While my time in historical Athens and mystical Meteora were divine, my arrival into romantic Santorini I started off on the wrong foot. However, there’s a blessing in having unexpected roommates when you travel, even if you’re forced to share beds with them!
The notion of getting around a place can occasionally feel like a challenge. With Santorini, it wasn’t my initial agenda to rent a car for sightseeing. Seeing as I had travel blogger roommates, it stood to reason, traveling together and sharing expenses should make car rental easier !
Watch my experiential version first!
Road Trip Santorini : 15 Best Things to Do in Santorini (Video)
The good and bad of Santorini
There’s many ways that Santorini will impress you. Beautiful caldera views, sunsets, white plaster buildings lining the cliff, blue topped churches,… it’s a highly Instagrammable island.
Then there are ways it can disappoint.
Beautiful white plaster resort hotels lining the cliff with caldera views, boutique shops, restaurants… You can like it for almost the same reason that you won’t. Ultimately, in Santorini, you’ll feel more like a tourist than a traveler.
There is a local part to Santorini, but if you’re staying in Fira or Oia (which most travelers do), you probably won’t experience much of it. The most local I got was food shopping at a local grocery store. But still, Santorini is a romantic haven and I wouldn’t kick it out of my bucketlist!
Things to Do in Santorini
Fira is the backpacker’s haven. It’s got a wealth of accommodations from hotels, resorts, apartments and hostels. It’s closer to the port than Oia is. It’s also located across the volcano and it has many cafe/restaurant and accommodation options. It’s also got a barrage of souvenir shops if you wanted to go shopping. Book your stay in Fira.
Santorini has an active resident volcano. Volcano tours are offered through tourist agency shops in both, Fira and Oia. Most tours seem to offer a boat ride to the volcano along with a visit to the hot springs. Both, full day and half day tours are offered and require you to start from Fira.
Occasionally, you’ll need to watch where you walk. In Santorini, donkeys are work vehicles and you may come across donkey poo. Not to worry, it’s not a problem yet, like India and cows.
Caldera views are when buildings are along the cliffside and facing the ocean. You’ll notice these in towns like Oia, Fira and Firostefani.
Whether you’re in Fira or Oia, you may find yourself souvenir shopping due to the sheer abundance of souvenir stores and boutiques. Souvenirs to get: A volcano rock, Olive Oil soap, stuffed animal donkey and items which accentuate Santorini’s island life.
Red Sand Beach
If there’s one beach you make sure you see, make it Red Sand Beach in Akrotiri. You’ve never seen anything like it! During peak season you can sunbathe on the sands. Off-peak season, perhaps a hike up the cliffs might be a better choice. Tip: The second beach to sightsee is the Black Sand Beach.
Santo Wines at Sunset
Santo Wines is a well-known winery. It’s located near the port in the village of Pyrgos. Arrive in time for the sunset (it’s very striking against the cliffs) and kick back and enjoy a wine. Tip: It’s got one of the best sunsets on the island.
Explore Santorini Colors & Selfies
Although the buildings are like sugar cubes, Santorini occasionally has splashes of color which vibrate with a chic and artsy above-water seashell style. Find those spots and you’ll feel your mobile phone camera rising to take a selfie. Some of these colorful nooks are simply photogenic.
Oia is like the Beverly Hills of Santorini. There’s many cliffside resort villas with lovely views, it’s got a mellow charm and a lot of posh boutique shops and galleries. Restaurant options feel minimal if you’re looking for something inexpensive. But it has a handful of good sights such as Ammoudi Bay, the windmills, blue domed churches and it has an amazing sunset. It’s located on the farthest end of the island opposite of the port; roughly a 45 minute drive. Book a hotel stay in Oia.
Ammoudi Bay is a small cove with a couple of fish taverns at the base in the town of Oia. The water is deep aqua blue and fishing boats are docked after fishermen bring their catch in. There’s no beach to lay out on, so you’d visit mostly to take a quick dip or to eat at a tavern.
You can get there on foot by taking the path towards the sunset point and towards the beach. The other option is to take a car.
Most churches in Santorini are privately owned, so only a few are open to the public. However, they still add to the architectural beauty of the island.
Oia is known for their windmills. I’m not sure why but there are a couple towards the side of Oia which has the sunset point and Ammoudi Bay.
I decided against a donkey ride for ethical reasons. In many films about Greece, you’ll notice tourist-carrying donkeys portrayed as a popular and romantic novelty of the island. In fact, it looks more glamorous on screen than it is in real life. The roads the donkeys travel are steep and quite a workout. Hike one of those donkey paths, understand how challenging the climb is and you’ll never want to put your ass on an “ass” again.
Santorini has some of the most splendid sunsets I’ve seen. The most photogenic spots to capture are the cliffs facing the sea. Whether the sunset is bouncing off of the cliffside or architecture, the light it casts is simply magical.
Must Try Foods in Santorini
Being a Mediterranean island, expect seafood to be fresh. Personally, falafel, greek yogurt, salad with feta cheese and local wine were also on my plate . Eating at a restaurant can be a little pricy. So with my newfound blogger crew (we were all on a budget), we shopped at a local grocery store to make our own meals, when not traveling.
Tomato Balls were the locally recommended must try food. It’s said to be the specialty of Santorini and are a deep fried patty filled with cheese and a tomato puree. It wasn’t my favorite but I was in a rush and got this at a restaurant near the boat port as I was waiting to depart.
Getting around in Santorini
Renting a car in Santorini is possibly, the best and quickest way to tackle it. I’ve known some people to use the bus to get around Santorini, but Santorini is larger and more spread out than you think it’s going to be. Driving really isn’t so bad or confusing. The map they give you at the car rental should be sufficient. Rental car prices start at 50Euro a day.
What to Bring
Depending upon time of season, Santorini can be both beachy and/or cold and windy. There are parts of Oia and Fira which also feel rather resorty, with all the white stucco flats, chic cafes and boutiques. With caldera views come walking and occasional steep uphill strolls. I bring both my havianas flip flops and New Balance running shoes. Always take your sunscreen and apply every two hours. I always bring a compact sunscreen face stick (these days I like Bare Republic sunscreen or Coola, which ar natural minerals and ecofriendly) with me in my bag for touchups. Sunburn is never fun nor attractive, but sunkissed is chic. Beach coverups are a nice asset as a way to tame your locks.
Read Packing Tips for Beach & Summer Travel
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Where to Stay in Santorini
What’s your budget? You can do Santorini on the cheap or lavish. You can stay typically where the tourists are in Oia and Fira (recommended for solo travelers as everything is accessible) or rent a car and stay a little further. For $50 and up, there’s many luxury villas and hotel suites, with a caldera view and a cave-like interior is the romantic and heavenly version (here’s the one I tried, filmed and shared with other bloggers). But I had $30 and under backup options, such as hostels in Fira, guesthouse, studio apartments,… even rentable camp tents if you’re into a more rugged experience.
Getting to Santorini via ferry