It’s no secret Santorini has been one of my favourite places to visit and photograph over the years. I think it’s one of those ‘bucket list’ destinations that everyone just has to see once in their life. I’ve already created a travel guide to the island, so I thought I’d share somewhat of a travel diary instead including some of my top tips for first timers!
This year we headed back during the peak season of August. I’ve only ever visited in June/July previously which to be honest, can be overwhelming enough, so I had my hesitations about August. Rightfully so, because it was chaotic. Escaping the crowds and finding a quiet spot was a mission in itself, not to mention when sunset time came around in Oia… complete pandemonium. If I were to suggest a time to go, it would be around May – June or September. It’s still busy, but not nearly as saturated.
We tried to squeeze in as much as we could into the 4 days we had whilst trying to keep it fairly laid back. We even took a day trip and rode our quad bikes to Akritori on the other side of the island. It’s such a different vibe over there, you’d find it hard to believe you’re even in Santorini! There’s lots of traditional Greek taverns run by locals (and at local prices!) and the infamous red beach. It was a very cool sight to see.
Santorini has always been a very special place to me. I’ve made some of the best memories of my life there. From sunsets melting into the Aegean sea paired with wine and cheese (my diet was pretty much just feta for 4 days #balance), quad biking cliff side to scenic caldera strolls and boutique shopping. I’ve said it before but photos will never do it justice. It’s so beautiful it doesn’t feel real.
- Santorini was named by the Latin Empire in the 13th century as a reference to Saint Irene. Before then, it was known as Kallístē (“the most beautiful one“), Strongýlē (“the circular one“), or Thera. The name Thera was revived in the nineteenth century and is actually the official name of the island.
- Only 15,000 people live on the island, however between 1.5 – 2 million visit each year.
- Santorini is not a single island, it is an archipelago of five islands in a crescent shape that sits along the water-filled caldera of a massive volcano. It was originally one round island but was destroyed between 1500 to 1700 BC by the Thera volcanic eruption.
- Until 1960, there was no electricity. There were only donkeys and fisherman which is the reason for the narrow, one-way roads. They were never meant for cars!
- Santorini is one of the few places on earth where you can visit white, black AND red beaches. This is because of the volcanic past of the island.
- There are more churches than houses in Santorini.
Food & Drink
I’ve already shared a few of my food and drink recommendations my Santorini guide, but I just kept stumbling upon new favourites that I had to share!
For the best seafood: The restaurants at Ammoudi Bay are well-known for their fresh seafood. I loved it so much that I obviously had to write a whole post about it which you can read here. I returned once again to Sunset Ammoudi Taverna and it did not disappoint. The seafood pasta and salmon salad were my favourites on the menu, but you really can’t go wrong with anything you choose! If you have room for dessert, try the baklava. I wasn’t even a fan of it before this place. Taverna Katina is another seafood tavern highly recommended in Ammoudi.
For a sunset dinner: You’re spoiled with options when it comes to dinner with a view in Santorini. I love Lauda Restaurant in Oia, La Maison in Imerovigli and Sphinx Restaurant in Fira. Just be sure to book ahead!
For drinks with a view: If you’re in Fira, PK Cocktail Bar (also known as Palia Kameni) always wins me over. Open from 8 a.m. until 3 a.m., it offers incredible views of the caldera, the sea and Santorini’s dormant volcano. It’s split between three amazing open air levels that will literally leave you speechless.
For takeaway gyros: Because sometimes you just want a gyros, right? I don’t blame you – it’s one of the most delicious and cheap eats you’ll find. We were literally living off them in Greece. Although slightly more expensive than your typical takeaway gyros (you are in Santorini after all), Pito Gyros is the place to go! Not only is it the best I’ve tried in Santorini, it’s off one of the main walkways in Oia town (a great place to escape the crowds) and they offer some seating so you’re not awkwardly standing around trying to eat. Win, win.
For culture rich: Located in the village of Pyrgos is where you’ll find Metaxi Mas Tavern. This place is a must if you want to sample the most authentic flavour and true culture of Santorini. The atmosphere is not fancy, but the food is phenomenal. It’s a real hidden gem. A table must be booked days in advance.
For dessert: I’m one of those people perfectly happy skipping dinner and going straight to dessert. Lolita’s Gelato is a must for gelato lovers – they have your classics like hazelnut or pistachio, plus original flavours like rosewater and red pepper.
Things to do in Santorini
Go cliff jumping at Ammoudi Bay. Again, you guys know how much I love this place since mentioning it in my last guide. It’s a must-do whilst over there! If you’re not that keen on cliff jumping, it’s also a cool place to just chill around and watch everyone else. After you’ve built up an appetite, head to one of the taverns for a seafood feast. You can sit so close to the water you can almost feel it splash on you!
