Thanks for visiting my Guide to Santorini! I’ve wanted to go to Santorini for as long as I can remember. It was always my dream destination, the place I had as number one on my bucket list. It had a lot to live up to, which is often the problem with high expectations, but it didn’t disappoint.
Here’s my Quick Guide to Santorini; where to stay, what to do & where to eat!
TIME OF YEAR: July
LENGTH OF STAY: 5 Nights
ACCOMMODATION: Santorini’s Balcony Art Houses – Imerovigli, Santorini
We stayed in Imerovigli, which is an incredible part of Santorini. Right on the edge of the cliff towering over the rest of the island and looking back over Oia, you’ll find Santorini’s Balcony. I decided long before we booked the trip that if there was ever a time to go all out, it was to fulfill my Santorini dream, so we went a little over budget!
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay here with hospitality like none other from the staff here, who felt like family by the end of our stay. One thing that I had never read about Santorini though, is about the WIND. July is typically windy, and I’m not talking about a breeze, I’m talking windy. To the point that visibility was quite low so the islands in the distance were covered in a heavy haze. This was the time of year we had to go, and as they say ‘you can’t help the weather’, so it is what it is and it didn’t hamper our fun albeit a little bit disappointing.
So, I was mistaken to think that we needed a pool, and a spa, it was certainly a nice luxury to have but with so much of the island to explore and being right on the cliff’s edge during the windy period meant that we really didn’t make the most of it. What we did make the most of however was the bar, enjoying the amazing hospitality of the staff and possibly the most charismatic and talented cocktail maker of anywhere in the world. I can genuinely say, these were the best cocktails I have ever, ever had. Even if you don’t stay at The Balcony, it’s right on the way from Fira to Oia on the coastal walk so you must, must stop in and say hi.
Breakfast was included daily and in total contrast to the endless buffet we experienced in Croatia, at The Balcony we filled out a daily request for breakfast and our selections were made to order and served fresh to our poolside table at a time chosen by us. It was brilliant.
The rooms were spacious, clean and wonderfully private. In fact despite the fact we visited in peak season we felt completely secluded and it was a beautifully quite, relaxing location, and yet only walking distance up the cliff path to the centre of Imerovigli & some of the best restaurants in Santorini.
ACTIVITIES & RECOMMENDATIONS
When we arrived (late evening) at The Balcony, we were greeted by so much wonderful energy and excitement, served wine & beer as a welcome, and asked whether we wanted to simply go to bed or sit down and go through a rundown of the island and what it’s got to offer. With an equal level of excitement for finally being in my dream destination, I jumped at the opportunity to sip my wine over an island intro so that’s what we did. We were given a map of the island, and hand drawn directions and recommendations. Among the various suggestions was a Yacht Tour. Quoted at a price double what I’d seen elsewhere online, I questioned the difference between offerings and after explaining that it’s the difference between having 8 people on board a private yacht, or 80-100 on a large impersonal boat tour, we opted for their recommendation and it was UNFORGETTABLE. Hence, number one on the list is the Sunset Cruise.
#1 Sunset Cruise, with Santorini Sail Cruises
This was pure magic. Having gotten a shuttle to the harbour direct from our door we waited in anticipation of an afternoon on the water. As the yacht arrived we were greeted by Father & Daughter duo, Kosmos & Irene (*spelling not entirely sure!). Such beautiful people and such a personalised experience as they helped us onto the deck & offered us drinks while we sailed away into the afternoon. They told us about their family, explained their history with the boat and shared knowledge of Santorini (aka Thira) & surrounds; that the islands once formed a volcano and as it sunk into the sea after various eruptions it has formed separate islands with a large active underwater crater (the ‘Caldera’). After stopping for a dip at the crystal clear waters of Thirasia (which we were told is roughly translated to mean ‘Thira’s Sister’), we carried on around to the “hot springs” which is where the sulfur is still bubbling out of the centre of the earth. This Island was actually formed from lava which has risen after eruptions underwater and swimming literally into the center is an absolute must do – 35ish degrees and just totally surreal! I’m guessing there are other spots that you can swim in the ‘hot spring’ since there was loads of other boats around but our group were the only ones swimming in this particular spot – a totally private experience! Just don’t wear any good swimwear in the water, or any silver jewellery – the mud is rust coloured and the water is rich in sulfur whilst it’s said to be great for the skin, but everything else will get destroyed.
