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From stunning black-sand beaches and awe-inspiring views to fascinating archaeological sites and lively nightlife, the Greek island of Santorini is a haven for exploration. It has a reputation as being “the one” to visit, and it’s hard to disagree.
Santorini is part of the Cyclades, the island group known for those beautiful white buildings and blue-domed churches. It’s one of the only volcanic islands in the group and remains a geothermally active hotspot. In fact, the entire island is part of a volcano’s rim, and that’s exactly what makes the panoramic views so amazing.
I’ve visited Santorini more times than I can count – although it’s a bit touristy, there really is no place like it. The black and red sand beaches are one-of-a-kind, the food is to die for, and the island and sea views from Oia are indescribable.
If you’re planning your trip and wondering what to do in Santorini, we can help! Use our experiences and tips to plan the perfect Greek island escape.
- Things to Do in Santorini Island, Greece
- 1. Get Lost in Oia’s Narrow Streets
- 2. Walk the Steps to Amoudi Bay
- 3. Explore the Archaeological Site of Ancient Thera
- 4. The Museum of Prehistoric Thera
- 5. Perissa Beach
- 6. Kamari Beach
- 7. The Monastery of Profitis Ilias
- 8. Swim in Hot Springs
- 9. Visit the Best Viewpoints
- 10. Experience the Lively Nightlife
- 11. Red Beach
- 12. White Beach
- 13. Akrotiri Archaeological Site
- 14. Akrotiri Lighthouse & Village
- 15. Taste the Local Cuisine
- 16. Shop Till You Drop
- 17. Hike from Fira to Oia
- 18. Take a Day Trip to Thirassia Island
- 19. Step Inside Atlantis Book
- 20. Watch a Movie at the Open Air Cinema in Kamari
- 21. Taste Some Santorini Wines
- 22. Perivolos Beach
- 23. Eros Beach
- 24. Enjoy a Sunset Catamaran Cruise
- 25. Hike to Skaros Rock
- 26. Take the Cable Car to the Old Port of Fira
- 27. Enjoy a Night at The Greek Wedding Show
- 28. Horseback Riding in Vlichada
- 29. Have a Romantic Photoshoot
- 30. Go Scuba Diving
- 31. Explore Sea Caves by Kayak
- 32. Go on a Traditional Fishing Trip
- 33. Take a Greek Cooking Class
- 34. Relax at Le Moustache Caldera Pool Lounge
- What makes Santorini unique from other Greek islands?
- What are the best things to do in Santorini?
- What is the best time of year to visit Santorini?
- What should I pack for my trip to Santorini?
- Are 3 days in Santorini enough?
- Most significant landmark – The Caldera-side Village of Oia
- Best park – Ancient Thera Archaeological Site
- Free activity – Lounging on Kamari, Perissa, or Red Beach
- Activity for kids – Swimming in the warm volcanic hot springs
- Activity for adults – Wine Tasting
- Best food – Strogili Restaurant in Oia
- Best nightlife – Enigma in Thera
- Place to stay – Mystique, A Luxury Collection Hotel
Things to Do in Santorini Island, Greece
1. Get Lost in Oia’s Narrow Streets
Address: Oia 847 02, Greece
One of the first things you’ll probably learn when you arrive in Santorini is the pronunciation of the famous town of Oia. It’s not [OY-yah], It’s [EE-ya] – so don’t miss your bus, as this is what the driver will be shouting at the stop!
Oia is the most photographed town on Santorini Island. This is the one you see in photos online. Traditional houses were built in caves on the side of the caldera, protecting them from the frequent winds in the Cyclades. The shades of white and blue they are painted in, the blue-domed churches among them, and their placement on a cliffside with a backdrop of the Aegean Sea made them famous.
Today, Oia is a place for visitors to the island. The traditional houses are now luxury hotels and vacation rentals. It’s not hard to find one with a swimming pool or hot tub to enjoy the cliffside views, and these add even more to that beauty. Personally, I think the best of the best is Mystique, A Luxury Collection Hotel – but be prepared with a large budget.
A stroll along Oia’s beautiful alleys is like a dream. It also has many restaurants, cafes, and bars to enjoy. The sunset in Oia is one of the most beautiful sunsets you will ever see in your life.
However, Oia can also be incredibly crowded, especially during the peak tourist season. If you’re looking to avoid crowds, the best time to visit Oia is in the shoulder season, when temperatures are still pleasant but with fewer visitors.
