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Sunday, 18 August 2019

A Guide To Santorini

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Brace yourselves, this is going to be one lengthy post. If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know I've just come back from Santorini. If you've found this post by chance, welcome. I wanted to write this for many reasons. One because I love reading and writing travel guides, two because I'd read mixed reviews about the island before we went, and three because despite the island being so popular, there wasn't that many posts with tips and tricks. There are definitely some things I wish I knew before I went, so I thought I'd pass them onto you. And hopefully give you a good read too.




FLYING TIME

Now obviously this will depend on where in the world you're reading, but with the majority of my followers being UK based, Santorini is around the 4 hour mark in flight time. Depending on who you fly with you can pre-book a meal for the plane, which looking back we may have done as the menu once on board was not enough food at all. 




SANTORINI AIRPORT


When you get to Santorini airport, it is tiny. They are renovating and expanding but even I wasn't expecting how small it was. Bring a fan if you can as the air con isn't effective and be prepared to queue. Given the size of the airport, you get through security quick on your way home, but there's nothing to really do at the airport and it gets rammed. There's a rooftop terrace where you can watch your plane literally land, which was a great feature, and will be even better once expanded. But picture that each of the six (I think it was) gates are as close as doors on a row of terraced houses, so keep calm and bring a film to pass time when you're waiting for your flight. 



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WHERE TO STAY


The most popular places to stay are Oia (the place you'll most likely see on postcards, guides advertising the island or on Instagram) or Fira, the capital. They are also the most expensive due the above reasons. They have stunning sunset views and being on the cliffside, unbeatable views of the Caldera. There's loads of luxury hotels and suites to pick from here, just bear in mind both places are very busy with tourists. On the other side of the island are Kamari and Perissa which are flat and home to black beaches, beach bars and sea-view restaurants. They don't get sunsets like the other side of the island but are more chilled out. We stayed in Kamari and were glad of it to get away from the crowds, and the prices that come along with staying in the populated areas. 



GETTING AROUND


Santorini isn't a huge island. You can get from one side to the other in about an hour or under, which is great news if you're up for discovering all it has to offer. All buses go to Fira, the capital and are €1.80. So no matter where you want to go, you have to change at Fira and get a connecting service. They're more like coaches instead of buses and have air con (a plus) and run about every 30 minutes stopping anywhere between 10pm - midnight. The customer service is pretty non-existent but for €1.80, you get used to it. Buses from Oia and Fira do get busy so I wouldn't recommend going for the last service of the night or you could find yourself stranded. You buy your ticket on the bus and they tend to display the destination on the front. They're by far the cheapest way to get around the island. There's places to rent a car, or what we did, an ATV / quad bike. They're about €50 + for the day and give you complete freedom to see places the buses don't go. In hindsight we probably would have got one for more than one day, as being able to go where we wanted to whenever we wanted to was great. And pretty much everywhere in Santorini is free to park, just look for the blue 'P' signs. As a side note, there's ATM machines everywhere so handy to get cash out, but there'll most likely be a charge. 





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KAMARI / PERISSA


We stayed in Kamari and only spent an afternoon in Perissa so don't know too much about the town but it's similar to Kamari in being flat and more chilled than the touristy areas. It's got a long and spacious beach and lots of lively beach clubs to check out. I saw signs that there's a water taxi between Kamari and Perissa but I never saw the boat so don't hold me to that. A huge mountain separates these two towns which takes about 20 minutes to drive around and is where Ancient Thera is. 


Kamari has lots of cute taverns, beach bars, water sports and shops. There's lots of different cuisines to choose from, from typical Greek to Asian and English. We spent a few nights at Albatross Beach Bar for its really reasonable drink prices, good vibes and live music. Really great service here, the guy who sorts the drinks is super friendly and nothing is too much trouble, so shout out to him! Imba is a bar and restaurant which is beautifully designed and super chilled. We had a breakfast at Prince one day which was a mistake as service was so slow and no apologies given - I'd eaten before my boyfriend's meal had arrived, however that became a reoccurring theme for most of the holiday so we got used to it. On the flip side, we used their sun loungers on most days and they were fantastic. Definitely the best on the beach, they were €10 for two people all day and you get service to your bed at no additional cost. So they definitely redeemed themselves, and I would recommend them if you've got a day at the beach planned.





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WHAT TO DO


The main thing I was told when we were going to Santorini was 'go to Oia', which is definitely on everyone's list, but for me, there's lots more that Santorini has to offer outside of that part of the island. We're not a big fan of crowds, so exploring the less busy parts made me love the island even more. 




DRIVE UP TO ANCIENT THERA


There may be tours that take you up here, to my knowledge it's accessible from the Kamari side only. We decided to drive up ourselves and it takes longer than you think to get up there - and lots of braking! Ancient Thera is an antique city 360m high and one to visit if you're into your history. It's not open all day - it closes around 3/3:30pm which we weren't aware of so we couldn't explore it other than driving up but the view is really great too. I can't believe I contemplated walking up it as it is SO high, but we did see some people braving it... 



