If a mention of the Greek Islands brings visions of white walls and blue roofs stacked along steep cliffs to your mind, you’re thinking of one of Greece’s most popular tourist islands, Santorini. The island is known for its volcanic soil—it was the site of one of the largest prehistoric volcanic eruptions, which wiped out all civilization and laid the foundations for the island’s unique geography. The island was once round, but the volcano submerged part of the geography, creating today’s famous cliffs and caldera (crater created by magma) views.
Where to Stay in Santorini
Many travel guides encourage you to stay in the capital town of Fira or Oia for the amazing views from the cliffs, but my friends and I stayed in the small beach town of Perissa about 15 km south of Fira. While Fira and Oia get crowded and hot, Perissa is much more relaxed and still an easy 25-minute bus or taxi ride to Fira. After a hot morning or mid-day of touristy activities, Perissa provides a peaceful respite before your evening activities.
We booked an Aroma Properties room through Airbnb.com. This company comes highly recommended—the property manager, Dima, coordinated airport pickups, drove us to Fira one night, and even tracked down an automatic rental car and had it delivered to our apartment for us one day. The property was bare bones, but we were there to enjoy Santorini, not to spend time in our room (or tons of money just to sleep), and Dima’s assistance made enjoying our trip easy and enjoyable.
You can’t go to a Greek island without at least a little beach time. Perissa’s black beaches are the most resort-like part of the island. The shore is lined with bars and restaurants, each of which has its own lounge chairs and tables. You pretty much only need to buy a coffee or water (but food and alcoholic beverages are available, too) and you can use the chairs all day long. While you’re in Perissa, make sure you stop by Tranquilo near the beginning of the beach for well priced cuisine, beach drinks (we loved the mojitos), and a fun, relaxed atmosphere.
If you’re more adventurous, seek out the red beach. A slightly steep, rocky and wet half-mile walk gets you to a thin strip of beach that’s absolutely gorgeous.
Bring refreshments or buy them at the snack stand in the parking lot because the beach here is bare. You can, however, pay 10 euros for two lounge chairs and an umbrella and you’ll probably want to do this as the beach is more rocky than sandy.
Greek Wine in Santorini
With its volcanic soil and Mediterranean climate, Santorini has been growing wine since ancient times. In the Middle Ages, while the island was occupied by Venice, Santorini began using the Italian passito method for creating Vin Santo to create its own Vinsanto (note the change in spelling to differentiate the wine from the two regions) dessert wine that was used by the Catholic church and eventually as the official Eucharistic wine of the Russian Orthodox Church. Vinsanto is made from Assyrtiko, the island’s flagship grape, along with Athiri and Aidani, all three white varietals. If you want to learn more about Santorini’s wine and visit some wineries, I suggest taking a SAFOWI wine tour.
For tasting on your own, Vinsantos are sweet and pleasant ranging from light to nutty, making for a delicious after dinner drink. Regular Assyrtiko wines are crisp, very minerally and food friendly. Almost every restaurant serves locally made wine. There’s usually a bottle list as well as house wine. House wines in Greece tend to be much more pleasant than the Two Buck Chuck you get when you order a house wine in the United States. Even corner stores allow you to buy tasty, pleasant whites in plastic bottles for 4 euros! Hooray!
What Else to Drink in Santorini
Ouzo! You’ve probably seen people take shots of this anise-flavored aperitif in movies, but in Santorini it is generally served over ice with a splash of water as a cocktail.
Raki, another anise-flavored beverage that’s made by twice distilling grape pomace and flavoring it is also served mixed with ice and water or with both on the side.
Metaxa is a smooth brandy made from distillates of several Greek white grapes that are blended and mixed with a small amount of Muscat wine and herb and floral extracts that yield a smooth beverage that’s often served neat, on the rocks, or in a “Greek Mojito.”
Coffee is also a big deal in Greece. Hot or cold, people go out for coffees morning, noon and night. During my trip, I sipped numerous frappes—a frothy blend of Nescafe, sugar, water, ice, and milk shaken to foamy perfection.
