Recently returned from our first trip to Greece, and figured we’d write down what we learned along the way in case it is helpful to anyone. We are a couple in our early 30s with some previous European travel experience. We are semi-budget travelers meaning that we don’t do hostels, but we try to keep things fairly modest. On our trips, we enjoy archeology, food, photography, and culture, and care less about nightlife and shopping. Here is an overview of the things we learned on our first stop (Santorini island):
GETTING THERE: We would’ve liked to end our trip with a relaxing island stay to decompress after several days of sightseeing, but we were warned that there is always a risk of wind/weather causing delayed or cancelled flights/boats back to the mainland, which could in turn cause a person to miss their flight back to the US if the islands are your last stop. So we heeded the advice posted on this forum and headed immediately out to our furthest island destination upon touching down in Greece, then gradually island-hopped our way back to Athens on Blue Star ferries before starting our mainland vacation. We opted to fly in order to maximize our available time for actual vacationing...we hadn't realized until we started our research that the most reliable ferry out to Santorini takes 8 hours, which would have meant spending almost a whole day after our arrival on additional travel! So - although there can be cheap flights depending on the time of year/time of day - we ended up paying nearly $200 p.p. to fly on Aegean Air in the prime of the day on a flexible-fare ticket (meaning we'd be able to change our ticket if our flight from the US was for some reason delayed). This cut the trip down to 45 minutes! Since we had to leave a few hours cushion between touching down in Athens and leaving for Santorini, this strategy only added a few hours to our overall US-to-Greece travel day and felt like a good choice. We didn't find that other airlines had cheaper prices than Aegean for our particular itinerary. We did learn the hard way that - unlike airfare to and from the US (the only airfare we have ever purchased), domestic flights within Europe are charged in euros, so your credit card will be charged a foreign transaction fee unless you have a card that waives such fees. The plane from Athens to Santorini was a reasonable size (three seats on each side of the aisle, not one of those tiny planes). We spent about three days here, which felt fine. Wouldn’t have minded another day, but we felt like we got to see what we wanted to see. If you arrive by cruise ship, be aware that you’ll have to go up a STEEP hill from the port – either via switchbacks (covered in donkey doo) or paying to ride the gondola. Donkeys are available to ride, but I’ve heard most people discourage this due to the treatment of the donkeys.
UPON ARRIVAL: Though there is public transportation available, this requires a transfer if you are headed all the way to Oia, and we didn't trust ourselves to be coherent enough to navigate this after being on the road for 24 hrs, so we opted for a shuttle (cheaper than a taxi for just 2 people). Santorinishuttle.com was 5 euro cheaper than all the other shuttle services we checked (I think 25 euro total?) and worked well. If you are staying in Fira, a bus from the airport might not be totally out of the question, but you would need to have small change on hand for the fare.
WHERE TO STAY:
- Oia: Situated on the northern tip of the island, this is the area with the perfectly white-washed buildings and blue domes that you see in all the postcards of Santorini. The upside is that it is the most visually stunning town on the island. The downside is that it is crazy expensive and also gets extremely crowded with cruise-ship day-trippers during the day.