For future travelers (not travelers to the future) going to Santorini, Mykonos or Athens, the bossy boss in me feels most passionate about doing/seeing/eating the following.
- Settle In at Atrina Canava 1894 Traditional Houses
Atina and Melanie are the best hostesses and will help you with everything from meal recommendations and reservations to booking a car or cruise. The caves are luxurious without being over the top, the view stunning, and breakfasts divine. It is in a prime location for heading further into Ia or catching a cab to the rest of the island.
- Rent a Car
Expect to get a little lost, but there’s no better way to explore the island. You don’t need to be aggressive as local drivers will simply pass you if you’re moving at anything less than race track speeds. All you need is a drivers license. The rental company will deliver and pick up the car, but you may have to find a place to park it overnight either in a public or private parking lot. For one day, a basic automatic rental is roughly 45 euros, extra insurance is 10 euros, and gas is another 10 euros.
- Hike to Ancient Thira
There’s nothing like communing with the gods. Be prepared for a few heart palpitations on the hairpin turns and lack of barriers as you get closer to the top. From time to time you may have to share the road with other cars or a bus. Just try to ignore the sheer drop off the mountain, take a deep breath, say a little prayer, take a swig of mastiha (um, no, don’t drink and drive), rinse and repeat. Who knows you may even meet a few immortals at the top.
- Beach Time at Perivolas (Black Beach)
Luckily for us, it was the coldest May in recent memory so we only went for a short stroll, but the stretch along this shore is covered in beautiful black sand with loungers to rent and plenty of cafes and restaurants. It would be a great afternoon destination in the right weather. We stopped at Sea Side for lunch and found the ambiance to be very beach chic, but the food lackluster. The shrimp souffle was anything but fluffy and tasty. Not to fear, there are plenty of establishments to choose from.
- Be a Wino at Santo Winery
For 12 euros you can share a wine tasting with 6 glasses (including Santorini’s sweet vinsanto liquer) + cheese + bread, or not. What you can’t split is the sweeping view of the caldera with Fira and Ia in the distance. There’s also a food store on premise where you can take home Santorini snacks and any of the vintages from the tasting. Since the other wineries were not yet open for the season we don’t have a basis for comparison, but Santo Winery seems to be one of the larger establishments with a view and plenty of seating indoors and out. It feels a little like Beringer Winery in Napa.
- Lunch at Papagalos
The tomato balls were the best we had on Santorini and the shrimp saganaki was very good as well. The restaurant is raised from the main street and has a nice view of the caldera from the patio.
- Feed Your Soul at Selene in Pyrgos
Pyrgos was worth the drive and getting lost. Just ask someone for directions if you’re not sure you’re on the right track. The turn off to Pyrgos, if you’re coming from Fira, is clearly marked, but you do end up along a stretch where all signs disappear. Don’t worry, it’s the right direction. Pyrgos is built on a hill and has pretty views of the entire island. Head to Selene in the early evening with enough time and light to see the city before settling in for dinner. Selene is a gourmet establishment so it’s a small splurge (about 40-50 euros per person without alcohol), but the French fare definitely lives up to the price.
- Cruise the Mediterranean in a Catamaran
The 130 euros per person price tag may make you a little light-headed, but it’s well worth it if you don’t suffer too terribly from seasickness. Even if you do get seasick, it’s worth it, just stay on deck and have someone cut your pork chop. Atina booked us on the Lagoon 440 operated by http://www.sailingsantorini.com which includes a grilled seafood/meat/veggie lunch and transfers to/from the port. The catamaran is gleaming white and maintained with special vigilance by the crew so you can expect a very clean boat. If you bring a hat, make sure it is glued to your head.
- Visit Yiorgos at Poniris in Fira
The ultimate jewelry shop is very close to the tram station at the very top of Fira. You’ve heard enough about our adventures with Poniris so I’ll leave it at that.
- Soak in the Sunset from Ia Castle
http://www.weather.com publishes sunset times so you can time your arrival for the sun’s exit. Just remember the published sunset time is the time the sun disappears entirely, so give yourself plenty of time to get to the far end of Ia to stake out a prime spot. You’ll have plenty of company, but it’s the best spot on the island to soak in the most beautiful sunset in the world.
- Remember the Sunscreen!
The prices for sunscreen are exorbitant (something like 20 euros), so pack plenty. Also, it can get pretty windy on the island. If you have allergies or think you may need them, your eyes and nose will thank you for bringing along Claritan and eye drops.
- See the Port at Fira
Unless your love for donkeys overrides all, there’s really nothing to do or see down in the port. Taking the tram down/up is a tourist trap. The views are pretty, but the ride is less than 2 minutes and you can get the same or better views from the top. Before the trip, I read the donkey rides are a Must Not, and now I know why. If donkeys prove irresistible, climbing up is probably less treacherous than taking them down into the port. Tickets for the tram are one-way so you can take the tram down and the donkeys back up. Be prepared for poop.
