Travel Guide | Santorini

Santorini: A Little Piece of Heaven

How you will be undeniably and incredibly swept up in the magic of Santorini, the glittering gem of Greece.

As someone who is deeply obsessed with sunsets, the ocean, and heavenly scenery-filled getaways, this spring I traveled to Europe determined to visit my dream destination – Santorini. Called “Thira” in Greek, current-day Santorini developed from a volcanic eruption that separated the island into various fragments and carved the dramatic caldera cliffside of the mainland island. The steep island walls are about 1000 feet high. The food is incredible, the blue water sparkles with the reflection of the hot Aegean sun, and the island is dotted with white hillside villas and blue-domed churches. Everything in Greece looks exactly how it does on a postcard, but better. Santorini cannot be entirely described in a few words or even a thousand, but there are several things in this serene, idyllic, and extraordinary place that absolutely cannot be missed.

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The Food:

During my trip to Europe, Greek food was one of my favorite types of cuisine. The dishes are absolutely delicious, full of flavor and seasonings, and also incorporate almost every food group. You have to get a few gyros and kebabs while in Greece. They are the perfect lunch option if you need a quick break from your daily sightseeing activities. One of my favorite dishes was souvlaki, a meat dish often served on skewers and paired with grilled vegetables and rice – so good. I also ate several greek salads – tons of vegetables, olive oil, and a huge chunk of feta cheese. Definitely try grilled octopus while visiting Santorini. I was terrified to sample this sea creature but it was surprisingly very tasty. And of course – order tzatziki and pita bread whenever you can. Tzatziki is made of yogurt, cucumber, garlic, and more, and goes well with literally every Greek dish. Oftentimes, the food is much better at restaurants that do not have a caldera view, but having a sunset dinner is necessary for at least one night of your stay in Santorini.

Must Try’s: Lucky’s Souvlaki in Fira, Pitogyros in Oia

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Delicious appetizer of tzatziki & pita

The Beach:

You can’t go to Greece without swimming in the Mediterranean. Santorini is essentially a two-differently-sided island. The western side is home to the caldera, the steep, jagged cliffs and dramatic coastline. The eastern side has black and red sand beaches with ocean access that are perfect for swimming.

My top two spots were Kamari and Perissa, both black sand beaches. In Kamari, the entire beach is lined with padded beach chairs and thatch-roof umbrellas. By paying a small fee or ordering drinks at the restaurants behind the chairs, you can snag a spot right by the ocean and stay there all day. The boardwalk is lined with restaurants and shops. I purchased some cute swimsuits while shopping there, but I also saw tons of fantastic knock-off items if you are in search of a bargain. The sand is hot (being black sand and all), so wear flip flops that can go right up to or in the water. The waves in Kamari can be a little rough depending on the wind, but the salty ocean is amazing to swim in and is turquoise blue – absolutely stunning.

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Black sands of Kamari

Perissa has a similar set up, but is much smaller than Kamari. Perissa is a great spot to go if you want another beach day, but want to see a new place. The water is clear and calm, and is very relaxing to swim and float in. There is also a water taxi that goes between the two beaches.

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Beach day at Perissa

The Famous Towns:

Santorini is decorated with several villages you should explore every chance you get. Oia is the picture-perfect town you envision when you imagine Greece – and it looks even better in person than it does in pictures. I had an awesome time strolling through the streets of Oia looking at the small shops and quaint restaurants. Around every turn is a drastically different and sensational perspective of the island. The hillside is filled with white villas, turquoise blue swimming pools, and the classic blue domes. Venture all the way through Oia and check out the view from the Byzantine Castle. Even though there is a sign warning tourists of unstable ground, everyone seems to go up to the castle anyways… The outlook from the top highlights the backside of Oia and the windmills. Anywhere along this point of the village is a winning spot to watch the sunset.

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View of Oia from Byzantine Castle

I stayed in Imerovigli, a smaller caldera town south of Oia. Imerovigli felt cozy, and I loved it. It is also one of the highest points in the entire island, and hosts panoramic ocean views. There were immensely less tourists and it felt very private when we were relaxing at our hotel.

