The Cyclades are the most famous and visited Greek islands. The great jewel of this Aegean archipelago is Santorini, an island of volcanic origin kissed by the sun and bathed by astonishingly blue waters that has enchanted travelers from all over the world for generations.
They are lured by the typical image of a coastal village of white houses with blue roofs but then discover that Santorini is much, much more. Experience adventure, gastronomy, history, ecotourism, archeology, sports... Are you ready to enjoy the vacation of a lifetime? Check out the top 10 things to see and do in Santorini!
1. Sail the waters of Santorini by boat
Santorini is an island with a seafaring soul. Marvel at the cliffs crowned with white houses of blue roofs from the water, discovering the beautiful postcard views of Santorini aboard a boat.
In fact, the popular day trips to sail the caldera of the volcano of Santorini will take you to see the island in all its glory, as well as other places of great interest such as the Nea Kameni islet, the crater of the volcano, the hot springs of Palea Kameni, the historic lighthouse of Santorini, Indian Rock or the photogenic red and white beaches, among others.
These excursions usually last several hours and are a lot of fun. Some of them also organize Greek-style barbecues with music and dinner before watching the sunset from the middle of the sea.
It is a magnificent experience that every traveler should live in Santorini at least once. If you want to know in detail how are these boat trips on the island and what are the options, you should check out this article where I explain everything in detail: The best cruises and boat trips in Santorini.
2. See the best sunset in Santorini
Santorini is said to have the most beautiful sunset in the Aegean Sea. A mantra repeated by so many travelers who have set foot on the island, which has become a powerful siren song capable of attracting so many others who dream of also witnessing the sunset in such an idyllic place.
Actually, the fame of Santorini's sunset is more than justified. It is a hypnotic spectacle, to see the landscape of whitewashed houses and blue domes over the volcanic cliffs that stretch to the horizon where the sun hides to give way to the stars.
Nobody wants to miss this moment and there are many places from where you can enjoy the sunset in Santorini. Here are some of the most outstanding ones:
It is the most popular place to watch the sunset in Santorini. The best free options are the windmill or the ruins of the Venetian castle, although the latter is usually crowded so I advise you to go a couple of hours before to find a spot.
However, don't worry if you don't make it because in Oia there are many bars with terrace viewpoints where you can enjoy the moment while having a drink and vibing to the music.
However, if you are looking for a quieter and more secluded place to watch the sunset in Santorini I recommend you to visit the Katharos beach, one kilometer away from Oia. Watching the sunset on this practically virgin beach hidden between cliffs is a marvel.
The capital of Santorini has many viewpoints to watch the sunset for free. I recommend the ones on the road that goes from the Orthodox Cathedral to Kato Thira to contemplate the immensity of the Aegean at twilight.
As in Oia, in Fira you can also enjoy the sunset from one of the bars with terrace-viewpoint to the sea. If you choose this option, I advise you to make a reservation in advance to ensure a place.
Oia and Fira are the most popular places to see the sunset in Santorini, but a few kilometers inland is Pyrgos, a charming medieval village from where you can also watch the sunset without crowds.
Moreover, being the highest point of the island you can enjoy spectacular views of the sunset in this corner of the Cyclades archipelago. The best place? From the monastery of the prophet Elijah.
Watching the sunset can be one of the most romantic things to do in Santorini. If you are looking for an intimate and secluded place to watch it as a couple, in the vicinity of the Akrotiri lighthouse towards the southern part of the island you will find breathtaking scenery.
An excellent way to enjoy the sunset in Santorini is to take a cruise along the coastline of the island. Not only will you have the opportunity to contemplate the most beautiful sunset in the Aegean, but during the boat ride, you will also have time to explore the coastline of this corner of the Cyclades archipelago by sea and land, to climb to the top of the volcano of Santorini, to snorkel, to swim in hot springs and even to enjoy a barbecue. Sounds great, doesn't it?
3. Swim at the best beaches
Santorini is a place blessed by nature with some of the most beautiful beaches in the Aegean. Landscapes of turquoise waters and coves of black, white, and red sand that look like something out of a postcard.
