Tag Archives: greek islands


After the tourist hell that was Mykonos, I have sort of been dreading coming to Santorini. From all I had seen in advance, it was the prettiest of all of the Greek Islands, the striking white villages perched high up on the cliffs, overlooking the sea. Yes it would be stunning, but these views have attracted steady streams of tourists for many many years. And this is the bit that was troubling me.

Santorini is the most visited of all of the Greek Islands and is one of the top tourist destinations in the world. It lies 200 km southeast of Athens. Pre-Covid Santorini was getting around 2 million tourists each year.

Santorini is shaped like a half-moon as it was originally formed in around 1650 BC after a huge volcano erupted and the island is the remains of the caldera. The five villages of Fira (the one we are in), Oia (the famous sunset one), Imerovigli, Firostefani, and Akrotiri all sit atop the caldera and offer spectacular views into the crater.

Having hopped the midday ferry from Naxos, we did the 2 hour journey to Santorini which was relatively calm until…It was time to get off. And almost everyone got off. Thousands of people, on one of the big ferries, all trying to get their bags and get off the ferry, it was bedlam. Add to this all the vehicles and trucks on the ferry that had to wait for the hordes to exit before they could move.

From here you spill out onto the docks to find almost the same amount of people trying to cram themselves onto the ferry to leave. Add to this the tour group operators (that Jill has come to despise) the busses, taxis and motor transports all trying to find their passengers. To say this was a debacle would be underselling it.

Once in your transport, you then get to watch the traffic and graffiti for the next 40 minutes or so. The road out is a series of ever-diminishing switchbacks (8 in all) to climb the incredibly steep cliffside. This climb is done by everyone, busses, trucks, cars, transports and motorbikes. The road is narrow and only just allows these vehicles to pass on the straights. So at every switchback, the bus or truck invariably spilled over into the other lane jamming up traffic. Did I mention the thousands of people? A full coach only holds around 50 people. So we are talking 60-70 buses, along with minivans, trucks, lorries and fuel tankers all inching their way up this cliff.

Fira (with a population of about 2000) is the capital of Santorini, it is the cultural and economic centre of the island. On the west side of the island, it sits at the centre of the caldera. Fira apparently got its name through the mispronunciation of the word “Thera” in the late 18th Century when piracy stopped existing in the Aegean. 

There are more than 1,000 beds per square km, more than any other isle after Kos and Rhodes, and in a destination of only 76 sq km, more than 700 restaurants, cafes, bars and bakeries – the vast majority concentrated in Fira, the main town.

There are two ports in Santorini, the old and the new. We got off at the new port. The old port is reserved for cruise ship tenders that drop their passengers at the bottom of the cliff (unless you have booked a day trip, then you get dropped at the new port to a waiting bus). Local laws were passed in 2015, limiting the number of cruise ship passengers allowed on the island each day to 8,000. But this was quickly thrown away and now up to 7 cruise ships (3000-5000 per boat) could be parked in the bay during peak times. Once you get off your cruise ship and have been dropped at the bottom of the hill you have 3 options:

  • Ride the cable car to the top (for 6 euro each way)
    • Walk the 587 steps and climb up to the town
  • Or hire a donkey to walk the stairs for you for 10 euro each way (25-35 mins)

Whichever way you get there, once up the cliff you are surrounded by the island’s iconic white-washed buildings and blue-domed churches. And there are tons of churches. We found this out at the crack of dawn the next morning when the bells went off, for about 20 mins, repeatedly.

The main show for the Catholics is the Cathedral of St John the Baptist which was was built in 1823 but restored in 1970 after an earthquake (1956).

The main show for the Greek Orthodox is the Candlemas Holy Orthodox Cathedral which was built in 1827 and was also renovated after the earthquake.

But it is the Three Bells of Fira that is the money shot that you see on all of the postcards and Instagram shots. Officially it is the Aghioi Theodoroi Church (Saint Theodoros Thira Holy Orthodox Church) in the village of Firostefani (which is really just part of Fira).

The biggest challenge that you get here is to find an angle where you can avoid the Instagrammers while also cutting out the the cruise ships from the photo. If you are patient enough this can happen.

