An island like Santorini (Thera) doesn’t actually need a lot of introduction. Its popularity reached every corner of the globe which makes it today one of the most visited island of Greece. But why people chose to visit Santorini when are around 1200 – 6000 islands across the country?
Well, actually there is a good reason behind. Santorini is unique comparing to the other islands because it is a volcanic island and its landscape is trully impressive. In fact, if you have to expect to be impressed by something on this island, this is definitely the scenery. Honestelly, don’t expect to find the best beaches, parties, museums, as you may end up a bit dissapointed. But don’t freak out, as I’m not saying you cannot find them at all, only that are better places than Santorini to explore each of them independently.
In a few words, if Mykonos is well known for parties, Athens for history, Mount Athos for religion, then Santorini it’s for the landscape. And on top, there are many other things to be explored on the island, so expect to be nicely surprised.
Good to know
Something I would have liked someone to tell me before visiting Santorini is about the height of the island and its general structure – to be at least mentally prepared. I am affraid of heights and when I did arrived in the port I was shocked. When you look above, all you can see is a huge rocky wall and a winding road leading to the top. So, during my trip to the top I had to often close my eyes and fight with my inner fears. In the same time, as the island it’s very rocky and arid, the cities are built on top, in different layers, which gives the overall magic image of the place. All in one, it is totally worth in the effort and the struggles, even for the weak ones as myself!
An interesting thing I read is that the name of the island, Santorini, is a contraction of the name Santa Irini. Now, I don’t know which is the precise link between, but taking into account that 90% of the population it’s Greek Orthodox, it may somehow be understood.
As mentioned before, the main reason you should visit Santorini is for sightseeing. It is breathtaking and you can admit this only once you’re there – even if only seeing the photos may be quite convincing. There are several places around the island that gained their reputation as the best views, so let me take you through.
The capital of the island, Fira, has been devastated by an earthquake in 1956. So, take into account that what you see today it has been rebuilt during the past years. This is one of the reasons everything looks so good, nice and well “preserved”.
However, Fira of today it’s a perfect place to stop for this gateaway. It is located in the middle of the island, which offers great opportunities to move around in a faster way. The city itself it’s also the biggest you can find during your visit to Santorini, which brings even more advantages. For example, all the local busses are starting from here. There are also many more options for accommodation, restaurants, shops, rental companies, and so on. But the most important, Fira itself it’s absolutely beautiful, so you need to explore it by foot. There is no wrong or right way to start exploring, but losing yourself on the white narrow streets it’s one of the best things you can do.
This place is so popular, that many people are probably already upset I didn’t mentioned it on the first place. But, in my opinion, Oia is the fancy version of Fira. Smaller in size, this city looks a lot more posh and fashionable especially because of the white marble covering the streets. On top of this, there are many fashion stores with spicy prices, more expensive restaurants and a selective atmosphere. Honestly, it is quiter than Fira and it gives you a ‘honeymoon’ feeling, because of so many lovers walking hand in hand – even if I think this is not a honeymoon destination as many say. As in Fira, you can see the multitude of hotels with individual pools or jacuzzi and nice dressed girls taking tonnes of pictures as souvenirs.
Comparing to Fira, here it’s only one main road to follow, instead of a labyrinth kind of streets to get lost in. So it will be easier and quicker to visit in my opinion. However, don’t visit Santorini only for Oia as many do!
This tiny village is so close to Fira, that is even harder to understand where it starts and where it ends. It is more a continuation of Fira in my opinion but with a different name. However, the atmosphere looks a lot more relaxing than in Central Fira. So, if you are looking for a romantic alternative to the more expensive Oia, this should be a good option.
This place looks a bit more remote, less crowded or at least with less tourists walking around the streets. There are only a few restaurants and shops, so there is not much to see here. However, there are many accommodation options for the ones looking for some privacy.
