When we think about Greece islands, I believe Santorini is the first one that pops up in everyone’s mind. Santorini has a perfect combination of archeological sites, exotic beaches, an active volcano, breathtaking sunsets that are all part of its romantic and picturesque scenery. With a lot of attractions, I’m gonna tell you which are my top seven things to do in Santorini.
I visited Santorini in July 2014 and had an unforgettable time! As soon as I arrived there I was overwhelmed by its beauty. And however the island can be considered too touristy you should visit it at least once.
Top 7 things to do in Santorini
1 – Archeological sites
I decided to start my top things to do in Santorini visiting an archeological site and some exotic beaches. The best way to move around in Santorini is by car, motorcycle or even tricycles. As I was by myself and decided to use public transportation, which is totally fine in the island, because buses depart every 30min from Fira’s main square to basically all main villages and beaches. To Akrotiri city it took around 40min to get there, and the bus stopped exactly in front of the entrance. The archeological site of Akrotiri, the first of my top seven things to do in Santorini, is one of the most important Minoan Bronze Age settlements of the Aegean Sea, and it transports visitors back to those ancient times. The city is a huge acclimatized hangar full of ruins from the fifteen millennium BC when it was a small and fisherman village. Some of the ruins are very well preserved and I could even identify houses and pots, and learn about old civilizations. The visit takes around one hour and you can do it by yourself but I highly recommend hiring a guide.
2 – Exotic Beaches
From Akrotiri city I walked around 15min under the strong sun to the Red Sand Beach. I was really excited to see a red beach for the first time, especially because I didn’t even know that red beaches exist… The access to the beach is not easy, and because of that most of the people just take a glance and leave. The view from the top is very eccentric: a huge red hill with the beach underneath of it, red sand and blue water. I was in awe!
The hike to beach takes around 10min. The problem is once you get there basically there is no place to stay. The area near the cliff is closed due to the risk of falling rocks, but even though you see people sunbathing there. There’s a bar at the end of the beach where much people gather and lie down on the rocky area to enjoy this unique beach. Yet the Red Beach Santorini is beyond the occasional and quite interesting to visit. The sand is mixed with seaweed and it’s very soft. The contrast of the blue water with the red sand and the geologic formation is phenomenal.
Because of its volcanic formation Santorini beaches range from white, red, and black sand beaches.
From the Red sand beach you can take a boat to a white sand beach, which is considered one of the best beaches in Santorini. Unfortunately when I visited it, the boat was not running due to water conditions (it was rough because of the wind). So, I hiked back all the way to the bus stop and took two buses to Persia Beach, one of Santorini’s black sand beaches. The black sand beaches offer much better infrastructure and boasts restaurants, bars and beach facilities. The water is so crystalline and the landscape is dotted with impressive Rocky Mountains, which makes the area very unique. Visiting these Exotic Beaches is the second of my top seven things to do in Santorini.
From Perissa you can visit Ancient Thira, another archeological site, and Kamari Beach, another black sand beach in Santorini.
3 – A path with stunning vistas
I took the bus back to Fira terminal and from there I took the waterfront path to Firostefani where I stayed. The path is situated of the top of the cliff and it goes all the way from Fira to Oia (around 10Km). All the time I faced the caldera (volcano’s crater) and passed by charming cubist white houses and hotels. The view is breathtaking and there are plenty of options to take great pictures. For all this reasons the Path from Fira to Oia is the number three of my top things to do in Santorini.
I arrived at the hotel right on time to see the sunset from my balcony. Santorini claims to have the most beautiful sunset in the world and it might be…
4 – Fira
At night I went to Fira, the capital of the main island, which has the hottest nightlife in Santorini. The town boasts hundreds of shop stores, restaurants, bar and clubs. The atmosphere is really cool, full of beautiful and well-dressed people walking around its picturesque alleys having ice cream, browsing and taking pictures. Restaurants and stores have reasonable prices and it is a good place for dining, tasting some local wines and getting a souvenir from the island. Visiting Fira is definitely one of the best places to visit in Santorini.
Fira is the best place to stay in Santorini if you’re using public transportation. I stayed in Firostefani, just a short walk from Fira. Imerovigli is one the best place to stay in Santorini in my opinion. Santorini hotels located on this area are very charming and tend to have higher price.
If you prefer a more “low key” holiday you can stay on the other side of the island facing the beach.
5 – Boat trip
Santorini is a complex of volcanic islands, and what many people don’t know is that one of these islands has an active volcano. On my second day, I decided to do a day trip to hike the volcano and visit the other islands. The boat departed from Athinios port (for ferry and commercial boats) and most of the agencies offers free pick up service.
The first stop of the boat was on a little dock, on Nea Kameni Island, the start point to the hike. The hike to the volcano was easy, with a trail to follow, full of up and down, but there was no shade at all, and it took around 1 hour. The surface was very weird though with tons of black rocks surrounding the trail and seemed like a sci-fi movie set… A guide explained curious facts about the volcano eruptions and Santorini’s formation and culture. In some points I actually could feel the sulphurous heat from the underground steam vents. From the volcano I was able to see the other islands that form Santorini and have breathtaking views. Yet it was an odd and unique experience to hike an active volcano!
The second stop of the the boat was to visit the hot springs, very close to the first one. After hiking the volcano for an hour under the sun I was so eager to jump into the water and get covered with mud.
