Ios Island Travel Guide

Prior to going to Santorini, we stayed on the heavenly island of Ios. We arrived right at the beginning of September and immediately noticed how quiet the island felt (in the BEST way possible). We asked our taxi driver about it as she drove us to our hotel, and she said that during June, July, and August, Ios is a party island filled with students, but as soon as September rolls around, the island becomes a lot more calm and quiet. Um, literally music to my ears. The island was not dead by any means, but in September there are a lot more couples and mature groups of friends. Absolutely ideal if you ask me. We stayed at Ios Palace Hotel, which is right on Mylopotas Beach (Mylopotas Beach is the main “tourist” area, and Chora is the main town). The hotel was clean and comfortable with two beautiful pools and a great bar/lounge area that we had breakfast in every day. Also, it was beyond affordable. Really great value for how fantastic this place was. Read on for other tips and recommendations for Ios!

Eat/drink:

Harmony – such a little gem. This place serves Mexican, which you might not think you want when you’re in Greece, but trust me when I say you do haha. The food is so fresh and healthy with tons of vegan options, and they even have acai bowls. The atmosphere is so chilled out and relaxed, it’s a place you could just hang out at all day. It’s a bit up on the rocky cliffs, so you get a stunning view of the sea. They have hammocks all over, tons of tables low to the ground with cushions to sit on, lots of white curtains, hanging lanterns, rugs, and plants scattered around. It’s dreamy.

Salt – just about the most chic and bohemian open-air restaurant I have been to. White wicker and wood furniture, plants and bougainvillea everywhere, striped pillows, loungers hanging from the ceiling by ropes… the décor of this place is what really drew me in, but the food and drinks are great as well.

Cantina Del Mar – the food here is just amazingly fresh and delicious, as well as ridiculously affordable. We were only on the island for 3 days and we ate here twice. I had the best Greek salad with tuna I have ever had here, as well as a really great grilled halloumi and avocado sandwich. They have delicious cocktails, juices, and smoothies too.

Grandma’s – if you’re looking for an elevated culinary experience on Ios, Grandma’s is the best bet. It’s located in the Liostasi Hotel in Chora which is just exquisite. It’s the most high-end accommodation you can find on Ios, way up on a cliff with a huge pool and enormous patio right at the edge for prime views and sunset-watching. We came here on our last night for dinner and let me tell you, it.was.perfect. The service was almost TOO good, the food and drinks were amazing, and the atmosphere of the hotel was beautiful.

The only other advice I can give is to really just relax and enjoy. The beaches on Ios are positively stunning with soft golden sand and warm, clear water. On Mylopotas Beach, you’ll have to pay a few euros to lay out, but it was definitely worth it as you get a comfy lounger and an umbrella. There is a section on the beach that is public and unpaid, but you’ll just be on your towel with no shade. There are also countless rocky cliffs and swimming spots all around the island.  When we got to our hotel, we were given a map of the island (it’s quite small) showing where all of the lesser-known beaches were on the island, and I can pretty much guarantee we would have had a lot of them almost to ourselves. Also, rent an ATV and go exploring! It’s the best way to see the island. Just make sure you get a good one with a stronger HP as we unfortunately got stuck with a dud that could barely get up a hill. I had imagined us whipping around the island happening upon glorious beaches, but unfortunately our ATV wasn’t cooperating so that vision of mine did not come true haha… the only disappointment of our entire time on the island. Overall, Ios was so uncomplicated, beautiful, and laidback, and I hope to visit again someday!

Santorini Summer

Santorini has been one of my dream vacation destinations for years now, so I had my expectations set sky-high for our trip there. I went with my boyfriend after parting with my family in Italy and we were so excited to get there. So umm... Without sounding like a complete whiner, I was unfortunately underwhelmed by our experience. Don't get me wrong, the island is absolutely beautiful and photos can't do it justice. It's pretty magical being in the whitewashed towns just barely clinging to the crumbling cliffsides. The landscape is absolutely surreal... the island is literally a massive red rock rising from the sea, created by a volcanic eruption a bazillion (approx.) years ago. We kept looking around in amazement wondering how the heck they even decided, "hey, let's build some white houses in the side of the cliff OF A VOLCANO!" Of course, this is an amazing sight to see, so Santorini has become a worldwide destination for honeymooners and also anyone else with a pulse. I'm not sure if this revolving door of tourists has led to the inhabitants becoming hardened jerks, knowing that their hospitality (or lack thereof) will not affect vacationers from visiting, but I sadly found that the a lot of people on Santorini were not the friendliest. Obviously this did not apply to everyone and we DID have encounters with some absolutely lovely people at some restaurants and hotels. Will give recommendations on these spots below. However, this leads me to my next issue (I PROMISE THERE ARE SOME REDEEMING FACTORS COMING UP!): the ASTRONOMICAL prices of everything. I know, I know, Santorini is not the place to visit if you're on a budget (unless you want to stay somewhere not central, use the bus system to get around, and seek out inexpensive meals). I am by no means a cheapskate, but we felt like we were getting ripped off at every turn. For example: a taxi from the airport to the port was quoted 30 euros by our taxi driver. First of all, it's only a 10 minute drive. On top of that, we asked another couple who was also heading to the port if they wanted to share a taxi with us, and the driver says "IF YOU SHARE IT IS 25 EUROS PER COUPLE, TOTAL 50 EUROS." I'm sorry but that is notttt how taxis work sir. We are all going to the same dang destination. Meals, hotels, and excursions are all also off the charts expensive. Finally, Oia (the main town), while absolutely stunning, is too crowded to be able to enjoy yourself. The streets are narrow, winding, steep… and completely clogged with people. If you value personal space and sanity, you will likely not enjoy yourself. Imerovigli/Thira have a very similar look to Oia, and they are located near the middle of the island (Oia is on the north part). These two towns are much quieter and more pleasant to walk around. A lot of the most amazing hotels are in Imerovigli, and both Imerovigli and Thira have their share of great restaurants. Much more enjoyable!

