santorini from athens: a travel diary

Last summer, I decided to book a day trip to sunny Santorini on a whim. I normally schedule my trips in advance and “overplan” my travel itinerary but I decided it was time to live a little. Athens was on my original schedule and Santorini is less than an hour’s flight away so why not, right? I haven’t travelled on my own in a long time and I really missed doing it. There’s something wonderful about solo travel and I would recommend you try it at least once if you haven’t done it yet. Imagine this – you get to do whatever you choose, eat wherever you want and experience the trip any way you want.

Oia Santorini church bell tower and cross Photography by Cristina Ilao www.cristinailao.com

From Athens to Santorini

I left Athens really early to catch my 5am flight to Santorini. I know how popular Santorini can be especially during the summer so made sure that I could get there before everyone else. From Syntagma, I got the x95 bus that leaves every fifteen minutes and goes to the Eleftherios Venizelos Airport. I could easily have taken a cab but I actually enjoy exploring any city I visit just like a local. Plus, Athens felt safe and I didn’t have heavy bags to carry. I didn’t have any concerns about walking to the bus station early in the morning.

Arriving in Santorini

My flight landed in Santorini less than an hour after we left Athens. It was perfect timing because I even had a chance to watch the sunrise as we deplaned and walked to the terminal building. The best thing about early flights is going through empty airports. I got out in 5 minutes with no hassle at all. After that, I was greeted by the friendliest airport employees. What a lovely welcome to this beautiful island, I thought to myself.

Oia is that popular coastal village. You’ve probably seen it on beautiful travel postcards or from your Facebook friend’s beautiful Santorini destination wedding. It is the most touristy part of Santorini and I expected it to already be filled with lots of people if I left it until later during the day to visit. The one thing you need to know about visiting touristy areas is this: You need to get there really early if you want to see it empty. Have you ever wondered how photographers are able to take photos in the most popular places with hardly anyone photobombing in the background? Our secret is the alarm clock, not Photoshop!

Visiting Oia

Oia is really quiet early in the morning. There may be a couple of people every few metres but not so many that you can’t get a decent photo if you want one. I enjoyed being there quite early, taking in the beautiful view and the fresh breeze blowing from the Aegean sea.

The main street was absolutely empty as most visitors were still sleeping or just about to arrive on cruise ships. I couldn’t help but wish I was shooting a romantic Santorini engagement session at that time because the light was so beautiful. Empty streets, beautiful views and a peaceful location – a photographer’s dream come true. I’d really love to shoot a destination wedding the next time I am back on this beautiful island.

blue doors and white walls, typical Greek houses and buildings, perfect for destination wedding location. Photography by Cristina Ilao www.cristinailao.com

Exploring Oia like a local

It wasn’t until about 9am that the crowd got denser. The souvenir shops, restaurants, art galleries and all the other establishments were already open for business by that time. You will find that most shops sell products with the “evil eye”. In Greek culture, this is a sign of good luck. The evil eye is meant to protect your loved ones from evil while you’re not around. I find it quite amusing that every store sells them.

By mid-day, I felt like I couldn’t move two feet without bumping into other tourists. As the crowd got thicker, I ventured deeper into the smaller alleys and quieter areas. There are lots of hidden gems and it’s a shame that most tourists only stick to the popular route. The side streets have smaller restaurants that offer local cuisines without the tourist price tag. Oia’s main road is absolutely beautiful but the crowds makes it so difficult to enjoy after a while. I’m so glad I went early in the morning while it was still almost empty and so peaceful. I recommend you to do the same if Santorini is on your list this year.

Leaving Santorini and heading back to Athens

I had quite a lot of time on my hands so I went back to the main road in time for the sunset. As I expected, there was a ridiculous amount of people who decided to do the same. In spite of it all, I stayed and enjoyed watching the pastel skies as the sun set in the Mediterranean. I ignored the noise from the hordes of other tourists chatting excitedly around me. Then I called it a day. It was time to leave Santorini and head back to Athens.

Heading back to the airport and checking in was a breeze. The weird thing about Santorini airport is that travellers on both local and international flights use the same entrance. I guess this makes sense considering the airport’s size. There are about five gates in total and the only difference is that the gate for international flights has a passport control desk. Basically, your passport (and visa if you have one!) only gets checked as you’re about to board your international flight. The auditor in me was already thinking about their internal controls – but that story is for another day 🙂

Greece view from Oia Santorini. Photography by Cristina Ilao www.cristinailao.com

Until next time

Overall, Santorini was a good experience for me. It was such an easy trip and the only difficulty I encountered was the sheer number of people that only grew as the day progressed. It’s a small and very popular island and so it can easily get crowded. However, it also has one of the best sunsets I’ve seen (and some of the friendliest immigration officers I’ve met ha!). I think I will come back again – hopefully to shoot a destination wedding next time!

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