The hubs and I recently got back from a two week summer vacation in Santorini. You might know this magical Greek island because of it's iconic blue domes and white-washed buildings. But what I discovered is there is sooooo much more to experience than that. Don't get me wrong, Oia, the northern village most people visit, is fabulous. The views are unbelievable and the sunset is legendary. But if you have more than a few days to spend, I would suggest exploring other parts of the island to get that real Santorini experience.
We spent the first week in Oia with friends at an amazing villa and the second week, just the two of us, in the south of Santorini in an area called Vlychada, surrounded by red and black volcanic beaches. It was the right amount of time to get a real feel for this island's vibe.
Based on my experience, and in no particular order, here are my top 10 suggestions for things to do in Santorini:
Take a sunset catamaran ride. Let me just say that the sunsets in Santorini live up to the hype. In Oia they are legendary and spectacular. There are lots of companies that offer catamaran rides. I suggest you book the sunset version which leaves at 4 p.m. and goes through sunset at about 8:30 p.m. If you're a small group, splurge and book a private catamaran. We got to swim in the Caldera bays, pick our own pumice stones and experience the volcanic Hot Springs, topped off with an iconic sunset viewed from the Aegean with Oia in the background. Bonus: Our captain Yannis and First Mate Paolo cooked us an amazing dinner on board.
Hike to Amoudi bay, swim to the cliff and jump off. It's about 300 steps down to Amoudi Bay, so plan on either going early or late to beat the heat. There is no sandy beach here. At the end of the stairs you have to climb over rocks to get to the point where you jump into the sea to swim to the cliff. Wear comfy shoes or sandals suitable for climbing over rocks. Don't bring valuables -- just sunscreen, water and a towel because you basically just leave your stuff on the rocks. It took me an hour to gain the courage to jump off the cliff, but it was totally worth it and something I thought I would never do. A must if you're a decent swimmer and want to face your fear of heights.
Take a Greek cooking class. We enjoyed an afternoon escaping the heat and learning how to make some classic Greek dishes at Petra Kouzina in the village of Magalochori. The classes are held in the home of Chef George and his sweet wife. Chef George is very patient, a great teacher and the best part is you get to meet other Santorini visitors who are in class with you. We left with better cooking skills and some knowledge on how to make tzatziki, tomato fritters, Greek salad, shrimp saganaki and moussaka. It was all amazing! At the end of class, we all gathered around the outdoor table for a communal meal to eat what we had made. They even give you a little cookbook so you can recreate the dishes at home.
Learn some Greek dancing at The Greek Wedding Show. This was probably the most hard-core "touristy" thing we did on the whole trip. It's basically a fun evening of Greek music, small plates of Greek food (mezedes), plenty of wine (fabulous!), Greek dancing and breaking plates. Loving to dance, I really enjoyed learning Greek dancing (yeah, I was a little drunk) and participating with other audience members. The plate breaking was pretty cool, too.
Enjoy the views at the Prophet Elias Monastery in Pyrgos. This monastery was built in 1712 and is the oldest one in Santorini. It's also on the highest point in Santorini -- 565 meters above sea level. The views are AMAZING and it's a great place to take pics. There is no easy way to get there, except by tour bus or car.
Do some night shopping in Fira. It’s way cooler than during the day and the vibe is great. Lots of great clothing and tourist shops, plenty of places to eat and more epic views of the sunset. We ate dinner there twice, overlooking the caldera, followed by some shopping. Buses run to Fira from Oia and other villages constantly throughout the day and are very cheap. You can also catch a taxi from the taxi stand by the bus terminal of you miss the last bus.
Spend days lounging on the Black Beach in Perissa. The black volcanic beaches in the south of Santorini are really something to see. The sand is large grain and spectacular. If you want to go for the day, get there early and choose one of the hundreds of tiki-umbrella loungers along the beach. But here's the catch: The umbrellas are attached to restaurants, so they expect you to order drinks and go to their restaurant for lunch or dinner. There's no hard sell, but it's expected and most people keep to the deal. Personally, I don't need to be convinced to order a cocktail and I didn't find the cost outrageous for being able to lounge in shade all day. If you don't want to be confined by this "agreement," you can find a few stretches of beach that are not attached to beach restaurants, but you won't have any shade. I loved the Black Beach vibe. Lots of people from nearby countries who make this their regular family vacation, so it has an unpretentious, family atmosphere. Great restaurants and bars along the beach, too.
Hang out at the pool at Cavo Tagoo Hotel. This was a tip from another traveller, a total splurge ... AND WORTH EVERY PENNY. The hotel is a short bus or cab ride from Oia. The highlight of this experience is the epic infinity pool overlooking a cliff with unbelievable views of the caldera and Oia. There are various tiers of lounging options for rent (50-300 Euros) available for non-hotel guests. We opted for the bed cabana option, mostly because it had shade. We got a welcome drink and the most beautiful fruit plate included in the price. We stayed all day, relaxing, listening to European techo, having cocktails, enjoying the amazing food and taking in the views. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
People watch in Oia. For an affordable option, find a snack bar along the promenade and order Greek coffee and a yummy breakfast. My suggestion is Mezzo Cafe Bar. Spend the morning watching the parade of tourists go by. One thing I loved about Oia, is the amount of cute summer fashion on parade -- sundresses, fab hats, rompers, maxi dresses! People really put in effort. You're likely to see a few newly married coupes having their pictures taken, too. Unlike American restaurants, you won't be rushed so relax and enjoy a great mellow techno soundtrack, another amazing view and the people go by.
Wander around the ruins of the Venetian Castle at Akrotiri. You can read about the history of this castle in the link I provided. Climb the stairs up to the top for some more amazing panoramic Santorini views. The surrounding traditional village of Akrotiri is filled with charming shops and restaurants.
***Photos by @gregzfoto on Instagram
***None of the content in this post was sponsored. We paid for everything, we planned everything, we did everything.***