Typically, I like planning vacations packed with activities and adventure, but this trip to Santorini was more about leisure and enjoying that #villalife. With airfare from the Bay Area to Greece so low, we had to act fast in booking the trip. After a day of researching Santorini to figure out where to stay, I was disappointed to find unclear information about the different locations on the island, so I took a gamble on Imerovigli based on one line I read somewhere, iconic whitewashed cliffside villas. This is exactly what I was had in mind for my visit. I wanted a relaxing villa with sweeping views, and slow European days filled with sun and casual plans. This was a very “grown up” trip for us. With that in mind, here are some things to do in Santorini.
Gorgeous whitewashed cliffside villas built nearly on top of each other with clean sloping lines and bursts of fuchsia bougainvilleas surrounded us. Our junior suite at Sunny Villas was a perfect romantic getaway for two. Our cave style suite was huge with perfect minimalist design. As an open floor plan the living area was spacious and opened to our private jetted tub and patio, where we enjoyed breakfast every morning with views of Skaros Rock and the Caldera. We usually don’t splurge on upgraded rooms, but in Santorini, the upgrade price was typical of most hotels, but the added amenities were unbeatable. Despite what you see here on the blog, we’re fairly private people and the private patio and jetted tub were completely worth the extra cost, never mind the huge room.
Aside from the wonderful experience we had with our hotel and all the staff, I would absolutely stay in Imerovigli again because it was quiet. There is nothing but hotels and restaurants in Imerovigli, so tourist groups are minimal and foot traffic moves quickly. In my opinion, this was the most romantic place to stay in Santorini, as the other popular locations are crowded.
Things to do
When people ask what we did in Santorini, it sounds pretty boring, walked a ton and enjoyed the sights. But I don’t think we were ever bored there. We really enjoyed it, and could have easily stayed another week. Our villa was situated nicely on the scenic walking path that leads directly to Fira, Skaros Rock and Oía. We walked the paths in Imerovigli and to Fira daily, catching the bus to Oía on two separate occasions. Another benefit of staying in Imerovigli was enjoying the peaceful atmosphere of the local area with only a 25 minute, downhill walk to the bustling area of Firostefani and Fira. Oía is larger, but isolated from other towns, and very crowded.
Here’s a zoomed in map of Imerovigli for anyone looking to enjoy the scenic path from the bus stop.
Directions are best given by landmarks as many roads are unmarked.
- The bus stop for Imerovigli is just called Imerovigli and with be announced by the driver and fare collector. The stop is based near a car rental parking lot. Follow the path on the map, you’ll pass a small mini mart on your right, and reach a cobblestone roundabout where shuttles often park in front of La Maltese Estate. Continue past the Estate to some stairs that descend towards the cliff. There was an open construction area on the right. Continue down the stairs and look for Mezzo restaurant on your right. As you pass Mezzo, about 50 feet on the left, you’ll see a sign for Sunny Villas, continue past this until you see a juice bar on the right, next to Blue Note.
- Here you can continue straight to Firostefani (15 mins) and Fira (25 mins, 10 mins from Firostefani).
- Or you can go down the stairs on the right, this will take you along a path where there are great views of the sunset and beautiful white cave villas.
- You’ll also come to stairs on the left path of the fork past the lower entrance to Mezzo that will lead you to Skaros rock.
I recommend taking all the paths and seeing everything, but in the order of the white villas scenery, then Skaros Rock, then Firostefani, and Fira. Though the path is not even everywhere, and the hills are tough after a while, this route will lead you more downhill, instead of backtracking uphill.
While there are catamaran tours that will take you around the island and to the volcano for swimming in the hot springs, we passed simply because it was a lot of stopping at various sites, swimming for 20 minutes and moving on. The sunset is another huge deal for tourists, coming from the west coast, and being spoiled with the San Diego sunsets and Hawaii sunsets, we did not plan a lot of sightseeing to optimize our view of the sunset.
The map below lists the places we did go and things, mostly restaurants, to check out there. I’m only listing places that I whole heartedly recommend. So instead of finding synonyms to express my satisfaction, just know that everything list was great, delicious, and/or an incredible experience!
