Sunset in Oia, Santorini.
Everyone wants their dream holiday to be that little bit special. To make it truly memorable, it’s got to be unique, exciting and even, if I may, a little dramatic. There’s one obvious location that fulfills all of these requirements and then some. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? That’s right. Atlantis. A holiday to Atlantis, the legendary forbidden city, a submerged paradise that’s drenched in myth and adventure and…I know. This isn’t a fantasy blog. We’ve got to talk about real places, real things, and Atlantis is a little too far off the map. Well, can I interest you in the next best thing? The Greek island of Santorini, also officially known as Thira, is an exotic slice of land situated in the Aegean Sea, just over 100 miles from the Greek mainland. And it’s as close to Atlantis as you can get (for now…).
Geographically and historically one of the most dramatic places in the world, Santorini circles the core of an ancient volcano, one that supposedly destroyed the nearby ancient city of Atlantis when it catastrophically erupted over 3,500 years ago. And when I say catastrophic, I’m not lying; if you look at Santorini from above, you can see where the explosion carved off huge chunks of land from the island’s centre, leaving a coastline of sheared cliff edges in its wake. All of this is to our benefit though, because it’s made Santorini one of the most beautiful, breathtaking places in the world. To get a feel for it, why not search for other BUCKiTDREAM users who’ve been fortunate enough to visit and grab some ideas for what to do and see once you finally mount your own expedition. As you gather inspiration from other travellers and this handy article, make sure to log in the ones you like the look of on your handy BUCKiTDREAM planner!
Here’s our rundown of the best experiences that this dreamy volcanic island has to offer; make sure to take notes, as you won’t want to miss a single one!
Hike from Oia to Fira (or vice versa!) One of the best things to do in Santorini is, fortunately, completely free. The two cities of Oia and Fira (the capital) are perched on top of the opposing dramatic cliffs. The walk will take two to five hours depending on your pace, with plenty of sightseeing/taverna stops to be made along the way.
Explore the Streets and Stairs of Fira The capital of Fira is uniquely designed. The first thing that you’ll notice will be the distinctive, white-painted buildings; the second thing you’ll notice is that it’s constructed on a slope, leaving you lots of little paths and alleys to explore.
Take a Dip at Persia Beach You can’t go to Greece without getting in the ocean. Perissa, as well as having a beautiful name, is one of the best swimming beaches on the island.
Take a Dip in the Volcanic Hot Springs If the beach is too mainstream, why not venture out towards the warmer water of the volcano? Jump off a handy boat tour, land in the soothingly warm, unique waters of one of the most destructive volcanoes on earth. Luckily, it’s dormant. (We checked.)
Explore Emborio On the south of Santorini lies Emborio, a magical little town that’s usually devoid of tourists. Its web of stonewalled alleyways are quaint but labyrinthian; a perfect place to get wonderfully lost for an hour or two.
Santorini Cat. Background: view on Firostefani. Santorini island (Thira), Greece.
Learn about the Excavated City of Akrotiri Unfortunately for the inhabitants of Akrotiri, the settlement was completely destroyed during the volcano eruption. Fortunately for us tourists, the ruins have been excavated from the mountain of ash and the intriguing site is open to visitors.
Lose Yourself in Atlantis Sorry, not that Atlantis. Atlantis Books, founded by two Americans who couldn’t bear to leave Santorini, is fast becoming one of the most loved bookshops in the world. Featuring an eclectic English-language mix of tomes, the bookshop has a unique, cosy atmosphere and is well worth a visit.
Catch a Flick at Kamari This charming outdoor cinema shows a variety of films, which you can sit back and watch under the setting sun with a glass of wine or bottle of beer. Films start around 9:30pm nightly, though be warned: we’re on Greek time here.
High-end Having previously been named the best hotel in Greece, Astra Suites has a lot to live up to; but it certainly delivers. The ingredients are simple – stunning views, beautiful pool, spacious rooms and a cozy atmosphere – but the result is absolutely spectacular.
Medium If you want a unique place to stay on the island, why not check out the Windmill Suite at Golden Sunset Villas, which, as the name implies, lets you stay in an actual windmill! The rest of the villas are nice too, so don’t worry if it’s sold out.
Budget There are a number of one and two-star hotels on the island, and also quite a few Airbnb options; the San Giorgio Villas provide straightforward rooms with private balconies so you can still soak up the everlasting Santorini sunsets.
Seafood is the order of the day on the island, and few do it better. Similar to the hotels, there are no chains or big name brands on Santorini; instead, you’ll discover hundreds of traditional tavernas, many with their own charmingly idiosyncratic atmospheres and menus. The island also has its own signature dishes; make sure you don’t leave without sampling the Santorini salad, a localised spin on the traditional Greek salad, and if you can, try and track down some rare Chloro cheese; a more delicious, milder version of feta.
With regards to specific places to eat; Karma, in Oia, has a charming decor and serves some of the best dishes in the town. For the more romantic touch, you can’t go far wrong with the stunning views and intimate feel of Ambrosia. Metaxy Mas is generally regarded as the best restaurant on the island and is comfortably removed from the festive crowds on the nearby caldera.
Drinks and Nightlife
Santorini is one of the more lively islands in the surrounding seas, and despite its lazy, carefree atmosphere during the day, it can turn into quite the party island when the sun goes down. But if you’re imagining something akin to the teen-ridden bedlam of the Corfu strip, don’t worry; you won’t be bothered by that particular brand of anarchy on Santorini.
Murphy’s is a two-level bar located in the capital of Fira. It’s usually full to the brim and the best place to go to meet other travellers. If you’re after something a little more unique and wacky (or perhaps that should be whack-ey?!), you can visit 2 Brothers, strap on a helmet, and be hit on the head with a baseball bat by the bartender to bag a free shot.
Tips and Culture
Tourism is a large part of the island’s culture, so the native Santorinians are notoriously friendly towards their foreign visitors. Greek is the official language, and occasionally finding a fluent English speaker can be a bit of a battle. It’s a good idea to learn a few choice phrases before you head out there, to make it easier to get around…and get fed!
Expect to fall in line with Greek time, which means eating late and taking the odd siesta in the afternoon. No one is rushed in Greece, and, seeing as you’re on holiday, you should embrace this particular custom with open arms.
It’s a long old trek from Fira to Skala Bay; so why not grab yourself a donkey and save your legs? You get to kick back and relax as a tried-and-tested mule eases you down the windy, gorgeous trails, providing you with absolutely stunning views and a consummate example of the typically Greek laid-back way of doing things.
It might not be Atlantis, but Santorini is a Mediterranean paradise all by itself. If you like the look of this legendary Greek island, make sure to write down the experiences you simply can’t go without in your BUCKiTDREAM planner and then begin booking your own trip to this once-in-a-lifetime destination!