The Best Things to Do in Santorini

Watch the sunset over the white-washed houses of Oia, Santorini
Watch the sunset over the white-washed houses of Oia, Santorini | © Mariano Garcia / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Konstantina Pyrnokoki
2 November 2020

Santorini, also known as Thera, is one of the best-loved Greek islands. Currently shaped like a semicircle, Santorini was once spherical and was called Strongili (meaning “round” in Greek), before a volcanic eruption broke it into smaller parts, about 3,600 years ago. Today, just above the volcano’s half-submerged caldera, you’ll find a bustling Cycladic island that looks like no other; among the many highlights are charming villages, black-sand beaches and a panoramic sunset. The list is practically endless …

Explore scenic villages

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Imerovigli and Caldera, Santorini
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Following Santorini’s cobblestone pathways is the best way to discover the island’s scenic settlements. Opt for walking instead of riding the lovely (but exhausted) donkeys.

The hike along the rim of the caldera offers some amazing views. Gaze at Oia’s white houses and domed churches, contrasting against the blue of the Aegean Sea, and take in the classic Cycladic beauty of Imerovigli, home to upscale bars, restaurants and boutique hotels. If you’re tired of walking, hop on a cable-car ride from Fira, and swing above the volcano – it’s low enough to almost feel the lava.

Watch the sunset in Oia

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Even if you’re not one of the many hopeless romantics who flock to Santorini each year, the chances of staying unmoved by the sight of the sun setting in Oia are slim. Sure, the cosmopolitan settlement may be the island’s most-visited town, but for good reason: it’s charming and world-famous for its unrivalled sunset views.

If you don’t mind crowds clapping as they watch the sun diving into the caldera, you might even find yourself in tears, clapping along, too. You old softie. To skip the crowds, the sunset from Vlychada Beach or the castle in Pyrgos village is just as enchanting.

Discover archaeological treasures

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prehistoric city of akrotiri, santorini, greece
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Santorini brims with archaeological finds, especially in Akrotiri. The ancient settlement was hit by earthquakes and a volcanic eruption in the 17th century BCE, with the molten material ultimately preserving murals, artworks and relics in a village that’s very much worth exploring.

Over on the east coast, on the Mesa Vouno mountain, you can also marvel at precious finds from the civilisation of ancient Thera. On this 365m (1,198ft) bluff, an entire Hellenistic settlement is unveiled, complete with a theatre, cemeteries, markets, pagan temples, Christian churches and baths.

Visit Santorini’s active volcano

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Just across the caldera cliff, the islets of Palea and Nea Kameni – once part of ancient orb-shaped Strongili – are living, breathing proof of the volcano that shaped Santorini and wiped out the Minoan civilisation thousands of years ago.

Embark on a boat tour from Fira, and reach the heart of the volcano in Nea Kameni, where you will be so close to the crater that you can see the smoke and smell the sulphur. Other dormant craters exist all over Santorini and are constantly under surveillance by scientists.

Swim by volcanic beaches

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Black beach of Monolithos on Santorini, Greece.
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Sculpted by ashes and lava, Santorini’s beaches are among the wildest and most exotic in the Cyclades. Black sand and pebbles, pumice cliffs and rough caves are only some of their wondrous features.

Whether you choose to swim in the crystal-clear waters of Monolithos Beach or the sulphur-filled hot springs of Palea Kameni, you’ll feel the presence of the volcano at every turn. Don’t be alarmed, though: take a dip while it’s still snoozing.

Try the local wine

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Thanks to its unique topography and climate, Santorini boasts a long tradition in viticulture. The Assyrtiko wine is the island’s main draw, followed by Athiri and Aidani – all deriving from white-grape varieties.

A blend of the three, the famous bronze-coloured, sweet Vinsanto, is produced only here. Try it at a traditional winery or a bigger establishment like Santo Wines and Venetsanos. Alternatively, book a wine tour, and drink in the wine experience to the fullest.

These recommendations were updated on November 2, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.