White houses with blue dome roofs, a glittering aquamarine view of the Aegean Sea and cobblestone paths winding past restaurants, shops, and historic churches. Santorini is at the top of the list for many people as a dream travel destination, and making this dream come true is worth every penny.
Getting to Santorini
There aren’t many direct flights into Santorini except for from Athens and Italy, so the typical traveler flies into Athens first. From Athens, there are two options to get to the island, flight or ferry. Buying flight tickets early enough leaves them at about $200-300 round trip from Athens on Aegean Air.
Flying is the quickest option; most flights from Athens to Santorini are under an hour. Ferry tickets range from 35-100 euro, depending on the speed of ferry and class of the ticket. Blue star ferries are updated and comfortable boats to sail over on, the regular ones take 8 hours while the express can get you there from Athens in just over 5. I’d recommend splurging a bit more for the 5-hour ferry, as 8 is an entire travel day and can be exhausting.
Where to stay – on a budget
Nestled just outside the capital city of Fira in Karterados, Stavros Villas apartments are the best choice for staying comfortable while saving a lot of money. It is a small, family-run complex that boasts a clean and beautiful pool as well as fully equipped bedrooms with decent size bathrooms, a table, closet space, and mini fridge.
My friends and I stayed here in late May (beginning of travel season) for €12/night per person. It’s a killer deal considering the hospitality. The owner Stav and his daughters are so kind and do everything to ensure their guests are comfortable. Free transport picks up to or from the ferry or airport. Karterados is a quieter residential area of Santorini, so it’s perfect for people who do not want to stay in the main drag of tourist areas. It’s a 15-minute walk from Fira and about a five-minute drive.
In addition to the warm hospitality and location of Stavros Villas, waking up early enough grants the reward of a beautiful sunrise over the Aegean, visible right from the window of the villas.
Food Guide to Santorini
Fira, being the capital city of Santorini, is somewhat of a tourist trap, but there are still plenty of reasonably priced, authentic restaurants to enjoy.
Located just off the main square, this restaurant serves terrific Greek dishes and has an outdoor rooftop patio with a beautiful view. The Kokkinisto plate is to die for; it’s a tender beef stewed in a tomato sauce that practically melts in your mouth. The sangria is homemade by the owner, a cute little old Greek man who takes great pride in his food. The stuffed peppers and souvlaki are also fantastic. For appetizers, we tried the fried zucchini balls and dolmades, stuffed grape leaves and both dishes were perfect for sharing.
Taverna El Greco
While this restaurant may not look like much at first glance, as the main entrance is the take out area of the kitchen, eating upstairs with the open air balcony is a pleasant dining experience. We ate here when we started craving pizza and pasta near the end of our trip. The four cheese rigatoni is fantastic, the pizza el Greco is delicious, and the El Greco salad is yummy. All reasonably priced and served with house wine.
Pyrgos, Santorini – Johnnie Cafe
I can safely say that I have had the best savory crepe (ham and cheese) as well as the best sweet crepe (chocolate and banana) of my life at this restaurant. This cafe is located right in the small city of Pyrgos, in the southern, inland part of the island. It is up high in the mountainous terrain, and a stop here for a bite to eat when touring around the island is a great choice. All their food is exceptionally fresh; we even got to watch the orange juice get squeezed. Not the cheapest cafe I have ever been to, but well worth the few extra euros for the quality of food.
A rooftop sunset dinner in Oia
The top recommendation as a “must see” in Santorini on many travel sites and blogs is the Oia sunset, and it is a beautiful experience, but made even better while eating. A lot of restaurants that give a sunset view in Oia are relatively expensive but well worth it. We chose Pelekanos, a rooftop restaurant with a 360° view of the sunset. The food was incredible, making the experience even better. Winds are fierce in Santorini which can put a bit of a damper on rooftop dining, but with a clear night, this is a great place to eat and watch the sunset.
Prepare to eat later than what is typical in the U.S. because the sun doesn’t start setting until around 8 pm in the Summer months. At Pelekanos, I ordered the lamb which was incredible and only €15, a surprising price considering what some people would pay for an equivalent. The fried eggplant with tomato and soft cheese appetizer is fantastic as well. For all three of us having a drink, splitting the appetizer and having individual entrees, the total came out to be €65.
