Visiting Santorini wasn’t always on my bucket list of places to go too. Visiting the island became one of my dreams after discovering it on Instagram – where I discovered daily doses of tiny villages with pastel houses and unforgettable sunsets. The view of Calderra volcano from The Grace hotel in Santorini was my screensaver for years! Little did I know that soon enough I’ll be there having breakfast and my photo from this day will be reposted dozens of times by some of the best travel instagram accounts.
Dreams do come true – and Santorini is a dream!
My first visit to Santorini was a spontaneous one in October 2017. My friend Veronika, whom I have known since my Shanghai days from 2010, has been living there for 10 years now and is considered a local.
Veronika is a certified yoga instructor and her husband Kostas is a the most sought-after Santorini tour guide (www.santorini-private-guide.com). They own a hotel on the island (Caveland) and have two children. With her hectic schedule, Veronika still managed to spend majority of her time during the day to show me pretty much the whole island during my 6-day visit. The best way to discover the place is definitely with a “local”. Santorini was breathetaking and I knew right away that I will be back next Spring!
My second Santorini visit was more organised. I went with Adam (my friend and my photographer), his wife Kristina and son, Junior. Both of them are bloggers as well – Adam writes about men’s fashion (www.adamrustman.com) and Kristina writes about food (thetolerantcook.com). We tried to find places and activities that would interest all of us and would also be fitting for all our blogs. This is where Veronika was very helpful as we were getting totally lost planning for 3 and a half people. But let’s take it step by step.
SANTORINI is the most visited Greek island. Ever since the pictures from the island started spreading all over social media, the number of visitors multiplies every year (especially from Asia) to the point, when it’s unbearable during their peak season in August. That’s why it’s very important to plan your Santorini trip wisely and early enough, so you can enjoy it to the fullest:
1. GETTING TO SANTORINI
Most European cities offer direct flights to Santorini. For our trip, we took a direct flight from Vienna, it took two and a half hours and cost approximately 300 Euros. We bought our tickets in April and flew in the end of May. If one would fly during peak season of July or August, the price can go high up to 500 Euros. You can also fly to Athens and then take a ferry – it’s a cheaper and also a better option, if you want to hop from one island to another.
2. BOOKING ACCOMODATIONS
Everywhere I go, I always book my accommodation through www.airbnb.com and sometimes through www.booking.com. I strongly suggest to book it at least 4 to 6 months ahead, otherwise you will not get what you want it. The biggest mistake we have done was to wait with booking our accommodations three months prior to our holiday. Last minute bookings and hoping to find the best deals do not apply to Santorini. If you are looking to go to Santorini last minute, your best bet is trying www.lastminute.com but you will be taking a gamble! Our plan was to stay 5 days on the beach and 5 days in a villa in Oia – with a dreamy and “instafriendly” view. We wanted to be near by a beach and a pool for Kristina to be able to play with Junior, while we shoot and search for locations. We searched for days and it almost seemed like we will have to change locations 4 times during those 10 days! It was an absolute nightmare.
We were lucky and found a villa on Perissa beach with 2 bedrooms for 5 days, our second part of the holiday we spent in Veronika’s hotel Caveland (a special article about this place coming out soon!)
3. WHERE TO STAY
This depends primarily on your budget and your preferences:
ROMANTIC HOLIDAY WITH A VIEW ON CALDERA
If you want to wake up to a postcard view every morning, you want to stay in Oia. This is the “insta-famous” little town with cute little pastel coloured houses. If you are lucky enough to get a hotel with the sunset view – you have hit the Jackpot, because this is the most famous place to watch the sunset. A night’s stay in Oia starts from 400 Euros euro and up. – but it has one down side: through the tiny streets leading in between the houses walks about 3000 tourist per day; No privacy!
Equally priced, but not as crowded is town Imerovigli. It also has houses and hotels built on cascades, but there are much less people. You also get the volcano view and the overall feeling is serene. My favourite boutique hotel Grace (screensaver!) is exactly at this location. Veronika took me to here for breakfast and we shot a series of amazing photos in Miklosko dresses (a famous Slovak designer) on their terrace by the pool. In my opinion, Santorini is the perfect spot for honeymoon and Imerovigli is THE spot to spend it! A living dream.
