Santorini (Thira) is globally acknowledged for its unique landscape, crafted by the forces of nature that govern the volcano in the centre of the island.
Apart from the breathtaking landscape, Santorini has some of the most beautiful and picturesque villages in Cyclades and Greece in general, since they are hanging from the cliffs. Clearly the view towards the volcano is rated as one of the best on the planet.
Santorini has been an active island from the ancient times, with a thriving civilisation, based on shipping and trade, closely related to Crete and the Minoans. In later times it had more or less the same history as with the other Cyclades, passing from the Byzantines to the Venetians and then later back to the Greeks.
Currently, Santorini is one of the hottest global vacation brand names, along with Mykonos, and has many hotels, apartments, rooms, studios, campings, etc. to choose from.
what do I need to see in Santorini
Fira – The capital of the island, centrally placed, hanging from the cliff, offering a direct view to the volcano and all the amenities and fun of a capital, while remaining picturesque. It is the capital of the island, centrally placed at 10km away from the Port of Athinios.
It is built amphitheatrically hanging from the cliff, offering a direct view to the volcano and probably the best view you have ever seen. Try to find accommodation with volcano-view since it is definitely worth it to wake up in the morning and see such a view.
The village of Fira has expanded due to the tourism explosion of the island and along with Firostefani and Imerovigli form a large village on top of the cliff, offering lots of places to stay, drink, eat and enjoy the view. You can stroll around the alleys at the edge of the cliff, shop at the numerous traditional and modern shops, or do some serious clubbing in the various bars and clubs. Fira has many hotels, apartments, rooms, studios, etc. to choose from.
In order to appreciate the more quite side of Fira you can walk around the small churches, monasteries (Orthodox and Catholic) and the Archaeological Museum. On the right side while looking at the volcano you will see Skaros an impressive rock formation where an old Venetian castle used to be. To the right, behind the volcano, you will see Thirasia a small island with two tiny villages. This island is part of the original island of Santorini before the eruption of the volcano, and it offers an equally magnificent opposite view of the island.
Oia – Pronounced Ea, the most beautiful and picturesque village, hanging from the cliff on the north side of island and acknowledged for its unique views and magnificent sunset, where the sun falls in the sea. It is ideal for more quite vacations, strolls around the alleys, romantic diners, breathtaking views and elegant shopping. Oia gives you a different view of the islands that constitute the volcano (Palia & Nea Kameni) and of the small island of Thirasia. All views are breathtaking. From Oia you can also take the boat to Thirasia. Oia has many hotels, apartments, rooms, studios, etc. to choose from.
Akrotiri – The most important archaeological site of Santorini with amazing two and three-storey buildings and prehistoric findings dating back to 3000 BC. Akrotiri is a Minoan city, related to those found in Crete, demonstrating the strong presence of Minoan civilisation in the area. The houses had impressive frescos of flowers, dolphins, everyday scenes, fishing, boxing, etc. depicting the life on the island and demonstrating the excellence of this civilisation. These frescos are now in the Archaeological Museum in Athens. The whole site is very impressive since the buildings have been well preserved due to the volcanic soil.
Very close to the archaeological site you will find the Red beach, one of the most beautiful beaches of the island. You leave your car at the white church and then take the footpath to the beach.
Volcano – The volcano is clearly the main attraction of the island although you should not expect to see boiling lava rivers, just two small islands of lava called Palia (old) and Nea (new) Kameni (burned).
Apart from seeing the volcano from every cliff, in order to have a hands-on experience of it you have take the daily cruises that take you there and then to the hot springs and Thirasia.
Be prepared for a hot and tiring day, but it is definitely something new. The walk from the makeshift port, at the island of Nea Kameni, towards the crater is around 20 minutes and you will see a crater and some holes where sulphur steam comes from. Nothing extremely special, apart from the arid volcanic landscape, the rock formations and the view of the island.
Then you will go back to the boat that will take you to the hot springs at the island of Palia Kameni where you can take your warm mud bath in bubbling waters. Then back to the boat to the small island Thirasia for food and relaxation.
Monolithos, Perissa, Kamari, Red beaches – These are the main beaches of the island. Monolithos, Perissa and Kamari are on the east side and have black sand and fairly deep waters. They are the busiest beaches of Santorini, with lots of restaurants, taverns, bars and beach-bars. This is where the beach action takes place. This area has many hotels, apartments, rooms, studios, campings, etc. to choose from.
The Red beach, which obviously has red sand, is close to Akrotiri and you get there by car and then on foot. It is one of the most beautiful beaches you have ever seen.
