Santorini Travel Guide
The multicolored cliffs that soar above the sea-drowned caldera, the white Cycladic houses that line the cliff tops and spill like icy cornices down the terraced rock, the worldwide famous wines, and, of course, the glorious sunsets will take your breath away. Apart from the romantic sunsets and the volcano embraced by the Aegean, this island-phenomenon in the Cyclades gives its visitors a mythical experience for another reason too: Cousteau looked for the lost city of Atlantis there, on Santorini. Consequently, it is hardly surprising that the island features on so many travellers’ bucket lists.
HOW TO GET TO SANTORINI
Santorini has an airport, which is located almost directly in the middle of the island and about a 15 minute drive to most towns (25 minutes to Oia). There are plenty of direct flight from almost all over the world, and, of course, flights from Athens and from Thssaloniki. Flights from Athens to Santorini take less than 1 hour, direct flights from western Europe (London, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, Venice) take 2 to 4 hours. There are also flights from and to other islands, such as Mykonos, Rhodes and Crete. During summer period especially the flights become even more frequent than they already are throughout the year.
By Ferry Boat:
There are frequent ferries and high-speed catamarans that link Santorini with Athens’ main port of Pireaus, Crete and various Cycladic islands, such as Naxos, Paros, Sifnos, Ios, Milos, Folegandros, Mykonos.
GEOGRAPHY - CLIMATE
Santorini - or Thira / Thera, as it is called officially - is an island in the southern Aegean Sea, about 200 km southeast of Greece's mainland. It is basically the largest island of a small, circular archipelago, which bears the same name and is the remnant of a volcanic caldera. Santorini forms the southernmost member of the Cyclades group of islands with an area of approximately 73 km2. The island is shaped like a wonky croissant and the neighboring islets hint at the fact that Santorini was once circular; it was known as Strongili (the Round One). Thousands of years ago a colossal volcanic eruption caused the centre of Strongili to sink, leaving a caldera (or crater) with towering cliffs along the east side – now Santorini’s trademark landscape. The island owes its fame and its form to this unique worldwide geological phenomenon.
The municipality of Santorini includes the inhabited islands of Santorini and Therasia and the uninhabited islands of Nea (which means "New") Kameni, Palaia (which means "Old") Kameni, Aspronisi and Christiana. The total land area is 90.623 km2. Santorini is part of the Thira regional unit, along with Anafi, Folegandros, Ios, Sikinos and several smaller islands in the Aegean Sea. The population of the island is around 15.500 people.
Santorini was the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history: the Minoan eruption (sometimes called "the Thira eruption"), which occurred about 3,600 years ago at the height of the Minoan civilization. The eruption left a large caldera surrounded by volcanic ash deposits hundreds of meters deep. It may have led indirectly to the collapse of the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, 110 km to the south, through a gigantic tsunami. Another popular theory holds that the Thira eruption is the source of the legend of Atlantis. It is the most active volcanic centre in the South Aegean Volcanic Arc, though what remains today is chiefly a water-filled caldera. The volcanic arc is approximately 500 km long and 20 to 40 km wide. The region first became volcanically active around 3–4 million years ago, though volcanism on Thira began around 2 million years ago with the extrusion of dacitic lavas from vents around the Akrotiri.
Santorini has a semi-arid climate with Mediterranean characteristics. Total rainfall averages about 38 cm per year. In the summer season, strong winds can also be observed. The island has no rivers and water is scarce. Until the early nineties locals used to fill water tanks from the rain that fell on their roofs and courts, from small springs, as well as by importing it from other areas of Greece. Nowadays, there is a desalination plant that provides running, yet non-drinkable, water to the island's houses.
Moreover, Santorini is home to a small, but flourishing wine industry, based on the indigenous grape variety Assyrtiko, which is extremely old. They are adopted to the native habitat by being planted far apart and their principal source of moisture is dew. They are trained in the shape of baskets with the grapes hanging inside to protect them from the winds. Santorini's wines are among the best in the world.
HISTORY OF SANTORINI
According to searches and excavations on Santorini, the first human presence on the island is situated back to the Neolithic Period. Santorini hosted an important civilization around 3600 B.C. . Discoveries made in an important city near Akrotiri and the famous Red Beach show the existence of an ancient Minoan colony. The city was very similar to those found in the island of Crete, with multi-level buildings, eight-meter walls, many wall ornaments and pottery showing naturalistic landscapes of animals and humans of the same ancient Minoan style.