VOLCANO VIEW (PALEA KAMENI), SHOPPING & NIGHTLIFE
Fira is the capital city of Santorini and you can find great shopping, a lot of good restaurants and great bars with a beautiful view. All the buses start and end their route here, so if you don’t want to rent a car or a scooter to get around the island (highly recommended!), this is the place to stay. It’s a bit cheaper, but also a bit noisier… If partying is the main goal of your holiday, then I recommend you go to Mykonos or Ios island.
If beach is what your heart is longing for when coming to Santorini, then the best choice is Perissa beach – and continues to Perivolos beach. The water is crystal clear, the sand is black and thicker than the usual sand. Perissa & Perivolos have the best beach bars on the island. All of them are “instafriendly” and have fantastic food, or at least some great drinks. Definitely don’t miss out Bar 41 for drinks & and amazing burger, Popeye or Dixtia for amazing seafood and Wet Stories for a cool beach venue, great drinks and good looking staff!
These beaches also have a lot of beach parties – great for young(er) people to have some fun.
ON A BUDGET
In general Santorini is not a cheap island. If you are on a budget then I definitely recommend a different island. But if you really want to visit, then Perissa & Kamari beaches are the places for you to stay – don’t count on any views. Stunning views, it will be probably much further from the beach. Another option are towns Karterados or Pyrgos which are cheaper. Don’t forget though that you have to somehow get from there, so count on the transport cost. Please don’t forget to factor in the transportation cost to get to Karterados or Pyrgos.
4. WHAT TO DO AND WHAT TO SEE IN SANTORINI
If you want to maximize your time in a limited amount of days, I highly recommend to hire a tour guide – especially if you are travelling as a group.
OIA – the most photographed village in the world with dream pastel houses and blue shutters. Be prepared to see a lot of tourist, especially Asian tourists. It’s worth seeing it but I highly recommend to go there at around 6 am. Oia is more of a sunset spot rather than sunrise, but if you want to get a shot without thousand people in it, then head there in the morning. Adam and I woke up super early one day and just blindly walked through the streets of Oia, looking for locations. Some of them were great, but you can find better ones elsewhere on the island. Just as you finish your morning stroll, the first restaurants start to open and you can have overpriced, but great breakfast with a view. Then I suggest to change the location, unless you want to meet the 3000 tourists that just got off the cruise ship… The sunsets here are pretty magical, but there are better places (Fira or Imerovigli) to watch it without someone poking you in the eye with a selfie stick.
WINE TASTING WITH A SICK VIEW (AND DINNER IF YOU WISH) – Yep, this is my second choice on the list. Santorini is famous for its wine, but if you are wine drinkers like us and want to have your own stock handy for those evenings on the balcony, then I suggest you get the bottles at a renowned winery. Veronika and her husband Kostas took us here the day we arrived and we were so tired and hungry that we totally forgot to take a proper photo over there (just imagine how really tired we must have been, lol), but our tastebuds and eyes remember very well. These are exactly the types of memories that will last a lifetime.
The cost per person was around 25-30 Euros (wine and food), which is really nothing compare to what you really get.
RED BEACH – All Santorini beaches are interesting one way or another, but this one is very special. It’s covered with black and red volcanic sand and it’s a paradise for any photographer. It’s not suitable for swimming. So just snap a photo and go!
AKROTIRI – This ancient city was covered in a heap of volcanic ash in the late 17th century B.C., preserving it for present-day archaeologists and interested tourists. The site is so well preserved that it is often referred to as the Pompeii of the Aegean.
Definitely worth visiting at least once in your life!
OPEN AIR CINEMA – the most beautiful open-air cinema you have ever seen – guaranteed! This place looks like a retro movie set with super comfortable chairs where you can eat, drink, and even smoke. You can go to the bar anytime during the movie and in case you are cold, they give you a blanket (I do suggest to take a light jacket or a jumper). They play one movie per night (at 930pm) and it doesn’t really matter what kind of movie they play, because the visit of this cinema is an experience on its own. You need to come an hour earlier though to get your spot!
GREEK FOOD COOKING CLASSES – if you always wanted to know how to cook a proper tzatziki or any other Greek dishes, go to a cooking class! You eat what you cook and you taste local wine throughout the process. Kristina did two of them and she came home super excited (and super tipsy, haha)
The price of a cooking course is 80 Euros and I would recommend Petra Kouzina in Megaloxori.
VLYCHADA – a black beach with giant white cliffs. Not far from there is EROS BEACH – where we spent one full day. They have a great restaurant and even better wine list. The bar is very nice and not “too Greek”, apparently, it’s a popular wedding spot. It’s one of the calmest beaches on the island and it’s pretty “instafriendly” The beach bed costs around 15 Euros but it’s definitely worth it. Perfect for reading your favourite book!