This is very popular and crowded. The best time to explore is in the morning before it gets really crowded, then taking the bus down to Imerovigli in the afternoon around 12. If you are in Oía in the afternoon, try to stay for the sunset, though, I think it’s great from Mezzo or near Astra Suites on the walking path in Imerovigli. Also walk down the, long and difficult staircase to Ammoudi. The fresh seafood is worth the hassle!
- Skiza Pizzeria Cafe– Oía. This tiny cafe is a hidden gem. With a full menu and pastries case, the breakfast and bunch options are incredibly tempting, but it’s the view that will keep you. I loved this spot as a small break from the the busy paths of Oía.
- Ammoudi Bay- Bottom of the cliffs below Oía. Using the rocky stair case in Oía, you can walk down the cliff to Ammoudi to enjoy lunch and get closer to the crystal blue water. The stair case is also where to see the famed Santorini donkeys (you can also see them in Fira, but here you’ll also get to try the places below, so two birds, one stone.) There are plenty of restaurants in Ammoudi Bay, but we only had the pleasure of trying one and it was everything we wanted.
- Ammoudi Fish Tavern– The freshest seafood anywhere! With open air seating over the water, and white linen service, the hassle of walking down the stairs was worth it. To get back up, you can take a donkey, or ask your server to call you a cab. For two people to the Oía bus terminal, it was 10 euro.
- Anogi– Traditional Greek dishes, with a home cooked feel. The service and the food were exceptional. There was a line nightly, but the owner is incredibly accommodating, and the servers we so pleasant and knowledgeable. I highly recommend the tomato fritters and the white fish roe salad, which is more like a spread, and tastes subtly like smoked caviar. I can’t recommend this restaurant enough! Though there is no view, the food had us coming back for our last meal. Causal.
- Aegeon– Fine dining with a modern take on Greek dishes, this upscale restaurant has a beautiful view of the whitewashed houses at dusk. Our mistake was coming on a half empty stomach, so we ordered and shared a couple appetizers, salad, and an entree. The food was delicious, and I’m sure the other entrees were tasty. Dressy, view below.
- Mezzo– Another fine dining location with an incredible, unobstructed sunset view. If you are coming for the sunset, be sure to make reservations because the side seats are reserved at all times, even when capacity is light, though it was easy to get a table without a wait walking in. The food is also a modern take on traditional Greek dishes. Dressy, view below.
- Why Not!– Great gyros! Gyros were made fast and fresh. This totally hit the spot for our gyro craving without costing us too much sightseeing time. Casual.
- Vanilia– We didn’t get to check this place out, but their view and menu looked fabulous. If you have a dinner to spare, you might want to check them out. Dressy. (The restaurant below is La Maison, near Vanilia)
- Cesare Ristorante– A cute rooftop patio restaurant (with shade coverings) just above the busy alleys in Fira, Cesare has standard greek fare. The service and food were unfussy, and perfect for a lunch break.
- Zatos Gelato– A huge selection of creamy gelato. For non coffee drinkers, gelato was the perfect cold, sweet treat. For coffee drinkers, try a cappuccino or espresso freddo.
- Bus Terminal- The main bus terminal for the island is located in Fira, so if you’re coming from Oía, and you want to go to Akrotiri, you’ll need to transfer here. The buses are charter buses with storage below, and are air conditioned, so long as the driver has it on. Buses tend to leave the terminal on time, however with slow ATVs and tight land roads, they may not arrive at the destination on time, so if you are waiting for a bus, it may be 20 minutes late. Obviously, don’t count on that, but do plan for that if you have reservations.
- Cable car to the bottom of the cliff- You can take a gondola style cable car to the bottom of the stairs, much like in Oía. There are also donkeys here.
- Akrotiri Ruins- Bronze age ruins preserved by the volcano. Just be sure to check for Greek bank holidays because they close.
- Red Sand Beach- Red cliffs, swimming and sun bathing is not permitted, but people do it at their own risk.
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