Perissa Beach – Poseidon
Perissa is known for its red and black sand beaches, and exploring this part of the island can leave one hungry for a pre-dinner meal. Poseidon was an excellent find for a quick bite in the afternoon, an open-air restaurant with a lovely view of the sea and beach. The salads are generous portions; the tomatoes used in Santorini have a vibrant flavor; in fact, the island is famous for them. In addition to healthy food, the stuffed grape leaves and garlic dip here are incredible, perfect for easing any midday hunger while at the beach.
Gelato – CREMA
Located right in the main square in Fira, Crema is a great stop after dinner (or pre-dinner, if you’re me) for a tasty scoop of delicious gelato or frozen Greek yogurt. My personal favorite is pomegranate, but if you like sweet and creamy flavor, try the Stracciatella, a sweet cream flavor with chocolate shavings on top more unique to Europe.
Drinks in Santorini
Many of the bars in Santorini on the main strips have attractive Greek young men outside doing everything possible to drag customers inside. Town club and Murphy’s are good bars to go to, but 2 Brothers bar in Fira is the only hookah/shisha bar around. It is a small but enjoyable atmosphere and reasonable drink prices (€5 mojito!!!) during happy hour. Cute and friendly bartenders too. If you’re feeling brave, drop €2 on a headshot, a shot of ouzo followed by a smack on the head with a wooden club (helmets included) it is a hilarious experience, definitely try to convince friends to do it first.
Getting around Santorini
Santorini is not a very walkable island, which is a bit disappointing for the traveler that likes long city walks. The streets of the main cities such as Oia, Fira, Perissa and Pyrgos are all very walkable, but they are secluded from each other through winding mountain roads. Luckily, transportation is cheap in Santorini. ATVs and Scooters are about €12-20 per person for 24-hour rental and cars are about the same. People drive somewhat crazy here, but we felt pretty safe racing along the roads on our ATVs. With about 10 euro in gas, one can get around the whole island on a scooter or ATV.
Top Things to Experience in Santorini
Volcano, Hot Springs, and Thirassia
Various companies offer boat tours to and from the old port of Fira to the volcano and hot springs and the small island of Thirassia. It costs about €19 and is an excellent use of a clear, calm day on the Aegean Sea. Boats leave the port for the tour around 10:30/11am and return around 4. The volcano is a hike through loose rocks, plan attire accordingly (no flip flops or junky sandals) and bring plenty of water and sunscreen. The hot springs were not as hot as I was hoping they would be but still provided a refreshing swim.
The stop in Thirassia is a small island town experience, to access one can climb the stairs up from the port, take a donkey, or stay by the shoreline and enjoy the shops and food along the shore, we had fantastic chicken gyros at the small cafe on the coastline. Beware of seasickness on the boats; I learned the hard way that this is not a tour to do while hungover.
Fira Town at Night
Definitely, a view worth walking around the city at night for, Fira is a fun place to go out. The lights along the cliffside on the houses are beautiful to see during a walk for getting drinks or coming back from dinner.
If you spend a few days in Santorini, you must get around to explore the different beaches. There are the black sand beaches of Perissa and the red sand beach Akrotiki, along with countless others along the coast. You won’t find the idyllic, white-sandy beaches that some people think of when they dream about Greece, but these beaches are stunning in their own right and are fantastic for sunbathing and swimming.
Kissing fish Spa
These unique spas in Oia and Fira have recently gained attention due to visits by the Kardashians on their trip to Santorini in an episode of their show. These fish spas provide a unique experience to customers who want to have their feet and legs exfoliated and gently massaged by small toothless fish called “Garra Rufa.”It costs 10 euro for the 10-minute introductory experience, which is plenty long in my opinion. Don’t expect your callouses to be gone after the fish have worked on your legs, but they remove some dead skin and tickle the feet and legs, providing a fun experience.
Santorini is an incredible destination for couples, groups of girlfriends, families, really any traveler can enjoy. You can spend hours wandering the little streets in the small towns around the island, enjoy stopping in different shops, eat TONS of incredible Greek food, and soak up the sun on one of many beaches. It has adventure and fun if you’re looking for thrills and relaxing options if you’re hoping to chill out. I think Santorini is a must-visit for anyone going to Greece, and it’s a fantastic destination on its own, or as part of a big island-hopping adventure in the Aegean Sea.