With multicoloured cliffs soaring above a sea-drowned caldera, Santorini looks like a giant slab of layered cake. The main island of Thira will take your breath away with its snow-drift of white Cycladic houses lining the cliff tops and, in places, spilling like icy cornices down the terraced rock. When the sun sets, the reflection on the buildings and the glow of the orange and red in the cliffs can be truly spectacular.
Santorini is no secret and draws crowds for much of the year, yet it wears its tourism crown well. The island’s intrigue reaches deep into the past, with the fascinating Minoan site of Akrotiri and the gorgeous traditional hilltop village of Oia. It also glides effortlessly into the future with accomplished artists, excellent wineries, a unique microbrewery and some of the Cyclades’ finest accommodation and dining experiences. The multicoloured beaches are simply the icing on the cake.
Santorini’s main town of Fira is a vibrant, bustling place, its caldera edge layered with hotels, cave apartments, infinity pools and swish restaurants, all backed by a warren of narrow streets full of shops and even more bars and restaurants. A multitude of fellow admirers cannot diminish the impact of Fira’s stupendous landscape; this is one of the few places in the world that actually looks better than the postcards! Views over the multicoloured cliffs are breathtaking, and at night the caldera edge is a frozen cascade of lights.
While Fira’s population is only a tad over 2000, it sprawls north and merges into two more villages: Firostefani (about a 15-minute walk from Fira) and Imerovigli (the highest point of the caldera edge, about a half-hour walk from Fira). A path runs through these villages and is lined with glorious hotels, restaurants and endless photo opportunities.
Perched on the northern tip of the island, the village of Oia reflects the renaissance of Santorini after the devastating earthquake of 1956. Restoration work has whipped up beauty, and you will struggle to find a more stunning Cyclades village. Built on a steep slope of the caldera, many of its dwellings nestle in niches hewn into the volcanic rock.
Not surprisingly, Oia draws enormous numbers of tourists, and overcrowding is the price it pays for its good looks. Try to visit in the morning or spend the night here; afternoons and evenings often bring busloads from the cruise ships moored in the bay. At sunset the town feels like a magnet for every traveller on the island.
Archaeological Excavation Site – This archaeological excavation site in Santorini features ruins from the city of Akrotiri, which was buried by a volcanic eruption in 1700 B.C., though the first habitation dates from the Late Neolithic times (4th millennium BC). For just €5 you can explore the massive visitor-friendly site where walkways lead you around the entire perimeter. There are not many placards or informational pamphlets, so if you would like the complete history during your visit hire a tour guide.
Why not Hike from Fira to Oia? – This is the single best thing to do on Santorini – and it’s free! The views are incredible. The hike takes somewhere between 2 and 5 hours depending on your speed and how many pictures you take along the way. Start in Fira and move north through Firostefani and then Imerovigli (this part of the path feels more like a village sidewalk). From Imerovigli to Oia it’s largely rural with only a few shops or restaurants on this stretch of path. Most people will want to wear a sturdy running shoe for the walk, but I’ve certainly seen people do it in flip flops. The route isn’t completely marked but it’s intuitive: stay on the path that follows the edge of the caldera and walk north (when in doubt stay to the left/west). Of course, it’s fine to do the walk in the opposite direction but it feels more natural (to me) to walk north to Oia and the island’s tip. And walking into Oia from the hills above is an awesome finish. If it’s July or August, I’d highly recommend starting before 8am.
Cable Car from Old Port to Fira – Walk down the stairs to the Old Port, grab a drink, then take the cable car back up (though you can walk or cable car both ways if you want). From May to October the cable car runs every 20 minutes, 6:30 to 22:00 – a little longer hours in July and August, and a reduced schedule from November until April. It costs 4€ for adults and 2€ for children.
Ancient Akrotiri – See the village left behind after the devastating volcanic eruption that made the island uninhabitable. The site is very well done, and I highly recommend getting a guide to show you around the site and discuss the history of the island, the eruption, and the following destruction. Sometimes there can be guides waiting at the entrance but it’s better to book a good tour guide in advance. We can book this here for you at Platinum Sky Travel.
Let’s Swim at Ammoudi Bay – One of the best swimming spots on Santorini is down the cliff from Oia at a spot just south of the Ammoudi port. Walk or drive to Ammoudi Bay then take the path that leads south from the restaurants in the port (can’t miss it, there’s only one way to go). It’s a 5-minute walk to a small island (Agios Nikolaos) that you can swim out to.
Explore the Paths, Alleys, and Stairwells of Fira, Firostefani, and Imerovigli – This is basically the hike from Fira to Oia but instead of continuing to Oia you can stop in Imerovigli, explore a little, and turn back around. All 3 towns have beautiful views and are worth a walk-through. The monumental white houses towering over the beautiful views of the ocean. This one is not to be missed! For all the family.
Walk to Skaros Rock – Descend the cliff to the path to Skaros Rock and explore the far side of the outcrop (there’s a little church hidden on the far side) and climb to the top of the rock if you’re brave enough. Magnificent views too. The path starts just south of Grace Santorini hotel.
Ancient Thera – Find Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine ruins – and spectacular views – at this ancient island capital on the top of Messa Vouno mountain. You can hike the steep trail up from Kamari or Perissa, drive the narrow switchback road to the entrance, or hop on the 10€ shuttle from Kamari below. Expect maximum wind and minimum facilities – there are no bathrooms at the top. 4€ adults, kids free. 8am-3pm Tuesday-Sunday.
Kamari Beach – Gorgeous turquoise sea beaches with Good swimming and lots of various restaurants. The pedestrian only street along the beach is fun to walk along at night when it gets quite busy.
Swim in the Hot Springs – Looking for something fun and daring? Jump from the boat into the chilly water of the caldera then swim towards the warm water of the volcanic hot springs. It never gets hot but it’s warm enough to never feel the need to get out.
Emporio – On the way to Perissa beach in the south of Santorini you’ll find this magical small town. There’s almost never any tourists here and though it’s small it’s still plenty big enough to get good and lost in the tangle of alleyways.
Red Beach – Just down the road from the Akrotiri ruins, Red Beach is the most spectacular and picturesque of any Santorini beach. Please contact us to find out more information.