Today: Top 10 best things to see & do on the Greek island of Santorini
The Greek island of Santorini is one of the most famous travel destinations on the planet. The main reasons why it’s popular are its spectacular volcanic landscape, magnificent sunsets, and scenic clifftop villages with white-washed houses and blue-domed churches. Plenty of people choose Santorini as their marriage or honeymoon destination, as its impressive vistas and photogenic villages always create a romantic setting. The island was shaped some 3,600 years ago by one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, which left a giant water-filled crater (‘caldera’) measuring about 12 by 7 km (7.5 by 4 mi) and surrounded by 300 m (980 ft) high cliffs on all sides. Santorini is the only inhabited caldera in the world, with a population of around 15000 inhabitants, which is far less compared to the 2 million tourists that visit Santorini each year. Here’s my selection of the 10 best things to see and do on Santorini (below, you can also watch my 4K YouTube video which features the top sights on the island).
10. RELAX ON THE ISLAND’ S BEACHES
The beaches in Santorini are much different than other beaches in the Mediterranean due to their special geological features. Santorini’s shores are comprised of red and black volcanic pebbles beaches, with towering cliffs providing a dramatic background. The most famous of Santorini beaches is Red Beach, which is pretty similar to what a beach on planet Mars would look like. The cove right next to the Red Beach is known as the White Beach, which is very similar to Red Beach, with black pebbles on the shore, only that the surrounding cliffs are white. The black sand beaches of Perissa, Kamari and Perivolos are very popular and crowded in summer, since they offer organized beach service (with sun beds) and are surrounded by many hotels, taverns and beach bars.
9. CLIMB A VOLCANO
Some visitors will find it a peculiar option. But a trip to Nea Kameni – the central island in Santorini’s caldera – is enchanting. Following an experienced guide, the climb starts in an otherworldly volcanic landscape. Continue uphill towards the crater and you can only see few plants – a glimmer of hope against a dark background. After approximately half an hour, you reach the craters. Touch the ground and you’ll notice the temperature is much higher. The view of the volcano from Santorini may be dreamy, but the grey calmness of ground zero hides a tension that stirs powerful new emotions. Nea Kameni is also surrounded by warm dark waters which are known for their therapeutic benefits (swimming is allowed).
8. ENJOY WINE TASTING
For centuries, Santorini has produced dry whites and full-bodied reds from its fertile volcanic soil. In proportion to the size of the island, Santorini is the only place on the whole planet with so many wineries. Actually, there is so little rain on the island during the year, that wine is more abundant than water. Nine indigenous grape varieties are cultivated on Santorini, including the famous Assyrtiko (the most sought-after greek wine). A delicious contrast, the Mavrotragano grape, which is native to Santorini, produces exceptional deep, spicy, warm reds. Many wineries offer tours and wine tasting but if you want to visit multiple wineries, I suggest to book a wine tour.
7. GO HIKING
Away from Santorini’s bustling bars and shops lies an unspoiled, barren landscape with breathtaking views of the caldera. Wild flowers, the island’s unique vineyards and simple, pure-white churches as well as picturesque abandoned villages dot the countryside. There are paths connecting Santorini’s famous black beaches of Kamari and Perissa as well as trails to the ancient ruins of Thira, perched high on a rocky plateau, and the major archaeological site of Akrotiri. The most famous and spectacular trail though is the 4 hour easy hike from the capital Fira to the village of Oia, which takes you along the rim of the crater, with perfect photographs waiting to be taken for every turn you take.
6. EXPLORE OIA
Set on the northwest tip of the caldera, Oia is Santorini’s most famous village. The quintessentially blue-and-white Greek village offers azure domed chapels, marbled alleys, and enchanting sunsets so beautiful they draw in a crowd at the end of every single day. Oia’s first settlements date back to the medieval times when St. Nicolas Castle was built to protect the northern part of the island. Nowadays Oia is booming with tourism and it’s one of the dreamiest and most photographed places on earth. II you want to explore the beauty of Oia’s narrows streets without the crowds, the best moment to do so is during the morning. The ambiance is a lot more peaceful and you will be able to see the traditional side of the village as well as meet some locals and get to know what Greek hospitality is all about.
5. BOOK A BOAT EXCURSION
Exploring Santorini from the water on a boat tour offers a whole new perspective of the island’s rugged coastline, secluded beaches, rocky inlets and sugar-cube houses cresting the cliffs. Options range from luxurious motor yachts to state-of-the-art catamarans, either shared with other travelers or booked as a private tour. During the boat trip, you can be as active or indulgently lazy as you feel: there are crystal waters to swim and snorkel in, the famous Red Beach to drop anchor at and Thirasia Island to discover. Most boat excursions also arrange breakfast, lunch or sunset cocktails on board.
4. VISIT IMEROVIGLI
Imerovigli is a picturesque village that looks exactly as a Cycladic village should, sprinkled with whitewashed houses, cobblestone alleys, and idyllic squares. It’s far enough from Santorini’s capital Fira and world-famous Oia village to feel secluded, yet within walking reach of these busy towns if you want to explore their shops, bars and restaurants. Imerovigli is also known as “The balcony to the Aegean” since it is built on the highest point of the volcanic crater, about 300 m (1000 ft) above sea level. The village provides dramatic heart-stopping views, which are even better than the already breathtaking views from Oia since Imerovigli is located twice as high. The dazzling azure of the sky and sea, sharply contrasting with the whitewashed buildings and black lava rocks, is a sight to behold.
3. WATCH THE SUNSET
When visiting Santorini, there are plenty of beautiful sights to take in, but if there’s one thing you simply can’t miss during your holiday on the island, then it’s watching the unforgettable sunsets. The sunsets in the Cyladic Islands – and Santorini in particular – are known as some of the most spectacular in the entire world. Each evening, hundreds of tourists flock to Oia village to watch the sunset from the Kastro walls. I recommend to skip this overcrowded place and to go to the village’s outskirts near the Perivolas hotel, where you can enjoy the total tranquility of the moment as the sun fades into the sea (and the views here are better than at Kastro, since you see the sunset with Oia village in front of you). Alternatively, you can also head to the nearby village of Imerovigli for even more spectacular sunsets enjoyed in almost complete solitude.
2. TAKE A HELICOPTER TOUR
One of the best ways to appreciate the island’s phenomenal natural scenery is to admire it from the air, by booking a helicopter tour. Peak Helicopter Service offers a choice between two excursions, the standard 20 minute or the extended 30 minute tour. The breathtaking tour takes you over all of the island’s highlights: the beaches on Santorini’s southern shore, the clifftop villages of Imerogivli and Oia, as well as the world-famous caldera. The helicopter tour is especially stunning around sunset time, when the orange-red glow against Santorini’s rocky landscape creates a romantic atmosphere that will have you gazing and dreaming.
1. STAY AT A LUXURY HOTEL
Santorini is known around the world for its unique and ultraluxe hotels, where rooms and suites are often carved into the rocks. The island features a large number of hotels, with new ones popping up every year, and old ones expanding and continuously improving. Santorini’s best luxury hotels are perched on the cliffs on the west side of the island: in the capital Fira and the villages of Oia and Imerovigli. So if you want to experience breathtaking views and possibly the best sunsets in the world, choosing one of the cliff-edge hotels to stay in makes perfect sense, even if it means breaking the bank. For my selection of the 10 best luxury hotels in Santorini, click here.