The Cyclades are the most famous and visited Greek islands. The great jewel of this archipelago in the Aegean Sea is Santorini, an island of volcanic origin kissed by the sun and bathed by amazingly blue waters that has enchanted travelers from around the world for generations.
They arrive attracted by the typical image of a seaside village of white houses with blue roofs but they leave with a lot of experiences lived because Santorini is much more. It is 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. Contemplating from the water its silhouette of cliffs with peaks crowned with white houses with blue roofs is a marvel. So during your vacation I recommend you to discover the beautiful postcard views of Santorini aboard a boat.
In fact, are very popular excursions to sail through the caldera of the volcano of Santorini from where you can see the island in all its splendor as well as other places of great interest such as the islet Nea Kameni, 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 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 options there are, I advise you to read the article The best cruises and boat trips in Santorini where I explain everything in detail.
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 with a magical touch, where the landscape of whitewashed houses and blue domes over the volcanic cliffs crosses 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. These are some of the most outstanding and through which many of the Santorini tours pass:
This is the most popular place to watch the sunset in Santorini. To see it for free, the best places 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 get space.
However, don't worry if you don't make it because in Oia there are many bars with terrace-viewpoint where you can enjoy the moment having a drink, relaxed in your seat and listening to music.
Now, if you are looking for a quieter and more secluded place to watch the sunset in Santorini I recommend you to visit Katharos beach, one kilometer from Oia. Watching the sunset on this practically virgin beach hidden between cliffs is a marvel. I recommend you to book the sunset bus tour in Oia, spectacular!
The capital of Santorini has many viewpoints to watch the sunset for free. I recommend those on the road from the Orthodox Cathedral to Kato Thira to contemplate the immensity of the Aegean during the 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. Get to know the capital and taste its delicious ice creams by booking this guided tour of Fira, which includes a round trip on the cable car.
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 it without so many crowds.
Also, 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 Elias.
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 lighthouse of Akrotiri towards the southern part of the island the scenery is breathtaking. You can tour the ruins of Akrotiri and other southern areas on this private guided tour with wine tasting.
An original way to enjoy the sunset in Santorini is by taking a cruise along the coastline of the island or renting a boat without a license. Not only will you have the opportunity to contemplate the most beautiful twilight of 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 for its variety of beaches. There are beaches of all colors and for all ages. Because during a vacation in Greece you also deserve a break and lie in the sun, some of the coolest beaches to see in Santorini are:
It is considered the best beach on the island. Here you can go snorkeling, water skiing or ride jet skis. I like it because it has a fantastic atmosphere to go with friends and it 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 the family for its quiet and cozy atmosphere. It's a very touristy beach that has a variety of bars and restaurants as well as playgrounds and leisure centers for the kids to have a great time.
One of the most photogenic of Santorini thanks to the contrast between its turquoise waters and its reddish cliffs, a spectacle for the eyes! As it is the only one on the whole island that has this peculiar color it attracts many tourists and instagramers but it is so beautiful that the crowds are worth it.
It rivals in popularity with the previous one because just as it happens to 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 landscape in White beach is beautiful and you will be able to take many souvenir photographs. In addition, if you like diving you are in the right place because here there is an abundance of fish to swim with.
Beach of Eros
A few kilometers from Fira is the most romantic beach of Santorini, named after the Greek god of love. Perfect for couples looking for peace and quiet and escape the crowds.
4. Go see a movie at an open-air cinema in Santorini.
After a fun day at the beach, a good plan to do in Santorini is to go see a movie at an outdoor 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 PM 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 Kamariy beach andis shaped like an ancient Greek theater. It is surrounded by greenery and is decorated with candles to make you spend a nice and relaxed time. I really liked how they take care of the atmosphere in detail to immerse you in the film and make you feel at ease, as if you were in the summer cinema of your village.
Although it is a tiny theater, the image and sound quality are good and the screen looks good from all angles. The ticket price is quite reasonable (8 euros) so I totally recommend the experience if you want to do something original in Santorini.
- Where: Open Air Cinema Kamari.
