A ‘what you should know’ guide to Santorini and Naxos

After dreaming about soaking up the sun, eating good food and enjoying Greek life we visited Oia & Fira in Santorini and the nearby island of Naxos for our summer holiday.

From an authentic point of view the places we visited in Santorini were far from this – as you can imagine it was a tourist hub. With numerous cruise ships arriving and departing Santorini on a daily basis in peak season, it can be a challenge to keep your cool in more ways than one.

Nevertheless we found Oia to be our Santorini-sanctuary thanks to where we stayed – unfortunately our experience in Fira was a little different. Naxos on the other hand, while it was still a favourite with tourists from across Europe, we felt we experienced a bit more of an authentic Greek life whilst staying here.

Whilst I was planning the trip, I read a lot (and I mean a lot) of blogs and probably watched one too many vlogs, so if you’re planning an epic trip to Santorini and fancy hopping on the ferry to Naxos – take a look at everything you need to know in this blog.

Quick note – whilst in Naxos we didn’t really pick up our camera a lot. Looking back as you can imagine, I do regret it but not all is lost as Bogdan got busy filming and so he’s managed to capture the magic. A lesson learnt but hey, it’s a pretty awesome video!

How we got there

By air

We traveled from Manchester to Santorini Airport via EasyJet. Travelling outbound was fairly smooth however when returning we were a few hours delayed. Prior to our trip, I booked a private transfer with our hotel to take us to our hotel in Oia. I believe it’s easy to hop on buses from the airport, but our transfer proved to be worth the extra money – purely for the great conversation and air conditioning!

By ferry

Our journey to Naxos was fairly smooth, if a little choppy on the Aegean Sea! Once we arrived in the port we picked up our pre-paid tickets from the Blue Star Ferries kiosk. Our return, economy tickets from Santorini to Naxos cost 84 euros for two people. A little pricey for two, but it was in high season so hopefully prices would drop at other times.

We headed straight to the gate and I’m glad we did as although we were 45 minutes early, the queues were already starting to grow. The gate was essentially a room which got very hot and crowded. Make sure you bring some water and snacks with you to keep you hydrated and any h-angry feelings at bay! While there are a few takeaways in the port, you’re best off to just bring your own snacks and drinks if you can.

A little while later, we began to board which as you can imagine is rather hectic – especially with suitcases! There are luggage storage facilities on the ferry, but we decided we would feel more comfortable keeping an eye on our suitcases. And so we had to carry them up several sets of stairs – who knew taking the ferry could be such a workout?! We soon found our seats on the outer deck at the back of the ship and spent time people-watching which was pretty fun.

Where we stayed

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We split our journey into three parts. Our trip began with a two night stay in Oia, before heading to Naxos for 8 nights and returning to Fira for two nights. In hindsight I wish we had stayed in Fira first, spent 4 nights in Naxos, another 4 on a different island and finish our stay in Oia.

Nostos Apartments, Oia

Our trip began in a really special way as we stayed at the amazing Nostos Apartments in Oia. It was one of the most out of this world places we have ever stayed – mainly due to the breathtaking view from our cave apartment. The swimming pool certainly didn’t go a miss either in the 40+ degrees! If you’re looking for a place to stay in Santorini in high season, I would absolutely recommend splashing out on a place with a swimming pool. It provides a welcome relief from the heat and is a great way to keep you occupied during the afternoon once the cruise ships disembark.

Porto Naxos Hotel, Naxos

As this was a last-minute trip, our choice of accommodation was limited – especially in Naxos. I originally looked at a hotel on the beach near St Georges Beach – however after they ‘lost’ my deposit we soon decided against this place and opted for a hotel via Booking.com. After a lot of browsing, we ended up staying at Porto Naxos Hotel.

The hotel could do with a little refurbishment – especially in the bathrooms. It had a bit of a flashback feel to the 90s but it was still comfortable. As our room was in an out-building on the ground floor we also welcomed several mini lizards to our room! The location wasn’t great as it’s surrounded by empty fields and a busy road – but it was about a 10 minute walk to the nearest beach and they had a car park. It would be a great base for exploring the island more widely which is something I’d recommend everyone to do.

One of the main reasons for choosing Naxos was because of the beaches, but in all honesty we loved spending our days chilling at the hotel’s pool. The pool was super deep and had a great bar which served lots of drinks and snacks. The bartender looked like Phil Spencer’s Greek cousin and he was always so kind. He would bring us fresh towels each morning and often gave us complimentary coffees, shots of ouzo and bowls of crisps! Most days we would have the pool to ourselves, presumably because everyone else was out enjoying the beaches!

Ifestos Villa, Fira

For the last bit of our trip we stayed in Fira and unfortunately this wasn’t the best of experiences. We found it to be the complete opposite of Oia. While I was expecting there to be some differences, the reality of it hit us as we arrived at our accommodation – Ifestos Villa. I didn’t actually realise the villa wasn’t in the main hub of Fira and it was actually on the outskirt of the city down a very busy road.

