My Husband and I had our destination wedding in Italy during October 2017. For our honeymoon, we took advantage of our close proximity to a place I have always wanted to visit: Santorini.
(1) Where to Stay
There are a lot of options for places to stay in Santorini, from traditional cave houses to hotels to newly built luxury resorts. There is a price to pay for every type of property and location, however. Most people visiting Santorini will want to stay somewhere with a caldera view. These locations will be the most expensive option, but usually worth it. The further inland you go, the properties will be more bang for your buck but you sacrifice the view and easy access to town.
Make a List of Necessities & Preferences
Usually when we travel, we care more about location than the amenities the room has to offer. A view would be nice but not a necessity since we plan on spending most of our time exploring our destination, not our room. But honeymoons and Santorini are different. Since this was unlike most of our vacation, we had to decide what was important and worth spending our money on.
We knew we wanted to spend most of our time relaxing, taking in the ocean view, and doing so with some privacy. Having everything in walking distance was a must. I wanted a hot tub or mini pool since I had seen pictures of them when researching Santorini and that was my idea of relaxing. My husband wanted a real shower and not a tub with a hand held shower. Everything else we could compromise on.
Choose a City
There are two major cities on Santorini: Fira and Oia. Fira is more of a party, shopping center. Oia, is where you find the traditional homes, windmills, high-end shopping, and luxury properties. Fira will be cheaper than Oia but also noisier (unless you stay during off season). Both have amazing views and things to do. There are smaller towns between Fira and Oia, such as Imerovigli, and resorts further away from town. But we wanted to be in one of the major cities so we would be close to more restaurants, shops, tourist attractions, etc.
We chose Fira because we were on a budget. We also didn’t need to stay in a five star resort for our honeymoon after staying in a castle for a week for our wedding. We browsed airbnb for an apartment and decided to stay at the Iriana Apartments.
Our room had a large living room and bedroom, plenty of space for just the two of us. There was a small kitchenette, perfect for storing our wine. The bathroom was not what we were expecting (See note below), but it was decent. The window in the shower overlooked the hot tub, which we had some fun with. We had one of the best lanais with a large table overlooking the caldera and a hot tub. We also had two lounge chairs that got plenty of sun after noon. In the morning we had our breakfast delivered to the lanai. We rarely left our until mid afternoon.
Note: the photos on airbnb were misleading. We thought all of the photos provided were for the room we were renting. We discovered the photos were a compilation of the best of different rooms offered. Our apartment had the pictured living room and hot tub, but not the pictured shower or bedroom. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it would have been nice to know we weren’t necessarily going to receive what we saw advertised.
(2) Where to Eat in Fira
For more details on the places where we ate, check out my post here.
(3) Places to See
You’ll be tempted to stay in your hotel all day, but there’s a lot to do and see on Santorini. Aside from meandering down the small streets along the caldera edge, here are some of the main sights in Fira.
Catholic Cathedral Church of Saint John the Baptist
You can see the dome and clock tower of the church from most places in Fira, making it easy to find. The inside is small and beautiful. Plus, its a nice escape from the heat of the day. Click here for its location in Fira.
The lighthouse is located 18 km south of Fira. Built in 1892, its one of the oldest lighthouses in Greece. You cannot enter the building, but you can walk around outside. Its a popular spot for watching the sunset.
Old Port Fira
A lot of cruise ships dock outside of Fira and the Old Port is where passengers are ferried to the island. There are three ways to reach the old port: walk, ride a donkey, or take the gondola. During the off season many of the restaurants and bars are closed, and unless you’re taking a boat that’s all there is to do at the port. Fair warning, the drinks are more expensive down here.
Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral
This large, white church is located on the main street in Fira, overlooking the caldera. Its prominent location makes it hard to miss.
If you’re into learning about the places you visit, check out one of the many museums in Santorini. We decided to skip the museums on this vacation. The main museum in Fira is the Museum of Prehistoric Thira. It’s located behind the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral.
(4) Things to Do
There are a lot of souvenir shops and clothing stores in Fira. If you like buying trinkets on your travels, you will not be disappointed in Santorini. It may even be overwhelming. We stopped buying souvenirs on our vacations to cut down on clutter at home, but we enjoy buying art work or something unique to the place we’re visiting. In Santorini, I purchased donkey bells from a cute store, Cave Shop, and sandals from Sandalopoieio Workshop, both pictured below. There are a lot of high end stores as well, including jewelry stores. The streets are narrow and cobblestones for the most part. Wear comfortable shoes and bring your patience if you’re visiting during the summer because it will be crowded.
