No visit to Greece is complete without taking the 25 minute plane ride from Athens to the beautiful island of Santorini! Notorious for being a honeymoon island, although it’s just as fun to explore with a good friend, Santorini is the perfect place to immerse yourself in the Greek culture while also catching a killer tan. Early in May, I was lucky enough to travel to this gorgeous island with one of my best friends (who, luckily enough, happened to speak a little Greek). We stayed on the island for four days and, with a little research, managed to pack each day full of the best sights and activities known to Santorini! So if you’re planning a trip to Greece anytime soon, or just daydreaming at work, read over these tips to make your life (and trip) a little easier.
Where to Stay
Before leaving for Santorini, we researched a ton of different options on hostelworld.com, before finally settling on Villa Manos. Only a 15 minute walk from Thira, we could not have been happier with our choice. Everyone was incredibly accommodating and friendly towards us no matter what we needed. On our last day in Santorini, we had checked out of our room at 11:00 am but were still on the island hiking until our flight left late that night. When we arrived back at the hostel after our hike, the staff was kind enough to let us use one of their nicest rooms for a few hours to shower and get all our stuff ready for the airport. As we were leaving, everyone said goodbye and gave us hugs and they even presented us with a free bottle of Greek wine. The hostel itself was very nice, with clean, spacious rooms and A/C (thank God!). They even had a pool out front and a small restaurant/bar in the lobby. We ended up not paying much for our room because we visited in the off-season (around €40/night), but even in the on-season Villa Manos is very affordable!
Oía vs. Thira
Oía and Thira are the two main tourism cities in Santorini. While both are filled with fun activities and beautiful views, each cater to a different type of tourist. If you are in fact in Santorini as newlyweds, I would suggest staying in Oía because that is where you’ll find the classy resorts and spas notorious for honeymooners. Additionally, Oía is home to the famous blue domes and the beautiful sunsets that most people associate with Santorini. Thira, however, caters to the opposite end of tourism. We opted to stay near Thira (hostels and hotels get less expensive the further out you are) because of it’s nightlife sector and because it attracts a younger crowd with a higher percentage of students closer to our age. If you’re traveling with a friend and looking for a bit more excitement than relaxation, I would suggest staying in Thira (the nightlife in Oía is pretty much nonexistent). However, no matter where you opt to stay, both Oía and Thira are well worth a visit!
If you’re interested in checking out the local club scene in Santorini, you won’t need to look any further than Thira. Three out of our four nights in Santorini, you could find us in the middle of Thira, drinking beer with the locals and dancing up a storm. Check out these bars and clubs and, remember, nightlife in Santorini doesn’t get going until after midnight!
Two Brothers Bar was a small little pub full of fun people and great music! The drinks were good, beer being a lot cheaper than mixed drinks and hard liquor. We ended up back at this bar every night we went out and it was definitely one of our trip favorites!
Highlander bar had some of the best mixed drinks we found on the island. It wasn’t as packed as Two Brothers, but the music was great and people were always dancing.
Koo Club is one of the oldest and most popular nightclubs in Thira. Unfortunately, we arrived a bit early for Greek standards and the club wasn’t quite in full swing. I’d love to go back and experience Koo Club at peak time!
Food and Drink
Not specific to Santorini, but don’t leave Greece without trying these traditional Greek dishes!
- Fried feta
- Greek salad ( I was shocked to learn authentic Greek salad didn’t have lettuce)
- Greek yogurt with honey and walnuts (regular and frozen)
- Chicken souvlaki
- Frappe coffee
Side Note: Being from Wisconsin, I am obsessed with trying the local beer in every country. In Greece, Alfa beer was my local favorite. Give it a try!
Being exhausted from our midnight flight the night before, we opted for a relaxing first day in Santorini. We slept in and then ventured out to Thira for a delicious Greek meal and some frappe iced coffee. Try Zafora Restaurant Cafe if you’re looking for an authentic, affordable meal with a killer view. The shot below is our view from the restaurant.
After we sufficiently stuffed ourselves full of delicious Greek food, we made our way back to the hostel to change into our swimsuits and make a visit to the beautiful rock beach in Kamari. Unfortunately, if you’re searching for white sand beaches, Santorini is not the island for you. However, the rock beaches up against the mountains have a certain charm in themselves….and bonus! The beach chairs are free and the drinks are cheap!
On day two, we decided to take advantage of the island’s legendary boat tours. My advice to you, should you decide to book one, is to search around for the best deal. Our hostel offered a few good options, but they were all on the expensive side (around €120 per person). This price included a tour around the island on a semi-private yacht, unlimited drinks, and a lunch buffet. When you look at everything you get, €120 is not a bad deal, however, we were college students up to our necks in debt (and still are), so we opted to find a cheaper option. Walking through Thira, we stopped in a few random tourism offices to get quotes and information on different tours. Finally, we settled on a five-hour tour offered by a hole-in-the-wall tourism agency in town. For €26 each, the boat would take us to explore the still-active volcano on the Island of Nea Kameni, to take a dip in the hot springs of Palea Kameni island (wear a dark swimsuit or it’ll turn red!), for an authentic seafood lunch on the island of Thirasia, and finally to Oía where we decided to get off early and watch the sunset (we could have also sailed back to Thira). Side note: to get to the sailing dock, it’s easiest to take the €6 cable car down from Thira. Just follow the signs or ask the locals, it’s very easy to find.
When you arrive in Oía, keep in mind that the boat will drop you off at the bottom of the cliff and it’s up to you to get up to the city. Feeling a little tired after a day at sea, we decided to pay for the €5 donkey ride up the side of the mountain. This is probably the only thing we both instantly regretted during our four days on the island (and not only because I’m allergic to donkeys). If you are completely unfazed by heights and uncontrolled animals, maybe this would be a good choice for you. Everyone else, bring comfortable shoes and just make the walk up the mountain. The rides were completely unregulated and the donkeys were not well trained. It was a very stressful 10 minute ride up to the top, and, although the views were wonderful, the feeling that I might go over the edge any minute was not as great.
The best and cheapest way to see the most of Santorini is on an ATV. On our third day on the island, we decided to rent a couple ourselves (with helmets of course) and explore the parts of the island that we hadn’t yet seen. Conveniently, our hostel had all the information we needed at the front desk and even transported us out to Thira for free to pick up the ATV’s. After testing out a few, and getting a brief safety lecture, we were off to explore at only around €20 per person (€15 + €5 extra for insurance). Our goal was to make it to Perissa Beach on the opposite side of the island, but that didn’t quite work out. If you’re attempting to travel to Perissa from Thira, I would suggest choosing a slightly more expensive, more powerful ATV. We went with the cheapest option and they weren’t powerful enough to bring us straight up the mountain. However, we still ended up with great views of Thira and Kamari!
Depressed because of our flight home that night, we wanted to make the most of our last day in paradise. We decided to pull out our (few) workout clothes and attempt the 3-4 hour hike from Thira to Oía. What followed was some of the best views I’ve ever seen in my life. The hike was very easy, even for college students more accustomed to drinking than exercising, and a perfect way to spend a day on the island.
No matter your itinerary, it’s impossible to be bored in Santorini. The island is filled with adventurous and breathtaking activities and turned out to be one of my favorite places I visited during my semester abroad. If you’re anywhere near Greece, a pit stop in Santorini will never be a bad idea.
Thanks for reading!