OK, now that I have explained why Santorini is THE WORST PLACE EVER IN THE WORLD (it's not.), I will say that there were several places/experiences that made our time worthwhile. See below:

Santo Maris Oia: My heart swells when I think about this hotel. No, it is not on the cliffside, but trust me, unless you either want passerbys peering onto your patio all day or want to spend $2500+ a night for a little privacy, you do not want to stay directly in Oia. Santo Maris is just off to the side of Oia main town, connected to it by a footpath that gets you into Oia in less than 5 minutes. The staff at Santo Maris are absolutely lovely. The resort grounds themselves are extremely spacious with 5 pools, a few bars, plus one restaurant that was very good. The suites are large, beautifully designed, and decorated in the most chic boho style you could imagine. We sprung for a suite with its own plunge pool, and it was absolute heaven. We seriously lucked out with our room as it was on the very edge of the property so we had complete privacy as well as panoramic views of the sea and insane views of the sunset. The wisest thing I did when we stayed here was take advantage of the proximity to Oia and head there at 8AM by myself one morning. The streets were blissfully quiet. Literally the only other people around were shopkeepers opening up, couples in their wedding dresses & tuxedos taking wedding photos, and some bloggers prancing around on rooftops with their photographers (lol, wish that were me. Darn Elliot just had to go to the gym.) I walked around and took tons of photos, admired the views and the town, and was able to seriously enjoy myself. By 11AM, Oia is too packed with people to even move around. 
La Maltese: This is not a recommendation for the hotel (which we stayed in and did not enjoy), or the restaurant, or even really the bar haha (super overpriced)… this is a recommendation for the view from their rooftop bar/restaurant. La Maltese is one of the highest up spots on the cliff in Imerovigli, so this lends to some amazing views. I would suggest going for sunset if possible, and I suppose just suck up the cost of a cocktail and take in the views. Actually, our breakfasts here every morning were pretty fantastic, so that is certainly something I could recommend doing at La Maltese (double check to see if its available if you are not staying there). If you do go in the evening, be warned as this hotel closes down for private events very often. The 3 nights we were there, they were closed for 2 of them. Super annoying as we could not even enjoy the main area when it was booked out.
Anogi: One of my best memories from Santorini is having dinner at Anogi in Imerovigli. It is super authentic and affordable, and the food is delicious & traditional Greek. The staff were so wonderful and kind. We ordered wayyyy too much food and wine and spent a few hours eating and drinking. Cannot recommend this place enough.
Onar: Upscale restaurant in Imerovigli with a large outdoor space and beautiful views. The food is inventive and so good. The prices are a bit on the high side but we found it was well worth it as the portions were larger than we expected and the quality was there! The service was great as well.
Skaros Rock Hike: Easily accessible from any hotel in Imerovigli and well worth doing! The big rock in the background of lots photos of Santorini is Skaros Rock. There is a path you can follow all the way down through the streets in Imerovigli. Go past a church and the hike starts! It is not long or particularly difficult, unless you want to go to the very top of the rock which I probs don’t recommend unless you’re an avid rock climber. Instead, keep going on the main path to the very end. You’ll notice it continues downward towards a tiny church, called Ekklisia Theoskepasti. I think a lot of people miss hiking down to the church because you literally don’t know it’s down there until you start the downwards portion! It was amazing and I was so happy we kept going and found the church. I couldn’t believe that they had built one in such a remote cliffside location. The roof of the church is easy to climb on to fulfill all of your blue-and-white church rooftop photo dreams! Or am I the only one who really wanted to do that while on Santorini…

OK. Some final pieces of advice... we did not go to the red or black sand beaches while on Santorini. We had been on Ios prior to arriving, and the beaches there were incredible. Santorini is definitely not a beach island and I have heard that the beaches are not worthwhile. Santorini is better for shelling out some big bucks on a hotel and enjoying the pool and outdoor spaces there. That being said, make sure you have complete confidence in what you are booking. Read tons of reviews and pay attention to complaints. We unfortunately found that the other hotel we stayed in, La Maltese, did not look much like the photos and had inaccurate room descriptions. This was very disappointing as the place had a lot of good reviews, but upon digging deeper we noticed a few people had the same complaints as we did.

So, in conclusion... Based on our own experience, am I glad we went? Yes. Would I rush to go back? I don’t think so. Hope I'm not coming off as unappreciative… Just trying to keep it real! Honesty is key right? Not everything in blog land is magical sunlight, skipping blissfully through the streets, snapping picture-perfect moments! Although sometimes the stars align and you do get that ;)

Grecian Summer

Spent all of 24 hours in Athens before heading out to sea, and as someone who has never been to the city before, I was wholly surprised that it surpassed my expectations. Granted, we stayed in a charming old neighbourhood filled with shops and bistros, but the city has this amazing energy coursing through it due to its rich history. Naturally, a trip to Athens could not be complete without a visit to the Acropolis/Pantheon ruins. An all-white outfit proved to be a great choice because it was STIFLING hot. I made this breezy slip dress casual enough for a day of sightseeing by adding a ribbed tshirt underneath and throwing a pair of white sneakers on.