What do you buy on your vacations? Share in the comments!
Take a Hike
For more details about hiking from Fira to Oia, check out my post, here.
Sail the Caldera
For more details about our boat ride around the caldera, check out my post, here .
Ride the Gondola or a Donkey
If you want to reach the Old Port, there are three ways to get there: walk, ride a donkey, or take the gondola. Walking is free, but its a long way down and up. It’s also along the same path the donkeys take, so it may be smelly.
We decided not to ride the donkeys for two reasons: did not want our clothes to smell, and not sure if its cruel or not. There is a website for the donkey rides (at the Port and other locations on the island) where you can make reservations, but you can purchase a ride in person when you get there. The cost is €20. But, if you don’t want a ride, you can always take pictures with the donkeys for free (at least I did it for free). You can find the donkeys off the street, Agiou Mina, beyond Franco’s Bar. Tip: the donkeys leave for the day around 5 pm. You can take pictures of them as they walk along on the streets at this time.
If a donkey ride isn’t for you, the last option to reach the Old Port is to take the gondola/cable car. If you have no desire to visit the port (there’s not a lot to do there beyond drinking), skip the gondola ride. It’s an expensive one-way ticket (€6 euro/person), a short ride, and you’re likely going to be sharing the gondola with 6 strangers. (We got lucky and had a car all to ourselves both trips). To reach the cable car station, walk along the shopping streets and follow the signs painting on the steps and walls. The road along the caldera is steeper. For more information on the cable car, click here. Note: the station located at the Old Port has photos from when the volcano erupted in 1950.
Watch the Sunset
Be sure to look up what time the sun sets while you’re staying in Santorini so you’ll have plenty of time to scope out a spot for the show. It’s hard to find a bad spot to watch the sunset if you’re along the caldera, but some places are better than others. There are a lot of restaurants to choose from, but you need to get there early to find a table closest to the edge. If you’re lucky, you can watch from the privacy of your hotel room. We watched nearly every sunset from our balcony, usually from the hot tub. A lot of people stand outside the Orthodox Church for a free view of the sunset. The sunsets are so dramatic that people actually applaud when the sun disappears below the horizon.
Whether you’re on your honeymoon or just a vacation, make time to relax. Pick up a book, put away your phone, grab a drink, and enjoy the serene beauty that is Santorini. We stayed at our hotel room most of the time, when we weren’t hiking or sailing. During the day we watched the cruise ships come into port and the small ferries carrying people to and from the island. (One day there were 3 ships!). At night, we watched the Pirate Ship, lit up with lights on the mast. And of course we watched the sunset every night.
(5) Need to Know
The Santorini Airport is very small. Check-in, security, and terminals are all in the same building. When you arrive, you take a bus up the hill to the airport, so no need to rush off the plane. This means you’ll do the same upon departure – load onto a bus, drive onto the tarmac, and then get on board your plane. Since the airport is so small, you do not want to arrive too close to your departure time. The employees at Ariana Apartments suggested to arrive an hour before our flight and we spent 30 minutes waiting in a very crowded terminal (one reason was because another flight was delayed).
Just a little note of warning so you’re not surprised upon checking in at your hotel. You must throw your toilet paper into a trashcan, not the toilet. The pipes are very small all over the island (drilling in lava rock is difficult) and cannot handle the trash. We were glad to discover the Ariana Apartments had maid service so we didn’t have to worry about taking out the trash every day.
Attire for Off Season
The weather during October is beautiful, but it requires you to pack layers. The mornings are chilly, especially in the shade. The caldera is on the western side of the crescent shaped island, so the buildings located down the caldera is in the shade for most of the morning. Our balcony was shady until noon and I needed a light jacket. During the day, when the sun is shining, its warm enough to lay out in your bathing suit or wear shorts/dresses around town. The nights are cold almost as soon as the sun goes down. Bring a jacket to dinner if that’s your plan for watching sunset.
Fira in Off Season
We read that Fira at night can be very noisy at night. If you visit during the summer, pack earplugs. However, during October, most restaurants and bars closed by midnight. We could hear opera music coming from somewhere occasionally, and classical music from Franco’s Bar, but once we closed the doors and popped in ear plugs we couldn’t hear a thing.
You don’t need to make reservations at restaurants, though its recommended. Some restaurants will also be closed during the off season. One bar had its end of summer party the night we arrived and closed the next day. If night life is important for your vacation, consider visiting near the end of summer, like late September.
Have you been to Santorini? What are your tips or favorite places on the island? Share in the comments!