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Inside: How to plan a romantic, budget-friendly Santorini honeymoon to remember. Including where to stay, how to get around, and the best place to watch the sunset (without crowds!).
If you’ve been following this round-the-world-honeymoon-extravaganza, you may recall that there are two destinations I’ve always saved for a honeymoon someday – Venice and Santorini.
We checked Venice off the honeymoon list earlier this month and now it’s time for our eagerly anticipated visit to the Greek island of Santorini!
Read More: The Romance of Venice
I’m excited to experience a place with my husband, Dave, that I purposely skipped in my solo travels. I’ve been pretty clear about how much I love Greece in general, but Santorini has always been on my honeymoon must-see list.
For this stop on our round-the-world honeymoon, we have 4 nights and 5 days in one place. No flights, trains, or cross-country drives.
Just rest, relaxation, gyros and those legendary Santorini sunsets. Perfection.
2021 Update: Traveling to Greece right now
This post was (obviously) written following my honeymoon trip. But my husband and I recently visited again for our anniversary and I wrote an additional post about traveling in and around Greece right now, during the Covid-19 pandemic:
It’s everything you need to know about pre-arrival testing, whether you’ll have to wear a mask, where you can get a Covid test if you need one to return home, and all the essentials for traveling to Greece right now. If you’re headed to Greece in 2021, it’s a must-read.
And now, back to honeymoon bliss!
What makes Santorini such a picturesque destination to visit?
Santorini: An explosive history
Historians believe that Santorini has been inhabited since the Neolithic period. In fact, it was home to a significant civilization around 3600 BC similar to the ancient Minoan colonies on nearby Crete.
Read More: Crete Greece in 5 Perfect Days
The island was originally round until 1500 BC when one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history caused the center of the island to literally sink into the sea. The result? The C-shaped main island we see today.
Santorini owes its unique landscape, sea-filled caldera, and clifftop views to its explosive past.
In 1956, Santorini was virtually abandoned after another catastrophic quake. But in the early 1970’s residents returned and the tourism industry began to develop. Today, Santorini is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world.
Where to stay on a Santorini honeymoon
It’s after midnight when our flight from Athens lands at Santorini’s Thira Airport.
Read More: 24 Hours in Athens
The island is awash in darkness. That is until we reach the town of Fira (known for its nightlife) which seems to be just getting underway for the evening.
We chose a hotel just past Fira in the town of Imerovigli.
Why choose Imerovigli?
Rumor has it, aside from the legendary sunsets of Oia, the town of Imerovigli has the best sunset caldera views. I don’t know about you but I live for a good sunset and I fully intend to savor each one during our stay.
The perfect Santorini honeymoon hotel choice (on a budget!)
After exhaustive research, I’ve selected the Prekas Apartments for our stay.
In Santorini, it’s all about a caldera view. The pictures I’ve seen of the view at Prekas are hard to beat. I’m excited to see if it lives up to the photos.
Like most of the hotels on Santorini, Prekas is a small property with less than a dozen rooms. Unlike most of the hotels on Santorini, it is affordable at less than $150 a night. (Since we are traveling for 3 months on this honeymoon adventure, a budget-friendly hotel is key.)
But the big selling point for me is the perfectly cube-shaped turquoise pool jutting out over the cliff with stunning views of the caldera and Oia in the distance.
Our room is the only one directly overlooking the pool which makes it feel like we have our own private lagoon. Of course, by this time it’s too dark to see the caldera view. But the room is perfectly adorable, the pool looks divine and I can’t wait to see the rest when the sun rises tomorrow.
The next morning we awake to a jaw-dropping view outside our terrace doors. I can’t believe our luck at how absolutely perfect our hotel is. Score one more for TripAdvisor.
2021 Update, Part Two: Another great hotel choice!
On our recent trip, we decided to splurge a little. We wanted one of those fancy rooms with a hot tub on the terrace. But last our last visit, we didn’t want to spend $1000/night. We found a terrific option that was both luxurious and affordable, Kasimatis by La Perla.
Also, located in Imerovigli (still my favorite home base), Kasimatis has modern, stylish rooms, most with hot tubs on a (semi) private terrace. They also have a beautiful pool. We booked a “Junior Suite with Hot Tub” and it was less than $350 USD per night, including a delicious breakfast delivered to our terrace each morning.
While our terrace wasn’t exactly private, few are in Santorini (even when you pay $$$$). I thought it was a great value for the price and it felt like a luxurious 5-star hotel.
But to be totally honest, the unobstructed view of the caldera from our tiny balcony at Prekas was actually better. Though Kasimatis was, by far, more luxurious.
How to get around Santorini
Excited to check out our surroundings and stock our fridge, we begin the long walk up the stairs into town for supplies. (We soon learn that everything in Santorini involves going up or down a hill).
