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Hidden Gems In Santorini: Greece Travel Guide (& The Island’s Best Kept Secret!)

Nothing screams “bucket list” more than Santorini, Greece. Really… I can’t think of a single person who doesn’t want to visit here at least once in their lifetime. If you aren’t one of these people (why are you reading this), I hope I’ve convinced you otherwise by the end of this. This post is going to cover everything you need to know about visiting this Greek island, with a focus on some hidden gems in Santorini and hacks I’ve learned after a few visits here.

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What To Know Before You Go: The Greece Basics

Airport

The Santorini (Thira) International Airport (JTR) is located near the island’s capital, Thira (Fira). It’s a smaller airport, so most tourists fly into Athens first. Unless you’re coming from another airport in Europe, you should plan on visiting Santorini from Athens.

hidden gems in Santorini, Greece

Currency

Santorini is an island in Greece, which is a part of the EU, so the currency here is the Euro. Credit cards are widely accepted throughout, although you’ll need a chip or tap feature to use them most easily in Europe. Cash is also helpful for the taxis around the island.

Pro-tip: Hold onto Euro coins when traveling! A lot of Americans don’t value coins but they add up while traveling in Europe and are often needed in most of the public bathrooms on the island.

Weather

Santorini’s climate is mild year-round. The shoulder seasons (March – May and September – November) will be a much quieter and more affordable time to visit the island. Although the sea will most likely be too cold to swim in, making catamaran sails around the island a bit unenjoyable too, there will be NO crowds. During peak summer months, the island gets incredibly hot (80-90s) and crowded. Even the best hidden gems in Santorini will be packed! I’ve been in June and September and preferred the September visit in terms of weather.

hidden gems in Santorini, Greece

Language

Greek is spoken throughout the islands although English is also widely spoken throughout, especially in Oia where there are herds of tourists during peak months.

Tipping

Similar to other countries within the EU, tipping isn’t necessary in restaurants. If someone helps you with your luggage up and down Santorini’s steep cliffs, maybe tip then!

Where To Stay In Santorini

This section could be an entire blog post itself, and maybe if I go back one day, it will be. I’ve been asked by numerous people about where to stay on the island because there are SO many options. It can be incredibly overwhelming to plan a trip here. Furthermore, this island is extremely costly, making it quite expensive to stay centrally. Unless you’re looking to stay in a cliff-side suite with an infinity pool and pay at least $3,000 a night to do it, I suggest doing some research. Starting by reading this post!

When I first visited Santorini from Athens in September 2017, my friend and I found the cutest 2-star, family-owned B&B right in the heart of Oia — only a stone’s throw away from the famous Oia Castle. This spot, the Markos Rooms, was also incredibly affordable. It was basic for sure, but we were paying for the location and the views. This particular hotel has since closed, but keep an eye out for other B&Bs in Oia. Even if they aren’t the nicest hotels, I promise the views are priceless.

Where to stay in Santorini

Budget-friendly options for staying in Oia, Santorini:

Sunset Paradise Oia

Apartments at Sunset Paradise in Oia have garden and city views, and offer balconies! The rooms come with air conditioning and free WiFi. Additionally, all units have a fully equipped kitchenette with a fridge and stovetop. Kitchenware and a coffee machine are also available.

Kiklamino Sunset Studios

Located just 2,625 feet from the center of Oia, Kiklamino Sunset Studios is PERFECT for enjoying views over Santorini and the Aegean Sea! This family-run inn features apartments with furnished balconies, free WiFi, air conditioning, kitchenettes, and private bathrooms with amenities, like a hair dryer. The reception area here would be happy to organize island tours and car rentals so you can easily explore the hidden gems in Santorini on your own! Two-way transfers from the port and airport are also available on request. There is also a bus stop to Fira just outside the property.

Mid-range to Luxury options for staying in Oia, Santorini:

Almyra Oia Suites

Located on the northern coast of Oia, Almyra Oia Suites offers accommodations with Aegean Sea views — one of the best views in Santorini! Guests can enjoy direct access to a beach from the hotel’s private terrace. Each suite is air conditioned and comes with a furnished terrace with a pool, umbrellas, and sun beds. Almyra Oia Suites is located 2.5 miles from the center of Oia, but car and motorbike rentals can be arranged by the hotel.

If you’re striking out with B&Bs in Oia, check Thira! Thira, or Fira, is the capital of Santorini and is just as stunning as Oia without all the crowds. This city is located centrally on the island, making it the perfect jumping off point to Oia, wineries, Red beach, and beyond. Thira has dozens of its own restaurants and shops. I was only here for a short period of time, but had I known about this town, I would’ve looked for hotels here as opposed to Oia — especially since I tend to travel on a budget.