Ignoring all of the hustle and bustle, the township is quite pretty and you can certainly see why it is such a popular tourist destination. The one thing missing was Greek people. The shops and bars were mainly staffed by foreigners and there were very few locals that we could find. Doing our research we found that unless you worked in the tourism sector, you could not afford to live here. This rang true on Jill’s booking experience, the first place she booked was closer to town. By changing our location to a bit further out we managed to save $500 on accommodation (we only stayed 2 nights).

Santorini has started its own beer brand and sells it everywhere it can. We figured that we should give it a try. They are predominantly IPAs which means they are too malty for my tastes. I tried the lager but it was too fruity. Talking to a barman (at another place) he said that there were no preservatives and therefore they must be kept cool or they go off. This may have been the case, as my lager was very ordinary.

Also in town were the Museum of Prehistoric Thera and the Archaeological Museum. We did not go in, but for those interested, they are options.

When googling what to see and do in Santorini the top things that come up are sailing cruises around the bays and a range of wineries. The number one thing that comes up is the hike from Fira to Oia. When you look a bit deeper, you find that this is a 10+ km journey along a pathway up and down, along the edge of the caldera. I looked at the images and the various photos were spectacular, but I’m not doing that, as long as my ass points towards the ground, I’m not doing that.


So instead of doing a ludicrous walk, we paid about 2 euros each and caught the local bus to Oia. Every evening the local buses, along with private coachloads of tourists, descend on Oia. The crowds push their way along the village’s packed central alleyway, they head past the shops selling luxury gear and trinkets. All with one goal to find their vantage point of choice (the eateries and bars that line the clifftop rim), so that they can settle in for sunset while they pay top dollar for cocktails and panoramic views.

Now this town is stunning. It is the sunset point that everybody craves and with good reason. It is set up perfectly for it too. The front strip is brand new (rebuilt after a major earthquake) and is full of cafes and restaurants, all facing west. And of course, the prices are obscene and every Instagrammer is dolled up and ready for their vanity shots.

Every now and then you pop up on a place that has not had a makeover, but for the most part, this place has been fully revamped. As terribly expensive as this place is, the good side is that the top thing to do is free. And that is to walk and just simply enjoy and admire the view, which is truly amazing.

A check of the accommodation sites shows you that a villa in prime position, built into the cliffside overlooking the volcanic caldera, can cost up to €15,000 ($25,000) a night. And with growing demand for the spectacular views as a backdrop for weddings, marriage proposals and vow renewals, everyone is booked solid.

Leaving Oia (before waiting for sunset) we headed back to the bus stop to return to Fira, only to find about 200 people in line waiting to do the same thing. Now, now only about 50 people fit on a bus and they only come every 30 mins. We were not waiting 2 hrs to get home. An opportunistic van driver was parked nearby offering immediate departure for €10 a head. So once his 11 seats were filled we went and he made €110 for a 20 minute drive.

Santorini Beaches. Due to the the volcanic nature of Santorini, the beaches have become their own attraction. The past volcanic eruptions not only shaped the island but also the beaches. There are distinct differences in the colours of the sand (red, white and black) as well as some covered in volcanic rocks and pebbles. The tourism blurb claims that “the dissimilar beaches will please everybody”. 

Perissa and Perivolos offer the best long beaches covered with black sand and pebbles. Kamari Beach is also a black sand beach but according to the locals, the beach itself is not the best, since it has pebbles and small rocks which hurt your feet. All of these come equipped with beach umbrellas and sunbeds with beach bars and restaurants nearby.

The White Beach in Santorini or Lefki Ammos, as called by the locals, is a beach of black pebbles and grey volcanic sand under high white cliffs. The sand on the beach is not white, as its name clearly indicates.

The Red Beach of Santorini is surrounded by volcanic cliffs and rocks, leaving the black and red pebbles and red sand

Ancient Thira

The Mount of Prophet Elias is the highest point of Santorini. From up here you can see the whole island! Most notably you see the huge difference between the tourist side on the cliffs to the west and the traditional side on the flat part of Santorini to the East. Our short time did not allow us to visit here but the photos look nice.

