I wish I could have stayed in this beautiful country forever, sailing from island to island, floating in the beautiful water, soaking up the sun on the jetblack sand, eating gyros until my stomach hurt and burning my throat on flaming shots of alcohol. Greece is one of those places you hear about in movies and can only picture in your wildest dreams.
Once again, you will be given different advice on which islands to go to and how long to spend on each one. All I can do is share what I did and show you the brilliant time I had. When a couple friends and I booked Santorini for eight nights everyone thought we were crazy, told us it was way too long and we would get bored easily with nothing to do. We were pleasantly surprised at how much fun we really had and, to be honest, I think eight nights is a perfect amount of time to spend in Santorini!
We stayed at Villa Fotini; as there were three of us we opted for the apartment with air conditioning and a mini kitchen with a fridge to make the week worthwhile. We wanted to stay as close to the Caldera as possible, but still in walking distance of the main town of Fira. Villa Fotini is a fifteen minute walk from the centre of Fira town and just twenty metres back from the Caldera but far enough away to avoid most tourists. Maria and her family are simply gorgeous and they will take you in as part of the family, not just as a regular guest. Enjoy a yummy free breakfast with freshly squeezed orange juice each morning and be spoiled by the fantastic views from the terrace or enjoy the sunshine from the privacy of your balcony. A double room will cost $AUD120 (€84) and a triple room $AUD128 (€90) during the busy summer in Santorini.
The photographs you see of the Caldera don’t do it justice; the view is so spectacular and breathtaking that it’s hard to believe it exists. Walking down from our apartment we passed a restaurant surrounded with nothing but houses called ‘The Flame on the Volcano’. The owner is absolutely hilarious and his humour and kindness will make you want to come back. He’s half American and half Italian but married into a Greek family, so he shows his huge love of food to everyone who sits down. His restaurant has a brilliant view of the Caldera, especially for the sunset. The cuisine is delicious traditional Greek food, very well priced for its location and you will never leave on an empty stomach because he won’t let you.
There are many beaches in Santorini and regular local buses leave for them from the centre of Fira. Take the journey to Kamari Beach, which is one of the smaller beautiful beaches with black sand and cabana style umbrellas. It costs only €10 for three lounge chairs and an umbrella for three hours, which is recommended as the black sand is way too hot to lay directly on.
Perissa Beach: a much larger black sand beach where only five euro will get you a sunbed with an umbrella for the whole day. Perissa isn’t just a simple beach – it’s filled with plenty of tourists, loud music coming from the beach clubs and hot waiters walking around offering drinks and food. But it’s so beautiful and lots of fun! After your skin begins to turn pink and your feet begin to blister from the black sand head inside one of the many beach clubs such as Jo Jo’s for a cold drink an ice cream and, if you’re lucky, a dip in one of their pools.
Red/White/Black Beach: once you take the bus to Red Beach you have the option of the twenty minute walk up the steep hill or a small fee to take the speed boat to all three beaches. They leave regularly and with the one ticket you can hop on and off the boat as you please between the small red, white and black sand beaches.
Take a day trip to the beautiful Oia (pronounced Ee-a!) and hire quad bikes or motorbikes to take the journey there. Be careful on the windy roads and steep cliffs as you make your way to Oia because the 25-30 minute drive can be stressful if you’re in the way of big cars and fearing to fall of the cliff. Just be mindful of other drivers and even if they honk you don’t be afraid to drive as slow as you need to on the sharp bends. If you do not wish to take this adventurous route you can also take the short trip on the local bus – the bus stop is across the road from Villa Fontini. Alternatively, a ten kilometre walking track between Oia and Fira is a tough but rewarding way to get some amazing photos of the Caldera. The main beach in Oia is spectacular and the water crystal clear. We went cliff jumping and for short hikes up a couple of the hills. Order fresh smoothies from one of the cafes on top of the hill and enjoy the view of the water or find a poolside bar to witness the famous Oia sunset.
Nightlife in Santorini is highly underrated. We were told that we wouldn’t like staying in Santorini for so long because we would get bored by the lack of things to do. We soon discovered that Santorini actually has a very hectic nightlife, clearly not as big as Ios or Mykonos, but very enjoyable all the same. There are some great bars with loud 90s music and cheap cocktails. Head to a few of the rock and roll bars like Tithora for a very fun night of dancing on the bar, head banging to brilliant music and trying different concoctions of drinks the bartenders make up for you.
Take the 1.5 hour ferry from Santorini to Ios for approximately €13, depending on the ferry company. It’s easier to either rock up to the port on the day and take the next ferry or ask your hostel staff to help book your ticket as a lot of the online bookings can be confusing. Be prepared for the wild nights on the party island of Ios. When staying in Ios you really only have two main options for accommodation and both will result in completely different experiences.