Pro-tip: Since the island of Santorini is a caldera, or volcanic island, its terrain is extremely volatile. The town of Thira is way up on the cliff-side, but luckily there’s a cable car here to bring visitors up from the port. There’s also an option to ride a donkey, but trust me – the cable car is the way to go. It will bring you right to the center of town!

Where to stay in Santorini

Where to stay in Thira (Fira), Santorini:

Abasa Suites

Abasa Suites offers hotel rooms equipped with air conditioning, a seating area, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, a safety deposit box and a private bathroom with a shower, free toiletries and a hairdryer. Popular points of interest near the accommodation include Museum of Prehistoric Thera, Central Bus Station Fira and Megaro Gyzi.

Lemon Suites Santorini

Lemon Suites is only a 3-minute walk from the Archaeological Museum of Thera in Fira! Additionally, Lemon Suites Santorini provides accommodations with access to a hot tub! The condo hotel will provide guests with air-conditioned units offering a desk, a coffee machine, a fridge, a safety deposit box, a flat-screen TV, and a private bathroom with a shower. Free Wifi is accessible to all guests, and some rooms have a balcony!

Harmony Suites

The Harmony Suites complex will provide guests with air-conditioned units with a desk, a kettle, a microwave, a toaster, a safety deposit box, a flat-screen TV, a terrace, and a private bathroom with a walk-in shower. A patio with outdoor furniture and inner courtyard views is offered in each unit.

If you’re having a hard time finding an accommodation you LOVE, maybe consider a Greek islands cruise! We were so grateful to see Olympia, Rhodes, Santorini, Mykonos, AND Athens on a summer 2022 Celebrity Beyond cruise. If you’re apprehensive about cruising (as most people are!), here is my complete guide covering tips for first time cruisers!

hidden gems in Santorini, Greece

Where To Eat In Santorini

During both of my trips to Santorini, I ate at the same restaurant – 5 years a part. I stumbled upon it the first time, but sought it out the second time. This place has the world’s best baked feta. The fried feta is crispy and flaky on the outside and soft on the inside, topped with sesame seeds and honey. It’s literally to-die-for and I think about it often. You also need to try Moussaka during your time in Greece, which is similar to a lasagna, but Greek. The restaurant is called 1800 Floga!

where to eat in Santorini

You also can’t leave the island without trying baklava for dessert! Tons of little cafes sell this classic Greek pastry in Santorini, but my favorite and one of the top hidden gems in Santorini is definitely Skiza Cafe!

What To See: Hidden Gems In Santorini

Santorini is really famous mostly for its views, meaning most of the beauty to see is really around the island. But, here’s a short list of some can’t-miss sights to see on the island;

Oia Castle

This is my number one recommendation for Santorini, especially during sunset. This old castle is now a series of ruins on a cliffside in Oia that offers one of the best views of the blue domes and Aegean on the island.

Pro-tip: Santorini is acclaimed to have the best sunset in the world. This is the place to watch it! Be warned – you will be enjoying a front seat to the best show on earth with hundreds of others. Get there EARLY – especially during peak summer months to grab a spot for photos. This place is worth the visit, but is not a hidden gem in Santorini.

Oia Castle in Santorini, Greece

Ammoudi Bay

If you hike down the steep stone stairs near the Castle, you’ll eventually make your way to sea-level where Ammoudi Bay is. This is where you can find Santorini’s best kept secret! There is more on this below, but Ammoudi is worth seeing for the just-caught seafood in the restaurants down here and the ships. Stay clear of the donkeys (and their poo) as you make your way up and down the stairs.

Ammoudi Bay, Santorini, Greece

Red Beach

The Red Beach in Santorini is without a doubt one of the most unique and stunning places on the island because of its color! As mentioned above, Santorini is a caldera, or island formed as a result of years and years of volcanic eruptions. Many of these eruptions led to the formation of Red Beach, which is still surrounded by enormous volcanic rocks.

The Red Beach is located in the south part of Santorini in Akrotiri Village, near the famous Akrotiri Excavation Site. It’s just a 20 minute drive from Thira (Fira), so you can easily visit. If you’re coming from Oia, I recommend a boat tour! A boat tour is the best way to visit this hidden gem in Santorini. I did this catamaran cruise to the beach and hot springs a few years ago and will remember this day for the rest of my life!

hidden gems in Santorini

hidden gems in Santorini

Black Sand Beach

When you hear “Black Sand Beach”, you are probably thinking of one famous beach in Santorini in particular, however, there are many beaches on the island that have been formed from lava, giving them a darker color. The two famous beaches (both located a 25 minute drive from Thira), are Perissa and Perivolos. Another beautiful one is Kamari Beach. No matter which one you choose to visit, make sure you see a black sand beach during your vacation to enjoy some of the best views in Santorini!

