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Santorini ~ Traveled in Two Parts

An ancient caldera, Atlantis myths, cliffside living and rugged beauty

Santorini’s reputation began 36 centuries ago with the eruption and implosion of an ancient volcano, creating a mega-tsunami massive enough to end the Minoan empire 120 km (75 miles) away. The Caldera (remember the myth of Atlantis?), ringed with smaller remnant islands boasts 1,000 ft. cliffs upon which perch the whitewashed main capital of Thira.

Santorini cliffsideTowering seaside cliffs and charming whitewashed villages along the caldera coast make Santorini a favorite of cruise ships and tourists with unique cliffside restaurants, shops, hotels and churches. But arriving by cruise ship presents the problem of getting up the 1,000 ft. vertical cliff face. Your choices are to walk the almost 600 steps along the meandering pathway, ride a donkey up this same path or board a cable car for the quickest, most direct route to the top. How energetic do you feel?

How to choose what to see and do in Santorini if your time is limited

Depending on your stay in Santorini, you’ll need to prioritize what you want to see.

  • sunsets in Santorini1 day or part day (Cruise ship tour) – Set your sites on Santorini’s main city, Thira (sometimes referred to as Fira). The cruise ships dock here so it’s an easy choice. This is the island’s gem with the main shops, restaurants and caldera views all walkable from your ship – you must have lunch on the cliffs. Also consider booking a tour with Viator or Expedia to see some other locations close by like Nea Kameni’s volcanic crater and sulphur hot springs [our GG Recommendation], or a catamaran sailing cruise sightseeing the caldera.
  • take time to savor the olives and tzatziki3 days to explore, we suggest breaking the island into 2 parts – Thira and west to Oia in 1 day (with a side venture to Skaros Rock [GG recommendation]) and the south and east the second day (lighthouse, wineries, beaches and monastery) on a rented quad or scooter (see more below).
  • 4 days to a week – In addition to the points above, luxuriate in exploring the blue-domed churches, sample your way through the wine route and start visiting some of the movie shoot locations of movies like Summer Lovers (1982), Tomb Raider (2003) and Sisterhood of the traveling Pants (2005) among others. Ah, yes, and visit a spa for a signature Volcanic stone treatment!
  • As a tease, here's a great post from Celebrity Cruises on 12 Gorgeous Mediterranean Islands to Visit (one of which certainly is Santorini) just to whet your greater Mediterranean temptations!

GoGirlfriends recommended activities in Santorini (Day 1 – Thira to Oia section)

blue-domed churches of OiaThira and Oia – Thira, perched centrally atop the 1,000 ft. cliffs, and Oia, cliffside on the westernmost point of the island, are both renowned for amazing sunsets, shops, restaurants, churches and amazing views. Even though Oia boasts the most incredible sunsets on the island, keep in mind the amazing sunsets also in Thira. In high season, more than 20,000 people flock to Oia to catch a glimpse of the majesty – and every square inch of space is a crush of people. For a great sunset dinner in Oia, we suggest Sunsets Restaurant, Oia.

Hiking Thira to Oia – GoGirlfriend recommends hiking the 10km (6 mile) trail to Oia, a rugged trail hugging the cliffside up and over 2 mountains with spectacular views. Not for the faint at heart (or strollers), there is very limited resources for support, but an amazing way to clock in your extra 16,000 steps for that extra sampling of tzatziki. Bring extra water in the hot season and a protein snack to supplement along the way.

epic hike over to Skaros RockSkaros Rock [GoGirlfriend Recommendation] – On a peninsula jutting out into the Santorini Caldera sits Skaros Rock, once a medieval castle and fortification dating back to the 1500’s. All remnants of the ancient fortification have been destroyed from earthquakes over the ages, leaving stone outlines to define the perimeter. More than 1,000 ft. above sea level, the pathway to Skaros is not well traveled with cliff drops on both sides of the bridging pathway – but the panoramic views from Thira to Oia make the climb worth the price of admission. Consider climbing Skaros Rock itself (an additional 60 foot vertical climb to the top) to top off this extra 1.5 hour adventure. Also not for the feint of heart, with the many stairs to climb and the heights along the pass to Skaros Rock, the stairway trailhead begins at Agios Georgios Church.

GoGirlfriends recommended activities in Santorini (Day 2 – southern half of Santorini)

Santorini is easy to tour by quadRent a Quad or scooter –  Considering Santorini is only 18 km long and max 12 km wide (11 miles by 7 miles), cutting the island into 2 segments makes sense. Renting a quad or scooter will give you the freedom to explore the beaches, wineries (oh, and you must stop at Santorini Brewing Company for one of their Donkey beers), lighthouse point and monastery in your own time. While it’s a small island, make sure you have a data roaming package to keep from getting lost. Although there are only a few main roads, there are many smaller tracks and rough roads to get to the more secluded beaches and destinations.

view atop the Monestary of the Prohet EliasTraveling the countryside – With a quad and a map, the islandscape is yours to explore. Cruise your way down to the Akrotiri Lighthouse on the southernmost tip of the peninsula. It sits cliffside and the cliff rocks boast what historians believe to be the high-water mark of the Minoan time period well above todays waterline. Travel through small villages and stop for lunch at a local taverna for authentic Greek food (check out Zafora Taverna in Akrotiri), stop at some archeological sites (ancient Akrotiri and ancient Thira), and mount a panoramic trek to the Monestary of Prophet Elias (built in the early 1700’s) atop the mountain (an additional 700 feet above the Santorini cliff heights with amazing wide vistas).

Red Beach, SantoriniSantorini Beaches – Along the southern coast are Santorini’s popular beaches. Stop at the famous Red Beach (vibrant volcanic red stone and pebbles, very popular and a short hike through the crowds to get here), White Beach just a short drive away, Black Beach on the south east side (all a result of the volcanic rock influence), and the very long black sand beaches of Perivolos and Perissa (combines to 3km (1.5 miles) with many amenities and restaurants beachside) to name a few of Greece’s Best Beaches to explore.

stone cooled storage of Hatzidakis WinerySantorini Wineries – The lucky recipient of volcanic soils and warm Mediterranean climate, Santorini is growing in its cultivation and creation of on-their-way-to-being-world-class wines. The Vinsanto, Nychteri and Mezzo grape varieties are some of the local varieties that grow well here. Unlike European styles where the grapes are trained on long rows of wires, grapes are grown at ground level with the vines wound by hand to form baskets under the grapes to protect them from wind and heat. Check out the many cottage and larger commercial facilities at wineries throughout Santorini (like the small family wines of Faros Market - ask for Maria, or the underground aging caverns hewn into the volcanic rock of Hatzidakis winery)

Absolute must-do’s in Santorini

  • dinner Caldera sideDinner and/or drinks (often) cliffside in Thira with views of the Caldera
  • Sunset dinner in Oia (reserve or stake a table early as it gets very crowded – try Sunsets Restaurant, Oia)
  • Red Beach, Santorini south coast
  • Visit the Monastery of Prophet Elias high atop Mount Elias
  • Take a photo of the blue-domed churches in Oia

Santorini is romantic. Santorini offers breathtaking sunsets to enjoy those extra long dinners with your lover. Santorini can be strenuous. Santorini can be beachy. Santorini can be whatever you want her to be because Santorini is not boring!

Take a trip through our Greek adventures with amazing sights, sounds and tastes from:

Have you been to Santorini? What should we add to our list We’d love to hear what you thought of your visit. Drop a comment below or join our GoGirlfriend community on Facebook and Twitter.


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