36 hours in Santorini

Deputy editor Olivia Gavoyannis shares her top tips for spending an idyllic weekend in Santorini, one of Greece's most picturesque islands.

Sunset in Thira: Wikimedia Commons, Wolfgang Staudt

As a girl with Greek heritage, Santorini has always held somewhat of a mythical status for me. Resplendent with its whitewashed buildings and blue domed churches, the island did not disappoint, and I found it even more picturesque than the famous postcard scenes that had kindled my Santorini wanderlust. Thira, the island’s capital, and Oia (pronounced ia) are two of the most popular places to stay on the island, and both towns offer a variety of clifftop bars and restaurants from which to enjoy breathtaking views of the sunset. Santorini has its own airport, which makes it much more accessible than some other islands, and the bus service (which is surprisingly punctual for Greece) makes it easy to explore the island without hiring a car.

Friday evening

Kick-start your weekend in Santorini with a drink (or two) at Palia Kameni Cocktail Bar. Located on one of Thira’s cobbled streets, the Grecian statue that adorns the bar’s roof terrace makes it easy to spot. Every level of PK Bar boasts panoramic views of Thira, which take on an enchanting quality when the infinity pools and rooftop gardens are illuminated after sunset. The bar has an intoxicating atmosphere that has just as much to do with its intimate candle-lit interior and chilled-out playlist as the strong drinks that are served there. It would be fair to say that PK is somewhat of a paradise for cocktail-lovers and has something for every taste. After much deliberation I opted for a Toblerone, a potent concoction of Kahlua, cream, Bailey’s and honey, which understandably left me buzzing. Open 365 days a year from 8 am to 3 pm, the bar is a must-visit no matter what time of year or day you are lucky enough to find yourself on the cobbled streets of Thira.

Thira, photo: Wikimedia Commons, Rennett Stowe

Saturday Morning

Begin your morning Hellenic-style and grab a tiropita (a very tasty cheese pie) or a bougatsa (a Greek pastry that comes in both sweet and savory varieties) from one of the local bakeries in Thira. If you are feeling brave, wash this down with a cup of Greek coffee. After breakfast head to Thira’s town centre to peruse the various shops lining the ancient streets. In amongst the garish tourist shops selling donkey towels and ‘I Heart Santorini’ hats, there are some beautiful art galleries and clothing stores. Because of the geological nature of Santorini many of the buildings are built on top of each other to create space, so you will get a pretty good workout walking up and down all of the stairs to reach the various levels of shops. Once you have exhausted these retail opportunities, deviate from the busy commercial streets towards the quieter residential area closer to the cliff edge and admire some of the subterranean apartments and ancient buildings. Please do be aware that the blue domes of postcard fame cannot be found in Thira. I spent an entire afternoon marching around before I realised that they are actually in Oia. You’re welcome.

Donkeys in Thira, photo: Wikimedia Commons, Mstyslav Chernov

Saturday afternoon

Once you have taken in every inch of Thira’s quaint streets, find a taverna with a sweeping coastal vista where you can enjoy a well-deserved lunch. Most of the tavernas serve a wide selection of traditional Greek food, and I would urge you to try some of the local delicacies whilst you have the chance.

Sadly I don’t speak Greek, however, I do speak Greek food, so here is a handy translation guide for some of the more popular Greek dishes: A souvlaki is essentially a kebab, usually of lamb, chicken or pork. Soutzoukakia is Greek for meatballs in a tomato sauce. Spanakopita is a spinach and feta pie made with filo pastry. Gyros is meat cooked on a rotating spit and then wrapped in a flatbread or pitta bread. Pastitio is the Greek equivalent of a beef pasta bake. And my personal favourite, Moussaka, is a heavenly dish composed of layers of minced beef cooked in a tomato sauce, aubergine and creamy white sauce. A word of warning: If you are ordering stuffed kalamari, you will be brought a whole stuffed squid rather than the slightly more palatable fried rings that you might be expecting.

After lunch make your way down to the Thira’s port. There are three ways of doing this. One- pay a couple of euros to take the cable car down. Two- pay more euros to ride a donkey down. Three- pay no euros to dodge donkeys and their excrement as you run down the stairs to the port. I opted for option three, and it was just as bad as it sounds. I would advise you to go for option one, even if there is a big queue. It’s worth the wait.

Once you are down at the port, hop aboard a sunset cruise. You can buy tickets for this in advance from one of the many tourist information centres that are scattered around the town. I opted for a sailing package that boasted a visit to the volcano, hot springs, an on board dinner and sunset views from a beautiful wooden boat, all for the price of €65. I fully bought into this vision, but little did I know that the expectation created by the promotional material and the reality of the cruise would be slightly out of kilter.

The guided hike up to the top of the volcano was interesting and the onboard dinner was good (especially as it included wine from one of the local Santorinian vineyards). However, when the boat pulled up to the “hot springs” I was informed that they hadn’t actually been hot for a couple of years. Ordinarily this would have been fine, but it was a cloudy day and a lukewarm “hot spring” didn’t sound particularly appealing. And as if this wasn’t enough, the clouds went on to completely obscure the sun later in the evening, pretty much undermining the whole “sunset” part of the cruise. This said, I would still recommend doing some form of cruise if you have the chance because it gives you the opportunity to chat to the other people on board and gaze out across the crystal blue Aegean Sea. On reflection I did have a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon aboard the boat, albeit not for the reasons that I would have expected.

Santorini boat cruise, photo: Wikimedia Commons, Gozitano

Saturday Evening 

Once the boat has dropped you back off at Thira’s port, you can take the cable car back up to the town centre. Alternatively, if you feel like you’ve overindulged a little and would like to burn off some calories you can take the stairs. All 552 of them. I’m not entirely sure if I would recommend this to anyone, and I was a sweaty mess by the time I reached the top. I did feel an immense sense of accomplishment as I looked back at the stairs, as well as heightened sense of sympathy for the donkeys.

Atlantis Books, photo: Olivia Gavoyannis

Sunday morning

Make the most of your last morning in Santorini by making a trip to Oia, another of the island’s charming ancient towns. Here I would encourage you to find Atlantis Books, a subterranean bookshop lined with floor-to-ceiling shelves of books. After entering the cave from one of the town’s bustling streets I was spellbound, and spent about half an hour silently poring over the enchanting selection of children’s books, foreign fiction, quirky travel literature and the books in the “philosophy tower” – a wooden tower displaying every type of philosophical book that I could have imagined. In addition to all of these paperbacks, the store also has hardback first editions of English-language classics that I ogled over for yet another ten minutes.

After dragging myself away from this literature student’s utopia, I wended my way through the streets towards the cliff edge to get a long awaited glimpse of the famous blue domes. After taking some pictures, try to find a cafe where you can order a frappe (my favourite variety of Greek iced coffee) and while away the end of a perfect weekend in Santorini by admiring the view; a comic tableau of cube buildings interspersed with tourists perching on various landmarks in order to get the perfect selfie.

Appreciating the view in Oia, photo: Olivia Gavoyannis                                            Featured photo: Sunset in Thira- Wikimedia Commons, Wolfgang Staudt


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