Santorini is the pearl of the Cyclades, and its splendour attracts thousands of tourists every year to visit its much-vaunted beaches. Santorini is the perfect place for a romantic holiday, where sea and sky meet on the horizon and blend into a landscape of endless beauty.
Throughout the centuries, the island has suffered a series of volcanic upheavals and was almost completely destroyed by the earthquake of 1956. However, Santorini still stands, and is ready to captivate you with the charm of its immaculate houses shaded by the sun and the colourful roofs that embellish the view of the sea as clear as a crystal. The island lies in the Aegean Sea of Greece, halfway between Crete and Athens. Formerly known as Strongili, it gained its unique crescent shape after an eruption.
From the fabulous beaches to the sunsets over the caldera, we have prepared a list of 15 things to do and see in Santorini for a memorable visit on one of the 20 most beautiful islands in Greece.
- Village of Oia
- Santorini Volcano
- Archaeological site of Akrotiri
- Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni
- Island of Thirassia
- Beaches of Santorini
- Mount Profitis Ilias
- Taste the typical products
- Wine tasting in Santorini
Village of Oia
White and blue domes that plunge into the narrow alleys: this is Oia, the village that faces the caldera of the volcano of Santorini and is now the symbol par excellence of the island. Its traditional atmosphere has not faded even after the advent of mass tourism and, although the center is dotted with shops and luxury boutiques, it is by walking down the alleys that Oia fades into that paradise that everyone has seen at least once in a picture.
What can you do in the village of Oia? Dive into the narrow, steep streets between the cubed houses, head to one of the small clubs on the coast and, as an aperitif, enjoy the mild wind, the sparkle of the sea and the sunset. It is here, in Santorini where you can admire it the most: the sky is tinged with pink and the sunset also transforms the water, tinting it like a watercolour. Another excellent location to admire the sunset is the ruins of the castle of Agios Nikolaos. It is a Venetian castle dating from the fifteenth century and is named after the beautiful church carved into the rock. Its construction dates back to the time of the pirate raids, which posed a great threat to the island. Inside, were reserved rooms for the homes of the Venetian rulers. Unfortunately, after the earthquake of 1956, most of the settlements collapsed into the sea and there is not much left to see, except the Goulas, or the watchtower.
Those who go to Oia must pass at least once in front of the picturesque Atlantis bookstore, one of the most magical features of the world. A mine of precious tomes in all existing languages, it is the perfect destination for a fresh afternoon away from the heat of the sun. You can also visit the small churches literally spread throughout the village, which with their blue domes create the unique atmosphere of Santorini. From the village of Oia, you can also reach some of the most beautiful beaches of Santorini, including the port of Ammoudi.
Known today as Santorini, the island of Thera was certainly one of the most powerful islands of Minoan civilisation in 1600 BC. Its strategic commercial position and circular shape made it a perfect natural port for ships to dock and one of the most prestigious areas of the Cyclades. When Thera began to be devastated by earthquakes, the inhabitants of the island did not expect a disaster like the one that really happened. When the volcano erupted, smoke and ash were released into the sky, giving rise to explosions so strong that they could also be heard in Egypt. These eruptions, including the tsunamis that followed, had dramatic consequences for the entire Minoan civilization and is also why today’s Santorini has its characteristic crescent shape. Now, the caldera of the volcano has become one of the most visited and admired points in the Cyclades, and everyone tries to get a room in one of the many hotels that are situated next to it.
In Santorini, everything revolves around the Caldera, and not by coincidence. Breathtaking landscapes, luxury hotels, infinity pools, shops and luxury cocktail bars: those who manage to stay closer to the caldera are the VIPs and, in general, lovers of the dolce vita. You can experience the unique view from this extraordinary location directly from Fira or Oia, the northernmost village. We recommend that you take a walk from Fira to Imerovigli, where you can enjoy a unique view and you need to look at it at least once in your life. Then head for the Skaros promontory, which goes into the caldera, and head up the rocks to some of Santorini's most breathtaking viewpoints.
Archaeological site of Akrotiri
Near the southern coast of Santorini, 12 km from the capital Gira, lies the prehistoric city of Akrotiri, perhaps one of the most interesting archaeological attractions of the island and one of the most exciting sites in the whole of Greece. As the name of this ancient city, dating back to the Minoan era, is unknown, Akrotiri is in fact the name of the small village that stands a short distance from the site.
Also known as the "Greek Pompeii", Akrotiri has been preserved in an almost impeccable way thanks to the volcanic eruption that has submerged it with a layer of ash and pumice that has acted as a "preservative", leaving the city almost intact over the centuries. The same thing happened to Herculaneum and Pompeii, the famous towns submerged by the disasters of Vesuvius, in Campania.
