One of the most famous Greek island groups, Cyclades lures millions of tourists to the southern Aegean Sea each year. One of the most famous islands in the group is Santorini, a real showstopper.
Santorini should feature on everyone’s bucket list. Photographs of the island lead travelers to believe it’s a world of clifftop villages and soul-stirring sunsets, and that isn’t an exaggeration.
The island’s beauty arises from its rare landscape, the outer rim of an exploded volcano. Santorini was once a domed disk on the sea until a series of volcanic eruptions left only the crater’s eastern edge. The center of the island collapsed and created the famous caldera.
Eons ago Santorini was a buzzing port for traders, travelers, and sailors. The cave-dwelling, fashioned out of volcanic soil by ship-owners and their crews, have since been revamped as cave suites for A-listers.
Basking in year-round sunshine and brimming with activities, there is more to Santorini than what meets the eye. To add some more fun and adventure to your island jaunt here’s some of the best things to do in Santorini:
When you’re done sunbathing and enjoying the beach, take in the hiking trails of Santorini. You may have thought Santorini was only a beach destination, but curious and intrepid travelers can navigate the hilly trails to reach high cliffs with spectacular views. Santorini has more than 12 scenic walking routes, ranging from two to eight miles, fitting for both beginners and advanced hikers.
My favorite walking trail is the six-mile route between Fira and Oia, the main towns along the volcanic rim. Hikers set off from the capital Fira and end up in Oia, a village sculpted into the banks of a ravine. The trail snakes along the sea, passing terraced gardens, olive groves, centuries-old taverns, churches, and mountain ridges. Walks like this one bring out the essence of Santorini, giving you the chance to enjoy the picturesque surroundings. For more information on these hidden treasure walks visit: https://www.truegreece.com/tours/santorini-tours.html.
For those who prefer exploring marked trails, there are both group and private excursions with an expert hike leader. For more details on such guided tours visit: http://santoriniwalkingtours.com/.
2. Watch the Sunset From Oia
Santorini is known to have one of the best sunsets in the world. The sunsets lure photographers and bloggers to Oia’s vantage points to watch the sky churning fire-like crimsons and oranges below the volcanic islets.
The little village of Oia sits on the northern tip of Santorini and offers spectacular views of the caldera. The enchanting town of cobbled streets, restaurant terraces, boutiques, and hidden spots has ample photo opportunities.
There are designated areas on the cliff edge with stairs for travelers to soak up the full sunset. When the sun dips below the horizon and paints the sky golden you will hear hoots and claps of awed visitors.
If you want to beat the crowds, skip Oia and opt for one of the sunset cruises; many cruises feature onboard dining and a champagne reception.
3. Eat Seafood at Amoudi Bay
Farm fresh ingredients, warm hospitality, and caldera views define Santorini’s food scene. Most restaurants, cafes, and taverns offer delicious seafood. Out on open water, the restaurants of Amoudi Bay are a major crowd puller.
Mounted between volcanic red rocks and the Aegean Sea, Amoudi Bay is a tiny fishing port located 300 steps down at the foot of Oia. With the shore reaching up to the tables of the waterfront restaurants, the steep ascent back to town is worth the pain. The menu is a hit among seafood lovers, and even the vegetarian fare packs a punch.
Fish lovers will enjoy the fresh catch seared on the grill. Try the grilled lobsters and crab legs as well. A plate of tender fried calamari served with a creamy sauce of its own ink is a delicacy of the Bay area. Greek-style seafood risotto, smoked salmon salad, and sardines stuffed with fresh herbs are also a must-try and come in shareable plates. Pair your meals with Mastelo cheese, a type of cow’s milk cheese that’s dished out in honey and sesame drizzle.
I recommend a reservation before coming down to Amoudi Bay, especially at sundown when it’s hard to find a single table free!
4. Scuba Diving
Santorini’s star attraction, the caldera, is mostly admired from high cliffs but what often goes amiss is the other world lying below. Intrepid travelers can dive into the Aegean and discover sunken ships, sponge formations, and a vast array of colorful marine life.
There are some reputed diving centers in Santorini that offer memorable diving experiences to enthusiasts. The main diving spots are near the volcanic islands of Nea Kameni, Palea Kameni, Thirasia, and Aspronisi. You will visit underwater alleys laid with carpets of colorful sponges as shoaling fishes swim by.
