Steeped in sunshine and mythology, with its thousands of islands dotted around the Mediterranean, Greece is a firm bucket list destination. Each island has its own particular charm, but Santorini is undeniably the star of the show here; the tiny island on every Instagrammer’s travel wish list. A once circular island, now long and skinny after a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago, the sea is visible from almost anywhere on the island. Apart from the breathtaking view of the ocean, the island’s centre is not particularly Insta-worthy. The road winds around low, sloping fields of sun-scorched earth and scrubby shrubbery, past half constructed hotels and caves carved into the sides of the huge volcanic rock that lines the roadside. It is the east edge of the island that makes Santorini such a sought-after destination, where the sun-bleached buildings are stacked one above the other in staggered rows, clinging precariously to the cliffside. There are four main towns on Santorini, each one perched, postcard-pretty, overlooking the cobalt blue caldera. Fira is the bustling capital and the liveliest spot on the island for an evening out. The towns of Imerovigli and Firestofani are quieter but just as pretty, with luxury hotels nestled among seafood restaurants with breathtaking views. But the most popular and photogenic spot is Oia. Having seen so many heavily-filtered, over-edited Instagram posts, I was a little worried it wouldn’t live up to the hype. Luckily, this was one occasion where the hype was justified. Oia is literally like a picture in a glossy brochure. Impeccably clean, grey and white paved pathways snake down past luxury apartments, each one boasting its own little rectangle of turquoise water. The iconic blue domed churches are dotted about, interspersing the white buildings set against the deep cobalt blue of the ocean. Everything is white and bright, with dashes of pink bougainvillea that wraps itself prettily around everything. If you’ve got a day or 2 to spend in Oia, here are 5 things you must do!
1. Walk the 350 steps down (and back up!) to Ammoudi Bay
This teeny, tiny port is Santorini’s best kept secret and leads to the island’s best swimming spot. After walking through Oia’s main street you will find yourself near the castle ruins, at the top of a long flight of steps that will take you all the way down to a small cove with nothing but a few fishing boats and a handful of seafood restaurants. A rocky pathway leads around to a gorgeous swimming spot where the water is crystal clear. Spend a while swimming and leaping from the rocks if you’re brave enough, before heading over to Sunset Taverna for a seafood lunch with the prettiest view to fuel you for the walk back up the steps. (Just watch out for the donkeys on the way…)
2. Beat the sunset crowds
Everyone wants a piece of Oia, and it is quickly falling prey to its own popularity. The single path that leads up to the castle, and famed ‘sunset spot’, gets extremely crowded at dusk with hoards of tourists battling for a spot to watch the big, fiery ball descend into the ocean. Avoid the masses and watch the sunset in style at a rooftop restaurant. Skala has a direct view of the sunset from its rooftop terrace and the food is delicious and reasonably priced for Oia.
3. Sample Greek cuisine
I’m not ashamed to say I was most excited for the food when I visited Santorini. Greek food is delicious! Start the day with greek yoghurt and honey and grab a gyros stuffed with chicken and tzatziki for a filling afternoon snack. In the evening, begin with a greek salad and then opt for some fresh seafood pasta, washed down with a generous amount of Greek wine. Pair this with an Oia sunset and you’ve found paradise. If you’re still peckish after dinner, Milenio on the main street has a bakery underneath its restaurant which serves decadent slices of cake to take away.
4. Shop for souvenirs and visit the art galleries
Oia is the perfect place to pick up something pretty if you want to recreate the blue and white Santorini vibe back home. The main street is lined with shops selling decorative items, such as these lanterns, which would look gorgeous hanging in a garden. Remember to pick up a blue-eye trinket, to ward off the mati, or evil eye! These make great souvenirs, as does a box of Greek baklava for sweet-toothed family and friends. If you’re an art enthusiast, be sure to pop into the art galleries in Oia too, which are crammed full of pretty paintings of those blue domed roofs.
5. Get THAT Instagram photo
Oia is paradise for the snap-happy; countless pretty doorways, bougainvillea trees and those ocean views. Find your favourite, most photogenic spot and snap an envy-inducing photo for the gram.
EasyJet do direct flights to Santorini (Thira) from London!
Golden East Hotel, Imerovigli – This gorgeous hotel is located near the pretty town of Imerovigli and conveniently located a 10 minute drive from Fira and 15 minute drive from Oia. Arrange car or quad bike hire with Nataly, who will be happy to help!