Santorini, stands proud out of the sea as the plane prepared to land at the tiny airport on the island.
Going from the airport to your destination can be done by taxi or bus, and most hotels will organise this for you.
We stayed at Kamari beach, so it was a short taxi ride that cost 20€.
I’ve had quite a few messages on Facebook and Instagram, where people have said that Santorini looks fabulous, but it’s expensive, isn’t it?
Well, I guess the restaurants and hotels, like any other destination, caters for all budgets, but it really doesn’t have to that expensive and I ‘ll give a couple of top tips of places we stayed and ate at on the island.
To get around the island there are quite a few options :
- The local buses, which are cheap and pretty good overall.
- Organised tours (we didn’t do one, apart from the volcano tour).
- Hire a car – there are lots of agencies all over the island.
- Hire a scooter – again, lots of agencies all over.
- Hire an ATV (a quad to you & me).
We opted to hire an ATV, for several reasons. Ther are easy to park, virtually anywhere, you can choose where and when you go and come back and they are quite cheap.
That said, most guidebooks discourage the hiring of quads, ours said that it is considered a dangerous sport and your travel insurance won’t cover you if you have an accident – I’m not sure how true this is and didn’t want to test it out, as we carefully drove around the island for a few days.
What I did notice is that drivers gave us a wide berth when they overtook us on the quad, although most tended to overtake on sharp bends and they could tell the difference from tourists on quads and islanders, as the tourists wore the provided crash helmets and locals go bare-headed.
One thing to note is that the Greek alphabet is unlike our Roman alphabet, so some signs are translated almost phonetically, I saw Fira marked as “Tira”, “Feera”, “Theera” and “Thira” – the rule is, if it looks like the place you want to get to, it probably is.
There is a lot to see on Santorini, but a week is largely enough to take it all in, in a leisurely pace.
Some of the highlights is Ancient Thera, archaelogical remains going back to the first settlements on Santorini. It is a hair-raising drive up the steep mountain side (a local said it wasbn’t a mountain) but it looks like one. When you get to the top, there are fabulous views though.
The beach at the bottom is Kamari beach, and I’ll talk more about this later.
Fira is the capital of Santorini and is a mix of hustle and bustle and a lot of tacky tourist stuff.
A must is to go down the 580 steps to the old port, but when you get there, you may wonder just why you did it as there is very little at the bottom, apart from an attempt to drive tourists through a gadgets-and-gizmos arcade, much like Ikea do, if you stay on the right of this you can avoid it.
There are also lots of donkeys that will take tourists back up the 580 steps, but we don’t really think this appropriate to burden these poor animals with our weights, but I’ll say no more about it, apart from the fact that the animals look in very good condition, notwithstanding their hard and monotonous lives.
The best way back up if you don’t fancy punishing your already burning calf muscles is the 6€ ride up on the cable car.
Fira is full f tourists, due in part to the huge cruise liners that disgorge their passengers via water taxi to the quai, most of whom, take the cable car up to teh twon of Fira from the jetty.
We were here in October, so there were less tourists that in summer, and probably due to the Covid pandemic, and there was a huge queue for the cable cars, so in summer it must be exponentially worse.
You have to look carefully at the restaurants here, as most of the USP of the restaurants is the view they have from their terraces, sometimes the food is compromised by the peomise of a good view.
We ate in two restaurants in Fira, one attempted, unsuccessfully to my mind, to recreate traditional Greek cuisine into a form of nouvelle cuisine – I think what did it for me was the deconstructed baklava and the white, almost liquid taramasalate, which was not really that good – good try, but nah.
The second restaurant we ate in did very good tarama and excellent fish – the view from both was superb.
Fira is one of the most beautiful villages on Santorini.
Probably one of the most famous views in the world is to be seen at Oia, pronounced ‘EEA’, it is beautiful, there’s no doubt about that with its blindingly white walled houses and blue domes with the backdrop of the azure Aegean sea – it’s like you have just wandered into a dream.
