Even if you don’t entirely believe the myths about Santorini being the spot of the legendary Atlantis, the mysteries of antiquity combine with the majestic coastal scenery to make the jewel of the Aegean one of the must-see destinations of Greece. From a thriving restaurant scene of delectable seafood to all sorts of adventures and sights around the island, Santorini’s enchanting small towns and popular hot spots can make a cultural explorer out of anyone. Here’s an overview of some of our favorite things to do in Santorini you won’t want to miss.
There’s really no wrong way to experience Oia, as this small town in northern Santorini offers a terrific combination of sightseeing and inescapable natural beauty, making it a paradise of relaxation and visual splendor. Although one of the best (and easiest) activities is to stake out the perfect spot for a once-in-a-lifetime sunset, fill up the rest of the day by checking out the spectacular Byzantine castle ruins (Oia Castle) that guard the coast, exquisite hand-made jewelry of the Mnemossyne Gallery, or simply wander around gaping at the piercing white-washed buildings for which the town is famous. Like Santorini at large, seafood lovers are also in luck, with delicacies like octopus and red snapper pulled fresh from the sea and onto your plate.
The Santorini capital hugging the western coast is loaded with quaint bars and cafés with dramatic views of the sea, making it another touch of paradise that is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle. Scaling up the Fira mountainside via cable-car or donkey are great ways to pick up some of the best views in Santorini, although those in great shape can work off some souvlakia by doing it on foot. A quick drop-in at the world-famous Museum of Prehistoric Thera (Thira) can take you back to the thriving Akrotiri civilization of the Bronze Age, which the Akrotiri Excavations dates to at least the 4th millennia B.C. After traveling back in time to the days of the ancients, visitors tend to head out to one of the many popular restaurants that dot the town, although those looking for the most authentic Greek food can just slip off the beaten path and find exactly that.
Nea Kaemeni and Therasia
Born of a volcano less than five centuries ago, Nea Kaemeni offers a sensational day-trip from the Old Port of Athinios (in Fira) that lets visitors check out the smoking craters and sulfur-rich volcanic land – yet still make it back in time for dinner. Those looking to spend a little more time than the basic boat trip to Nea Kaemeni can book a tour that allows time to swim in thermal spas in nearby Palaia Kameni before turning up at Therasia (Thirassia), where you can take a donkey or hike to beautifully quaint capital of Manolas. Complete with a rich history and natural sightseeing excursions, Nea Kaemeni and Therasia have become popular escapes due to their unique volcanic features and ease of travel from Fira.
Beaches of Perissa and Kamari
If you’re dreaming of a Santorinian beach, you might be thinking of either Perissa or Kamari, two popular East Coast black sand beaches where visitors absorb the tranquility while getting massages and sipping some of the favorite local drinks. Although Perissa Beach isn’t particularly known for swimming as much as others, the scenic beauty alone has made it a very popular summer hot spot, drawing in visitors to enjoy the sights of the giant rock formation Mesa Vouno that famously shines in the dark. On the northern side of Mesa Vouno, Kamari Beach offers a modern beach community that has been almost completely reinvented since a disastrous earthquake in the mid-1950s. Perissa and Kamari Beach also have a variety of delectable traditional taverns and are the perfect staging points to check out the ruins of Thera, which are only a donkey ride away.
You don’t have to be a history nut to be blown away by the breathtaking ruins of Ancient Thera (Thira), which date back to roughly the 9th century B.C. Easy to get to from the beaches of Perissa or Kamari, the ruins showcase two ancient agoras to go along with Roman baths, Hellinistic-era shops and a series of other buildings from various periods of ancient history – all sitting high up on Mesa Vouno looking down over the Aegean.
The perfect way to cap a trip to Santorini, the high elevations of centrally located Pyrgos give you a tremendous view of the entire island, allowing visitors to see all the way to Oia. The ruins of the Kasteli Castle are known to be a sight to see – particularly while glistening with lights against the darkness of night – and there are plenty of other places to visit, including a series of old churches, thriving vineyards and winding paths that come with plenty of scenery to chew on. Although popular throughout the year, Pyrgos is particularly bustling around Easter time thanks to the local tradition of lighting up the entire hillside as a part of the Kyriaki tou Pascha (Easter Sunday) celebration.