When it comes to Greek islands, Santorini is the grandest stage of them all. The place is instantly recognisable worldwide with its multicoloured cliffs, which soar out of a sea-drowned volcanic crater, topped by whitewashed buildings.
With its reputation for stunning panoramas, volcanic-sand beaches and sunsets, it is hardly a surprise that Santorini features on so many holidaymakers bucket lists. It was certainly mine before I travelled there across from Athens in late September 2021. There’s no disputing the uniqueness of this place or its colossal allure.
If you are lucky enough to travel to the island, then you are in for a whirl of a time. If you are a single man like me, you may think you are out of place as the island has a reputation for being known as a love island. But, I am here to tell you that Santorini is not just a love island, and there is plenty for those who are single or travelling with a group of friends that can enjoy the place without feeling uneasy about not having a partner with them.
When I arrived in Athens, I hadn’t decided on whether I wanted to visit Santorini. I kept hearing from people that had been there about how romantic the place was. My cousin said to me, who is married, “It’s a place for couples to go on a honeymoon. Not a place for you to explore. Head over there when you get married.” That was ringing in my ear when I was contemplating visiting.
The landscape of Santorini caused by a volcanic eruption
I then spoke to Kat, who I met in Athens, and she said, “It’s not just for couples! I’ve been over plenty of times, and I’m single. You can enjoy the surroundings and soak up the atmosphere. Go over, trust me!” With that said, I decided to check out the island for myself.
Santorini is part of the Cyclades island group. The island sits in the Aegean Sea, roughly halfway between Athens and Crete. Thousands of years ago, an enormous volcanic eruption caused the centre of Strongili to descend, leaving a caldera (or crater) with towering cliffs along the east side. This is now Santorini’s trademark landscape.
What can you do whilst you are on the island? If you are on a romantic visit, then I am sure you will want to relax, catch the stunning Santorini views, and enjoy the ambience of the restaurants and bars that are on offer. But, if you aren’t on a romantic getaway, there is plenty to explore.
Gina, the receptionist at my villa, suggested walking the caldera edge and admire the beautiful views. She said, “Walking from Oia to Fira or vice versa is sensational. You will love it, and I am sure you will get some incredible photos.” However, be aware that this isn’t a gentle stroll. It’s about 5.6 miles and a good three-hour walk one way. My suggestions will be to take enough water and make plenty of stops along the way.
Some activities in Santorini
There are also plenty of tours you can do. You can find dozens of agencies ready to help you with winery visits, archaeology tours, sunset-watching and more. One thing I did, and it’s very popular, is a cruise, and the classic itinerary takes in the caldera’s volcanic islands of Nea Kameni and Palia Kameni.
The cruises can be found at the bottom of the town in Fira. You can take a cable car down there or, I suggest walking. It will take you about half an hour. There is an option of taking a donkey ride as well. The 3.30 p.m cruise is the sunset cruise, and it includes a stop at the former’s crater and the latter’s hot springs.
If you are looking to learn the history of Santorini, it has an intriguing and deep past. If you head to Akrotiri, they display the city destroyed by the volcanic eruption of 1613 BC. The Museum of Prehistoric Thera in Fira tells the story of ancient Akrotiri.
You should consider doing one last thing if you can when it comes to dining out, and this is to dine out at a renowned restaurant as all the A-list celebrities flock there. The restaurant isn’t a Michelin Star or expensive at all. But the atmosphere is fantastic, and they have live music played by the old owner, who has toured with the band Green Day. And they give you a flag of your country when you go. This is, of course, the Santorini Mou in Oia. It’s not in the centre of town but is on the main road leading up to it. About 10 minutes away. And you will need to book.
Travel tips about Santorini
But, the restaurant has had some of the biggest celebrities in the world eat there. They even have a photo album which they can show you with all of these celebrities. At the end of the night, they take a photo of you for their collection, and they give you a music album signed as a souvenir.
First-timers to Santorini should think about staying on the caldera edge to experience the wow factor if you can afford it. Fira, Firostefani, Imerovigli and Oia have villas and hotels with whitewashed interiors, terraces and infinity pools. Oia is where you get the view of the blue dome that you see on all the postcards for Santorini. This is where I decided to stay, but my villa was a 15-minute walk from the main town, making it a lot more affordable for someone like me who is more budget-conscious.
If you are a budget-conscious traveller, there’s not much to choose from unless you can get a bargain during off-peak times. Caldera-view resorts come at a premium, and they are always in demand. I suggest you book in advance. I did bump into an American who said he was staying in a hostel. But that was in Kamari, which is about half an hour away from Oia.
The ways to go to Santorini
There are a couple of ways you can get to the island. One of the most popular ways of travelling over is by sea. Frequent ferries and high-speed catamarans link Santorini with Athens’ main port of Piraeus, Crete and various Cycladic islands. I was glad I didn’t take the ferry, as I spoke to two Americans, Sandy and Julie, on the island who told me, “We took the ferry across from Crete to come to Santorini, and because there was a strong current, about 80% of the people on board were sick. Including both of us. And I have never been seasick before. That should tell you everything you need to know about our journey here.” Perhaps in late September, when I travelled, there is a slight risk of taking a ferry as the weather does turn around that time.
If you don’t want to travel by sea, there is no need to worry as Santorini airport has year-round flight connections with the mainland and other islands. Once you are on the island, the bus services are decent and cost-effective. It does get crowded, I might add. But many companies offer cars, mopeds, and ATV four-wheeler bikes for rent.
Whether you are on a romantic visit or travelling with friends, the peak travel time to Santorini is July through to early September. You will notice the prices will soar, and hotels, viewpoints and beaches are packed with tourists. The best times to visit are April, May, early June, late September, and October. It is quieter at the caldera edge during these times. You can travel to Santorini during the winter as the island is working on positioning itself as a year-round destination.
Is Santorini just a place for couples? Well, not necessarily, as you can travel to the place solo or with a group of friends and enjoy the activities that they have on offer. Or even if you just want to relax when you’re there. The island is a paradise for all types of travellers and not just a love island.