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2. Walk the Steps to Amoudi Bay
Address: Ammoudi Bay, Oía 847 02, Greece
To get a unique glimpse of the caldera and volcanic nature of the island, make your way down to Amoudi Bay and make sure you bring your camera along. It’s a small fishing village surrounded by steep cliffs and accessible from a series of steps that you take down from Oia.
Amoudi Bay is the perfect spot to relax and soak up the Mediterranean sun. The clear blue water is calm and inviting, and there are plenty of beach umbrellas and sun loungers for visitors to use – although this is not a beach with sand and space; rather, it’s more of a spot to jump in and cool off.
There are plenty of little places to get a glass of wine (or a bottle, if you prefer) and catch the sunset over the turquoise waters. Small cafes and restaurants line the bay, so you can enjoy a refreshing drink or bite to eat in between swims.
Amoudi Bay is worth a visit even just for the view – from the bay, you can see the stunning cliffs of Santorini from below and the brilliant white buildings of Oia in the distance. If you’re staying in Oia, make this a must-do in between your visits to other parts of the island.
3. Explore the Archaeological Site of Ancient Thera
Address: Santorini 847 00, Greece
Some of the earliest human histories on Santorini took place on the top of Mesa Vouno Mountain, separating the beach towns of Kamari and Perissa (more on those below). The site is known as Ancient Thera, and excavations there have revealed thousands of years-old relics of civilization.
Ancient Thera was founded in the 8th century BC by Lacedaemonian colonists and their king, Theras, who the town was named after. At 365 meters above the sea, it was a strategic location with building materials and the only source of water on the island. Over the millennia, it would continue to have important significance to the kingdoms that ruled the Aegean.
Excavation of the site began in the very late 1800s, and new discoveries are still being made today. The ruins provide a unique insight into this ancient culture. There are plenty of mosaic houses, an old marketplace, Roman baths, and churches. You’ll also see temples for the Greek Gods Apollo and Zeus.
Expect to spend at least a couple of hours exploring this ancient town. If you’re a real Greek history buff, consider a Santorini history and archaeology tour to get the full story from a guide.
4. The Museum of Prehistoric Thera
Address: Thera 847 00, Greece
After you’ve seen the ancient village of Thera, head over to the modern one to see a curated collection of island history and artifacts. The Museum of Prehistoric Thera is one of the most important museums on the island.
It houses a collection of artifacts from the Late Neolithic to the Late Cycladic periods that were excavated from sites around the island. Collections include pottery, jewelry, sculptures, paintings, and even more. The museum is housed in a historic building in Thera’s center that was originally a fortress.
These items were recovered from sites like Ancient Thera and Akrotiri (more on the latter to come) and are preserved here rather than on their sites for their preservation. It doesn’t take long to visit and makes for a great combination with the archaeological sites.
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5. Perissa Beach
Address: Unnamed Road, Santorini 847 03, Greece
Santorini doesn’t have white-sand beaches like some other islands around the country. Instead, it’s famous for its black sand beaches, like Perissa Beach.
Perissa is a village located on the eastern side of the island, just south of the Mesa Vouno mountain on which Ancient Thera sits. It has a long stretch of black volcanic sand and generally calm, clear water. It’s lined with beach restaurants that set up umbrellas and chairs, which are usually free if you order a drink or food – and you should.
At the end of the beach near the mountain, vendors rent out kayaks, paddle boards, and pedal boats that can be used to play in the water and go around to Kamari Beach. One important note about Perissa is that it can get extremely windy – in that case, don’t paddle out!
If you just plan a beach day here from Oia, consider booking a transfer service, as the bus ride is a very long one. Perissa Beach is also a popular place to stay for visitors to Santorini who really want to enjoy the sea. The Veggera Beach Hotel is an excellent centrally-located choice with a beautiful pool.
6. Kamari Beach
Address: Kamari Beach Kamari 847 00, Greece
As mentioned, Kamari Beach is just on the other side of the mountain from Perissa. However, there isn’t a direct route between the two (besides over water), and you have to go back up the caldera to get from one to the other, so it’s better not to combine these into a single day.
Kamari Beach is my favorite place to relax by the water in Santorini. Here, the beach is wider and longer than any other, and it has fine black sand. Like Perissa, there are a ton of tavernas and beach bars with chairs and umbrellas you can use if you order from them. The water is cool and refreshing, although it doesn’t stay shallow for long out, so nervous swimmers should be careful.
