My guide to Greece: 9 days in the South Aegean
Updated: Mar 27
Part 1 - Santorini
Santorini - the hallmark island of Greece. So much to see, eat, and drink. Ios, a hidden gem not too far off the coast of mainland Greece, and Naxos, the perfect island to stop at before heading back to Athens to catch your flight home...or maybe not. Once you're here, you may be tempted to stick around a bit longer. I know I sure was!
First things first..flights! Oh, and ferries!
For my May trip to Greece, I booked flights in late January. I'm glad I did because I got it in that perfect pocket of time where they dropped since my preliminary research and only went up in price after. Roundtrip, Tampa to Athens on Emirates cost me around $670. There were cheaper advertised prices on Norwegian, but they were deceiving. Once I added up to costs of luggage it was going to be pricier to fly with them. It's important to note May is shoulder season, and a month you should really consider visiting the islands during. The Santorini airport, along with the other islands (if they even have one) is extremely small. Flying in and out of Santorini can be a nightmare during June, July, and August. If you don't believe me, go watch the youtube videos people have posted of the airport. I've heard you have to arrive up to 4 hours before your flight just because the airport cannot handle the amount of people flying in and out during the peak months! Since I went in May, my friend and I were in and out. You do not have to fly to Santorini from Athens though, and now that I have visited and am more familiar, I would've opted for the ferry. The ferries are very affordable and very efficient. Instead of a $65-ish flight from Athens to Santorini, the ferry runs around $30. It takes longer, but saves money and you do not have to pay for bags. The planes that run from Athens to the islands are much smaller than the commercial jets in the states, so be prepared to pay checked bag fees for what would be considered carry-ons in the states. Since I packed all of mine in a small carry on, I didn't pay extra (my flight included 1 checked bag), but my friend packed 2 large checked bags and had to pay around $50 to board the flight. After we flew to Santorini, we took ferries to the other islands until we left to head back to Athens. Since Naxos had an airport and we were pressed for time, we flew back to Athens from the island. If you're in no rush, I'd whole heartedly recommend using the affordable ferries to island hop!
Santorini: Where to Stay, Eat, and Relax
You must visit Santorini on your first visit to Greece. It is one of the most picturesque places on earth and I promise, no photos or videos do it justice. If you can afford it, I recommend getting a hotel in Oía. This is the part of the island that you see the quintessential blue and white buildings along the cliff. Many honeymooners stay on this part of the island, known for romantic restaurants, spas, and private infinity pools, I can see why. There are some drawbacks though, this beautiful part of the island also shuts down quite early. By 10pm, everyone is back in their hotels, star gazing from their hotels and drinking Moët from champagne flutes...or at least that's the vibe I got. But really, everything closes fairly early and if you're looking for nightlife or a place to get some late night Baklava or gelato, Thira is the place for you. This is where I stayed. Thira is the capital of Santorini, and it is where you can find accommodations for half the price of Oía. Thira is full of restaurants, coffee shops, bars, swanky nightclubs, and to say the least, had plenty to do. I stayed at the Palmariva Villas with my friend and we absolutely loved it. Our room included a private hot tub and breakfast every morning for only a bit over $100/night.
This was our little porch and private hot tub, which we enjoyed since Santorini is still in the mid-50s during the evening in May. The villas are also right off the main strip of restaurants and nightlife in Thira so I always recommend this place to anyone who says they're visiting! Another must do...a boat tour! Even though it is not super hot during the month of May, the catamaran tours show you a side of Santorini you just cannot get from land. The tours are 6 hours - morning or sunset and include wine and a greek bbq meal (vegan friendly options as well!) You make 3 stops and they're all beautiful, but just know, the volcanic hot springs are not warm at all...so be prepared to swim in chilly water. Either way, with such beautiful views and calm blue water, you'll want to jump in.
If you don't want to splurge a bit on a catamaran tour, or in addition to it, the black sand beaches of Perissa are a must see (pictured above). As long as you order a gyro or a drink, you're free to use any of the beach chairs. I recommend getting their early to snag a good seat. Around 12pm, it starts to get pretty packed. The beach is absolutely beautiful and is another place where people opt to stay when they visit the island. The village of Kamari is beautiful, but very quiet. The deals are amazing but it wouldn't be my first choice. The buses on the island only run until 10:15pm (if I remember right) so if you're getting dinner anywhere else on the island, you have to make sure you don't miss the bus. If you want to go out in Imerovigli, you also run into that issue. Once the buses stop running, your only option is a taxi, and they're very pricey. If you're looking to save money, the taxi fare may run up your bill more than the extra $30 to stay in Thira, which is why I wouldn't recommend staying in Karmari if you plan on exploring the island at night.
If you like wine...Santo Wines needs to be at the top of your list. A short bus ride from Thira, Santo Wines has incredible food, wines (duh), and an even better view. Pictured is the wine flight my friend and I shared, along with some bread and fresh spreads. Be prepared to get wine drunk and spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying your hot tub until dinner, because let me tell you... the wine here is strong. This flight only cost my friend and I around $20. We didn't need a reservation, but to be sure you get the table you'd like, if there's more than 2 of you visiting, I'd make one!
For traditional greek food with a plant based spin, head to Katharos Lounge (pictured on the left). The open air portion of the restaurant is where you'll wanna be. The menu is to die for, and to top it off they give you blankets so you can get cozy and watch the sunset behind you.
Dakos, one of the most amazing things you'll ever eat, is on the menu basically everywhere. Although the presentation varies it's 4 simple things: fresh olive oil, tomatoes, capers, feta and barley rusk bread. It is phenomenal you have to order it in Greece!
And lastly, the nightlife.
Whether you're a party till 6am person, or a stay in and binge watch Netflix person, the nightlife in Greece shouldn't be something you skip out on! In our 4 nights there, we went out 3 of those times and met so many other people from all over the world who gave us tips on things to do, helped us out with our Greek, or just exchanged Snapchats; my friend and I really enjoyed meeting everyone! We even ran into people we saw in Santorini when we stayed in other islands. Everyone is extremely friendly and we felt safer in the clubs and bars in Greece then we do sometimes here in the states. For an upscale night out - hit Enigma. It's super cool indoor/outdoor club with futuristic vibes. The drinks are more expensive then other bars, but it's because they're better quality. For a classic dive bar with fun music and people, try out Two Brothers or Highlander. It feels like your typical college night out but like...30x better. Take a nap and charge your phone, because even though I'm usually a leave the club at 12 girl, trust me when I say, you won't want the night to end.
There you have it - a beginner's guide to Santorini. I hope you learned something and got some useful tips on where to book and what to do! I'll be back soon for the next parts of my Greece guide.
Until then, see y'all!