Why Greece Is Great For Vegan and veggieTravellers

The Best vegetarian and vegan dishes that you need to try in Greece

Iman, Spanakopita, Gigantes and Gemista: Greek cuisine is one that’s packed full of Mediterranean vegetables, oil, beans, pulses and bread, making it one of the easiest countries to eat vegetarian or vegan in Europe.

You might think of the country’s meaty dishes when you think of Greek cuisine however Greece actually has tons of plant-based dishes too. Last summer I went Greek Island hopping ( I apologise that I’ve only written this post now) and when it came to eating we found it was the vegetarian dishes that were the tastiest, healthiest and also the cheapest.

Here are some of my favourite veggie and vegan dishes in Greece

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Humble beginnings:  The Greek salad (veggie)

Don’t ever think that a greek salad is boring. In Greece, a country where the tomatoes are so sweet they make a fantastic meal on their own when drizzled with olive oil and salt, a real greek salad is something else. There’s nothing I love more than ordering a big bowl of it with freshly chopped veg, salty capers, a glug of extra virgin oil and a big slab of feta on the top.

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Iman Baylidi

Imam Baylidi (Vegan/Veggie) 

The story behind the Imam dish is that an Islamic leader, an imam, tried the dish when visiting  Greece and it was so good that he fainted after he ate it. (I’m not sure if that’s true but either way I am a massive fan of this aubergine based dish). To make it large juicy aubergines are stuffed with tomatoes, onions, herbs and spices and then baked in a hot oven with loads of olive oil (Extra helpings of bread to mop up the juices is essential). It’s either served plain (vegan) or topped with feta.

Spanakopita and Tiropita (Veggie/ Vegan option)

Spanakopita is one of my favourite meals ever and it’s really cheap one too. This spinach and feta pie is a bakery staple and a big slab of this makes an ideal breakfast or lunch and will never set you back more than a couple of euros. The traditional version comprises of spinach and feta mixed together and binded in crispy filo pastry. Other variations include the nistismo version without cheese (which is totally vegan!) or Tiropita (just plain cheese and saves the awkwardness of having spinach stuck in your teeth maybe?)

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Gemista and Gigantes (vegan)

Gigantes (vegan)

Gigantes are traditional Greek baked beans (although they’re much better than tinned Heinz ones- sorry guys). Giant white beans are cooked in a rich tomato sauce with loads of diced vegetables and served with bread. In their traditional form these are completely vegan although some places add meat so just be sure to double-check.

Gemista (stuffed peppers) (vegan or veggie)

Gemista are essentially greek stuffed peppers and it is one of my favourite dishes to order in Greece as it’s really healthy, filling and generally very cheap. My favourite version is the traditional vegetarian/vegan one in which the peppers are stuffed full of a tomato flavoured rice, chopped vegetables and herbs. Some versions of gemista do contain meat so just make sure before you order.

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Pastitsio slice

Pastitsio (veggie)

I have memories of visiting my family in Cyprus when I was younger and tucking into a great big stodgy slab of cold pastitsio and I guarantee you that once you get the taste for this dish you’ll get what I’m talking about.  Pastitsio is a little like a hybrid between a Greek moussaka and a mac and cheese. It’s made out of tubed pasta (that looks like long macaroni tubes) and is baked with a white sauce flavoured with nutmeg before being cooled and cut into big slices. One of my absolute favourite dishes.

Vegetarian Moussaka (veggie)

Moussaka isn’t all about the meat you know. Most restaurants that I’ve eaten at do a vegetarian version of this greek staple dish and to be honest I think the substitution of vegetables for meat brings a welcome change to what can otherwise be quite a heavy dish. For the vegetarian dish, mediterranean vegetables are baked in the oven with a layer of tomato sauce and bechamel sauce on top. (A little like a lasagna but without the pasta).

 Aubergine Saganaki  (veggie) 

I got so obsessed with this meal in Greece that I kept making  it constantly when I got home. This dish comprises of melt in your mouth aubergines that are pre-cooked in olive oil and then layered with feta cheese and rich tomato sauce and baked in the oven. I don’t know if life gets much better than this with a glass of wine.

