As you cruise into the sea surrounding Santorini, realize that you are actually sailing into a huge crater of a volcano. The island’s colors, look and gastronomy reflect its volcanic makeup. Whitewashed villages crown the cliffs of the island where you can witness a view unlike any place else in the world. There’s plenty for explorers, foodies and culture vultures too. Here’s what you need to do when you cruise to Santorini.
On the southwestern tip of the island you’ll find the Akrotiri archaeological site, often referred to as the “Greek Pompeii.” Like Pompeii, Akrotiri was once a bustling town until a volcanic eruption covered it in a sea of lava. What remains today is a wonderfully preserved glimpse into life around 1450 B.C., when the Minoan civilization was at its peak. The site is organized with walkways, allowing you to get a deeper look at things through excavation sites. Admire the frescoes, ancient buildings and clay storage jars; some artifacts date as far back as the 16th century B.C.
You won’t find white-sand beaches with palm trees swaying in the wind on Santorini. The beaches here are situated at the base of cliffs with dark sand, revealing signs of the island’s volcanic past. The Red Beach, a 10-minute walk from Akrotiri, is one the most unique beaches in all of Greece. It’s named after the brilliant reddish hues of its amber cliffs that surround the beach cove. The walk down can be too steep for some, which is why some visitors are content to admire it from afar. If you’re cruising with kids and beach time is a must, head to Monolithos Beach; its dark sand and shallow sea slope are perfect for children to play in.
Sailing into port, you’ll immediately notice the caldera towns perched on the tops of the cliffs. Oia, Imerovigli, Firostefani and Fira each feature brightly whitewashed buildings and churches that create a string of white across Santorini’s clifftops, offering the most incredible views in an almost surreal setting. Take your pick of one of the towns and relax at a café or restaurant. Order ouzo, the famous Greek anise-flavored aperitif, which complements a plate of meze local specialties like domatokeftedes (tomato fritters), fava (chickpea dip) or fresh seafood plates such as grilled calamari and octopus. Book a private tour with Santorini Walking Tours to see some of the hidden gems.
Amoudi Bay is a quaint fishing village tucked in the lower part of Oia. The waters are a mix of deep blue and light turquoise, and it’s where small fishing boats dock with their daily catches. For those who love taking a dip among sea rocks, the bay is considered one of the best craggy coves for a refreshing swim. It is also lined with a few traditional seafood tavernas, including Katina’s Taverna, where the tables are just inches from the sea.
Santorini is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world. Its volcanic soil is the secret behind wonderful grape varieties. including Assyrtiko, Aidani, Athiri, Mandilaria and Mavrotragano. Head to Sigalas Winery in Oia for insight into the island’s wine production and amazing views of the grapes in the field as you sip on your wine. Or check out Santorini Wine Adventure for a combined tour of the island’s best views, local food specialties and island wine.
There are several museums perfect for history and culture lovers. Fira’s Museum of Prehistoric Thira displays artifacts excavated from the Akrotiri and ancient Thira sites. Nearby, the Archaeological Museum of Santorini houses frescoes, vases, figurines and sculptures from the Hellenistic period. In Messaria, just outside of Fira, the Argyros Mansion shows off the grand lifestyles of poets, artists and merchants that lived on the island in the 19th century. In Oia, the Naval Maritime Museum of Santorini features objects from the merchant shipping industry.
In Kamara, the ruins of ancient Thira can be found atop a rocky headland called Mesa Vouno, about 1,200 feet high. Once there, you are rewarded with stunning views of the sea and a cool place to explore. Thira was the island’s ancient capital, a thriving city featuring a wide main street and large buildings. Santorini Adventure tours head out to the site every day with guides who can help you understand the significance of everything you’ll encounter.
More than 250 picturesque churches dot the island. From the iconic blue-domed whitewashed churches to more colorful ones, they add character to the landscape. In Fira, stop by the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral for a divine view of the caldera and the brightly painted St. John the Baptist Catholic cathedral for its impressive architecture and steeple. In Firostefani, head to the Agios Nikolaos Monastery, where you can tour its ecclesiastical museum. For those who appreciate Byzantine paintings, spend some time in the village of Mesa Gonia at Panagia Episkopi Church, which dates back to the 11th century.
Pyrgos is a whitewashed inland hilltop village but boasts an equally breathtaking view when compared to the caldera towns. Pyrgos’ location offers an incredible panorama of the island. The cubist white-painted homes date back to the 13th century and were built around the town’s Venetian castle, which you can explore on your own. Take time out to explore the fortification’s little lanes. Stop at a local Greek taverna for a delicious meal. Pyrgos also features several churches (such as Theotoki, Agia Triada and Agia Theodosia) known for their beautiful frescoes and icons.
Discover the little volcanic islands of Nea Kameni (New Kameni) and Palaia Kameni (Old Kameni). A boat tour with Santorini Excursions takes you to Palaia Kameni, where you can relax in its famous therapeutic thermal mud baths and hot sulfur springs. Another stop on the tour is a hike through the Geological Park of Nea Kameni, where you can actually walk around a volcanic crater right in the center of the caldera. The views are stunning.