Around 1450 B.C. the volcano on the island erupted, exploding with the force of several hundred atomic bombs (the exact date is still being debated amongst historians and archaeologists, since some methods using radiocarbons indicated that it was around 1650-1600 B.C.). It was said to be five times more powerful than the famous Krakatoa eruption in Indonesia in 1883, which blanketed Asia with volcanic ash and caused a drop in global temperatures.
Warning earthquakes for such a big eruption would have been alarming enough to get the settlers moving. Based on this speculation and the absence of human remains, historians believe that the Minoans were able to evacuate the island. Minoan culture would decline shortly after, subsumed under the rising Mycenaean civilization based in mainland Greece.
In Ancient times, Santorini Island was known as Stongili, which means round in Greek. Strongili was the victim of this enormous volcano eruption. After the explosion, the centre of Santorini sank and the many earthquakes that followed destroyed a big part of the rest of the island. Many studies and researches have been presented in our days about the volcano of Santorini, including a series of documentaries in the National Geographic.
As the eruption buried Akrotiri, it gave rise to legends in the years that followed. The eruption was probably the source of Plato’s story about the lost city of Atlantis, the plagues described in the Old Testament, and the “yellow fog, dim sun, [and] frost in July” described in the Bamboo Annals of China.
Akrotiri after the eruption was uninhabited for many centuries. The Greek historian Herodotus reported that the Phoenicians arrived in the 13th century BC and founded a site on Santorini’s main island. Mesmerized by the island’s beauty, they named their site Calliste, or “the most beautiful”.
In the 9th century B.C., Dorians from Sparta founded a city on the clifftop of Mesa Vouno, 399 meters above sea level. They called this Hellenic city Thera after their ruler, Theras (this city is now called Ancient Thera). Thera became an important trade station, used by Alexander the Great and the Ptolemaic army of Egypt. The Therans even became colonists themselves, establishing the port city of Cyrenaica in Libya.
Christianity came to the island during the 3rd century A.D. and became the seat of a bishop with the construction of its first church, Episcopi of Thera. Renewed threats from the volcano led to Thera’s decline and eventual abandonment by the 9th century.
Later on, Santorini followed the fate of other Greek territories and fell under the rule of the Romans and the Byzantines. In the 13th century A.D., the Fourth Crusade, called by Pope Innocent III and largely backed by Venetian forces, had the initial intent of recapturing Jerusalem from the Arabs by conquering the Ayyubid Sultanate based in Egypt, but ended up sacking the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. A subsequent treaty established the Latin Empire of Constantinople, dividing the territories between Venice and other leaders of the crusade. The crusaders re-named Thera “Santorini“, a contraction of the name Santa Irini, or Saint Irene, which was the name of a catholic church.
The Venetians moved into the Aegean and one of the Venetian leaders, Marco Sanudo, created the Duchy of Naxos based on the largest island in the Cyclades. He later granted the islands of Santorini and Therasia to a relative, Giacomo Barozzi, whose family ruled the islands until 1480. The Duchy was later annexed to Venice in 1487.
Under the Franks, the islands continued to suffer from raids and incursions from pirates and rival rulers, leading to the development of five fortified settlements placed on strategic spots around the islands. Visitors can still view the ruins of the walled castles of Skaros in Imerovigli, Pyrgos, Emporio, Akrotiri and Agios Nikolaos in Oia.
Santorini was renamed once again to "Dermetzik" (“small mill”) by the Turks, who took over the islands in 1579 and consequently put a stop to the pirate raids. They would rule the islands for several centuries.
In 1821 the Greeks pushed back against Ottoman rule in the Greek War of Independence, and Santorini took part in the revolution with a powerful fleet. The island was freed from Ottoman rule, and became part of the independent Kingdom of Greece in 1832. It reverted back to its Greek name, Thera, though “Santorini” is still used colloquially.
Due to the wars of the 20th century, Santorini's economy declined and the inhabitants abandoned the island after the catastrophic earthquake in 1956. The tourist development in Santorini began in the 1970s and today it is one of the best tourist destinations in the world. Over the years, Santorini has also developed as a wedding and honeymoon destination, while many international meetings and conferences take place there at summer.
Main villages of Santorini
Fira is the picturesque capital of the island. Perched high up on the edge of the Caldera, it looks like a marvellous painting. Fira, together with Oia, Imerovigli and Firostefani located high above on a cliff, make up the so-called “Caldera’s eyebrow”, the balcony of Santorini, which offers an amazing view of the volcano. It is located at the west side of the island and 10 km away from the main port, Athinios.
