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Guide to visiting Santorini Greece

We started our Greece trip by directly flying into the stunning island of Santorini (Thira). The white washed walls over the volcanic caldera and the beauty of this town is no secret. Thousands of tourists and cruise ships flock to this tiny island in the south Aegean Sea every day. Don’t worry, we will share with you a few tools that you can have in your arsenal to beat the crowds and make most of your time there.


Where to stay


This is crucial decision in planning a trip to Santorini. The motto of “location, location, location” has never been more important.

Oia

Instagram has made this small village of Oia (pronounced ‘ear’) in the northeastern tip of Santorini famous. If you have seen pictures of a gorgeous sunset over steep slope of houses built on the caldera, it’s most likely Oia. It’s said that you can see one of the best sunsets views from this village. Not surprisingly, hordes of people flock to this town for sunset. There are some nice hotels and B&Bs in this area. One disadvantage is that it is extremely crowded (especially in the evening).

Oia views

Firostefani

This town is closer to the main town of Fira, has great caldera views but is still relatively quiet in comparison with the town of Oia. We chose this town since it checked off all the boxes for us.

Firostefani views

We stayed at the Villa Fegari with great views from our room (aptly named “The Nest”) of the caldera and the Aegean sea. Our room also had a sizeable terrace. Our parents stayed on a floor below us and this room also had a nice, small balcony. It is located just 5 min from the main drag of Firostefani with access to great restaurants and bars.

Just beware that there are many steps to get to the room inside the hotel and many more to get back to the main street. We didn’t mind that. In fact, it was nice to get a little exercise during the stay which was otherwise full of amazing Mediterranean food and wine.

Terrace at Villa Fegari
View of the Aegean sea from our room
Villa Fegari
View from our room at Villa Fegari

 

Sunset from our room at Villa Fegari
Sunset from our room

The staff will help in getting the luggage up to the room and was also helpful in booking taxis and tours. The only small negative was that upon check-in the host went into an exhaustive explanation of the island, places to visit and eat, even though he could see that we were exhausted and just needed to make our dinner reservation and get to sleep!

Our subtle nudges to ask him to leave for the dinner reservation didn’t work. In fact, he sent someone to move our reservation. We had done our research and didn’t have any energy to listen to his unending explanation of the island especially since our flight was delayed and we had done our research ahead of time. Read the room! Don’t hold guests hostage at dinner time after they have just checked-in. These long debriefings in the name of customer service and warm hospitality need to stop.

Apart from this, the hotel was a great value for the location.

Imerovigli

Located further past Firostefani along the western coast, Imerovigli is still closer to Fira. Due to its location which juts out a little bit off the natural coastline, you can see the different towns of Oia, Fira and Firostefani from here. This is also where most luxury hotels are located. The only downside is that there aren’t as many restaurants around so you either need to rely on the hotel restaurants or take expensive cab rides around to different parts of the island. Shortcut for great places to stay in Imerovigli.

Imerovigli views

Fira

The main town of Fira has variety of accommodations but we don’t recommend this location. Thousands of tourists end up in this town as they disembark the cruise ships. It is filled with restaurants and souvenir shops. There are some accommodations with caldera views but most of them are in the heart of the tourist circuit and are thumbs down in our book.

 

Other

Technically, you could stay at any number of other accommodations on the island. They will probably be cheaper and have more space compared to the locations listed above. The key is to figure out what you want. If you want to have the gorgeous caldera view from your windows and be close to the best spots in Santorini, your best bet is to stay in one of the top 3 locations.


What to do


You don’t need to do much to make the most of your visit to this stunning town. Just sit at some café / bar with great caldera views, enjoy some music and watch the boats / cruise ships pass by the picturesque Aegean Sea. If you more like me and have itchy feet to explore more, here are some recommendations for experiencing the Santorini island.