It is THE place for a sunset photo on Santorini, or is it?
The thing is, you won’t be the only one there, the heaving mass of tourists pour through the winding cobbled alleyways, and as sunset approaches, people flock to Oia in their droves.
We left Oia an hour before sunset, just as tourists were crowding in for sunset, it was like leaving a concert venue as buses and mini-buses arrived leaving their cargoes of tourists on the main road.
If you want to see a beautiful sunset and don’t want to wade through the thousands crowding into Oia, then go to Prophet Elias Monastery at the top of Santorini 565 metres above sea level for a fabulously wide vista of the sun as it dips down into The Aegean Sea. Put your camera down, or leave it behind and just drink in the view without the hindrance of an electronic viefinder – it is truly magical.
Another great way to see the sunset in many different spots is the 2 hour hike frim Fira to Santorini.
A place not to miss is the quite and sleepy village of Megalochori, with its picturesque narrow alleys and multitude of tiny churches. There are two really good restarants just after the gateway into the village under the shade of a huge tree.
While you are here, have a wander around Pyrgos, the highest village on the island with some really nice Cycladic architecture and some great views of the island.
The red beach is a must to see, if only for the clashing contrast of the red volcanic cliffs with the crystal-clear azure sea, but once again, beware of it getting overcrowded with tourists at certain times of year.
There is a lovely little whitewashed church nestling into the red cliffs just before the car park at the red beach, which could well be worth a visit, although it was closed when we came by.
Although we don’t really like organised tours, one to do on Santorini is the volcano tour, where you hike on to an active volcano of Nea Kamini.
The tour starts from virtually anywhere on the island by bus which takes you to the port, where you embark on a false sailing ship for the volcano – it looks like a sailing ship with its three masts, but it is in fact a diesel boat.
The volcano has a 6€ entrance fee, so make sure you have some cash on you, and you can walk up to the active volcano crater, called ‘George’ for some reason see our video of the volcano.
After hiking for an hour or two on the volcano the boat takes you to the hot springs that flow into the sea, where the boat stops for those that fancy a swim in the hot springs. From the hot springs the boat then goes to the small island of Thirassia and stops for lunch for a couple of hours.
In the port at Thirassia there are the obligatory souvenir shops and some touristy restaurant – we ate at ‘Captain John’s – never again, it was terrible.
The more energetic might like to climb the steps up to the village, where the tavernas are a little more traditional and definitely better.
The boat then follows the cliffs just under Oia and Fira – The Caldera – then back to the port. Some people book the sunset in Oia at the same time, where a bus awaits them as they disembark from the boat.
Tourist boats at the volcano
Firastefani, between Fira and Imerovigli, is really a suburb of Fira, is a lovely little village with fantastic views across the Caldera, but without the crowds and bustle of Fira.
You may find it hard to believe, but there are some deserted beaches on Santorini, where you will be the only peson on the beach – they do exist, we found one on the coast next to the airport and funnily enough, there was virtually no noise at all coming from the airport.
Kamari beach is a busy little village with everything you need at hand, from beachside restaurants and bars, shops and an open-air cinema.
The beach is made up of black volcanic sand and the water is beautiful and safe to swim in.
We stayed at a fabulous little hotel at Kamari beach and we reccommend it without hesitation – we stayed for a week, with a large room with a balcony overlooking the swimming pool and the beach just across the road. The hotel staff are fabulous with a real sense of service and we had a great week here.
All of the restaurants we ate at in Kamari Beach were excellent and the prices were really good, but an outstanding restaurant where we ate 4 time, was the Taverna Amelia in Kamari – it was always excellent and the staff and owners were just fabulous – another recommendation without hesitation.
NB we are in no way affiliated with these two establishments, but they are so good, we thought that they deserve a solid thumbs up!
We had a great time in Santorini – it’s a fabulous place with lovely people – what are you waiting for?
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