On our last day, we had a few hours to kill as we had a 4pm ferry out and had to be out of our room at 11am. So I settled in to write this, while Jill got into a long chat with the manager/receptionist of the hotel. In this chat, a whole lot of things came up that we had no idea about.

The number one for me was that this place did not run all year round. I knew that there was a tourism window from April to November, with peak times in July and August. What I did not realise is that from the end of November, everything shuts down. Apparently, there are only 2 restaurants open and virtually all hotels shut their doors. December and January everyone leaves, and in February/March the cobwebs get dusted off in preparation of the next run.

We are used to tourism in Australia where everything runs all the time. Sure there are peaks and troughs (school holidays etc) but it never just stops dead. Well, it does here.

As much as I dreaded coming to Santorini, both Jill and I enjoyed it. Yes, it was obscenely overpriced (especially in Oia), and it was full of Instagrammers and plastic people. And yes it was a tourism mecca and the crowds were crazy, but we still enjoyed it. We chatted and tried to work out why we liked this but disliked Mykonos so much. We don’t have an answer, but we really did not enjoy Mykonos but did Santorini.


Getting here was a 50 minute ferry ride from Mykonos (which was delayed multiple times). The ferry itself was great, a speedy catamaran with comfortable seats.

A side note here is that virtually every ferry that we have booked has had numerous changes (of either ship or time). Because of this, the original seat allocation may as well be thrown in the bin before you even start. They will find you a couple of spare seats and sit you down. This is fine if there are just 2 of you, but becomes a nightmare for large groups who want to sit together.

Paros became famous for its white marble called ‘Parian marble’. This is a fine-grained semi translucent pure-white and entirely flawless marble and was mainly quarried here during the classical era (500-336BC).

This marble was used in both architecture and sculpture. Some of the masterpieces of ancient Greek sculpture were made with this pure white, translucent material. Notably these include (L-R): The statues of Hermes by Praxiteles, Venus de Milo (i.e. Aphrodite of Milos), Nike [Winged Victory] of Samothrace, and the Caryatids, (the pillars holding up the patio of the Erechtheion on the Acropolis).

As soon as we arrived on Paros, I knew that I would love this place. It had all of the beauty of Mykonos (without the huge prices and plastic people) and Syros (without the stairs). We settled into our hotel and went for a late afternoon stroll, which turned into a few beers watching the sunset. And followed onto a dinner on the waterfront promenade.

Paros is one of the bigger of the Cycladic islands and it offers the same narrow streets, bougainvillea covered buildings, seaside promenades, cafes, restaurants and beaches as most of the other more famous islands of the region.

Parikia is the capital town and main port of Paros, as well as the centre of commercial and cultural life (and our home for the next few days).

There are no big resorts here. Your only option is staying at a smaller family-owned type hotel. We somehow managed to get the one that takes tour buses of 18-25 year olds doing the Greek islands tour. This meant that every 2 days a new busload of around 50  noisy millennials would turn up. On average about 30 of that 50 were Aussie girls. The early pool infestation was loud and noisy in the afternoons, but they all headed out to the promenade for sunset and partied into the evening. Our next real interaction was the next morning when we heard the moaning as they dealt with their hangovers.

Given the size of the island, the next day we chose to hire a car and see all the extra bits that were tough to reach. This was new for us as usually we just wander around or hire motorcycles or scooters. Add to this it was a left hand drive, driving on the right, mad-ass Greek drivers, a 1 litre Peugeot with no power, no ability to read Greek and no real idea where we were going. So that was us – and off we went.

Our first major stop was the town of Lefkes where we wandered the small narrow streets until we found ourselves at the main church of Agia Triada (Holy Trinity), built in 1830. We did stop at a tiny (any guesses?) blue and white church along the way.

From here we found ourselves at a local winery where Jill proceeded to sample the wares. Given that I was driving and I had enough going on I chose not to partake. But the wines were nice and the setting was very nice indeed.

We saw the church of Agios Ioannis (Saint John) Detis (built in the 17th century). It was very nice, but when in Greece the sight of a whitewashed church with a blue domed roof is a dime a dozen and you pass one every 10 minutes or so on the road. A few more stops saw us checking in at Lageri Beach, Santa Maria Beach and driving through millionaires row (on the other side of the island) where there are some truly stunning villas (obviously holiday homes for the rich and famous). The most striking thing that we saw was the quality of the stonework that was in place all around the island. Masonry in Greece is not a dying art and is alive and well.

