Santorini for first-timers: what to do?

The beauty of the Caldera of Santorini

My first time in Santorini was in 2005, already 16 years ago! I was on a backpack alone trip to Greece. I actually didn’t want to come to Santorini and I thought about it for a long time. Santorini looked to me: touristy, expensive and for couples and none of these matched my interests. But then I thought ‘Come one, you are here, a few steps away from one of the most beautiful islands of the world and you don’t want to have a peek?
So I started researching online and on guides where I should stay for a couple of days, just to put the ‘tick’ on my bucket list.

Now that I live here I don’t even know how it was possible to choose Akrotiri as the place where to stay. I remember that it actually looked like something far from the famous Santorini pictures and I had the feeling it could be a good place to have my quick discovery of the island.
I found on Tripadvisor a family-run B&B with only 1 review but it hit me in the heart and I booked my room.

I flew into Athens from Milan and then I took the overnight ferry. Young and alternative, I remember that I fell asleep on the deck (no sleeping bag) and when it started raining some guys came to wake me up and suggested to go inside if I didn’t want to be sick the next day. At that time I was not feeling sick on ferries… I don’t know what happened afterwards!

In the morning the ferry arrived at the sunrise, I think before 7 am. I remember waiting in the garage and when the door started opening I felt something in my belly (and even though I was hungry, it was nothing about that!). I don’t remember how I got to the B&B, probably by taxi because there is no direct bus to Akrotiri even now.

I arrived in Akrotiri and found the place. For those who don’t know me personally, I am someone who falls in love with anything or anyone only at first sight! But this was not the case. I think I was tired, my future Greek mum welcomed me but she was probably tired as well (now I know exactly all that she does for everyone) so I did not get a warming feeling. I was given the key to my room and it was in the backyard (where I lived for one year in 2017 when I worked at the B&B during my first season) and I remembered that I thought ‘Ok, you’re tired, stay today and then look for another place’. Then I went to get some breakfast because besides the Santorini effect on my stomach, I was also very hungry. 

Eva asked me if I wanted a peach juice. And I thought ‘OK, (whatever), thanks!’. You need to remember that it was 2005 so it was not the hipster-healthy-juice-everything time that we are living today, so when she showed up with a fresh peach juice, I was actually really moved. I will never forget the taste of that juice because it was the juice of my love for Santorini through Eva.

You know, maybe not, I can be an overwhelming person, especially when I find someone or something that I like, I can do whatever I need to win their love or reach my goal.

At that point, probably at 7.30 am, only 30 minutes after I landed on this island, I felt already home and I did not really need to go around. My 2 nights became first 3, then 4, then I had the not so brilliant idea to go to Folegandros, just not to feel guilty that I was staying in the same place for so many days, and I came back the day after. Quick note, I remember how sick I was on the fast ferry to Folegandros!
I can still feel the pointless feeling of arriving in a place where I was not meant to be. I immediately met two men who gave me a ride up to the village and suggested a few things to do but the only thing I really wanted was to go back to Santorini. The day after I said ‘Fuck it’ and I went back showing up as a surprise to Eva at the pension. From then on, I spent my time strolling around the island with the bus in the morning and spending time with my future-to-be mum in the afternoon.

The thing about Santorini is that everyone thinks that is an easy place but it’s not! What you read online and on guides might be ⅓ of what you will find in reality if you give this island the time that it deserves! I get very upset when I read that 3 nights in Santorini are more than enough because believe me, they’re not! I’ve been living here for 3 years now and coming on holiday for more than 10, and there are still places I haven’t explored.
Ok, you don’t have to go that far but… 

Following you will find my personal itinerary suggestion for first timers in Santorini!

First timers in Santorini: where to stay?

Unless it’s a really important celebration (honeymoon, anniversary, etc.) I would not stay in the most famous villages with the caldera view (Fira, Firostefani, Imerovigli, Oia). They are always very busy, expensive and if you are reading my blog probably you’re looking for a different experience. If you still like to wake up with the Caldera in front of you I suggest looking for a hotel in Akrotiri or Megalochori. If you instead don’t care about the volcano view, I highly recommend you to look for a house in Pyrgos, Megalochori (village), Emporio, Messaria or Finikia. They are all beautiful villages where you’ll find the best quality/price options. And I also think it’s nice to visit the island during the day, even the popular

Santorini and ‘The Classics’

You are probably here because you’ve seen pictures of Oia and Fira. Visit the two villages knowing that, besides being beautiful, they are busy places. If you really want to, watch the sunset in Oia but don’t blame the other thousands like you for being there. Try to visit these two villages in a local way. Drink a coffee at Oia Vineyart, buy a book at Atlantis Bookshop and go to Katharos Beach to have a blast at the sunset.

In Fira it’s nice to have a stroll after the sunset and having a drink on the Caldera is worth it also at night, it’s magic. Last but not least, visit the Archeological Site, possibly do a guided tour because it will open your eyes on how much we owe to this BC civilization in our daily life and art! Once you are here pop by the Red Beach and admire the grandeur of nature.

An alternative Santorini

So after you had a blast with the Classics, you need to know that all what is left is going to amaze you possibly even more (because it’s unexpected!).
You are not my friend if you don’t visit the Lighthouse: the view from here is probably one of the best of all Santorini.

Visit the village of Megalochori, immerse yourself in the musical garden at Symposium and have a glass of wine next door at Gavalas Winery.

If you want to see something unique go to Vlychada beach, the moon landscape will blow you away. On the beach pay a visit to the cute Tomato Industrial Museum, it’s great to learn about the traditions of the island through the history of this place (plus the building is amazing!).

You can watch a stunning sunset from Franco’s in Pyrgos if you’d like to have a cocktail in your hands, or simply sit at the Kasteli. In Pyrgos you should also visit Hatzidakis winery, my favorite wines on the island.

Santorini is a paradise for foodies, enjoy local products and eat where locals eat! And if you feel guilty, you can always do the Fira-Oia trekking!

One night you can also treat yourself to the Open Air Cinema in Kamari!

While writing I want to keep adding and adding things to do, but no spoiler for future posts. I think this gives you an idea on how many things you can do in Santorini, even if you stay 10 days!
They say that you either love or hate Santorini… If you hate it, you don’t come back. If you love it, you keep coming back, and back, and back.

I am running a virtual event in collaboration with Context Conversation! Wanna know more about Santorini? Join me on the 14 of February!

©Nicoletta Barbata /One Quarter Greek

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