The White beach, which has white sand, is accessible by boat from Akrotiri and tends to be more quiet. I have also heard that Vlychada is another excellent beach with breathtaking (lunar) landscape which also tends to be quiet.
More information on Santorini from wikipedia, here.
hints & tips about Santorini
- Most of the night life action is concentrated in Fira where you will find numerous bars playing from mainstream dance to indie and classical music. I am sure that you will find what is appropriate for you whether or not it offers a volcano-view.
- Oia offers a more quite life and that is why it is preferred by couples and all those who want to relax and enjoy the beauty of the island.
- A beautiful internal village is Pyrgos situated on the highest mountain of the island offering an overview of the island and excellent food at the local taverns. Pyrgos means castle in Greek and the village used to be the safe place for the inhabitants of the island in the case of pirate attacks.
- While you are in Santorini taste the local cuisine that offers fava, tomatokeftedes, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh fish, excellent local wine, vinsanto, local sweets and other delicacies.
- The vines in Santorini survived the phylloxera outbreak and they are considered some of the best vines globally, giving unique wines due to their age, the volcanic terroir and the local climate. If you are into wine you will be amazed by the complexity of the flavours and the uniqueness of the varieties and the combinations.
- The locals cultivate short vine trees and in order to protect them from the high winds they weave their branches and the trees look like baskets. You can enjoy the local wine at the various taverns and restaurants, or even take a wine-tasting tour to the local wineries.
- Do not forget to visit the local wineries of Santorini. They are called canaves and you will have the chance to taste and buy great wine.
- In the last few years, a number of local microbreweries also appeared in Santorini. They produce excellent beers that share wine-like characteristics, blending local ingredients and offering unique tastes.
- You can visit the small island of Thirasia by taking one of those daily cruises that take you to the volcano, the hot springs and finally Thirasia.
- Sometimes it is nice to stay at Akrotiri where things are quieter, cheaper and the volcano-view is equally breathtaking. The only drawback is that you will definitely need a car to get there.
- Choose your room to have a direct sea view of the volcano. You will pay much more but you are in Santorini for this main purpose and it is definitely worth it. You do not need to go into any of the cafes and restaurants offering the same view.
- Pay attention to your room selection since there are lots of rooms dug into the volcanic soil and they are usually humid.
- Fira is the most touristy place in Santorini and tends to be extremely touristy during the hot summer months (July, August).
- In general Oia is considered more expensive than Fira. If you are willing to buy land or other property at Oia you should know that it is the most expensive in Greece.
- While you are at Oia you can swim at Amoudi, the small sandy beach at the end of the stairs.
- Perissa beach is also known for its underground waters.
- The name Santorini comes from Santa Irini, the name of a saint, while the original name of the island was Thira.
- In ancient times Santorini had a circular shape and therefore it was called Strongili, which in Greek means circular. The volcano eruption has radically changed the shape of the island since most of it sank, creating today’s caldera.
- It is believed that the eruption of the Volcano in the ancient times (around 1500 BC) is responsible for the destruction of the Minoan civilisation in Crete.
- The volcano is still active and the last eruption happened in 1956 causing severe damages.
- It is believed that Santorini is the ancient-mythical Atlantis, which has also been sunken.
- If you are into archaeology apart from Akrotiri you have to visit Ancient Thira at the Mesa Vouno area.
- If you happen to participate in one of those cruises that take to Santorini, your boat will stop under Fira and you will take smaller boats to the tiny port of Fira. From there you will get to the village on the top of the cliff by a cable-car or by riding donkeys. Both as equally fascinating and we suggest to take the cable-car upwards and the donkey downwards.
- Santorini is one of the most popular wedding vacations destination since the whole environment is considered massively romantic. So beware of the couples kissing while being breath-taken by the view and the sunset.
- If you visit the volcano be prepared for a hot and tiring day of walking in a dry landscape of frozen lava. Wear easy clothes, sports shoes-sandals, do not miss the hat and your camera and have plenty of water with you. If you visit the hot springs be prepared for a swim in mud-waters, so do not wear your most expensive swimming outfit.
- If you arrive to Santorini early in the morning the entrance to the island is memorable. You see the cliffs and the white houses built hanging from them, the sea is calm and you may also see dolphins.
- If you want to enjoy the magnificent view from Skaros at Imerovigli be prepared for a long walk and choose a late afternoon hour when the sun is setting.
- On the way to Firostefani do not forget to visit the Monastery of Agios Nikolaos, established in 1651.
- I think that there are still some daily cruises that give you the chance to swim in the very deep waters between the volcano and the main island.
- In Santorini you will find many hotels, apartments, rooms, studios, campings, etc. to choose from.