Many friends have asked me questions about visiting Santorini over the years. “It looks amazing!”, “Is it expensive?”, “what should we try there?”. I was recently a visitor to the island myself and have come up with a few tips and facts that are useful for first-time visitors to know. I’m happy to expand on any of these if you leave a question in the comments or answer any other questions that you may have about this island that I love.
1. It’s pronounced SADORINI. NOT San-torini.
You can imagine that being stated arrogantly in a “It’s Levioosa. Not Leviosaaa” attitude.
2. Thira (Theé-ra) is the official name of Santorini, also its ancient name.
You will hear this name a lot and will encounter it on signs, local products etc. NOT to be confused with Fira (Fee-rá) which is the name of the main town of the island. It’s also worth noting that while Thira is a feminine noun in the singular form, Fira is a neutral noun and is in the plural. I have gotten this confused since forever – hopefully this helps detangle the two.
3. If you haven’t been told this already I’ll tell you now: Santorini is expensive.
Yes, it’s majestic. Yes, it’s unique. Yes, it’ll beat the hell out of your wallet. Having a simple “Frappe” (Greek type of cold coffee) in the heart of the Caldera (volcanic rock hills that lead into the sea) in Fira could cost as much as 7€. According to the current exchange rate, that’s 11.24 Australian dollars…
As much as it is worth visiting Santorini – and there is no doubt in my mind that it is worth visiting – it is perhaps not the correct choice for a holiday destination when budget is tight. Not to worry if this is the case of course as Greece is not short on stunning islands.
4. Another commonly known fact: be aware that Santorini is VERY BUSY.
You know all the amazing sunset photos that newly-wed couples and other tourists post, of the type “hashtag Santorini I love you”? (Ok now I’m becoming cynical). Well the reality is sometimes all you get to do during the sunset is take turns to run to a single empty spot against the background of the sunset so that someone can hopefully get a good shot of you. The phenomenon of people squeezing and competing for the best view spots is most intense in the village called Oia (pronounced Ee-a). It’s insanely famous for its sunset view because it is on the northern tip of the main island of Santorini facing west.
The truth is that the view of the sunset in Oia is just spectacular. However, it is not the only spot on the island with spectacular sunset and other views.
5. Which brings me to my next point: Aim to NOT stay in Oia or Fira.
Stay in one of the other numerous villages which are spread throughout the island. Some of these are: Imerovigli, Pyrgos, Akrotiri and more. I personally love the area of Kamari as it is very vibrant, very close to the beach and has everything you may want.
When I visited the island earlier this year, I was lucky enough to stay with family in the village of Pyrgos. There were no 5-star luxuries and infinity pools overlooking the Aegean (although you can find luxury accommodation in Pyrgos). But I got a very authentic, non-touristy experience of the island by staying away from most of the crowds and so can you.
6. Aaaand: Try and avoid peak season.
The problem is that the island seems to be experiencing peak season nearly all year round nowadays! Still, aim to go during the time of Greek Orthodox Easter if possible. This period changes from year to year but is usually towards the end of April.
You’re definitely in for a very special treat if you visit the island during Easter. It is only during this time of year that local people light a huge amount of tinned lamps and use them to decorate the paths along the famous blue and white houses. I have only seen this in photographs but would love to experience it with my own eyes.
7. The island is busy.. with tourists.
I won’t forget my first time there when I was walking in the little cute alleyways in the main town, Fira, and I could hear more Aussies speaking in a “Mate” kind of way, than Greeks speaking Greek. It was a bizarre feeling, especially given that I was visiting my home country in an effort to re-connect with my people and culture after several years of living abroad.
Naturally, given the financial crisis of recent years and the astronomical prices on the island, the great majority of Greeks don’t dream of choosing Santorini as their summer go-to destination. The result is that the island tends to be more popular with foreign rather than with Greek tourists nowadays. I’m not highlighting this as a positive or a negative I am however pointing out that if you’re looking for an authentic “Greek” experience you might not get it exactly in the way that you imagine it in Santorini. Nothing to do with whether it’s worth going to the island – as we’ve already said it totally is.