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CHECK OUT THE RED BEACH


Unlike most islands, white beaches aren't a thing, I think there's about one in total, and it's only accessible by boat. Instead the island is full of amazing black beaches and this famous red beach. You can get a tour that goes to here but we took the ATV and parked up - we were lucky to get a spot as people park a bit madly so the smaller your vehicle, the better! It's a bit of a climb up and down to get to it but the colours are phenomenal. We stayed for a few hours and enjoyed the view. It's not the biggest beach so I'd recommend going before it gets busy to get a spot, and bring plenty of water as there's not really places to eat or drink. 



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BOOK A BOAT TRIP 


Probably my number one recommendation. We booked the boat trip that's most popular which is pretty much a full day on board. The first stop is to hike a volcano, then a trip to the hot springs and then calling at a neighbouring island to grab some lunch before sailing past the most famous parts of the island. I'll go into more detail about the parts of the trip below, but just a note that the tour we went on had the option of a connecting coach to Oia for the sunset and then return back to your hotel. When I first saw Oia sunset coach tours, I didn't really understand it, as the bus is so cheap, but having been to Oia on a bus and having to queue to get home with people pushing in, I'd definitely recommend a coach tour to do this, as it means you're guaranteed a seat home without being left behind!



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HIRE AN ATV


As you can probably tell, I'd recommend hiring an ATV for a few days. Whilst the buses are miles cheaper, the freedom you get to explore all of the island with one of these is ideal. They gave us a map to use, but without google maps we'd have found it harder. Ours came with a handy boot which most should do! We explored the west part of the island when we had ours - checking out the red beach, trying to check out the white beach, Perissa and the traditional village of Megalochori. 




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VISIT A WINERY WITH A VIEW 


Another must on the island is a winery. And there's lots to pick from. We decided to go with an evening at Santo wines, which is one of the most famous on the island, and from the photos it's not hard to see why. Set on the cliffside, with stunning views of the Caldera, it gets the most amazing evening sun - so much so a lot of people couldn't take the heat on the balcony seats. And when the sun sets, it's unforgettable. We had a six wine flight that came with breads and cheeses which was a huge portion, so much so we couldn't finish it. It was a really affordable activity and now has set my expectations of a winery very high. 


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WANDER OIA'S PRETTY STREETS 


Now Oia is hugely famous. And it's not hard to see why. It has pretty streets, incredible views and is the part of the island most known, with its blue dome churches and colourful houses. Most places here to eat and drink are expensive but there's a few affordable gems still with great views, if you don't want to spend too much. Come late afternoon this part of the island becomes rammed with tourists, so if you want to have less hectic crowds, come earlier on to see what you want to see. The castle is the most popular place to watch the sun set, but people come as early as 2-3 hours early to get a seat on the wall, so bear that in mind! There's a few famous photo spots here, and the blue dome shot, when we were there, operated a natural queue system. It's accessible through one route only so if you've got nice and patient people like we did, they'll wait whilst you get a nice photo, and even take one for you! Again, get there early in the day as it tripled in queue size four hours after we'd visited, whereas we only waited 5 minutes to get a snap! I'd recommend ticking Oia off at the start of your trip, that way if the weather isn't so great on one day, you can go back another. Or if you find you really like it, you can come back for a second vist! 


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CLIMB DOWN TO AMOUDI BAY


At the bottom of Oia sits Amoudi Bay, a stunning turquoise waterfront area with restaurants and a short walk around the cliffs. It's a few hundred steps down (and up) so take your time, and it can be quite slippy so think about your shoes. If you walk to the left and follow it round you'll come to the end where people jump in and swim to a rock and dive in from a height. We weren't that adventurous but it looked good fun. 



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HAVE A BEACH DAY 


Whilst there's so much to do in Santorini, it's good to take it easy and have a beach day. Having stayed in Kamari, I really recommend it as it's not crammed full of people, has plenty of lovely beach beds to pick from with service to your lounger. So you can sleep, beach, eat, repeat. 




HAVE DRINKS WITH A VIEW 


Santorini is full of bars and restaurants with stunning views and if you want to save money, there's happy hours available. Wine tends to be quite reasonable, as are some beers. From my experience, the same can't be said for spirits.




WATCH THE SUNSET 


Something that's completely free. Head out to a point on the Caldera, watch the sun go down and appreciate for no money at all why Santorini is so popular.




ENJOY SOME WATER SPORTS 



We did watersports at Kamari which weren't cheap, but most things on the island weren't. I read a blogger who did jet skiing in New York city that ended up being cheaper than what we paid, but we'd both never done in and had a blast so it was worth it! There's lots of activities to choose from and most give you lockers to put your belongings in. I'm glad I didn't take my phone out to sea as we did get quite wet, plus I know I enjoyed it a lot more not worrying about damaging my phone, and just experiencing it rather than documenting it!