The town of Fira is a typical Cycladic village made of charming white houses with blue windows and doors, separated from each other by small paved streets. Many of its beautiful buildings were constructed back in the times of the Venetian invasion, including some blue domed churches and sun-bathed verandas that offer an incredible view of the volcano and the sunset. In our days, Fira is a busy town. During summer and in its high season, the central streets are overcrowded with tourists and filled with all kind of shops, jewelleries, restaurants, cafes, bars and night clubs. The caldera is considered the highlight of Santorini but there are some interesting churches that attract attention as well as the sheer beauty of the town's architecture.
Imerovigli is situated at the north of Santorini, only 2 km away from the capital of Fira. It is a continuation of Fira and one of the most beautiful balconies of the island. The name of Imerovigli comes from the word "vigla" which means view spot. The position of this picturesque village provides a clear view of the caldera, and during the old times it allowed villagers to see the pirate ships approaching. Today, Imerovigli is one of the recognized traditional settlements, with many taverns and cafes with stunning views to the caldera. In front of Imerovigli lies an enormous rock called Scaros. On top of it is a castle that was built during the 13th century but it was abandoned in the early 1800s. The castle housed all the administrative offices of the island. This part of the island collapsed after an earthquake, and only the huge hill of Scaros is left today. Imerovigli has numerous chapels and churches built on the rocks overlooking the blue sea. The village is known as the ultimate romantic destination.
Oia, pronounced Ia, is a very photogenic town, a maze of small shops, restaurants and cafes, almost all with spectacular views of the rest of the island and the caldera. Although it is known throughout the world for its quiet life and its fantastic sunset, it isn't the most quiet village of the island, since it has plenty of tourist shops, taverns, cafes, and other shops. Oia is much more quiet than Fira of course - the busiest area is the main pedestrian that runs along its length. The village is also situated on top of an impressive cliff and offers a spectacular view over the volcano of Palaia and Nea Kameni and the island of Thirassia.
Oia is situated on the north of the island, 11 km away from Fira. It is a traditional village with charming houses in narrow streets, blue domed churches, and sun-bathed verandas. At the entrance of the village is a car park where visitors can leave their vehicle and enjoy long walks in the picturesque paths. The volcano from there is much less imposing, but one can still get some gorgeous views. Many artists fell in love with the area and settled there. For that reason, the village of Oia has many art galleries. Apart from the galleries, Oia also has a small port, Ammoudi, which can be reached by a set of 300 steps leading down. There, small boats can take visitors opposite, to the island of Thirassia. The beach of Armenis is also located there.
Firostefani lies to the north of Fira and there is little difference that separates it from its considerable larger neighbor. It merges quietly as if an "introduction" to the busier hub of Fira. Without a doubt, the views from this part of Santorini are spectacular, offering another perspective of Santorini volcano. One can enjoy the magnificent sight of Fira itself and the breathtaking sunset in the evening. The village has plenty of restaurants and cafes located on the most fabulous locations as well as few shops, most of which are concentrated at the main shopping street, at the centre of Firostefani. Between the village of Firostefani and Imerovigli lies the Agios Nikolas Monastery.
Akrotiri is located next to the famous Red Beach. It is ampitheatrically built at the southeastern side of the island. Akrotiri was originally a Minoan settlement and today is one of the major tourist attractions and the most important archeological site of Santorini. The prehistoric town was destroyed due to the massive volcanic erruption around 1600 B.C. Nowadays, the picturesque streets, the two-storey buildings, the lovely frescoes and plenty of tools witness the way of life in the prehistoric times. Today, the beautiful frescoes of the ancient city of Akrotiri can only be seen in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. Some splendid houses are dotted around the village as well as a traditional windmill. Many tour boats arrive in Akrotiri and tourists are scattered to the nearby beaches of the area. Another place of interest is the Venetian castle that dominates the settlement of Akrotiri. The town has lovely local taverns with a splendid view to the sea. Akrotiri has plenty of churches to visit and one of the most beautiful is the church of Agios Nikolaos built right above the impressive redish rocks, on the way to the Red Beach. From the top of the village one can see the caldera of the volcano and miles of grapes. In fact one can see most of the island. For those who prefer to enjoy the sunset in a quieter, more intimate place, the lighthouse of Akrotiri is a great place to offer that. Note that one is not allowed to enter the lighthouse since it is used by the Greek Navy.
