Santorini has been at the top of my bucket list for years, and it didn’t disappoint. Its stunning caldera views, swoon-worthy sunsets, and majestic blue domes were just the tip of the iceberg. Santorini also offers solid food, wineries, history, art, and culture. Here are a few of my favorite experiences:
Nestled on a cliff in Imerovigli, the Chromata up style hotel offers some of the best views in all of Santorini. The rooms are traditional Santorini cave style and come with their own balconies. I love the little touches in the rooms too: the complimentary bottle of local white wine, the fruit basket, and the pre-loaded iPod. Some of the higher end suites even have their own private hot tubs.
The room rate includes a daily champagne brunch, which you can eat by the infinity pool overlooking the caldera or order through room service.
We loved this hotel and would recommend it to anyone, except for kids under 13, who are not allowed for safety reasons, and anyone with trouble climbing stairs.
Because of its volcanic soil, Santorini wines have a pleasant acidity and minerality to them. I found them refreshingly mild compared to the bold Napa and Sonoma wines we’re used to. The island specializes in white wines, so be sure to try the house white at any restaurant.
There are so many wineries in Santorini but based on local consensus, the top three seemed to be Santo Wines, Domaine Sigalas, and Venetesano Winery. We didn’t make it to the last one, but I highly recommend the others. Santo has incredible caldera views and tastings perfect for sharing: 6, 12, or 18 wines served with cheese, olives, breadsticks, and dips so you can cleanse your palate.
Domaine Sigalas is known for having the best wines in Santorini. While it doesn’t have a caldera view, the tasting room is in a lovely outdoor courtyard overlooking the vineyard. Tastings here are also perfect for sharing, with an option to taste the 11 dry wines or add an additional 4 dessert wines and spirits.
Japan has izakayas, India has dhabas and Greece has tavernas. Tavernas are perfect for traditional and hearty Greek eats at a reasonable price. Metaxy mas, Anogi, Argo, and Katina were just a few that we liked. Be sure to try dishes with sweet Santorini tomatoes or white eggplant, like ntomatokeftedes (tomato fritters) or baked eggplant with feta and tomato.
Baked eggplant at Metaxi Mas
Ntomatokeftedes at a taverna on Thirassia island
Goat cheese baked in phyllo at Metaxi Mas
Vegetarian moussaka at Anogi
Here are a few tips on getting the best view:
- Do try to see the sunset from different parts of Santorini, not just Oia. We saw stunning sunsets from Imerovigli and Fira as well.
- Do try to get to your vista point (like a bar, restaurant, lighthouse, etc.) early. Especially in Oia, the crowds start forming an hour or two before the sun actually sets. If you’re driving, leave extra time for navigating traffic and parking.
- Bring your best camera and selfie stick. These sunsets are truly bucket list worthy, so you’ll want to keep the memories for a long time.
In addition to the sunsets, I loved staring at the glittering blue Aegean Sea. It really looks like something out of Game of Thrones or Land Before Time. Words and photos don’t do it justice, but just trust me on this one.
Things to do
- Wander around Fira and Oia, taking in the views, architecture, and shops. Santorini has great local art and jewelry.
- Take a sunset cruise to get a 360 degree perspective of the island and a unique view of the sunset
- Check out the ancient city of Akrotiri, which was preserved when a volcano erupted, covering the city with ash
- Go wine tasting
- Check out the views at Red Beach
Things to skip
- The fine dining. We weren’t impressed. The couple of “modern” or “creative” Greek restaurants we tried had mediocre food: overpriced, oversalted, and over seasoned. Like with Mykonos, you’re just paying for a view and there are better ways to see that.
- Swimming at the beaches. Unlike other Greek islands, Santorini isn’t really known for its beaches. They are rocky and the water isn’t very clear.
- Thirassia: We were advised to take a tour of the neighboring island of Thirassia but I wish we had skipped it. The island is not pretty and there wasn’t much to see.
Where to stay
We were strongly advised to choose a city on the caldera side of the island: Oia, Fira, Firostefani, or Imerovigli.
We ultimately chose Imerovigli because it’s perfectly situated between Oia and Fira. Oia has the best sunsets and the famous blue and white buildings, while Fira is the city center and offers the most shops, nightlife, and restaurants. Imerovigli is a short drive from both and also offers the most privacy and serenity.
How to get around
When you get off the ferry or plane, be sure to rent a car. You can easily find one for about $20 a day, and it’s the best way to get around the island. The roads in Santorini are steep and narrow and the climate is windy, so ATVs and scooters are impractical. Buses are also an option, but they take a long time, and taxi fares add up quickly.
When to go
Like with Mykonos, it pays to visit during the shoulder season. Hotel rooms and tours are much cheaper and you get lots of upgrades. Our room at the Chromata was upgraded to a junior suite, we got a table with a great view at every restaurants, and many group tours ended up being private tours. Plus, the weather was in the mid 70s, so still very pleasant.
What to pack
Dress in long layers, as days are warm but nights are cool and breezy, especially at high elevations. Think maxi dresses or linen pants with a light jacket or wrap slung over your shoulders later. Don’t forget your walking shoes, hat and sunglasses. Leave your heels at home; you won’t need them. Santorini is full of steep slopes and stairs.
Tips for vegetarian diners
In Greece, most of the vegetarian options can be found in the mezze or appetizer section. Think tzatziki, fava, dolmas, eggplant dishes, fritters, Greek salad, etc. But the food is hearty and the portions are generous, so a couple of small plates are enough for a meal. Like in other islands, there’s a lot of Italian influence so you’ll find lots of pastas too. Most menus are also offered in English so it’s easy to identify ingredients.
Roasted vegetables, stuffed tomato, Gigantes, tzatziki, and Greek salad at Panorama Restaurant in Thirasia
If all you do in Santorini is stroll around, take in the beautiful views, drink the local wine, and eat the island specialties at local tavernas, you’ve done it right. The rest is all gravy.
So grateful to check this place off my bucket list and can’t wait to return to Greece someday.