Welcome to the Crown Jewel of Greece. Courtesy of astonishing natural events and populous dating back thousands of years, Santorini stands alone as one of the mot awe-inspiring and charismatic islands in the world.
Santorini, or Thira, basks in the Aegean Sea, the remnant of one of the biggest volcanic eruptions in history. The eruption in 1646 BC left behind a rectangular lagoon surrounded by multi-coloured, steep cliffs on three sides, each plunging deep into the clear blue sea. Today the sloping cliffs are dotted with dazzling white cottages, and the lagoon is populated with gleaming yachts at anchor. There’s plenty to do in Santorini, but we recommend definitely ticking these activities off the bucket list during your stay on the island.
Explore the towns
Over the course of thousands of years Santorini’s villages and towns have evolved into some of the most beautiful in the world. They comprise of white-walled Cycladic houses that hug the steeps cliffs, the subject of thousands of photographs. Words just don’t come close to describing their beauty. These traditional magical dwelling places will stay with you forever.
Emporio is located in the heart of the island and close to the beaches of Perivolos and Perissa. Her highlights are the well preserved Kateli (castle) and the churches especially that of Panagia Mesiani.
Oia (pronounced EEE-ya) features on travel booklets and calendars around the world. It is located on the northwest edge of the caldera and is an enchanting network of famous blue domes, narrow climbing streets, cave houses and small squares that pop up unexpectedly. Oia is considered the oldest settlement on the island and offers breathtaking views of the sea and landscapes. Walk down the steps from Oia and you find yourself in Ammoudi Bay and its gorgeous little harbor hemmed in by amazing red cliffs.
Fira, the capital, is a maze of white houses in the Cycladic architectural style built on the cliffs overlooking the lagoon. It has a wonderful collection of bars, shops, cafés, restaurants and ice cream parlours. It also has casual and laid back nightlife. Two other villages worth exploring are Firostefani and Imerovigli.
Without a shadow of a doubt the cuisine of Santorini alone is worth the travel. Gorging on the many specialty dishes of the island is as integral to experiencing the island as exploring its historical sites. Regarded as an outstanding gastronomical destination, there are a wide range of things to eat in Santorini made from distinctive local products from the sea and the land. The local cherry tomatoes are the best you will ever taste, fava with kabourma (the white eggplant that can be eaten raw), pan-fired feta cheese with honey and superb Greek coffee frappe are just some of the specialties of this gorgeous island.
As if the food is not enough to satisfy the soul many of the restaurants and tavernas are set in the most beautiful locations in the world.
Uncover ancient cities
Santorini’s magic goes back thousands of years to its fascinating Minoan roots.
Ancient Akrotiri: It is the best Minoan site outside Crete, that civilization’s home. The archaeological excavations (still ongoing) display wonderfully intact 16th century BC multi-level buildings, streets, and squares with remains of walls standing as high as eight metres, once entombed in the solidified ash of the famous eruption of Thera. Also visible are beautifully decorated homes, mansions and frescoes. Wandering through Akrotiri is a journey back in time.
Ancient Thira: First settled by the Dorians around the 9th century BC, Thira has remnants of Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine eras. You will see Roman baths, an old agora and the famed Terrace of Festivals where ceremonies honoring Apollo were held.
Santorini offers amazing culture, history and natural beauty but one of the fun aspects of visiting the island are its wine and beer. Wine production on the island dates back to Roman times, and grew under the Venetians during the Middle Ages.
Vineyards in Santorini are peculiar to the island. The grape vines are grown close to the ground to protect them from the strong winds that strike the island. They are also trained to grow in a basket shape in order to make the most of the precious dew, which is the main source of irrigation. At night there is plenty of humidity when dew covers the entire island. If you are out at night you could get completely wet.
Visiting a winery or a brewery is a great way to imbibe some of the culture, history and at the same time some pretty interesting flavoured beverages. Santorini’s wines are made from an indigenous and hardy grape variety, Assyrtiko, which has metallic and other unique features. There are plenty of dry whites, roses and reds to sample at the island’s best wineries.
There is a local brewery that produces a several beers that are quickly gathering a large and enthusiastic gathering of beer lovers – in Greece and around the world – and is much sought after on the island itself.
Watch the sunset
There are many, many people who hold that sunsets at Santorini are the best in the world and they are right. Many actually come here just to experience it. There are numerous spots to watch this solar phenomenon and each has its band of devotees.
Hundreds of people gather every evening around Oia Castle to watch the spectacular vision of the sun sinking into the sea. However, there are other locations such as Fira, Firostefani, Imerovigli, the often overlooked Faros near ancient Akrotiri and Profitis. Vlihada beach offers a fascinating sideshow with the cliffs changing colour during the sunset period.
Stay in a cave house
Called yposkafo, these wonderful cave houses were originally built into the hillsides and cliffs to offer protection from the strong Aegean Sea winds. They are wonderfully attractive and cosy. Most of them have been turned into hotels and resorts. It is worth the cost to stay (even for a night) in one of these cave houses. All of them offer spectacular views of the caldera and the sea.
The activity of Santorini’s volcanic past has created some truly amazing and iconic beaches. All of them are wonderfully different from each other. Kamari Beach is a short distance from Fira on the east coast and has a large stretch of powdery black/grey sand. You can just bask in the sun, jet ski or rent a kayak. There are also many beachside restaurants, bars and shops.
At the end of the road, near Ancient Akrotiri sits Red Beach. This red volcanic sand beach is worth the effort of getting there. The views here are simply stunning especially the contrast of the red cliffs and the blue sea water. Swimming here is great.
Other beaches are Perissa and Perivolos (black sand), the White Beach and Vlychada beach.