You can say from anywhere on the island the view is spectacular. However, there are some top spots not be missed during your visit in Santorini. These are the Orthodox Metropolitan Church and the Catholic Church – both in Fira, the Skaros Rock in Imerovigli, the Venetian Castle in Oia and the Lighthouse in Akrotiri.
Lighthouse in Akrothiri
I put so much effort to reach this place, that I’m not even convinced it did worth it. First of all, if you use public transportation on the island, you need to know there is no bus heading here. In fact, I did saw a timetable with two busses per day coming towards this direction, however I seen none while walking there.
So yes, I did walked about five kilometers one way to reach the lighthouse. As I am scared of heights I didn’t tried any climbing tricks while there, so I only had a look around and I left. The place is not so impressive, on the other hand you are on the other side of the island, facing Oia, which gives you a different view. At the time I went there was a small food truck serving beverages with a great view. So at least for this magical moment I would say it is worth in the trip. However, if you’re short on time, you can skip this with no regrets.
This romantic destination comes with one of the best sunsets as a package, another reason people do visit Santorini. While you can see it from all the inside of the island, even here are some best spots that the crowd is recommending.
The most famous one is the one in Oia. And yes, it can be considered the best as there is no obstruction during the sunset and you can see the exact moment the sun goes into the sea. But, you need to be in the far end of the island as you cannot see it from the city – like in Fira. So grab your place at the Oia castle, at one of the restaurants nearby or simply stop on the streets. Expect it to be crowded, so taking a picture with no people in the background would be a miracle.
If you want to see the sunset from Fira, then head towards the Catholic or the Orthodox Churches of the city. Keep in mind you need to cross the streets and get near the seafront, so allocate enough time if you’re wandering around the streets before. Also from here the sunset is beautiful, but it will be a bit obstructed at the end because of the island in front.
For more intimate moments, go to Akrothiri Lighthouse, Imerovigli or Stefanovili. However, the most important thing is to see at least one sunset during the visit in Santorini!
By the way, there is another magical place you can go to for the sunset, so keep reading to see which one is it.
You don’t have to be an expert in order to include a wine tasting to your visit in Santorini. This is one of the things you should do while here, as there are some unique things to be discovered.
The wine here is different, because of the volcanic soil which gives it a special taste. They usually have a higher concentration of alcohol too. Pay attention to the vineyards, as they are all down, close to the ground, and not growing on the height. And this is to protect the vineyards from the strong wind to not break it.
There are several tours you can join for the wine tasting, but are a bit pricy, around 60€ for three visits and if you’re not into alcohol, it may be too much wine at the end of the day. So a better option would be to go to Santo Wines Winery and have your own tasting, while watching an amazing sunset. Double win, as you can enjoy your tasting from a magical place with no crowds, for starting from 25€!
The wine tasting places are around the city of Pyrgos and Megalohori, so you can check there for more options.
If you feel brave and with enough energy, visit Santorini by foot, while trekking from Fira to Oia. You only need around three hours for one way – cause I assume you don’t want to do it a return – and a big bottle of water during the summer days. Like this, you will be able to check less famous spots, more authentic, take nicer pictures and avoid crowds. It will still be challenging for the people affraid of heights, but as I did survived, I can tell you it is possible.
To be clear, don’t visit Santorini for beaches. In the end, it is not known as a beach destination but as a sightseeing place. However, there are several beaches on the island you can explore. We can divide them into three, based on the sand colours, into the red, white and black beach.
The red beach is in Akrotiri and it can be easily reached by foot from the bus stop. However, this beach is quite unsafe as the rocks can fall anytime so you go on your own risk. When I was there, some locals told me it is closed because of a recent rocks falling. However, I went there as there was nobody to stop me, but I did took a risk. It didn’t impressed me much. In fact because it is very small it is extremely crowded, so even finding a place for your towel it can be challenging.
From the red beach you can go further to the White beach in Akrotiri, across the corner but you need a boat. Don’t worry, you can still do it if you want as there is always somebody proposing you the tour. The good part is that you can do a hop on hop off, spent as much time you want at the place and take the next boat back. It costs 10€ and you have no other alternatives like private boat or jet ski to rent from here.
