Santorini is a gorgeous Cycladic island that sure knows how to stop you on your tracks with its mesmerizing beauty. From its glorious sunsets and staggering multicolored cliffs to whitewashed buildings and ash-laden calderas, Santorini is definitely blessed with a unique landscape. Its beauty makes it one of the top spots to visit in all of Greece, but so does its delicious Greek food restaurants!
Your jaw will drop just at the sight of its brilliant blue roofs and bite of moussaka, but there are also so many more things to do and attractions to see.
Here are the highlights of Santorini that you can’t miss:
✧ Experience Local Life in Pyrgos
Pyrgos, the largest preserved village on Santorini, is a blend of cheerful vibes, medieval charm, and eye-catching scenery. It is perched atop a quaint hill dotted with greenery, labyrinths, Cycladic houses, fortified walls, and taverns. Walk the narrow passages, stop by the local stores, meow at the stray cats strolling the alleys and be a part of merry chatter at bars and cafe. Make sure to visit Pyrgos Castle that sprawls at the top of the hill.
✦ See a Santorini Sunset from Oia
Sunsets in Santorini are known for being some of the most stunningly beautiful in the world, and catching one in Oia is an activity that lures people from all over the globe. There are a few prime spots where you can witness the wondrous phenomenon, but Oia’s Byzantine Castle ruins is by far the most popular. Probably because it not only offers insanely gorgeous sunset views, but also panoramas of the whole city. However, it gets insanely crowded so make sure to arrive early for the perfect spot!
Oia isn’t the only place to see a pretty sunset view, you can also catch one from the Akrotiri lighthouse, while sipping a flight at Santo Winery or while enjoying an award-winning dinner at a restaurant overlooking the caldera. For even more options, check out these best Santorini sunset spots.
✧ Hike to the Top of a Volcano
Nea Kameni is a volcanic island in that is part of the Santorini archipelago and hiking to the top of it is one of the best things to do in Santorini! It requires a boat ride from the mainland, which can easily be purchased at the old port in Fira. Or for more of a guarantee book in advance (this highly rated volcanic island tour includes a hot springs visit!) Hiking tours will bring you to the crater and here you can take a steep, rocky climb to the top passing incredible lava formations, smoking craters and fantastic views. Not something you get to see everyday!
✦ Do a Tasting at Santo Wines Winery
Not only is Santo Wines Winery one of the recommended spots to catch a stunning Santorini sunset, but you can also get a Greek wine education by partaking in a wine tasting flight. We had an eighteen wine flight—that’s right, eighteen different wines served with cheese and a spectacular view. You will taste everything from a rich Crescendo to an aromatic Rose to a dry Assyrtiko, and so much more.
Like wine like me? The half-day Wine Adventure Tour will have you tasting at three different wineries in the countryside of Santorini.
✧ Take a Greek Cooking Class
Do you want to learn all about Santorini’s traditional cuisine? Then you definitely need to have a hands-on experience by taking a local cooking class. Choose the Petra Kouzina Cooking Experience and prepare a multi-course feast in a uniquely charming setting or take a combination cooking class/wine tour that bring you to a couple wineries beforehand just in case you want a nice one to accompany your meal!
✦ Take the Scenic Hike from Fira to Oia
If you want to witness another unforgettable sunset, picturesque views then you must take a hiking route that connects the towns of Fira to Oia. The 9 kilometer trail has been called the most iconic thing to do in Santorini, and for good reason. As you walk along the rim of the caldera, you will pass through quaint villages dotted with pearly-white buildings such as Firostefani and Imerovigli. You will also have a chance to see splendid views of ragged coastlines and raging waves. It will take you approximately four to five hours to walk the hiking trail during which you can capture a handful of Instagram-worthy pictures and lifelong memories.
Be sure to wear proper shoes as the path has some cobbled stones and loose gravel areas. PS: you can find a map here.
✧ Wander through Ancient Thera
Perched upon on a ridge of Messa Vouno Mountain, Ancient Thera is an antique city with magnificent archaeological artifacts and a street that goes up to 800 meters. There is Agora, a gathering place, and the main square of the city. The street gives off branches to temple grounds, houses, and other facilities. The road finally terminates at the highest point of the mountain where stands the ruins of a beautiful building with courtyards that was supposedly the residence of a commander. Wandering through Ancient Thera will give you a glimpse to the lives of ancient Greeks that once dwelled here.
✦ Explore an Archaeological Excavation Site
This Akrotiri archaeological excavation site in Santorini features ruins from the city of Akrotiri, which was buried by a volcanic eruption in 1700 B.C., though the first habitation dates from the Late Neolithic times (4th millennium BC). You can explore the massive visitor-friendly site where walkways lead you around the entire perimeter. There are not many placards or informational pamphlets, so if you would like the complete history during your visit hire a tour guide.