Here are two tours I recommend if you want to visit the black sand beaches:

Visit A Winery

When you think of Santorini, you may not think of visiting a winery! For this reason, I think the wineries on the island are some of the best hidden gems in Santorini (and maybe Greece, for that matter!). There are several wineries scattered throughout the volcanic island, but SantoWines Winery is without a doubt the most famous of the Santorini Wines. This fair trade island organization dates back to 1911, and has been conducting winery tours since the 1990s. There are several tours that offer 2-3 stops at various wineries, such as this Santorini Wine Tasting Private Tour! Don’t miss a tasting here — where else can you sip crisp Greek wine and soak up the best views in Santorini?!

Looking for a memorable meal to enjoy at the wineries? This Santorini Small-Group Wine Tasting Tour takes place at sunset and comes with tapas! Now that you know some of the best sights to see in Santorini, let’s dive into a can’t miss activity and one of my favorite hidden gems in Santorini!

wineries in Santorini, Greece

What To Do: Hidden Gems In Santorini

I’m going to start this list of things to do in Santorini by naming something NOT to do. Please please please don’t ride the donkeys in Santorini! These donkeys and mules are definitely abused and overworked as they carry both tourists and their luggage up and down the steep cliff-side stairs all day. I made the mistake of riding one when I first visited Santorini in college and deeply regret it. A man was behind my donkey on another one and my hitting it the entire time, making it run faster up the stairs. Not only did I feel like I was going to fall off the entire time, I felt incredibly guilty the second I got on. Plus, the workers just take your cash and make you feel… gross. Learn from my mistakes and just walk! You’ll need the steps to burn off all the feta you’ll eat!

donkeys in Santorini, Greece

I think most travel bloggers would just suggest that you spend your time on Santorini poking in and out of the boutiques, sipping on mojitos while soaking in the best views in Santorini, and taking photos of all the picturesque landscapes (basically every corner you turn). While I did enjoy all of these things, I want to suggest something a bit more adventurous for you.

Uncovering Santorini’s Best Kept Secret!

Santorini’s best kept secret can be found around the corner from Ammoudi Bay, at the very bottom of the steep stone stairs that lead down from the Oia Castle and a short hike on some sea rocks. It’s cliff jumping.

Ammoudi Bay in Santorini, Greece

Don’t be scared… it’s totally safe! It’s a concrete slab (definitely man-made) that is about 100 meters off shore from a beach. There’s even a staircase that leads to the top of it so you can swim over and climb up. It’s ICONIC and you really should jump here. There will be dozens of other tourists doing the same — I’ve jumped from it like 5 times between my 2 trips here!

How To Find The Cliff Jump

Santorini is a bit hard to navigate since there’s not a lot of main roads in Oia, but rather windy, narrow walkways. The Oia Castle is marked on both Apple Maps and Google Maps though. Start here and take the steep, stone staircase as far as you can until you reach the bottom. Once you arrive at sea-level, you’ll see signs clearly marking Ammoudi Bay. Turn left at this sign and walk through the seafood restaurants here. Don’t feel bad about it – everyone does it. The tables are set up to leave a walkway.

From Ammoudi Bay…

Once you walk through the restaurants, there will be a bend. Go around the bend and hug the coast, walking over boulders and rocks along the sea for about 10 minutes. You’ll go around another bend or two before you catch your first view of the cliff jump! I’m sure you’ll see several adventurous souls jumping from it!

As mentioned above, you’ll want to leave your stuff on the rocky beach and swim out to the jump. There’s stairs around the jumping platform on the left, although last time I was here everyone was just scaling the rocks to the top. This didn’t feel like the safest option, but we did it. The jump is probably about 30 feet high. It’s high enough to give you a thrill but not too high where no one is going off. I’ve seen several parents jump with their children, and even convinced my little sister to jump with me in summer 2022 since I vetted it myself in 2017. The views up here —  since you’re in the middle of the sea — are simply incredible, and undoubtedly some of the best views in Santorini. I couldn’t recommend doing this more!

Santorini hidden gems cliff jumping

That’s it! That’s all my best tips for exploring the hidden gems of Santorini. While there are dozens of chic boutiques to explore and glasses of wine to sip on, I highly recommend tapping into some of Santorini’s adventures. Whether it’s ATVing through the island, taking a catamaran cruise, or braving the Ammoudi Bay cliff jump — there’s something for every traveler here!

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