A WEEK IN SANTORINI: TRAVEL GUIDE
When people dream about far away places, the blue domes and white streets of Santorini often appears in their minds. The Mediterranean's sweltering hot weather and crystal blue waters makes the region an ideal summer stop off for backpackers, honeymooners and holidayers alike. Santorini is located in the southern Aegean Sea, off the coast of mainland Greece and over the last few years, especially with the help of social media, Santorini has easily become the most desirable of the Greek islands to visit, and for good reason.
The island was site to one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history and Santorini is still classified as an active volcano.
While Santorini has become designed for tourists, it still holds a lot of that classic Greek charm, especially when you leave the hub of Oia. I have been to Santorini twice, firstly when I was eighteen on a Contiki tour in 2016 (they no longer offer the tour I did) and secondly for a photography workshop in 2018. During the photography workshop I spent a week on the island, exploring different areas and really trying to expand my photography skills. Although my experience was curated by the tour company, I will be writing this post as if I was travelling solo and backpacking to Santorini.
Unlike other Greek islands, which are known for being the perfect cheap destination for backpackers, Santorini has become a haven for expensive hotels and extravagant restaurants. I would recommend budgeting anywhere from €50 - €100 a day depending on what type of trip you are a looking for. Once you escape from the madness of Oia, prices become a little more reasonable with a classic Greek Taverna costing around €10 - €15 for a meal.
HOW TO GET TO SANTORINI
There are two main ways to get onto Santorini, the first is by plane and secondly by ferry. The island has its own international airport which hosts airlines such as EasyJet, Aegean Air, Ryanair and Lufthansa. When visiting Santorini I got a one way flight from Paris for €70 with Aegean Air, however you can easily find flights as cheap as €25 direct from Athens with Ryanair.
Catching the ferry is an alternative option which a lot of backpackers opt for when island hopping. While I personally haven't caught the ferry to Santorini I had a quick google and found a website called Ferryhopper which offer ferries from Athens, Mykonos, Heraklio and Naxos. If you were to get the ferry from Athens it would take around 6 hours and cost between €35 - €60. I would recommend opting for the ferry if you travel with large bags as you'll avoid paying for additional baggage on the cheap airline flights like Ryanair and Easyjet. The journey will take a lot longer than the 50 minute flight, however with baggage an airline ticket can easily reach over €100 + one way!
WHERE TO STAY
Accommodation in Santorini will definitely cut into your budget, especially in the summer months when hostels, hotels and Airbnbs all increased their prices for the influx of people during June through till August. To save some money consider visiting the island during shoulder season which is April - May and September - October, during these times you'll find the prices are a cheaper and you won't be fighting through the mass amount of crowds. There are only a few hostels on the island and dorms price anywhere from €14 to €50 a night, so I would recommend booking in advance to ensure you get a bed and not pay a small fortune!
While I was in Santorini I stayed at the Sophia Boutique Hotel which was around 15 - 20 minute walk from Oia. It was a beautiful hotel and I would definitely recommend it if you're looking to splurge a little, however it isn't really in the backpacker budget!
HOW TO GET AROUND THE ISLAND
There are three main options for getting around the island, and while a lot of people just choose to stay in Oia, there is so much beauty in the other cities and towns it would be a shame to miss out on seeing them while you are visiting.
The bus is definitely the cheapest option out of the three choices. The KTEL transportation company operates buses from Fira, Santorini's capital, to areas all over the main island including Kamari and Oia. You can purchase tickets on the bus, with the price ranging from €2 - €2.60 depending on where you are going on the island. Keep in mind that there aren't direct KTEL buses to towns other than Fira. If you want to get to Oia from Kamari, you'd have to take the bus back to Fira then hop another bus from Fira to Oia.
The second option is for those who are a little more adventurous and want to try your hand at a ATV or moped. You will have a lot of fun exploring the island and you'll have the freedom to make your own plans. An AVT will cost around €30 - €45 a day, so even opting to hire one for a day to visit a few places might be worth the price. There are plenty of companies which you can choose from when renting so have a look around, here is one I found which looks like a great option but please stay safe when driving!