For such a small island, Santorini surprises its visitors with its variety of beaches. There are beaches of all colors and for all ages. During your vacation in Greece, something you can't miss is to just lie in the sun, and here are the coolest beaches in Santorini to do it:
It is considered the best beach on the island. Here you can snorkel, water ski, or ride jet skis. I like it because it has a fantastic atmosphere to go with friends and is surrounded by bars and beach clubs. It is also known as the black beach because of its black volcanic sand that contrasts with the intense blue of the sea.
Ideal to go with your couple or family for its quiet and cozy atmosphere. It is a very touristy beach that has a wide variety of bars and restaurants as well as playgrounds for the kids to have a great time.
One of the most photogenic beaches of Santorini thanks to the contrast between its turquoise waters and its reddish cliffs, a true wonder! As it is the only one on the whole island that has this peculiar color, this beach attracts a huge crowd of tourists and Instagrammers but it is so beautiful that you can't miss it.
It rivals in popularity with the previous one because like Red beach, it is also the only one in Santorini that has this color that contrasts so much with the water of the sea. The scenery at White Beach is simply beautiful and you can take many souvenir pictures. In addition, if you like diving you are in the right place because here you will find a jaw-dropping variety of fish to swim with.
A few kilometers from Fira is the most romantic beach of Santorini, named after the Greek god of love. Perfect for those couples seeking intimacy and escape from the crowds.
4. Go see a movie in an open-air cinema in Santorini
After a fun day at the beach, a good plan to do in Santorini is to go watch a movie at an open-air cinema.
As the island receives visitors from all corners of the world, movies are shown in English with Greek subtitles. The session starts at 9:30 p.m. although the cinema opens its doors an hour earlier so you can grab a seat and have a few cocktails until the movie starts.
This open-air cinema is located near Kamari beach and is shaped like an ancient Greek theater. It is surrounded by greenery and is decorated with candles to assure a pleasant and relaxing time. I really liked how they carefully take care of the setting to immerse you in the movie and make you feel at home.
Although it is a tiny cinema, the image and sound quality are good and the screen looks good from all angles. The ticket price is quite reasonable (€ 8) so I totally recommend the experience if you want to do something original in Santorini.
- Where: Open Air Cinema Kamari
- Price: € 8 per ticket
- When: Open from May to October
- Schedule: The theater opens at 8:30 p.m. and the movie starts at 9:30 p.m.
5. Visit Akrotiri, the Greek Pompeii
If you are passionate about history, one of the most interesting places to see in Santorini is undoubtedly the Akrotiri archaeological site.
It is an ancient Bronze Age city that, like Pompeii, succumbed to the terrible eruption of the Thera volcano in the 16th century BC, which destroyed this prosperous Aegean town that was closely linked to the Minoan civilization.
By remaining buried under the ashes and the remains of lava, Akrotiri has been preserved in very good condition for thousands of years, and today we can know how life in this city related to the legend of Atlantis was through the utensils, vessels, sculptures and wall paintings that have been found.
The history of Akrotiri in Santorini is exciting and somewhat unknown to the general public. Therefore, my recommendation is that you take a tour of the site so that a local guide will show you the ruins in detail and explain the importance of the city in ancient times.
For example, the theories about what happened to the inhabitants of Akrotiri at the time of the volcanic eruption because, unlike what happened in Pompeii, this Greek island is a complete mystery. You'll have a great time!
6. Take a tour of Oia and Fira
If during your vacations on the island you want to experience the thrill of adventure, one of the coolest activities to do in Santorini is to make a 6-mile route between Fira and Oia that connects these tourist towns with others such as Firostefani and Imerovigli.
Completing it will take you between 3 and 5 hours but the views along the way are spectacular and will allow you to experience the magic of Santorini: from its beautiful white villages to the mountains, the volcano, and the islands that make up the Cyclades archipelago.
The trail along the way has wonderful views of the volcanic caldera of Santorini, especially between Firostefani and Fira. During the hike you will be able to take many souvenir photos and you will also learn about the history and culture of Santorini.
Although the level of difficulty of this route is relatively easy and much of the trail is paved, to do it you should be in at least an average physical condition because there are rocky and steep sections that can be a bit difficult if you are not used to hiking. In addition, I recommend wearing comfortable shoes because you are going to walk a lot. That is, no flip-flops!
Isabel's Traveler Tip
If you visit Santorini in the summer do this route early in the morning to avoid the hot hours. Another option is to leave in the afternoon and arrive in Oia just in time to see the sunset.
