge of the volcano. The entire tour takes about 2 hours.
The Foot Path To Oia: From Fira, you can take this wonderfully scenic path to Oia and then take a bus or taxi back to your hotel. It’s a pretty common walk so locals and your hotel can point you in the right direction, but it’s a great way to get some exercise while experiencing the lovely architecture and natural beauty of Oia. The entire walk takes about three hours and meanders its way up the hill where you can enjoy fantastic views.
This is truly one of the most architecturally and geographically blessed islands we’ve ever seen and it is worth giving at least a week to explore. We’ve only listed a few of the things to see in Santorini, so make sure that you ask locals for the best secret spots to see on the island. The beauty of Santorini is no secret, but if you rent a car and explore it independently, you’ll likely find a hidden corner of this paradise just for yourself. Enjoy!
Have you been to Santorini before? What would you add to this list?
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