- Have Dinner at Red Bicycle
Red Bicycle is a well rated and recommended restaurant. Giada even visited. The restaurant’s decor is bohemian chic reminiscent of a Parisian cafe and has a beautiful view, but it’s probably a better value at lunch. For dinner, the prices are comparable to Selene, but the fare and experience is not.
- Stay in Fira
Unless you are in Santorini for the night life, Fira feels chaotic and touristy. To be fair, we did not explore the city much. From what we did see it has a much more hurried, less vacation friendly, pace than Ia.
- Red Beach
We read about this beach, but since the catamaran was going that way, we decided not to visit in person. From the sea, it looks to be a small beach. To reach it you’ll have to climb over a rocky cliff, probably not difficult to do in flip flops, but not easy either. It might be worth a visit if you have the time.
- Take a Gander from Ia to Fira
We heard the views were outstanding, so we set out from Ia prepared for a 2-3 hour walk to Fira. Unfortunately we veered from the path and ended up catching a cab instead. If you have the time and the right shoes, it’s likely an unforgettable walk/hike as you’ll be able to see the entire island from many points.
- Rent a Car
There are many rental stations around, even Hertz offices, so getting a car shouldn’t be a problem. A drivers license is needed. It’s also possible to rent ATVs and mopeds, but with the wind and sun the tiny rental cars are much more comfortable. You’ll want a zippy little ride to work on your Mykonos tan, even if for just a day.
- Hit the Beach
All beaches are not created equal. Our favorite beaches are Ilia, Super Paradise and Psarou. They all have loungers for rent and cafes/restaurants nearby with Super Paradise and Psarou having the best loungers. The price for loungers at Super Paradise was 12 euros/day.
- Nibble at Namma BBQ
This looks to be a very recent addition to the food scene in Mykonos Town. It offers perfectly grilled meats and veggies, and warm pitas with different dips. The pitas are more like flat dinner rolls and pairs perfectly with the tomato chutney dip or hummus. It’s a hip place for checking out red suspenders while having a well-priced afternoon snack or light meal.
- Get Lost in Mykonos Town
Mykonos Town was built like a labyrinth to protect against pirates. If you must, wear an eye patch while wandering the tangled streets for anything from Diesel and Juice Couture to handwoven scarfs, local beachwear and crepes.
- Dine at Avli tou Thodori
We were feeling a little nostalgic for moussaka and shrimp saganaki and this was a wonderful place to enjoy it. Even though we ordered Greek comfort food, this venue is not an old style taverna. The cheery lights inside and outside the glass wall gives its polished interior a welcoming feel on cold dark windy nights. On warm nights, the glass panels are folded and the restaurant is open to the beach just a few meters away.
- Meet the Gems at Poniros
Say Hi to Fotis and Angela, and browse the stunning collection of jewels. Or better yet, spend the afternoon with them.
- Order the Bread and Dip at Nammos
Our bill for the bread and dip priced at 6 euros came out to 18 euros. That’s 6 euros per person. Oh, and the water is 6 euros, too. The restaurant would appear to be a perfect spot to enjoy an afternoon snack and Scrabble lovers will swoon at the decor, but you may leave feeling a bit cheated… or a lot.
- Flock to the Acropolis
If there is any hesitation, just go. You won’t be disappointed by the stately ruins and epic views, even if the scaffolding makes you a bit sad. The walk can be little demanding on a hot day, so pack a bottle of water or a hat and extra deodorant for the trek up.
- Be a Tourist, Have a Kebab at Thanasis
This is the place everyone goes for kebabs. Thanasis is known for their kebabs and you’ll get a generous serving of lamb/beef goodness on a hot pillowy pita. Warning to gyros seekers: Thanasis does not serve gyros. But it is easy to find, located just outside Monastiraki metro station at the start of Mitropoleos Street.
- Tend Your Sweet Tooth at Hatzis
A whimsical and elegant bakery near the corner of Mitropoleos and Nikis Street just off Syntagma Square, you’ll be treated to a fairy array of sweets. Our favorite was the buffalo milk creme brulee called Kazan Dipi or maybe it’s called Trigona Thassalonikis. Either way, you can’t go wrong with any of the traditional sweets served here.
- See the New Acropolis Museum
If museums are not high on your list, the entrance to the New Acropolis Museum is still worth a visit. The museum is built directly over an active excavation site. Walking over the glass panels in the courtyard, lobby and entrance allows visitors a glimpse into the ruins being restored just below. For 5 euros, you can follow the excavation inside the stunning modern building, and even see a live video demonstration of the restoration of the Careatids using a new laser technique developed by the museum.
Good to Know
- Don’t Let the Strikes Get You Down
Strikes and protests are a regular occurrence due to Greece’s current economic crisis. They have been happening every few weeks and have been the reason for public transit outages and even flight delays. We were not discouraged to visit City Center during a planned demonstration and even after an escalated protest the day before. Armed guards were on duty in plain sight. I am not encouraging disregard of the political unrest because I was concerned about it, too. The Greeks we met, however, shrugged off the strikes and protests as a regular part of life in Athens.