Just across the way from Paros is the island of Antiparos. This had me imagining some evil twin scenario where one had turned and had become evil. In fact, it is one of those Greek islands that had managed to stay off the radar. I say had because several years ago the actor Tom Hanks bought a block of land and built a villa. Since then, he and a range of other “A-listers” have been regularly visiting. According to locals, he has done a lot of good (improving hospitals etc) but the prices have gone up 400% since he arrived. So now many of the Antiparos locals live on Paros and catch the ferry over to run their businesses.

After a half day of driving (only about 120km), we had circumnavigated the island, including some off-roading (in our 1 litre monster) to the choice photo spots. And we had seen all the bits there was to see. Long story short, this place is amazing.

The next day we hopped on the local the bus and headed to the town of Naousa. This is the more popular town about 9km up the road. Well we soon worked out where all the vacuous people had gone to. This is a really pretty tourist town whose streets are awash with Instagrammers all posing for their shots. You could see why though, the streets were pristine and it was set up for the tourists. Oh, and there were ducks.

One of the more amusing sights was when two groups of Instagrammers met and everyone needed shots of the same location. Oh, the Mexican standoff that ensued. The other thing that I have learned on this trip is the VERY different demands that are placed on boyfriends in 2023. No longer is being a loving and supportive partner enough, now you must have done a photography course and be patient enough to take endless photos of your girlfriend’s back while she peers over her own shoulder back towards you.

On the tourism front, there is a small Venetian Castle that was built in the 15th century perched on the end of the old port and the blue-domed chapel of St. Nikolas. You can walk across a tiny causeway (about 60cm wide) to the castle, but must navigate the crashing waves and vicious winds in doing so.

From here we headed back to Parikia and figured that we had better check out the tourist spots where we were staying as all we had really done was enjoy the food, cafes, restaurants, and the promenade. So we saw the Monastery of Panagia Ekatontapiliani (the Virgin Mary of the Hundred Doors), the Pamegiston Taksiarxon (another blue-domed, whitewashed church), another windmill, and the (very unimpressive) Frankish castle (built in 1260 by the Venetians).

OK, so I think that this is our favourite of the Greek Islands so far. It is very scenic, well priced, relatively flat (so that you don’t have to kill yourself going up and down stairs) and has a nice local feel to it while still catering well to the tourists. If you want the super pretty and Instagram world head up the road to Naousa, for the more relaxed version, stay in Parikia, and if you want the private retreat, rent a villa.


The Greek archipelago has nearly 2,000 islands of varying sizes and accessibility.

Leaving Athens we hopped a ferry to the Aegean Island of Syros (about 150km SW of Athens). This will be the first of many island-hopping adventures in Greece. The Greek islands have been on Jill’s Bucket list for a long time (most particularly Mykonos and Santorini) but while we are here we will be seeing a bunch of the others.

The first of which is Syros.

Let’s start with the ferries. What an absolute delight. The first one we got on was, a 1900 passenger and car ferry taking us from the Athens port of Piraeus.  The boat was doing a milk run to almost all of the islands but as we were the first stop it was pretty nice. We were in cattle class and did not spring for business but we still had large roomy seats, plenty of space, luggage rooms, cafe’s and restaurants, what more could you want or need. By all accounts there were even cabins downstairs for those doing the long haul trips to the further away islands, but we didn’t see them.

Lets not be silly here, we have all seen the photos of the Greek Islands and the images are amazing. And sadly, they actually look this way. Syros is certainly not as pretty as some of the others that regularly get featured, but it is still stunning.

Syros Island used to be one of the most significant islands in cycladic civilisation (early Bronze age). We landed off the ferry in the island’s capital Ermoupolis (named after God Hermes). Ermoupolis was the first commercial and industrial centre of Greece (in the 1800’s) mainly due to its location and deep water port.