Advanced divers can opt for the wreck at Nea Kameni. The most photogenic spots are those around the Kamari Beach rocks, Kamari Wall, and the Kamari Reef. Look out for the Vlychada Temple, an artificial marine park with underwater statues and sculptures.
If diving seems an impossible challenge, the shallow waters around the volcanic islands of Santorini are ideal for snorkeling.
For more information on scuba diving in Santorini visit Santorini Dive Center and Volcano Dive Center online.
5. Quad Biking
Unlike other European towns that are easily explored on foot with the main attractions nearby, Santorini’s terrain leaves it more spread out. Towns and beaches are not at walkable distances, so renting a vehicle is the way to go. And the best rental option is a quad bike. All you need is a license, a sense of direction, and a bit of confidence.
Most towns sit at the rim of the volcanic crater along circular paved roads. Be careful as you wind through the roads: one moment an ascending path can lead to a sharp drop. But it’s a fun ride on quad bikes. Enjoy the breeze and the view.
Quad bikes allow travelers to venture out of their base towns and explore. There are tiny picture-perfect inland villages, vineyards, and beaches from the southern end to the northern reaches of the island waiting to be explored. The best scenic drive is from Fira to Oia along farmlands, open fields, white-washed churches, and the teal blue sea.
There are many quad bike rentals in Fira and elsewhere around Santorini. Find the best deals here: https://bikesbooking.com/en/rent-a-quad-bike-in-Santorini/.
6. Stay in a Cave Room
Santorini is truly a relaxing getaway. Most of the homestays, B&Bs, and hotels are modernized cave villas. The high-end villas sit along high cliffs; the caldera-facing cave villas of Fira and Oia open up to plunge pools on private terraces with uninterrupted views. For those who don’t want to burn a hole in their wallet, there are lovely cave houses and resorts on the outskirts of the town center.
The cave houses of today are renovations of the original island architecture, carved out of the Theraic earth. Vaulted low ceilings, narrow facades, and white-washed porous flooring are typical Cycladic architecture. Over time other island groups in Greece adopted this style.
Perks of staying in a cave room include the bolthole bedrooms under the vaults. Some are recently built while others are revamped from the homes of 18th-century Santorini noblemen. The showstopper is always the private terrace view of farmlands, classical Greek churches, and white-washed houses.
7. Visit a Vineyard
Not just for vinos, travelers of all kinds will enjoy sipping their way around Santorini’s best wineries. Tours generally range from four hours to a full day and end in an authentic Greek dinner. Oenophiles know Santorini is lauded for its dry whites, owing its uniqueness to the mineral mix in the volcanic soil. The terrain itself gives an earthy, citrusy flavor to the wine that can be enjoyed as a refined aperitif.
Visit the renowned Argyros Estate, Boutari Winery, or Venetsanos Winery and sample different types of wine such as Assyrtiko, Athiri, and Aidani made from white grapes and Mavrotragano and Mandilaria made from red grapes. Enjoy the pristine countryside while getting learning about the region’s unique viticulture.
The owners of Argyros Estate, fourth-generation winemakers, cultivate indigenous grape varieties such as Assyrtiko, Aidani, Mavrotragano. As with their dry wines, you’ll taste the citrus and promise of summer. Or try vinsato, the burnt salted caramel dessert wine. It stays on your palate for a long time.
Stop by the village of Megalochori to tour the Boutari Winery, the first modern winery on the island. The Gavalas Winery in the same village is admired for its 17th-century Russian oak barrels that add light flavored notes to the wines. In the renowned Venetsanos Winery, make your way to the terrace for an alfresco wine tasting paired with plates of tapas and views of the caldera.
With a reputation for producing award-winning wines, Artemis Karamolegos is a state-of-the-art winery in Santorini. The estate combines wine tasting and dining in an open yard with views up to the vineyard and the beaches of Monolithos and Avis. For those interested in taking cooking lessons, a small introduction to Greek cuisine is included in the eight-hour tour. Don’t miss the wine museum, nestled in an original cave, if you want to dive deep into Santorini’s history of winemaking.
For more details on wine tours check out the website: https://www.santorini-view.com/bus-tours/santorini-through-history-wine-bus-tour-notos/.
8. Explore Villages Along the Rim of a Volcano
Exploring the villages of Santorini opens the window to rural Greek life. The caldera is rimmed by the island’s most popular villages of Fira, Oia, Imerovigli, and Firostefani. Pearl white-washed houses and blue-domed churches overlooking the sea are a constant sight. The inland villages feature stunning views of green valleys and distant sea views.
