Located in the southernmost tip of the Cyclades, Santorini (also called Thira) is known as the most special island of Greece. Before the huge volcano eruption in 1450 BC, the island was round, but now is has the shape of a crescent moon with the impressive and much-visited volcano crater, the caldera, in the center. Last year, nearly 2 million tourists visited the island, with a peak of 18,000 cruise ship passengers per day. It's no longer a secret that this is an ideal destination for weddings and honeymoons and social media is full of photos from infinity pools with views that you can only dream of. Yet, there is much more to discover on the island and there are ways to not disappear in tourist crowds.
Fira is the beating heart of Santorini. As a capital city, it occupies a central place where almost all roads of the island lead to. If you travel by bus, it will always take you through Fira. The city is known for its steep volcano rocks and cave dwellings and is visited frequently in the summer months. Plan your visit in the morning or late afternoon to avoid most tourists and wander around the many shopping streets to discover a new vantage point. Are you ready for an adventurous climb? Leave the cable car and donkeys behind and visit the old harbor, that lies more than 270 meters below Fira, on foot via a staircase of almost 600 steps!
View from Fira on the remains of the volcano eruption: the caldera
You can admire the rugged volcano landscape up close by booking an excursion to the caldera. Keep in mind that this is a well-known tourist attraction and that there are plenty of other ways to discover the power of the volcano. The island has many beaches that range in color from black to red due to the volcanic activity. Visit the Santorini Arts Factory in the village of Vlychada, where you can learn everything about the former tomato plantations on the island in the museum. Tomatoes here have a unique taste and, due to the presence of volcanic soil, have enough moisture from the morning mist. The result? The inside of the tomatoes consist of pure sugar crystals that make delicious tomato paste. After your visit, take a seat in the nearby fish restaurant To psaraki and taste it yourself!
A black beach in Vlychada with the Santorini Arts Factory on the right.
Many tourists do not know that Santorini is also an ideal destination for wine lovers! Characteristic of the wine in Santorini is the way it is cultivated: the grape bushes are low on the ground and take a round shape. In this way the grapes are protected against the strong island winds and bright sun. The mineral-rich volcanic substrate and the lack of rainwater make the grapes unique in taste, with the Assyrtiko as the most important variety. It is unknown how many vineyards the island counts, but it is certain that a wine tasting is an experience! Enjoy spectacular views, tasty food and perhaps the island's greatest pride at the Venetsanos Winery: the sweet dessert wine Vinsanto. This vineyard was reopened in 2015 and that makes it the oldest and newest industrial vineyard in Santorini.
Venetsanos Winery overlooking the port of Athinios, where the wine used to be transported via large tubes to the boats.
In the southwest of the island lies the archaeological excavation Akrotiri: one of the most impressive and most important sites of prehistoric settlements in the Aegean Sea. Since 2012, the ‘Pompeii of Greece’ is open to the public again thanks to the renewed roof. The site, which once lay under the volcanic ash for many years, can be admired up close via walkways and guided tours. The excavations give you a clear idea of what life in the Minoan city looked like 1500 years BC, but to admire the original murals and utensils you have to go to the Archaeological Museum in Fira. Plan your visit later in the day to avoid the crowds and the heat, and combine it with a visit to nearby Red Beach. As the name suggests, this beach is known for its red sand color due to the volcano landscape.
The archaeological excavation of Akrotiri, where unlike Pompeii, no human remains were found.
You are not the only one who comes to watch the sunset in Oia, by no means! Yet there is a good chance that this will be one of the highlights of your visit. In the northernmost part of the island lies the picturesque Oia (pronounced ia) that is characterized by narrow alleys filled with cave dwellings in pastel shades. For the best view of the setting sun you will have to find a place at the castle in time. Experience the spectacle of pink, blue and orange hues that makes the island much more romantic. Wait for an hour or so after the sunset until most tourists have left to avoid getting stuck in the narrow alleys that lead to the bus stop or parking lot. Do you have more budget to spend? Book a table at Red Bicycle on time and ask for a place on the terrace. The food is delicious and the view phenomenal!
Left: View of the colorful houses from restaurant Red Bycicle. Bottom right: Oia after the sunset, with the castle in the distance as a vantage point.
If the hustle and bustle of Santorini becomes too much for you, move to smaller islands nearby. During the day, various boats sail from the port of Athinios to the surrounding islands. During my trip I visited the island of Folegandros, which is about an hour's boat ride away and offers just as much beauty as Santorini. Curious about my visit? Read the blog here!
The historic district of Kastro in the village of Chora in Folegandros.
Tip: You don't have to be in Fira or Oia for an attractive and affordable stay on Santorini. We recommend the Meltemi Village hotel in the seaside town of Perissa, located in the southeast of the island. An impressive black sand beach and a pleasant boulevard full of restaurants and shops are approximately 5 minutes' walk away. From here you can easily travel by bus or car to the heart of the island in less than half an hour.
This trip was made possible by Visit Greece & I Love Greece! Check out ILoveGriekenland.com to read more about 100 location in Greece, visited by bloggers.