The third option is the most expensive, and that is to rent a car. Like renting an ATV there are dozens of different companies that offer car rental and it would be a great way to explore the island at your own pace and even choose to stay in different cities and towns if you want to have a diverse experience during your time in Santorini. I had a look on TravelSupermarket and you can rent a mini for as cheap as £81 for 4 days (or around £27 per day).
Oia is the located at the Northwestern tip of the island and is a town of whitewashed houses carved into the rugged cliff face. The blue domes, colourful buildings and burning orange sunsets have become renowned all over the world as flocks of tourists visit each year. Truthfully, while I enjoyed Oia, I mainly loved it on a superficial level. It is beautiful and as you walk around you can't help but admire the town, however I felt it no longer held that authentic Greek charm that I loved from other the islands I've visited, or even different towns on Santorini. Oia has been designed for Honeymooners, couples, cruise ships, and people who enjoy relaxed holidays so if you're hoping to find an extensive backpacking culture it's definitely not going to be what you're looking for.
However in saying that, the town is beautiful. I would recommend waking up for sunrise and spending the morning walking around the streets, I found I appreciated Oia a lot more when I didn't have to fight through crowds down cramped pathways. When I visited in September it wasn't nearly as busy as it was when I visited in Summer 2016; the sun rose around 5:30am and I had a good 3 hours or so to enjoy the town alone.
If you're planning on visiting Santorini and just staying in Oia, 2 -3 days is all you need. Towards the end of the week I started to feel a bit suffocated with the amount of people, especially as the town is relatively small so there isn't really anywhere to hide away. For those who are planning on venturing outside of Oia, 4 - 6 days is plenty to see the best parts of the island!
WHAT TO DO IN OIA
WATCH THE SUNRISE AND SUNSET
There are two main spots in Oia to catch the sunrise or sunset, the first being Oia Castle. By far the most popular spot in the town and for good reason, the castle showcases beautiful views of the windmills and whitewashed buildings perched on the edge of the caldera. During the summer months the castle fills out well before sunset with mass crowds flocking to secure their spot, so if you are hoping for that perfect view to snap some photos, I would recommend getting to the castle at least an hour to 45 minutes beforehand. There is one view in particular that is absolutely breathtaking on Oia Castle that I would recommend for sunrise photos and a sunset spot, but make sure you arrive early! When you arrive to the Castle keep walking past the high point down the stairs and onto the outcrop, which is a large terrace. Then if you turn right right after the stairs you'll spot the view, I promise it's pure magic! You can find the exact location on Google Maps by searching Lookout Oia.
The second spot to visit for sunset is the Blue Domes of Oia, here you'll find another gorgeous view of the Santorini buildings. The domes can be found by looking up Three Domes of Santorini on Google maps or finding the terrace next to Aspaki Exclusive Suites. Much like the Castle the Blue Domes pack out very quickly with people and you will probably have to set up at least 45 minutes beforehand to get a good spot. You can no longer access the path down to the Blue Domes as it has now been marked as private property, however you can still get some beautiful photos around this area.
Ammoudi is a lovely, small harbour based at the bottom of Oia's cliff. While I never got the chance to visit myself, I've heard there is a lot of natural beauty and amazing views to be found here. The walk to and from Oia town is steep with it taking around 20 minutes each way!
For those of you who are hoping to wake up at sunrise and spending a morning walking around Oia, here is a route that I would recommend taking for the most efficient way to see as much as you can and getting some great photos!
STOP ONE: Start your morning at Oia Castle (Byzantine Ruins), this is where you will find a perfect view of the sunrise over the Southern part of the island. When I visited we arrived at the Castle around 4:30am and waited for magic hour (the hour before sunrise), it was fairly cloudy however we still saw the sky turn into a magnificent fuchsia colour. Once the sun has risen a bit, you can walk to the other side of the ruins and catch some beautiful golden light on the windmills and houses down the cliff.