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Revithia sto fourno

Revithia sto forno (Vegan)

This greek dish of baked chickpeas isn’t widely known outside of the country however it’s a really good vegan dish to order when you’re out and even recreate at home as it only has a few ingredients: Chickpeas, olive oil, onions and rosemary which are all baked together in the oven and served with bread.

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A plate of Mezze

Mezze 

I love Greek Mezze. It’s the perfect solution to my food indecisiveness. You can order it in pretty much most restaurants and it comprises of lots of small dishes that you pile on your plate and eat with lots of bread and oil and the best thing is, there are loads of vegetarian options.

Veggie/ Vegan Mezze dishes you have to order: 

Dolmades (vegan): Dolmades are made by picking vine leaves and then stuffing them with tomato flavoured rice. They may sound a little odd but believe me, good dolmades are out of this world.

Kolokythokeftedes (Zucchini balls) (veggie) : I fell in love with these when I last had mezze in Greece and I couldn’t believe that I’d never had them before. For these soft courgette is mixed with salty feta and rolled into small balls and fried.

TomatoKeftedes (vegan or veggie):  Similar to above but with tomato instead. Also fantastic.

Saganaki (veggie) : Saganaki is the most self indulgent mezze dish and I can hardly resist ordering it every time it’s on the menu. For this,  salty Kefalograveria cheese is fried and served with lemon juice.

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Dips

‘Hold the Taramasalata’

Dips are big business in Greece and almost all of them apart from the pink coloured taramasalata (made with fish roe) are veggie. Here are some of my favourites.

Tzatziki (veggie) : What is a meal out in Greece without starting with a plate of tzatziki? I totally overdose of this garlic yoghurt and cucumber dip when I’m in Greece so much so that I’m usually already full by the time my meals comes. Real greek tzatziki made with thick greek yoghurt is so much better than the watery shop bought stuff you get at home.

Hummus (vegan): What vegan doesn’t love a plate of hummus? Luckily Greeks do too and you can usually find this on the menu in restaurants or at deli counters for a cheap lunch.

Olive tapanade (vegan) : Another vegan dip I love this fantastic puree of black kalamata olives spread on hard rusks or rustic village bread.

Fava (vegan): I laugh about the time when at 18, me and my friend found ourselves in a far too fancy restaurant and I pretended to totally know what the waitress meant when she asked if we liked Sanatorian fava.  However it turns out I really do like it and the great thing is it’s totally vegan. This popular dip is made by blending soft fava beans to a smooth paste (until it looks a little like hummus).

Melitzanoslata: (Vegan) This traditional Greek aubergine dip is completely vegan and a really great way to incorporate another vegetable into your diet. Aubergines are grilled until soft and then mixed with roasted garlic, lemon and seasonings.

 

 

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Sweets

Who needs to eat meat when all the fantastic sweets in Greece’s bakeries and restaurants are there to indulge in? I’ve listed a few of my favourites but feel free to check out my guide: Foodies guide: What to eat in a Greek bakery if you want to know more.

A couple of my favourite sweet treats are:

Baklava (veggie): Sickly sweet, fragrant, flaky and so indulgent, baklava is the ultimate sweet treat and there are so many variations on it. My favourite are the large triangular slabs made with layers of filo party binded with pistachios and drenched in honey and orange syrup.

Halva (Vegan or veggie): This sweet can be bought widely throughout Greece and the best thing about is that most versions of it are vegan (just be sure to double-check the ingredients). Traditionally halva is made from tahini, pistachios and honey so it’s free from refined sugar and actually a good source of protein too.

Loukamades (veggie): These are one of my guilty pleasures particularly if I’m visiting  Athens (where there are lots of vendors selling them with coffee). Loukamades are a type of mini round donuts served drenched in honey syrup with cinnamon and nuts or chocolate. Once you get the taste for them it’s impossible not to go back for more!BAF1DED7-C6E4-4497-9BC2-1A04AE7EF526.jpeg

There are many more vegan and vegetarian Greek dishes but these are my favourites and probably the most easy to find.  I really wanted to write this post because after searching on the internet I found it interesting that a lot of people still seem to think that veggie and vegan food is hard to come across in Greece.