It’s also a bit more convenient to reach Kamari as it’s a shorter bus ride or drive from Thera and Oia. But it’s also a great place to stay in a luxurious hotel at a much fairer price than the rest of the island – I prefer Hotel Sunshine for its location, views, and pool.
7. The Monastery of Profitis Ilias
Address: Epar.Od. Pirgou Kallistis – Profiti Ilia 10, Pirgos Kallistis 847 00, Greece
If you want great views of the island as a whole, or to appreciate an important piece of Santorini’s faith, consider making the peaceful quest to the Monastery of Profitis Ilias. It’s considered the most important church on the island and sits on its highest point on a mountain just beside Ancient Thera.
It is dedicated to the Prophet Elias (or Elijah) and was built in 1711. It takes the form of a fortress with traditional Cycladic architecture and served as a school for Greek language and literature. It was badly damaged in the 1956 earthquake but has been safely restored.
You’re not actually allowed inside the main monastery in most circumstances, but you can explore the gardens and four churches and chapels around it. There is also a gift shop on site that supports the facilities, as well as a small museum maintained by the monks.
With 360-degree views, it will be one of the best drives or hikes that you’ve ever taken. If you don’t mind braving the early hours, this is a surreal spot for sunrise.
8. Swim in Hot Springs
The volcanic nature of Santorini isn’t just visible in the island’s shape – geothermal activity continues in its center, where warm water bubbles up to the surface. These hot springs are on Nea Kameni Island, a small, rocky piece of land out in the middle of the caldera.
There aren’t any people or towns on Nea Kameni besides some small chapels and old buildings. But you can take one of the frequent boat shuttles from Athinios Port or Old Thera Port to visit the island and swim in the dark, warm waters around it. You can also take a small group tour that stops here and other places around the island’s waters – for example, this vintage wooden sailboat tour visits the springs plus Thirassia island, while this modern catamaran goes to the Red and White Beaches (more on all of those below).
The hot temperature and mineral content of sulfur, iron, and manganese are said to be healing and great for your skin and muscles. You can also walk around its rocky surface, but be careful, as this is still a volcano that could erupt at any moment!
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9. Visit the Best Viewpoints
Santorini is mostly famous for its views – there are even Instagram tours that will take you to its best spots. The whitewashed buildings and colorful accents against the caldera cliffside make for magnificent photos and some of the most picturesque sunsets in the world. A few spots on Santorini are especially famous for their views.
First, you can’t miss the famous Oia sunset spot – great for stunning sunsets, but also great at literally any time of the day. Although Oia doesn’t have any addresses, you should find this spot on most maps. Just walk downhill on its main road, keep left towards the cliffside, and you’ll come to some stairs up to a large open space on a hill – that’s where everyone gathers for sunset. Get there early as it gets very crowded, and visit at other times of the day, too.
You’ll find other great viewpoints in Thera, the island’s capital, where you can see Oia in the distance. At the other extreme of the island, the village of Akrotiri and its lighthouse are other places to appreciate the magnitude of the caldera.
As mentioned, you can also hike or drive up to the island’s highest point, the mountain of Prifitis Elias, for spectacular sunrises and island views in general. The famous hike from Fira to Oia will give you several hours of panoramic views – more on that later.
10. Experience the Lively Nightlife
While sunset may seem like a fitting end to the day, Santorini doesn’t shut down at dark. The island has a lively nightlife scene with plenty of bars and clubs to entertain you on warm summer nights.
The most popular area for nightlife is Fira, where you’ll find a variety of bars and nightclubs to suit all tastes. The most popular are Enigma, Lux Bar, and 2 Brothers Bar, which keep the party going into the wee hours of the morning.
For a more relaxed atmosphere, head to Imerovigli or Oia, where you can enjoy a drink or two while watching the sunset and for hours after. For me, there’s nothing like sipping on an Aperol Spritz on one of the rooftop bars here and watching the lights of the island below.
Kamari and Perissa, two of the most popular beach towns, also host a number of lively casual beach bars with parties on the sand. While Santorini certainly has its share of nightlife, the overall vibe of the island is quiet and relaxed, so don’t be put off if this stuff isn’t for you – Mykonos is the real island for party central.
