Before moving to Greece, we decided to spend some time in Athens to see how we liked it. Additionally to its own beauty, Athens is pretty close to more than 2000 islands. Who hasn’t dreamed of going to a Greek Island? They occupy a special place in our collective imaginary. However, most of these islands are packed during summer. The worst stories come from Santorini, where tourists cue for hours just to take a picture or two. Since it was late December, we kept wondering how’s Santorini in winter!? We are thrilled to report that it’s amazing!
Fortune Favors the Bold
There is a saying in my native language (Serbian) that goes something along the lines of ’Even good fortune has to like you’. In English there is a similar one that goes ‘Fortune favors the bold’. I don’t know if the two of us are bold or not, what I know is that luck smiled at us during our Greek adventure. First we found an incredible apartment in Athens’ Paleo Faliro which we got through the wonderful House Swap platform (our home in Barcelona is that cool). Our Athens penthouse was just two minutes from the beach and offered unobstructed sea views! Then our lovely landlord offered us her cave house in Santorini’s Oia for a symbolic price!
Where to stay in Santorini
Though Fira is gorgeous, Oia is much nicer (the entire island is surreal!). Hence, we absolutely recommend sleeping there during your trip to Santorini. Better still: try to arrange your stay in a cave house through Booking. Ours was absolutely stunning, with a completely private terrace overlooking the sea. It was the last house in Oia. We were just below the famous picture of the blue Church, surrounded by rocks and the sea. Had we’ve been naked, no one would have noticed! The interior of the house is basically a tunnel carved inside the rocks that comfortably fitted a kitchen, a huge room, and a bathroom at the end. The apartment was so deep it needed a humidity extractor to function normally. Can you believe that?
What to do in Santorini in Winter
The best thing about visiting Santorini in winter is the lack of flocks of tourists. Well, there are a few, mostly Chinese. Another fantastic thing is that you can explore the island’s stunning landscape on foot and be part of everyday life. It was love at first sight! We strolled for hours around both Oia and Fira and even walked between the two. Santorini’s volcanic landscape is quite unique and we had the fortune of enjoying them in total silence. Don’t worry if you are not into trekking, regular buses connect both towns in less than half an hour. To Eitan’s delight, there is a wonderful bookstore in Oia. It’s on the road that goes all the way to a fortress with the most magnificent views ever. Unfortunately, most churches were closed.
Places to eat
In all honesty we were not worried at all about things to do in Santorini in winter. However, we weren’t sure we would find restaurants open. As it turned out, over a dozen restaurants in Fira and about 5 in Oia open in winter. Both of us are not restaurant queens, informal eateries are more our thing. We ate at a great pizza place near the bus stop, and at an authentic bakery/shop on the main pedestrian drag with couple of chairs overlooking the sea. Additionally there are a couple of supermarkets that offer pretty much everything. On the other hand, Fira has a long street next to the bus stop populated with shops and restaurants.
Oia local life
Rather than socializing with fellow travelers we prefer getting to know locals. A lovely lady runs the abovementioned pizza house so we chatted about Santorini and life while eating. Though high season does bring much more income, it is in winter when locals relax. Likewise, most construction happens in winter; there was a lot of activity going on in Oia. Cute donkeys carry most of the heavy materials. We couldn’t help but cringe at the poor little things carrying stones! Most workers are from Albania and we managed to talk to a few about their life in Greece (they really like it). Another thing we enjoyed a lot was cuddling the stray cats that roam all over town.
Santorini Excursions – Thirassia
Apart from its beautiful towns the Island is popular for its volcanic beaches. While packed in summer, they are practically empty in winter since it can get a bit cold. Another brilliant place is Thirassia Island, across the sea. The island features plenty of old churches and monasteries, and again a wonderful landscape and stunning views. It is easy to get there by taking a ferry from Oia’s Ammoudi’s port. Take note that there is only one ferry early in the morning in winter. We are not early birds, and we love doing nothing, so we stayed in Oia to soak up its atmosphere.
When to Visit Santorini
Since buses in winter start working late and finish early in winter, we took a taxi to and from the airport. We discussed with one of our drivers when was the best time to visit Santorini. He raved about autumn: fewer people than in summer, great weather and most places are open. Nevertheless, winter in Santorini was absolutely magical. We don’t care about stupid shops, we don’t like organized excursions and we are not that crazy about socializing with fellow tourists. Even more, to us the whole point of traveling is to get to know the authentic side of every place we visit. And in Santorini this is only possible in winter.
