1 Day in Santorini, Greece

Santorini, Greece

Although there’s no denying that the Internet has made travel planning significantly easier than it used to be, the same technology that inspires us to book a plane ticket can also trick us. A few swipes through the picture perfect, likely edited pictures uploaded by influencers might lead you to believe there are places where cloudless skies are as deep and blue as the waters that shimmer beneath them, that plates of photo worthy meals line every table and timeless architecture lines every street. Such places don’t exist without a filter.

Well, except for Santorini.

Santorini, GreeceWhile it’s true that social media is especially full of heavily edited photos that brighten colors and hide crowds, the pictures we took to remember our day in Santorini didn’t need any help. We watched the island come into view from our cruise ship balcony, sipping coffee and wondering if Santorini would be the highlight or the downfall of our vacation. We had seen the Instagram photos. We had read the blog posts that waxed poetic about how Santorini was a gem, a dream, a slice of paradise. And we knew that for every photo promising peace and tranquility was a dozen behind it featuring sweaty tourists clamoring for a selfie. Although we hoped for the former scenario, we braced ourselves for the latter.

Ultimately, we were surprised to find that both possibilities proved true. We spent plenty of time waiting in lines, dodging boorish tourists jostling for the best position for a picture, and navigating crowded streets. We also experienced the reverse: quiet spots where we couldn’t hear or see other people, moments of solitude where it was just the two of us and the scenery, and places to pause and celebrate the fact Santorini was every bit as wonderful as we were told it would be. If your travels take you to Greece’s most popular island, here are a few of the ways we created a day we’ll never forget.

Start with a Quiet Cup of Greek Coffee

Greek Freddo Espresso Iced Coffee
Greek Freddo Espresso Iced Coffee
For most travelers, especially those arriving by cruise ship, crowds will be the very first challenge you face. There are two ways to ascend from the Old Port to Santorini’s cliffside villages: take the cable car or take a walk. We opted for the cable car, which required us to spend more than 30 minutes in line before it was our turn to board (a short wait by comparison; lines can extend for hours when multiple ships are at anchor!). At the top, most fellow travelers swarmed the shops and formed huge crowds as they joined walking tours. We ducked into a coffee shop with incredible views of the island and the Aegean Sea, and we stayed there long enough to enjoy a few freddo espressos and let the crowds disperse. Having that time to reclaim some peace in the midst of the charged chaos that accompanies masses of people eager to hit the ground running was a great way to start the morning. We enjoyed the warm breeze, the cold coffee, and the view.

Our spot was Kastro, a quick walk from the cable car; grab an outside table in the shade and let the sound of the waves wash your tension away.

Walk Around Oia

Our journey then took us to Oia, the most famous of Santorini’s villages and especially renowned for its spellbinding sunsets. Rather than visit at the end of the day, we spent a couple of hours there at the beginning of our Santorini experience. Although the sunset photos are beautiful, Oia in full sunshine is just as gorgeous.

If you are looking for the iconic view of the blue domed churches overlooking the water, you’ll find it in Oia. The churches—Anasteseos and Agios Spyridonas—were built in 1865 and 1867 respectively, and nestled among the homes and hotels they are hard to miss and impossible to forget. We found plenty of crowded places and, surprisingly, plenty of quiet places with equally great views of them; despite how crowded Santorini was during our visit, we didn’t have any trouble getting a few classic pictures before moving on to other sights. Although Anasteseos and Agios Spyridonas are the most famous churches, they are not the only ones; in fact, they are not even the only blue domed churches on the island. One of our favorites was the unmissable Church of Panagia Platsani, which is in the main square. With five domes—the largest of which is blue—it’s an impressive structure.

Oia is a very walkable village, and we thoroughly enjoyed wandering along the roads even as more and more people joined us. Visiting earlier in the day is a bit better if you’re hoping for elbow room, and while we didn’t stay for sunset there’s no question the crowds swelled to the point of overwhelm as the end of the day approached. Many people recommend staying in a hotel with a view if you’re hoping to watch the sunset without dozens of selfie sticks waving in front of you, but since that wasn’t an option on our cruise itinerary, we watched the sunset from the ship instead. The view wasn’t quite as good, but coupled with a beverage from our drink package we didn’t have any complaints.

Visit Akrotiri

Santorini, Greece Akrotiri
For us, no vacation is complete without a stop at a historic site, and Akrotiri was one of the greatest highlights we explored in Greece. If you’re planning to visit Santorini, you won’t want to miss it.

Akrotiri was a prosperous Minoan settlement that flourished from the Early Bronze Age (3000 BC) until its abrupt destruction around 1600 BC, which was likely due to the massive Theran volcanic eruption. Curiously, the settlement was remarkably well-preserved under layers of volcanic ash, and to this day it offers insights into ancient Minoan civilization. Akrotiri was a significant trade hub, connecting the Aegean world with Egypt, Cyprus, and the Near East. Its inhabitants engaged in agriculture, pottery-making, metalworking, and trade. The city featured multi-story buildings, drainage systems, and elaborate frescoes depicting various aspects of daily life, nature, and mythology.