You may also like 4 Days in Santorini

Fira is one of the biggest cities in Santorini. One night we had a sunset dinner in Fira, and the village had its own dramatic perspective of the caldera. I think it is super important to venture all over the island to see these differing viewpoints. Every place looks immensely unique and has its own personality. Similar to Oia, Fira has amazing shopping and tons of delicious restaurants.

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Sunset in Fira

These are only my top 3 villages to explore – if you have time, there are even more towns to see all over the island.

The Excursions:

There are plenty of activities to do in Santorini. Many people do the caldera hike between Fira and Oia, which offers extremely beautiful and rare views of the island’s landscape and villages. Make sure you have plenty of water and snacks, as the hike is long and the temperatures can be sweltering.

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Cruise around Santorini

If you’re willing to splurge, go on a catamaran cruise. Some tours take you on a hike up to the volcanic crater. The crater provides some good views but the hike up is very hot (black rocks everywhere), and I would only go up if you have good walking shoes and are ready for a workout. Another stop is usually to the hot springs, which I found were more interesting to look at rather than actually swim in. Almost every cruise will go to Thirassia (also spelled Thirasía or Therasia), a picturesque island mirroring mainland Santorini. It is sometimes called “Santorini’s Best Kept Secret”. We ate lunch in the harbor and swam in the calm waters of the bay. A lot of catamaran cruises also let you snorkel off the side of the boat.

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Exploring the harbor at Thirassia

Paying a little more for this part of the trip is worth it – spending less money usually gets you on a crowded and less relaxing tour. I would not recommend doing a cheap tour that goes to each of these places if you are not interested in hiking or being with large groups of people. Do your research ahead of time on sites such as TripAdvisor to read reviews and find the best companies to book through.

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View of Oia from the bottom of the caldera

Many people rent ATVs and cruise around the island. Santorini is fairly small, and this is one of the most fun ways to see various parts of the coasts. Renting a car is also a good way to venture around the countryside roads. I chose the latter option and I believe there are pros and cons to each, depending on what your travel itinerary entails.

The ruins of Akrotiri represent an ancient city that was destroyed by a violent volcanic eruption in 1627 BCE. Some historians suggest the location may have inspired the legend of Atlantis, and now is a frequently visited tourist destination and teaches visitors about early human civilization.

If you have a long trip planned, wine tasting is also a common activity on the island.

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White wine before sunset

The Views:

As mentioned, every different location on the island has its own marvelous perspective. The scenery from the top of the hill of Pyrgos is insane – you can see beautiful 360 degree views of the island of Santorini.

The Red Beach is more rocky than it is sandy, but the red landscape is a shocking contrast against the turquoise blue waters. It is smaller and often less crowded than the other two beaches, and about a 15 minute walk down to the water from the bus stop or parking lot.

At the southern part of Santorini, near Akrotiri, there is a large lighthouse, sometimes referred to as the Akrotiri Lighthouse. I snapped tons of pictures from the lighthouse viewpoint because from there you can see the curve of the entire island. If you are already on the southern peninsula, I recommend a quick visit.

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Red rocks & landscape near Atoriki

The Sunsets:

As an avid sunset lover, Santorini was truly my definition of heaven on Earth. Watching the sun set over the Greek isles was unlike anything I have experienced in my life – it was so majestic but also peaceful at the same time. Oia is well known for its picturesque villas and gorgeous caldera, and is an extremely popular sunset spot. I also saw awe-inspiring sunsets in Imerovigli and Fira, which are often much less overrun with tourists.

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Sunset in Imerovigli

I have no doubt I will go back to Santorini. This island stole my heart the minute I laid eyes on the striking scenery, and won me over even further after trying my first authentic Grecian gyro. The food, the beaches, the breathtaking village landscapes, and the enchanting sunsets make it so easy to fall in love with this place. If you don’t think you could be charmed by a destination – wait until you go to Santorini. It is, I promise, truly a little piece of heaven.

Santorini, A Little Piece of Heaven

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Laura Caroline Gingrich

University of Washington | 9 stories

Laura Caroline is a Communications major at the University of Washington in Seattle. She spent the spring of 2016 studying in Rome, Italy and completely fell in love with Europe. Laura Caroline is passionate about photography, writing, music, health & fitness, and of course, travel. In her free time she writes for her own personal blog. At home, you can find her chasing sunsets in the Pacific Northwest, doing anything and everything outdoors, and daydreaming about her next adventure.

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