An idyllic paradise, Santorini epitomises what most people envision when they think of the Greek islands – white washed Cycladic buildings, bright pink bougainvillea flowers, blue dome topped churches and spectacular sunsets. So it’s not difficult to understand why this island is one of the most popular and shared places on Instagram.
For my grand “European adventure of a lifetime” trip last year, Santorini was the first destination. Flying from Sydney with stopovers in Abu Dhabi and Athens, it took 3 flights to finally arrive after well over 20 hours of being in the air! But flying over the sapphire blue Aegean Sea from Athens towards Santorini, I could already tell that this was going to be a place I would adore forever. Whether you’re after the best locations to take photos or just interested in exploring the island, let’s take a look at what to do, see and photograph in this magnificent part of our world…
Santorini is famous for its sunsets – twilight is my favourite part of the day and it’s even more relaxing when you are on vacation! I arrived in this beautiful bucket list destination in the afternoon. After checking into the hotel, having a shower and getting changed it was straight to one the popular “sunset walls”. This is the place in Fira where all the tourists gather to watch as the red sun dips below and the stars come out in the sky. I’ve seen a lot of sunsets in my life, but none have been as mesmerising as the ones I experienced here. If a photo says a thousand words, then what do these photos say to you?!
The sun seems to be suspended in the sky, hanging on a long as possible before slipping away. Once it gets to the horizon though it actually descends very fast. It’s not hard to understand why tourists adore this view – the most magical time of the day on this island creates the perfect moment to capture a photo. Santorini sunsets are ultra-soft, dreamy and magical and definitely an experience you won’t forget.
Aressana Resort & Spa
When it comes to accommodation, I booked the Aressana Resort & Spa hotel in Fira, which was one of the nicest places I’ve ever stayed at whilst travelling. The staff were very friendly & welcoming and full of advice on how to enjoy my stay in Santorini, even organising a private day tour for me. Aressana is postcard perfect Greek island accommodation, with bright white walls, pink & coral bougainvillea flowers everywhere, an in-house spa and a pool. I almost feel asleep whilst having a massage at the spa so definitely recommend trying one of those if you stay here!
Their rooms are modern, clean & spacious – I stayed in a ground floor room which meant I had my very own courtyard area out the back. The hotel will be able to organise for direct transfers for you straight to the airport as well. This resort is in the perfect location if you want to experience sunset at the famous sunset wall in Fira as it’s only a two-minute walk away!
Explore the Island
As soon as I was on the way to my hotel from the airport I noticed a lot of tourists on bikes & scooters, riding around the island… and it’s well worth a try because there is so much to explore. Walking around the island near the shopping hubs you’ll be able to walk into many shops which advertise local tours. What I was really looking forward to exploring in Santorini was the different churches I observed around the island.
My hotel was able to organise a private day tour, to take us around the island to visit some of the churches. I discovered that the majority of these are actually owned by the local families, inherited through many generations. In fact, just in Oia alone there are over 70 churches & chapels. So given the abundance of these beautiful places and the backdrop of the Aegean Sea, this island is also a very popular wedding destination.
Another benefit of a private tour with one of the locals is that you’re able to tailor your experience to your own interests. Apart from being able to drive around and see the countryside & churches, I was able to see Red Beach, visit one of the fishing villages, walk up to see Santorini’s southern-most lighthouse and visit some of the less touristy but just as beautiful sights.
Below is my personal favourite church I was able to see here. Whilst we weren’t allowed to enter inside, the exterior was so sweet and I just fell in love with it! The blue gate, the church bells and the design are so beautiful. A very big thanks to my tour guide, Panos, for taking me to the secret style churches where there were no tourists around, the must see locations and even playing as photographer for some of my photos!
Sip cocktails at Palia Kameni bar!
If you’re visiting Santorini and need to know which bar to head to then the family run Palia Kameni or “PK” bar is hands down the best one in my opinion! It’s got the perfect spot to view the sunset in the afternoon although you will need to grab a seat there quite a few hours before. This place books out quickly in the afternoon! Which shouldn’t be an issue once you try their cocktails, with free sides of popcorn, chips, nuts and fruit. Most people who know me are aware that I’m a total chocaholic so I quite happily ordered Toblerone cocktails for days on end here! There are two levels to the bar, friendly waiters, awesome music and happy vibes here.
