What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear Santorini? Probably like us, those gleaming white houses, churches with blue domes, and sea as far as the eye can see. Well, the charming volcanic island is all that and much more!
Santorini is the southernmost island of the Greek Cyclades. Like all other islands of this archipelago, Santorini is of volcanic origin. The island is one of the most popular destinations for a vacation at sea, thanks to its stunning and unique beaches and scenery.
From its east to its west, Santorini is a paradisical place full of so much beauty to offer and amazing things to do. Helping you have the perfect vacation at Santorini, here are our picks of the best things to do and places to visit on the volcanic island.
The island’s capital Fira often called Thira like the island itself, is the island’s hotspot and one of the most popular Santorini sites. To reach the city, you can either take the cable car up to Fira or take the 588 steps of the Karavolades stairs. However, we recommend taking the cable car to Fira, this way you will enjoy a breathtaking panoramic view of Fira and the Caldera.
Once in Fira, there is a wide range of Santorini sights to marvel at; starting with the sensational view of the deep blue Mediterranean Sea and the Caldera, in addition to the typical white houses with colorful windows and doors to the narrow streets with stores, souvenir stores, bars, taverns and restaurants lining them…… In Fira, there is something for everyone.
If you are looking for one of those famous churches with blue roofs, then you should head to the Catholic Church of the Assumption, better known as the Three Bells of Fira Church, in Firostefani – a suburb of Fira. The church is one of the few ones in Fira and the surrounding area.
Like no other town on Santorini, Oia represents the image that many of us have of Greece: White houses built close to a hillside, white churches with blue roofs, and a sunset that takes your breath away… In the midst of this tangle, you will find small boutiques and souvenir stores, art galleries as well as cafes, taverns, and restaurants.
Oia is the most famous and the most tourist village of Santorini. The small village with about 1,300 inhabitants is located in the far north of the island. Many of those most popular photos and reels from Santorini that you see on Instagram are usually taken in Oia.
To get the most out of the city without having to worry about the crowd, you should either come early in the morning or sleep directly in one of the Cave Hotels and get up early. From the hotel, you will have a beautiful view of the sea.
Tip: If you want to take that the famous picture of the sunset in Oia; make sure to be there 30 minutes earlier as it gets really crowded.
The Old Port of Ammoudi
The old port of Ammoundi is located below the cliffs in Oia. The best way to get there is to walk from Oia down to the harbor. You can also book a donkey ride. At the bottom, you can swim in the crystal-clear water of the harbor basin or indulge yourself with some freshly caught fish in one of the many cozy taverns around.
Ammoudi is where the cruise ships dock, so it can get very crowded. However, in the evening, you can enjoy the sunset in the small harbor with delicious food in a casual, relaxed atmosphere.
Setting just two kilometers away from the capital Fira, Imerovigli is a picturesque village recognized as one of the authentic attractions in Greece. The village was used in ancient times to view approaching pirate ships because of the unobstructed view over the Caldera. Luckily nowadays, you can enjoy the breathtaking view that Imerovigli offers without the fear of pirates.
Known as one of the most romantic destinations in Greece, Imerovigli is a must-see for everyone. The streets are lined with traditional houses, hotels, cafes, taverns, and some stunning churches and chapels for you to explore.
In contrast to the tourist hotspots Fira and Oia, Imerovigli has remained very quiet with no annoying crowd. Imerovigli is also the highest point on the edge of the Caldera. With its fantastic view of the volcanic crater and the Mediterranean Sea, Imerovigli is altogether a perfect place to enjoy the sunset without tourist crowds and to take some nice photos undisturbed.
For all of you who do not know what a caldera is, here comes a little digression. Considered as one of the natural wonders of the Earth, the Santorini Caldera is a 4-mile-long basin formed by a volcanic explosion over 3500 years ago. The explosion completely changed the topography of the Mediterranean coast, and the remaining basin soon became associated with the myths of Atlantis.
Places like Oia or Fira are built exactly on the steep slopes of this caldera and that’s why they make such an incredible cinematic backdrop for your vacation on Santorini. But the caldera is not only a feast for the eyes but also an exciting excursion destination. One of the fun activities to do while in the area is going on an evening boat tour through the water-filled part of the caldera. We recommend taking your tour at sunset and with a fancy dinner.
Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni
You can visit the two small islands Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni in the middle of the flooded caldera during a boat tour. On the uninhabited island of Nea Kameni (new rim), you may walk from the boats to the volcanic crater located at 130 meters above sea level. If you look closely, you will see sulfurous smoke and steam on the crater rim.