Regarding the Black beaches, the most famous and well organized ones are in Kamari and Perissa. Both are easy accessible from Fira with direct busses. However, to move from one to the other you can take a boat, as there is no direct bus. If you like trekking, you can go from a beach to another by crossing the hill – with a stop on top for the Ancient Thira. But, it will take some time – 1.5 hours at least.
If you want more privacy, there are more beaches to be explored. Some examples would be Perivolos Beach or Vlychada beach.
There aren’t many museums to visit in Santorini but the main ones are coming with a good deal. For 15€ only you can enter to 3 places: Ancient Thiera, Akrothiri Village and the Ancient Museum of Fira.
After the volcanic eruption that buryed down the city of Akrotiri, the excavations released a new town on the hill of Mesa Vouno, that has been settled later on, around 8th c. BC. Its name, Thera, it has been chosen after its founder, Theras, which was a Dorian colonist from Sparta. The center started to be an administrative and religious center, developing several structures like open-air sanctuaries, temples, a theater, an agora, shops, residences and a well developed road network. After several ocupations following the coming years, the city has been left uninhabited. At the end of the 18th begining of the 19th century the excavations brought it to life. Its findings can be today seen in the Archeological Museum in Fira.
To get to the Ancient Thiera you need to take the bus from Fira to Kamari and then walk all the way up. It requires a lot of effort especially during the summer days, but it’s totally worth in. Even if you’re not into history and the traces of the past are not your thing, the view is tremendous. Regarding time allocation, you need about 1.5 hours to see the ancient town excluding the way up (another 1.5 hour).
Akrotiri Excavations, Akrotiri
The prehistoric city of Akrothiri with the form we can see today, it dates from the Late Bronze Age (1650-1500C). The city it has been destroyed by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and rebuilt a few times during the centuries. Thanks to the excavations, pieces of furniture, painted walls, pottery, the hygenic installations of the houses and the sewage system, reveals an inteligent civilization with a high cultural level.
You can reach this place with a direct bus from Fira. Combine the visit with a stop to the Red beach or the White Beach. In terms of time, you need about one hour to see everything.
Prehistoric Museum of Thera
Located in Fira, in this museum you can see the excavations finds from Akrotiri. It is not a big one – you need about 1h to see it all – but it’s very well organised with a good amount of information. You will be able to see many things, including pottery, marble figurines, metal artefacts, jewelleries, linear tablets, furniture, household equipment, tools, weapons, the famous wall paintings (Blue Monkeys and Ladies and Papyri) and the gold ibex figurine.
If you didn’t get enough, there are a few more museums to be explored like the Archeological Museum in Fira, the Tomato Industrial Museum in Vlychada and the Naval Maritime Museum in Oia.
When you think of visiting Santorini you may think about one island. But in reality, there are five volcanic islands that creates Santorini and not only one as many may imagine. These are Thirassia, Aspronissi, Palea (Old) Kameni and Nea (New ) Kameni. All this five islands are creating a caldera, meaning a large crater formed by an eruption leading to the collapse of the mouth of the volcano.
However, this wasn’t always the case. Initially, it was one single island called Strogyli – meaning the circular one – because of its rounded shape. Then, the whole center of the island sank into the sea during the mid-second millenium BC, bringing us to the islands we see today.
Thirasia the bigggest one, was part of the main island until 236 BC when an earthquake make it break from the mainland. Nea Kameni appeared in 1720 and it is uninhabited because is still erupting. Last time did happen was in 1950.
So, apart from the main island, you can spare a day to visit the small islands and get a full experience. There are many agencies proposing tours, so it’s prety easy to find one. However, only some of them are having good deals at better prices than the others. For example, I paid 26€ for a day trip (from 10.30am till 5pm) to see the volcano (Nea Kameri island), a swimming session in the hot springs and a stop in Thirasia. There are also half a day trips only to the volcano and swimming, or day trips including barbeque, sunset views, so there are several choises to chose from.