I hope that I’ve shown you that finding plant based food is actually effortless and you can find plenty of options in any taverna or bakery so you don’t have to go and search out specific vegan friendly places either.

 

Andros Greece Island Hopping: Ultimate Travel Guide

Where do Athenians go on their summer holidays? The answer is Andros. This picturesque island is just an hours ferry ride from the capital and is one of the more unknown islands amongst foreign tourists in the Cyclades.

Why you should go

With numerous trails connecting the main towns, Andros is a walker’s paradise and it’s choice of 70 beaches means that it’s the perfect escape from the city.

The main town, Hora, is the biggest attraction, with its many shops, museums and Cycladic architecture however quirky seaside village, Batsi is, if anything, much prettier. Although small, Batsi has many traditional Greek tavernas and stylish cafes. Batsi Beach is a great place to spend the day and sun beds can be rented out for just three euros each.  A service ran from Gavrio, the port town, to Batsi, roughly every hour. This took around 15 minutes and cost €2.60.

Where to stay

I would recommend staying at Gavrio, especially if you are island hopping as its so convenient. We stayed in Galaxy Hotel, which we spotted from the ferry and were in our room five minutes after. There is a strip of shops and tavernas at the port, along with a bus station with buses going all across the island. Many of the best beaches are tucked away so it may be worth hiring your own vehicle.

Andros is known for its waking routes and maps of these trails can be found online or all over the island. We were short of time and got the bus from Gavrio to Batsi. However there is a trail that you can follow which takes about an hour and a half.

Best for: Walking, eating, relaxing and those who enjoy a slower pace of life. A good day trip if staying in Athens.

To know: For greater flexibility it may be better to rent your own vehicle in Andros. If you’re looking for a vibrant night life then probably better to head a little further on to Mykonos. Andros has over 70 beautiful beaches along its rocky coastline and 300 km of footpaths for hiking. If in Hora make sure to visit the olive museum.

Move over Santorini, there’s a new island in town

Featured

                   Introducing Folegandros: The Cyclades newest island

unnamedunnamedIMG_8155IMG_7929.jpgIt’s seven o’clock and the sun is casting shadows over the stone white buildings clasping to the cliff edge, bringing another day to an end. From our spot by the church, a church as quintessentially Greek I ever did see,  we begin the descent, following the cobblestone path back to the main town, Chora. As dusk begins this Cycladic town has come alive with bustling tavernas, local cats as skinny as my wrist, and the sound of live music. The restaurants and bars at the cliff edge are especially enchanting and there’s a rush to win one of the best tables. Just a few miles across the Agean lies Santorini, the most popular of the Cycladic islands, but it’s smaller sister, Folegandros, has much more to offer in many ways.

Just 32 kilometres wide, Folegandros’ size is nothing to boast about but it’s this very reason it’s often overlooked and is somewhat of a hidden gem of these islands. Folegandros has an air of exclusivity to it in the way that Oia in Santorini once would have before the cruise ships came in and the airport was built. The town, Chora, is quiet and authentically Greek but is equipped enough for the handful of tourists that visit that it’s not inaccessible.

In contrast to the often touristic menus on the caldera in Santorini, restaurants in Folegandros feel family run and genuine. Food is served outside in courtyards underneath olive vines and there’s not a photo menu in site.

The island is accessible via ferry which run infrequently throughout the week, and the little port, Karavostasis, is Folegandros’ second town. Nestled along this small cove are boutique hotels and little bakeries selling homemade produce. At night this little crescent offers the only glimpse of light along this part of the coast. Walk a little past the last hotel, along the beachwalk and you’re suddenly ecompassed by darkness, and then the sky is lit up with more stars than you’ll ever see.

By day the beaches here are remote, yet rugged and beautiful. Folegandros is a photographers delight. Untouched and unspoilt even corner of the coastline offers another enchanting beach to explore.

To do:

Make sure you watch the sunset from the Church of Panagia at the top of the hill in Chora.