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HIKE UP A VOLCANO 


Santorini has an active but dormant volcano on an island nearby. You can't visit it without being part of a boat trip, which is how we went. The tour guides are incredibly helpful and informative so make sure you keep up with them to keep in the know. Take lots of water, sun cream and even a hat to keep the heat at bay as it's an incline to get to the top, but the view is definitely worth it. The volcano costs about £2-3 on top of what you pay for your boat trip, so really reasonable!





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VISIT EUROPE'S BEST OPEN AIR CINEMA


This was one on my radar weeks before we went. Kamari hosts the open air cinema, and not just any open air cinema, but one that is widely referred to as the best in Europe - so quite the claim. Sadly when we went, the films showing weren't great - the Lion King and Aladdin were showing a few weeks later which would have been amazing, but I still loved the overall experience. It's less than €10 to go to which includes the film, and then if you want snacks or drinks, that's additional. The films change once a week and they post them all online for you to see, but you can only pay on the day so it's first come, first served. Queues tend to form an hour before it starts outside the venue. As our film wasn't as popular, we were one of the first in, hence the photo! We had doubts about the picture quality and sound but it was incredible and surpassed expectation. Definitely one to put on your visit list. There's a few parking spaces outside, so even if you're not staying in Kamari, you can stop by pretty easily! 



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THE BOOK SHOP WITH THE BEST VIEW


In Oia lies this pretty book shop with views across the sea, so without doubt one of the most picturesque shops in the world. They sell books in a few languages and if it wasn't for the fact I've got about six to get through, I could have spent ages browsing. 



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VISIT THE CAPITAL


Fira is the capital of the island and you can definitely tell. It's bustling with people, shops, bars and restaurants. On our first visit it was a bit overwhelming but we had a better stroll around when we came back in the day. It's expensive to eat and drink, and we probably should have done more research on eating out, as the crowds were a bit tiring, so we just picked a restaurant on a cliff, which was lovely but very slow and expensive, and unlike the UK where you'll get an apology and potentially some money off, it was a reoccurring theme, so it did make me appreciate home! This is where the nightlife lies, some places charge an entry fee and drinks will cost you the same if not more than in the UK, so it depends on how much you're willing to spend! Buses run until about 11pm / midnight and other than that it's a taxi job. I'd recommend a visit but definitely in the day first, early on so you can appreciate its beauty. 




SWIM IN THE HOT SPRINGS


Another activity you'll be able to do as part of a boat trip. Just off the main island lies the hot springs which as you can imagine are nice and warm to swim in. You'll need to be able to swim about 60-80m off your boat to get to them. They mentioned being a strong swimmer, so make sure you're happy to do it. I wouldn't class myself as a STRONG swimmer, as I've never been put to the test but providing you can swim in the sea and against the waves, it's not a long way to swim. The springs are an orange/red colour and you need to able to tread water, but again, I never panicked and I'm so glad I jumped in and experienced it. It can stain your swimwear, so wear black or something you don't mind ruining!



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SIMPLY EXPLORE 


And lastly, simply explore. Apart from the boat trip and the winery, we tried to leave our days open to planning as and when we felt like it. On a city break, I'm pretty scheduled with things to do and reservations, however for me when you have a bit more time, it's nice to find things naturally. There's a beautiful traditional village called Megalochori which is so peaceful and a complete contrast to Oia and Fira. There's a gorgeous little square in the middle - the perfect place for a glass of wine and some nibbles. There's also free caves to explore that we stumbled across, and some gorgeous buildings to photograph. I got some of my favourite pictures here and it was just nice to get a little bit lost in the beauty of the island. Overall we loved Santorini - I'd been told by some people how disappointing they found it so I was anxious, but going with a realistic view definitely helped. It's a busy island so don't expect to walk around without crowds or get a picture perfect shot. Be patient, you're on holiday after all, and take it all in your stride. For me, staying in the quieter part helped - that way we could pick and choose being around the touristy areas. Book in some activities and trips, and pack mainly flats - ideally trainers, as you won't really need heels. And make the most of it, the things you enjoy doing and don't let other people's opinions, good or bad sway you too much. I'd always wanted to go, and so glad we did. 










2 comments:

  1. I loved Santorini! It's so gorgeous there, I really want to go back with my other half. I spent a few days exploring but went for a wedding ultimately. The boat trip we did was amazing and took us to the volcano and the hot springs. Danielle || www.missdanielle.com

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    1. Sounds like the same boat trip we did - we loved it! Considering what we'd heard, I wasn't sure if I'd come away liking it - but we did loads of things and saw most of the island so we really enjoyed it X

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