Check out this ultimate travel guide for exploring Greece: Athens, Santorini, and more.
Arriving in Greece
Traveling to Greece in the summertime is peak season for many tourists. My boyfriend and I traveled to Athens and Santorini in July and it was by far one of the hottest months to be in Greece. Temperatures in the summer range from about 80 to 95 degrees. Since Santorini is an island, the sea breeze made it a little cooler than Athens, but not by much. Athens is the capital city of Greece and it's likely where you'll need to fly to in order to connect to the other islands. The flight from Chicago to Athens took about 10 hours, since we stopped in Austria. However, United Airlines has direct flights to Athens from Newark and Washington D.C., while American has direct flights to Athens from Chicago.
Getting Around in Athens
Athens is at the heart of Ancient Greece, which was once a powerful empire and civilization. There is so much to explore in Athens that will make you feel like you're back in Ancient Greece. When booking accommodations in Athens, it's important to consider if you'd rather be close to the airport (for early morning flights out) or close to the tourist attractions. Uber is available in Athens, however if you call an Uber, be prepared for a yellow taxi to show up. Greece banned other vehicles from picking up customers who book transportation on the Uber app, to prevent taxi drivers from losing revenue. A taxi from our Airbnb to the Acropolis took about 45 minutes since we stayed close to the airport and it cost about 40 Euro.
Things to Explore in Athens
Temple of Apollo
Temple of Zeus
Monastiraki Square - visit the flea market if you're there on a Sunday
Athens Olympic Stadium
Hopping Around the Greek Islands
You can get to any of the Greek Islands by ferry or plane. The ferry from Athens to Santorini takes about 5 hours, depending on the type of ferry you book. The ferry can also get you to other popular islands like Mykonos (3 hours) or Milos (3.5 hours). While the ferry is the cheaper option (costs range from 50 Euro to 160 Euro), a direct flight is the quickest way to hop around Greece. We booked a direct flight from Athens to Santorini on Aegean Air for about $100 USD roundtrip. The flight only took 25 minutes and we got some really cool views of the mountains in the air.
Santorini is by far one of the dreamiest, most romantic islands in Greece. The Aegean Sea is the perfect shade of blue and it is so serene to watch the sunset over the white Cycladic houses that sit perfectly on the hills. Οία is a small village in Thira, just outside of Santorini that is worth visiting when you arrive. It's about a 25 minute drive from the Santorini Airport. This is where you will find the popular blue dome churches (Agios Spiridonas and Anastaseos) that are most commonly photographed. In Santorini you will find that majority of the homes are white, some are painted white and blue as a symbol of patriotism since the colors of the Greek flag are blue and white. You will also find many souvenirs with the evil eye symbol (which is also blue and white) all throughout Santorini. The significance of the evil eye is to deter negative energy and it is deeply rooted in Greek culture.
Travel Tip: Pack plenty of water when exploring Greece, because it gets hot! Don't forget your sunscreen and sunglasses or hat, because you'll need it.
The Santorini Caldera, a large volcanic crater, sits beneath the beautiful island of Santorini. It is known by many that the caldera has two small volcanic islands in the middle, the islands of Palea Kameni and Nea Kameni (both are uninhabited). Many of the homes you see as you make your way around Santorini are white in color, as white is a reflector of heat and the color of the houses helps to keep them cool in the hot temperatures throughout the year.
While in Santorini, be sure to venture out to Oia, Kamari Beach, and Fira (the capital of Santorini). It's easy to rent a car and get around to many parts of the island during your stay. Just be prepared to maneuver through tight streets and drive around in a small car.
If you're traveling to Greece for a little R & R (rest and relaxation), then Kamari Beach is the place to go. Like most beaches in Greece, there are a lot of rocks inside and outside the water. Kamari Beach is also known as the black sand beach. It's not the typical granulated sand you may be used to seeing at the beach. Instead it's a lot of rocks and stones, making it impossible walk around barefoot. Be sure to pack water shoes that you can wear to walk around on the sand and in the water. You can opt for flip flops and sandals, but these won't stay on in the water. I ordered my water shoes from Amazon and they were only $12 USD. You can order yours here.
Where to Stay
We booked the perfect stay at an Airbnb in the heart of Kamari Beach. It had everything we needed for our short stay and it was in walking distance from the beach. I recommend booking a stay at an Airbnb if you plan to travel to Santorini, as they are typically more conveniently located, cheaper, and you'll get to experience what it's like to stay in a traditional-style Greek home. Our Airbnb was equipped with a jacuzzi, which came in handy for cooling off after spending an entire day on the beach. Check out this lovely Airbnb here and tell Moscha I sent you.
Dining Out: What and Where to Eat
I'll be honest, I came to Greece with high expectations for the food and dining options. To my dismay, there was a lot more misses instead of hits when it came to the food I tried. There are a lot of seafood options, since Santorini is surrounded by water. I love gyros and I was craving a traditional lamb gyro with tzatziki sauce that I'm used to eating back home in the States. I was surprised to see that most of the restaurants had pork and chicken gyros on their menus instead of beef/lamb gyros. However, I did enjoy some of the Greek dishes that I tried and I'll admit that all of the food tasted fresh and cooked to order.
Top Traditional Dishes to try in Greece:
Yemista - stuffed tomatoes
Pastitsio - Greek lasagna
Moussaka - eggplant or potato casserole with minced meat
Baklava - pastry dessert
Souvlaki - meat on a skewer, flavored with tzatiki
Seafood is a must try - I recommend ordering the combination seafood plate for two from Sea View Restaurant
Olive oil is a staple across Greece, so most of the dishes will be cooked with it. Side salads topped with tzatziki and house potatoes are typical side items that accompany entrees.
Things to Do in Kamari Beach
Shop for souvenirs, gifts, and clothing handmade by locals
See a movie at the Outdoor Cinema
Do Karaoke at the Love Boat Bar
Have lunch on the beach at Sea View Restaurant
Have dinner at Gia Mas Santorini
Get a fish spa pedicure at the Blue Fish Spa
We had a great experience at the Blue Fish Spa. This was our first time trying a fish spa pedicure. If you're wondering what a fish pedicure is, it's when garra fish eat the dead skin from your feet, leaving your feet feeling smooth and soft as ever. It did tickle at first and it took some getting used to, but it was a really cool experience. It costs 15 Euro for 20 minutes and 20 Euro for 30 minutes. The owner is very friendly and he made sure to sanitize each tank before and after each use. If you've ever thought about getting this type of pedicure, I recommend trying it out during your trip to Santorini.
Santorini is definitely the place to book a boat tour. Whether you choose to sail on a catamaran or take a cruise on a yacht, there are plenty of options for water excursions in Greece. The crystal blue water of the Aegean Sea makes for a serene scene and most of the boat tours include food and drinks. Overall, Greece turned out to be exactly as I pictured it: picturesque and vibrant. Greece was on my travel bucket list for many years and it felt good to finally experience it in all its glory. I can't wait to travel back one day and explore more of Greece.