The insider advice on this page is from one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Greece: Christos Stergiou of TrueGreece.
Christos grew up in Athens and on the island of Patmos, earned an MBA from Stanford, then returned home in 2005 to launch a company that would deliver authentic experiences of his homeland. He’s a good choice for couples seeking a romantic escape (imagine excursions such as a private catamaran to a remote beach); foodies looking for culinary experiences (cooking classes, wine tastings); and history buffs seeking uber-knowledgeable local guides to accompany them to the ruins in Athens, Delphi, and beyond and breathe life into all those ancient stones. Christos can steer you toward the more peaceful parts of the well-known islands that are bombarded by cruise-ship crowds (e.g., Santorini, Mykonos) and introduce you to the idyllic less-touristed islands. He’s got the clout to reserve the best rooms in the small boutique hotels that he favors, a network of private cars and drivers to ensure ease of transportation, and on-the-ground staff who act as your personal concierge round the clock.
What to See and Do
Pyrgos. Once Santorini’s capital, Pyrgos has panoramic views of the island and the sea and a wonderful authentic flavor. It’s also home to more than 30 churches and has the island’s most impressive Greek Orthodox Easter celebrations (visitors welcome!).
Thirasia, a quaint little island a few miles off Santorini’s west coast. The two islands were part of the same landmass until the massive volcanic eruption in the late Bronze Age separated them; when you take a boat to Thirasia (it’s an easy day-trip) you’ll actually be crossing the sea-filled crater. Once there, you’ll see what Santorini was like many years ago: a peaceful island with few permanent inhabitants, donkeys, and some simple taverns, both by the water and up in the village.
Staying in Fira. It has the largest variety of shopping and dining options on the island, but it’s the most heavily trafficked area of Santorini, and its narrow alleyways easily become congested, especially during the peak months of July and August. Have a meal or two in Fira, but base yourself elsewhere on the island.
The prehistoric settlement of Akrotiri should be on every visitor’s list—but rarely is. It’s one of the most important prehistoric settlements in all of Greece and sometimes called the Pompeii of the Aegean, since Akrotiri was buried under massive layers of volcanic ash for thousands of years until excavations starting bringing the settlement back to life. It’s well worth the small price!
Where to Stay and Eat
Best bang-for-your-buck hotel
The cliffside Astra Suites has always been a favorite places to stay; the property offers a variety of room types from studios to private pool suites.
Restaurant the locals love
Move away from the caldera for Metaxy Mas, a traditional Greek taverna located in Exo Gonia, almost in the center of the island. Come hungry and enjoy Greek dishes and specialties from Santorini and Crete. Some of the house specialties include pomegranate salad, fried feta cheese with honey and sesame, and veal filet in vin santo sauce (vin santo is a traditional Santorini variety of wine).
Fava with lemon is the traditional recipe all over Santorini. Fava, a puree made from chickpeas, as well as the other Santorini staple, tomato fritters, can be found on appetizer menus in many tavernas and restaurants, but at Selene, in Pyrgos, you can try both in one dish.
Meal worth the splurge
For an upscale dining experience, book a table on the clifftop terrace at Ambrosia in Oia. Or try some fresh fish in one of the tavernas on the water in Ammoudi (the bay below Oia). Dimitris Ammoudi, Sunset, and Katina are all fabulous.
Prime picnic spot
The faros (Greek for lighthouse) on the southwestern tip of the island, right next to Akrotiri. While you cannot enter the lighthouse itself, the spot where it is located offers panoramic views of the caldera all the way up to Oia, Nea Kameni, and Thirasia. Come for sunset, perhaps after a day spent on the beaches close by!
May. The weather is warm but not hot, and hotel rates are more competitive than during the summer. What’s more, the crowds are thinner in May, which has the added benefit of ensuring the service will also be better (during the hectic summer months, service suffers).
August, when both temperatures and hotel rates are at their peak.
December to March, when most hotels, restaurants and shops are closed. Santorini’s natural beauty may not change throughout the year, but in those winter months, you won’t get to experience the true island atmosphere.
Never leaving the cliffs of the famous caldera. The four towns on the edge of the caldera—Fira, Firostefani, Oia, Imerovigli—draw most of the visitors, but there’s so much more to see on the island. Head to the lovely, smaller villages of Pyrgos or Megalohori, sample the beaches on the eastern side of the island, or visit one of the local wineries scattered throughout Santorini to learn about the unique way in which wine has been produced on Santorini’s volcanic soil since ancient times.
Tipping in Greece is sometimes expected, but it’s never required. It’s seen as a gesture of thanks for prompt and attentive service, and you are the judge of whether it’s warranted, but there are a few guidelines to keep in mind. When you take a taxi, it is usually enough to round up to the next euro. At upscale restaurants, a tip of 10 to 15 percent is standard. At tavernas, it’s customary to leave 2 euros on the table; at a café, from 50 cents to 2 euros. In hotels, luggage handlers usually get 5 euros, and on island hotels, guests typically leave 10 euros per day for maids, servers, and other hotel staff at the end of their stay. Alternatively, for a stay of three or four days, guests might leave 50 euros for all hotel staff to share, while tipping porters separately. As for tour guides, drivers, and boat captains, the tipping protocol can be a little complicated.