YOGA – if you are one of those people that can’t stay away from workout even on holidays, you can go for a run along the promenade, or do some yoga (like me). Veronika offers private and public classes at hotel Caveland on Tuesdays and Thursdays (more info HERE) and if you really do love yoga, you can sign up for her yoga retreat. You will go back home a new person. If you want to stay up to date with her yoga schedule – follow her on her instagram.
5. HOW TO GET AROUND THE ISLAND
I would highly recommend to rent a car, or at least a scooter. Three-wheelers are also popular (and easier to park!). Veronika arranged a car rental for us for 10 days from Santo Moto and it cost 35 Euros/ day. If you want to stay car-less, then you have to stay in Fira, but it’s way busier over there.
6. WHAT TO EAT IN SANTORINI
This could be an article on its own, but since I’m not a food blogger, I am only going to mention a few TOP places:
– Ouzerie, Elis and Argo in Fira are a must go
– Psaraki is a fabulous seafood restaurant in Vlychada
– Kantouni is famous for its typical Greek atmosphere in Pyrgos
– Metaxi in Exo Gonia
7. WHERE TO SEE THE BEST SUNSETS
Santorini sunsets are like no other and they are one of the reasons I am so in love with this island #sunsetlovers. They are by far the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen and they are a must/see every day of your stay!! You can watch them even from a street, or just follow this:
OIA is definitely the most popular, but if you don’t have a reservation in some fancy restaurant or don’t want to get squished among 1000 people on the street, then forget about it.
FIRA is much better, more space, less people. The chances of getting lucky finding a free bench or a not so crowded street are much higher. I suggest to visit PK cocktail bar for the best views and fabulous mimosas or to Franco’s – the oldest bar in town. Another option is to go to restaurants Argo, Idol or Naussa.
Buddha Bar in Imerovigli is definitely one of the ultimate sunset spots in this town. The table with a view by the edge does cost 150 Euros, but if you are lucky enough like me, you might get it for cheaper (a big smile definitely helps!) We came right at the start of a Japanese cuisine week and we got a tasting of their new menu a day before the launch. I ordered an expensive wine (that didn’t taste like much) just to be able to take some epic photos there – and so we did! They need to work on their service a bit more, but we are used to this from Slovakia, aren’t we! Haha.
Another great sunset drink spot is Santo Wines.
8. WHEN TO GO
November – February – low season, most shops and restaurants are closed and it’s pretty cold
March – the island is waking up and hotels and restaurants are starting to open for business
April – the season has started, but it’s still low. If you come you can experience Greek Easter, a big thing for the locals who fly over from all over Greece
MAY- JUNE– the high season commences
JULY – AUGUST – MAIN SEASON, thousands of tourists, you can’t get a dinner reservation, park anywhere and everything is extremely overpriced
September – still high season, but less tourists
October – the season is slowing down and you can still get a nice swim at the beginning of the month. The evenings get colder, but the sunsets are still just as beautiful.
The best time to visit Santorini weather wise is May – June or September – October. No matter what time you come, always take a scarf as it gets pretty windy. Sometimes they even get the strong winds from Sahara, that covers everything with an orange sand.
10. BABYFRIENDLY? HAHA!
Santorini is definitely not a place where you take a stroller. For sure it’s not impossible to get around with it, but I highly would NOT recommend it… Most places are not accessible for strollers and one has to carry both the stroller, and the baby. Kristina and Adam did Santorini with a stroller and Junior with them, but there are better and more suitable locations for these type of family vacations. The island has overall a lot of dangerous and non-babyfriendly stairs and edges, so unless your child is at least 8 years old, forget about Santorini.
Santorini is a place for dreamers and romantic souls. You can find your peace and satisfy your visual sensations and scene-perceptions. It’s one of the most photogenic locations on earth and this was the main reason why we went there. It has its own magic and not everyone discovers it. You never see thousands of tourists in the photos and you might expect a fairy tale with no people, which never happens. You need know what time and where to go to fully enjoy it and if you don’t follow this, you will end up being disappointed. We were very lucky for Veronika to plan our whole trip. She and Kostas made it as perfect as we imagined Santorini.
So? Would you go?
Photos by Jana Tomas, Adam Suchanek, Kristina Suchankova & Veronika Karacova