Hike from Fira to Oia

All the blogs describe this walk as a leisurely stroll through the little paved towns along the western coast of Santorini. Make no mistake, it becomes a decent hike after Imerovigli and gets a little rough especially with no tree cover along the caldera during the afternoon. Our brave parents survived this death march despite a pre-existing foot injury and only having sandals for the outing. We highly recommend wearing running/hiking shoes for this walk.

We are not saying this to deter you from visiting. In fact, we highly recommend this walk. The views along the way are amazing! Just be prepared with enough water and start early in the day or late afternoon. Also, keep in mind that the last hour or so is barely inhabited which is great for the walk but a bummer if you don’t have enough water. About ½ of the hike is on gravel or dirt paths, not all paved sidewalks like some photo journals led us to believe.

Imerovigli stop

End the hike in Oia, ideally a little bit before sunset. Also, remember to bring an extra T-shirt to change into after getting sweaty on the hike and before dinner.

After a short break go further into the town of Oia to take in the views of the famous windmills, the castle and churches before it is swarming with other tourists. Also, make a reservation at “Kastro Oia” for the best sunset views that Oia has to offer while enjoying a calm dinner, without having to elbow through hundreds of tourists perched above the castle. Don’t believe me? See more pictures and details in “Where to eat” section.

Half way point. You can see Oia on the left most tip of the island
Half way point. You can see Oia on the left most tip of the island
Almost there

Cute donkeys

The views we were dreaming of
Remember to drink a lot of water

Use this link to find more information about the walk and a few notes on interesting spots along the way.

After dinner, we took a bus back to Firostefani from Oia because the bus stop was just 5 min from our hotel and for a fraction of cost of a private taxi.

Visiting a winery

If you went on the 13 km walk, you will definitely feel like you earned yourselves a few drinks. The dry white Assyrtiko wines are excellent. Even non-wine lovers or red / rose lovers enjoyed the wine tasting experience.

We visited the “Artemis Karamolegos Winery” which is regarded as the best winery on the island. It is located a little bit away from the main towns in Exo Genia but well worth a visit. It has a relaxing vibe and the wines speak for themselves. Combine this trip with a lunch or dinner at Metaxi Mas restaurant. Located 10 min from the winery and regarded as one of the best restaurants on the island, be prepared to be blown away!

You could also stop at the Santos or Venetsanos wineries in the town of Megalochori, both of which have great sunset views with great wine-  but we still prefer the Artemis Karmolegos experience.

Artemis Karmolegos winery
Artemis Karmolegos winery

Skaros rock

This rock is a huge outcrop on the western side of the town of Imerovigli. You can visit this on the way from Fira to Oia and it will add about 40 min to your walk, or you can make a separate visit (which is likely preferable). Bear in mind, the entire path is exposed with no refuge from the sun so we recommend going in early morning.

Skaros rock

Skaros rock
Skaros rock

Kamari beach

This beach on the eastern coast of Santorini is good for swimming. With the volcanic black sand beach and great seafood, it is a great way to spend an afternoon. Overall, compared to the other islands in the Cyclades region of the Aegean Sea, Santorini is not known for its beaches but really for its white washed caldera views. We decided to save beach time for the island of Milos which is famous for its plentiful, gorgeous beaches and decided to focus on the things that Santorini is more famous for.

Amoudi bay

This is another great spot for swimming and is located in Oia. You can take a cab or walk up / down a long set of stairs to get down to the bay. There are opportunities for cliff jumping too. A great spot to get adventurous and take a break from all the glorious relaxation.

Megalochori

Visiting Oia is a must. If you have more time to explore other parts of Santorini, Megalochori is a good contender. It is a quiet, picturesque traditional village where you can walk around and take in the beauty of the village in peace without bumping into tourists and eat at one of the many restaurants located here. Some call this quiet town boring, some call it quaint and peaceful – depends on your preference. If you visit, it’s better to explore independently instead of on a tour. That goes for the most of Santorini and the Greek islands. Why would someone want to be shepherded around this safe, beautiful island with a bunch of other tourists is beyond my understanding.

