Figuring out what to do while you have limited vacation time can be a real bugger. Especially when you’re in an island as beautiful as this jewel in the Aegean. You can’t afford to waste your precious holiday asking everyone where to get next. So we did the research for you and have come up with a pretty solid list of places to go to and exciting things to do in Santorini. You don’t have to do everything. Remember that it’s all about the quality of the experience.
For starters, Santorini is pretty badass. It sits in a massive volcano that although haven’t erupted again since 1950, still remains active and dangerous to this day. The waters surrounding the island is literary a volcanic crater. You’d never guess that from looking at the seemingly calm waters of the Aegean. But perhaps that’s what makes it more interesting. The past eruptions that occurred in the island of Santorini shaped its rugged landscape and formed its majestic white, black, and red beaches. It even helped create a unique flavor for its wines.
Santorini’s official name is Thira. Geographically, it’s a semicircular archipelago of volcanic islands located on the south of the Aegean Sea. It’s one of the most popular islands of the Cyclades and best known for its picture-perfect, whitewashed cubiform houses, and stunning sunsets.
When in Santorini, it’s easy to pass the time even when you’re relaxing. The island views are simply mesmerizing. But of course, if you want to explore and get the most out of your adventure, there are plenty of rewarding activities to do.
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Fira is the most cosmopolitan settlement of Santorini. Being its main city, you can expect to find most of the tourist crowd here, from tour groups and shoppers in the day time to the party goers and vacationers at night. Most of the commercial cafes, restaurants, and shops are concentrated in this city so if you’re looking for some authentic Greek merchandise, this is definitely the place to look for it.
Head over to the main street and marvel at the collections in Bazaar. You can find an impressive selection of dresses, handmade bags, trendy apparels, and fashion accessories that will delight any avid shopper.
If you want to witness the exquisite creations of precious metalwork, proceed to the Ilias Lalaounis jewelry store. The renowned designer put so much dedication to his work, heavily influenced by past historical eras that the results are just precious to the sight.
If you’re looking for Greek brands, Drakkar and Spicy are the places to be. The Silk Shop is famous for their silk clothings and accessories, along with other fabrics. Milo, another shop on the main street, displays carefully-selected items from big brands.
Did you know that if you’re coming from the airport or the port, you can get to Fira by riding a donkey? Or a cable car if you please! Quite a memorable way to begin your Satorini holiday.
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Charter a boat and explore the beautiful beaches and white sand coasts of Santorini. Sail around the caldera or go fishing. Take your date on a romantic tour around the islands or just snorkel and swim. If you want the underwater experience, explore the majestic sea life by scuba diving. There are plenty of diving centers in the island. There’s one in Kamari and there are two in Perissa. Explore the majestic depths of the shipwreck at Taxiarchis, Palia Kameni, Adiavatis reef, Cape Tripiti in Thirassia, the caves at Mesa Pigadia and the "Indian rock” in Akrotiri.
Other exciting water activities include wakeboarding, parasailing, jet skis, banana boat, and beach hopping.
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Winemaking has a long history in Santorini, dating as far back as the Roman era. The unique taste of the wines in the island is widely influenced by the volcanic soil. This exemplary identity is also the very reason why the wines in Santorini are considered one of the most sought-after not only in the region but all around the world.
If you don’t have much time on the island, visit one of their most famous wineries, Santowines Winery. If you want to hit more wineries in one visit, go to the villages of Pyrgos and Emporeio. Must-try white wine variety is the Assyrtico and Mavrotragano for the red.
You can either go to the wineries yourself or book a wine tour.
Speaking of wineries, drop by the town of Finikia, one of the most scenic communities in the whole island. This hamlet was originally consisted of old wineries that have been converted into multi-colored homes. It’s a great place for sightseeing while getting familiar with local life. Take delightful walks in its cobblestone streets and hit the tavernas for great local delicacies.
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There are various hiking trails in Santorini but perhaps the most traversed one is from Fira to Oia, definitely one of the most scenic things to do in Santorini. The distance of 10km would take you around 3 to 4 hours to complete. It starts from the port of Fira to the rim of the caldera to Oia, passing the sites of Firostefani and Imerovigli. The view of the Aegean azure is splendid.
If you want a hike that is more than just a hike, take the trail of Nea Kameni Volcano & Hot Springs. You will not only be walking but also sailing, and getting up close with the sulphorous vents of Nea Kameni.
If you want to avoid the crowd, a hike to Thirasia, Santorini’s neighboring island, is recommended. There’s a ferry that goes from Oia to Thirasia thrice a day. Once there, hit up the path, which is hard to miss. You will be rewarded by a breathtaking view of the sea on top where a monastery also stands.