11. Red Beach
Address: Red Beach, Greece
The Red Beach of Santorini is one of the most beautiful and scenic beaches in the world. It’s a bit of a trek from Oia and Fira, as it’s on the southern and outer side of the island and requires a hike to access it, but it’s worth it.
With its dramatic red cliffs, multi-colored sand, and crystal-clear waters, it’s easy to see why this beach is so popular. You’ll be stricken by the view when you round the corner of the hike to get there, which takes less than 10 minutes on a rocky surface. There are rocky tidepools first and then a wide stretch of sand where you can claim your spot.
Visitors can sunbathe on the red sand beach, swim in the clear water, and photograph the magnificent scenery. Note that there is very little shade here, and you can’t use the cliffs to escape the sun – certain areas are closed off for safety, as rocks can slide at any moment. So, if you can get an umbrella, it will prolong your stay here.
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12. White Beach
Address: Zakynthos 290 91, Greece
Just past the rocky cliffs at the end of Red Beach, there’s another beautiful spot to enjoy the sand and sea on Santorini – White Beach. This secluded spot can actually only be accessed by boat, so it’s usually much quieter than other beaches on the island.
Its name comes from the tall white cliffs that surround it, while the sand here is actually dark pebbles. The water is crystal-clear and perfect for swimming. In the high season, a beach club sets up chairs and umbrellas and provides drink service.
You can only get to White Beach by boat, and the best way to do that is on tour. A ton of catamaran cruises, like this luxury day trip with meals, will combine this beach with other great things to see nearby, such as Red Beach and the hot springs. It’s a great way to see several of Santorini’s most popular treasures.
13. Akrotiri Archaeological Site
Address: Thera 847 00, Greece
While we’re on the south side of Santorini, don’t miss the chance to stop by its other most famous ancient site: Akrotiri. Note that there’s a real town of the same name at the top of the caldera, while the archaeological site is further down the road at the bottom near the hike to Red Beach.
Imagine a huge volcanic eruption so powerful that it instantly buried the local village in ash, much like the one at Pompeii. But instead of creating human sculptures to stand the test of time, this eruption did a fantastic job of preserving the culture and artwork of the Bronze Age community that called Santorini home in the 16th and 17th centuries BC.
Because no human remains or valuables remained, most experts believe that the community was completely evacuated when it was covered. That means at Akrotiri, you aren’t visiting a graveyard, but a memorial to the people that called this area home. The uncovered frescoes range from blue monkeys to swaying palms in the breeze. Houses, markets, pots, tools, and other artifacts are all displayed.
The ancient town is now covered by a roof for continued preservation and functions as an archaeological museum, so there is a small entry fee to explore – book tickets in advance to skip the line. Even a short walk through it is worth it, as it’s an amazing snapshot of Santorini’s history.
14. Akrotiri Lighthouse & Village
Address: 9954+4M, Santorini 847 00, Greece
Up above the archaeological site is the modern village of Akrotiri, sitting on the island’s southwestern tip. It’s another traditional settlement that’s quaint to explore and with exceptional views.
There are a number of tavernas serving tasty Greek meals here, as well as a few very luxurious hotels and vacation rentals. It can be a lovely choice to escape the crowds of Oia. The Apanemo Hotel & Suites is a popular option for its three-tiered swimming pool with views of the entire caldera.
The Akrotiri Lighthouse is located on the southwesternmost point of Santorini and was built in 1858. The lighthouse is an important landmark for sailors and is one of the most photographed spots on the island.
The views from the lighthouse are stunning, and it’s a great place to watch the sunset over the Aegean Sea when you explore Santorini. The lighthouse is also home to a small museum, which showcases exhibits about the history of the lighthouse.
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15. Taste the Local Cuisine
Greek food is some of the tastiest in the world, and it’s literally one of the reasons I go every summer. Santorini is home to some excellent international restaurants thanks to its thriving tourism economy, but don’t miss the chance to try authentic, local taverna cuisine.
The island is known for its fava (a creamy dish made with yellow split peas), dolma, stuffed vine leaves (rice and some herbs wrapped in grape leaves), and tomato fritters. There’s also tzatziki, the delicious Greek yogurt-based food that goes great when spread on fresh pita.
As it’s close to the island of Crete, a Cretan specialty called dakos (or ntakos) is also commonly served in tavernas – a mix of tomatoes, onions, feta cheese, and olive oil served on barley rusk. If you like Greek salad, it’s a must try – of course, you can also get a traditional one of those, too.