The site of Akrotiri was officially reopened in 2012 after a fatal accident due to a structural failure. After the reinforcement works, the archaeological remains have become a tourist destination that can be visited safely. Here you can literally walk among the archaeological remains of the village thanks to the footbridges installed between the ruins, which also create an excellent observation point.
The first remains of the village were found in 1866 by some miners who worked in the quarries of the area for the construction of the Suez Canal. However, it took almost a century for archaeologists to understand the historical importance of this discovery, which dates back to the second phase of the Proto-Cycladic period. The urban settlement of Akrotiri was well organized and equipped with a futuristic sewage system that is now preserved under the road surface. Many rooms on the ground floor were used as warehouses for storing goods. There were also several public buildings for civil and religious activities. The largest building is Xeste 4, it has 3 floors and dozens of rooms. The fragments of frescoes brought to light represent male figures climbing up stairs which suggest that it was a public building.
To fully understand the beauty of Akroriti's wall paintings and its history, precious for the reconstruction of such a distant era, it is important to visit the Museum of Fira Santozeum and the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
The capital of Santorini, Fira is a small enchanting village, characterized by steep paths and alleys surrounded by white and blue cube houses. Wherever you go, you can admire a breathtaking landscape. Fira is located in the western part of the island, 10 km from the main port. Perched on a cliff off the caldera, about 260 meters above sea level, this beautiful location has exceptional views and offers luxurious places to stay for tourists. This is the ideal place to enjoy the sea and social life at the same time, including clubs, restaurants and boutiques of high fashion and jewellery.
Orientating in Fira is straightforward: the main square is called Theotokopoulou Square and intersects with odos 25-Martiou, which is also the street that goes right up to the top. It is a paved alley that leads directly to the sea and is easy to spot. Fira is Santorini's nightlife venue, and it's the only location where you can dance until dawn and drink happily in exclusive clubs. Those who want a more romantic and reserved space can instead go to the hamlet of Firostefani, further north and less frequented.
Besides the nightlife, Fira is interesting for its old port, reachable by cableway or mule, the Ypapanti Cathedral and the Church of the Virgin of Agios Theodorios.
Visit the Archaeological Museum, which houses impressive Hellenistic frescoes, Byzantine works and prehistoric remains. You can also visit the Prehistoric Museum, which houses some of Akrotiri's frescoes, including the remains of the famous Blue Monkey fresco. The last recommended stop is the Megato Gizi Museum, an ancient patrician residence that belonged to a Venetian family, the Ghizi. Inside there are photographs that tell the story of the village and the island. This is also the area of classical and Greek music concerts in Santorini.
Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni
If you decide to visit Santorini, you must visit the islands, which are essential to the beauty of this place. The tour starts with a boat trip to the islets in the heart of the caldera, Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni. This important change of perspective will allow you to see Fira and Oia as you would have never imagined and to immerse yourself in a pristine nature that still show signs of the presence of an active volcano. Breathe in the smell of sulphur and the sea hot springs as the island is anything but asleep and, indeed, muttering all the time!
Island of Thirassia
Thirassia is a small island in Greece located in front of Santorini: this charming place where time seems to have stopped will allow you to fully appreciate the atmosphere of Greece, one that you would never have imagined to find on such a touristic island. Everyone sees Thirassia, in fact, but few really visit it. For this reason, you must come here if you want to see Santorini before mass tourism completely transforms it.
There are 21 churches on the island, almost all of which are private and therefore not open to visitors. There are few shops and they are all located in Manolas, the only village in the area. Catch a glimpse of the beauty of the place and stay for the sunset.
Those who come for the beaches will have to postpone the dive to another time, or rent a canoe. There are no beaches in Thirassia: the island is bordered by rough volcanic rocks with sharp edges. However, it is possible to swim, but only when the sea is calm and the Meltemi winds are not too strong. The only bathing area of the place is that of the port, where ships also dock. Here too, however, the water is beautiful and swimming is a pleasure.
Megalochori is one of the most beautiful villages of Santorini, located about 10 kilometres from Fira and particularly appreciated for being one of the most picturesque places on the island. Its existence is documented from the seventeenth century and, along its narrow streets, you will come across historic buildings, old-style houses and, of course, pirate hideouts. High walls that served precisely to keep out the criminals during the long lonely nights surround many of the houses here. At the heart of Megalochori is the square, a place full of taverns, bars and restaurants where you can also play "tavli", which is basically backgammon. The area of Megalochori is also well known for its wine production.
The beaches of Santorini
One of the magic things about Santorini is its sea. This island is coveted for its atmosphere and, of course, for the beauty of the beaches that surround it. Take Amoudi Bay, for example, in the far north of the island, below the village of Oia. Here the water is sparkling and full of small boats and the beach overlooks the caldera to offer an amazing glimpse into a fairy-tale location.
Éxo Gialós is another beach to be visited, which, together with Xiropígado and Vourvoúlos, represents one of the wildest and most spectacular sections of the east coast of Santorini. Here you can enjoy the cliffs and sandy beaches embellished with black pebbles.
