Looking for a drop-dead gorgeous bucket list location? As locals joke, Santorini is an island with more churches than houses, more donkeys than people, and more wine than water… Overwhelming does not quite cover the feeling when you first lay eyes on this island. Thousands of white-washed houses gathered together on a dark volcanic cliff. The infinite blue water complements perfectly the blue domes of the many churches scattered around the island. So, if you even start fantasizing or planning your trip to Santorini, I have compiled for you a list of my top experiences.
Rent a car and explore!
First of all, let me start by recommending you to rent a vehicle on Santorini. Cities like Fira or Oia are reachable by public transport, but the real gems are rarely or not close to a bus stop. We saved quite some precious time by renting a car (via Sunnycars) and even ended up in amazing spots that I will never forget! Let me explain by a few illustrations.
Relax at Koloumpos Beach
As soon as you arrive in Santorini, you obviously long for a refreshing dive in the Aegean Sea… You are free to choose the more organized (and crowded) beaches such as Kamari, Perissa and Red Beach. However, as a self-proclaimed crowd avoider, I usually try to steer clear of beaches invaded by tourists. And that’s exactly how I ended up parking my car close to a beautiful beach in Koloumpos. It’s a small village on a 10-minute drive away from Oia’s city center, located on the less touristic side of the island.
For me, Koloumpos has one of the most characteristic beaches of Santorini. It is a non-organized beach that, although so pretty, is not besieged by tourists. There are some facilities (beach chairs, umbrellas, a few bars, parking) but it remains highly authentic. The most characteristic of the beach is that, at its southernmost point, it ends up to a huge cave adding a special view to the scenery.
Dream away in Megalochori
Rather in a cultural mood? Drive towards the south of the island, pass Fira and visit Megalochori. It is one of the most picturesque villages on the island. Its existence is recorded back to the 17th century. Home to historical mansions, pirate hideaways and vineyards, it has a history of merchants and wealthy barons exporting Vinsanto wine that the island still produces. A prominent feature of the historical homes and mansions are the high walls, interior courtyards and solid wooden door entrances, built for privacy and for safety against marauding pirates.
Locals have made a great effort to preserve the characteristics and beauty of this traditional settlement, and many of the original houses that had fallen into disrepair, have been restored to their former glory.
Watch the magical sunset at Akrotiri Lighthouse
The lighthouse near Akrotiri is known by locals as ‘Faros’. Every inhabitant we spoke to, recommended us to avoid Oia and head straight to the lighthouse for sunset. For this spot, you will also need to rent a car or motorbike and arrive in time! Not to beat the crowd (there are significantly less tourists here), but not to miss a minute of the colorful reflection of the sun on the fairy lighthouse. Get cozy on one of the rocks and hear the cries of the seagulls flying over your head. I assure you, this is pure magic.
Obviously, you can gaze at the amazing sunset from several spots. We discovered quite some perfect spots here.
Taste wines along the vineyard route
Wine lover in heart and soul, I should recommend you to leave your beach chair for at least once and visit a local winery. Instead of driving along Santorini’s main road, there are signs that indicate an alternative road that passes along most of the wineries and vineyards. Everywhere you will find the typical Kulura. The vines are kept unstaked and trained low to the ground in the shape of a basket. This helps to protect the grapes from the fierce winds and heat of the island. Amazing!
Santorini gives you plenty of choice between several wineries. We visited and particularly liked Santo Wines, Gavalas and Domaine Sigales. Read more about our wine experience soon on our blog.
Go city tripping!
Oia is by far the most scenic city of the island offering stunning views of the caldera, the volcano, the other villages of Santorini and of course the amazing sunset. Wandering around and getting lost in the maze-like alleys of the village is naturally a must during your stay on the island. It is probably the best way to find all the lovely little shops with authentic artifacts, stylish clothes and mementos to take back home. Combine the gleaming white facades with the azure blue church towers and the black volcanic soil in the background: your friends will marvel at your incredibly perfect pictures!
Take a dip in an infinity pool!
Don’t leave this island before you have checked out one of its iconic infinity pools! In my opinion, it is the best way to combine the marvelous sea view and the refreshment of a swimming pool without painful feet. After all, Santorini’s volcanic (and not sandy) beaches are not always a pleasure for our feet.
Discover local gastronomy!
After driving around the island, strolling through its villages and plunging in the water, a lady tends to get hungry. Very hungry, in my case. Gastronomy in Santorini is based on own agricultural products. Products nourished by the volcanic soil, the sea breeze and the sunshine of the Aegean Sea, giving them a unique taste. When combined with the almost exclusively organic cultivation of the island the result is top quality ingredients that produce original, tasty and healthy food.
Historically, Santorini’s exceptional volcanic soil and its micro-climate have proved to be ideal for the growing of outstanding products of unique taste, highly praised not only in Greece but also internationally. I will guide you quickly through some basic but oh so delicious products. Afterwards you will have to find out for yourself how the cooks on Santorini flabbergast you with their striking and bewildering dishes.
- Cherry tomatoes that are nothing like what you commonly find in our supermarkets. Trust me, you’ll know the difference once you taste Santorini cherry tomatoes. They are so full of taste that you’ll forget what any other tomato tastes like.
- The, one of a kind, white eggplant which actually looks much more like ‘egg-plants’ than the common eggplants. You’ll be astonished by the superior taste in comparison to the eggplants we are used to.
- Fava beans, a simple vegetable that might seem dull to you but you’ll be amazed by how many great recipes based on fava exist in Santorini. Once you taste the typical creamy fava, you will want to order it every dinner and need a fava rehab back home.
- Tomatokeftedes, also know as Santorini Tomato Fritters. These are an excellent appetizer and found almost everywhere on Santorini. Mix tomatoes with onion, mint and some flour, fry them and you’re ready to attack!
- As we are on an island, it is mandatory to try its fresh fish. There are still family-owned tavernas that operate in the traditional Greek way: the father is out fishing, the son manages the restaurant, and the mother runs the kitchen. The fish is so fresh it doesn’t even appear on the menu. You simply visit the kitchen to pick out your fish from the selection of today’s fresh catch. The fish is weighed, you’re quoted a price, and when all is agreed, off you go to enjoy a glass of wine while your fish is being seasoned and grilled.
I spent 6 days on the island… 6 dinners to enjoy… 6 restaurants to visit. To be honest: it was quite a selection! Guided by fellow bloggers and mostly by locals, I appreciated every single one of them. I will share with you only the ones I really adored: To Psaraki, The Cave of Nikolas and Taverna Katina. Click on the restaurant names to read our experience!