We booked the villa after searching for a cheap deal as this was mainly our overnight stay ahead of catching our flight. In hindsight I wish we had booked a hotel closer to the centre of Fira or in Imerovigli  as I feel we would have enjoyed it more. Fira itself was fine, but amongst the super touristy shops and takeaways I found it lost a bit of that Santorini magic which we enjoyed so much in Oia.

Fun things we did

Our trip to Greece had its fair share of adventure and fun – from sailing the sea with Captain Panos and having front-row seats whilst watching the sunset in Oia – to curling up with a film at the outdoor cinema and visiting Apollo’s Temple at night. Here are some of the highlights from Santorini and Naxos.

Santorini

Sunsets – here, there, everywhere!

You can’t go to Santorini without watching the sunset. It’s as simple as that. Thankfully throughout each evening in Oia and Fira we enjoyed plenty of sunsets. For our first night we ended up walking to the peak of Oia and found a random place to sit and watch it. On our second night we managed to secure two front-row seats on the castle walls. We cracked open a few bottles of cider and watched the world go by. I’d recommend going to the walls about an hour and a half before the official sunset-time as it gets very busy.

Found own slice of the island

As you may have read in this post, we found our own little piece of Santorini. It was the perfect place to escape and during our sunrise wander it felt amazing to look out onto the cave dotted caldera and watch the island wake-up. If you’re visiting during high season, set your alarm clock an hour or two earlier and explore your base – trust me, you’ll love it.

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Related: Chasing sunsets and eating gelato in Oia, Santorini

Waked to Imerovigli

To escape the crowds of Fira, we decided to walk from our hotel to Imerovigli. The walk was slightly challenging as there were a lot of steep steps and it was boiling hot. But we soon found a bar overlooking the volcano and enjoyed a cocktail and beer whilst watching the sunset. It wasn’t the greatest bar, but the view more than made up for it. After enjoying our drinks we had a little wander through this part of a Santorini and although about a twenty minute walk from Fira, it was interesting to see how different the vibe was.

Explored an ancient city 

Whilst staying in Fira, we were on the hunt for things to. During that day we debated whether or not to hire a scooter. Looking back, I shouldn’t have been so frightened to do so. This was especially evident when we rocked up to the coach station and waited 45 minutes, before boarding the bus which felt like it was quite literally on its last wheel.

We headed to the Akrotiri Archaeology site which was a twenty-minute journey from Fira. In my mind, I envisioned it to be on a much smaller scale to Pompeii – it’s even noted on Trip Advisor as ‘the Pompeii of the Aegean’. In reality it was interesting – but I think to get the best experience out of it you’d need a tour guide which we didn’t opt for unfortunately.

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Naxos

Naxos was a bit of a random idea in all honesty. I wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t your usual Corfu, Kos or Rhodes destination and we wanted it to be close to Santorini. After reading lots of forums and blogs, I had set my heart on Milos but accommodation was 99% full. So Naxos it was – and while it was a second choice it was a worthy one.

Sailed the Aegean sea with Captain Panos

One of the biggest highlights of our entire trip had to be going on a boat tour with Captain Panos and his wife Maria. I was a little hesitant at first about going on a boat trip, but I only wish we could have done more! I emailed Captain Panos prior to our arrival who explained the various tours they run. We didn’t need to book online in advance, rather we picked a day once we arrived.

We chose the trip which took us to Koufonisia Islands in Small Cyclades and Rina Cave in South Naxos. It started at 8.30am and ended around 6.30pm and cost 70 euros each. In my eyes it was worth every penny. The trip was with other travellers and included families, friends and couples. While it did feel a bit strange at the beginning and almost a little awkward, everyone soon got into the swing of things and enjoyed the ride.

We dived into the clear, blue water and snorkelled above ship wrecks and stones at each given opportunity. I’ll never forget exploring the cave and the feeling of seeing otherwise unseen things. While the water got a bit choppy on our way back and we didn’t sail – rather flew – across the sea, it was such a rush of adrenaline which I’d do all over again. Okay and maybe we had a bit of a Titanic moment too on the boat’s bow!

Experienced an outdoor cinema

After enjoying a few walks around the old town and eating one too many ice creams, we spent an evening at an outdoor cinema which was conveniently located next door to our hotel! We grabbed bags of popcorn and some pop and watched Me Before You. It was such a cool feeling to enjoy a film outside and it wasn’t too cold either!

Hit up Agia Anna beach

The nearest beach to us was Agios Georgios and while it was nice, it wasn’t the Greek dream of a beach we had our minds set on. Naxos boasts around 18 beaches which all have their own unique characteristics.

In an attempt to check out these fab beaches, we hopped on the bus and arrived at Agia Anna. The bus we took stopped at various beaches along its route. If you have in mind a specific beach, ask the driver or your hotel which stop to get off at. We took the chance when we saw the sign for the beach as neither of us were clear where else it would be heading.

What surprised me the most about the beaches we saw, was how narrow they were. Along Agia Anna there were various types of beach chairs and umbrellas, some of which offered a drinks and food menu. We set up under a straw umbrella, grabbed a cold smoothie and took the plunge in the crystal clear sea.

