Santorini is on most people’s bucketlists and is one of my favourite travel destinations. Arguably the most famous of the Greek Islands, Santorini is a picturesque island with so many things to do and see regardless of whether you are looking for a relaxing getaway or a vacation that is jam packed with activities. The following article will be looking at how to get to Santorini, what to do, where to eat and some insider tips to get the most out of your stay!
How to get to Santorini
There are regular ferry services operating between Athens and the surrounding Greek islands. There are also daily flights to and from Santorini from Athens. Catching a ferry is the cheapest option but it will take longer as you make stops at in Paros and Naxos (and sometimes Ios).
I used Blue Star Ferry on my way to Santorini which departs Athens at 7:25 every morning (365 days a year). It takes about 8 hours to get from Athens to Santorini and the ferry arrives at Santorini at 14:50. The return trip from Santorini to Athens departs at 15:30 and arrives in Athens at 23:15. In the summer months there are evening Blue Star ferries 3 or 4 nights per week from Piraeus (the Athens port) to Santorini. They leave Piraeus port at around 6pm and arrive in Santorini just after midnight. Blue Star Ferry was the cheapest option to get to Santorini and was also the largest ferry meaning that if you suffer from sea sickness this is a good option because you can barely tell that you are on the water. I also really liked this ferry service because of the top open air level where you can sit and take in the scenery.
If you are visiting in summer I recommend booking your tickets in advance because they do sell out and the prices increase closer to the date of departure.
Where to stay in Santorini
Unfortunately for backpackers there is no hostel located in Oia so staying in this part of Santorini will be unavoidably expensive. Luckily however, the week I was in Santorini was the first week of the low season! This meant that I got low season prices but the summer heat was still lingering. During my time in Santorini I stayed at Laokasti Villas in Oia. Being based in Oia meant I could wake up early for sunrise, something I will go into more detail about later in the article!!
For more affordable accommodation I recommend staying in Fira, this will also mean you have an array of budget food options. When I was in Oia I went grocery shopping for dinner and ate out when I was exploring other areas of the island because it is by far the most expensive area of Santorini. It is also a simple bus ride from Fira to Oia or if you have a few hours, the walk between Oia and Fira is amazing!
If you have the budget however, I would recommend spending a night in oia because it is in my opinion, the most gorgeous area of Santorini.
Where to eat in Santorini
Because Oia is so expensive I ended up using the kitchen facilities in my apartment and cooking my own food most of the time (there was a convenient grocery store next to the accommodation). When I was exploring other areas of Santorini though I had one rule – no matter the restaurant, I would have Gyros every meal! Gyros is like a kebab, but with Greek yogurt (or a tzatziki sauce) and hot chips (fries) inside and it is amazing! I had gyros from so many places (wherever was cheapest) and I honestly did not have a bad experience, they were all so good!
What to do in Santorini
I had a mere 2 days in Santorini so I barely got to scratch the surface of all this island has to offer. I was also at the very end of 6 months of backpacking so I was very keen to have a relaxing few days (instead of my usual jam packed itinerary). I have listed in detail what I chose to do during my time in Santorini but I have also made a list of suggested activities that I will definitely make sure to add to my itinerary when I visit again!
Walk from Oia to Fira (or vise versa)
One of my favourite things that I did in Santorini was walk from Oia to Fira. This walk had the most amazing views of the caldera and was a really relaxing way to see more of the island. Because I was stopping to take photos all the time it took me 3 hours so I suggest bringing a backpack with plenty of water. I chose to catch the bus back from Fira after I spent a few hours there in order to be back in Oia for sunset.
Fira is the main hub of Santorini. Here you will find a majority of the island restaurants, markets, hostels and bars. If I had more time in Santorini I would have stayed in Fira for a bit so I could have experienced Santorini nightlife. If you are on a strict budget Fira is where you will want to base yourself during your stay in Santorini.
Oia is in my opinion, the most beautiful part of Santorini. It is the place that you see on all the Santorini postcards – white buildings, blue domed roofs and pastel coloured shops. It has a gorgeous view of the caldera and is just as stunning in real life as it is in pictures. One thing to keep in mind however is the crowds, Oia has such small streets that during the day it is perpetually packed. Especially around sunset time, it is very difficult to get anywhere near the vantage point to look out over the horizon.
Considered by many as the best sunset in the world, this view will not disappoint. It is utterly breathtaking BUT you need to set some important expectations. To get a good view you will need to arrive an hour in advance, at least. It will also be absolutely packed and the second the sun sets it is bedlam as everyone boards buses, taxis and makes their way back to their accommodation (many people are not based in Oia).
Oia Sunrise (My Number 1 Santorini Tip!)
As previously mentioned, Oia sunset is considered by many the best sunset in the world and while it would be in my top 5 for sure, I have to say that the discomfort ofthe crowds and the waiting time does detract from it slightly. Hence my solution, Oia sunrise. On my final day in Santorini I hopped up at 4:30AM and had the streets of Oia TO MYSELF. It was utterly magical. I could set up my tripod wherever I wanted in spots where you would usually have to line up for at least 15 minutes to get a photo. The pink and purples hues of sunrise over the town were spectacular and is without a doubt my favourite sunrise of all time.
Things I will be adding to my Santorini Itinerary next trip
Accessible from Oia, Ammoudi Bay is at the very bottom of the cliffs at the tip of the island. It is a fairly long walk down to the beach and the steep stairs back up are apparently a bit of an effort but it is supposedly a great spot to view sunset (it is facing in the same direction as the vantage point up the top where everyone stakes out to view the sunset). It is considered the best swimming spot on Santorini as you can jump from the rocks into the bright blue water. There is a small island that you can swim out to that has spectacular views of the caldera.
Red Beach is a 20 minute drive south of Fira and I was warned that the walk down to the beach can be steep for some. What makes this beach such an attraction however is the red sand and rocks of the area due to historic volcanic activity.
Similar to Red Beach, Kamari (or the ‘Black Beach’) is a tourist favourite because of its unique sand and rock colouration. There are apparently plenty of restaurants in the area and deck chairs to rent out on the beach.
Renting quad bikes is a really popular way that I noticed people got around the island. It did not look particularly dangerous, just remember to wear your helmet!
There are some places that you know you will have to visit again and for me Santorini is one of them. Hopefully next time I visit I will have a bit more of a budget to work with because it is my absolute dream to stay in Oia again (being a student backpacker does have its negatives sometimes haha!). In particular, I would love to stay somewhere with a view of the caldera… also an infinity pool because they are soooo cool and I was frothing over them the entire time haha 😛
Santorini is a stunning destination that offers a really great combination of things to see and do, while also having the perfect atmosphere to just sit back and relax. This was actually my last destination after 6 months of nonstop backpacking so it was the best end to a life changing 6 months. Oia is a wonderful weekend getaway destination or a ‘must add’ to your European itinerary. It will live up to and exceed all of your expectations.
Feel free to comment any questions or queries below 🙂
Suitcase And I was not commissioned to write this article and as always, the opinions in this review are my own.