We stopped at our new favorite roadside bakery and splurged on a whole bag of fresh sweets, cookies, hot sandwiches and cold beers. Hopping back in the car, we raced to the quiet spot scouted earlier that day – a empty parking lot overlooking the brown cliffs of Santorini. Cracking open the cans of local beer and digging into our donuts, we were spoiled to have a Santorini sunset all to ourselves. We couldn’t believe everyone was crowded up in the northern part of the island, competing for a spot to see – this was the same sun and just as spectacular a view, only a few miles away!
Santorini holds high on many people’s lists for honeymoons and lofty travel goals as one of the most beautiful places on earth. But it’s easy to feel underwhelmed being swept up in the swell of tourists and overpriced attractions. But don’t skip this island, because it truly is one of the most gorgeous places in Greece – there’s a reason everyone goes there.
Don’t Miss: Having Your Own Car
Have a car in Santorini, as it does have public transport, but can come infrequently. Taxis and hired cars also work, but your own vehicle can give you the freedom of mobility. Due note a few things with the car though:
- Villages like Oia and Megalohori have very narrow streets. It’s fine for driving, but can be a challenge for parking. Consider finding a parking space outside of the main village, or have a hotel within walking distance from where you want to go. We found the Oia Sunset Villas to be ideal, as it’s only a 15-20 minute walk into Oia along a marked path.
- If you are a driver outside of Europe, it’s best to get an international driver’s license. It’s basically a booklet that translates your info in several languages you carry around with you. We found a car to rent, but had a little trouble because we didn’t have these documents. If you live in the US, you can get this through a AAA branch for a few dollars before the trip.
- Know how to drive manual, as most cars in Greece are stick shift, or you’ll have to pay a premium for an automatic.
This is the spot you always see in travel TV shows – blue domed churches, whitewashed neighborhoods and cobblestone paths that head off into the sunset. The reality is, this place is a circus. In all my trips I’ve never seen such a crowded place. It’s difficult to even take a photo without other tourists in the shot. While pretty, only allocate a couple hours to see Oia if you must. Then, go back around sunset and make a restaurant reservation along the cliff for great views of the multi-colored sky.
For something a little different in Oia, dine in style at Asea, which is owned by Mystique, a Luxury Collection Hotel. Thy have several establishments, but the sushi-centric restaurant is outstanding, made fresh everyday. Have an incredible view of the sea while you sample local and exotic sashimi. Have a fruity cocktail, skip the dessert, and get some baklava from a roadside bakery on the way back to your hotel.
If you do want to stay near Oia, consider a spot on the other side on the island, like Oia Sunset Villas. It’s close to all the action, but wonderfully secluded with individual three-floor villas and outdoor spaces. Have a drink by the pool, soak in your private Jacuzzi and enjoy the view unspoiled by hordes of crowds. Space is sprawling, so you can easily have a big group in one villa, plus space for parking. That can’t be found in Oia!
Don’t Miss: Head South in Santorini
After you get your fill of Oia, it’s well worth spending the majority of your time in Santorini in the southern part of the island. There’s a wealth of culture, including ruins and generations of vineyards waiting to be explored. Not to mention, the views are still unparalleled and the crowds are far less than in the trendier areas of the island.
Find a great base to jump off from that offers relaxing amenities and an easy locale for seeing the best parts of Santorini. We loved the Vedema hotel, which is the sister property of Mystique in Oia. It’s more relaxed, super spacious and welcoming with some rooms boasting Jacuzzis overlooking the village of Megalohori.
On site is one of the best seafood restaurants on the island called Alati. However the highlight for us was a libation tasting inside their cool Canava Wine Bar, featuring local vineyards and a few cheese nibbles.
From there, enjoy a few winery and vineyard tours. They are unique to the island, as most family-run vineyards do not export their wines and focus on the island market. Galavas Wine was wonderful for it’s intimate, outside tasting room surrounded by vines, while Santo Wines offered fantastic sea vistas while you sample flights of their white, rose and red varieties.
Cheers to the weekend! Very little of the wine in Santorini (& Greece in general) is exported. It’s a treat to travel to the island because you get to try exclusive varieties of wine around every corner. Santo Wine had a lovely choices but the best bit was the view. I liked the vineyards as well because they use the crown method, where vines are wrapped in circles on the ground. It looks really different than in France or Italy!
Skip: Donkey Rides
These animals are tired and don’t wait your dead weight on their backs. Full stop. In all seriousness, go get a scooter or moped if you want to have a little adventure, but a donkey isn’t going to do it. They can’t bring you to any place you can’t walk to and it’s often an overpriced experience. Skip the ride and get around the island other ways.
Don’t Miss: Santorini Beaches
Santorini isn’t known very much for it’s beaches. The cliffs and rocks are often so craggy it doesn’t make for ideal conditions. But we did love the private beach offered by the Vedema hotel, complete with loungers and straw parasols. The black sand of Perissa is smooth and the water clear for swimming all afternoon.
Around the corner is the Red beach, made of red clay and dramatic falling rock faces that lead down to the sea. I had no idea this was on the island, and is often overlooked by tourists. Walk along the path leading to the beach, but pause for pretty views before heading to the sand.
Don’t Miss: Other Greek Islands
Some travelers will begrudgingly spend a day or two in Athens, then take a ferry straight to Santorini. That’s such a shame! There’s so many other accessible islands worth a few days nearby. Of course Santorini is arguably the most beautiful and well worth your time, but for a more authentic experience, try somewhere like Paros. They have just as many white-washed villages and fantastic moussaka!
Have you ever been somewhere that was too crowded by tourists? Do you like to go to iconic places even if they have a lot of travelers there? Would you want to visit Greece?