Santorini: Love at First Sight
When we arrived in Santorini, it was love at first sight. The island is beautiful, with breathtaking views everywhere you look. We'd been looking forward to this trip for a long time, and we were so happy that Santorini lived up to its stellar reputation. It's a place where you can be as active or relaxed as you'd like, and we ended up having an activity-filled trip, while still maintaining that vacation feel. The food is fresh and delicious and often comes along with inexpensive and delicious local wine. It was one of our best trips so far, and it was so fun to write this blog and to share our experiences with you. We couldn't have asked for a better time, and the trip was the perfect way to celebrate our one year "Londoniversary!"
Friday 29 July
After a 4am wake-up and three flights, we finally made it to Santorini. We had pre-booked a shared airport van with Santorini Transport since we read that the bus schedule wasn’t reliable. The airport was about 20 minutes away from our hotel in Firostefani, and fortunately we were the first passengers to be dropped off.
The Ellinon Thea Boutique Hotel
Firostefani, Santorini [Thira] 847 00, Greece
Having a view of the caldera and some outdoor space was a priority for us, which was how we chose this hotel. Many of the hotels in Santorini are small, family run businesses, and ours was no different. The staff were super friendly and every morning they brought us breakfast to enjoy on our patio!
The room was clean and a good size, but the bed wasn’t the most comfortable. That said, the view was exactly how it was pictured online (and perfect for sunset!), so we were happy. Our patio had a personal jacuzzi/ plunge pool, which was a great place to unwind after our long days of hiking.
25is Martiou, Thira 847 00, Greece
We hadn’t eaten a real meal all day, so dinner was top priority when we arrived. Fortunately we had made a reservation, because the restaurant turned away several walk-ins. A husband-wife team run this phenomenal little restaurant on the main street in Fira, and while there are no sunset views, the food and hospitality more than make up for it. We shared a Greek salad, spinach triangles, the octopus and a jug of cheap and delicious house wine (all for 40€!). They also brought us bread, dip, stuffed grape leaves and chocolate mousse on the house. Everything was fantastic- so fresh and delicious- and it was the perfect meal to start our trip. After dinner we walked into Fira town and enjoyed browsing the many shops and side streets. On our walk back to the hotel, we were treated to a gorgeous view over the caldera.
Satuday 30 July
Hike from Fira to Oia
The hike from Fira to Oia was on everyone’s must-do recommendation list, and we couldn’t agree more! We started by our hotel in Firostefani, since we had already done the walk from Fira. It took us about 2 hours and 15 minutes, which included a ton of stops for photos along the way. The hike starts out on the cobblestone paths and steps in the towns of Firostefani and Imerovigli and then transitions to a more mountainous terrain. Good shoes are definitely recommended, and while there is a place to buy water mid-hike, after Imerovigli there aren’t any bathrooms until Oia.
When we got to Oia, we stopped for ice coffee and to savor the view. We then browsed in the little shops along the pedestrian street and continued along the cliff taking in the views. If you’re into book stores, Atlantis Books is well known and worth a peek inside.
After making our way through Oia, we went to a pool bar to cool off and swim. There are a ton of tables and lounge chairs, which you can use as long as you buy something. It was a great place to unwind and would also be an ideal sunset spot (they take reservations!). We would have spent all afternoon there, except we didn't love the lunch menu.
When we were ready for lunch, we followed the back road down to Ammoudi Bay. It definitely wasn’t the scenic route, but we didn’t know how else to get there. When we arrived, we found a beautiful little area lined with seafood restaurants. We picked Katina Fish Tavern because they could give us a table right on the water. We shared a salad, fried cheese (delicious), grilled calamari and another jug of cheap and delicious wine. There’s a swimming area nearby, but we were tired from our morning (and the wine) and still had a lot of walking ahead of us. To get back up to Oia, you can either ride a donkey or walk up 200+ steps, which is what we chose to do. We then took the bus back to Fira and relaxed at our mini pool.
Sunset in Oia
We had a mishap with our dinner reservation, and accidentally went to the wrong location. We hurried to try and make our reservation in Oia, but we couldn’t find it and got caught up in the swarms of sunset chasers. Oia is known to be a prime sunset-watching spot, and people camp out in anticipation. We didn’t like the crowds and instead of fighting for a direct sunset viewing spot, we enjoyed the view of the colorful sky over the town, which was just as beautiful if not more. If you do want a direct sunset view, we’ve heard Kastro has a nice view and great food (just be sure you make a reservation and double check the location).
We ended up at a restaurant with a beautiful view overlooking Oia’s white houses and were lucky to get a table before the post-sunset rush. The food was good and the view was perfect, making for a nice end to a chaotic evening. After dinner, we took the bus back to Fira and enjoyed some well-deserved frozen yogurt.
Sunday 31 July
ATV Island Exploring
The night before we had stopped into one of the many ATV rental places that line the Main Street in Fira and booked a vehicle for Sunday. While technically they require an international drivers’ license, we didn’t have a problem finding a place that would rent to us without one. We ventured down to the beaches and first stopped at Kamari Beach, which was about 25 minutes from Fira. Most of the beaches in Santorini are pebble beaches, so it was a bit hard on our feet.
From there we made our way to Perissa Beach, which was really cute with lots of bars and restaurants lining the beach. Some of the restaurants will let you use their beach chaises for free if you eat there. We had a gyro snack at Pepito, lounged on the beach, and then had our second lunch of pizza at Noma. Both meals were delicious and highly recommended.
When we were done at the beach, we continued on to Red Beach, which gets its name and color from the volcanic rock. It’s beautiful and requires a bit of a hike to reach (wear good shoes!). We hiked down to the water but didn’t swim there.