 When booking, Jill got us our own little house on the top op the hill in an area known as – Ano Syros. This is the medieval settlement of Syros and offered some stunning views over the town, ocean and the port. The official spiel says that it is a classical cycladic medieval settlement that is densely built with narrow roads, circular order and a radial street plan. I will attest to the narrow streets but would seriously question any sort of order or plan.

The little house Jill got us involved kicking out some little old lady from her home for a few days. This is the nature of the locals cashing in on the tourist dollar I guess. After getting off the ferry we hopped a cab to the top of the hill where we me George and Angelika (the lady we were ousting). We then hiked up and down the narrow streets (mostly up and down stairs) lugging our big bags for about 700m until we got to Angelika’s house.

Angelika was small, but her house was built for a hobbit. It was a 2 storey tiny house. Downstairs was a kitchen and toilet/shower while upstairs had a bedroom and another small room with no particular purpose. The door to downstairs was a stable type door that reached up to my nipples. So to enter I needed to bend virtually fully at the waist, not just ducking.

The bedroom was tiny and the staircase between the floors was so small that neither Jill nor I could manage them. On the way down we could take the first two stairs but then needed to sit on the step and slide our bums from stair to stair as we were both too tall to traverse them effectively. This was fine unless you wanted to use the toilet during the evening. The corner of the toilet featured a huge rock that was obviously too hard to chisel out when building the house, so they just left it there. The downstairs ceiling had some lovely ancient logs that added a ton of character.

The Church of Saint George is the christian church built in the top of the hill of Ano Syros. It was originally built in 1208 but had been destroyed and rebuilt three times since.

Ano Syros was lovely but it did involve stairs, lots and lots of stairs. Every trip out of our (tiny) house was an adventure, involving a ton of stairs, a more than decent hike, and it was even worse trying to get in and out with our big bags. But up on the hill there was the odd cafe/bar/restaurant with just amazing views.

Of particular note was an eclectic little place that was about as bohemian as you could get. The food was sensational, cheap and the atmosphere was buzzing. You could barely breathe from the amount of smoke that filled the place (more than the fair share was added by the chefs as they cooked). And you were constantly harassed throughout your meal by gangs of marauding cats (at least 5 that inhabited the restaurant during opening hours).

The next day we hiked from our house back out to the road and got on the (free) bus to take us back down to the port of Ermoupolis and spent most of the day wandering around town. This is only a few km from our place and was at the bottom of the hill. It is a regular(ish) port for cruise ships so the waterfront is packed with cafes, restaurants and tourist shops.

The other side of town holds the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Nicholas (the patron saint of seafarers, is also the patron saint of Ermoupoli). Construction began in 1848 and took 22 years to complete. The church is known as Agios Nikolaos “the rich,” to distinguish it from “Agios Nikolaos of the poor” another church on Syros.

Because of the siesta that is taken in Greece we were unable ot take the bus back up to Ano Syros unless we were willing to wait until 6:45pm (we were dropped off at around 10:45am). So we did our bits and caught a taxi up the hill. This is something that we ended up having to do several times and our fare (for the identical trip) ranged from 4 to 8 euro.

On our last full day in Syros my looks got me confused once again. This has been a regular occurrence as we have travelled the world, especially once I get a bit of a tan. In Egypt they thought I was Italian and in Italy they thought I was Egyptian. In south and central america most people just assumed I was Latino and spoke Spanish to me. It even got to the point in India where people were speaking Hindi to me thinking I was local.

Well in Syros, the local politician greeted me whilst I was having a coffee at a local cafe. He handed me his promotional material and launched into a full spiel in Greek. Once I set him straight, he took his stuff back and headed to the next table. A short while later we popped into the supermarket to get some milk and the shop keeper launched into a full conversation with me while I stared blankly.

On our last evening we went to one of the little restaurants on the hill (the one with the best view) for our final Syros meal. We ordered the large platter of small things. This was like an Italian antipasto platter but with a distinctly Greet twist. Washed down with a carafe of wine and a beer we had our most expensive meal in Greece so far.

Having seen Syros and having looked at the tourist photos of our next few ports of call, I am growing a little concerned that the variety of the next few posts may be a little light on. They all seem quite similar. Stunning views, narrow streets, tons of stairs, oceans and seaside townships. Anyway, bear with us.