I’ve been on a mission to really explore different parts of Greece, the birthplace of both my parents and their ancestors before them. As my Instagram feed is chock full of pics from travel sites promoting the Island of Santorini, I thought I would start with one of most popular tourist destinations in Greece.
Santorini is truly one of my favorite islands in Greece so far. So much so that I’ve returned twice so far to Santorini and my son is taking his third trip back this summer to share the experience with girlfriend. What’s not to love – D breathtaking scenery, delicious wine and scrumptious food. My happy place is a spot in Oia (pictured below) where you see all the whitewashed building clinging to the mountainside and juxtaposed against the spectacular Mediterranean blue waters. From that same spot I enjoyed sipping local wines and paying witness to the famous Santorini sunset.
When to Visit
Santorini has probably the longest tourist season in Greece because of its global popularity. This is an advantage because you can visit outside the peak summer months and all the hotels, restaurants and merchants are still in full swing. My recommendation is to go when the weather and water for swimming is still warm, but the crowds are considerably lighter (September or early October). However, I visit in the summer as I still need to plan around my kids’ school schedules.
Evidently Santorini hosted over 2 MILLION visitors in 2018 (and I was one of them) plus up to 18,000 daily tourists disembarking from cruise ships. To put that in perspective, only 15,000 people live on the island according to the Greek City Times. However, you are in luck if you are visiting this summer! As of this year, the Mayor capped cruise ship visitors to 8,000 per day due to the immense strain on the island’s infrastructure and resources.
How long do you really need to stay in Santorini?
If forever isn’t an option, my recommendation is at least a 2 night / three day stay to explore and really enjoy the island.
Some of my favorite Experiences
- The Santorini Sunset in Oia – Of course this must top the list if you are coming to Santorini. Highly recommend booking a hotel in Oia (countless great choices) since only guests are allowed on hotel properties…and you won’t have to fight the crowds for a spot along the narrow alley hours ahead of the sunset. Oia also has wonderful shops and restaurants (perhaps a topic of an upcoming blog).
- Venetsanos Winery at the Caldera – This one is a twofer as you enjoy some of the most amazing wine on the island in their Café while taking in the breathtaking view of the Caldera and the volcanic islands. The winery is built into the side of the mountain and taking a tour of the facility is a must as you can see how it’s structural design and gravity was used to maximize energy efficiency and wine production.
- The Three Bells of Fira – There are several beautiful blue domed churches on the island, but this one is the famous dome seen on all the tourist materials. The name of the church is Kimisi Tis Theotokou. To find it go to the town of Fira by Mama Thira’s House. Head up the hill and you’ll see a parking lot. Look over the railing and you can’t miss it. Or do what I do…take a cab 😊!
This church is also special as legend has it that a miracle took place here. It was the case of star-crossed lovers where a rich family would not allow their daughter to marry a local man of little means. Overwhelmed by sadness, he decided to jump to his death. His attempt was unsuccessful as the hand of the Virgin Mary reached out and saved the man before he hit the ground.
- The Ancient Town of Akrotiri – This prehistoric town dates to 5500 B.C. The excavation of site began in 1967 and you’ll be surprised by how intact some of the building structures are, the beautiful art and frescos, and the tools and amenities the ancient Greeks used thousands of years ago. There is an enclosure around the site to protect the excavation, so you will be out of the direct sun while enjoying the ancient ruins.
- The Good Heart – If you are going to be in Akrotiri, then this restaurant is a must on your stop. A local brought us as he deemed it an amazing restaurant and seller of the best homemade traditional products of Santorini. They’ll even conduct a free tasting so you can taste the products before you buy. I was looking for Santorini capers and bought three large jars to take back to New York. You can’t find these types of capers outside of Santorini and they will make any dish (you typically use capers in) unforgettable.
- The Red Beach – This beach gets its name from the reddish colored rock and sand, which turned that color from iron particles that have been oxidized from the reaction to the high heat coming from within the ground. Warning: You should only take picture from the designated area overlooking the Red Beach. The beach is roped off to visitors due to the chance of falling rock. This usually doesn’t stop tourists as many ignore the ropes and the warning signs. I would strongly advise against this as there have been recent events of rocks falling and killing people. Additionally, Santorini was hit by record rain storms this past year, which may have caused damage and instability to these rock formations.
- Kamari Beach – This beach is on the Eastern side of the island. It’s one of island’s “black sand” beaches, which is technically made up of tiny black volcanic pebbles. It gives the water an even deeper blue hue. What I liked about this beach is there is a robust boardwalk with several restaurants. It’s a great place to spend a few hours enjoying the beach and grab some eats. Find a spot towards the right of the beach where there is less rocks in the water.
I hope you found this article helpful and look forward to hearing from you should you visit or plan to visit Santorini!
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Happy and Safe Travels!
- The Travel Time Essentials Team