Santorini was the island in the Cyclades that I’d heard most about and I was really looking forward to visiting. We were now over half way through the island-hopping trip to Greece we had planned having already visited islands in the Sporades and spent some time in the capital city of Athens – taking a day to island hop in the Saronic Gulf while we were there. We had now just completed a stay on the island of Naxos which had been my favourite location we’d spent time in so far and were boarding a ferry from here to Santorini.
The ferry was much larger than the one we’d taken from Athens to Naxos and this time, there were no set seats, we could sit anywhere in the economy area. With a lot more options for food – multiple cafes and a fast food burger restaurant, we spent most of our time on board trying to decide what to get for a snack.
Once we’d arrived at the main ferry port in Santorini, we quickly found our pre-arranged transfer to our hotel which was just down a (rather steep) hill from the town of Fira. All checked in, we made our way into town having to stop multiple times to get our breath back as we climbed one hill after another in the blistering heat!
Not really knowing exactly where we were going, we wandered along the streets deciding to just see what we’d find. And what we found were people and plenty of them! The streets were crowded making it difficult to pass through many of the narrower streets or get near any of the stores – not that that really mattered as many of them were touristy souvenir stores all selling the same thing at slightly differing prices.
As one of the streets lead us out to a view point, we could see one of the reasons for the number of people around – three large cruise ships were docked near the island. After the peace and quiet of Naxos, it was a bit of a shock to the system to find ourselves fighting for space on Santorini and it didn’t endear me to the town of Fira at all.
Still, the views from the lookout points were pretty and we had plenty planned to see more of the island over the next few days so I was sure my opinion would change over time.
After a disappointing dinner – a pizza that tasted like the kind you buy frozen at a supermarket – we returned to our hotel to spend the last hour of sunshine cooling down in the pool followed by a relaxing night in ready for the next day.
We were up bright and early the next morning to ensure we had time to grab some breakfast in town before walking to the old port. Deciding McDonalds might be a safe bet, we were surprised to find it didn’t have any breakfast options instead selling burgers and fries even at 8am! Luckily, we came across a bakery nearby where we found plenty of bread and pastry options.
After gobbling these down, we began our descent down the clifftop town of Fira to the old port, navigating almost 600 steps and trying to avoid the hoards of poor donkeys and mules carrying tourists back up. It took a long time to make it all the way down and I was thankful that there was a cable car option to bring us back up to the town at the end of the day!
At the old port, we met our tour guide for the day and boarded our pirate-style boat which would be taking us out to the nearby ‘caldera’ – Santorini’s volcano on the island of Nea Kameni.
It didn’t take very long to sail there and once we were docked alongside the many other boats also taking trips there, we had some free time to make our way to the top of the island, enjoy the views, see some volcanic activity and make our way back down again.
The walk to the top of the island, which is made completely of black lava, was easier than we had expected and the views of the volcanic landscape, the crater at the top and out across the sea from the island really were beautiful.
On the way, we could see steam rising from the ground due to the volcanic activity still going on there.
Back on the boat, our guide gave us a bit more information about the island as we made our way to the second stop of the day, the island of Palea. We wouldn’t actually be stopping on the island itself, instead, the boat docked a short distance out from where we could see the waters change to a rusty orange colour where the islands’ hot springs were. We had the chance to swim out from the boat to the hot springs – an opportunity I jumped at although, not literally, as many people decided to jump into the sea from the side of the boat, I chose to climb down a ladder into the water! ‘Noodle’ float aids were supplied to anyone who wanted them.
It was an easy swim out to the hot springs and the water did feel noticeably warmer once I reached them. As I was one of the last off the boat, by the time I reached the hot springs, it was almost time to swim back again.
This was a lot more difficult as we were swimming again the current and I was relieved when I finally managed to grab the ladder off the side of the boat and begin my climb back aboard!