7. Climb the volcano, the best excursion in Santorini
One of the most popular tourist attractions to see in Santorini is its volcano, responsible for an immense eruption in the 16th century BC that transformed the landscape of the Aegean as the caldera collapsed and gave rise to the small group of islands of Santorini that we know today.
Many researchers believe that this is where the mythical Atlantis of which Plato spoke in his stories could be found and that it succumbed to the force of nature thousands of years ago.
So whether you are on the trail of this legendary island of antiquity or you enjoy ecotourism, an excursion to the islet of Nea Kameni and the hot springs of Palea Kameni is a must during your Santorini getaway.
This activity can be perfectly done in one morning as it will only take you a few hours. I advise you to schedule it early because if you visit Santorini during the summer you can get very hot and on these volcanic islets there are no trees to shelter from the sun.
What will you see on the tour?
First, you will visit Nea Kameni, an uninhabited islet in the central part of the Santorini caldera. The ascent to the top of the volcano is done by walking for about 20-30 minutes along a small path.
During the ascent you will be able to observe a blackish desert landscape that contrasts with the bright blue sea that surrounds it. Also, the fumaroles that the active volcano gives off. In fact, the smell of sulfur is quite intense and if you dig a little in the ground you can find stones so hot that they burn your hand if you touch them.
After the walk around the volcano of Santorini, the next stop of the tour is the hot springs of Palea Kameni, where you can relax for a while swimming or taking a mud bath. They are said to have medicinal properties!
Finally, the last stop of the excursion is Thirasia Island where you can enjoy the beauty of its coves and have lunch in one of its typical restaurants.
Isabel's Traveler Tip
Don't forget to bring comfortable shoes for this excursion as well as sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water in your backpack to be prepared for a suffocating heat.
8. Enjoy the gastronomy of Santorini
During your getaway to this corner of the Cyclades archipelago, there is no doubt that a gastronomic tour is another must-do in Santorini, as a delicious and fun way to understand the culture of the Greek people.
Santorini, like all of Greece, can boast a delicious gastronomy based on excellent Mediterranean products and oriental influences through spices. If you consider yourself a "foodie", in Santorini you will really enjoy eating because you will find numerous restaurants and bars where you can taste some of the best Greek specialties.
Try fava hummus (fava bean cream), dolmades (rice or beef morsels wrapped in vine leaves), keftedes (vegetarian meatballs), gyros (Greek-style kebab), and roast lamb or sun-dried octopus (two very typical dishes of the island).
Besides, Santorini is famous for its wine cellars and the quality of its wines such as the white wine Nychtery, very appreciated on the island. And don't forget to try an ice-cold Donkey, the typical Santorini beer.
9. Discover the old port of Fira and Amoudi
Don't forget to include a visit to the old port of Fira and Amoudi in your travel plan. It is another of the most beautiful and authentic places to see in Santorini.
The old port of Fira was the main port of the island of Santorini until it was replaced by the port of Athinios. From it, you can take boats that make excursions to the volcano of Santorini although if you have already visited it, I recommend you to go to the old port of Fira to have dinner in one of its restaurants and enjoy the sunset views.
To access the old port of Fira you can take the cable car, climb the more than 500 steps on foot or ride a donkey. I recommend using the cable car because it offers beautiful views and the trip is very fast. The ticket costs € 6.
The Port of Amoudi is another of the most charming places to see in Santorini. It is a small port located below the village of Oia and I recommend you to visit it because it offers beautiful views of the contrast between the turquoise blue sea and the reddish cliffs of this part of the island.
Amoudi can be reached by car, riding a donkey, or walking down the 300 steps from the castle of Oia. On this occasion, I advise you to do the walk and enjoy the breathtaking scenery on the way.
10. Organize an epic road trip around Santorini
Another way to get to know the island is to rent a car for a road trip. A very original plan to do in Santorini that does not require too much preparation. Just a rental car, a backpack with a few bottles of water and snacks and a map to find your way around the island.
Don't just stick to Santorini's coastal villages and get ashore to explore it! Drive from end to end and see its villages, cliffs, beaches, lighthouses, and viewpoints to contemplate the grandeur of the Aegean Sea and its unforgettable sunset.
At the end of the tour, head back to your starting point following the circular route. You will come back with lots of souvenir pictures and an unforgettable experience to add to your travel log.