A lot of us have travel bucket lists, I certainly do and the following blog is dedicated to a destination that’s been in my top 5 travel destinations wish list for years. I was recently able to make that travel wish come true, when @offner (my faithful travel companion!) took me to Santorini for my big 3-0! NBD.
Santorini is as dreamy as it looks, sounds and as you’ve ever imagined it to be! The whole time I was there, I kept pinching myself to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming or looking at some fake backdrop. It’s really that breathtaking.
If you’re planning a trip to this enchanted place, may I recommend going between April and October? The rest of the year is considered the “off season” like many other destinations and a lot of the local hotels, shops and attractions are closed.
Also, if you’re flying in, consider flying with flyNiki, a division of Air Berlin that offers daily roundtrips to and from Santorini. They’re a super laid back decently priced Austrian airline. Their flight attendants all look like models and are dressed in jeans and a pink blouse and offer a variety of sandwiches and tasty drinks on your quick flight from pretty much anywhere in Europe.
Speaking of flying to Santorini, you’ll want to spend time on the rooftop patio at the Santorini airport. You get to pass security check and then they let you have some drinks and homemade food outdoors on a patio that overlooks the airport runway. You get to see up close the planes land and takeoff. Pretty special!
That said, here are my top 5 things to do when traveling to Santorini:
1) Rent a car. The best thing to do while you’re in Santorini is to rent a car and explore the entire island. Santorini is small enough that within a couple of hours, you’ll have been able to see the entire thing. Renting a car is > renting a scooter or 4×4 because it allows you to go everywhere and a lot quicker. Also, renting a car for the day is ridiculously cheap. A renter’s tip: the rental companies will try to charge you more for renting a Smart car (the most expensive car they rent!), a more powerful car, a convertible… but honestly all you really need is a basic standard car. A standard car is preferable because it’ll help you go up and down all the winding roads on the island. Also, take pics of the car you rent – any scratches, problems, etc. The car rental companies are really anal on car damage. You wouldn’t want to be charged for something you didn’t do yourself.
If you rent a car, go to Fira, Oia, Kamari and all the other beautiful and unique little villages on the island. Make sure you check out the Red Beach, White Beach and Black Beach, all beautiful and so different. The island also contains more than 250 churches, which are all uniquely decorated. Go up to the ruins that overlook the entire island! The lighthouse on the southern and most western tip of the island gives you a beautiful view of all Santorini.
By having a car, you’ll also be able to do all of this discovery at your convenience and spend as much time as you want in every place you go.
2) Eat the fresh local food. Seems obvious but Santorini has so much delicious local food. Most of the island is covered by wineries (who would have thought!) and their wine is pretty delicious and super cheap, like 3 Euros for a more than decent bottle. Most restaurants will offer you fresh fish of the day, that they will cook on an outdoor grill with locally grown fresh vegetables. If you drive around to the island, you’ll see that local residents have stands or small shops off the side of the road, where they sell you homemade products – jams, sauces, wine, as well as anything they’ve grown on their property. The spanakopitas and freshly made baked goods are HUGE and stuffed with flavour. Oh yea, and how could I forget the feta!! It’s everywhere and oh so yummy! We brought back some fresh olive oil and spices, which we’ve been using on salads since our trip. Nothing compares to fresh Greek olive oil!
A restaurant you absolutely need to check out: La Maison for unique and modern Greek cuisine with a French twist!
An insider’s tip when eating at a restaurant in Santorini: make sure you check the menu before sitting down because a lot of items tend to not be priced, don’t feel pressured to try everything they throw at you and don’t be surprised to pay for water and bread & butter, even if they make you feel it’s on them… You will have to pay for it!
3) Get a boutique hotel in Imerovigli. Though all of Santorini is absolutely magical, there are some areas where you’ll be less bothered by the 3000+ people coming off cruise ships every day to explore Santorini on their cruise day trip. Yes, that’s the one thing you can’t avoid in Santorini: Cruise ships!! And big ones too! Some days, you’ll wake up to 2 or 3 ships anchored down close to Fira. The advantage of being in Imerovigli is that a) you still get the dreamy view of the island b) you’re far enough that lot’s of these cruise ship passengers don’t walk all the way up to your hotel c) you’re far enough from the road so no you won’t hear any car traffic and noise.
A lot of these boutique type hotels have infinity pools, though tiny, they’re quite refreshing on a hot day on the island. All of these hotels are beautifully decorated, most of them also have private patios and serve yummy breakfast that you can eat while overlooking the island. Though Oia is also a popular spot, too many buses and organized tours bring people to that area all day long, and you would always be bombarded by others looking through your windows, taking pictures and getting in your business.
4) Go Surfing. Little did I know that you can go surfing in Santorini. I found a local surf spot totally by chance while exploring the island with our car (again, the advantage of renting a car!). We had seen a surf shop in Fira and had laughed thinking no one would be surfing in the area because the water is so calm but low and behold, they can get some pretty great swell in the Aegean Sea! What was amazing about this surf spot, was that it wasn’t crowded. It’s a black sand beach, with 10 or so locals catching waves and hanging out. You’ll find people surfing around Vourvoulos and Pori, not too far away from the island’s airport.
5) Catch a sunset! Duh! The best place to catch a sunset on the island would have to be in Oia hands down. Some people reserve their seats on restaurant patios as early as lunch time, and stick around all afternoon to make sure they don’t miss out on the sunset. If you don’t want to sit on a patio all afternoon, you can always try calling a restaurant if you want to make sure you get a table. Another option, is to go down to the water in Oia. Lot’s of people drive to the tip just to catch the sunset each night.
If you can’t make it to Oia, another option is to take a boat cruise. A lot of locals offer private or semi-cruises afternoon and sunset trips that include visiting the different beaches, swimming in the hot springs right beside the volcano and going to catch the sunset in Oia followed by a homemade dinner on the boat.
If that’s also not your jam, and you want to take it easy, I recommend any patio from Fira to Imerovigli or even using your hotel’s patio to enjoy the sunset. You might not get the same view as Oia but regardless, it’ll be one of the most magical moments of your life!