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From experiencing the thrill of the island’s nightlife, to exploring quaint fishing villages and sipping local wines surrounded by eclectic artworks, discover the best things to do in Santorini, Greece.
Santorini is undoubtedly the starlet of the Cyclades. The mesmerising sunset views, chic hotels adorned with infinity pools and a cosmopolitan crowd have made the majestic island well known as Greece’s premier destination for luxury travel. Beyond photographing the iconic whitewashed houses of Fira and Oia, Santorini offers an abundance of activities: watching movies al fresco, relaxing in thermal springs and hiking through stunning scenery.
Set in the village of Kamari, a few miles away from Fira, open-air movie theatre Cine Kamari has been in operation since 1987. A family-run business, the cinema is known for its homely and welcoming vibe. “As you enter the place you will find yourself in an enchanting secret garden, with a wonderful old fashioned quality that harks back to the golden age of cinema,” says Cine Kamari’s Ina Koutroubilis. “There are cinemas you go to just to see a film and there are those, like Cine Kamari Santorini, where you go to for a cinematic experience.” The smell of fresh popcorn lingers in the air, mingled with the sweet scent of night blooming flowers.
Housed in a complex of old winery chambers that date back to 1861, Art Space’s exhibition halls have an undoubtedly mystical feel. Owned by the Argiros family for over a century, this gallery space exhibits distilling equipment and grape-treading basins. Visitors can also see one of the last remaining pre-industrial tomato paste processing plants. Since 1999, when the two wine cellars, the old raki distillery and the large caved space of the old winery started operating as an art space, over 300 Greek and international artists have exhibited their artworks in the cavernous halls. Antonis Argiros, the present owner of the space, tells Culture Trip that the modern winery produces only 10,000 wine bottles per year – mainly for visitors to Art Space. “All of our wines are organic and we only use wild yeast during the fermentation, producing wines that reflect the terroir,” Argiros explains.
Boasting one of the most captivating landscapes, Santorini has been used as a film set in many international productions. Culture Trip asked Grigoris Sarantis, a producer at Central Athens Film Productions, about his favourite filming location on the island. “I’ve had the luck to shoot in Santorini more than 10 times, leaving the island full of emotions each time. I’m still amazed by the view from the caldera, looking across Palia Kameni isle with the cruise ships underneath,” he says. His very favourite spot, however, is Ammoudi – the tranquil fishing harbour set right at the foot of Oia. “You can take a small boat and go out to the sea, looking at the whole island, which offers great photo opportunities.”
Oia Vineyart brings together flavourful local wine and eclectic art. Run by a group of young people from diverse backgrounds, this multi-purpose space in the heart of Oia features a café-restaurant, a gift shop packed exclusively with handmade items and an art space where a variety of exhibitions and performances take place. “Featuring over 180 wine brands from Santorini’s 3,500-year-old vineyard, our aim is to combine the island’s gastronomic wealth and rich wine tradition in a place where Santorini’s culture is presented to visitors through our eyes,” says Fragiskos Markozanes, one of Oia Vineyart’s co-founders.
Santorini’s magical scenery is in large part born of the island’s volcanic activity, which has created beaches in a variety of remarkable colours. The three most stunning among these are the Red, Black and White Beaches. The Red and White Beaches lie next to each other at the southwest coast of the island, around 14 kilometres (8.7 miles) from Fira. However, the White Beach is only accessible via a boat, which departs from the Red Beach. The Black Beach (Perissa) at the southeast of the island, is nestled at the foot of Mesa mountain.
“Those seeking to escape the crowds should head to Vlychada Beach or Koloumbos Beach,” says Pavlos Roulias, a local who, though living in Athens, returns every summer to work at Santorini’s campsite. Both Vlychada and Koloumbos have long been nudist beaches and this tradition is alive and well today. Roulias notes that there’s more to Koloumbos than the sense of freedom it offers: “Koloumbos isn’t just a calm beach of astounding beauty. It’s a place that narrates part of the island’s history, as 18 metres [59 feet] beneath the water surface lies an underwater volcanic crater that was formed in 1650 AD after a volcanic eruption took place,” he explains.
Megalochori, with its name translating as ‘Big Village’, traces its history back to the 17th century. Here five-star hotels with infinity pools give way to historic mansions and traditional tavernas. On the village square, you’ll see local residents drinking potent Greek coffee and playing backgammon in the morning, while you should visit in the evening to enjoy traditional meze alongside ouzo at the popular Raki restaurant.
Fira, Santorini’s capital, is home to the island’s most-photographed view. White and blue houses are perched on the highest point of the caldera, 400 metres (1,312 feet) above sea level, dotting the island’s reddish slopes. Offering the best sunset views, Fira has also become Santorini’s most vibrant nightlife spot, with dozens of restaurants, cafes and bars popping up over recent years. For a refreshing cocktail alongside a breathtaking view over the caldera, head to Tango or the PK cocktail bar.
Sailing to the small volcanic islands that are scattered around Santorini’s archipelago caldera is an experience not to be missed. There are numerous organised tours to choose from, or you can opt to take the ferry from the island’s old port in Fira and sail to Nea Kameni, from where you can take a guided tour to the volcano. Next stop should be Palia Kameni, where the hot springs – with sulphur- and iron-rich waters – offer the perfect place for a relaxing dip. Keep in mind, though, that reaching the thermal springs requires swimming from the boat to the shore.
Follow the hiking trail from Fira to Oia, the two most beautiful towns on the island, and on your way enjoy a panoramic view of the caldera from above and explore the small villages of Imerovigli and Firostefani. The mostly cobblestoned trail is around 10 kilometres (6 miles) long, and takes 3-5 hours to complete. Though the trail is relatively easy, it is advisable to set out early during the summer months, in order to avoid hiking in the heat of the day.