- Price: 8 euros per ticket.
- When: Open from May to October.
- Schedule: The cinema opens at 8:30 PM and the movie starts at 9:30 PM.
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 archaeological site of Akrotiri.
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 town in the Aegean Sea 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 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 to take a tourof the site so that a local guide can show you the ruins in detail and explain the importance of the city in antiquity.
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, in this Greek island is a mystery. You will have a great time!
6. Take a tour of Oia and Fira
If during your vacations on the island you want to live a bit of adventure, one of the coolest activities to do in Santorini is to take a 10 km route between Fira and Oia that connects these tourist towns with others like Firostefani and Imerovigli.
It will take you between 3 and 5 hours to complete 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 path along the way has wonderful views of the volcanic caldera of Santorini, especially between Firostefani and Fira, when you walk in front of it all the time. 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 I advise to have an average physical preparation as 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!
If you visit Santorini in 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 Aegean landscape as the caldera collapsed and gave rise to the small group of islands of Santorini that we know today.
Many researchers believe that the mythical Atlantis of which Plato spoke in his stories may have been found here 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, a trip to the islet of Nea Kameni and the hot springs of Palea Kameni is a must during your getaway to Santorini.
This activity can be done in one morning perfectly 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 excursion?
First you will see Nea Kameni, an uninhabited islet in the central part of Santorini's 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 through which this active volcano gives off vapors. 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 will burn your hand if you touch them.
After the walk through the volcano of Santorini, the next stop of the tour are the hot springs of Palea Kameni, where you can relax a good time swimming or taking a mud bath. They are said to have medicinal properties!
Finally, the last stop of the tour is Thirasia island where you can enjoy the beauty of its coves and have lunch in one of its typical restaurants.
Don't forget to wear comfortable shoes for this tour as well as sunscreen, a hat and plenty of water in your backpack because the heat can be suffocating.
8. Enjoy the gastronomy of Santorini
During your getaway to this corner of the Cyclades archipelago, there is no doubt that a small gastronomic tour is another of the essential things to do in Santorini because the culture of a people is cooked in the kitchen and it is a delicious and fun way to get closer to it.
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 have a lot of fun eating because you will find numerous restaurants and bars where you can taste some of the best Greek specialties.
From fava hummus (fava bean cream), dolmades (rice or beef morsels wrapped in vine leaves) and keftedes (vegetarian meatballs) to gyros (Greek-style kebab), roast lamb or sun-dried octopus (two very typical dishes of the island).
In addition, 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 a fresh 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 burrito. I recommend using the cable car because it offers beautiful views and the ride is very fast. The ticket costs 6 euros.
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 because the scenery is breathtaking.
10. Organize an epic road trip around Santorini
Another way to get to know the island is to rent a car to go on a road trip. A very original plan to do in Santorini for which not too much organization is required. Just a rental car, a backpack with a few bottles of water and something to snack and a map to find your way around the island.
Do not stay only with the coastal villages of Santorini and go 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 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.
When is the best time to travel to Santorini?
Not only the weather is not the key factor when choosing the date of a trip but one of the most important. That's why you should know that in Santorini, although it has pleasant and warm temperatures all year round, summer can be sweltering because of its Mediterranean climate (to which must be added the significant influx of tourists), while winter on the Greek island brings the rains, wind and cooler temperatures, but as expected, it will also spare you the crowds.
So it is not strange to think that spring in Santorini is the best time to discover the beauty of its landscapes and ensure you a perfect stay of about 3 days on the island. In any case, if you are wondering what to do depending on the chosen date, be sure to visit our guides with the selection of the best plans to make the most of your trip to Santorini:
- 10 things to see and do in Santorini in January
- 10 things to see and do in Santorini in February
- 10 things to see and do in Santorini in March
- 10 things to see and do in Santorini in April
- 10 things to see and do in Santorini in May
- 10 things to see and do in Santorini in September
- 10 things to see and do in Santorini in October
- 10 things to see and do in Santorini in November
- 10 things to see and do in Santorini in December