There's no doubt that Greece is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. With its renowned cuisine chock full of fresh produce and bright flavors, to its boundless sandy beaches, enviable nightlife and centuries spawning history, there is so much to see and do on a trip to Greece perfect for all ages and interests.
The islands are the jewels of this marvelous country. Rest and relaxation take a whole new meaning when you're surrounded with the bluest seas and skies, fetching architecture and gregarious locals. One island in particular however, stands out among the rest. The island of Santorini did not become the most popular island for any old reason. Santorini is a spectacular sight to behold. Formed back in 16th century BC after a volcanic eruption, the island boasts black, white and red sand beaches, awe-inspiring picturesque towns hanging off the cliffs edge, and charming villages with whitewashed homes and grand domes. Santorini is one of, if not the most, expensive of Greek islands to visit (there’s ways around that though), so often times people come to enjoy for a short but sweet time before moving onto one of the other 200+ islands in Greece.
If you find yourself with only a short amount of time, this guide will take you through the best places to see and exciting things to do in Santorini.
Breakfast with a View
Santorini has a lot of prime real estate on its western wall. With attractive views over the caldera, many restaurants and hotel terraces take advantage and have restaurants right along the cliff. Consider starting your day at a picturesque location for breakfast and espresso. I personally recommend Galani Café. Located in Fira just before Firostefani, Galini offers a great selection of classic breakfast items such as croque madame, omelets and poached eggs, as well as vegan and health options with organic granola, Greek yogurt and fresh fruits. They also have freshly blended smoothies and delicious coffee, all for a very fair price. A hearty breakfast and coffee will only cost you about 15 EURO, and you get this magnificent view to boot!
Villages of Santorini
Next, explore the many charming villages that take up this tiny island. Keep in mind that Santorini has a variety of elevations and terrain, so accessibility is a factor. Let's start with Fira. Fira is the capital of Santorini as well as the largest town on the island. Its downtown core hosts a variety of bars, restaurants and shops. With stunning caldera views, many hotels choose Fira to build their properties. Fira is lively and buzzing any time of the day, and is a great option for those looking to dance, eat and shop all next to an outstanding view.
Next, consider heading up to Pyrgos. Being the highest village on the whole island, you are offered panoramic views of Santorini as well as across the Aegean and onto neighboring islands. As an underdeveloped residential area, it is quiet with quaint Cycladic architecture and tunneled paths across narrow, winding passageways.
Megalochori is alive with friendly residents, schools, and traditional cafes. Its mellow atmosphere makes you feel like one of the locals yourself. Walk along the cobblestone paths, marvel at the neoclassical houses and ornate cathedrals, and take note of the tall wooden doors and walls used to keep out and confuse the pirates. Megalochori is also home to three wineries: Gavalas, Boutaris and Antoniou. Santorini wine stands out from any other wine in the world due to the volcanic ash used to fertilize the vines. Also, the plants are grown wrapped around a barrel opposed to your standard bush to maximize the harvest potential.
To wander architectural marvel, I recommend a walk through underrated Emporio. Originally the commercial center of Santorini, it is now lined with meandering alleyways, whimsical homes, blue domed churches and the 16th century castle of Kasteli. I could go on and on about the variety of villages in Santorini. Some other notable small villages I’d recommend taking a walk through are Exo Gonia, Finikia, and Pervolos.
Last but not least, the postcard of Santorini – Oia. This is the spot you want to be to catch that famous sunset. Cobblestone narrow ways lined with high end boutiques, art galleries, 5* hotels and restaurants - this is the elite area of Santorini (and comes at a price). It can get very crowded, especially around sunset, but it’s a great spot to end your village discovery to grab a cocktail on one of the many patios and watch the sun go down (that is if you can get a table). The colorful canvas of blues, yellows, pinks and whites all cascading down the cliff edge with floral adornments make it a remarkable and breathtaking place to be.
An absolute must while you are in Santorini is to embark on a sunset cruise. There are several companies who offer this program, ranging from private to small group to large group. I recommend booking a small group excursion, typically around 200 EURO pp. This way you get an intimate trip around the island to view the many beaches and red sedimentary rock cliffs, and even get to stop for a swim at the natural Sulphur hot springs (keep in mind, bathing suit staining may occur on lighter prints). There is also an open bar of beer and wine, as well as snacks and a BBQ dinner on board. Ending your day bobbing in the bay with soft music playing as you watch the sun literally melt into the Aegean is an experience you will never forget and is sure to be the highlight of your stay in Santorini.
Visit a Winery
Like I mentioned earlier, Santorini has a unique wine growing process due to the volcanic element of the soil. There are endless wineries you can pay visit to while on the island, but there is one in particular that stands out among the rest. Consider booking a wine and food tasting at Venesantos Winery. Located in Megalochori, this cliff side family run winery has been operating since the 40's and has a very intuitive piping system. To save time and money, instead of hiring trucks to fill and drive down the winding roads to the port to load onto the boats, pipes run from inside the winery and down to the water's edge for easy transporting. We had a tasting of four wines including an assortment of meze, fried octopus, fava dip and mackerel salad, but the real treat was this incredible view.
Visit the Excavations
For you history buffs, a must-see is the Akrotiri excavation. For a small fee, you can visit inside and see the archeologists and volunteers currently working away at uncovering what was a prehistoric village from Minoan times which got completely covered in thick volcanic debris from the Theran eruption. Seeing the modern-style archways, preserved art, and even the futuristic sewage systems is eye opening into seeing just how evolved society was before disaster struck, and just how long it took us to get back there again. It is even rumored by some to be Plato's lost city of Atlantis.
There you have it! A splendid two days in Greece's cosmopolitan hotspot. Although I’d recommend other islands for their beaches, Kamari is an area on the east end with a stunning black sand beach if you are feeling a relaxing day of R&R by the coast. The name of the game is shop ‘till you drop, indulge in superb food and wine, and don’t forget to stop often and enjoy the view, grasping just how lucky you are to be able to experience a place as extraordinary as Santorini.