Away from the tourist throngs is Pyrgos, a village perched on the hillside and guarded by a well preserved Venetian castle. Venetian architecture, quaint alleys, and local taverns are the main draws.
Imerovigli sits at the highest point of the caldera’s rim and has hypnotic sunsets, cliff-hugging villas, and sparkling Aegean Sea views.
The quaint villages of Mesa, Exo Gonia, Megalochori, and Finikia are just an hours’ drive from the main town of Fira. The villages are well known for their Cycladic architecture, stark landscape, and culture that evolved in near isolation. Visit for unforgettable charm.
Santorini has a vibrant shopping scene. Fira and Oia are packed with chic boutiques as well as art galleries, jewelry stores, and souvenir shops. For the high rollers, there are multi-brand stores filled with designer labels like Gucci, Givenchy, Thom Browne, Comme des Garcons, and more.
Linens and hand-crafted jewelry are very popular and found in most designer stores in Santorini. The sun, sea, and Greek folk art are always an inspiration to young designers. Local designers are transforming humble jute rugs into elegant totes and drawing elegant folk art designs on scarves, caftans, and espadrilles. The result is a rise of boutiques with groundbreaking collections in swimwear, summer tunics, and accessories using old techniques yet in tune with the most modern trends. It is the unique local finds that give Santorini its charm.
10. Hot Springs
No trip to Santorini is complete without a dip into the hot spring baths of Palea Kameni. The volcanic springs sit in the small bay of Agios Nikolaos; the thermal waters range from 85 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The sulfuric, orange-tinged spring waters that bubble up into the shallow cove are a relaxing soak and said to ease skin problems, rheumatism, arthritis, and other physical pains.
There are boat tours leaving from the old port at the foot of Fira. The tours dock for more than an hour at the volcanic islands. For more details on the tours visit their website: https://www.santorini-sea-excursions.com/index.php/volcano-hot-springs-tour.
11. Learn the History at Akrotiri
For lovers of ancient Greece, a short drive south of Fira is the underground city of Akrotiri, nicknamed the Greek Pompeii by historians.
Excavations in 1967 unearthed the ancient Minoan city long buried deep beneath volcanic ash from the catastrophic eruption of 1613 B.C. During your visit, stop by the Bronze Age Minoan frescoes and sculptures.
Read about the ruins of three-story houses with underfloor heating, hot and cold running water, toilets, and bathtubs. The ruins are carefully housed under a big, airy building. Finish up and return to see some artifacts on display in the Museum of Prehistoric Thera at Fira.
Does the thought of sailing around a dormant volcano pique your interest? If yes, opt for a catamaran cruise or boat tour around the caldera. Sail by the volcanic islands, hot spring pools, and nearby Thirassa Island. During the sail, catamarans and small boats are beached so guests can swim, snorkel, or sunbathe. Some tours provide lunch and drinks.
There are also sunset cruises through the beautiful evening surroundings with wines and food pairings for the guests. For passionate anglers there are fishing tours.
Terrace dining is a fine dining experience in Santorini. The cliffside restaurants offer unforgettable views of the caldera, blue dome churches, white-washed houses, and the sea. At night the restaurants are lit with candles.
With only a dozen tables on the terrace, it makes for an intimate dining experience. Visit for the simple Greek classics such as eggplant moussaka, lamb chops with tzatziki, and grilled grouper with cherry tomatoes. Try some innovative Greco-Asian specialties like cuttlefish and handmade noodles, king crab sriracha, or spanakopita gyoza. The gyoza, stuffed in feta and spinach, is an interesting twist on traditional Asian dumplings.
Unwind at the beachside restaurants, cabanas, and bars of Kamari, Perissa, Vlychada, and Katharos with a table that juts out into shallow waters. The changing menu is based on the daily fresh catch and the chef’s ingenuity.
Santorini is not an around-the-clock party place, so I suggest savoring the sweeping, dramatic sea views, pristine beaches, traditional Grecian architecture, fine dining, and one of a kind local wineries.
There are places we visit and yearn to return to again and again despite the throngs of tourists. Nowhere embodies this for me more than Santorini. Peak season on the island begins in early April and ends in late September.
Last Updated on July 28, 2020