Following this dip, Cosmos & Irene served up the most amazing home made spread for us and it was one of the best meals of the trip! We continued to sail as the sun began to set and realised that the other reason this cruise is so special is because while all the other “sunset cruises” dock just outside the Harbour for sunset (meaning that the sun sets behind the islands of Sikinos & Folegandros, and it’s essentially the same sunset you see from Oia) our cruise sailed out beyond these islands so we could actually see the sun hit the horizon; the true sunset! We sailed back under darkness guided by the glimmering lights of Santorini (and the on-board navigation gear, obviously lol) but it was a pretty special experience, and as the last boat back into the harbour that night I can say it’s truly like no other tour offering out there.
#2 Santo Wines Tour & Tasting
In close running for the best Sunset vantage point in Santorini is the view from Santo Wines, where you’ll also see the sun hit the horizon. We opted for an afternoon wine tasting & tour which we booked online and had a magnificent evening overlooking Santorini and enjoying an exceptional platter of wine & nibblies. Photos speak for themselves with this one!
#3 Eat at Avocado
This restaurant has great reviews all over the internet, and now I can add to them! We actually stumbled across it, as it’s only a short walk up the coastal path from The Balcony. We basically had one of everything and I highly recommend!
#4 Walk from Imerovigli to Oia
Best not to do this in the middle of the day, or with any sign of a hangover. We thought it might pep us up but I found myself wondering whether we might die out there, lol. It was a pretty epic trek, and one that actually looks (and feels) further than it is – at about 8km of tricky terrain it took us just on 2hrs. I’m still super glad we made that woeful decision to walk to Oia hungover at midday because it was our last opportunity to do the walk and it was totally rewarding with views like no other, and amazing little churches along the way. Reward your efforts when you get into town with a treat from #5.
#5 The Bakery & Eat Frozen Yoghurt
Now I can’t be sure of the name of it, and I was so exhausted I forgot to take a photo – I know, right!? but as follow the route into town from the walk you’ll hit the strip of shops and there’s a tiny little bakery with the most amazing pastries, treats and Frozen Yogurt. There is nothing in the world that beats Greek frozen yoghurt.
#6 The Old Port of Armeni (Not the Old Port at Fira!)
From arriving by foot to Oia we wandered town before finding a path down to the ‘old port’, we’d heard a lot about donkey rides and the “Old Port” and options to get the cable car etc etc… that experience is at the Old Port of Fira. This experience however is entirely different and we were completely shocked to make our way to the bottom and find this hidden port with almost no one around and an amazing little restaurant right on the water! The restaurant is Armeni and it is absolutely the hidden gem of Oia – but you’ll have to work for it! It’s quite a trek down, and an even more exhaustive trek back up – which is why we took the donkeys!
#7 Ride the Donkeys
Now I must admit there was a part of me that felt horrible about these poor donkeys trekking this difficult track many times in one day (and I’m not sure I could bring myself to do it again), but as a once in a lifetime experience and given that there is no cable car from this secluded location, your options are to walk, get the donkey, or exit by water. As it was, having already walked 8kms into town, we paid the 5 Euro/ea and jumped a donkey – I giggled the whole way to the top.
#8 Hire a Quad Bike & Explore the Island Incl. The Red Beach & Akrotiri
This process was easy as pie having simply booked the Quad bike through the hotel. Hiring a quad bike is the best way to see the island and we felt like we covered it all in one day.
With the freedom of the bike you can explore & visit The Red Beach. It’s quite an incredible place and worth seeing! It was insanely windy while we were in Santorini so we actually didn’t do too much swimming, so we came, we saw, and we moved on. The Excavation of Akrotiri is close by from here, so that’s where we ended up. The town was buried following an eruption in the 17th Century and excavations have uncovered perfectly preserved pockets of the town – down to decorative pots and wall murals. It’s a pretty incredible.
#9 Eat at the Dolphin Tavern
Another recommendation from The Balcony, was The Dolphins Fish Tavern which is also in the vicinity of the Red Beach & Akrotiri. Another amazing waterfront restaurant, with few other visitors and a table for two right on the water. As I write this I am having flashbacks to ordering what I thought was a glass of red wine & taking a big sip only to find it was essentially a glass of Port. Unfortunately this was before our visit to Santo wines, where I learned about Vinsanto. A beautiful meal though, and a recommendation I’m happy to pass on.
#10 Walk to Fira
By far the most talked about town in Santorini is Oia, but having stayed in Imerovigli we also had the opportunity to explore Fira by foot. And it is every bit as stunning as Oia.
What an amazing trip! Will we go back? Definitely. And while I wouldn’t have traded this experience for anything, if we return to Santorini we will go slightly later in the year to avoid the windy season, and hide away among the hillside while immersing ourselves in the authentic Oia experience.
I hope you enjoyed my Guide to Santorini. Until our next adventure, Yemas! *to good health, aka cheers.