Stay in a cave house or villa. Even if you don’t stay in it for your entire stay, it’s worth booking at least a night in luxury whilst you’re in Santorini! We booked one night in a villa that overlooked the caldera in Oia and it is one of my favourite memories. It’s worth it alone to catch the sunset in total tranquility. No crowds. No pushing. No trying to jump above everyone just to catch a glimpse. Just bliss.
Go on a wine sunset tour. In Santorini they say there is more wine than water due to their poor rainfall (totally my kind of place). They take a lot of pride in their local wine over in Santorini. You could embark on either private or semi-private tours during the day or to make it even more special, book in for a sunset wine tour.
Eat Chillbox frozen yogurt. If you know me well, you know I could pretty much live off frozen yogurt. I’m pretty sure there have been days where I had it for both breakfast and dinner. If you’re ever in Fira, you NEED to try Chillbox. The toppings are what really makes it though, think kinder bueno sauce, chocolate mud cake and smashed waffles. I still dream about it sometimes.
Hike from Oia to Fira. A 7 mile hike that takes about 3 hours. I still haven’t done this myself but have heard the views are absolutely breathtaking from everyone who has! I’m promising myself that the next time I visit Santorini, I will not be leaving without ticking this one off.
Order a frappe or freddo cappuccino. I don’t think we went a day (…or maybe even a few hours?) without an iced coffee stop. You seriously can’t walk 5 minutes without seeing one of these coffees! They are the perfect refreshing pick-me-up when you’re walking through 30 degree heat. Towards the end of the trip we discovered freddo cappuccinos and they became our new go-to. Make sure to order them with cinnamon and chocolate on top!
Book a sunset cruise. Another way to enjoy the sunset away from the crowds is to book a sunset cruise from Fira port. They start at 3 pm (cruise duration is 4-5 hrs) and have different package options depending on your budget.
Canavas Oia. Canavas Oia is one of the most luxurious and top-rated boutique hotels in Oia. It’s one of those hotels that doesn’t feel quite real – cave rooms with infinity pools and lavish champagne breakfasts. You wont have to lift a finger during your entire stay. The river pool suite is quite surreal or if that’s not enough, they even offer suites with an entire private infinity pool at your bedroom door. And you wont have to travel far for dinner as they have one of the best restaurants and cocktail bars on the island.
Katikies Hotel. Another favourite luxury hotel in Oia among travelers and Instagram. The white washed suites have classic arched ceilings and majestic views of the Aegean Sea, which can be enjoyed from the large terrace with an open-air dining area, sun deck and two-person Jacuzzi. There’s a reason it was named one of worlds best hotels by Travel and Leisure. They even give you a mobile phone to carry around in case you wanted to use concierge services anywhere outside the room… talk about hospitality.
Kamares Apartments. If you’re after something luxurious with a caldera and sunset view but don’t want to fork out thousands a night, I would recommend Kamares Apartments on the breathtaking cliff of Fira. It follows the same theme as most luxury acommodation in Santorini – whitewashed cave style rooms with infinity pools and more. This place will make your stay unforgettable!
Must know for first-timers
Transport. Believe it or not, there’s less than 30 cabs on the island and with over 200,000 tourists a day in high season, you’d have to be very lucky to grab one! Also, even if you are lucky enough, you’ll be sharing the taxi with others who will have to be dropped off along the way. Buses are another way around but again, if you’re visiting in high season, you’ll have to arrive at the bus stations early just to get a seat. Renting a car is a great option if you want to do some exploring otherwise I’d recommend renting a quad bike – they’re fun and are much easier to get around with. Make sure to go for the higher powered ones, the 310cc, as ironically it’s the slow quad bikes that cause road accidents and traffic jams since it’s all one way streets. There’s hardly any flat roads so you’re going to need a lot of power to get around.
Organise hotel transfers. Again, because of the scarce transport on the island, ask your hotel if they can organise a transfer for you to the port or airport. Don’t be like me and leave it to the last day which then turns into a mad rush.
Book advance in high season. If you’re wanting to go out for a sunset dinner, always call ahead and book (sometimes days or weeks in advance depending where you want to go) to secure the best table and view.
Well, that wraps up my Santorini travel diary! Congrats if you’ve made it this far. I know it was quite photo heavy (and I held back A LOT…) but I couldn’t help but share these with you. Hopefully this gives you some tips and a bit of inspiration to book a trip there yourself.
On that note, have you ever visited Santorini or is it somewhere on your bucket list?!