Explored the Choria, Naxos

The old town of Naxos (Choria) has a lot going on. With restaurants lining the marina, Greek music echoing along the walls and history oozing with every step, you’ll feel a little spell bound as you get lost in this area.

Most evenings we ventured down to the old town, grabbed dinner and enjoyed waking down the local alleyways and castle walls – before grabbing an overloaded ice cream! There was plenty to awaken your senses and soak up making it the perfect base for everyone – whether you’re alone, as a couple, with family or friends.

Visited Apollos Temple

As you arrive in Naxos, one of the first things you’ll spot is Apollos Temple which is perched up on a scenic point looking out towards the sea and city.

We visited one evening after dinner and while it was a little dark, it was really impressive to see. If we could do it again, I would go before dinner and just before sunset. As I think the sunset would be a pretty stunning sight to see from here.

Where we ate

In Santorini we weren’t particularly blown away by the food and found it to be expensive for what it was.

Throughout the day we enjoyed a few frappe and beer stops at various cafes, including Meteor Cafe in Oia. This place was really nice and whilst it only had a few seats, it was a great place to chill in the shade and people watch.

For the few nights we stayed in Oia, we made sure we visited Lolita’s Gelato and boy, was I glad we did! Lolita’s served some of the best (if not the best) gelato I’ve ever had. It was so refreshing and worth the visit! It’s a little out of the way from the main ‘street’ in Oia, but keep going and you can thank me later.

One of my regrets in Oia was how we didn’t manage to visit Amoudi Bay. I read a lot of great things about the area and seafood restaurants, but unfortunately time didn’t allow us to visit on this occasion.

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Naxos on the other hand satisfied our bellies and made our waistlines that extra bit bigger! The island itself is known for its potatoes and trust me when I say, you can seriously taste the difference! But it wasn’t just the chips of Naxos that was particularly moorish, we experienced some great dinners and often re-visited our favourite restaurants in the time we stayed for. Two of the best places we visited included Su e Giu and Ya Souvlaki.

One evening whilst on the hunt for dinner, we took a slightly earlier turn from the main square and discovered Ya Souvlaki – a place for gyros galore! It’s unassuming, hectic and busy but they serve the best gyros and fries we’ve ever had. The place itself is informal and full of locals which made it that extra bit special – I mean it’s only gyros after all!

Further down the way, we found Su e Giu which serves the best pizza we’ve ever had. The pizzas are enormous, the ingredients taste fresh, the salads are delicious and the sangria is out if this world. I think we ate our weight in pizza with multiple visits to this place, but it was worth it.

As well as these two gems, we also enjoyed a traditional dinner at Oasis and Mediterranean fusion at Ginger which provided something a bit different to our pizza and gyros! For dessert we treated ourselves to waffles and ice cream at The Waffle House – again a super hectic place, but it hit the sweet spot.

Need to know

In case your flight is delayed… 

Santorini Airport isn’t as glamorous as you’d expect. It’s rather small, crowded and toilets can be unpleasant so bring extra tissues and wet wipes with you. When we were delayed coming back to Manchester we spent our time chilling outside, but just up the road there are a few bars/cafes which may help to keep you occupied should your flight be delayed.

Finding a good restaurant… 

As with any place don’t go to restaurants with pictures in the menu! We made this mistake when searching high and low for a restaurant in Fira and we really regretted it! Instead, hunt out the places where the locals eat or alternatively ask at your hotel.

Fashion choices vs. practicalities of Santorini…

Gurenteed you will have seen the Instagram fashionistas in Santorini – but one thing you need to have in mind is to wear sensible shoes to Amoudi Bay! We tried to walk down before it reached night fall – after watching the sunset on the castle (on the hill – thanks Ed Sheeran), as we wanted to go to Amoudi Bay for dinner. Unfortunately we found the walk down too steep for my shoes and it was difficult to see as it was so dark and a little too slippery.

Being mindful when booking a transfer…

If you want to book a transfer from the airport or port, be aware some hotels send taxis so you may need to share with other travellers – this happened to us in Naxos and Fira. For our transfer in Fira, we ended up dropping off a family on the opposite side of the island when our actual journey should have taken 10 mins from the port.

Bite the bullet and hire a car or scooter… 

If you’re staying in Naxos I would reccommend hiring a car or scooter if you can. Unfortunately we didn’t and so our time was spent limited to our immediate area. While the bus system is pretty good and we used it to travel to the beach – nothing beats having your own set of wheels and exploring the island this way.

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Looking back Santorini and Naxos offered so many different opportunities, charms and experiences. It was expensive so if you are thinking about planning a visit, keep this in mind. While we would go back, I think a trip in shoulder season would be ideal. If anything, the trip fuelled my desire to explore more Greek islands and experience this magical land.

Have you visited Santorini or Naxos? What hidden gems did we miss and what other Greek islands would you recommend?

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Lifestyle & Travel Blogger of Brew & Bloom - a blog full of adventures, thoughts and things I love.

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