Mykonos in Summer
We were already living in Athens in early spring when a friend of ours from the US announced he was visiting Mykonos in late June. We couldn’t say no to visiting Mykonos with a friend. This experience was quite different to our time in Santorini. It’s difficult to get to know real life, how locals live. In all honesty, I reckon that most locals leave the island in summer and rent their places out. In fact most people visit Mykonos for its fancy bars and shops and to spend time on the beach. We don’t shop, but we did have a lovely time on the beach and had a blast partying at night.
City of Mykonos (Chora)
We chose the city of Mykonos as our base since we wanted to be in the middle of everything. It was a great choice, considering we rarely spend entire days on the beach. Additionally, we got to see a bit of everyday life. The city is absolutely beautiful, full of typical white houses and Bougainvillea flowers. The sea surrounds the city, with a lovely seaside promenade and a small beach. The famous Kato Mili windmills are located on its westernmost end. Our wonderful Dimitra Pension is just off the main street, close to a school and a local super market. Our room even had a cute little balcony overlooking a quiet street perfect to read.
What to do in Mykonos in summer
Mykonos is a fancy island where tourists from all around the world come to show off. Of course we have nothing against beautiful people having fun. Most shops, restaurants, bars and discos have a posh feel with hardly any budget options around. It was so much fun strolling about the city’s cobbled streets looking for historical churches. We had coffee, lunch and dinner in different places and had no problem in paying a bit extra for coffee with the view to Little Venice. One afternoon we walked all the way to the hill above the city to enjoy more great views. Watching local kids have fun at a small amphitheater was another source of fun. Afternoons were spent at different beaches and nights partying at different bars (more about that later).
During our 4 day stay in Mykonos we visited 3 different beaches + the small one in the city. Elia Beach is our absolute favorite. It is the largest and furthest away from the city. There is nothing but a couple of beach restaurants so it’s perfect to relax and swim. You can also walk to nearby Agrari Beach. On the other hand, Super Paradise Beach is a bit smaller and more crowded. There a couple of beach bars and the Famous Jackie O’ on a cliff overlooking the beach. Finally, Paradise Beach is even smaller and too overcrowded. It is packed with bars and shops, with no free area. On top of that is pretty noisy, but it’s very close to the city!
Mykonos isn’t famous only for its shopping. Its gay life is legendary! We are happy to report that it does live to all the hoopla. There are plenty of places to go out, and the atmosphere is great. We had an afternoon drink in Jackie O’ at Super Paradise Beach and went out partying to several places in Mykonos Town. Our first night began in Lola where we enjoyed its cool interior. Then we went dancing to the hidden Porta Bar. All the hot guys were there! On our second night we watched the famous midnight show at @54 Club and Lounge (ex Ramrod). We had to spend the last two days chilling to recharge our batteries.
Mykonos Excursions – Delos
From Mykonos we took a one day excursion to nearby Delos Island. Actually it wasn’t really an excursion, since we just bought return tickets at the pier and discovered the island on our own. In summer, only one boat departs in the afternoon (there are several in the morning). Therefore, we thought it was the best way to avoid the scorching heat. The island is superb and it wasn’t crowded at all. Delos was the most important Hellenic Sanctuary and the birth place of Apollo, the God of music and poetry. It was an important Cosmopolitan port town between the 3rd Century BC and the 1st Century AD. Numerous archeological artifacts are spread all about the island and inside a small but cool museum.
When to visit Mykonos
Unlike Santorini, we were in Mykonos during high season. Hotels, restaurants and beaches were all crowded and expensive. Luckily, we visited in late June, so it wasn’t as crowded as it gets. While Santorini displays outstanding nature and architecture Mykonos is famous for its nightlife and beaches. Thus, it doesn’t make much sense to visit Mykonos when it’s cold and there’s no one to dance with. Considering it was a bit difficult to navigate Mykonos’ narrow streets in June, we can only imagine how overcrowded it must be in July and August. If we take all that into a consideration there is no better time to visit Mykonos than in June or September. Perhaps later is even better!
The iconic white Cycladic architecture is a result of landscape and climate. The typical house is painted in white to properly absorb the sun. Houses in Santorini have cubical roofs, and in Mykonos flat. In Santorini the so called ‘cave-houses’ were partially built into the rock, to preserve warmth in winter and coolness in summer. In Mykonos most houses have blue colored balconies. Both islands are home to beautiful historical churches and round windmills. Just like houses, the churches are mostly white, but there are some painted in yellow. Church domes in Mykonos are white, in Santorini they are blue. All towns are densely built with typical irregular streets and narrow alleys.