To DoRent an ATV for a fun way to get around
It's easy to drive around in Santorini as there are only two main roads which connects you to all the different districts. You can easily rent an ATV - you'd need an international driving license - and it's a cheap way to get around, as long as it doesn't rain! If not, you can rent a tiny Smart car.
A word on night driving though - there are limited street lights. On the first day we had the ATV, we were driving back after being intoxicated on red wines at Santo Wines after sunset. It was pitch black and all we could see was the headlights of cars in the distance. We accidentally took a one-way road and had horns blaring at us halfway - literally a deer caught in headlights situation!
Hike from Fira to Oia
The path is generally quite easy to hike as it's well marked and mostly paved. It's a 10km walk, which will take you about 3-4h depending on your speed. Bring lots of water and small snacks, as well as your camera, as the path is very very scenic and well worth the hike.
Hunt down postcard locations
Hunting down postcard locations is fun, in a treasure hunt sort of way. Sure, it's cliche and all, but they're postcard images for a reason. Here, I show you how you can find the various locations.
1. Fira - That famous 3 bells
You need to go up the stairs next to Mama Thira restaurant and up past the carpark area. There's actually a very helpful sign showing where's the photospot once you get up to the carpark.
2. Oia - 3 Blue Domes
Look out for a glitzy jewelry store full of bling on the main street of Oia. Just before the store, there is a small path that will lead you to the photospot. If you can't find it, just follow the crowd!
3. Oia - Classic Sunset
Also deemed as the most famous sunset in the world (almost). I went to Santorini in May, before the peak season and I still had to station myself at the Oia Castle Ruins 1 hour before sunset to ensure that I get a good spot to catch it. If you're arriving in Santorini during the peak season (June - August), be sure to park yourself at least 1.5h early for sunset.
4. Oia - Church set against the town
It's easy to find this spot if you follow the same small path where you shot the Blue Domes. If not, there is an alternative path leading from the main road of Oia behind. Just look out for small paths branching out from the main road of the town.
Cliff Jumping at Ammoudi Bay
We didn't have time for this one but I suppose in the hot summer days, cliff jumping would give immense pleasure! You can find this tiny rock cliff when you walk in the direction of Katerina's at Ammoudi Bay.
Hiking on Nea Kameni and Swimming in Hot Springs
It was first time I had hiked on a volcano, and getting to know Nea Kameni, otherwise known as the beautiful caldera in all the Santorini photos was really a wonderful experience. We arrived there atop a giant wood yacht ship, complete with white sails and all, which made me fantasize about Pirates of Caribbean. Hiking atop the volcanic rocks and seeing Santorini from another perspective was definitely a worthwhile experience.
We were then brought off to the sulfuric hot springs near to Nea Kameni and we jumped into the cold sea water. The blue and cold waters gradually turned to a greenish hue and warm, thanks to the high sulfuric content, as we swam into the bay. It's not exactly hot springs ala Japanese style, but to be swimming in the Mediterranean sea, and then to come back atop on deck toasting in the hot sun. I was content to say the least.
There are lots of cruise companies in Fira and Oia, you can simply walk in and book a cruise. Depending on the time you want to spend and your interests, you can book half day, full day or sunset cruises. I would recommend a half day cruise to Nea Kameni and the hot springs, and to skip Thira, the island nearby Santorini.
Art Space Santorini
We kind of stumbled upon Art Space without really actively searching for it. We were in the Exo Gonia district, originally planning a trip down to Kameni beach. On the road we saw a sign directing us to Art Space and we thought why not? Turned out to be one of the more interesting and not so touristy places in Santorini.
Art Space is a winery and an art gallery - Works of Greek artists are exhibited in ancient cellars which were used to make and mature wine. The biggest cellar stretched 40m underground and it was really a novel way to exhibit art. We were also given a free tour of the winery, learning about ancient and modern ways on winemaking on Santorini, which ended with a wine tasting (at just 5 euros!).
Pyrgos is reckoned as one of the earliest settlements in Santorini - Streets are narrow, houses condensed and painted stark white that they almost resemble igloos. Many of the houses are also abandoned, but the original facade of the houses remained interesting, giving a side of Santorini that is less touristy. Do dine at Selene's when you're in Pyrgos - They're probably one of the best restaurants in Santorini. More below.
