White-washed buildings on a crescent-shaped island facing four other islands… That is Santorini, a set of islands in the southern part of the Cycladic islands of Greece. So what are some things to do in Santorini?
Santorini is one of the most popular islands in the Aegean Sea and rightly so! To begin with, it’s a volcano. The villages and towns painted in white are built onto the rim of the caldera. The blue domes on many of the buildings add a dash of color and make sure that the buildings match with the color of the sea. The views from the top parts of the island or the foot of the cliffs are all picture-perfect. AND it enjoys a Mediterranean climate. It also has a wide range of activities for tourists who set foot on the island. Here are the top 10 things you can do in Santorini:
1. Do a walking tour of the villages
You can’t go to Santorini and not walk through its towns and villages and explore the alleys & backroads of the communities coated in white. The paths and steps up and down the hills are cobblestoned and pedestrian-friendly. Fira, Firostefani & Imerovigli at the center of the main island can be explored together – they are within walking distance of one another!
Fira (Thera, as your navigation system might insist!) is the capital town of the island. It’s where you go to check out Santorini’s nightlife. It’s also where Santorini’s biggest shopping center is. If you are not into shopping, you can still walk the streets, grab a drink at one of the tavernas and take in views of the caldera. You can even walk down the zigzagging path to the port down there. If you are not in the mood for a downhill walk but you would still like to see the port area, take the cable cars! And if you’d rather just stay on the top of those cliffs, you could browse through the Museum of Prehistoric Thera or Archaeological Museum of Thera.
A 15-minute walk north on the rim of the caldera will take you to Firostefani. It is quieter than the town of Fira and acts as the suburb of the capital town. In fact, Firostefani itself means the crown of Fira. Several of the traditional buildings here house restaurants so you could order something and enjoy views of the caldera or watch the sunset. Make sure you don’t leave there without photographing the Three Bells of Fira.
Another 15 minutes further north will take you to the sleepy village of Imerovigli. This place also has some restaurants offering you good food plus gorgeous views.
2. Hike the Rim
Another awesome thing to do when you are in Santorini is hiking the rim. We know Santorini was built on the caldera rim. Also built here is a trail between Fira and Oia, a town at the northern tip of the island. A good part of the trail is paved but there are parts of it where you will wonder if you are even on the right path. Just keep going north and if you need to take directions from people, ask for Ee-uh (that’s how they pronounce Oia).
You can go either way: Fira to Oia or the other way round but most people prefer to start at the south so that they can catch the sunset at Oia. You can also take some detours into Firostefani and Imerovigli.
3. Watch the sun go down at Oia or go down to Amoudi Bay
Oia is said to be the best place to watch the sun go down. And the most popular location in town to witness the end of day is the Oia Castle, but let me warn you that it might be crowded even if it’s not tourist season.
While you are in Oia you might also want to find a place to have dinner with the fine view that the town offers.
If it’s not late in the day, you could walk down the cliffs to Amoudi Bay. That’s also the best place for a swim in the Caldera (in just how many places can you swim in the mouth of a volcano?!). And, people who are into cliff jumping say Saint Nicholas Island in the bay is the place for that.
4. Make a day trip to the middle of the volcano
Nea Kameni, the island in the middle of the caldera is a volcanic one. Nea Kameni is the new(er) volcano around here with an eruption as recent as 1950. Take a boat to the island and you will get to hike the rim of the smaller volcano & see some steam vents that show you that this volcano is still active. The views from the rim are needless to say, incredible.
5. Jump into the hot springs of Palea Kameni
The smaller island southwest of Nea Kameni is Palea Kameni, the ‘old volcano’ in the caldera. The old burnt island as it is locally known, is a swimming distance from the ‘new volcano.’ If you can swim a little over a 100-meters, you can jump into the hot springs of Palea Kameni. I must also tell you that the water at the springs is not exactly hot and steaming. It’s just a bit warmer than the seawater, but it’s an awesome thing to do in Santorini.
The village of Akrotiri is in the southern part of Santorini and is built around an ancient fortress. However, most visitors travel to this side to see the ruins of the Minoan settlement that was buried under volcanic ash.
Only a small portion of the ancient complex has been excavated but if you walk on the ramps here you will get an idea of life in the early centuries and see some pottery, frescoes, staircases and storage areas of the times.
7. Indulge in a wine-tour
Santorini has a successful wine industry going on thanks to its warm climate. Go wine tasting at one or a few of the many wineries on the island. Some of them even come with a caldera-view to complete the experience. You might even want to visit a vineyard to see how Santorini grows its grapes. The vines are kept close to the ground to protect them from the strong winds that blow here.
You can also delve into Santorini’s wine history at Wine Museum Koutsoyannopoulos in Vothonas (on the way to Kamari). The museum is in a cave a few meters below the ground and has wine-tasting on-site.
8. Take in the views from Akrotiri Lighthouse
The 19th-century lighthouse is Navy property and cannot be entered but the views from here are ones to savor. The lighthouse is in the southwestern tip of the crescent-shaped island, so the sights from here include that of the rest of the big island of Thera as well as the smaller islands of the western rim of the caldera and the two islands in the middle of the caldera.
9. Relax at the beaches of the south
Santorini’s popular beaches are to the south (and southeast) of the island. There are some black sand beaches that owe their existence to the volcanic activity on the island. You can relax at Monolithos Beach where the sand is black and the water is shallow and family-friendly. Kamari Beach and Perissa Beach nearby are also black sand beaches. There are some good restaurants around these beaches, too.
Go further west and you will be able to see a red sand beach as well as a white sand beach.
10. Watch an outdoor movie
The Greeks love watching movies out in the open, so this offers you a unique option in the list of things to do in Santorini. You can have an experience of that at the open-air cinema at Kamari. Here, you pick a drink and sit down to an English movie with Greek subtitles.