Although known to the World and even to the Greek as Santorini, the official name of the island is Thira. This beautiful island located in the Southern Aegean Sea is the result of Minoan volcanic eruption over 3600 years ago, leaving the majestic Caldera which has become the icon of Santorini. The four main towns in Santorini, of which are the best places to stay while on the island, are Fira, Firostefani, Imergolvi, and Oia. Santorini’s main industry is tourism, receiving approximately 2 million visitors each year between those staying on the island and those visiting off of cruise ships. Most of these visitors come to the island between the months of June and early September with April, May, mid/late September, and October being consider the shoulder season months where you will experience fewer crowds, but with that also a bit cooler weather. Temperatures during the high summer months of June - early September are 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, while average highs during the shoulder season range from 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, so although maybe a bit cool for a swim during this time you will still experience fantastic weather to visit this amazing island.
Fira is the capital of the island of Santorini and a city that turns into a bustling city of tourists during the summer months. Fira is where you will find many bars, restaurants, and shopping. If you are looking for lots to do, many options for dining and nightlife, and are ok with the crowds then Fira is the place for you.
Located about a 15-20 minutes walk, approximately 2 kilometers north of Fira you will find Firostefani. A bit quieter town, but still close enough to Fira to be able to easily enjoy the vast array of restaurants, bars, and shops. Firostefani offers some of the best Caldera views with the close proximity to Fira allowing for great views of the capital city and also situated as such to enjoy the amazing Santorini sunsets.
Located about another kilometer north of Firostefani is Imerovigli. Imerovigli is a very sleepy town with high end accomodations, however very few restaurants and little to no nightlife. If you are looking for pure relaxation, amazing views from being on the highest point on the Caldera, and complete quiet and peacefulness, then Imerovigli is the location for you.
Pronounced “eea”, Oia is located at the far north end of the Caldera, approximately 11 kilometers from Fira. Oia, the most famous city in Santorini, is the second largest town in behind Fira, but also the most expensive in terms of accommodation and dining. You will find many high end restaurants in Oia and boutique shopping. Oia, although not as busy as Fira during the high tourism season, will often be quite busy with many travelers taking buses and taxis from Fira and from their cruise ships to see this famous town. At sunset head down toward Amoudi Bay to see the spectacular view of the sun setting over the ocean, but go early as the crowds start to build about an hour before sunset.
Things to do in Santorini:
Hike from Fira to Oia:
The only free thing to do in Santorini, and by far one of the best for those that enjoy being outdoors and getting little exercise while taking in spectacular views. My suggestion is to hike from Fira to Oia as the views are a bit better since Oia sits lower than Fira and also the while their are still uphill climbs when traveling from Fira to Oia the climbs up are a bit less steep, just be careful when going downhill as it is more steep going this way. If staying in Oia take a taxi to Fira and hike back, if staying in Fira, Firostefani, or Imerovigli start out in the morning from your hotel and then take a taxi back from Oia at the end. If traveling during the summer months make sure to take plenty of a water with you as there is no shade and the hike can get quite hot. I visited Santorini in October and the breezes kept me comfortable during the hike. Since staying in Oia during my visit I took a taxi to Fira and it took approximately 2.5 hours to hike back. Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes with good traction as some areas are quite treacherous with loose gravel and uneven cobblestone paths and steps. This is a must do for they physically able to do, however be sure to start early in the morning before the sun becomes too intense.
You will find many options of companies for Catamaran Cruises around the Caldera. This is a must do in Santorini to see the spectacular island from the water. There are options of day time and sunset cruises. I personally did the sunset cruise and would recommend it to everyone. We started in Vlihada and ended in Amoudi Bay to view the Oia Sunset. During our cruise we stopped at Red and White Beach for pictures before sailing on to Mesa Pigadia to swim and where our crew prepared a fantastic Greek BBQ dinner to enjoy on our luxury catamaran. After dinner we sailed on to the volcanic hot springs for another dip and visit to the mud baths, however be warned the hot springs really aren’t hot, maybe a bit warm and take a dark bathing suit or one you don’t care to get ruined as the sulfur in the water will stain. From there we sailed to Amoudi Bay to watch the sunset. Truly a great experience that I recommend to all. If opting for the day time cruise you will visit the same places, however in the opposite order starting at Amoudi Bay and ending in Vlihada. You will enjoy a lunch on board rather than dinner. There are many cruise companies offering this cruise and they all have great reviews, from personal experience I would recommend Spiridakos or Renieris Santorini Sailing Center.
Wine Tasting and Cooking Class:
Santorini is knowns for their production of white wines. The wines in Santorini are more acidic than sweet and the way in which they grow their grapes is very interesting with them being woven into “baskets” on the ground. While in Santorini we took a wine tasting tour that also included a cooking class and it was one of the highlights of our trip. I highly recommend spending an afternoon learning about and tasting the wines of Santorini and learning how to cook an authentic and fresh Greek meal. I would highly recommend Santorini Wine Adventures for this fantastic small group tour.
With so many restaurants to choose from there are many amazing places to eat and I don’t think you can go wrong with any. Below are a few recommendations:
Argo - modern Greek with a tre
ndy vibe Lucky Souvlaki - walk up restaurant with the best gyros in Santorini Naoussa - great Caldera views, reservations recommended
Aktaion - Traditional Greek Taverna that is has been a staple in Santorini for almost 100 years. Remvi - Mediteranean cuisine
with spectacular views of the volcano and caldera. Da Vinci - Best Italian restaurant in Santorini
La Maison - French cuisine with a Greek influence, a must for “foodies”
Lauda - Fine dining and definitely a splurge, however the food, service, and views are all excellent. Ambrosia - most romantic restaurant in all of Santorini, make reservations far in advance. Pitogyro - walk up restaurant with some outdoor seating, casual and the best gyros in Oia. Ammoudi Fish Tavern - Located in Ammoudi Bay, the port just below Oia. Great food and fabulous sunset views. Reservations highly recommended.