Things to Do in Santorini
The “Santorini volcano” may refer to two different peaks: the first, Thira, exploded around 1600 BC and ended the thriving Minoan civilization and may have spawned the legend of Atlantis. Millennia of eruptions formed the second “Santorini volcano”—the island of Nea Kameni, drawing visitors eager to hike to the rim of its active crater.
Perched on the steep edge of the caldera, looking out over the glittering Mediterranean, Oia (pronounced “ee-yuh”) is famed for its dreamy sunsets. Oia is also one of the most picturesque villages in Santorini, with its striking white buildings, blue-domed churches, and atmospheric cave houses burrowing into the volcanic rock.
Santorini’s Red Beach is not your average white-sand beauty. Rather, it’s a narrow, pebbly stretch hemmed in by high scarlet cliffs and scattered with large volcanic rocks. Together with the sapphire blue waters of the Aegean Sea, these volcanic features create a striking natural color palette that draws photographers to its shores.
Centered around a rugged volcanic crater, the small island of Nea Kameni offers a dramatic landscape, with dark cliffs sculpted from lava rock and orange-tinged natural thermal waters. The island’s striking landscape and natural hot springs make it a popular destination for day cruises from Santorini.
Tucked away on the south coast of Santorini, White Beach (Aspri Paralia) is sheltered by chalk-grey cliffs. This minuscule strand is actually composed of coarse black—not white—sand, and liberally peppered with grey and white pebbles as well as massive white volcanic boulders.
Santorini’s hot springs are on the tiny, uninhabited islet of Palea Kameni. Continuous volcanic activity underground maintains the springs’ temperature between 86ºF and 95ºF (30°C and 35°C). The sulfuric, orange-tinged spring waters that bubble up into a shallow cove off the islet’s coast are said to be curative for the skin and joints.
Akrotiri came to an abrupt end in approximately 1613 BC with a catastrophic volcanic eruption that buried the Bronze Age settlement in a carpet of ash. Beginning in 1967, excavations of the Minoan town revealed buildings, drainage systems, and pottery, but no human remains or gold valuables, indicating locals had time to flee before disaster hit.
The monastery of Mount Profitis Ilias (Moni Profitou Iliou) is perched on the mountain of the same name, the highest point on Santorini at 1,853 ft (565 m) above the Aegean Sea in the south of the island. Built in the early 18th century out of sizeable stone and resembling a fortress, the monastery was dedicated to the prophet Elijah and initially enjoyed great wealth. It once also functioned as a secret school of Greek culture during the dark days of Turkish occupation of the country, but its power began to decline in 1860 and it was badly damaged by the earthquake in 1956. Today Profitis Ilias is successful once more; its three domed church has become a museum hosting an exceptional and significant collection of Greek Orthodox icons, early, hand printed books and bibles, wrought-iron artwork, wooden carvings and elaborately embroidered clerics’ robes. The resident monks put on displays of traditional carpentry, shoemaking, local cooking and wine making as well.
The monastery courtyard and gardens are a popular spot to watch Santorini’s fabled sunsets and it is possible to see right to the hilltop village of Oia from the top of Profitis Ilias. Panoramas also take in the patchwork of plains and vineyards sit in the mountain’s lee, sheltering the young vines from hot winds blowing in from North Africa.
Imagine a stretch of slate grey sands fringed by startling turquoise waters and hemmed in by sea cliffs, and you’ll understand why Perivolos is one of Santorini’s most popular beaches.
The island’s longest black sand beach is not only undeniably photogenic, but it’s a great spot for swimming and sunbathing, with cool calm waters, and thatched parasols and sunbeds lining the waterfront. Perivolos Beach is also notable for its lively atmosphere, with beach bars dotted along the seafront, volleyball nets set up along the sand and ample opportunities for water sports, including jet skiing and windsurfing.