To stay:

As you’ll be arriving by ferry the port is a good place to stay. There are limited ferries so the port tends to be sleepy and quiet but there are plenty of buses running to the town and it’s a good place to base yourself to get to the beaches.

We stayed in Vrahos Boutique Hotel which was really lovely.

If you’re after something a little livelier than look at staying in Chora where the restaurants are busier and there are a few bars in the evenings. Although don’t visit Folegandros for a bustling nightlife.

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Vrahos Boutique Hotel

Athens: Like a local

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I think Athens is really under-rated when it come’s to European cities. Despite it’s economic problems over the last few years central Athens is still a bustling, interesting city. Busy coffee shops, chaotic markets, beautiful parks, it’s a city that has it all. It also appeals to me as it’s a city that feels so much foreign to me than European. It’s a city of contrasts: Chaotic yet well polished, historic yet cosmopolitan, the centre is compact yet easy to get lost in. Athens is known for the acropolis; one of the wonders of the world, it looms high above the city centre, and also for it’s other cultural attractions: it’s museums and it’s architecture. However Athens is a place for getting culturally enriched in other ways too such as, drinking coffee.

Here’s my guide to Athens like a local

Grab breakfast in Kolonaki

Kolonaki is a neighbourhood popular with the locals, a little walk away from the popular Syntagma square. Like Plaka, the old town, there are plenty of coffee shops and restraunts here, however those in Kolonaki tied to be quieter and more authentic. These cafe’s are a great place to sit outside and watch the world go by.

Enjoy the coffee culture

From the moment the sun comes up, it seems to be coffee hour in Athens. Whereas in the UK it’s just a drink, coffee in greece is a way of life. cafe’s and bakeries are on every corner, bars double up as coffee shops even in the evening. It’s the norm to see groups of locals chatting over coffee at 11 at night in a high end bar. The most popular coffees are freddo cappuccino or espresso, which I developed a serious addiction to over the last couple of weeks in Athens.

These coffees are iced, freddo espresso, essentially is an iced black americana and freddo capuchino the same, except with the most amazing frothy milky topping that i’m not sure exactly what it is. Its generally whisked up in front of you but taste’s so much more creamy than regular milk. You’ll also be asked if/ how sweet you want it. I made the mistake of ordering mine medium, which is the norm. It was so sweet but so addictive.

Hike

If your heart is beating faster than you ever knew possible after all of the caffeine, sugar and pastries the you’ve consumed than what better way to self medicate than to go on a hike up Mount Lycabettus. Clearly visible over the city this high mountain offers incredible views across the city, stretching out to the sea and the islands beyond. Also high, it’s only the initial steps that make it a little tricky, and the view once you get to the top is well worth it. There’s even a little church and restaurant up the top.

Rooftop bars

Most people tend to go to A for Athens, a popular rooftop bar located in busy Monastraki square. However we found the 360 degree cocktail bar, at the other side of the square must nicer, and filled with locals. This bar offers amazing views of the acropolis that lies opposite it and serves good cocktails, wines and coffee. The entrance is anything but impressive but it makes the bar so much more of a suprise once you’re up.

Relax in the National gardens

As much as I love Athens, the heat in the city can be unbearable and walking around all day doesn’t help. If you’ve got the time, go and join the local teens, and find a shady spot to eat some food and relax in the National gardens. This beautiful park is located just outside of plaka and makes a good respite.

 

 

The Best Beaches in Milos, Greece

Out of all of the islands that we visited on our island hopping trip around the Greece, the most spectacular beaches we came across were in the island, Milos . Forget standard sandy beaches, the beaches in Milos are some of the most unusual and diverse that I’ve ever seen. If you’re planning on travelling around the Cyclades, this magnificent island is definitely one to add to the itinerary.

Getting around

Milos isn’t really accommodated for tourism compared to a lot of the other islands. To put it in context, when we got off the ferry at other islands, there was usually hundreds of people disembarking. In Milos there were probably around 20 of us. There is a bus network running from the port where there are a few cafes, restaurants and a supermarket, to the main town, Plaka,  but the service is limited. One way on the bus costs 1.80 euro and you pay on leaving the bus.

