While Athens and Mykonos (details here) were as magical as one could hope, it was the end of the second half of our Greece trip that completely won over my heart. If sleepy beach towns and breathtaking sunsets sound like the dream they are, keep reading for part 2 of my Greece travel guide!
Naxos was a welcome change of pace from Mykonos. We took the ferry (booked through Direct Ferries) at about 3PM and went straight to our hotel. The ferry took a 1.5 hours but on the website, you can compare prices and length of travel really easily. The shorter trips are more expensive and the longer ones are more affordable. They’re really easy to catch and when the ferries come into port, they say where they are going so there is no confusion. When in doubt, just ask someone to direct you and they’ll help!
Everything in Naxos – food, hotels, etc. – was about 40% cheaper than in Mykonos which was awesome. We ended up staying within a mile of our hotel the entire time, completely skipping downtown. There wasn’t much to see in downtown! We spent 2 nights here and that was the perfect amount of time. A couple nights, at an affordable price, to just slow down and enjoy a more simple life. We were all about the sleepy beach vibes before moving on to Santorini.
What to Do
Naxos was definitely for relaxing. That meant tons of laying in the sand with the occasional break to wander into one of the beach bars along the shore by where we stayed. The beach was lined with daybeds owned by various hotels and restaurants along the beach. It cost anywhere from 5-10 euros to rent one daybed per day. They aren’t luxurious but there are varying ranges of comfort. You can also just lay in the sand if you want! If you get a daybed outside a restaurant, they will serve you right in your chair too. For our full day in Naxos, we got some daybeds at Santana. Very laid back and casual, not at all like the beach clubs in Mykonos!
Where to Eat
This was the one place we decided to eat within walking distance of our hotel. We didn’t want the hassle of hailing a cab (although you can also rent ATVs here). Since we were only here two nights, we also wanted to soak up this quaint part of town. Here’s where we ate and what we thought!
- Avli. Definitely go! We stopped here for a very late lunch after getting off the ferry on the first day. The fava was really delicious and Matt got some souvlaki. All of it was delicious. It’s definitely a mom and pop shop though!
- Santana. Skip. We ate lunch here while we were tanning – I got the friend zucchini (so popular on menus in Greece) and Matt got the cod. Both were sub par but what do you expect? We were about 10 feet from the ocean while we ate in our beach loungers and didn’t want to walk anywhere so I’ll take it!
- Palatia. Go! We had dinner here our first night and I had one of the best eggplant dishes I’ve ever had (and I hate eggplant)! Matt and I split a kilo of house wine for about 11 euros.
- Del Mar Cafe. We didn’t make it here just because we wanted to stay within walking distance but it has amazing reviews!
Where to Stay
Iria Beach Art Hotel was by far the most beautiful hotel along the strip of hotels where we stayed. The rooms were very clean, breakfast was homemade (and the staff was so sweet – like a Greek grandmother), and there was all the bougainvillea you could hope for. Since Iria is located right along this beach strip, it was really easy to walk to restaurants and the beach. It was also extremely affordable and we used one of our Hotels.com free nights (more tips on how to travel more here).
So this (obviously) was the highlight of our trip. We had saved it for last and in hindsight, were so glad we did. If we had traveled to these islands, and even to Athens, in any other order, we would have been disappointed we did! Not that the other places weren’t amazing. They were. We just built up the momentum perfectly.
We took another high speed ferry to Santorini via Direct Ferries. This one took about 2.5 hours. As soon as we spotted the island of Santorini, we knew. The cliffs covered in tiny white buildings will take your breath away. We were in awe, snapping a million photos as the ship pulled into the port. If you want the best seat, grab a chair on the left side of the boat if you are traveling south! Everyone crowded the left side when we were coming into port and we were glad we had gotten a chair early!
After getting off the boat, we quickly found our transfer that was going to take us to the hotel (the hotel arranged this for us and it was extremely affordable). We drove about 20 minutes to a little square where the car dropped us off. A representative met us, took us around the corner and wow. Immediately you were met with these gorgeous cliffs covered in tiny little structures all painted bright white. We continued down a long set of stairs to the Iconic Santorini (where we were staying). Y’all, this was the Rolls Royce of hotels. But I’ll talk more about that in a bit!
What to Do
The first thing you should do is take some time to relax! Many of the hotels have pools built into the cliffs but if yours doesn’t, take advantage of the sun! There is something magical about the Greek sun that makes your skin turn that beautiful olive even if you’re like me and can’t tan!
Depending on where you stay, you can adjust your schedule to incorporate the following things!
- Sunset Cruise. This was one of the most magical experiences I’ve ever had. We opted for the sunset cruise (a must do) through Caldera Yachting. Initially we thought the 150 euro price tag per person was a bit steep but in hindsight, it was worth every penny. They picked us up from our hotel at 2PM and our cruise embarked around 3-3:30PM. On the cruise, they take you to 3 spots where you can swim, show you around the islands in the caldera, and then cook dinner for you on the water at your final stop in the ocean. The cruise goes 2 ways I believe – from Oia to the most southern part of the island and also in the reverse. We did the first. It lasts about 5 hours on board. The boat had about 15 people on it which was the perfect amount to socialize but also steal a few romantic moments at sunset. It was pure perfection! You can also take a day cruise if you want!