What to Eat in Santorini
Breakfast: Almost every town in Santorini has a 24-hour bakery with sweet and savory pastries alongside Greek cookies that are affordable and mouthwatering. While some restaurants do offer full breakfasts, this seems to be mainly catered to tourists, so I’d recommend starting your day with pastries and a frappe or other Greek coffee from a bakery.
Lunch/Dinner: Along with white wines, Santorini has two other products that are registered as PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) with the European Union, meaning they are valued around the world for their flavor and originality. These are fava beans and cherry tomatoes. Many restaurants serve a fava bean puree that is similar to hummus. The cherry tomatoes are often served as a tomato paste appetizer or in tasty little tomato fritters.
Other than those dishes, you’ll see lots of seafood throughout Santorini. Look for restaurants that allow you to select your fish from a case and have it prepared for you.
You’ll also notice, things go late in Greece. It’s quite typical to head to dinner around 9:30 or 10, then go out for a drink. Most restaurants and shops in cities stay open until midnight and bars stay open later.
Soak Up Water and Sunset Views
Whether you take a sunset cruise or just post up coast-side and relax, the beautiful water views are key in Santorini.
Ammoudi Bay: You can walk down to this beautiful little harbor area from Oia or take a taxi/car (it’s a steep walk) and grab lunch or watch the sunset.
At the suggestion of our wine tour guide, we went to Dimitris Ammoudi Taverna. Once you get to the strip of restaurants, keep walking until you reach the yellow building (second from the end). This restaurant is owned by a Greek-Canadian couple and features fresh fish you pick yourself, plus you get to sit right on the edge of the water. It’s absolutely beautiful. Note, with any Ammoudi Bay restaurants, you’ll pay for quality, but it’s worth it for the experience. When you leave, if you want a taxi, ask co-owner Joy Kerluke to call you a car and they’ll drive right down to the bottom of the hill to get you!
Panorama Café-Restaurant: To watch the sunsets at a restaurant in Fira or Oia, you are advised to arrive early and get a table. For a much more relaxed sunset view, head to this little taverna that’s outside any of the cities and features amazing caldera views. You can dine outside or inside—even inside features huge windows that can be opened for amazing photos. For food, we loved the tomato fritters, the feta (always!) and the fried sardines.
Nightlife: Party in Fira
Fira is another popular spot for sunset views, but the nighttime views are also amazing.
You can head into town after sunset as restaurants and bars stay open until around midnight or later. If you want to dance until the break of dawn, stop by Koo Klub—this bar includes a massive outdoor area complete with dim lighting, palm trees and a luxe vibe befitting a tropical island. Music pumps until dawn outside and at an inside club. Your 10 euro entry fee also gets you a free drink.
For a tighter club vibe, Tropical Bar is a fun little space with bumping music that starts around 10 p.m. nightly. There is also a tiny patio with wonderful caldera views, making it also a stellar, affordable spot to grab a sunset drink if you can snag a seat.
For a more subdued libation, I loved the selection at Assyrtico, a garden wine bar with over 100 varieties of Greek wine, wine flights, and a craft cocktail selection. I enjoyed the Metaxa Mojito featuring Metaxa 5, brown sugar, fresh spearmint, lime and soda water.
I also snuck a sip of A Touch of Basil with ouzo, fresh lemon juice, fresh basil, pink pepper and sugar, which was bright and refreshing. I didn’t try the food, but what I saw arriving at tables around me also looked absolutely delicious.
Shopping in Santorini
Fira also offers a variety of shopping, from touristy souvenirs to upscale designers. Most shops stay open until midnight if shopping during the day seems too steamy. What impressed me about shopping in Santorini was how much was made there. In some cities, the “tourist” merchandise all seems to be authentically made in China—not the case in Greece. Make sure you visit Nikolaos Vlachos for handmade leather sandals, handbags, and accessories.
While I was trying on some shoes, I heard him telling another shopper who was looking for a color and size he didn’t have right then that if she came back the next day he could make them overnight. Right nearby Muska features fabulous handmade jewelry, purses and other accessories.
Emfasis features a variety of jewelry by Greek designers. I fell in love with Don Joyelle designs—they reminded me of several costume designers I like in the United States but at more affordable prices.