The walk from Imerovigli to Fira is just 20 minutes so when the closest supermarket doesn’t have everything we need we head down the hill toward Fira
After one walk down the steep hill toward Fira, we quickly realize we need our own wheels. The hills in Santorini are no joke.
Options for getting around Santorini
Santorini has a number of transportation options:
- Donkey – Perhaps the most famous Santorini transportation, the ubiquitous donkeys ply the narrow streets carrying stair-averse tourists. But a week of transportation by donkey doesn’t seem practical (or aromatically appealing).
- Local Bus – Like most of the Greek islands, Santorini’s local bus system is very good. But we want the flexibility to get to all corners of the island on our own schedule.
- Rental Car – Convenient, but a potential parking challenge around the island.
- Quad Bike/Motorcycle – So that left a motorcycle (terrifying) or Santorini’s most common method of transportation, a quad bike.
Born to be…mild
We’ve already spotted quad bikes everywhere on the streets. Similar to an ATV, the quad bikes are adequate to carry two people comfortably along with a storage box for groceries or beach bags.
I’m not a fan of any kind of motorcycle. However, the quad bikes have four wheels which makes them seem more stable and somehow less likely to result in sudden death when compared to a motorcycle.
Plus they are affordable and for rent on just about every corner. Dave is more excited about the quad bike idea than I am but ultimately, I give in to convenience.
With our wheels secured for the day, we hit the supermarket and stock up before returning to the apartment to spend the rest of the day relaxing by that gorgeous pool.
With four full days ahead and plenty of time to explore, one day of total relaxation is definitely in order. This is our honeymoon after all.
That night we venture into Fira for dinner. I am mesmerized by the dramatic beauty of Fira. I know Oia is the most popular town on Santorini but I wonder how could be any more spectacular than this.
Hotels, shops, and restaurants all perched on the side of a cliff. Terraced one on top of the other with a labyrinth of winding alleys and staircases connecting them all. Cruise ships rest peacefully in the harbor as donkeys ply the 588 steps from the harbor carrying their passengers to the top.
All with a panoramic view of the circular caldera.
It is simply magnificent.
We meander the streets for a bit, find a great spot for an early dinner and then head back to the room to appreciate our first Santorini sunset from our own private terrace.
Sunset views from Imerovigli
Back in the room, we pour ourselves some wine and settle in on the terrace for the sunset show.
And WOW, our first of many Santorini sunsets does not disappoint! As we watch the fiery ball slip into the Aegean Sea I wonder how on earth the view from Oia could be any better?
But tomorrow night we’ll find out for sure.
Quad-biking around Santorini
The next morning it’s time to step away from the pool-side lounge chair and put our quad bike to use exploring the island.
Red Beach Santorini
From our central position near Fira, we head first to the southern tip of Santorini to a beach that came highly recommended – Red Beach. And it is indeed red!
The beach owes its unique landscape to the red and black volcanic rocks which contrast beautifully with the aquamarine sea.
It’s a stunning sight and one of the most unique beaches I’ve seen anywhere around the world.
Minoan history at Akrotiri
From the Red Beach, we take a step back in time with a stop at the ancient Minoan settlement of Akrotiri.
Dating back to the Bronze Age, this settlement was completely covered in volcanic ash during the eruption of 1627 BC. Excavation began in 1967 and a remarkable number of buildings, artwork, and frescoes were uncovered, all well preserved by the ash.
Some historians believe that the settlement at Akrotiri was the inspiration behind Plato’s story of Atlantis. Today, a modern roof structure encloses the entire site making it a comfortable place for visitors to explore in all seasons.
Next stop, Oia…
We wrap up our tour of the southern end of the island, grab some lunch, and then hit the road for Oia.
We have a two-part plan for Oia. First, find the Castle of Agios Nikolaos to secure the love lock we brought (the original love lock plan was Cinque Terre but the location we needed was closed due to landslides). Then, we’ll scope out the perfect spot to watch the sunset.
Read More: Without a Care in Cinque Terre
Don’t get me wrong, Oia is gorgeous.
It’s postcard-perfect Greece with whitewashed houses and blue shutters and a maze of quaint narrow streets. All situated at the top of a cliff with art galleries, tavernas and blue-domed churches dotting the way.
But while it is gorgeous, it is also mobbed with tourists, mostly from the daily parade of cruise ships. And many of those ships remain in port until late in the evening so their passengers can enjoy the sunset. Good for them, bad for us.
We loved our first-night sunset from our own terrace, but we felt obligated to check out the legendary sunset views from Oia at least once. So here we are.
The sun is scheduled to drop below the horizon shortly after 8:30pm. It’s now 6:00pm, plenty of time to accomplish our love lock mission and get the lay of the land before sunset.
