Movies have had something to do with my travel dreams. If Sound of Music made me want to someday sing in lush green meadows, it was Mamma Mia that made me
day dream of that vivid landscape of Greek islands. That was 2008. Fast forwarding 6 years I made sure sure that my first ever trip in Europe was to Greece, precisely Santorini.
Traversing the turquoise blue waters of the Mediterranean on the ferry from Athens for eight hours bore fruit (not to say the journey wasn’t fun, in fact am glad we didn’t fly) when Santorini appeared with its black cliffs and a splash of white just about visible at the top.
Good news – Santorini is JUST like you would have seen on any travel site. No glossy photos can oversell the gorgeousness that is this island – its western side is flanked by the typical Greek whitewashed houses with blue domes, making a statement across the rugged landscape, the eastern side gives off further panoramas of never ending blue horizons and then there are the medieval villages which are essentially Greek .. And all this under a warm, balmy sun (well that depends when you travel)
Am I being too liberal with my adjectives? Well that is because this dreamy island WILL make you gush.
Anyway, before I ramble more, read on for some of the best things that you can do and see while visiting Santorini.
1. Do the hike from Fira to Oia
.. or you know, vice versa.
If there is ONE thing that you must do that will open up those divine landscapes of Santorini, it is this. I have gushed enough about the views (and the pictures will prove that), but here, I re-emphasise. The path runs along the caldera from the town of Fira to Oia and for most part, you will not just be walking along the remnant of a volcano, but also witness that blue of the Mediterranean sea and the whitewashed spectacle of houses and hotels smearing the volcanic cliffs of the island.
The hike is supposed to take 4 hours but I can guarantee it will take longer as there is no way you can resist stopping frequently to take it all in. You can also plan the hike in a way that it ends in a sunset at Oia.
Tip: If you like a bit of peace and quiet, then instead of going all the way to Oia for sunset, stop a little earlier at the Church of Panagia (Just Google the location) which lies on the hike path.
2. Explore Santorini’s diverse beaches
Where to go in Santorini you ask? Go explore Santorini’s many beaches. Beaches of Santorini reflect the volcanic origins of the island with differently coloured sands (red, white, black all on this small island), jagged cliffs and vivid rock formations. Even if you are not a beach person, go visit for the landscape they present.
3. Walk through Santorini’s villages – their houses, their winding lanes
Drive away from the glossy western side of Santorini towards the centre, and the island will show a different side to you – of its medieval villages. Where pace suddenly falls, streets become peaceful and the houses appear more traditional. Pyrgos is one such village.
Walking about in the myriad lanes with steep climbs and many turns, one moment there is a tiny shop selling hand made art fare, and then another moment, a small cafe appears where you can tuck in. At all times, however, the walls of these alleys are whitewashed, the houses are decorated in blue, and bougainvillea flowers peep through at a corner.
..And suddenly, you are in the middle of a postcard.
4. Santorini’s panoramic views
Want some panoramic views of Santorini that you will never find on any travel sites? One place which will give off unobstructed views of the entire island is Kasteli or the medieval castle which is reached via the village of Pyrgos. It is a bit of a steep climb from the village square to the top but there are enough distractions on the way to keep you busy. At Kasteli, the island will sprawl in front of you with none of the crowds or the resorts with their infinity pools.
5. Go for sunset viewing at Oia .. or may be not
There is a reason why the sunsets in Santorini are famous, more so the one in Oia .. because they are indeed spectacular (there, you have my stamp of approval).
However, I did not witness it at Oia, rather we stopped some distance before Oia at Church of Panagia which lies on the hike path from Fira to Oia. Good decision – Best views, No people.
6. Go to Akrotiri lighthouse
Akrotiri lighthouse lies on the opposite end of Oia and is a brilliant point for some more panoramic views (as if there weren’t enough already).
Best time to go? You guessed it – at sunset. Drive down to the lighthouse at day end and you can spend your evening sitting out on the cliffs.
Tip: Stop some distance before the Akrotiri lighthouse to get some clear views of the open sea and the play of the afternoon sun on the cliffs right there. The image is quite enchanting as this pic says:
7. See the Akrotiri ruins
At Akrotiri, which lies to the south west of the island, one can find well preserved ruins of a Minoan civilization which resided on the island. The civilization, which was once quite prosperous (as they all tend to be), was completely buried under the volcanic ash from the last eruption of Santorini, or Thera as it was called back then. The burial, however, ensured that the ruins are well-preserved and one can literally walk through the lanes of the bygone settlement and view some of the objects from the 16th century which was when the volcano erupted.
8. Hike up Nea Kameni
Have you ever walked atop an active volcano? We never had, so decided to take the ferry which goes up to Nea Kameni. Nea Kameni is the youngest uninhabited island in Santorini’s caldera which was formed due to repeated volcanic eruptions over the past hundreds of years. Today it sits atop an active volcano.
On Nea Kameni, it is possible to walk along the rim of the volcano’s crater. The island has a very high concentration of sulphur and at certain places, it is possible to see steam escaping the many sulphur lined vents.
The moon like barren landscape of Nea Kameni, the views of Santorini from the island and the feeling of walking along an active volcano makes it COMPLETELY worth it to make this short trip.
9. Explore Santorini’s towns – Fira, Oia
Albeit a little overcrowded, they are gorgeous with beautiful alleys and lots of shops. Personally, I preferred the alleys of Pyrgos village where you get the same vibe in relative peace and quiet.
Also, don’t forget to drive between Fira and Oia and explore sea views on Santorini’s eastern side.
Have you been to Santorini? What are some of your favourite sights from there?