In Monólithos, just beyond the beach of Éxo Gialós, there is a well-equipped bathing facility that is perfect for families with children who want to spend a day at sea in comfort. Kamári, located in the south-eastern part of the island, is also worth a visit. This is also a well-equipped beach for families, where the seabed is shallow and the straw umbrellas create a charming atmosphere.
Don't miss the beaches of Perìssa, Perìvolos, Vlychàda - where you will feel like bathing on the moon - and the iconic Red Beach, a stunning stretch of red volcanic beach that leads into an emerald green lagoon.
Finally, take a trip to Kambia Beach, a stone's throw from Red and White Beach, a quiet seaside location that should be explored. The beach stands on round, polished grey and white pebbles, which give this extraordinary beach of Santorini an atypical look where you can find privacy and relaxation - a no small feat on Greece's most beloved island!
Mount Profitis Ilias
Perhaps some of you have already heard of the "green ray", which is the last ray of the sun before sunset. A beam of greenish light that welcomes the worshippers of the Sun before the advent of the night. One of the most beautiful locations to admire this show is certainly the Monte Profitis Ilias, a peak of 567 meters that rises between Pyrgos and Kamari, in Santorini. On the summit there is also an ancient monastery where you can visit an exhibition full of interesting icons, books, artefacts and precious elements of the Greek Orthodox religion. The area can be reached on foot or through organized excursions that depart directly from Fira.
Picturesque and unique, Pyrgos is a small village of Santorini that will give you incredible views over the island and a mild and serene climate where you can really relax. While it does not hold a real historical heritage, Pyrgos is much sought after by tourists who like to wander. Let yourself be seduced by the narrow alleys and the beauty of a village that has retained part of its ancient charm.
It is one of the most famous and important villages of Santorini, and is located on the highest part of the cliff about 3 km from Fira. It is a traditional village with soft curves: Imerovigli is located on the highest cliff of the island and is at the very top of the caldera, about 300 meters above sea level.
Firostefani is a village now almost completely absorbed by the fervent activity of Fira. Romantic, panoramic and quiet, it stands on one of the highest points of the caldera and can be reached in a 15-minute walk from the cableway. Also known as "the roof of the island", it is an ideal village for romantic trips, away from the worldliness of Fira, but not too far away. If you arrive in Firostefani, make sure to visit the Church of the Virgin of Agios Theodoris, very charming and easily recognizable by the yellow facade and the bell tower with three bells. From there you can also start a series of magnificent hikes that go along the paths above the cliffs, offering magnificent excursions even to the greatest fans of trekking.
Taste the typical products
The recipes of the island of Santorini are largely part of the traditional Greek cuisine, although some local restaurants manage to give their "regional" touch to each delicacy. Those who come here can therefore enjoy an incredible moussaka, one of the Greek national dishes par excellence that resembles a bit the Sicilian eggplant parmigiana. And don't forget to try the domatokeftedes, delicious tomato enriched with mint and onion: the dish is also perfect for vegetarians and vegans because it does not contain any animal products. If you come to Greece and don't try tzatziki, you have to repent and come back again: it is a creamy sauce usually served as an appetizer. Made with Greek yoghurt, garlic and cucumber, it is a real blaze of goodness for those who love strong flavours.
In Santorini, you can also taste the gyros, the street food par excellence of Greece. With some resemblance to kebab, the gyros is made of a pita to which a filling of long-cooked pork is added, seasoned with plenty of tzatziki.
Santorini's desserts are also not to be forgotten: try a piece of baklava, thin sheets of filo pastry and walnuts soaked in a mix of sugar, honey or lemon juice, with spices cooked in rosewater. The result is a stunning sweetness and a goodness that you will never forget.
Wine tasting in Santorini
It is impossible to resist the charm of a wine tasting route in Santorini. It starts naturally from Assyrtiko, one of the names that has made the island famous. Let's just say that during the 14th and 16th centuries, the volcanic area of Santorini produced some of the best wines in Europe. Then, their popularity decreased to leave room for Italian and French appellations, however, the value of a good bottle of Santorini remains the same.
Why is the wine here so good? The volcanic soil, rich and fertile, is ideal for the cultivation of vineyards that can grow in the mild, sunny climate of the Mediterranean. Among the wineries to visit on the island, include Estate Argryos, Santo Wines, Gaia, and Domaine Sigalas. If you are not sure how to make a tasting trip, rely on local guides who will escort you to the most interesting places of local production.
Departures for Santorini with Costa Cruises
Romantic and full of stunning natural landscapes, Santorini will capitvate you in no time: take advantage of Costa Cruises excursions to fall even more in love with this beautiful island, visiting beautiful places such as Fira, the village of Oia and the archaeological site of Akrotiri.