The Archaeological Bus Tour To Akrotiri Excavations & Red Beach includes a guided tour of the site.
The surrounding village of Akrotiri is beautiful too….
✦ See a Movie at an Open Air Cinema
With the incredible Santorini weather, going to an outdoor movie is a perfect thing to do on a warm evening. Kamari Village located on this popular Greek island boasts one of the best open-air cinemas in the world with director’s chairs, tasty cocktails and, of course, popcorn. Get there early if you want a good seat! You can read about my experience here: See a Movie at an Open Air Cinema in Santorini.
✧ Take a Caldera Cruise
The caldera is a large bowl-like volcanic depression that sits in the bay, and sailing around it is a top thing to do in Santorini, especially at sunrise or sunrise. There are plenty of tours that will take you on a memorable cruise, but these two are amount the most popular and highly-rated:
✦ Walk the Steps From Oia to Amoudi Bay
Among the many gems of Santorini, there is a hidden pearl called Amoudi Bay nestled hundreds of steps below the isle. To get to the port will be slightly challenging, you have to trust your intuition for there are no signs and maps. Wear your best rockproof shoes, walk the weather-beaten tracks, and after a wrong turn or two, you will reach Amoudi Bay.
There you will find striking sea views, superb swimming spots and tall crimson-colored volcanic cliffs. There is also a large number of restaurants where you can indulge in scrumptious seafood.
If you get a little pooped on the way, make the popular pit stop at 39 Steps Cafe for a frappe or Donkey beer!
✦ Swim at a Red Sand Beach
The Red Sand Beach in Santorini is located next to the ancient site of Akrotiri. This small beach features varying shades of red that can easily be seen from the headlands if you decide to not take the rocky path along the mountain to reach the beachfront.
✦ Take in the View from the Akrotiri Lighthouse
The Akrotiri Lighthouse is located on the Southern peninsula of Santorini island. The lighthouse itself is not as much of an attraction as the views from it. This is another beautiful spot to bring a bottle of wine and catch a perfect sunset!
✦ Take a Cable Car Ride
There are three ways to get from the town of Fira down to the Old Port (or the other way around) in Santorini: take an overworked donkey, walk the almost 600 steps or take the cable car. I opted for the least smelly and strenuous of them all, the cable car, which comes every twenty minutes.
FYI: At the Old Port you will find souvenir shops, restaurants and agencies that sell tours to the nearby volcano or hot springs.
✧ See The White Door Theatro Show
The White Door Theatro Show is an interactive wedding celebration performance where you are cast as a wedding guest. Be prepared to be wowed once the festivities begin. There will be mezes, singing, dancing and even plate smashing!
✦ Eat a Santorini Salad
No doubt while in Greece you will eat plenty of traditional Greek food including salads topped with large hunks of feta, but while in Santorini indulge in a delicious Santorini salad. This salad is a version of a Greek salad that uses the ingredients that Santorini is known for: capers, sun-dried tomatoes and cucumbers. You can find a delicious one at Salt & Pepper in Fira.
✦ Drink a Donkey Beer
In many cafes and restaurants around the island you will find bottles of the locally brewed Donkey beer made by Santorini Brewing Company. Or you can go straight to the source by paying a visit to the brewery and tasting their three products: yellow donkey, red donkey and crazy donkey.
✦ Eat at a Classic Taverna
You just can’t possibly leave Santorini or any city in Greece without indulging in a meal at a classic taverna, a small restaurant serving traditional Greek food. If you are looking for a place away from the hustle and bustle of one of the bigger towns, try Taverna Aeolus which you will find by itself on the road to Akrotiri Red Beach and the lighthouse.
Looking for something a little closer to town? Stop by Salt & Pepper in Fira for their fried tomato fritters and deliciously fresh Santorini salad.
✧ Helicopter Over the Island
It doesn’t get much more bucket list worthy than soaring over the scenic landscapes of Santorini (and surrounding sea) in a helicopter! Fly high in the sky getting a birds-eye view of the epic blue-domed roofs, postcard-perfect beaches and volcanic caldera. You can see some of the best helicopter tours here.
✦ Get a Fish Pedicure
While strolling through the town of Fira, make a stop to get a fish therapy treatment for the hands or feet at Fish Spa Kagal Wellness Center or Kissingfish Santorini. Stick your toes inside the tank and the tiny Garra Rufa fish will gently suck away the dead skin on your digits leaving them smooth as silk. This technique was primarily designed to help people with dermatological conditions, such as eczema, but it can also be very relaxing.
✧ Sunbathe on a Black Sand Beach
Blue rooftops and sunsets may be the main reason why you travel to Santorini, but the beaches are sure to leave a lasting impression too. In particular, the black sand beach of Perissa. The famous black volcanic sand combined with the deepest of blue waters makes it a top attraction on the island. Put on your sunglasses and grab a lounge chair so you can spend a relaxing day at the beach!