8. It’s not very hard to get to.
I would honestly recommend flying to Santorini unless you want to have the ferry-hopping sea-travelling experience (which I actually prefer but most people I know don’t).
If you want to catch the ferry and are relatively on a budget then expect to pay at least 35 euros to spend about 7 hours on the ferry one-way. This doesn’t include the time that you have to spend going to the port of Pireus at least 2 hours before your ferry departure time. During high season and for a significantly higher price you can also catch faster boats that take about 5 hours to get to the island. These however are often more unreliable when it comes to departure time and overall organisation.
Viva.gr is my favourite website for ticket bookings especially when it comes to travelling by ferry and I therefore recommend that you have a look if you’re planning to travel in this way.
If on the other hand you’re looking to fly to the island the only downside is that you’ll loose time going to and from the airport. But the flight itself from Athens to Fira takes less than an hour. It’s also pretty cheap if you book early enough, with prices being as low as 30 euros return. The good thing is that there’s various airlines that fly to Santorini (for example Olympic Airways, Volotea, Sky Express) and so you’re bound to find a price that closely matches your budget.
9. Dedicate time to visit the archaeological sites for they are very impressive and worth your time.
I’m not saying don’t focus on the main highlights such as the red beach, the black beach, the green beach etc. Jokes.. there is NO green beach in Santorini. Visit all the touristy spots. But know that Santorini has so much more to offer. I would definitely add two sites to your list:
– The site of Ancient Thira (think temple ruins overlooking the magnificent volcanic rocks and the chaotic blue sea) and
– The pre-historic town of Akrotiri (A-kro-tee-ree). I fell in love with the archaeological beauty of the site in Akrotiri. Imagine walking into a super-modern semi-indoor area and being shocked by what you see. Or at least this was my reaction. It’s like walking through a small ancient town where little people had lives, and went about their lives, and made new lives… about 3,000 years ago! In fact, the settlement belongs to the Minoan Bronze age and evidence of its existence date back to even the fifth millennium BC! Akrotiri was particularly important as a trade hub due to its strategic location and was used to trade goods such as copper and olive oil with other trade hubs like ancient Crete. How cool is that! #historynerd
And to some really important business before we conclude.
10. Taste the local delicacies of the island!
In EVERY Greek island you should aim to have as much fresh produce, local products and sea food (assuming you’re a fan of it) as you can. Stuff as much of it down as you can because the quality is often as good as it gets out there in the world of food consumption.
What is Santorini famous for?
- Ntomatokeftethes (mouthful of a word, I know, do-ma-to-ke-fte-thes). Traditional tomatoe-based patties. These babies are traditionally made with the finest mini-tomatoes called ntomataki Santorinis (ντοματάκι Σαντορίνης), which is only found on the island. Superb!
- OMG. You can think of it looking like hommus however it does not taste like it. It’s made from locally-grown split peas and the finest of its kind is only found on this island. Eat it with fresh bread or just straight from the plate with a spoon like a little piggy as I did.
- Salata Santorinis (Santorini salad). Made with ntomataki, local white cheese and caper leaves. It’s so yum.
- If you happen to be there during Greek Easter: try the pastries called melitinia. I’ve been told that when someone in a family makes them they disappear in no time.
Plenty more treats to try but the ones mentioned here shouldn’t be missing from your list!
10+1. Drink your western-world worries away with PLENTY of VINSANTO.
Do you like very sweet dessert wines? I adore them. I could take them any time over a Shiraz. Well, you must try Santorini’s locally produced Vinsanto. And take a few bottles with you back home while you’re at it. In fact, you should try this wine even if you are not a big fan of dessert wines. It’s exclusively produced in Santorini and is therefore a cultural experience to try it there.
But beware.. it will hit quick and hard. It will help you melt away into the euphoria of holidaying on a stunning surrounded by unbelievable beauty.
For Santorini is unique, it is beautiful and no matter when or how you visit it you will leave a piece of your heart here.