One of the most traditional Villages of Santorini, Megalohori lies on a hill creating a labyrinth of steep alleys and streets. The uncountable vineyards which extend beyond the countryside offer a magnificent setting and the top quality wine in Santorini. Megalochori is definitely a place to experience the rich wine tradition. The village offers a nice mix of white Cycladic houses, several churches and narrow alleys witnessing the strong Aegean tradition. Follow the road to the main square that hosts a couple of nice taverns serving delicious food. Megalochori, being 6 km south of Fira and away from the caldera, is a peaceful village and that is why a great place to stay if one prefers to have a quieter and more select, secluded atmosphere, and take a short trip to see the amazing view of the caldera. It is a place often used as the base for a stay by well known individuals who would like a bit of privacy.
Pyrgos is situated 8 km southeast of Fira. The village is located on a fabulous spot on top of a hill and displays incredible panoramic views of the island. At the bottom there are some nice taverns, a shop that stocks international press and the usual tourist shops. Pyrgos used to be the capital of the island until the early 1800s. Today, the village of Santorini is well-known for its major tourist movement, as well as its wineries, such as Santos and Hatzidakis, since it is in a heavy wine producing area. The village consists of traditional houses built all around the Venetian castle, and the small streets that follow the natural flow of the surrounding landscape. The houses are the perfect example of Cycladic design and in superb condition. The Venetian castle is one of the five on the island of Santorini and dates back to the 13th century. The fortfied settlement is amphitheatrically built on the hill and offers superb views of both sides of the island. The village has many churches, such as the church of Theotokaki with its beautiful frescoes and old icons from the 10th century, the larger Panagia of Kasteli which was built in the 16th century, Agia Triada, the church of Agia Theodosia, the Archangel Michael and many others. The most famous church of Santorini is also found just 4 km from Pyrgos, the Monastery of Prophet Elias, which is built at the highest spot of the homonymous mountain and where one will also find the most spectacular view of the island itself, not just the caldera. It hosts a small collection of ethnographic material and old icons.
Emporio is the largest village in Santorini, located 12 km from Fira on the foothills of Mount Prophet Elias and on the road to the well-known Perissa beach. It is a traditional village with a strong medieval character, whose construction is centered around two Venetian castles and the 16th Century Panagia Mesani church. There are eight windmills from the early 19th century on the hill of Gavrillos, which also has Byzantine ruins. At the entrance of the village stand two lovely, blue domed Cycladic churches with impressive bell tower that dominate the village.
ACTIVITIES - LEISURE
There’s no denying the uniqueness of this destination or its huge allure – Santorini hosts 1,5 million tourists annually. As a truly cosmopolitan tourist destination catering to all tastes, Santorini has activities for everyone. Visitors could just choose what they would like to do and how to do it and this island could probably offer it to them (there are tours for almost everything, depending on one's interests and tastes). Some of the basic things that someone should see and do on the island could be found below.
"Must" do and see on Santorini
Walking - Hiking
The obvious activity while being in Santorini is to walk the caldera edge and admire the view. Walks in and around Fira are spectacular, particularly heading north to Firostefani and Imerovigli along the caldera-edge pathway. Keep walking and you’ll eventually reach Oia, but be aware that this is no small undertaking and the trail beyond Imerovigli can be rough. It’s about 9km in all, and a good three - to four-hours’ walk in one direction. Note that this walk is less nice in reverse, it can take less than three hours but can be difficult, for up and downhill climbs, the rocky surface at times, and the proximity to unprotected cliffs that drop sharply into the caldera.
Another great route is to take the paths over Perissa Rock connecting Perissa, Kamari, and Pyrgos. The walk between Perissa and Kamari is fairly short (via Ancient Thira), while the walk to Pyrgos is somewhat longer, passing through the highest point on the island. The views are breathtaking and you could find different kinds and colors of rocks and plants as you walk. The walking route is different from where the city buses go.
It’s time to invoke the spirit of Dionysus! Everyone should try the one-of-a-kind whites and reds of Santorini, especially the renowned Vinsanto from the volcanic vineyards that are over 3,200 years old.
More specifically, Santorini’s lauded wines are its crisp dry whites and the amber-colored, unfortified dessert wine known as Vinsanto. Both are made from the indigenous grape variety, assyrtiko. Another amazing grape variety which can be found in Santorini and which also comes from ancient years, almost risking extinction, is Mavrotragano. About a dozen local vineyards host tastings and some offer food, with scenery and local produce combining to great effect. Wine cellars were often created within the caves, as the island, because of its low rainfall and unique volcanic soils, always produced exceptional wines.