Archeological sites

There are many prehistoric and archeological sites on the island such as Akrotiri archeological site but we decided to skip it considering that we had a limited time in Santorini and we would see a lot of archeological stuff and ruins in the later part of our Greek itinerary in Athens and Meteora. If you have days to spare, you should go for it!


Where to eat


We were very happy with our restaurant choices in Santorini. Each one lived up to the expectations and I am still drooling thinking about the amazing Mediterranean food. We stuck to the local Greek dishes and were very happy we didn’t go for any other cuisines.

In Exo Genia

  1. Metaxi Mas

We were not planning on visiting Exo Genia but went there just to have a meal at this restaurant. Highly regarded by many as the best restaurant in Santorini, it certainly lived up to our expectations. It is well worth the 15 min taxi ride. Pair it with the Artemis Karamolegos winery to make an afternoon out of this experience. Your happy tummy will thank us later.

Metaxi Mas restaurant
Metaxi Mas restaurant

 

In Oia

Famous for its sunset views, all the good restaurants in Oia are packed so it’s not only a smart idea to reserve in advance but reserve weeks before your visit to secure a good spot especially for sunset dinner.

  1. Melitini

This cute little terrace spot has great seating for both lunch and dinner and in between. The views are stunning, food simple yet delicious and service is excellent. No wonder its one of the top restaurants in Oia. We visited Melitini after the hike from Fira and boy did the drinks and food taste good! We had a great time here – not sure if it was because  we were so exhausted from the walk or if the offerings were really that good. Ohh well! We will never know unless we visit again.

 

  1. Kastra Oia

The sunset views from Oia (especially the castle ruins) are stunning. The only problem – every inch of the street ledge overlooking the sunset is packed with people. You can easily rig the game and instead of securing a good sunset spot and trying to fight for it with hundreds of tourists, you can reserve a sunset dinner spot at Kastra Oia which is located right next to the castle and has those same perfect views.

As expected, the food was good but nothing to write home about and the entire experience was expensive in comparison to the array of other options on the island, but you are really here for the views. The service was also mediocre and the staff were somewhere between aloof and rude. Despite these small negatives, I recommend the restaurant to avoid the crowds for a view. Don’t believe me, see the circus over this sunset below.

Sunset from Kastro Oia

Make a reservation to avoid this madness

 

In Firostefani

  1. Aktaion

This restaurant serves authentic Greek cuisine like many others on the island and was one of our favorites. In fact, we liked it so much that we wanted to go back again but decided against it in favor of trying new places. If you book in advance, you can also reserve great sunset view tables on the edge of the caldera. We were glad we booked in advance because we saw many people turned away.

 

  1. Pirouni & Remvi

Both of these restaurants are located close to each other. They are good options considering the food quality, and don’t forget about the good sunset views!b

 

  1. Galini café

This was a solid spot for great breakfast. Quality food , views of caldera , 5 min walk from hotel .

 

In Fira

Even though we didn’t visit any of these restaurants, they have solid reviews on TripAdvisor and other forums. If you are staying in the main town of Fira or just passing by, you may want to check out these breakfast / lunch / dessert spots.

  1. Crème De la crepe – Hours: 9 to 24 everyday, less than 1km – 11 min walk to the old port

 

  1. LukuMum Santorini– Hours: 7.30 to 17.30 everyday, 1km – 14 min walk towards the old port – best loukoumades (donut balls)

 

  1. Solo Gelato Santorini – Hours: 8am to 24 everyday, 1km – 14 min walk towards the old port – best homemade gelato

 

  1. Kalimera Kalinixta – Breakfast / lunch / bakery, less than 1km – 11 min walk to the old port

 

  1. Falafeland – Hours: 11 to 23 everyday, 1km – 14 min walk towards the old port

Message us with any comments or questions.


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