STOP TWO: The second stop is just outside Oia Castle and it's the iconic view of the orange house with stairs leading down. Most people will set up their camera on the main walkway leading from the Castle, you can access the orange house by walking down the stairs next to the store called The Earth Collection. I took photos at around 7am here and there were only a few cleaners around but no other tourists (except a few other photographers). This shot needs either a tripod with a handheld remote or a person assisting you as the camera needs to be set up fairly far away to capture the whole view!
STOP THREE: Stop number three is a beautiful blue dome located on the main pedestrian path. I couldn't find an exact address but it's located right next to Red Bicycle restaurant and you can capture a lot of great shots here including images of the classic blue and white with the Santorini Caldera in the background. As this is a main pedestrian path in the town, you can notice the foot traffic quite quickly once people start venturing out of their hotels so I would suggest taking photos here before 8am.
STOP FOUR: The final stop is back to the Blue Domes! It started raining when I reached this point so it was practically empty which was amazing for photos but I did end up soaking. As previously mentioned you can no longer access the actual blue domes as it is marked as private property however I met a man who was staying at the accomodation directly next to them and he said I could come take a few photos!
STOP ONE: OIA CASTLE
STOP TWO: ORANGE HOUSE
STOP THREE: CALDERA AND DOME
STOP FOUR: BLUE DOMES
WHERE TO EAT IN OIA
This little bakery is located right the 'entrance' of Oia, about 2 - 3 minutes from the main road where cars can drive and right next to the Opera Art Gallery 1971. I went in the mornings around 7am - 9am and it seemed to be a popular choice for a lot of Greeks who work at the hotels. The bread and pastries were baked fresh every morning and I would highly recommend trying their olive bread, it was insanely delicious! It does sell out very quickly each morning so make sure you get in their early.
I quietly fell in love with Anemomilos Taverna while I was in Santorini. It's about 10 - 15 minutes outside of the Oia centre and was one of the only spots that had a classic Greek feel. The food was very simple, but it seemed to have that very homely, authentic feeling which I really enjoyed. The prices were super reasonable with a starter, main (I loved the stuffed tomatoes) and a drink for around €15.
Cafe Mezzo is a super busy restaurant right in the heart of Oia which is ultimately designed for tourists, with tourist prices. I wouldn't eat a meal here as it would cost a small fortune but if you're looking for a nice little stop off for a cocktail and some little nibbles around sunset/dinner time, it's a great option!
Emporio sits at the foot of Profitis Ilias Mountain and is one of Santorini's small inland towns located around a 30 - 35 minute drive away from Oia. It is a photographer's haven, with each street so unique and picturesque, you can easily spend half a day or more here getting lost through the maze of alleys. I found the town to be one of my favourite spots on the island, it felt very traditionally Greek with its charming medieval alleys and elaborate bell towers. Emporio is still relatively unknown to the mass of tourists so you're free to explore and enjoy the bars, restaurants without crowds.
You can reach Emporio by main road and for those relying on public transport you can catch the KTEL bus from Fira to Perissa and get off at the 15th stop. The buses run every hour and a half! I would suggest arriving during the morning some time and exploring before having some lunch at one of the restaurants in town, especially as a photographer as I found the light was stunning during 9am - 11am.
Fira is Santorini's capital and sits right in the middle of the island with stunning views of Nea Kameni, the island's active volcano. I didn't have much of a chance to explore Fira, however it is definitely worth a full day or two in your itinerary. It is the largest and most cosmopolitan town on the island with a combination of natural beauty, night life and shopping.
THREE BELLS OF FIRA
Located right above the cliffs is the Three Bells of Fira a beautiful Church that has the iconic blue dome and bells with views of Santorini Caldera behind. This is one of the most breathtaking views on the island and is a must to visit. It does pack out with big bus fulls of tourists so I would avoid visiting right at midday as you'll probably have to wait in line to get the iconic photo of the Bells.