Santorini Travel Guide – Best Places to Visit and Eat
I’m not at all ashamed to admit it Mom Mia was one of my favorite movies in high school. Beach parties. Crystal clear water. That romantic island energy. Everything was so dreamer. Once it was safe to travel again, there was only one place I wanted to be: on a beach in Greece, having fun and feeling like number one.
My teenage dream came true during a recent vacation to beautiful Santorini, the supermodel of all the Greek islands. Located in the Aegean Sea, Santorini is famous for its sun-bleached buildings, gram-worthy pink bougainvillea, and dazzling panoramic views. The island also has amazing beaches, nightlife, and (of course) cuisine. Think: fresh feta drizzled with olive oil, juicy tomatoes bursting with flavor and crisp white wine.
There is paradise and then there is Santorini. For ELLE Escapes, I’ve compiled some of my favorite places to eat, drink, stay, and experience the magic of the island. There’s a reason they did Mama Mia 2—once you visit Greece, you will definitely want to come back.
Symposium Cultural Center
Down a winding path of whitewashed houses and mysterious wooden doors in the virtually untouched (and car-free!) village of Megalochori lies a hidden treasure for those interested in Greek mythology. The Symposion Cultural Center, housed in a turn-of-the-century wine shop, is an immersive experience that blends ancient tales and music. At Symposion, you’ll enjoy a live band, a visit to a traditional artisan’s workshop, a lovely herb garden, and a cafe serving local wine and beers.
The best way to see Santorini? By boat, of course. Santorini Sailing offers exclusive access to the island’s most popular sites without having to navigate through the crowds. Lie back on one of the catamaran’s netting areas, snap a photo or two, and feel your blood pressure drop in real time as you cruise past the red-sand beaches and volcanic islands in the center of the caldera. On board, the crew prepares a delicious lunch of local fish, Greek salad, homemade tzatziki and freshly baked bread, so come hungry.
Church of Agios Nikolaos
The dusty path to Agios Nikolaos is precarious – and steep – but definitely worth the trek with the right shoes. The humble church, built into a rocky cliff, has the traditional triptych of bells you’ll see all over Greece. On the switchbacks to find Agios Nikolaos (and, beware, it can be tricky to find), you’ll pass a cobbled staircase where, on the right side, there’s a hole in the white volcanic ash looking out to sea. The cutout is called the “Heart of Santorini”. Two breathtaking attractions, one ride.
Dinner in a 400-year-old wine cellar? Wine no! (Sorry, I had to.) Alati is a Mediterranean restaurant that offers fabulous fresh fish and local libations. With an innovative seafood menu, Alati offers a unique (and very romantic!) dining experience by candlelight. Try the grilled white fish and the Greek salad prepared with the island’s famous cherry tomatoes. The carefully curated wine list features selections from local vineyards, and don’t not jump on the dessert. Pavlova will change your life.
Run by celebrity chef Olivier Campanha, Lure is as much an experience as it is a restaurant. Nestled in the beautiful hillside town of Oia, the heart of Santorini, Lure is an upscale Greek restaurant that is, without a doubt, the most romantic spot on the island. Here’s the receipt to prove it: At a recent dinner in Lure, I witnessed a beautiful marriage proposal at a nearby table.
For a more casual lunch, consider Raki in Megalochori village. To get there, you’ll pass under the iconic bell tower of the Church of the Virgin Mary and pass locals playing cards on picnic benches. In the main square of Megalochori, Raki stands out for its outdoor tables set under a magnificent drapery of bougainvillea. The staff treated me like I had been coming for years and the traditional Greek food is some of the best on the island, especially the honey sesame seed feta cheese. Wash it all down with a glass of ouzo.
Gavalas wine estate
The family-run Gavalas winery is one of Santorini’s oldest and most prestigious wineries, focusing on limited-production bottling of local varieties. Gavalas is also the only winery in Santorini that vinifies rare indigenous varieties like Katsano and Voudomato. The result is a lively, airy and fragrant Greek wine. Gavalas offers tastings and intimate tours, where a member of staff will explain the unique process of making each variety on offer. Please note that the experience lasts approximately one hour and reservations must be made in advance.
A celebrity hangout, Franco’s in Fira is one of the best places to catch a famous Santorini sunset. The bar, which plays classical music on a loop, offers stunning views of the Aegean Sea from its balcony. Skip the food and instead opt for something from Franco’s long list of innovative cocktails and appetizers. The ouzo daiquiri is outstanding.
Theros wave bar
Located on Vlychada’s Eros Beach, Theros Wave Bar has been voted one of the best beach bars in the Mediterranean, and for good reason. Set away from the crowded beach clubs you might think of when you imagine Santorini, Theros is the perfect place to relax in paradise, with a drink in hand, of course.
While many luxury hotels in Santorini cling to the cliff, Vedema is further inland in the medieval village of Megalochori. Less known than Oia and Fira, Megalochori has fewer tourists and all the charm. During a recent tour of the property, the manager of Vedema told me that celebrities like Beyoncé prefer Vedema for their stays in Santorini because of its quiet location. In addition to private luxury, Vedema offers free parking, shuttle service and a helipad, as well as several swimming pools, bars and restaurants. Front desk agent Pavlos is the perfect guide, helping to book boat trips and reservations at traditional tavernas.
Mystique is a luxury hotel in Oia that features two sparkling pools, a spa, and the beautiful on-site restaurant Lure. If you are looking for a romantic getaway, Mystique is for you. The retreat offers unparalleled and unobstructed private sea views. Plus, most rooms have private hot tubs, plunge pools, or both.
Andronis Concept wellness center
Located in Imerovigli, Andronis features private terraces and infinity pools overlooking the Aegean Sea. What sets this property apart from other hotels is its focus on health and wellness. Guests can use the yoga deck and world-class spa with private rooms, Tibetan body treatments, and massages.
Rose is an editor at ELLE and oversees articles and projects on women’s issues. She’s an accomplished and compassionate storyteller and editor who excels at landing exclusive interviews and uncovering compelling features.