The beautiful island of Santorini is one of the most popular (and photographed) of the Greek islands. Santorini attracts millions of visitors every year. Since it is very popular, it is more expensive than most islands but, with some planning even budget travellers can experience the best of the island.
Located in the Cyclades island group, Santorini was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in the 16th Century BC, when the center of the island was blown out leaving only the volcanic caldera and a few scattered islets. The two main towns, Fira and Oia, are located on the cliff tops above the caldera with amazing western views of the small islands and colourful pebbled beaches. Fira is the capital city and has more nightlife and shopping, whereas Oia is more luxurious with gourmet restaurants and high-end retail stores.
Getting There Most travellers will arrive on Santorini by ferry at Athinios Port (the new port). Conventional ferries are less expensive than fast ferries. Ferry prices are different for every route. One of the best websites for checking schedules and the latest prices is Ferry Hopper. There are also flights available with very affordable rates in the off-season when booked in advance. From the port, public buses run to Fira and Oia.
To get around the island, the public bus system accesses all the most popular attractions. Some travellers may choose to rent a car or scooter for their explorations but we found the public bus got us everywhere we needed to be. The worst part about public bus is at the main hub in Fira where chaos reigns. We were constantly confused about tickets, routes, and which bay our bus would park. The most expensive and luxurious hotels are found along the edge of the caldera in Oia and Fira. For those of us with more modest travel budgets, less expensive lodgings can be found a bus stop or two away from the main areas. We chose Anna's Pension in Karterados village, about 2km outside of the capital city of Fira. The little village has a grocery store where we were able to pick up lunch fixings, snacks, and water. There are several cafés and bakeries where we could pick up our breakfast on the way to the bus stop that would take us into Fira, where all other bus connections are made. We enjoyed outstanding and inexpensive dinners at the nearby taverna.
Fira (Thira/Thera), the capital city, has many cafes, bars, and restaurants in the upper portion of the town with beautiful views and most have patios and balconies perfect for sitting and enjoying an iced coffee frappé or adult beverage. Most of these are accessed by an ornately decorated door that seems to lead right off the cliff.
We spent several hours at drinking coffee and watching the cruise ships and boats in the port below at Iriana café, which also offers upscale apartment and suite rentals well outside of our budget.
The walkways are narrow and when the cruise ships are in, they get very crowded and congested. Once the cruise ships have left the port, the streets become noticeably easier to get around.
An afternoon, when there are several cruise ships in port, is the perfect time to visit one of the outstanding museums. The Museum of Prehistoric Thera holds many of the relics discovered at the Akrotiri Archeological Site, including ancient household items and stunning icons and frescoes
The colours of the frescoes are amazing, having been well-preserved beneath the volcanic ash.
The archeologists speculate that this golden ibis was an offering to the volcano gods. It was found in a wooden case underneath a pile of burnt goat bones.
Ormos, the old port of Santorini is at the bottom of the cliffs. The little harbour has restaurants, taverns and small shops.
To reach the old port, there are about 600 stone steps to walk, a mule ride or the cable car. (Please be aware that the mules should not be carrying anyone over 150lbs). The cable car station is located in the Old Market of Fira at the top of the stairs.
A silly tradition that ATB#1 and I often enjoy is getting some fun dress-up photos on our trips. We aren't glam types looking for a stunning photo for social media but instead are on the lookout for something fun. We had a fun studio session, choosing our costumes and posing. We got a CD of over 100 photos for a very reasonable price. There are many location photographers advertising their services for those travellers who want a trendy Instagram-worthy photoshoot with the rented "Flying Dresses".
Oia Oia, pronounced ee-aa, is about 15km from Fira and is known for it's incredible sunset views. There is a popular hike between Oia and Fira that skirts along the cliffs and offers incredible views of the Aegean Sea. The pedestrian alleys are paved and can only be explored by walking. Most businesses and services are found along Nomikos Street.
As we wandered along Nomikos Street, the main street of the village, we found the amazing Atlantis Bookstore, that welcomes book lovers and photographers. We enjoyed checking out the shelves and were delighted by the photo ops created by the owners.