With its picture-perfect blue-domed churches, spectacular sunsets, and white villages dripping like candle wax over the rim of the world’s only inhabited volcanic caldera, it’s hardly surprising that sizzling Santorini is a must-tick destination on many holidaymakers’ bucket lists.
Crammed with cultural sites – including Akrotiri, which is Greece’s very own version of Pompeii – and packed with foodie delights (don’t miss the crispy tomato fritter ntomatokedftedes), this sultry Cycladic island also has a raft of dazzling red- and black-sand beaches that are perfect for relaxing after a hard day’s sightseeing.
Our guide to the best things to do in Santorini will fill your holiday itinerary with a bit of it all.
Teetering on the volcanic caldera’s rim, Oia’s Venetian castle is the most popular spot to enjoy the super sultry sunsets for which Santorini is (justly) famed. To bag the best place, climb through Oia’s winding whitewashed alleys to the hilltop castle at least an hour beforehand, and be prepared to be jostled by the crowds.
Alternatively, grab a seat on the highest level of local-loved bar Sun Spirit, order a glass of Santorini’s syrupy Vinsanto wine and enjoy those sunset views in style.
Now you’ve gazed at the caldera from above, hop on a catamaran* leaving from Vlychada’s tiny fishing port and gawp at those towering red- and black-lava walls from below. During the half-day tour you’ll glide out to see the volcano’s blackened heart, stop off for a splash in hot springs, and sashay over to Ammoudi Bay to watch sunset with a glass of prosecco in hand.
For a more adventurous view, take a caldera tour with a local fisherman* and enjoy the sunset while helping them haul in their catch.
Grown in nest-like circles to protect them from the wind, Santorini’s vines produce some of Greece’s best wines – including syrupy-sweet dessert wine, Vinsanto. Learn more on a tour of top producer Santo Wines’ vineyards, before taking a seat in their glass-walled tasting room to enjoy sensational caldera views as you sample some of those crisp Assyrtiko whites, sparkling roses or fruity mavrotragano reds.
To learn more about the history of wine and the lives of vintners, visit the island’s unique Koutsogiannopoulos Wine Museum.
Turn your back on Fira’s dizzying caldera views and dive into the capital’s labyrinth of lanes lined with ritzy boutiques that sell everything from Greek designer wear to sweet-scented herbs and intricately crafted jewellery.
Afterwards, cool off in the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, home to Akrotiri’s jaw-dropping frescos and other Minoan artefacts or chill out in Fira’s Archaeological Museum, where ancient ceramics and antique jewellery rub shoulders with giant Kouros statues.
Known as ‘the Greek Pompeii’ because it was buried under rubble and lava during an earthquake in 1500 BC, Akrotiri is like a vivid snapshot of what life was like in Minoan times. Wandering around the site’s incredibly well-conserved three-storey houses with walls covered in colourful frescos is like stepping back in time.
Further afield you should hike to hilltop Ancient Thera, where panoramic views over the black sands of Kamari Beach provide a stunning backdrop to the crumbled 8th-century BC ruins.
Far from Santorini’s jam-packed roads, a network of ancient cobbled mule paths known as calderimi offer a breathtaking alternative way of exploring the island’s steep-walled volcanic crater. Best done in the cool of early morning – or just before sunset – the most spectacular trail runs along the rim of the volcano from Fira to Oia, via the sugar cube villages of Imerovigli and Firostefani.
To learn more about the sights en route, take a guided amble with Santorini Walking Tours.
Once topped by a magnificent medieval castle, Skaros was (incredibly) the island’s capital right up until the 18th century. Starting from Agios Georgios (the whitewashed chapel that often stars in those flying dress shoots), the 3km-long trail winds its way to tiny blue-domed chapel Panagia Theoskepasti.
It’s a challenging climb to reach the top of this wind-worn hunk of volcanic rock opposite the clifftop village of Imerovigli, but impressive views over to Oia and Santorini’s sister island Thirasia make the stiff hike worthwhile.
Santorini might be better known for its creamy white villages and chic boutique hotels perched above the world’s most famous volcanic caldera, but this Aegean-surrounded island also has a raft of volcanic sand beaches that are perfect for relaxing after a hard day’s sightseeing.
If you’re a fan of high-wired seaside spots, try Kamari, one of Santorini’s best beaches and where thrilling watersports and exhilarating nightlife come as part of the sun-soaked package. Prefer to chill out on picturesque strands covered in swathes of black- or red- volcanic sands? Striking Red Beach (Kokkini Beach) and Perissa Beach are sure to hit the spot.
Away from the caldera’s crowded edge there’s a more traditional side of Santorini that’s best discovered in the island’s smaller villages.
One of the island’s highest hamlets, Pyrgos' cobblestone paths are crammed with craft shops and small tavernas where locals sip raki and play with their komboloi (worry beads).
Further off the beaten track, Messaria’s old-style cave houses and 19th-century mansions are well worth seeking out, as are Exo Gonia’s ancient churches and traditional kafenia.
From bite-sized sugar-sweet cherry tomatoes to cloud-soft fava, a creamy puree made from the island’s taste-packed yellow split peas, Santorini has dozens of must-try foodie treats.
Make a beeline for 1800, an atmospheric restaurant housed in a 19th-century sea captain's mansion where spectacular caldera views are matched by stunning dishes (try the feather-tender squid stuffed with raisins and rice).
For a more authentic experience, head away from the caldera to the flower-filled courtyard of Metaxi Mas. Its must-try dishes include melitzanosalata made with Santorini’s sweet white aubergines.
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