Visit the beaches
Have you really experienced the Greek Islands properly if you haven’t spent time at the beach?! As soon as I heard the beaches in Santorini had black sand, I knew I had to see this for myself! If you don’t have a car or scooter then you catch the bus there like I did, the buses arrive pretty frequently and a lot of tourists use them to get around the island. At Kamari and Mera beaches the pebbly sand really is black and the waters are calm – so this was a completely different experience compared to the yellowy toned sand and waves of the Sydney beaches back home!
Once you get to the beach you’ll notice rows and rows of cabanas with straw covered umbrellas and to sit under one of these you will need to pay. There’s a lot of bar staff walking around beckoning you to choose their section, free wifi is available and the waiters will happily serve up cocktails all day. Kamari beach is the most popular ones on the island and there is also another beach called “Red Beach”, although it’s not as popular for swimming but well worth a visit for the views.
Find the famous three blue domes
The three blue domes are iconic and well known worldwide for representing Santorini. Unless you have booked a tour there then this location may be a little challenging to find. But don’t worry I’ve got you covered! Read on for directions:
- From the main square in Oia you need to locate the Bulgari Alexandross store with another store across from it called Gold & Silver store (no. 49).
- Just before the Bulgari store, turn left down a small pathway.
- Once you find the fork in the pathway with a brown door in front, turn right and you will see the three blue domes. In fact, if you have the experience that I did, you will see the line of tourists well before you reach the brown door!
I arrived in the late afternoon and it was teeming with tourists and there was literally a line up of 30+ people in both directions waiting for their turn to grab their photo. Also important to note that because the buildings surrounding the three blue domes are private property, there is a point at which the walkways are sectioned off. You can’t really get very close unless you are a resident or a guest in one of the hotels.
If I could do this all over again and with less harsh lighting I’d definitely try to arrive just before sunrise when it’s quiet and you can capture golden hour light. Another option is to actually book accommodation in one of the many air bnb’s or hotels close by or book a photography tour with one of the locals. This is how a lot of photographers and Instagrammers manage to capture their photos right next to or almost on top of the three blue domes.
Eat ALL the ice cream!
Sunshine, sand and water filled days = ice creams / gelato and there is no shortage of options around here! The weather really warms up from midday well into the afternoon, so getting gelato became a daily ritual for me here! There are so many different stores here with an abundance of flavours that I’d never even seen available anywhere else. Plus they also make for a great photo on the gram too!
What else is there to do?
Santorini has a wide range of tours & fun experiences – wine tasting, jet skiing around the island & visiting the volcano, photography tours, Greek cooking classes, fishing boat tours… There were cruise ships arriving and departing Santorini daily but there’s also private boat charters available, as well as food & wine tours on the sailboats! There are also boat tours which will take you around the smaller islands of Santorini where you can explore picturesque hidden bays. When I return to Santorini, taking a sailboat tour is definitely on my list of things to do!
Hiring a bike or car to explore the island is definitely one of the easiest ways to explore Santorini – you don’t have to wait for the bus and have the freedom to really see the island your own way! The countryside has views of the water, you’ll be able to visit any of the local villages and really soak up the breezy & relaxed vibes.
Go Shopping! The winding cobblestoned streets laced with pretty pink bougainvillea trees are also perfect for wandering around to do some shopping! Whether you’re after gelato, clothes, sandals, hats, jewellery or souvenirs, there are plenty of stores here to keep you occupied.
It was still warm in Santorini at the start of September, with temperatures in the high 20’s to 30 degrees. And when you’re out walking around every day be prepared to get a bit of colour! I also noticed my legs got really sore the first few days because I was doing so much walking – up and down stairs and over the cobblestoned streets. Which means you won’t need to worry about missing out on any gym workouts, because every day in Santorini feels like leg day!
Santorini is one of those places in the world that I know I absolutely have to return to experience again. It’s like time moves slowly; there’s a certain magic in the air and relaxation becomes a normal state of being. It’s the perfect place to choose for a girl’s trip, a photographer’s bucket list destination or even a wedding or honeymoon. This was also the first place I ever visited in Greece, prior to seeing Athens – if you’re interested in my article on exploring the Acropolis, click here.
I hope you have enjoyed this guide to Santorini! Let me know if this is somewhere you would like to visit or if you have any questions or need advice on this amazing place.
And if you have been to Santorini, what did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below!