Santorini has been for the longest time at the top of my bucket list but for some reason I kept postponing this trip, maybe because of the diverse opinions I have heard about this place. Although no one can deny its uniqueness and rare beauty, some consider it a very touristy, extremely crowded and expensive destination. I guess what was left, was to go there and witness the jewel of Cyclades myself and so I did. And it was totally worth it! The moment I arrived, I knew why everyone is talking about this island and dreams of visiting it someday – IT IS INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL! Breathtaking views over the Aegean, multicolored cliffs emerging from the sea-drowned caldera, topped by a series of whitewashed houses and blue-domed chapels? YES PLEASE! The scenery is sooo dreamy that rightfully some say that if paradise is on earth then it has to be here. It is not surprising that the uniqueness of this place allures 1.5 million tourists annually!
From above, the island looks like a wonky croissant but did you know that originally it was circular and was named Strongili (Greek translation: round-one)? It got its current shape due to a volcanic eruption, a thousand years ago, which caused the center of Strongili to sink, leaving the caldera-edge clifftops on the east side, Santorini’s trademark landscape.
The capital of the island is Fira and sprawls into two villages, Firostefani and Imerovigli. There is a path connecting these villages which you may consider taking as it offers gasp-inducing views over the caldera. The most famous village though is Oia, situated in the northern part of Santorini. Oia is the place that you mostly see on Instagram and all over the Internet. It is an exclusive old town, which offers the best views over the caldera, and it is the perfect spot to catch Santorini’s world-famous sunset. For that reason, Oia’s beauty comes at a high price and the most luxurious and expensive hotels of Santorini (and probably Greece) are located there. Oia gets extremely crowded during high seasons, so I suggest you visit it as early as possible in the morning to avoid the hordes of cruising-tourists getting there at 10am. However, if you are looking for a quieter and relaxing place away from the crowds, you may consider visiting Pyrgos, an inland town where you will find mostly locals. Despite being less popular and not so picture-perfect, Pyrgos is a hidden gem of Santorini and it is definitely worth visiting for great eats and wander through its charming backstreets.
No matter what type of holiday you are into, luxurious, relaxing, adventurous, Santorini’s local charm and beauty will make your travel an unforgettable experience! Check out my bucket list below, with things you must see and do when in Santorini 😊
Santorini is so magical by itself that you do not actually need a bucket list. Just take a walk by the caldera and enjoy its infinite views over the Aegean, it is amazing! However, if you want to explore the island in more depth here is my bucket list to take some ideas:
Explore Oia and watch the Santorini’s famous sunset. TIP: visit Oia in the early morning until 10am to avoid the crowds. It is unbelievable how packed Oia can get especially around 6-8pm when everyone wants to enjoy the sunset.
Visit Pyrgos to explore its alleys and climb up to the top of its medieval castle (Kasteli) for the best panoramic views of the island. Pyrgos offers also some great restaurants to taste local and Mediterranean cuisine.
Go swimming in Perissa Beach, a black-sand beach. Although Santorini is not famous for its beaches, Perissa beach is worth visiting due to its unique landscape.
Enjoy freshly caught fish at Ammoudi Bay, a small fishing village at the base of Oia where you can also catch another unforgettable sunset. You can reach Ammoudi either by car or by walking down there from Oia. There is a zig-zag pathway of approximately 230 steps but think about the return trip as well before walking down.
Taste wines in one of the island’s numerous vineyards. Santorini is famous for the exclusive production of Vinsanto, a dessert wine made from the indigenous grape variety, assyrtiko.
Wander on the caldera edge and take in Santorini’s incredible views. Walks in and around Fira and Imerovigli are spectacular. You can also follow the caldera-edge path connecting these two villages. TIP: Do not take the path in the middle of the day when the weather is too hot and keep always in mind to have plenty of water and food with you when taking the path.
Where to eat
Galini cafe (Firostefani) for breakfast 🥑🥑🥑🥑🥑
Melenio Cafe (Oia) for coffee and breakfast 🥑🥑🥑🥑
Confetti Dessert Boutique (Imerovigli) for brunch 🥑🥑🥑🥑
Sunset Taverna (Ammoudi) for seafood 🥑🥑🥑🥑
Cava Alta (Pyrgos) for dinner 🥑🥑🥑🥑🥑
Argo (Fira) for dinner 🥑🥑🥑🥑
The Athenian House (Imerovigli) for dinner 🥑🥑🥑🥑
When to visit
Peak travel time to Santorini begins in early April and ends in late September. If good weather, swimming, sunbathing and nightlife is a must for you, you may consider visiting the island in the summer but be prepared for soaring prices and crowded viewpoints and beaches during that period. I would suggest visiting Santorini in late spring though, when things are a bit quitter at the caldera edge and the weather is pleasant already.
How long to stay
Stay in Santorini for 3 nights at least. It is a quite small island but there is plenty to do, especially if you want to take a boat tour, go hiking and explore other less popular villages as well, like Pyrgos.
Where to stay
If you can afford it, stay on the caldera edge in Oia or Imerovigli for the full Santorini experience. Views are perfect in both places but I would prefer the latter since Oia can get a lot more crowded during the day and tourists can be literally everywhere even in front of your balcony. If you are on a budget and staying on the edge of the caldera is not your priority, you can find decent midrange options in Fira and Firostefani.
Other travel tips
Choose the place you will stay wisely and book ahead.
It is recommended to rent a car to explore the island. Taxis are difficult to find and might be expensive.
Respect the signs and privacy areas. Also keep in mind that drones are not allowed in Santorini without a permission.
During high-season, in most of the restaurants you will have to reserve a table at least one day before.
If you want to take pictures in Oia, it is strongly recommended to go there early in the morning. From 10am it gets so packed that it might be impossible to take a shot.