What Others Won’t Tell You About Santorini
First time to Santorini? Looking to explore the famous Greek island of Thera?
When visiting Santorini, peak travel time is July and August, but the season begins in April (usually after Greek Easter). If you are trying to find a marginally quieter time to visit, I would recommend going in May or early June. I spent two days, one night on the island in late April and wish others had told me these tips. Here are 5 things I wish I knew before visiting Santorini, including the spot for the “perfect” sunset picture and the sad reality of the blue domed village.
#1 Blue Domes
There are only blue domes on the churches. I was SHOCKED when I arrived in Santorini and discovered just another island. Don’t get me wrong, I was in Greece, and it was still fabulous. But I had heard about the famed white cities with blue roofs for years. We quickly learned that only one village in Santorini – Oia – is really known for this aesthetic. I definitely think the small island, with only about 10,000 inhabitants, could use some marketing managers to tell business owners to really lean into the bright white and blue roofs. Because ONLY churches have a blue dome, we saw much fewer than expected. If you are looking for the iconic picture of Oia at sunset, you should follow these GPS coordinates to 36.461245, 25.375832. This is about 50 meters from the main square and Ekklisia Panagia Platsani, a Greek Orthodox Church at the square. Most people go to Oia Castle for a sunset view along the water, but that location means you can see the sunset but can’t get the blue domes in the same picture. Follow the GPS coordinates to a small pathway with great views and a little ledge to perch on while you wait. I would suggest going an hour before sunset if you plan to get the “perfect shot” as crowds swell and you want a place along the wall early.
#2 Beach Life
Perissa Beach is vastly underrated. If you have traveled to beaches in the Mediterranean, you might already know that many of them are often cliffsides with little sand, or simply a rock beach with NO sand. Finding a waterfront with deep sand beaches is actually rarer than expected, but Perissa Beach is one of them! Located on the southeastern side of the island, the beach is lined with hotels and restaurants offering sun loungers and umbrellas. Many of them were free of charge for the day if you purchased something from the restaurant. While some vacationers stay in the pricey Oia and lounge poolside at their individual villa, I would save the $1000/night price tag and venture to the beach for some fun in the sun! The black sand beach is not as touristy and offers more reasonable prices for lodging and food. We stayed in Samson’s Village for a low-budget option near the waterfront.
In Santorini, there are limited taxis on the island and public transport all stems from Fira (Thera). As such, you have to walk to the nearest bus station from the ferry port and usually change buses in Fira to your final destination. We decided to save on accommodation and booked a place on the southeast side of the island, near Perissa beach (which I strongly suggest visiting). But that distance meant that a one-way taxi from the ferry port was €40-€60. We were able to rent a car through Car Hub for €50 for our 2 days. They were significantly cheaper than any other rental car company we found, especially for automatic (sadly, I can NOT drive a stick shift). I will caveat that it was a 10-year-old car but drove just fine and got us everywhere we needed to go. We were able to drive up to the top of the mountain to visit the monastery and all the way to the coast of Oia and back again. This was definitely the best decision for us in April. I know driving in the peak season of July or August can have you sitting in traffic, so judge wisely how much distance you plan to cover and act accordingly. Also, parking can be limited in Oia during the high season. We didn’t have any trouble finding street parking, but again – it was April! There are Ubers on the island, but pricing varies and often times you may need to wait for a while.
#4 Expensive Oia
This seems to be a no-brainer, but I was not prepared for the pricing in Oia. Even a simple meal in the city could be €30 pp. You can find some limited street food (like shawarma) near the bus stop, but overall expect to pay more in this village. We found cheaper food in Fira and especially enjoyed Ouzeri for their homemade tomato fritters and local dishes.
#5 Wineries on the Island
Pro tip: book your wine tour in advance or drink the local wines at the restaurant and skip the tour. I wish someone had told us that there are just a few wineries on the island and if you plan to book a wine tour, you should do so well in advance. Estates like Argyros or Venetsanos Winery fill up quickly. If you don’t have transportation or didn’t book a tasting in advance, you can still enjoy the island’s wineries at local restaurants. I would recommend trying a santo wino. If you want to splurge, you can try to 6 course tasting menu at Domaine Sigalas near Oia.
Overall, I think you can easily explore the island in 2 days/1 night. I would still recommend a visit to Oia, but wouldn’t plan to spend a week on the famous island of Santorini. Other spots, such as Crete, have many more options for adventure and activities with a lower price point. Hope these tips help for first timers looking to explore Santorini. I certainly wish I had known these things before traveling to Santorini.