There are plenty of great wineries for one to visit in Santorini. Some of them are the Gavalas Winery in Megalochori, the Boutari winery (tel. 22860-81011) near Megalochori (taste, buy or learn more about the wines), Hatzidakis winery near Pyrgos (one should call for appointment - tel. 22860-32552 -), and at Exogonia (which is on the northeast side of the mountain that Pyrgos is on and it really appears to be the same village as Pyrgos) there are Argiros Winery, which is probably the highest rated wine on the island by American and European wine lovers and publications, Roussos, which has been open since 1846, and the one-of-a-kind Art Space Winery.
Art Space Winery is one of the oldest wineries on the island. Apart from a great winery though, offering delicious and inexpensive wines for tasting, Art Space Winery has turned the underground caves and cisterns into something of a wine museum and art gallery. The atmospheric old wine caverns are hung with some superb artworks, while sculptures transform lost corners and niches. The collection features around 32 Greek and international modern artists. Winemaking is still in the owner’s blood, and part of the complex produces some stellar vintages under the Art Space Wines label. Tastings enhance the experience. It is one of the places that should be included on any visitors list of things to do, especially for those who are wine lovers, since such small quantities are produced there that one will be lucky to find it anywhere else on the island. One place that it can be found is at the restaurant "Metaxi Mas", a Santorini-Cretan traditional restaurant which will probably be one of the best food one will eat on the island, if not a great portion, also in Exogonia (22860-31323).
Ancient Akrotiri, the Pompeii of the Aegean
Akrotiri is a prehistoric city that lies beneath a bioclimatic shelter. Walking over wooden bridges one will encounter one of the most important and well-preserved civilizations in the Mediterranean, which was covered by the ashes of the great volcanic eruption of 1600 B.C.. Its famous frescoes can be admired at the Museum of Prehistoric Thera at Fira.
The ruins of Akrotiri made some people claim that it is evidence that the people that once populated the island may or may not have been the civilization of Atlantis. The first trace of the city was discovered by quarry workers digging for pumice for the Suez Canal and who chanced upon some of its stone walls. Preliminary excavations were carried out in the 19th century until Professor Spyridon Marinatos, supported by the Archaeological Society of Athens, led a systematic excavation of the site in 1967. It was one of the Mediterranean’s largest archaeological sites, covering 20 hectares and producing a wealth of information regarding Aegean life in the Late Bronze Age.
According to Professor Christos Doumas, who took over Marinatos after the latter’s death in 1974, the excavation team has identified 35 buildings. As of 2017, only four have been excavated. The excavation has already revealed multi-level buildings, eight-metre walls, and thousands of artefacts.
Among those excavated was a private residence dubbed the “West House”, an example of the Minoans’ sophisticated architecture and industry. The “West House” has bedrooms decorated with murals, but also a storeroom with ceramic vessels, workshops, a weaving room, and a mill installation. Archaeological findings in Akrotiri and Crete suggest a culture that was comfortably wealthy, enjoyed its leisure time, and devoted attention to art and aesthetics.
Note that one should get there early because once the tour buses arrive it becomes a slow process (but not too early). And if, after all this visit and "travel throughout the centuries" along with a swim at the Red Beach, one gets hungry, between the ruins of Akrotiri and the path to Red Beach is the family run Delfinia (which means "Dolphins") Fish Taverna which prides itself in having the freshest fish every day which comes from their own boat.
As mentioned above, any tour the visitor's heart desires can be organized – there are dozens of agencies ready to help with winery visits, archaeology tours, sunset-watching cruises, sailing tours, jet ski tours, sea kayaking excursions etc. The most popular option, however, is a boat tour. The classic itinerary takes in the caldera’s volcanic islands of Nea Kameni and Palia Kameni, including a stop at the former’s crater and the latter’s hot springs and to Thirassia. One can also discover the churches built into caves and the old stairs used for mining excavations along the cliffs. No matter which boat tour the visitors choose - they are all very good anyway - a tour of the volcano is a must and since there is no ferry boat or other option of doing the volcano tour but an organized one (private or group), visitors shouldn't forget to book one in advance.
The landscape around the crater on Nea Kameni, the small island at the centre of the caldera, is wild with red and black rocks. From the top of the volcano with a 2,5 million-year history, one has an incredible view of the caldera. The myth that Santorini is the ancient city of Atlantis, which submerged over 9,500 years ago, comes to life before everyone's eyes.
On the small island of Palia Kameni, those who dare can dive into the thermal waters that form a volcanic spa.
