In the southern part of the Cyclades, lies one of the most renowned islands of Greece. This is no other than Santorini or Santa Irene, which is, in fact, a cluster of islands. Always scoring high in travel rankings but most importantly in the hearts of its visitors, Santorini is labeled as romantic -given its world-famous sunset and the many weddings taking place there every year-, adventurous and timeless.
Santorini's history goes back thousands of years ago, in Prehistoric times, when the great volcanic eruption caused the submergence of a big part of the initially circular island. Along with its geological spectacles -its active volcano is submarine, which is really rare- its beaches, its iconic architecture and its local delicacies, make Santorini a unique destination. Here, you can find some alluring suggestions about what to do in Santorini!
1. Visit Akrotiri
Akrotiri - credits: cge2010/Shutterstock.com
A site inhabited from Neolithic times but mostly known for its Minoan city, Akrotiri was buried for centuries under thick layers of volcanic ash -much like Pompei- which allowed the high-quality preservation of its findings. As a result, it is now a treasured highlight for visitors and history buffs from across the world.
It is located on the southwest part of the island, with the city being comprised of multi-leveled houses built right next to each other. The urban plan and the sewerage system are surprisingly good considering the time of their construction. Moreover, some of the most astounding frescoes in art history which decorated the internal house walls, like the 'Spring' fresco, have been found here.
Most of the original artworks have been transferred to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
2. Discover Thera
Thera, Santorini - credits: WitR/Shutterstock.com
Thera lies on the southeast between Kamari and Perissa, 8,5 km away from the island capital which bears the same name -although slightly changed from Thera to Fira. Following the big volcanic eruption of the 17th century BC, the island remained deserted for a few centuries but was resettled in the 9th century BC. The Spartans founded the city of Thera, which survived until the Byzantine Period, but was especially prosperous during the Hellenistic period when it became a naval base of Ptolemaic Egypt.
On the site, you can gaze at important historical monuments, such as the sanctuary of Apollo Karneios, the Hellenistic theatre -with a breathtaking view to the sea- and the sanctuary of the priest Artemidoros.
City of Fira - credits: turtix/Shutterstock.com
If you are on a cruise, as soon as you will arrive at the old port, head directly to the city of Fira by cable car, by foot or even by donkey! Ample shops, luxurious restaurants, traditional taverns, museums, cultural centers, and a lively nightlife are waiting for you to discover them. Remember to visit the museum of ‘Prehistoric Thera’ where you will see exhibits taken mainly from the Akrotiri excavations along with other fossils.
Other notable places you shouldn't miss are the Archaeological Museum of Fira and the cultural center named 'Megaro Gyzi'; a 17th-century mansion, which houses an admission-free festival every August and a rich collection of engravings, paintings and old manuscripts.
4. Catch Santorini's sunset in Oia
Sunset in Oia - credits: Mila Atkovska/Shutterstock.com
One of the most popular spots for catching Santorini's magnificent sunset, Oia, is a coastal town on the northwestern tip of Santorini that looks like it has come straight out of a fairy tale. However, there are plenty of other reasons to visit Oia apart from the sunset views.
The Venetian castle of St. Nicolas, the enchanting mansions that used to belong to ship owners of the 19th and 20th century in the so-called 'Captains’ Neighbourhood', as well as the traditional rock-hewn houses in the 'Crew’s Neighbourhood' are only a few of the reasons why you should put Santorini on your bucket list. You can learn more about the rich naval tradition of the island at the Maritime Museum. Don’t forget to check the windmills and the traditional knitting factory where you can buy one-of-a-kind souvenirs.
5. Geological Park, Nea and Palaia Kameni
Palaia Kameni - credits: isabela66/Shutterstock.com
Some of the most exciting aspects of Santorini are its intense volcanic past and geological treasures. The two islets which are visible at the center of Caldera, consist of solidified material which emerged from the sea in recent years – especially the islet of Nea Kameni. In both, you can see volcanic craters and hot springs. In Palaia Kameni, you can even apply volcanic mud to your body and enjoy its therapeutic properties. If you’re visiting during summertime, be aware that hiking the uphill path under the scorching sun can be quite strenuous.
6. Explore the gstronomic culture of Santorini
Traditional tomatokeftedes of Santorini - credits: greekgastronomyguide.gr
Based on a long-standing culinary tradition, the traditional dishes of Santorini will astonish you. The fertile volcanic land offers the optimum terrain or the growth of high-quality products, some of which are local and unique. Do try the fava (yellow split peas), the sundried cherry tomatoes, the Greek saffron(crocus) as well as the local Santorinian wine the island is famous for. Tomatokeftedes (vegetable meatballs with tomato), marinated fish and garlic pasta are also perfect options for you to satisfy your palate while getting an insight into Santorini's gastronomic culture. Don’t miss the chance to try Santorini’s white eggplants baked in the oven with balsamic vinegar or in an exquisite eggplant salad mixed with fresh red peppers.
7. Santorini Beaches
Red Beach in Santorini - credits: Lucian BOLCA/Shutterstock.com
Swimming in the deep blue waters of Santorini right under the sheer cliffs of bronze, red and black colors and walking barefoot on the volcanic sand is a privilege you shouldn't take for granted. Make sure not to miss the Kokkini/Red Beach -close to Akrotiri- Kamari and Perissa beaches near ancient Thera, and Vlyhada with its lunar scenery. The beaches of Santorini are unlike any other beaches in Greece and the whole world and swimming in them is a fulfilling and valuable experience!
8. Diving in Santorini
Sailing with a catamaran in Santorini - credits: dancar/Shutterstock.com
Santorini is the perfect place for sports lovers and adventure fans, offering an array of watersports and fun activities. There are diving spots in Caldera and close to the volcano. There is also a shipwreck in Palaia Kameni while many diving centers all over the island can offer you a dive to remember! Don't hesitate to explore the mysterious depths of the Aegean sea and discover for yourself the flora and fauna of the region!
9. Traditional festivities
Greek folklore dance - credits: vverve/Depositphotos.com
Throughout the whole year, but especially during the month of August, many religious festivals take place in Santorini. Folk dance and music accompanied by mouthwatering local food will give you a full taste of what it means to be an islander in the Cyclades. The most popular festival takes place on the 15th of August in the church of Agia Episkopi -an important Byzantine monument- in Mesa Gonia village and the celebrations last till the early morning hours!
10. Santorini Wine Tours
Drinking wine with a view - credits: Littleaom/Shutterstock.com
The cultivation of wine in Santorini goes back almost 5.000 years ago. The volcanic soil in which the varieties of Santorini’s grapes grow is mainly responsible for its unique character of wines. The island offers you a great opportunity to try its most ancient and well – known varieties, Assyrtiko, Athiri and Aidani (full-bodied, white, dry wines with citrus aromas).
It’s highly recommended that you also try Vinsanto, Santorini’s famous sweet, dessert wine, a combination of the three aforementioned varieties that stay sun-dried for 10-15 days before they get pressed. Grab the chance and take one of the popular wine tours that include wine-tasting followed by an excellent guide presentation of a sommelier and book a seat at one of Santorini’s Wine Roads tour!
Santorini will amaze you; it is not a coincidence that this island is considered amongst the most beautiful islands in the world. However, there is only one way to discover it yourself, right?
- Santorini private tour with local driver-guide