Francesco’s: at Francesco’s you have lovely rooms with air conditioning that are cleaned daily, cheap meals on the terrace – just picture egg, bacon, cheese and tomato toasties, yum! – free WiFi, a small, clean pool area where it’s lovely to soak up the sun on the lounges and the chance to meet the brilliant Francesco himself. Francesco’s is located in the centre of town, quiet enough to get a much needed sleep in yet close enough to walk to and from the main clubs each night. Someone from the hostel will meet you the second you arrive at the port and take you up directly to the reception to get checked in. Take the short bus to Far Out Beach Club for their hectic parties such as the wet t-shirt contest or Australia Day party, but have the chance to come back into town after swimming in possibly infested pools full of naked people. If you’re in a small group of three or four people, you will be blessed with a private room and ensuite for $AUD52 (€36) per person and if you’re a solo traveller you can find a bed in one of their many small dorm rooms for $AUD30 (€21). Rooms at Francesco’s book out incredibly fast so get in quickly to make the most of your stay in Ios and avoid disappointment. Also remember that though these prices sound steeper than what I normally suggest here, accommodation in Greece, particularly in peak season, is generally more expensive than in other parts of Europe
Far Out Beach Club: the non-stop party life is great for some, and the party will never stop here. Far Out is a fifteen minute bus ride from the town and is directly across the road from the main beach, where you may prefer to lay on the sand instead of being at the loud pool area, tennis and basketball courts and drunken activities. Far Out Beach Club has a range of accommodation such as tents, bungalows and hotel-style rooms. Two large pools, a massive dance floor and a large bar take up the whole front of the club so it really is great for day parties such as the ones I mentioned above. You have the option to stay in a Bed Tent fitting two, three or four people for $AUD20-$29 (€14-€20), a double, triple or quadriple ensuite room for $AUD114-$172 (€80-€120) and a standard tent for $AUD26-$37 (€18-€26). For exact information in more detail on each of the accommodation options head to www.faroutclub.com.
I preferred Francesco’s; don’t get me wrong I’ve stayed in revolting places before and loved it. But having the opportunity for air conditioning and clean rooms in 40 degree heat and being in the centre of everything while having the option to head to Far Out Beach Club for the day to enjoy the parties – I’d choose the option of Francesco’s. Remember, it’s easier to take a bus to the beach during the day than having to find your way back home after a big night!
Ios is absolutely incredible, and after five nights of non-stop partying and wicked drinking habits you’ll be exhausted, but it’s all worth it. The nightlife won’t start to pick up until around 2:00 a.m. and when it starts to pick up it goes all out. The streets are flooded with people and the clubs and bars full to the brim. Promoters along the street will convince you with very cheap drink specials to come inside. The ‘free shots’ they give you hardly have any alcohol in it, so don’t be fooled by them. Places like Rehab, Disco 69 and Sweet Irish Bar are open all night for you to enjoy great people, great music and great drink specials.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself staggering home in broad daylight the next morning, makeup down your face and hair frizzed out! Girls, you’ll be happy to know your heels won’t be in your hands (because you won’t be wearing any!), which will result in no glass in your feet. Enjoy the crepes and gyros being sold along the main roads, and a major benefit of staying at Francesco’s is that you’ll come home to a clean bed and a soundless sleep. The nightlife in Ios is completely unexpected and highly enjoyable; save your resting for the late afternoon by the pool or in Santorini and enjoy the fabulous nights out while you can.
If you’re not feeling up to your daily dosage of gyros in Ios, I can recommend two places to have a bite to eat for dinner or lunch. Thai Smiles in the centre of town serves Thai food and is open till the wee hours of the morning and Harmony brings you a Mexican feast and is located on a hill towards Far Out Beach Club – make sure you go here for dinner to sit on the terrace and watch the sunset over the beach as you scoff down lots of food. Both aren’t Greek but the food is DELICIOUS! After eating traditional Greek food in Santorini, finding these two places were a treat and I’m definitely not the only one who will recommend them.
If you feel like an afternoon treat, head along to the quiet streets surrounding The Crazy Cakehole for a huge list of yummy cocktails and homemade cupcakes, with a daily selection changing from Mars Bar, Twix, Oreo, white chocolate, red velvet and many more. It’s hard to find but please make sure you take the time to enjoy a moment there. The owner is absolutely lovely and a great lady to have a chat with over a cocktail.
Ios also has surprisingly good shopping and the jewellery especially stands out; the 925 good quality silver is easy to spot. Cute little boutiques line the main streets and the side alleys hold even more amazing shops. I bought many earrings, rings and a necklace for reasonable prices from a few different places and they are beautiful! The prices aren’t as bad as what you would expect, but be prepared for astonishing prices in some of the large boutiques.
You can travel by ferry from Ios to Mykonos for €28 but be warned: the five and a half hour ferry ride is not for the faint hearted. Of course there are quicker options of two hours on a rapid ferry, but they’re much more expensive and if you’re spending some extra cash on the islands themselves it is advised to save money on transport.