Lioyerma Cafe Pool Bar
We didn't manage to get to Lioyerma due to time constraints, but from the photos, they look like a good place to spend a whole afternoon at, and also catch the sunset with their unblocked view.
Alternative Sunset LocationsImerovigli Skaros Rock
Sure, it's great to catch the sunset in Oia, but to catch one there would also mean you'd need to reserve your spot 1.5 hours in advance, squeeze with a lot of other people and watch the sunset with the crowds. Sunsets are best enjoyed at peace in my opinion, so I think you should give Imerovigli a try. Simply get there and you'd see this huge rock cliff jutting out from the rest of the coastline.
Sunset Boat Cruise
There are also plenty of boat cruises offering Sunset Boat Tours, where the boat will bring you directly in the face of the setting sun for a more private viewing experience.
Other alternatives would include restaurants where you get an unblocked view, such as those at Lioyerma, Santo Wines, and some other locations you can find in Oia and Fira.
To EatSelene's - Pyrgos
Selene is, in my opinion, the best restaurant in Santorini. We received such attentive service when we were there - the waiters are willing to explain all the dishes to you, from the ingredients they use to the method of cooking. Food presentation is impeccable and taste is really top notch with fresh ingredients. Do go there when you visit Pyrgos!
Metaxi Mas - Exo Gonia
This tiny restaurant is probably the only lively place in Exo Gonia, as most of the houses there have been abandoned. They are famous for a reason - great Cretan cuisine and mezzes, with a beautiful view to boot. Try the pastry encrusted pan-fried feta cheese, which is unique to Santorini!
Santo Wines - Pyrgos
Santo Wines is definitely worth the visit - you can choose from an extensive winetasting menu. We got 12 wines for sharing between us, and it was sufficient to say you got quite happy thanks to their generous portions! The wait staff were very friendly as well, they loaned us windbreakers when he noticed that both of us were shivering from the cold winds blowing in from the caldera side. On top of wines, you can also choose to have platters of cold cuts and cheeses.
Mou Taverna - Finika, Oia
For a more authentic, homey dining experience, I strongly recommend Mou Taverna, which is one of the first tavernas in Santorini. Live bouzouki music (a Greek instrument similar to guitar) and singing everyday. We got there from a recommendation from the artisan at Maria Baba Vida (more below) as it coincidentally happened to be the restaurant owner's birthday that night.
We were treated to a joyous celebration with the owner and his friends singing and strumming bouzouki, and having both the owner's personal friends, and tourists mingling around in the restaurant. As a showing of Greek hospitality, we were also treated to a free flask of red wine and also lots of birthday cake!
Lucky Souvlaki - Fira
For a very reliable souvlaki, head to Lucky's located on the main street of Fira. At just 2.50 euros, both the doner and stick kebab versions were equally good. I miss it already!
Argo Restaurant - Fira
We didn't manage to make it to this one, but from the site's menu, it certainly looks like it's worth a visit. Frequently recommended as one of the best restaurants in Santorini, the food is accompanied with an unblocked view of the caldera.
For more recommendations, you can refer to CN Traveler.
To ShopAtlantis Bookshop
This cosy bookshop has books filled in every crevice and corner and makes a really unique bookshopping experience. They stock an extensive range of English books as well.
Maria Baba Vida
Maria Baba Vida is a jewelry store, but not just any jewelry store. They carry an extensive range of ethnic and byzantine jewelry collected from Maria's travels around the world, and also make their own byzantine inspired jewelry. Maria is an old lady bringing with vitality, which was one of the first few hippies to settle down in Santorini. Talking to her and the artisan guy who operates the shop with her is a pleasure - you can find out a lot of about the local, non-touristy side of Santorini from them.
There are plenty of fashion boutiques along the main street of Oia well worth a visit. The style from those I recommend (from the photos above) is generally summer bohemian - with lots of crochet, loose cottons and slightly frayed hems.
Hope this guide comes in handy when you eventually make your way down to Santorini! Sure, it is a tourist hotspot, but it is also a place of immense beauty. It's probably the most picturesque town I have been to, and it's true when they say that once you get to Santorini, all your problems will disappear. Doing up this post makes me miss the island immensely already...
All photos by Vera Mao and Addie.