On the coast of the neighboring island of Palea Kameni (Old Burn), there are hot springs. The water is up to 45 degrees in some places, and it is slightly brownish – this is due to the sulfur – which should be good for the skin. Most excursion boats to the crater stop near the hot springs for a swim…… And it is going to be one of the best swims of your life.
Byzantine Castle Ruins
While on Santorini, we highly recommend taking the time to explore the historic Byzantine castle ruins. The remains of the 15th-century castle offer one of the most beautiful and also one of the most photographed sites in Greece. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes for the short hike and head up the ruins to see the stunning sunset.
The setting in there is just spectacular! The area’s picturesque, whitewashed buildings stand out against the towering windmill and the mesmerizing cliffs to create something out of a fairy tale…… How can anyone miss that!
Pompeii of Greece, Akrotiri
Nicknamed “Pompeii of Greece”, Akrotiri is a buried city in the south of the island. It is one of the most well-known archaeological sites on Santorini. In Akrotiri, you will see ancient buildings, streets and you can admire many potteries.
The “Pompeii of Greece” is located in the south of the island and was buried by a volcanic eruption over 3,600 years ago, probably in 1620 BC, and remained undiscovered until the 20th century.
The area of the excavation site is much smaller than the area of the former city of Akrotiri and the excavations continue steadily. So, this Santorini sight keeps growing and surely has many more surprises in store. The excavation site is named after the village of Akrotiri, which is about 700 meters away.
In Akrotiri, you will find not only some beautiful Santorini hotels but also a ruined castle from the time of Venetian rule, rustic taverns, and a lighthouse from which you have an indescribable view of the Caldera and the Mediterranean Sea. Many of the finds are exhibited in the Prehistoric Museum in Fira.
Profitis Ilias is the highest mountain on Santorini with 586 meters. It goes without saying, from the top of the mountain you will have the best view of Santorini.
Fortunately, you don’t have to hike for hours to get to the top. Instead, you can easily drive by car where you will find a parking lot. On the top of the mountain rests the monastery of Profitis Ilias. The monastery, built in 1711, is not inhabited and therefore not open to the public, but the chapel in the courtyard is open and it is worth the visit.
Therasia is a small island off the coast of Santorini that you can reach with a scenic 20-minute boat ride through Ammoudi Bay to Therasia’s port, Riva. The island has remained true to its roots over the years, and it is full of authenticity and tradition that has maintained an important part of its appeal.
The natural beauty and tranquility of the island are such a sweet break from the hustle and bustle of the mainland. You can spend the day on a guided boat tour of the land and learn more about the history of Therasia and its volcano, which we highly recommend.
You can’t be going after the best Santorini sightseeing places, without making a stop at the Alt-Thera. The ancient city of Old Thera on the mountain Mesa Vouno is one of the most important archaeological sites of Santorini and one of the most interesting Santorini sights.
Named after the ancient ruler Theras, the city was inhabited from the 9th century BC to the 8th century. There are still-preserved ruins of the Agora (main square) on the city like a large columned hall, a theater, several temples, several private houses as well as a Roman bath complex. The remains testify to the heyday of Alt Thera and its importance in Hellenistic times.
The whole area is just stunning, and the old centuries-old excavations from the Hellenistic and Roman periods will leave you in awe.
Explore the Santorini World-Famous Wine
The island of Santorini has always been a premium wine-growing region and specializes in the production of dry white wines and sweet wines, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find some high-quality red wines too. More than 1500 hectares of land on the island are used for wine growing.
The grape varieties grown on the volcanic soil are characterized by a high aromatic density and a fresh, slightly earthy-vegetable flavor. The Assyrtiko grape variety occupies the majority of the cultivated area and the sweet dessert wine Vinsanto. Unlike in France, Italy, or the rest of Greece, the vines do not grow upwards in Santorini, instead, they are flat in a kind of braided system and sometimes look like baskets or rings or Kouloura as the locals call it. In this way, they defy wind and weather.
Among the most popular wineries are Vassaltis Vineyards, the small Hatzidakis Winery, and Gavalas Winery. And of course, you can also get to know Santorini’s wineries on a guided island tour. You’ll find a variety of wineries on the island that are open for tours and wine tastings. Some also have a museum with them that shows the wine-making history of Santorini.
All tours are led by experienced Greek oenologists, who offer guests a tour that is tailored to what they want to eat and drink. One of the most famous tours is the “History and Wine Route,” where you can discover the island’s history and past while enjoying a crisp volcanic wine.
Museums on Santorini
There are tons of great museums to visit while you are on Santorini. The first of which is the Museum of Prehistoric Fira/Thera. The museum houses ancient artifacts from various excavations from all over Santorini. It was built on the ruins of a church that was destroyed during the 1956 Amorgos earthquake.