- Watch a sunset at Oia Castle. Just beware of the traffic on your way back to the main street in Oia afterward! Make your reservation for at least an hour after sunset so you aren’t late! When we were on our way to dinner, we were at a standstill at one point because there were so many people in the streets!
- Walk around Oia. While we stayed south in Imerovigli, if you’re all about being in the center of the action, stay in Oia. We felt like one evening walking the streets of Oia was enough for us. It was gorgeous but so crowded with tourists that we were excited to go back to Imerovigli.
- Walk through Fira during the day. There are some really amazing views along the path from Imerovigli to Fira.
- Go out in Fira. If you’re looking for some nightlight, you can wander the streets of Fira at night! You might want to choose where you stay based on this!
- Cliff jump at Amoudi Bay. If you love the thrill, try jumping off one of the cliffs into the ocean!
- Visit a winery. We didn’t realize how much wine is made in Greece! There are a few wineries on the island so stop by if you love your wine. We tried quite a few Greek wines and they were all pretty good!
Where to Eat
We didn’t have a single bad meal in Santorini! Here were the places we ate and some that we intended to try but realized the food at our hotel was so good we didn’t need to travel anywhere!
- Iconic Santorini. This was our hotel which I’ll talk more about next. We ended up eating here for dinner on our first night and they showed us to this private dining room which was a tiny cave located in the cliff. There was a window where you could see the ocean outside and all the boats/cruise ships coming and going from the port. The room was also lit up with these antique candles that had wax dripping down for what looked like years. It was stunning. I have to say that the bread at this hotel was the best bread I’ve ever had in my life (except for my mom’s homemade recipe of course). The rest of the food is equally delicious! Seriously there is not a bad thing on the menu and the best part is that the menu changes every single day. That said, you can always request something if you happened to have a favorite! If you are able to make a reservation here for dinner, do it and request the private room!
- Ambrosia. Right on the edge of the cliff in Oia, this was such a spectacular scene. It was a tiny little restaurant and the food was pretty good but the views made the experience by far!
- Lolita’s Gelato. The best dessert in Oia! We went here after dining at Ambrosia and the flavors were impeccable. There’s a cute little patio outside to finish your gelato once you decide on what flavors to get!
- Feredini. We didn’t get to go but it was recommended by a few people!
- FalafeLAND. When you visit Fira, stop in here for lunch to get some falafel!
- Franco’s Bar. One of the best places to watch the sunset!
When in doubt, ask your hotel for recommendations. They will be more than happy to provide them!
Where to Stay
So as I alluded to, the Iconic Santorini was probably one of the best hotels we have stayed in over the course of our lives. When we walked in, we were greeted with a glass of cherry juice which I thought was a unique twist on the usual champagne. The staff was incredibly informative and gave us a full tour of the hotel. During our entire stay, they were happy to help us make reservations, recommend things to do, and arrange transportation to and from places.
Iconic Santorini is located in Imerovigli which is about a 25 minute drive from Oia and a 30 minute walk from Fira. It’s a more quiet area known more for shopping while Oia is known for sunsets (and tourists) and Fira is known for bars. We were so happy with our decision to stay in Imerovigli and the beauty of Iconic definitely contributed to that (although all the hotels in Imerovigli offer similar views).
A note on where to stay – stay based on what you’re most interested in! Personally, we felt like the views in Imerovigli, while a smaller town, were just as gorgeous so we didn’t feel like we were missing anything by not staying in Oia! If you’re on your honeymoon or looking for a quiet romantic getaway, stay in Imerovigli. If you’re younger and traveling with your friends, stay in Fira if you like to party! If you want to see the sunset every single night, stay in Oia (but you can see the sunset from everywhere almost as beautifully)!
Next, let’s talk about the food. Breakfast is included in the rate but unlike every other hotel I’ve ever stayed at, there’s no wait time. You simply call the front desk when you’re ready to eat and they deliver it to your room in 15 minutes or less. It doesn’t matter if it is 8AM or 2PM. You also have the option to eat at the restaurant but every room has these beautiful tables outside with sea views of the volcano where they deliver it. The meal is quite a generous one too!
The chef goes to the market every single day to pick out fresh ingredients from which to plan a new, tasty menu. We ended up eating at the hotel for every breakfast, 2 lunches, and 1 dinner (which was the second best dinner we had in Greece)! They 100% accommodated me as a vegetarian and went above and beyond to make sure I had everything I could want. If you’re a picky eater, you’re more than welcome to request something from the chef but we liked the thrill of a surprise!
The property was also immaculate! The key to your room is an old school key labeled with one of the letters from the Greek alphabet. Each room gets their own set of daybeds right by their room. There is a pool area too with a few daybeds but get there early if you want those! The pool is also by the restaurant where we ended up eating 3 times (the food was so good)! When you leave the property, they ask that you drop off the key at reception so they know it’s time to clean your room. At first, I was a little weirded out but it was actually really smart and not as invasive as it seems. The pick up/drop off process is really fast – you just open the case and take your key or put it on the hook. There is a receptionist in the lobby at all times watching so it’s safe!
The views from our hotel were insane!
Overall, no detail was overlooked at Iconic. Within 2 hours of getting to the hotel, we promised each other we would be back. We also wished we had more than 3 nights to spend there! They just have a really unique approach to customer service – it’s all about you. Everyone is on your time. You feel like royalty!