Remember, always bring water to keep hydrated. And be sure you are well-supplied during the entire duration of your hike.
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In the lovely town of Akrotiri, is an equally exquisite treasure that transports visitors into the old world. The Archaeological site of Akrotiri showcases excavations of the prehistoric settlement in the village where you can walk through the debris and zoom in on the details.
This town was originally a Minoan Bronze Age settlement that was buried in volcanic ash during the Theran eruption around 1627 BC. Today, much of the ruins have surfaced, giving us a rare glimpse of life in a time even literature can barely remember. Some of the artifacts recovered from the site can be found in the Museum of Prehistoric Thera in Fira and the National Archaeological and Cyclades Museums in Athens.
Red Beach, Santorini
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Although we already mentioned taking to the waters, beach hopping deserves a special place in this list. Beaches in Santorini are not the best in Greece but they’re certainly a category of their own. Composed of volcanic ash and pebbles, Santorini’s beaches come in red, white, and black, with perhaps the clearest waters you will ever swim in, making for a memorable beach experience not easily found anywhere else.
The beaches of Santorini can be found on the east and southeast sides of the island. However, the caldera is found on the west coast so if you’re looking for an accommodation, you might have to consider whether you want one near the beach or one with the quintessential Santorini view among the cubiform houses overlooking the sea.
Kamari beach is one of the most famous stopovers among holiday goers, especially families. There are lots of places to lounge in or eat and the path along the coast makes for a good stroll. This beach has a very lively vibe to it.
If you like the more rugged beach scene with parties and loud crowds, the Perissa and Perivolos Beaches should be your next stop. There are plenty of accommodation options to choose from and restaurants that cater to the permanent crowd.
South of Fira, a 20-minute drive will take you to the Red Beach. This beach is only five minutes away from the village of Akrotiri which we mentioned earlier in this article. It’s an aesthetically attractive backdrop with the saturation of the red earth providing a beautiful contrast to the turquoise clear waters.
A few kilometers north of Kamari is the beach of Monolithos which offers a refuge to beach goers who want to stay away from the crowd. There are only a few restaurants and hotels here and the sand is nice. Less touristy, it definitely is a treat for those who seek a quiet place to spend a peaceful afternoon. The water has a shallow slope, making it perfect for families traveling with kids.
Other great beach gems include the Katharos Beach near the tourist-flocked Oia, and the Vlychada Beach, a fishing port with a real island feel.
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Nobody should visit Santorini without taking a trip to the famed Ammoudi. A lot of tourists come here to marvel at the majestic view of the caldera. But that’s not the only famous activity at Ammoudi. On the island of St. Nicholas, you can climb up a flight of stairs onto a small rocky island on top from which a designated cliff jump point is an absolute favorite among adrenaline junkies. Try this exhilarating experience and make your Santorini trip instantly memorable.
There are many tavernas to eat from. Try Katina or Dimitris or feast at Ammoudi.
The Ammoudi Bay a great place for getting a great lunch with a great view. It’s also a favorite spot to settle in at sunset.
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Let your tongue travel too! A lot of what a place is about can be found in its local gastronomy and Santorini doesn’t disappoint. As rich as its mineral-rich volcanic soil is the variety of dishes that offer insight into the identity of this island. Greek chefs are always experimenting with local ingredients, bringing uniquely Santorini flavors into the plate.
Must-try delicacies include the white eggplant, puree from fava beans, sun-dried cherry tomatoes, caper, the local salad and the katsouni (a variety of cucumber), among others.
Visit Argo in Fira or Selene in Pyrgos. The Aktaion in Firostefani is a traditional Greek taverna opened almost a century ago. Its great location is only paralleled by its outstanding menu of dishes from local ingredients. Sunset by Paraskevas in Oia is also a great choice.
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Castles are not lost in this fairy tale paradise. The island of Santorini boasts amazing fortresses and castles that are definitely going to be epic sites for a Greek sunset.
There are five Venetian castles in Santorini, built and established to protect the island from attacking pirates. The five fortresses Oia, Imerovigli, Pyrgos, Emporio and Akrotiri. The structures are well-preserved and invite the public to walk in its grounds back into the past.
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A kind of wonderful communal gathering, the Open Air Cinema is Kamari is a splendid way to end your day and perhaps one of the most romantic things to do in Santorini. Projector screens are set outside, all set up to feature the latest popular flick or a classic. This activity is open from May to October, practically during the tourist season.
Visit CineKamari for program information: movie schedule, venue, etc.