Why The 2 Idiots recommend exploring Santorini
Of all the places we visited on our 9-month journey around the world, both of us feel Santorini deserves to be on our top 10 list. You’ve seen the iconic pictures — awe-inspiring how they built the city into the mountain — and it’s everything you have ever imagined. Actually, even more so for Natasha – she ranked Santorini as her top experience during our world sabbatical.
Santorini is located on the edge of the ancient crater, which sank into the sea – all that was left was the mountaintops appearing as separate islands in which homes and businesses are built. The volcano, which originally formed the island of Thera, violently erupted in 1600 B.C. and is considered one of the largest eruptions witnessed by man. It’s a fascinating history and has left the island awash in different colors from the ash and lava. At the top of the island is the white, while at the bottom are black-sand beaches that followed years of erosion of hardened lava. As you stand at the top, you can see the outline of the volcano’s crater in the bluer-than-blue sea. Mesmerizing!
CREATING AN IDEAL ITINERARY
Santorini is located in Greece. Our ship spent 12 hours in port, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and with this much time you can easily enjoy the island. Skip any expensive excursion offered and follow our recommended itinerary. While we typically like to get a more relaxed and later start, we suggest leaving the ship by 8:30 a.m. The port is too small for a cruise ship, so you’ll have to take a tender to the docks, so leaving early lessens your wait times and gives you more time to see this beautiful island. We returned to the ship between 5 and 5:30 p.m.
Your visit to Santorini will be long, and it’s difficult to get between places on your own. Negotiating with a taxi driver for so many stops will be more challenging, so we recommend hiring private transportation with a driver who can also serve as an English-speaking tour guide. (This is common on the island.) You should hire your transportation before you arrive, and have an agreed-upon itinerary of sites you want to see when you book.
An added bonus: The driver can take family photographs for you at scenic stops along the route – the entire island is all about taking pictures. Be back at the cable car by 5:30 to ensure you have enough time to get back to the ship via the tender.
|Take a cable car to the top of Santorini (€6 one-way for adults, €3 Euro for children; get a return ticket)|
Drive to Oia and visit the Byzantine Castle ruins and the Church of Panagia
Drive to Three Bells of Fira
Drive to Perissa Black Sand Beach and enjoy lunch and the beach
Drive to Santos Winery and sample the wines (€63 Euro for six wine flight and food tasting for two adults)
Take the cable car back to your tender
Take Iconic Photos in Oia
8:30 – 9 a.m.: To get from the marina to the top of the island and the capital city of Fira, you have the choice of taking stairs or taking a cable car. Don’t waste your valuable time climbing the rock stairs in the Greek heat with a child: take the cable car. It’s the fastest way to the top, although very steep for anyone like Natasha who has a fear of heights. (If the wind is blowing, the cable car moves.) However, the cable car offers fantastic views.
9 – 9:30 a.m.: Once at the top, where your driver awaits, drive to the city of Oia (pronounced eee-a) just 30 minutes away, so you can walk around and explore early in the morning, before it gets too crowded and hot. Located along the Aegean Sea, the town is carved into the hillside of the island, complete with the whitewashed houses you have dreamed of when imaging the Greek Isles. It’s very touristy but so pretty with lots of shops, hotels and restaurants. There are some steps you may have to go up and down, but sometimes our driver would stay with our son as we went up for a peak.
9:30 a.m. – noon: The most iconic view is of the entire island, particularly from the ruins of the Byzantine Castle. The former hilltop ruins provide views of the city and the city of Oia, so it’s an ideal spot to take photographs, as well as let your child run. In the main square is the Church of Panagia, also from the Byzantine era, which makes another lovely picture stop. The crowds will be worse near the cable car, so if you would like a souvenir, this is the place to pick one up. While you are shopping, also visit the Mnomossyne Gallery, which is owned by a local artist selling amazing jewelry.
Noon – 12:30 p.m.: After shopping and taking as many photographs as you possibly can before you exhaust your child, have your driver next take you back to Fira (30 minutes). Here, you will find the Three Bells of Fira, officially the Catholic Church of Koimisi Tis Theotokou. This is the most famous of the photographed churches on the island – white church, blue dome and an incredible view of the sea. Here, the best photo is from the top, with the church and the sea spread out behind you.
Enjoy a Black-Sand Beach
12:30 – 3:30 p.m.: After you have snagged even more photos, head to Perissa Black Sand Beach. This is where we suggest you have lunch, now that you’ll be away from the crowds of tourists all aiming their cameras in the same direction. You’ll drive just a half an hour to the sleepy seaside village, where there are many choices for lunch, serving up fresh seafood from the Aegean Sea just in front of them. You can sit right outside with the views, and once you are done eating, just enjoy the beach– the restaurants provide umbrellas and chairs to their customers, so you can have shade and comfy chairs during your visit. The water was calm and easy to enjoy with small children, and it was very easy to relax in Perissa.
Sample Greek Wines
3:30 – 5 p.m.: By now, your child should be ready for a nap, as our son was. We were back in the car and heading to a winery when our son fell asleep, which made our last stop especially easy. Our guide was a mother and suggested we enjoy the winery while our son slept in the car with her watching him; she could come and get us if anything happened — amazing! We ended up having an unplanned mini-date in Santorini!We visited the Santos Winery, which offered more outstanding views and a wine flight with six different – and delicious – wines. (A bit too much because they were heavy pours!) The view in itself is worth a visit to this winery, with outdoor seating looking across the island and the sea.
After your visit, make your way about to the city to catch the cable car down to meet your tender. Traffic is typically heavy, so give yourself time, but don’t panic and attempt to leave too early, as it seems most cruise passengers seemed to do this and created more lines. If you wait for the later tenders, you won’t have to wait as long, and get more time on the island. Don’t forget to look back as you depart and catch a parting, sunset shot of the island!
- You are going to be spending a lot of time in the car on Santorini – it’s much bigger than you think! Have enough snacks, diapers, milk, toys and devices for your child to help break up the drives. A car seat is not required on the island, and we chose not to use one. The speeds are very slow on the island, and we didn’t feel our son was unsafe. (See our article on Traveling in a Car With Your Child.)
- Take your bathing suits and a towel or two so you can go into the sea while visiting the beach. You can leave it in the taxi you’ve arranged for the day while visiting other sites.
- It is extremely hot on Santorini. Make sure you have sunscreen, hats and plenty of water. If you can, bring a small fan.Bring a good stroller, as there is a lot of walking in Oia.
- Don’t take an excursion or cruise shuttles, you can do this day on your own. Read How to Do a Cruise Excursion on Your Own.
- Because the ship cannot dock in Santorini and requires a tender, if water conditions are bad, your ship could cancel the cruise stop here.
- Once you have tendered to the island, you’ll need to ride a cable car up to the top of the island. Lines are especially long trying to get back to the ship in the afternoon. Most people tried to return between 1 and 3 p.m. and were stuck in long lines, whereas we waited until 5:30 p.m. and stood in a 10-minute line.
- Be aware of what time the last tender is, and plan to be back at the ship an hour before the time they provided, to give yourself wiggle room for traffic delays.
- Not only is traffic bad at the cable car, but on the entire island. Leave wiggle room in your itinerary to get back to the tender with enough time to return to your ship. Having a good data plan can help you adjust by keeping an eye on Google Maps to see if you should reroute or skip an area.
- Restrooms can be found around the island, but you may need to pay to get into them. Be sure to carry some Euro coins with you, just for the restrooms.
- The pictures you take here are going to be Instagram-worthy. Wear bold, bright colors that will really pop in the pictures.