There is no place like Santorini in Greece. Once a circular, volcanic island, most of it collapsed into the sea around 1650 BC, after a literally earth-shattering eruption, leaving only a crescent-shaped rim and a smaller fragment around the world’s largest, sea-filled caldera. The utter beauty of the caldera – the staggering black, grey and red cliffs rising from the sea, whitewashed villages perched on top – have made the island of Santorini one of the most romantic destinations in the world.
Fira, Firostefani and Imerovigli
Fira (also called Thira) is the capital of Santorini. It is pretty, but it is just too much of everything, especially in the summer when during the day, cruise-shiploads of tourists cram into the narrow alleyways. The quieter alternative, Imerovigli, spectacularly crowns the highest point of the caldera, but this village has basically turned into a jam-packed settlement of hotels. In between the two, there is Firostefani. It is at walking distance from the bustling centre of Fira, but infinitely more quiet, and thus perfect if you want to be near the action, but not in the middle of it.
Oia and Finikia
Oia is my favourite village on the cliff; here style and tradition go hand in hand. Old houses (many caved into the cliff) have been perfectly restored and those that were added recently blend in well; architectural controls are strict. There are some great places to eat, wonderful cafés and boutiques selling tasteful art and handicrafts. Situated behind Oia, Finikia is probably the only village on the island that has remained practically untouched by tourism. It doesn’t have the caldera views, but it is pretty, quiet and totally unspoiled.
More places to see on Santorini
One place you should absolutely go to is Amoudi, a tiny fishing port below Oia. Go for lunch or dinner, preferably at the taverna of Dimitris and (American) Joyce – it is magical. Inland, the village of Pyrgos is worth a visit. It is near the highest point of Santorini and the views are great.
The beaches of Santorini
Santorini has plenty of beaches – most of the east-facing side of the island consists of long stretches of beach. The sand is volcanic – it is dark grey – so flip-flops come in handy, as the sand can get pretty hot and can get uncomfortable to walk on. If you don’t want to spread your towel on the sand, you can go to one of the ‘organised’ parts of the beaches and get sun bed and an umbrella. Kamari and Perissa are the main (organized) beaches – apart from sun beds and umbrellas, you will find diving and water sports centers, shops, beach bars, restaurants, and in some places loud music. Not my kind of thing. On the south coast of Santorini, the Red Beach is famous, and a must-see indeed.
Walking holidays on Santorini
If you’ve been told Santorini is for romantic and luxury holidays only – lazy days sipping cocktails by the pool, enjoying some of the best sunsets in the world, gourmet dining under the stars – you’re not getting the full picture. The island is also a great destination for walking holidays (and why not, in combination with the above!). The cliff-side walk between Fira and Oia is simply spectacular, and there also are fantastic inland walking trails, taking you past vineyards, whitewashed chapels and churches, old windmills and traditional villages. The Fira – Oia trail can be done with an English-speaking Trekking Hellas guide and includes a picnic and local transfers.
What else to see and do on Santorini
It is a bit of a touristy thing to do, but you should make a boat trip in the caldera and visit the crater of the volcano. Various companies offer all sorts of packages, and you can also book more exclusive sailing trips. Another great way to explore the Caldera waters is by kayak. Trekking Hellas offers five-hour sea kayak tours as well as starlight kayaking, and you can also sign up for stand-up paddling.
Another must is a visit of the archaeological site of Agrotiri. Go on your own, and early in the day, before the organized tours arrive. Santorini produces some really good wines, and I recommend you also visit a winery or two. Finally, if you are in for some shopping, you will find lots of small shops and boutiques in Fira and in Oia, selling anything from simple souvenirs and crafts to designer wear and art.
Small hotels and other special places to stay in Santorini