The collections of the museum include pottery, jewelry, sculptures, paintings, and various ritual objects. Some of the pieces that are not to be missed: The Kastri group of objects and the Middle Cycladic pottery.
Next on the museum lists is the Lignos Folklore Museum. The museum is located in a cave house built in 1861 in Fira. You can explore the museum with exhibits such as the traditional winery with a wine press, antique utensils, barrels, and treading vats.
Other exhibits include traditional workshops for carpenters and shoemakers, and a historical archive full of lithographs, manuscripts, and books. The art gallery at Lignos Folklore Museum is full of works by famous artists from around the world who were inspired by Santorini; in addition to these works, visitors can see many historical images of life on the island.
Another museum you should consider visiting is the Museum of Minerals and Fossils. For over 10 years, the Museum of Minerals and Fossils in Perissa has been the center of attention when it comes to minerals and fossils from Greece and the rest of the world. Among the exhibits is a rare collection of minerals from Lavrio and other original treasures dating back over 1.5 billion years! That’s right, BILLION, not a million!
In there, you will be able to see rare and ancient plant fossils from olive trees and palms, showing the evolution of plants in the Aegean and Europe. Exploring the museum is a fun activity for the whole family.
You want to know how good the wine on Santorini is; well, let’s put it this way. The wine is so good that it deserved its own museum! Santorini is famous for its delicious wines, and there is no better place for you to understand the history of the region’s winemaking than at the Santorini Wine Museum.
You can take a personal tour of the extraordinary natural cave that houses the museum. It is six meters underground and offers you the opportunity to see the evolution of wine production on Santorini. Local tour guides and audio guides ensure that you get the most out of the experience, and the tour ends with a ritual wine tasting at the winery.
Tip: If you are looking for a traditional Greek experience, then you should attend the delicious buffet on Friday night with live entertainment, costumes, and Greek dancing.
Olive Oil Tasting…. Yes, please!
It would be a shame to make it to Santorini without going for a nice Olive Oil Tasting…you just can’t! The experience gets you up close and personal with one of Greece’s most famous products: Olive Oil.
This is the best way to explore the famous Greek olive oil and learn about the roots and history of six different olive oils from the island and how the oil plays an important role in the Mediterranean diet.
Many places offer olive oil tastings on Santorini, choose the closest to where you are staying and go for it. It is definitely one of the top things to do while visiting Santorini.
The Argyris Mansion with its old-world beauty and charm will take you back to the life of the glamorous and wealthy residents of 19th century Santorini. The property is in excellent condition and not only shows you the architecture and furnishings of a bygone era but also features many works of art and unique furniture.
The historic house is privately owned but open to the public, and there are many fun and friendly guides who can give you interesting tours with little details about Argyros. One of the best aspects of the villa is the special wine tasting room of Canava Avantis; It has a fantastic ambiance and is filled with excellent wines to enjoy.
Oh, Those Beautiful Black Beaches Though!
Santorini is a volcanic island, this is clear in the rugged landscape, the ubiquitous volcanic crater, and also in the beaches. There are no classic golden, fine sandy dream beaches here. On Santorini, you can expect black pebble sand beaches with a crystal clear, clean sea.
You can find the famous black beaches on the east side of the island, where it is shallower. We recommend the beaches in the resorts of Kamari and Perissa. Both beaches are large and have a good tourist infrastructure.
Along the beach promenade, there are cafes, restaurants, and taverns in the towns. The taverns directly on the beach offer their sunbeds for free if you were to order something from their place. There is a boat between the beaches of Kamari and Perissa. The trip takes about 30 minutes. From Fira, you can reach both beaches by bus.
Saving the best for last, the one and only…Red beach! The famous Red Beach stretches along Santorini’s south coast, about 12 km southwest of the capital Fira. It is probably one of the most beautiful and interesting beaches on the island and in the whole world!
The beach owes its name to the surrounding red rocks. It is formed by a narrow coastal strip covered with dark volcanic sand and pebbles, running along the steep rocky wall. The beach is truly fascinating with its beautiful palette of contrasting colors of red rocks, black pebbles, or blue sea surface. Red beach is located on the downwind side of high rocks and is a popular place for snorkeling, due to the rich underwater world.
Among the locals on Santorini, the Red Beach is also called Kokkini Ammos. There are many cafes and restaurants at the beach, which attract tourists from all over the world with an impressive view over the sea. Enjoy the unique red beach and make sure to snap good photos as much as you can!
One can easily see why Santorini is on the top list of best places for vacation, the island truly has the best of almost everything! From its beaches to the villages, and the museums, Santorini is a must-visit!