To explore most of the beaches, the best option is to rent a vehicle. If you don’t fancy doing that then the other popular way to get around, and to see most of the island is an organised boat trip. There are plenty of these excursions running daily from the port, depending on where and how long you want to go for. These can be very structured: Some of the pricier one, costing around 60 euro, prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner, and all of these trips run to schedules so unless you hire a private boat you will have a set amount of time at each beach.

We went with Captain Yiangos, which was one of the cheaper tours at €30 each for a full day trip around the whole island. The positives were that we did see most of the beaches and there were a couple of opportunities to get off and swim. The negatives were the boat were crowded and we did feel that the boat ride was very slow and dragged on a little. It also didn’t give us an opportunity to get off at all the beaches we wanted to. If we’d had longer in Milos we would have visited some of the best beaches ourselves but we only really had one day.

 

Where to go:

The beaches in Milos are diverse and some can be difficult to access its worth researching the beaches you’re interested in visiting and if doing a boat tour, making sure you pick a tour that visits them

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Kleftiko

One of the most spectacular beach is Klefitiko. This is only accessible by boat as it is purely for swimming. This beautiful beach with its tall rock pillars resembles the beaches found in Krabi, Thailand and is definitely worth a visit. There is not a sunbathing area here or facilities.

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Sarakiniko

Sarakiniko is the most ‘moon like’ beach. We only stopped by this one and didn’t have the opportunity to get off but if you get the chance I would say it’s worth making a day of it at this beach. It’s smooth white rocks look just like craters and make it perfect for sunbathing, cliff jumping and taking some loads of photos.

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Klima

This tiny beach would be unremarkable if it wasn’t for its strip of beautiful multi collided fishing huts. So simple yet so dreamy this beach is definitely worth a visit if you get the chance. Klima is accessible by car but you may have to park in the nearby village and walk in. Our tour didn’t actually give us the chance to get off here but I would visit if I went back.

Tsigrado beach

Again, we didn’t get the chance to get off here but if you have the time then visit this beautiful beach. To get to it you have to climb down steep rope ladders which will appeal to the adventurous and it means that the beach is quite exclusive.  It’s very Alex Garland, The Beach.

Papafragkas

Another one for adventurous soles, entrance to this cliff beach is obtained through a tiny gate. To access the beach you then have to climb down a slippery cliff path. Once there the steep cliffs create a natural pool with emerald water and a small beach.

And if you just want a normal(ish) beach

Firiplaka

It’s a beautiful beach served by bus and easy to drive to. Firiplaka is one of the longest beaches and is organised with beach bars and other facilities.

Provatas

This beach is also accessible by bus and car. It is another organised beach, and its beautiful golden sand means that it’s a popular choice for a day at the beach.

Foodies guide: What to eat in a Greek bakery

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351861F8-80C3-459C-9315-1E7C79C4C730.JPGWalking into a bakery in Greece is like stepping into a child’s dream world. Counters and counters of gooey baklava in all shapes and sizes, shelves of exotic and unusual looking biscuits, pastries with custard, pastries with syrup, feta pies and spinach ones with flakey pastry.  The best thing to do, of course, is to attempt to buy and eat as much as possible but if you’re in need of a little guidance, I’ve put together a summary of the types of food you might want to grab from a bakery.

 

Tiropita or Spanakopita

Cheese pie or spinach and feta cheese pie are probably one of the most popular bakery items. These tend to be quite big, stodgy and for only a couple of euros make a great breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack.

Koulouri

These traditional bread rings are another bakery staple and in are even sold by street vendors in Athens. Usually costing less than a euro, these make a great snack or lunch with some cheese. A lot of bakeries slice these open and put cheese or meat in themselves, making a good Greek style sandwich. These bread rings are also commonly made with olives in them too.

 

Baklava

Probably one of the best known pastries, Baklava in Greece puts the stuff you buy at home to shame. Bakeries tend to sell trays of the stuff, in all its varieties, from small triangle to shredded pieces. The best Baklava should be made with honey and pistachios, not peanuts.

Galatoboureko

A bit of a guilty pleasure, this pudding consists of a sweet, dense vanilla custards encased in flaky pastry. It usually comes in massive slabs and that shouldn’t be possible to finish but I always manage to.