✦ Peruse the Shelves of Atlantis Books in Oia
Atlantis Books is a quaint bookstore located on the main street in Oia and tucked away downstairs, hidden from the bustle of the town—the perfect place to escape. The genre of books range from classics to modern and English to French to Greece.
✦ Walk Out to Skaros Rock
Sitting at the edge of Imerovigli and jutting out in the Aegean sea, Skaros Rock is hard to miss. The large rock, which was created by volcanic eruptions, was a former fortress with two castles, Rock and Kato Kastro. You definitely will want to take the half hour hike to the top and here’s a quick guide on how to do it. Have your camera ready—there will be plenty of photo opportunities along the way!
✦ Sleep in a Windmill
At Windmill Villas in Imerovigli you can sleep in a newly-built luxury windmill equipped with a private pool, hydro-massage jets, terrace and a panoramic view to the Aegean Sea. Though each windmill can accommodate five people, you may want to just keep it romantic and add it to your private Couple’s Bucket List instead. Check Availability
✧ See a Concert at La Ponta in Akrotiri
You will find La Ponta in a 13th century Venetian Tower located within the castle of Akrotiri. Inside the tower there is a tsabouna exhibition featuring the Greek folk wind instrument of the bagpipe family. Though the real magic is not just visiting the site, but in hearing the music being played. During their summer concert series, held in the evenings, you can listen to the sounds of ancient and contemporary instruments uniting.
✧ Visit the Tomato Factory Museum
The former tomato factory of D. Nomikos has been transformed into a museum that offers a peek at the fascinating history of one of Santorini’s most traditional products—the tomato. The Tomato Factory Museum offers its visitors an inside look at the traditional methos of cultivation, processing and production.
✦ Photograph the Iconic Blue-Domed Roofs
From Agios Theodori Church to small chapels in Oia, the photos of the iconic blue-domes of Santorini is the quintessential shot found on plenty of postcards. Don’t miss them and here’s where to find them.
✧ Visit the Koutsoyannopoulos Wine Museum
The Koutsoyannopoulos Wine Museum is located in Karami, and tucked into a natural cave that is eight meters below ground. The underground labyrinth uses historical exhibits and dioramas gives visitors a glimpse of Santorini’s wine history and at what the life of a winemaker was like. Of course, there is also a tasting room where you can indulge in some of Greece’s best wine. Get the full experience by booking a tour.
✦ Drink a Greek Frappe Coffee
If you are a fan of an iced latte from Starbuck’s, then chances are you’re going to love a Greek frappé! Invented in Thessaloniki, Greece in 1957 this coffee drink is typically made with Nescafe instant coffee, ice, water, sugar and milk. You can find them at most of the cafes all over the island.
✦ Drive a ATV
There are a few transportation options for getting around the island of Santorini and one of the most popular (and fun) is renting an ATV. For about 50 euros a day you can be cruising the roads with the wind blowing through your hair. It’s fairly easy to find a rental shop, every towns main street has one or two, which you will spot by the line of quads parked out front.
Essential Tips for Visiting Santorini
Getting There: To fly into Santorini National Airport, you have to book a flight with Olympic Airways or Aegean Airlines from Athens. During the peak travel season (April – October), you can book flights directly to Santorini National Airport without having to fly out of Athens. You can easily check for the best fare deals at Skyscanner, which also has the option to choose ‘cheapest month’ as the departure to find the lowest priced dates to fly to your destination. The quickest route from the airport to the city center is by taxi. However, you can also take the public bus for 1.70€ each way. You can also get to Santorini from Athens by ferry. From the port of Pireaus, there are 3 different ferries you can travel on, with the fastest option being the high-speed ferry, which costs $55 and takes 5 hours.
Where to Stay in Santorini: It’s best to stay near the city center, public transportation or the area that you will be spending the most time in. Merovigla Studios (moderate) or Artemisia Apartment (moderate) are both great choices in Imerovigli. For something on the less expensive side, try Ikaros located in Katerados (airport shuttle included). For a hotel with a little more extravagance, book a room at the Alonistra Oia Houses or Antoperla Luxury Hotel and Spa (both include airport shuttles). Or search some great deals on hotels of your choice at Booking.com. If you’re looking for more of a home atmosphere (or are traveling with a group of people), head over to Airbnb that has houses, apartments and even just a room for rent in every price range.
Getting Around: Renting a car in Santorini is the best to really experience the island and RentalCars.com has some great deals. If you are not renting a car, there are plenty of options. You can take the local bus, taxis, or rent a quad. Plus most of the top attractions can be accessed with the Santorini Sightseeing Bus.
Insurance: It’s always a good idea to travel fully insured so you are protected in case of trip cancellations or medical emergencies. You can check out pricing at Travelex Insurance.
Universal Adapter: Your American plugged equipment will need an adapter. I use the Celtic Universal Adapter, which has brought me around the world with no problems.
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