Many tours of Santorini Island include a stop at Perivolos beach and visits are often combined with nearby Perissa beach. Active travelers can even hike or cycle the beach road between Perivolos and Perissa, a scenic 5km promenade that affords dazzling views along the coast.
The little island of Thirasia (Therasia) has a population of only 200 or so, making it the perfect spot for a relaxing lunch at a cliff-top taverna, with views over to Santorini. The island used to be part of Santorini’s mainland, until the violent volcanic eruption of 1650 BC set it free.
Sail over from Santorini to escape the crowds on Thirassia’s lovely beaches, and bring a traveler’s dictionary as not many people here speak English. Those tavernas are clustered in the village of Manolas, near the ferry stop, and the tranquil island also has scattered blue-domed churches, ancient monasteries and stone villages
More Things to Do in Santorini
Winding through whitewashed villages and rugged Mediterranean landscapes, the clifftop Fira–Oia hike is one of Greece’s most beautiful walks. The trail links Fira (Santorini’s postcard-perfect capital) with Oia (a village known for its sunset views) and takes you along the rim of the sunken crater of the island’s dormant volcano.
Looming 20 meters high at the tip of a rocky promontory, the Skaros Rock is one of Santorini’s most memorable natural landmarks and its silhouette is so striking it can be seen from towns like Fira and Oia. The seafront cliff, sculpted from black lava rock, offers the perfect vantage point for looking out across the Aegean Sea and it’s an idyllic spot to watch the sunset, with views over the caldera and Kameni islands.
To visit Skaros Rock, follow the trail from Imerovigli village, then either climb the steps to the top of the rock or take the path around the base of the rock. Along the way, stop to visit the whitewashed chapel of Ekklisia Theoskepasti nearby, a remnant of Skaros’ early Catholic settlement, then explore the ruins of the Byzantine fortress that once stood on the peak.
One of the most-visited Greek islands, crescent-shaped Santorini is served by multiple cruise lines. While the island has two ports, Athinios Port—located midway along the island on the caldera side—is the only one that serves passenger liners. Athinios connects Santorini to Athens and islands such as Mykonos, Milos, and Therasia.
White Door Theatro performs itsGreek Wedding Show, Santorini’s top theatrical performance, in the courtyard of a historic building in central Fira. The interactive show casts the audience as guests at a traditional 1940s Greek wedding, complete with song, dance, and plate smashing. The ticket price includes local wine and meze snacks.
Stretching for around 3 miles (5 kilometers), dark-sand Kamari Beach is sandwiched between the blue Aegean waters and the mountain peak of Mesa Vouno. With a bar- and restaurant-lined promenade behind it and lots of facilities nearby, it’s one of the best places to park yourself for a day of relaxation.
Pyrgos(Pyrgos Kallistis) is a picturesque hillside village set on a volcanic crater at the highest point of the Greece’s Santorini, offering panoramic views of the rest of the island. At the top of the village sit the ruins of Kasteli Castle, remnants of the former capitol of the island before it was moved to Fira (where it remains today.)
Pyrgos is as beautiful as the rest of the island, but also has a special historic charm — with traditional white houses, Byzantine churches, Cycladic architecture, and small winding cobblestone lanes and paths. Some of the churches has beautiful old frescoes visible on the walls. The area sees far fewer tourists than the rest of the island, so it keeps a peaceful atmosphere. Though the town has merely 700 inhabitants, there are tavernas and local restaurants. Visiting the village is a way to experience the traditionally preserved culture of the Greek islands.
Set on the island’s highest hilltop, Santorini’s ancient capital was once a thriving center of commerce and culture. Today, visitors can enjoy views of the Aegean while walking among ruins from the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine eras, including a central agora, temples, porticoed administrative buildings, and an impressive theater.
With gleaming white-and-blue buildings perched on a clifftop overlooking the glittering Aegean Sea, Fira (or Thera) is every bit the postcard star of Santorini. The island capital, the main port of call for holidaymakers, is famous for its stunning views, lively nightlife, and archaeological museums.
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