Santorini is magical. It is something out of a movie. You will try to prepare yourself by looking at photos but when you arrive, the island will take your breath away.
It is the most breathtaking of the Greek isles we visited, and with it's beauty, it was also the busiest island. Even visiting in off season (we visited early May), the island felt busier compared to other islands. Most restaurants and stores were open and filled with visitors from around the world. At every corner, you'll stumble upon stunning views of white houses and blue church domes. You also can't miss the dozens of visitors in fancy clothing being followed by professional photographers. Oia is truly one of a kind, so it's understandable that people want to look nice and capture it's beauty.
We stayed in Oia (pronounced "ee-a") for our entire stay, getting lucky to find an incredible Airbnb. The apartment sat on the cliffside, with beautiful views of overlooking the caldera and ocean. Oia was busy in April (we can't imagine how busy it gets during the summer months) and if you've been, you know the narrow walking streets can get busy and congested, especially during sunset. Despite the crowds, we really enjoyed staying in Oia because it allowed us to enjoy the charming town, away from other tourists and busy pathways. We also were in the heart of town and could enjoy it in the mornings and late evenings once the crowds dispersed. Another popular spot to stay is Fira, the capital of Santorini.
If just enjoying the beautiful scenery isn't enough, there is so much to do on the island. Given the cost of our Airbnb, we spent a lot of time relaxing, soaking up the sun and the views from our Airbnb patio. After soaking up some sun, we recommend going for a swim. For a swimming spot with less people, head to Ammoudi Bay. We went scuba diving with Cousteau Dive Center - going for a dive on the coast of Thirasia, and then in Ammoudi Bay. The water was extremely cold, thankfully we had wetsuits. It was surpirising to meet a couple from England jumping from the rocks in Ammoudi Bay without wetsuits. More power to the brave gal in the bikini. We heard the water is much warmer and better for swimming during the summer. Other popular spots for swimming are Black Beach and Red Beach. We drove by these beaches to check them out, but the currents were strong and nobody was swimming. Other ways to enjoy the beautiful coast is hiking from Fira to Oia or go on a catamaran tour.
For wine lovers, you can't miss a wine tasting while in Santorini. Hands down - the most breathtaking winery views we've EVER experienced are at the Venetsanos Winery. The winery overlooks the magnificent caldera, and who doesn't love tasting wine with a view. There are many wineries on Santorini and this is one not to miss. Another winery we enjoyed was Domaine Sigalas. It's closer to Oia, about 10 minutes driving, and the estate is surrounded by vineyards - both modern and basket style vineyards that are on the ground. The method is known as pruning and was considered a work of human art, invented out of necessity centuries ago by people struggling to fight extreme weather conditions and strong winds. This special way of pruning looks like a basket and functions like a birds nest.
CATCH THE SUNSET
A must in Santorini is watching the sun set in Oia. People from all over line the narrow pathways of Oia. Cameras flash and the picturesque town glows a burnt orange as the sun slowly sets. It's truly a beautiful way to end your day. To enhance your sunset experience, grab a beer from a mini market. We sampled beers from the Santorini Brewing Company. Our favorite was the Crazy Donkey IPA. Fira is also a great spot to catch sunset.
Getting around Santorini is fairly easy, but be warned that you will deal with traffic. Traffic jams are common on certain parts of the island, especially getting into Oia, so expect backups and be patient. There's a few options for getting around the island. You can hire a taxi and an average ride will cost you 25€. That'll add up quickly, which is why we recommend renting a car or ATV or taking the bus. Bus is the most frugal option, but isn't always the best because you're on someone else's time. That's why we decided to rent a car. We got a mini Fiat convertible and it was such a good decision. The daily rate was only 25€ and having a car allowed us to explore the island on our own time. Plus, riding around with the top down on a hot Greek day is an amazing feeling (minus the sunburn)!
Of all the things we experienced in Santorini, eating and taking in the views were our favorite! There are soo many delicious restaurants on the cliffside towns of Oia and Fira. For a tasty seafood dinner, have dinner on the Ammoudi Bay. There are a few seafood restaurants. We had a delicious red snapper at Sunset Restaurant and enjoyed a lovely sunset. Volkan on the Rocks, in addition to it's incredible views overlooking the caldera, has a stellar goat cheese, turkey and truffle oil Peinirli flat bread. Paired with wine, it was soo delicious and is something I've been thinking about since eating it. Starting in June, Volkan is an open air cinema and plays Mamma Mia and My Big Fat Greek Wedding on rotation every evening. Another sunset spot we enjoyed was Kastro, on the cliffside of Oia. You'll have a front row view of the sunset, while enjoying a meal and glass of wine. The tuna tartar had the perfect amount of flavor and the calamari was full of flavor. Luckily we had no issues getting seated without reservations, but we highly recommend making dinner reservations, especially during busier months (this goes for wine tastings, too).
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED ON THE GREEK ISLANDS
On our final morning in Santorini, we woke to crazy weather. The winds were howling, some of the patio mats had blown away and Casey took down the umbrella before it was lost in the wind. Extreme wind caused all ferries to be cancelled, including ours, and we had to sit back and wait for the winds to die down in hopes that we'd make it off Santorini to Milos, the final island on our itinerary. Fortunately we were able to get off Santorini safely, however, unfortunately we made the tough decision to skip Milos due to bad weather. Instead, we returned to Athens two days earlier than we originally planned. The sun was shining in Athens and we really soaked up our final time here, roaming around town, taking in the sun and views from several roof top restaurants.
HOW TO SPEND A RAINDY DAY IN SANTORINI
If you find yourself on Santorini on a rainy day, don't fret. The views may be foggy and you might miss the iconic sunsets, but you can still keep yourself busy. With our boat canceled, we had an extra day to explore Santorini and put together a rainy day list for you.
1. Go wine tasting. Though we lucked out with spectacular weather the day we went wine tasting, some wineries have indoor tasting rooms, so you can sip wine and stay dry.
2. Do an escape room. Test your skills and logic with a fun escape room. Whenever bad weather strikes on vacation, there is usually an escape room nearby. The room we did had a 5% escape rate and while we didn't escape in time, we had a fun time.
3. Eat. You've come all the way to Greece, you might as well continue to enjoy the delicious food it has to offer. Find an indoor restaurant in Fira or Kamari and hunker down. We found several restaurants in Kamari where we could take cover and enjoy a delicious meal as the rains came down.
4. Get lost in a good book. What's better than cozying up with a good book as you listen to the rain, wind and thunder outside. We never travel without several books, but if you are in need of a book on Santorini, check out Atlantis Books. Located on the marble streets of Oia, to some, Atlantis Books is considered one of Europes best bookstores. It is small, but has hundreds of novels offered in seven different languages.