Visiting Santorini is like visiting another planet. Awe strikes around every corner, with stunning towns of white and blue buildings spilling over the cliffs that provide uniquely epic panoramas. The Thira caldera, formed by one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history (2nd millennium BC), creates a rough circle of varied landscapes and blasted volcanic rock. Combined with throngs of tourists that swarm it’s surface year round, the atmosphere on Santorini is a singular experience.
We were two of the swarm for three nights, trying our best to experience the scenes our photos captured. We arrived very late at night on a ferry from Rhodes, swapping a lazy beach town for a manic tourism machine.
We caught a ferry from Rhodes to Santorini with Blue Star Ferries, choosing ‘air seats’ for €41.50 rather than economy seats for €38.50. The journey takes nine hours, so we felt justified in our decision to spend the extra €3 each for comfort. The seats ended up being slightly better than the standard seats dotted about the cafes of the ship. The ferry is loud, smelly, boring and inconvenient (arriving in Santorini at 00:30), but from Rhodes it’s your only option to Santorini unless you want to fly to Athens first.
Santorini does have an airport that connects to Athens all year round, so to reach the island by air you will likely change there. The airport operates seasonal connections to many European destinations. One way flights from somewhere like London in high season will cost around €135 via Athens and about €185 direct. Low season tickets start at around €65.
It depends on where you decide to stay on the island but from the port there is a bus that will take you directly to Fira, the island capital and main town. The bus will cost something like €2.40 and the last departure is scheduled to accommodate the late ferry. We decided on a taxi from the port to our accommodation in Firostefani, which at that hour and in our disgruntled state was absolutely the right decision for €20.
Hint – Headphones and/or earplugs, eye mask and a book are essential items for the ferry. There is paid WiFi but it’s barely worth it. There are plenty of food options on the big Blue Star.
We were there during Easter so good budget accommodation on Santorini was rare, but we found it at Ersi Villas in Firostefani. Our own self catered apartment cost €41 per night for a double room. Ersi Villas were very good and provided everything we needed for our stay.
Hostels are in Fira and Perissa. Dorm room beds start from around €16 per night, however Youth Hostel Anna in Perissa offers beds from €6 per night. The most highly recommended hostel in Fira is Santorini Hostel Kykladonisia.
Bnb prices on Santorini start from around €30 per night for a double room, and you can find private Airbnb apartments from around €55 per night.
Hotels are what Santorini does very well, although they might be called anything from villas and apartments, to suites and resorts. They are all essentially hotels. If you are spending the money for a hotel, stay cliff-side in Fira or Oia (pronounced Ia) and enjoy incredible views from your room. Double rooms start from around €25 per night for something basic, but average around €200 per night.
Fira is a great base for exploring the Island, we were in Firostefani which is a 10 minute walk away. From Fira there are buses connecting almost all of the island, it has the port, and it’s where the majority of nightlife can be found. Oia is more picturesque and therefore more expensive, but if you don’t plan on exploring much then it’s a place worth considering.
Santorini exists almost exclusively to rinse as much money from tourists as possible. It’s worth it, the island is incredible, but just beware if you are on any sort of budget. It can be done cheaply, as the most impressive aspects of Santorini are what nature provides, and free.
First stop should be to hire a ‘moto’ (scooter), ‘ATV’ (4-wheeler), or a car. Any will do you just fine; moto’s are about €18 per day, ATV’s €20 per day, and cars start from €25 per day. To hire a scooter on Santorini you might need a motorbike licence, which is why we ended up with an ATV. The only considerations are how many people you need to transport, the weather, and the cost of petrol. For reference, our ATV used two-thirds of a tank of petrol in about 10 hours of constant use and cost €10 to fill.
Buses will connect you with most of the major places like Oia, some beaches, the port and the airport. Tickets vary depending on destination from €1.80 – €3.30 for a single one way journey.
We spent our first morning exploring Fira and tasting wine at Santo winery, which is highly recommended. The views from almost everywhere on Santorini are stunning, so don’t worry too much about prioritising view hunting. It’s everywhere, trust me. Late afternoon we hiked the path from Fira to Oia, which is a brisk 2.5 hour walk along the most impressive cliff-top coastline I think I’ve ever seen. It’s not an easy walk but anyone with moderate fitness should manage just fine. Make sure to go late afternoon to avoid the heat and arrive in time for Oia’s famous sunset.
The sunset in Oia is a bucket list type event that draws thousands of people a day to the gorgeous town. Check the time of the sunset and arrive well early to get a place, then prepare to battle to keep it as the masses descend to vie for position; pointing cameras at the sun like it’s going away for good. If you are lucky you can sit on an ancient castle while the truly awesome spectacle takes place, it’s really very cool, despite the crowds. If you hang around for ten minutes after the sun goes down you almost have the place to yourself, as the tour group flag-waivers gather the sticker-wearers back to their buses.
The next day we blatted around the island on our ATV; checking out Akrotiri where there is a Venetian castle, a lighthouse and the impressive Red Beach; a black sand beach under huge bright red rocks. Perivolos and Perissa beaches are right next to each other and are both nice. In Perissa you can find more beachside restaurants, cafes and bars, as well as a bus stop.
It happened to be Easter Friday while we were there and we went out to Pyrgos in the evening to watch hundreds of fires lit around the city, on and among the roofs and walls at 9pm. It was an incredible spectacle which drew thousands of people and we felt truly privileged to be there. My photos cannot do it justice, so check out a Pyrgos Easter Friday image search HERE.
Food is where we saved most of our money, to stay even close to our budget we survived on bakery breakfasts and lunches. Dinners were gyros and supermarket salads, as restaurants were sacrificed for things like wine tastings. I can say that the olives, tomatoes, cheeses, capers, bread, beer and wine on Santorini are all very special.
Hint – Carefully consider the season you visit Santorini. We went at the end of April and it was already very much a tourism machine, although the locals we met assured us it was very quiet. I can’t even imagine how manic it would be in July and August.
Hint 2 – Avoid Penguin Dry Cleaners in Fira like the plague. They were purposefully vague, hugely overcharged us, and ruined clothes.
Santorini for three nights;
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