Thirassia is a small island with a population of 270, providing a quiet escape from the crowds of Oia and Fira. One can explore the history or simply enjoy the peaceful shores and small villages that make up the island. Even if it’s a short boat ride away, Santorini's vacation won’t be complete without a day visit to Thirassia. Thirassia may be quieter than the rest of Santorini, but it’s full of features for tourists to enjoy. Aside from the history, both geological and civilized, Thirassia houses the beautiful black beach of Korfos. The hike to the highest point of Thirassia is well worth the stunning photo opportunities one will find there. The churches, including the churches of Agios Konstantinos and Agios Dimitrios, the chapel of the prophet Elias, and the church of Agia Irini - after which the island of Santorini itself may have been named - are some interesting tourist destinations. Moreover, there are coffee shops and seafood taverns.
The tours depart either from Oia, from Ammoudi bay more specifically (which is the starting and end point) and a bit later from Armeni bay, from Athinios or from Gialos.
Ammoudi itself is a really nice place to see. It is a tiny port of colourful fishing boats lies 300 steps below Oia. It’s a hot haul down and up again but well worth it for the views of the blood-red cliffs and the harbor, plus: one can have lunch at one of the excellent, if pricey, fish taverns right on the water’s edge.
Skaros Rock: The mediaeval capital
The commanding conical rock of Skaros, visible from Fira and Imerovigli, is situated 330m above sea level (from Imerovigli, a sign points west for the track to Skaros). There, one will discover the mediaeval capital of Santorini. The Venetian castle found there was the first of the five fortresses (called "kasteli" on the island), built in the 15th century to protect the islanders from pirate attacks. Within the Venetian castle one will find houses, temples and the former residences of the nobility, who evacuated the place after the earthquakes and moved to Fira. Visitors should climb to the top and the entire panorama of the caldera – from Oia to Fira – will unfold in front of their eyes. This is probably the best spot to take lots of photos, since they would look not as if from one magical spot, but from all over the island. As this is a windy area one will also notice a number of windmills, some of which have been turned into houses. It should be noted, however, that plenty of steps should be expected.
Museum of Prehistoric Thera
This well-presented museum at Fira, opposite the bus station, houses extraordinary finds excavated from Akrotiri and Potamos, which get even more impressive when one realizes just how old they are. There, one will admire its famous frescoes, among them Spring, The Monkeys and The African. Another very remarkable finding that one can see there is the glowing gold ibex figurine, dating from the 17th century BC and in mint condition. Moreover, one shouldn't forget to look for fossilized olive tree leaves from within the caldera, which date back to 60,000 BC. A world frozen in time awaits us. For those who have decided to visit only one of the museums of Santorini, this should be the one.
First settled by the Dorians in the 9th century BC, Ancient Thira stands on a mountain between the beaches at Kamari and Perissa. The terraced ruins that overlook the sea date back to the 3rd century BC and the Ptolemies, with also the remnants of Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine times and is an atmospheric and rewarding site to visit. The ruins include temples, houses with mosaics, an agora (market), a theatre and a gymnasium. Views are splendid. If the visitor is driving, one could take the narrow, switch-backed road from Kamari for 3km. From Perissa, a hike up a dusty path takes a bit over an hour to reach the site. The site is best visited in the early morning before the sun has gotten too hot. Many of the artifacts found in ancient Thira can be found in Santorini Archaeological Museum in Fira.
Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral
Sitting prominently on the caldera edge in Fira, the Orthodox Cathedral can be seen from many parts of the island. Built in 1827, it was badly damaged in the catastrophic earthquake of 1956. Fully renovated soon after, it is a known for its mosaics, impressive bell tower and rolling arches that create a peaceful courtyard. Inside, the church is adorned with beautiful frescoes painted by local artist Christoforos Asimis.
Apart from these "Must do / see" things on Santorini, depending on the visitor's hobbies and interests, one could also do:
Sea Kayaking Excursion
A fun and easy-going way to explore the Santorini coastline. The Morning Tour and Sunset Tour stick to the south coast of the island. The Round The Lighthouse Tour goes into the caldera and offers incredible views of the caldera cliffs. More information on Sea Kayaking Excursion could be found in: www.adrenaline-hunter.com
Jet Ski Tours
More information on Jet Ski Tours can be found in: www.adrenaline-hunter.com
Helicopter Tours in Santorini
For those who would love to do sightseeing in Santorini in total privacy and who wish to have the greatest photos of the caldera from up above, a helicopter tour of the island could be what they asking for. More information on the Helicopter Tours can be found in: www.adrenaline-hunter.com
Scuba-diving and Snorkeling in volcanic waters
Explore the mysterious depths of the Aegean: Cape Tripiti in Thirassia, the shipwreck at Taxiarchis, Palia Kameni, Adiavatis reef, the caves at Mesa Pigadia and the "Indian rock” in Akrotiri. There are plenty of scuba diving centers on the island.