Shamali

Another diet friendly pudding. Shamali is a dense polenta cake that is cooked as quite a dry sponge and then drenched in orange syrup.

Rizogalo

This is essentially Greek style rice pudding and is usually found in the chilled counter in most bakeries. It’s much thicker than the stuff we have in the UK and is flavoured with spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. It’s popular in Greece as a breakfast food.

Cookies

In Greece, cookies make a regular appearance at special occasions such as weddings and parties and can easily be picked up from the bakery. They can vary drastically in shape and flavour depending on where about in Greece you are but usually there will be some covered in a sickly sweet layer of icing sugar, lots containing nuts and plenty of spiced ones. A popular one is called Melomakarona, Greek honey and spice cookie. I’m going to try and make these at home so i’ll put up a post about that.

Loukoumades

These sticky, sickly sweet balls are made by frying a sweet dough and drenching them in with a honey syrup, often flavoured with rose-water or spices. These can be found in bakeries or sold by street vendors all across Greece.

 

 

 

 

Money saving hacks in Santorini, Greece

               A budget guide to exploring Greece’s most exclusive island

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Santorini. It’s an island known for its beauty, for its piteresque buildings hanging off the cliff edge and it’s breathtaking views over the Aegean ocean.  It’s also an island known for its extortiate prices. However with a little planning, there’s no reason to bankrupt yourself if visiting the island and it can be easily slotted in to an island hopping itinery, costing no more than any of the other islands.

Accomodation

Book ahead:  Travelling around Greece in general is not the same as travelling around Asia. Arriving without prebooked accommodation can be done but it is definitely the expensive way of doing it. Book up months in advance for the cheaper rooms and look at going outside peak tourist months, July and August.

To give some context, rooms at the cliff edge in Oia, the most picturesque village and Fira, the main town, can go for hundreds or even thousands per night. We stayed in Santorni Camping, a 15 minute walk from the caldera of Fira and paid just €15 for two people per night. For this price we got a small cabin with a fan and a shared bathroom and shower. You can pay a little less and bring your own tent or pay a little more and get a room.

Transport

Buses are the easiest way to get around Santorini. The main but station is in Fira and has routes all across the island to Oia, the port and the beaches. Taxis are limited on Santorini so can be expensive and hard to get. If you’re planning on going out in the evenings, bear n mind it’s probably best to stay in Fira as buses stop running in the early morning and you may face a long wait for taxis. Hiring your own transport is also a good idea in Santorini.

Food

Not every restaurant charges €40 for a main but a lot do, especially in the restaurants on the caldera so check the prices. As a general rule, the further inland you go, the cheaper the food. Cocktail bars are perfect to people watch from and you can order a coffee or a juice to sit in these, saving money.

Activities

One of the best things to do in Santorini is wonder aimlessly around the beautiful winding streets. Oia is a photographers heaven and you never know what you will come across next. Fira is best in the evening, Tropical bar is good for a low key night out. If you walk just outside of Fira along the cliff edge, you’ll get to Fira Stefani, another town which is a little quieter and has more authentic restaurants.

Watching the sunset in Santorini is a must. Everyone heads to the fort in Oia or to a cocktail bar but seek out your own place instead. The best sunset views I got were from the far end of Oia at the point where the thira to Oia trail ends.

Speaking of which, the best free activity is the Fira to Oia hike. This 10k walk, took just over two hours to complete and was by far our favourite thing we did in Santorini. Pretty much hugging the coast the entire way along, this hike has spectacular views across the entire island. We set off early in the morning to avoid the heat and arrived in Oia just before lunch. It can be rubblely in parts so pack trainers.

Another place I would recommend visiting is  Atlantis Books in Oia. Nestled down some steps below the main street, this bookshop is a wonderous maze of new books, old books and first editions of  classics like The Great Gatsby. The shop is a product of two american friends who went travelling and decided to open up a bookshop on the island. It’s well known across the world but still feels like a hidden gem. It’s also completely free to visit, just don’t buy a first edition if you’re looking to save on cash. They can cost thousands.