It didn’t take long to dry out in the warm sun and breeze as we set sail for our final stop of the day, the island of Thirassia. Here, we had more free time to spend. The main town was at the top of a cliff up a steep zig-zagging path similar to that in Fira on Santorini island but there were plenty of restaurants – both sit-down and fast food places – in the port area for anyone that didn’t want the trek up. Having found somewhere to purchase drinks and sat by the sea to eat the picnic lunch we had brought with us, we decided we didn’t have the time or inclination to walk up to town so after climbing the first section of stairs to take some photos of the view, we made our way back down to the port again grabbing an ice cream and walking along the coast a bit until it was time to board the boat again.
Although we had no more stops to make, the day was not over yet as we took the scenic route back to Santorini sailing up to the town on Oia at the north of the island and making our way down the east coast of the island back to Fira enjoying the views of the white-washed houses and blue-domed churches on the cliffs above.
Once back on dry land, we took the cable car back up to Fira town and had a much more enjoyable meal – chicken souvlaki – at another one of the restaurants in town before returning to our hotel for another late evening dip in the pool.
For our final full day in Santorini, we had a coastal walk from Fira to Oia planned.
Heading into town, we quickly picked up the coastal path and began the 10km-or-so walk. Despite the 30-something degree heat, the beautiful views, especially in the town of Imerovigli with its white-washed hotels and houses built into the cliffs, kept us going and made some of the more brutal hills worthwhile in the end!
When we reached Oia, almost 6 hours later, we were exhausted and decided to treat ourselves to a sweet treat of crepes covered in hazelnut sauce and with a dollop of ice cream from a local cafe.
Feet rested and fuelled up on sugar, we then spent some time exploring Oia.
With its mainly wider streets and white footpaths and buildings, first impressions of Oia were a lot more favourable than Fira. It was busy but didn’t feel quite as crowded. We found a viewpoint for its famous three blue-domes churches and grabbed photos, saw the castle from a distance and walked to some windmills too. We had originally planned to stay in Oia until sunset but had read that it got ridiculously busy around this time of day and could be extremely difficult to get a bus back to Fira at the end of the night. So instead, we decided to catch the bus back to Fira late afternoon, grab dinner there then watch the sunset from somewhere along the coast path near there.
The buses were already busy, even in the middle of the afternoon but we managed to get a seat on the second one that came along and were soon back in Fira. After dinner in Fira’s main square, we took a stroll to one of the many viewpoints over the coast to watch the sunset.
The next day we would be taking a ferry to our final island stop of Crete but as our ferry wasn’t scheduled until 4pm, we still had plenty of time that morning for some sightseeing. We had decided to use public transport to head to the south of the island and see the archaeological site at Akrotiri.
Having arrived back to chaotic scene at Fira bus station the night before, we should have been prepared for what would await us this morning. The bus station was more like a large car park with buses coming and going while people stood around here there and everywhere, walking out behind reversing buses and in front of buses about to pull away not knowing where they should be going. None of the bays were labelled and none of the buses or routes seemed to be numbered. Instead, whenever a bus pulled up and parked, the driver would just yell out its destination and there be a mad scramble to get on before all the seats went!
Despite the chaos and disorganisation surrounding us, we somehow managed to board the bus to Akrotiri. Once there we took the short walk to the archaeological site and spent some time exploring the ancient ruins.
While interesting to see, the museum didn’t take us very long to go round. It is possible to take taxi boats out from the small, pebbly beach at Akrotiri to visit Red Beach and White Beach, two popular Santorini attractions but unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time if we were going to make our ferry to Crete.
After my initial reservations, the island of Santorini definitely grew on me. It’s certainly very beautiful but I feel tourism has spoilt it slightly and the complete contrast to the slower paced Naxos island we had just come from made the busy, crowded streets of Fira a shock to the system at first. If I was to return I think I’d consider choosing a different part of the island than Fira to stay in and would definitely choose a quieter time of the year than the middle of August to visit! But there was plenty to enjoy and I was glad to have finally ticked it off my list of places to go!