The guide explained the water was red-orangish because of the iron, and whether the mud was good or not to my body I covered it like a sculptor. Something that I regretted because it was so hard to wash it out and until today I have one polo with some stains from the mud. It was a singular and yet fun experience though.
The third stop of the tour was Thirasia Island. The island was very quite and completely opposite from the main island Thira, without the tourist bustle. After having lunch in one of the many waterfront restaurants, I was not feeling like hiking to the top of the island, not even riding a donkey to top. I just lay down on the rocky area, enjoyed the warm crystal-clear pristine water, and admired the colossal mountains formation.
The final and last stop of my excursion was Oia (Ia), on the north island of the main island Thira. This boat trip is the fifth of my top seven things to do in Santorini.
6 – The most picturesque and charming village
We arrived at Oia’s port and from there I had two options to get into town: walk on the steps or ride a donkey for 5 euros. I decided to make all the steps, stopping to take pictures and watching the spectacular landscape.
As I was going up, dozens of donkeys were coming down ringing their bells while their master was resonating something like a Greek song. I got that “song” stuck in mind… When I reached the top some of the donkeys were running away and the Greek “singer” asked me to help him holding some of them…
Oia is the most scenic, beautiful, touristy, expensive and famous Santorini points of interest. This small town boasts all type of accommodations especially boutique hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs and luxury stores. Plenty of whitewashed cubist houses only colored by bougainvillea flowers or blue-domed churches makes Oia so picturesque and romantic, and if you like travel photography you will love it. Of course Oia could not be out of the best Santorini attractions.
7 – Santorini sunset
But a visit to Santorini cannot be completed without seeing the sunset, which is considered one of the most beautiful in the world.
After wandering around the alleys of Oia and taking some pictures I went to the ruins of a castle where people say is the best spot to see the sunset. Every corner, alley, restaurants, balconies and all the area surrounding the castle was full of sunset lovers waiting for the most expected time of the day. Some people even got on their spot over 2 hours earlier. The sunset in Santorini is like a cult and nobody wants to miss it, neither do I…
The castle is on the edge of a cliff and from there I had a view of the sun setting just in front of a cliff draped with whitewashed houses and an old windmill on the top of it. As the sun started to curve towards the sea, the sky was painted with layers of yellow and orange and the whitewashed houses seemed like to gleam these colors. As it was getting dark and the sun became a small glitter dot in the middle of the ocean, shades of gold, orange and amber pictured the sky, and the white houses lighted up like candles sparkling on the crepuscule. It was an otherworldly moment!
Watching the Santorini sunset, whether in Firostefani, Oia or any other village, is the number seven of my best things to do in Santorini.
My last day in Santorini I still had time to have breakfast with a view of the caldera and visiting a museum. The Museum of Prehistoric Thira, is close to the bus terminal in Fira, and it reveals treasures and the evolution of the old civilization of the Cycladic Islands. The museum is very small and yet interesting. There are pottery, beautiful wall paintings from Akrotiri, and a statue of golden goat.
The visit did not take more than one hour and from there I took the bus to the port and the ferry to Mykonos. I did not have chance to take the cable car to Fira’s Old Port which provides beautiful view of Santorini.
Santorini is one of the most picturesque islands in the world! Still it looks so gorgeous in pictures, however no pictures can transfer the grandiosity of Santorini. And this is the reason one should visit it at least once.
- If you’re thinking about visiting Mykonos you can spend few days in Ios, a small island between Santorini and Mykonos. On this post you can find Things to do in Ios.
Planning a Trip to Santorini
- Where is Santorini located?
Santorini is an island in the southern Aegean Sea, about 200 km (120 mi) southeast of Greece’s mainland (check map here).
- How to get to Santorini?
There are only two ways to get to Santorini: by boat or airplane.
∗ There are ferryboats connecting Santorini to other Greek islands. The most common routes from / to are: Athens, Crete and Mykonos.
From and to Athens: the conventional ferry takes around from 6 to 8h with Blue Star Ferries and it costs 39.50 euros; and the high speed ferry takes between 3-4h with Hellenic Seaways and it costs 68.50 euros.
∗ By airplane: there is an international airport in Santorini that receives flights from Athens during the whole year, and international flights during the high season. The companies that operate from Athens to Santorini airport are: Aegean Air, Ryan Air and Volotea (only high season) .
- When is the best time to go to Santorini?
The best time to visit Santorini is from May to September when the sun is shining, the temperatures are high and chances of rain are minimum. To avoid crowds pick the months of May and September, and no worries because the weather in Santorini is still good at this time of the year.
- Where to stay in Santorini?
I stayed at Vallas Apartment in Firostefani, and if you’re looking for hotels in Santorini my recommendation are:
∗ Luxury: On the Rocks; Aliko Luxury Suites; Pegasus Suites & Spa; Aqua Luxury Suites Santorini; and Annabel’s Luxury Suites.
∗ Great Cost/benefit: Senses Boutique Hotel; Krokos Villas; Antennas Apartments; and Santorini View.
∗ Budget: Rhapsody Traditional Apartments; Aelia by Elton;.
- Travel Costs
Three nights at Vallas Apartment: 255 euros (with breakfast included).
Local bus: depend on the itinerary but the average prince is 2 euros.
Boat trip: 45 euros
∗ Prices of summer 2014.
Helpful links to enjoy this Top 7 things to do in Santorini
∗ This post was converted into an app, and you can get it clicking here.