The Greek islands are famous for their vibrant blue waters, white houses, and amazing sunsets — and for drawing millions of visitors each year. There are thousands of Greek Islands and they really represent a world unto themselves. For this reason, I’ve created a separate blog post just focused on the islands. So far, I’ve only been to Santorini (Oia), Mykonos, and nearby Delos. I hope to keep adding to this list as time goes along!
Santorini might be the most famous Greek island, and is the remnant of a volcanic caldera following a massive eruption that happened approximately in the year 1,600 BC. Evidence of the island’s early inhabitants date back to the Phoenicians in the year 1,300 — so it’s got quite a bit of history! Mrs. Yakpacker and I took a random trip to Santorini in 2015 and we thought it lived up to the hype! It was packed with tourists, but we knew that going in and were able to manage our trip accordingly.
We flew into the airport on Santorini and took a taxi to Oia — the city that has the famous blue-domed church, sunsets, and rows of white buildings along the cliffside– and where everyone goes for their honeymoon. We stayed at Laokasti Villas, which was a great choice. It’s right at the entrance of the city’s pedestrian walking area, and while it isn’t directly on the famous white-sloping cliff, it’s only a few steps away and still has nice views over the pool to the ocean. The rooms are also spacious, clean, and traditional.
Oia gets really crowded during the daytime (and especially around sunset time), but we were able to enjoy the narrow streets and atmosphere in the early mornings or night, after the crowds had dissipated. While much of the fun of Oia is found in just enjoying the atmosphere, key sights include the Blue Domed Church, the ruins of a Byzantine Castle, and the nearby bay of Ammoudi.
Many tourists go to the western side of Oia to watch the gorgeous sunsets, with key viewing sites located at the Oia Steps or on a path just above it. That said, it gets hilariously crowded with people jostling with selfie sticks for every square inch of standing space, arguing about who was there first. Still, we didn’t want to leave Oia without having that experience– so we grabbed a table at… you guessed it… Sunsets Restaurant! It was actually a great idea, as it put some distance between us and the crowd– and had a direct sunset view. Despite the restaurant’s touristy name and location, the food was really good (get the Moussaka), and the service was friendly. I was really impressed! The dining area was a bit higher than the nearby walkway, so we were able to enjoy the view over the huge crowd on the pathway just outside the restaurant.
After exploring Oia, we went to the next most famous town, Thera (also the name of the island’s ancient settlement). It’s possible to take a bus, but we opted to hike there on a scenic trail that runs along the coastline. It’s important to bring plenty of water and sunscreen in the summer, though, because it gets very hot! (About halfway through out hike, we got overheated and ran up to the road to catch a bus for the remainder of the way : ) Thera is another scenic town with plenty of narrow, picturesque walking streets, restaurants, and souvenir shops.
We stopped by V Lounge, which offers a great selection of light fare and incredible views over the water. Afterwards, we hiked down the long, windy path to the port of Thera, passing donkeys along the way (you can also take a cable car).
At the port of Thera, we took a boat trip to Tholos Naftilos, a nearby island made up entirely of volcanic rock. Upon arrival, we had a couple hours to hike up to the crater of the eruption and explore the island, which was about the right amount of time. It was interesting to see seismic equipment stationed on the island, as it’s used to determine if another eruption might occur.
Upon returning to Santorini, we took the cable car from the port of Thera to the main town square and rented a little 4×4 to go explore the rest of the island. (Note– I recommend the little 4x4s as a good way of getting around, as you don’t want to be at the mercy of a bus, and the roads are so narrow that it wouldn’t be fun renting a car).
With our 4×4, we headed to the Perissa Black Sand Beach on the southeastern side of the island. As the name implies, the beach is made of a fine volcanic black sand, and it was far less crowded than I’d imagined it would be. We grabbed a few beach chairs and enjoyed the beach for a while, before getting some amazing fresh calamari and octopus at one of the beachside restaurants. This area also has the ruins of Ancient Thera, which gives a sense of the life of the island’s ancient inhabitants.
On the way back to Oia that evening, we stopped at a random spot on the road and hiked onto a walking path on the side that ran along the ridgeline (approximately here). From there, we got an awesome sunset view all to ourselves, which was way better than dealing with the crowds and selfie-sticks in Oia : )
The next day we explored the northern part of Santorini, stopping at a great winery — Domaine Sigalas — which wasn’t too far from the ocean. There’s nothing better than sipping a great wine with awesome food and a view of the ocean like this…
I should note that the Greek islands have some fantastic wines (especially whites) that you don’t really see too often on the market. They’re enriched by the volcanic soil, which makes for some great flavors. We also visited Santo Winery, which I remember being impressive, as well. After a more relaxing day, we dropped off our 4×4 and enjoyed the rest of our time in Oia, before departing the following day.
I went to Mykonos in 2016 with Yakpacker Senior and Mama Yakpacker– who was eager to return after having visited it in her youth. As you might expect, the island had changed quite a bit! While the tourist scene had evolved significantly, the atmosphere, food, and climate made for a wonderful visit!
We stayed at Morfoula’s Studios, which was a clean and convenient choice. Upon arrival, we visited the old city, particularly the famous windmills, the seafront walking area known as Little Venice, as well as the Old Port and nearby beach.
Beyond that, the old city has plenty of narrow walking streets and wonderful seafood restaurants. There are several great cafes and bakeries, as well, including Gioras Wood Medieval Mykonian Bakery, which serves traditional baked goods.
We were there for the Orthodox Easter, which was a special treat. On the Aegean Airlines flight into the island, they passed out candles, which we took to midnight Mass. Everyone held candles in the otherwise dark, packed church in the middle of the town square. At midnight the lights came on and everyone poured into the town square to celebrate, lighting off firecrackers and bottle rockets over the water. An old man was shaking the chandelier in the church with his cane for added effect. It was really a nice experience!
One day we took a bus to Paradise Beach, which had electric blue water, fine sand, and a beach party atmosphere — set to the backdrop of thumping club music from an open-air beach DJ reminding visitors to “Shake it!” Yakpacker Senior particularly enjoyed this beach… and he ended up falling asleep on the sand! We wandered around some nearby hiking trails and enjoyed the scenery a bit more before going back to Mykonos.
From the port of Mykonos, boats leave every hour or so to the nearby island of Delos, famous for its Greek and Roman ruins — particularly statues of lions– as well as being a sanctuary in Greek times. It is thought to have been inhabited as early as the 3rd millennium BC, and the Romans used it in the first millennium BC as a trading port. Greek mythology attributed it as being the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis — and there are temples for plenty of other Greek deities, as well. As a result of this long and varied history, every square inch of the island is covered in ruins.
The island’s archeological museum has many status and well-preserved mosaics, and there are plenty more to see while walking around the island. It was an easy half-day trip from Mykonos and well worth it!
Something for Next Time: I’d love to get to many more Greek Islands — with Crete and Zakynthos being at the top of my list. Considering there are about 6,000 Greek Islands, it’ll be tough to flag them all, but I’m willing to try!