The excavation of Akrotiri began in the late 19th century, and it has since revealed a wealth of artifacts and insights into Bronze Age Aegean culture. Often referred to as the Minoan Pompeii due to its preservation under volcanic ash, archaeologists discovered incredible examples of items ranging from beds to bathtubs to flowerpots that demonstrated how sophisticated the settlement was. We were amazed by the details: the colorful designs on vases, the craftsmanship of the window framing, the artistry of the wall paintings. While much of the site crumbled after the eruption, so many pieces withstood not just the violence of the event but the centuries that followed. Akrotiri had quite a bit to offer us; we spent about an hour there, and it was worth every second.

Wander the Black Sand Beaches

Santorini, Greece
Santorini black sand beach
By early afternoon the July sunshine had drained us, and we stopped for lunch at a restaurant by the water. While the food was good, digging our toes into the black sand beaches was even more nourishing. The same volcanic eruption that devastated Akrotiri gave Greece the Santorini they know today. The island was physically shaped when the blast created its signature caldera, and the pumice and ash that covered it created the black sand that coats its beaches.

We have experienced black sand in both Iceland and New Zealand, and what made it truly memorable in Santorini was how the dark color contrasted with the vibrant blue of the water that lapped its shores. Iceland and New Zealand both offered us moody skies and deep, restless water; Santorini’s sparkling seas looked calming and refreshing instead of dangerous. We lingered longer than planned over lunch as we enjoyed the beach, and we spent a little more time wandering it before continuing to explore the island. It’s a worthwhile stop to make during a visit to Santorini.

Enjoy Some Wine Tasting

Our final stop in Santorini was Santo Wines, a large winery that boasts great wine and stunning views. We sat outside for a tasting that included 8 wines paired with a variety of snacks. The star of the tasting was Assyrtiko, a white wine made from a grape indigenous to Santorini. Citrusy and quite acidic, the balance and flavor profile was perfect for a hot, sunny day in Greece. The winery seemed to be popular with locals, independent travelers, and bus tours alike, and it was spacious enough to accommodate everyone with ease. We appreciated how personable our server was and how we were encouraged to savor the wine and our time there despite how busy they were. It was easy to relax and enjoy the experience.

Getting from the Cruise Port to Santorini

Santorini, GreeceBecause we took a Greek Island cruise, our arrival into Santorini involved our huge ship anchoring away from the island and required us to tender to the island on a smaller boat. Because we arrived early—and because we were the first boat there—we didn’t have a long wait to take the cable car to the top of the hill. Some fellow passengers reported much longer waits in unshaded areas.

While most people opted to take the cable car and endure the long lines, walking up the hill is another option. Many people advised against that; the path is steep, sometimes crowded, and tough to manage in direct sunlight. It also smells terrible because of the donkeys that share the path. Donkeys are available for tourists to ride to the top, but we strongly advise against that mode of transportation. The donkeys we saw were poorly cared for and seemed to be in distress under the weight of the people riding them, and we did not see any of them offered food or water. If you choose to climb the hill instead of taking the cable car, do so under your own power—don’t support the mistreatment of Santorini’s donkeys.

Santorini Tours

Santorini, GreeceIf your time in Santorini will be as limited as ours was (one day goes by quickly!), you may benefit from taking a day tour of the island. We opted to take a private tour of Santorini with Stavros from Epitome Travel, and it was thanks to him that we were able to see and do so much in a short visit. Stavros created an itinerary for us that minimized driving and maximized exploration, and his expert tips helped us find quiet corners and picturesque vantage points to take in the views. It’s tempting to choose a large group tour through the cruise ship, but in Santorini you’ll benefit from small groups that can be more agile when deflecting the crowds. Stavros will be our only call for future visits- we can’t recommend him enough!

More Information: TripAdvisor.com

Enjoy Santorini!

When we looked through the dozens of photos we took during our time in Santorini, we didn’t need to edit or add a filter to a single one. When experiencing a place so full of natural beauty, there’s no need to alter it or attempt to improve it. You can’t make the blue domes more vibrant or the whitewashed buildings more crisp. There’s no need to craft a different narrative. Santorini speaks its truth without assistance.

It’s true that no place and no vacation is perfect. It’s also true that we each define our version of perfect, and within that definition may be imperfect details that somehow enrich an experience. Santorini was crowded, and there were more people to contend with than we might prefer. At the same time, it brought us joy to know that so many people were enjoying the same day as us, a place where cloudless skies are as deep and blue as the waters that shimmer beneath them, that plates of photo worthy meals line every table and timeless architecture lines every street.

Whether a perfect place exists or not, one thing is certainly true: Santorini definitely doesn’t need a filter.

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