Cable Car (Teleferik) from Fira, to the Old Port, Gialos - and vice versa
This is another of the trademarks of Santorini as an island. The great increase in the number of tourists, which started around the 70’s, as well as the plethora of liners that reached the old port of Santorini, Gialos, led to the foundation of the cable car in order to provide visitors a safe transport from the old port to the capital of Santorini, Fira. Until then, the only option was the long winding stairs, where visitors could either walk or ride a donkey, a traditional activity of Santorini that goes on until today. However, this is a slow and tiring option, inappropriate for heavy baggage and even not feasible for some groups of people, like the elderly and children.
The route from the old port to the beautiful capital and vice versa takes only 3 minutes. The cable car can serve up to 1,200 persons per hour and offers a convenient transport to those who own a liner or those who wish to take a trip to the volcano, as many boats for the tour depart from the old port of Fira. Some people can also use it just to admire the amazing view of the stunning caldera, the sea and the volcano from a 220 meters altitude. It is a charming travel that saves time and energy, is ideal for exceptional photographs to capture your memorable moments and gives away rapture, caused by the unprecedented wild natural beauty.
Santorini Brewery Company, The Donkey
The home of the island’s in-demand Donkey beers (you may have seen the eye-catching logo on your travels) is well worth a stop. Sample the Yellow Donkey (golden ale), Red Donkey (amber ale), the Crazy Donkey (IPA) and the White Donkey (wheat with a touch of orange peel). All are unfiltered, unpasteurized and extremely palatable. There are free tastings, plus cool merchandise that makes a fun souvenir. For more info, please visit: www.SantoriniBrewingCompany.gr.
Apart from the above, there is an Open-Air Cinema in Kamari.
If one visits the island in July one should also check for the Santorini Jazz Festival, taking place in Kamari as well.
Moreover, there is the Santorini Music Festival, taking place in Firostefani in September.
Additionally, there are plenty of interesting museums, depending on one's tastes and interests, such as:
In Oia, the picturesque traditional town on the northwest coast of Santorini, a 19th century mansion has been restored and converted into a museum that houses the Maritime History of Thira. Rare figureheads, Seamens' Chests, old maritime equipment, carrening drawings and patterns, models of old and new Thiran ships, acquarelles featuring old sailing vessels as well as rare photographs and a library, all register year by year the contribution of the Thirans to the glorious history of the Hellenic Navy. Oia reached the peak of prosperity in the late 19th & early 20th century. Its economic prosperity was based on its merchant fleet which plied trade in the Eastern Mediterranean, especially from Alexandria to Russia. Hence the two-story captains houses built on the highest part of the village which are a reminder of the village's former affluence.
The Wine Museum in Vothonas is an extraordinary natural cave, 6 meters below ground and 300 meters long. It presents the history and life of wine from 1660 to 1970. The Wine Museum of Santorini along with Koutsogiannopoulos winery that produces Volcan Wines, and the vineyards are situated in the area of Vothonas, on the way to Kamari beach. A small family business, established in 1880 from brothers Gregory and Dimitris Koutsogiannopoulos, four generations later, George Koutsogiannopoulos is the new owner.
Santorini Archaeological Museum (Fira)
This museum has a collection of bits and pieces from island's millennia of history includes pottery, statues and grave artifacts found mostly at excavations in ancient Thera and Akrotiri, from the Minoan through the Byzantine periods.
Megaro Gyzi Museum (Fira)
The Cultural Centre “Megaro Gyzi” is housed in Megaro Gyzi, one of the few 17th century old family mansions. The Megaro Gyzi Museum is situated in the Halls of the Cultural Centre, where five Permanent Exhibitions are hosted: An exhibition of authentic engravings with maps, landscapes and dresses of the Cycladic islands from the 15th to 19th century. An exhibition of old manuscripts from late 16th to 19th century. A collection of paintings and photographs of Santorini. During the tourist period, painting exhibitions, concerts and musical recitals, theatrical performance, photographic exhibitions, lectures, traditional dances, film showings and other events are also organized there.