Greek food is typically healthy and flavorful, so you’re sure to find something you love. There are local tavernas all over the island, so it won’t be hard to find something, but my favorite is Strogili in Oia for its tasty food and rooftop with a panoramic view. And what’s better than enjoying a delicious meal while taking in the stunning views of the Aegean Sea?
16. Shop Till You Drop
Whether you’re looking for a cheap souvenir or a new outfit, shopping in Santorini is an enjoyable experience. The island is home to many boutiques and shops selling everything from local handmade goods to designer labels.
While there are places to shop all over the island, Oia and Fira are the top two places. Both have a noticeable concentration of jewelry shops, ranging from local creations to very expensive international brands. Especially in Oia, you’ll find a lot of designer clothing, too.
It’s not all high-end garments and accessories, though. Plenty of local boutiques sell white linen clothing that seems to be synonymous with Santorini. Island-style slippers and shoes are other popular products. You’ll also find a ton of artwork for sale, which can be an especially nice way to remember your Santorini trip from home.
17. Hike from Fira to Oia
To trek the whole length of the Fira to Oia route is another excellent method to see the natural beauty and architecture of Santorini. This 10-kilometer hike runs along the caldera’s edge, connecting the island’s two most popular towns, and is considered one of Greece’s most beautiful walks.
It’s quite a long walk and can take a few hours, even without breaks, and consists of some hills and stairs. You’ll pass through the picturesque villages of Firostefani, Imerovigli, and Finikia, as well as more remote parts of the caldera.
This hike provides fantastic views in every direction, so make sure to bring your camera. It’s also essential to wear proper shoes and bring water. If you get tired partway through, there are plenty of cafes and restaurants along the route where you can take a break.
See Related: Best Hiking Trails in the World
18. Take a Day Trip to Thirassia Island
Address: Therasia, Greece
Thirassia, also spelled Therasia or in other variations, is another small island just off of Santorini’s west coast. It’s extremely close and appears to form another side of the volcano rim – which is exactly the case.
The great eruption of Thera over 3,000 years ago separated the two, leaving Thirassia separated by just a bit of water and about 3.6 square miles in size. There’s a very small local population of about 300 on the island and a number of little tavernas in its main village and on its shores.
The main village is Manolas, popular for its quaint lanes of traditional white houses and its spectacular views of the Santorini caldera. The island was once home to many vineyards, and there are still a few working ones in operation today. Overall, it’s a very quiet, off-the-beaten-path spot on a Santorini itinerary that’s interesting to explore.
There are local ferries running from Athinios Port to Thirassia every so often, making day trips possible, but most visitors get here on a boat tour. This small group excursion leaves Amoudi Bay for a quick crossing and focuses solely on Thirassia, seeing the best of its history and nature.
19. Step Inside Atlantis Book
Address: Nomikos Street, Oía 847 02, Greece
While we couldn’t possibly detail every shop in Oia, Atlantis Books has to have a special mention on our list. It’s located in a very central spot on Oia’s main path, and it’s unlikely you’ll miss it.
The colorful walls stand out among the white buildings, and a few steps down take you onto its terrace and into the shelf-lined cave. Rare first editions, old island maps, and new best-sellers can be found in the collection. Its American owners saw an opportunity for a place to read and write on the island, and the place has been a local icon for years.
Whether you’re a reader or not, and whether you’re in the market for a new book or not, it’s worth a quick look around this corner of authenticity in a village that’s often overrun by tourists. Besides, the friendly resident cats of the village like to hang out on its terrace.
20. Watch a Movie at the Open Air Cinema in Kamari
Address: Santorini, Kamari 847 00, Greece
The Greeks have always enjoyed good entertainment – just look at the thousand-year-old ruins of open-air theaters scattered around the country. In Kamari village, they mixed this historic tradition with modern amenities, creating the Open Air Cinema in 1987.
Every season from May to October, the cinema shows nightly movies after the sun goes down on their large projector in front of theater-style, outdoor seating. A bar and café provide food and refreshments. Tons of greenery and warm summer air create a very island-esque experience.
The cinema is located at the entrance of the village, close to a bus stop and places to park a car or quad. Movies are always in English and have Greek subtitles, so you won’t need to worry about language barriers. Reservations are not accepted.