The Greek island of Santorini is a shutterbugs dream! In fact, Santorini’s blue-domed churches, pastel houses and jaw-dropping sunsets mean that even those with only a faint interest in taking holiday snaps and armed with the most basic of equipment can capture postcard perfect pictures with minimal effort. There’s a real danger that you’ll spend your entire visit seeing Santorini through a viewfinder so make sure you take the time to put the camera back in the bag for long enough to enjoy the island’s fantastic restaurants and wineries, explore the island on ATVs and head out on to the water for fantastic sunset views of the island’s volcanic caldera.
If you’re arriving in to Santorini airport then there is indeed a bus service that operates from the airport to Fira. Unfortunately, if you’re staying in Oia then you’re out of luck and will have to head into Fira to catch the connection to Oia. I’ve provided the link to the bus timetables in the additional resources section, but in all honesty it’s going to be a lot easier to just get a taxi. The island isn’t all that big so taxis don’t cost that much regardless of where you’re headed. The taxi rank is right outside the arrivals building. Just beware that taxis are in high demand when a flight arrives, so you might want to pre-book a transfer service from wherever you’re staying (at least that way you won’t be forced to wait in a long taxi queue after a long day of traveling!).
ATVs: Yes, sure, you could use the local bus network to get from place to place during your stay but why would you sit on a sweaty bus or wait at bus stops in the heat when you could rent an ATV (quad bike for us English folk), don a highly fetching crash helmet and speed along the back-roads of a Greek island paradise? There are plenty of places to rent ATVs on the island so you shouldn’t struggle to find one.
Finding a driver: Growing up in and around London I was taught from an early age to evaluate everyone and everything under a pessimistic lens (both a blessing and a curse). As a result I probably spent more time evaluating ‘taxi’ drivers in Fira (and their potential to rip us off or propensity to be an axe murderer) than needed. Everyone we encountered in Santorini was happy to help; most likely the result of the importance of tourism to the island. From Fira Old Port or at the top of the cable car in Fira you are very likely to be directly approached or be able to easily find transport desks that are happy to provide a car and driver to whisk you around the island for the day at reasonable prices. For me, the biggest advantage of this approach was that the driver we had knew the best photography spots; even those that people say are hard to find such as the Three Bells of Fira. As a result, it might not be as fun as renting ATVs, but if you want to see specific views or visit specific wineries on the island then this is probably your best bet.
Avoiding the crowds and saving money: Santorini can be undeniably expensive, and I mean truly eye wateringly expensive. Late June to early September is definitely high season. That means hot weather, large crowds and high prices. For me, that’s a nightmare reminiscent of trying to commute up Oxford Street in London on a sweaty August evening behind a gaggle of camera-wielding tourists (to confirm, that means I’d rather not do it). By contrast late May, early June, late September and early October tend to mean lower prices on hotels, more room to breathe on the narrow cobbles and less sweltering heat.
Oia: For me (and for most tourists I would imagine) Oia is the highlight of a trip to Santorini. The town is a hodge podge of alleyways and scenic outlooks over the white-washed buildings, blue domed roofs and windmills. I’m seriously not sure if there is a more photogenic town on earth. My advice is simply to spend time wandering, stopping off in the small shops and cafes and exploring down quiet cliff-side paths (it might well feel like you’re accidentally wandering in to people’s ‘back gardens’ at times and in honesty I’m not entirely convinced we didn’t). If you fancy a spot of lunch then head down the stairs from Oia down to Amoudi Bay; where you’ll find a few fish restaurants, a slower pace, and fewer tourists! Hang around in to the evening and book a table for sunset dinner with a view back up in Oia (be aware that, for obvious reason, you pay more for the location; so if you’re looking for a bargain meal then you’re better avoiding Oia and Fira). If you’re there in high season and don’t have your own transportation then expect a very long wait for a taxi; so arrange something in advance if you can.
Fira: Alongside Oia, Fira (which is the capital of Santorini) is probably the other most-visited town for tourists. I personally don’t find it quite as ‘romantic’ as Oia, but it is still a great place to just wander. Fira probably has more of the typical touristy shops, so if you do need to stock up on gifts then Fira is the place to do it. The restaurants on the cliff-side walkways are also a great place for lunch (although as they’re really for tourists you’ll probably have to tradeoff on the quality of the food for the views) and sunset drinks overlooking the Aegean. If you can, you should avoid spending the day in Fira if you look down from the cliffs towards the caldera and see a host of cruise ships. They typically use tenders to drop off passengers at Fira Old Port and then the town will be flooded with people akin to a plague of locusts; making strolling around the narrow alleys laborious for even the most determined of people.
Three Bells of Fira: Head up the stairs from Mama Thira’s Restaurant and you’ll find the three bells. It’s probably the most famous of all the postcard pictures from Santorini. Whilst there’s not much I can really say about it I like to think that the photos speak for themselves.
Hiking from Oia to Fira: If it’s the height of summer this may not be the most appealing activity (or at least you might want to start really early in the morning unless you fancy sweating up a storm). The walk is incredibly scenic, passes through Firostefani and Imerovigli and takes from around 2 hours depending on how fit you are and how slowly you want to take the hillier sections.
Heading down to Fira Old Port: There isn’t a huge amount down in Fira Old Port but the best part of getting there is the journey. Assuming that you’re starting the journey up in Fira then hit the footpath down the cliffs which winds back and forth. You could always take a donkey, but I’m not much a fan of making animals carry my lazy butt down a hill in boiling hot weather. If you do walk then just be careful of the donkeys as they pass; the guys who own the donkeys and run the donkey-ride service tend to send them all back up/down together and just kind of slap them on the butt and send them running on their own. The result is that you might see a stampede of donkeys heading your way, so just be prepared to jump out of the way at short notice! Enjoy the views as you head down, grab a drink or a snack at the bottom and then pay for the cable car back up to the top (it was tiring enough walking down so only the hardiest of you will want to walk back up; especially if you’re there in the summer months).
Santorini Bus Service Website: http://ktel-santorini.gr/