PIRGOS, Thira 847 00, Greece
On our way back to Fira, we stopped at Santos Winery. They offer a range of tours and tasting options, but we skipped the tour and went straight to the tasting. They have a massive balcony overlooking the caldera, and almost every table was booked for sunset. We were still able to sit since we didn’t plan on staying until then. For 20€ you can taste a flight of six wines with generous portions of bread sticks, olives, cheese and dip. We did one tasting flight and one regular glass and shared the snacks, which was perfect. The wine and food were delicious, and we were pleasantly surprised at how much we liked dessert wine. It was about a 20 minute ride back to Fira.
Fira Santorini, Next to the Central Orthodox Cathedral of Fira Town, Mitropoleos, Fira Town Santorini 847 00
A couple of people had recommended this restaurant to us, so we were excited to try it. We had originally had booked it for the following night, but we wanted an easy option nearby in Fira after another full day adventuring. We called that afternoon and they were able to accommodate us, but the place definitely filled up. They have a beautiful roof terrace with a prime sunset view in Fira. We shared the dip sampler and lamb, which was amazing.
Monday 1 August
Boat Trip to Hot Springs and Volcano
There are a few different boat excursion options, depending on your budget and time available. The night before we went into a couple of the tour company offices to price shop and realized they all offer the same seven tours with the same prices, and they all had availability for the following day. While we would have liked to do the sunset sailing trip, we felt we couldn’t justify the price difference and opted for the shortest tour of three hours for 20€.
The tour departed from the Old Port in Fira at 11am, so we climbed down the 600 steps to reach it (the other options are donkeys or cable car – both cost 5€ and we opted for the cable car on the way back up).
As expected, the boat was pretty crowded and wasn’t super comfortable, but it was nice to be out on the water. We were a bit disappointed with the hot springs (luke warm springs would be a more accurate description, and it was a very short stop). The volcano hike took about an hour and was really beautiful, which made the trip worth while. There were at ton of people hiking in flip flops, but we’d strongly advise to wear real shoes and bring plenty of water.
Dekigala, Thira 847 00, Greece
We returned to Fira around 2pm and went straight to lunch. Lucky’s Souvlaki’s is in the main square in Fira and is a bit crowded and chaotic, but the food was cheap and delicious. We’d been craving ice cream all trip, so we got gelato from a nearby shop. It wasn’t the best, but it hit the spot enough.
We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on our patio, enjoying the view and our plunge pool. It was really nice to just sit and relax after so much activity.
Still feeling lazy from our afternoon, we decided to try one of the restaurants in Firsostefani for dinner. We called that afternoon and made a reservation, and they gave us a table with a perfect sunset view. The food was okay and a bit pricey, so we wouldn’t recommend it.
Tuesday 2 August
We got up early to make the most of our last day in Santorini and enjoyed one final breakfast on our patio. We then went back to Oia for some shopping and picture-taking. There were several cruise ships in that day, so Oia was packed, which made us really appreciate the quiet day we’d enjoyed earlier in the week.
Firostefani 987, Thira 847 00, Greece
For our final Greek meal, we went to a restaurant we’d passed each night on our way to Fira. We shared a delicious Greek salad and the appetizer plate, which was overpriced. The view from their roof terrace was spectacular though, and for most of the meal we had it to ourselves.
On every trip we share our rose (highlight), thorn (lowlight), and bud (what we're looking forward to).
Rose- lunch on the water at Ammoudi Bay (Josh), hike from Fira to Oia (Becca)
Thorn- boat tour (Josh), blister on my foot (Becca)
Bud- snorkeling in Nice (Josh), coming back to Santorini for our 40th wedding anniversary (Becca)
If you go… things to know
When to go? The weather was perfect every day of our trip – 80 degrees and sunny, and not a cloud in the sky the entire time. July-August is definitely the high season, which comes at a premium. We felt it was worth it to be able to enjoy the nice weather, but we’ve heard the shoulder months of May and September are still beautiful and not as touristy. Even though it was peak season, we were still able to make last minute reservations and find lounge chairs at the pool and beaches, so it wasn’t as crazy crowded as we were expecting.
How much time? We could have stayed all month and it wouldn’t have felt like enough time for Becca. Four nights was a good amount of time, but one more night would have been nice to have a full day of relaxation. There was a lot we wanted to do while we were there, which meant we were out exploring a lot more than we had expected.
Where to stay? Our hotel was in Firostefani, which was a great location for a first time trip. It’s centrally located and convenient for exploring the entire island. It was 10-15 minute walk from Fira, where there are tons of restaurants and shops, and it's 20-25 minutes to ride to Oia or the beaches. We used the bus to get to and from Oia, which was easy and inexpensive. Firostefani is also quieter than the big towns of Fira and Oia, which we liked. If we were to do the trip again, we would pick a hotel with a full pool rather than the jaccuzzi, but no complaints about our little patio!
Where to eat? Even our so-so meals weren’t bad, so you really can’t go wrong! In addition to the restaurants we already mentioned, we heard great things about Roka (in Oia) and Argo (in Fira). If you are there in peak season, just make sure you have reservations.
What to pack? Santorini is built into the side of a cliff, so there are a ton of stairs and the paths are all cobblestone. We saw people walking around in thin flip flops, but we wouldn’t recommend it. Thicker soled sandals are definitely recommended, as are good walking shoes for the hikes.
What else to know? The Santorini airport is tiny – so tiny it can’t properly accommodate all of the flights that come in and out. Be prepared to be delayed on both ends of your trip. We arrived at the airport way too early for our departing flight and had a miserable time waiting around in the tiny (non-air conditioned) terminal. The only bad part of our trip!
Have you been to Santorini? What was your favorite part of your trip? We would love to hear your comments in the space below!