When staying in Mykonos, you can either choose to stay by Paraga Beach or Paradise Beach. I was told that Paradise beach had the bigger parties but only ten minutes away was the quieter Paraga Beach and many of my friends told me to take the second option. We stayed at Paraga Beach Hostel for $AUD31 (€21) in their wooden hut dorm rooms and you can also choose to stay in one of the many bungalows for $AUD43 (€30) a night during the busy period or tent rental with beds for $AUD36 (€25). You will feel like you’re on school camp with the communal bathrooms and eating area. The pool at the hostel is gorgeous, so you can relax there with beautiful beach views or be by the beach and turquoise water to play on the rocks and listen to the loud music in the distance.
Paradise Beach Resort offers everything from camping to luxury rooms, so you are welcome to spend as much or as little as you like. LTG’s Olivia chose a single room for €30 and went for luxury one night in a €60 single room with air conditioning and a private bathroom (she will never admit that she booked this as a mistake). Both were adequate but try to request a bungalow with shade or you may roast. Be advised: while staying there gives you walking distance access to Tropicana Club (the day club hub for American and Italian tourists) and Paradise Beach Club, you are left with few options for food and drinks aside from the expensive shops along the beach. It’s a great atmosphere, but it’s an expensive few days. Beach lounges cost only €5 for the day and gyros are €5 as well, so it is possible to live on a budget if you like souvlaki!
Break free from the convenience of Paradise Beach Resort and head out for a night in Mykonos town for cheap shots and dancing on bars. Bars like Skandinavian Bar are good fun and always packed! Many people forget to leave the comfort of Paradise or Paraga, but the bus travels regularly between the town and the resorts, so try to take advantage of the beautiful island’s sights and food.
I only went to the three islands of Santorini, Ios and Mykonos before taking the plane back to Athens and onto my next adventure. Later in my travels I had heard of many other islands to visit, the less touristy ones that had something else to offer. LTG editor Olivia went to the island of Crete and this is what she had to say:
“Crete is a big island, one that I barely touched in my four days there. Being an archaeology nerd, I went there with a specific goal: to see Knossos and the archaeological museum. Getting to Crete is surprisingly easy and you have two choices: a three-hour ferry ride from Santorini or a terrifying twenty-minute plane ride in a tiny plane. Check out both options, because the flight ended up being the cheaper and more convenient option for me. Arriving at Heraklion airport, I made my way to the bus station and took what turned out to be a 1.5-hour bus to Rethymno (note to self: check distances before booking hostels, turns out it’s a completely different town) and to Rethymno Youth Hostel (€10 per night). This turned out to be a fantastic decision. Rethymno is a student town with great ice cream, cheap food and a crazy nightlife. The hostel is run by a vibrant Serbian man who loves doling out travel advice and shots of Greek ethanol. They even have bunks outside for those hot Greek nights. What can you do in Crete? Take a bus to visit Knossos, the ancient palace of the Minoans and home of the mythical Minotaur. Visit the Heraklion archaeological museum to see the stunning preserved wall art from the museum. Visit the amazing Crete beaches that seems to go on forever. Hike the Samaria Gorge. Please note that the bus system in Crete is very reliable by European standards, so most of these activities were easily done! It’s a pretty amazing island and one that is far less touristy than the rest of Greece, so enjoy cheaper prices and more room to move. When I head back, I’ll be hitting up Chania, Agios Nikolaos and Malia. I’ve heard nothing but good things!”
The easiest way to get to and from and around the Greek Islands is starting in Athens and taking a plane to either Santorini or Mykonos as they both have small airports. Ferries also run between Athens and the islands, but a ferry to Mykonos is a seven hour journey. From one of those islands take the ferry in between and then fly again back to Athens. It’s the most direct route and if you plan ahead with your flights you will be surprised by how cheap it can be with the budget airlines. The ferries between each island can be extremely cheap if you find a good deal and as mentioned earlier it will be easier for you to book once already there at the port, as booking via websites they will bump up the prices.
Many will advise you not to stay in Athens, but for those with a burning passion to see the Parthenon, make sure to book a room at City Circus for $AUD40 (€27) per night for a six bed dorm. Olivia names it as one of the best hostels of her trip. It is conveniently located in a creepily deserted street (don’t worry, it has great security) that is close to an oasis of amazing food and crafts shops, the metro that takes you straight to the port and has a rooftop terrace with Parthenon views. Sit and read your book while sipping on one of their amazing €5 cocktails before you head out to one of the many rooftop bars for night views. Don’t let anyone scare you off Athens, but realistically one or two nights is plenty.
A word of advice when planning your trip to Greece, is to prebook your accommodation, especially in the peak seasons. Greece is constantly filled with tourists and everyone I’ve spoken to has booked their trip here in advance to avoid disappointment. On most of the islands there are standouts where everyone wants to stay, so if you really want to boost your experience this is the only country I will tell you to plan well ahead. I adored Greece and can’t wait until I can go back again. The Greeks are lovely and so friendly, the weather is beautiful and the sights and beaches are spectacular.