Securing our love lock
First stop, the Castle of Agios Nikolaos in search of the love lock railing I’ve seen in pictures online.
Dating back to 1480, the castle suffered devastating damage in the 1956 earthquake and much of it tumbled into the sea. Today, it serves mainly as the most popular place to watch the sunset each night.
It’s pretty much the highest spot in Oia, so it wasn’t hard to find! A few minutes later we found the perfect spot overlooking the sea to secure our lock. Here’s hoping it will stay there for years to come and we’ll get to find it again the next time we return (unlikely, I know, but a girl can dream).
Sunset crowds in Oia
As sunset time approaches, the streets swell with people by the minute. I blink and it seems every good spot at the castle is already taken. Time for Plan B.
We stop in a minimarket, buy a half bottle of wine (graciously sold with 2 cups), and settle in along a wide staircase just below the castle with an unobscured view of the setting sun.
Then we wait. And wait.
It’s still only 7:30pm so the sun won’t dip below the horizon for another hour. But if we leave we’ll lose our spot. So we drink wine and enjoy the view until gradually the sun begins to glow a deep orange as it sinks into the sea.
And it is beautiful, don’t get me wrong.
But all things considered, I prefer the peaceful sunset views from our own terrace in Imerovigli. Especially after we fight the post-sunset crowds to get back to our quad bike and to the road.
Oia sunset? Check.
2021 Update, Part 3 – No cruise ships right now!
Since there are currently (as of June 2021) no cruise ships operating in Santorini, I thought we’d give Oia another go to see if it was more tolerable. So, on our final night, we hopped in a taxi and headed over.
It was better and we definitely enjoyed it more. It wasn’t the full-contact-sport from our last visit. But I still contend the sunset views from Imerovigli are the best on the island. Especially when you watch it from your own hot tub instead of next to some stranger trying to get the best Instagram selfie.
A lazy honeymoon day in Imerovigli
Yesterday was a full day of island exploration so we feel zero guilt about sleeping in today and lounging by the pool. After all, the caldera views from the pool in Imerovigli are spectacular. It is a perfectly relaxing day that ends with drinks and dinner in Fira and another incredible sunset from our terrace.
This is Santorini honeymooning 101, folks.
Santorini tours – A boat trip to hike the Volcano
We’re nearing the end of our Santorini honeymoon so it’s time to get active again. We have more of Santorini to see!
Last night in Fira we booked a boat trip to visit the other must-see sight on the island (after sunset in Oia) – the volcano. The basic boat trip to the volcano is a 2-hour ride that also includes a stop at the hot springs on the island.
It sounds like a fun way to spend an afternoon and afterward, we’ll grab dinner in town before returning to the hotel in time for sunset.
The boat ride itself is fabulous and a terrific way to see the island from sea level. The only disappointment is the hot springs. Getting to them requires a 15-minute swim from the boat in the ice-cold Aegean Sea to reach the shore.
Oh, and by the time you get there, you’re left with about 10 minutes to enjoy the hot springs before you need to start swimming back. We pass on that one (as do the majority of our fellow passengers) but a few hearty souls make the swim and survive.
Our main objective is the hike to the top of the volcano and that part of the trip is awesome. Our guide pauses 3 times on the 30-minute hike up to give us more information about the volcano, point out steam vents in the rock, and generally let everyone catch their breath.
The views from the summit are simply incredible, a panoramic view of the C-shaped island of Thira. It is truly the perfect way to spend an afternoon on Santorini.
Last day in Greek honeymoon paradise
For our final day, we again choose to relax at the hotel. Later, we head into Fira for lunch and some shopping. I will miss this island terribly, especially those spectacular sunsets.
Santorini is so unbelievably gorgeous, just like I always dreamed it would be. And I’m so glad I saved this beautiful Greek island for my honeymoon.
Of course, since Dave loved it as much as I did, I have no doubt we’ll be back. Imerovigli was the ideal home base and our very affordable hotel – Prekas Apartments – was sunset perfection.
Even the quad bike turned out to be a lot of fun – not scary at all. And it’s definitely the best way to get around the island without the hassle of waiting for a bus, finding a real parking spot, or the wafting aroma of donkey poo.
Despite the crowds, it’s hard not to love Santorini. It’s the kind of place that inspires travel posters. And it’s one honeymoon destination worth waiting for.
So after getting married in Tuscany and traveling for three weeks around Italy and Greece, tomorrow we fly home to Atlanta to re-position for our actual Round-the-World flights (departing in just a few days).
Then this epic honeymoon journey kicks into overdrive with 2 more months of traveling around the world.
First stop on the official RTW itinerary…Cartagena, Colombia!