Lignos Emmanuel Folklore Museum
The Folklore Museum is housed in a cave house built in 1861 in Kontochori - Fira. The museum is an old winery with workshops for carpenters, barrel makers, shoemakers and tinsmiths and an art gallery. There is also a library. Within the grounds one can discover the chapel of Agios Konstantinos with its belfry and festivities room. The garden and courtyard offers seating areas amongst trees and flowers. The Museum was founded by Emmanuel A. Lignos, laywer, journalist and Director of the monthly newspaper ¨Theiraic News¨.
Tomato Industrial Museum
Despite the dry-sounding name, this is a unique look inside an old tomato factory in Vlihada. Tomato processing was a major industry on the island, and the video interviews of elderly former factory workers is fascinating. The seaside museum is part of the cool Santorini Arts Factory (www.santoriniartsfactory.gr), which hosts exhibitions, concerts and theatre.
BEACHES OF SANTORINI
Santorini's beaches are composed of volcanic sand and pebbles and, as a result, create a very unique experience. It must be mentioned though, that the beaches shouldn't be the primary reason for a visit to the island, especially if one has in mind the Greek golden sandy beaches with blue, turquoise waters, since the colors and landscape is completely different. The black, red and white colors of these pebbly beaches, a product of their volcanic sand, the spectacular rock formations and the impressive lunar landscapes are truly unique.
At Kokkini Paralia (Red Beach), Aspri Paralia (White Beach), Perivolos, Perissa and Kamari (Black beaches) the volcanic earth creates immortal works of art. (Tip: On Red Beach one should be equipped with hats, suntan lotion and shoes for walking along the path, since the temperature there seems to be twice as high as on the rest of the island).
If you travel with children, Monolithos would be your ideal destination, since, apart from shallow waters, there are beach volleyball, basketball courts and a soccer field, where at the neighboring beach one will find kite-surf and water sports facilities. Moreover, there is a lifeguard at the beach of Monolithos, as well as a few taverns.
For those who would like to swim in really hot water, Cape Coloumbos is the beach to go. Being located 4 km from Oia, the isolated beach with the impressive yet dramatic landscape, offers something special: if one swims on the right of Coloumbos to the Seal Cave, one will be over the most active underwater crater of the island, the volcano of Coloumbos, which lies there. That is the reason why the waters are really hot. Visitors should carry some water while there is no cantine or restaurant nearby.
Comfortable sun beds, hammocks, cocktails and delicious snacks, as well as meals at the nearby taverns, await all visitors at all of the organized beaches of Santorini. Swimming in the crystal clear water is refreshing and wonderful - since the beaches have coarse sand there’s little dust to cloud the water.
LOCAL FOOD - PRODUCTS
Thanks to unique volcanic soil and climate combination, cuisine in Santorini boasts extraordinary ingredients. Amongst the island’s delicious products - that one should try in restaurants and buy in stores that sell them all packaged - are its famous sun-dried cherry tomatoes, fava beans (split peas), capers, locally grown cucumbers and white eggplant (aubergine) - apart from the world famous wines of course.
Some of the local specialties include the famous fava, tomatokeftedes (which are made with Santorini cherry sized tomatoes, cooked in olive oil with onions, peppers, mint and other herbs), Santorinio Sfouggato (a traditional Santorini dish with small zucchini, onions, extra virgin olive oil, flour, eggs, rosemary leaves or spearmint tea leaves or dill, xinomyzithra or other sour milk cheese or soft feta, naxos sweet gruyere, salt and fresh ground pepper, sweet peppers, sesame seeds) and Brantada (a local Santorinian fish dish with cod fillet coated in a mixture of flour, water, salt and sometimes beer, normally served with garlic salad. The best place to try it is in some less touristic villages, such as Exo Gonia). As a dessert, one can find in the traditional bakeries the Melitinia, which are cookies that are traditionally made for weddings, engagements and festivals. They are made of unsalted mitzithra cheese and yogurt and they also have a beautiful smell of mastic.
Santorini’s chefs are always experimenting with local products, combining traditional recipes with modern gastronomy, and making the island a top culinary destination in the Aegean.
For all Santorini has to offer, it's fine beaches, active nightlife, restaurants, excellent wines (the volcanic soil and climate make the island one of the best places to grow grapes in the world): it is the volcano that is the true star of the island. Take it away and all you have is another island with tomato balls. The black sand beaches, the wine, the fava, the sun-dried cherry tomatoes, are all by-products of the explosion that destroyed life on Thira and created in its place a destination that offers what few others do, that is not only fun but profoundly dramatic in scenery. As people who have visited the island say, "I don't think you could go to another planet and be more impressed than you will be when you see the caldera of Santorini for the first time"...