Volcano, hot springs & Thirassia
For the day trip I took you need to allocate one full day, as you leave soon after breakfast time and come back late afternoon, almost before the sunset. The trips starts from the old port, so you have three options to get there. You can follow the steps all the way down (which are many), chose a donkey ride or take the cable car. Then, you need to identify your boat because there are a few leaving at the same time.
The visit will start with Nea Kameni, which is basically called the volcano. Just remember, the mouth of the volcano is under the water, so this is not the main crater you see. You will receive many interesting information from the trip guide so stay close to him during the island visit.
After the volcano visit, you’ll stop to swim in the hot springs for about 30 minutes. You really need to know how to swim in order to get to the muddy part, as from you need to jump fom the boat to get there. In my opinion, this is the best part of the trip.
Then, the last stop is Thirassia, the port of Korfos. There is not much to do on this island, so you can stay in the port and have a nice meal at one of the restaurants. You can even take the stairs and go up, but people told me there is nothing to see so I didn’t bothered.
Once you saw all this places, you can claim you visited Santorini.
I found Santorini one of the easiest destinations to be reached by public transportation. From the mainland, you can always get a flight or an overnight ferry from Pireus. You’ll leave around 8pm, getting to the destination around 6am. The prices starts from 35.5€ for an economy seat, going up to 100€ or more for premiums seats or cabins.
Once you arrive in Athinios port, you can use the public bus to go to Fira. A ticket costs around 2 euro and it doesn’t matter how many luggages you have. If you need to get to other places, you still need to get to the capital first, as all the other connections starts from there.
The bus connections on the island are very good and cheap (between 1.6 – 2.2€), so you really don’t have to worry about renting a car or a scooter if you don’t want to. And in case of emergecy, there are always taxis around.
So, if you want to keep your budget low and still visit Santorini, there are always solutions , and public transport is one of them.
This chapter is very subjective as always. The good part is that you can find any king of accommodation you want, from a budget one for single travelers, camping, hostels, vilas, bed & breakfast to luxury hotels.
As I visited Satorini by myself, I chose to stay 4 nights in Santorini hostel, for 20€ per night. I didn’t booked in advanced so at 8am I was looking for a place. I found the address on hostel world and I walked in person to check the availability. The place is really nice, with swimming pool, a big terrace, a retaurant, a camping area, nice music and vibe. By the way, it is managed by a French guy, so don’t expect a Greek authentic experience – but it’s a nice place to stay.
Food & Drinks
As everywhere in Greece, the food is absolutly amazing everywhere you go. For a nice view I do recommend to have a meal at one of the restaurants near the water, to admire the volcano island in front and the surroundings.
One thing to consider during your visit to Santorini, valid in all the islands, is that the water is not drinkable – as on the mainland. So you’ll always need to buy bottled water.
If you are looking for new experiences, go to Volcano on the Rock to enjoy a dinner while watching a movie. They have only two options to choose from, Mamma Mia and the My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Check the schedule if you have preferences, as it’s one movie per day.
There are nice souvenirs all over the island so you won’t have a hard timing finding the right one. Something I personally bought and I think is worth in the money are two jumpsuits, made in Greece. The materials feel pleasant on the skin and the design is really nice. They goes perfectly with the summer days and if you can buy happiness with only 100€, why not?
Best time to visit
You can visit Santorini all year round. That being said, chosing the right timing it really depends on you. For example, during the summer – high-season (April-November) the prices are higher, the accommodation is harder to find, it’s really busy, but you can also go swimming or get tan. On the other hand, if swimming and beaches are not a must, you can go and enjoy the island off the high season. You will pay less and you can have the island more for yourself.
Honestly, now you’re ready to visit Santorini. I doubt there is something important I missed to tell you, but if I did please let me know in the comments section bellow. I wish you a great holiday and if you’re looking to extend the break to other destinations, get more ideas here.