Exploring the Greek Isles: What to Do in Santorini
Of all the storied destinations in the Greek Isles, Santorini is often regarded as the most beautiful. Part of the Cyclades group of islands lying southwest of mainland Greece, Santorini is characterized by stunning cliffside villas, domed churches, steep cobbled streets, amber sunsets, and dramatic volcanic scenery. Offering picturesque views of the caldera and its surrounding towns, warm Mediterranean waters, and the freshest seafood imaginable, experience the wonders of Santorini with Classic Journeys; our Greek Isles Cultural Walking Tour includes a multi-night stay on the island, so here’s how best to spend your time.
Visit Oia and Enjoy the Sunset
Watching the sunset in Santorini is something of a rite of passage for visitors to the island, with travelers making a beeline to all the best viewpoints. You’ll find the finest spots in the northern village of Oia, whose whitewashed buildings not only provide your base when you travel with us, but present the perfect canvas on which to cast a golden glow. For an unrivaled outlook, head to the Byzantine castle ruins at the top of Oia, where you won’t be disappointed. However, you certainly won’t have the setting to yourself; the ruins get very crowded the closer it gets to that magic moment. If you’d prefer a more intimate experience, there are a number of restaurants with tables in prime locations to soak up this world-renowned spectacle. Again, these get booked up in advance, so it pays to be organized.
Experience the History of the Akrotiri Archaeological Site
Often referred to as the “Pompeii of Greece”, the ancient town of Akrotiri was consumed by a volcanic eruption over 3,000 years ago and preserved by layers of ash spewed from the offending volcano. This same cataclysmic event caused part of the island to collapse into the sea, drowning many homes and leading to many believing Santorini is indeed the real Lost City of Atlantis from Greek mythology. Today, Akrotiri is one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece and is open to the public for self-paced visits or guided tours. We’d recommend taking the latter, so that you don’t miss any of the facts attached to this frozen-in-time remnant of Minoan civilization.
Spend Time Sailing Around the Mediterranean Sea
Sailing the sea around Santorini is not only one of the most relaxing things you can do in the Greek Isles, but also the best way of seeing the island’s fascinating geology from an alternative perspective. Day trips and sunset cruises by catamaran run with various operators daily from the main port, with some featuring stop-offs for swimming and diving; even bathing in the geothermal springs of the Palea Kameni volcanic island. Selected sunset excursions will also include a meal of traditional Greek cuisine and wine. If you’re looking to venture a little further afield, local ferries connect to nearby islands such as Tinos, Paros, Andros, and Ios – and, if you travel with Classic Journeys, you’ll have the opportunity to visit Mykonos, Crete, Naxos, and Delos, as well as Santorini.
Hike Up the Santorini Volcano
Younger sister of Palea Kameni, Nea Kameni is the “newest” of Santorini’s volcanoes and remains active today, albeit docile. Travelers are encouraged to take a guided hike with a well-informed escort, who will see you safely over the lava-carved terrain and up to the ominous crater. Beware jets of hot sulfuric steam escaping from vents in the ground beneath your feet! It’s worth noting that, although this is a relatively short hike, it can be a grueling one at the height of summer – so head out first thing in the morning or early in the evening just before dusk to avoid heat exhaustion.
Unwind by Akrotiri Lighthouse
Located at the opposite end of Santorini to Oia, the Akrotiri Lighthouse was built in 1892, making it one of the oldest structures of its kind in Greece. It was once looked after by a lighthouse keeper, before its gas power was replaced by electricity. During the Second World War, its operations were temporarily halted but, even now, the tower flashes its beam every 10 seconds after dark as a warning to passing boats. Given the secluded position of the Akrotiri Lighthouse (buses don’t go this far), it is one of the quieter and more romantic spots at which you can enjoy that signature peachy sunset and the epic panoramas touched by it.
Try the Local Cuisine (and Don’t Skip the Seafood!)
What’s not to love about Greek gastronomy? From salty fried cheese and fluffy bread kissed by silky-smooth olive oil to deliciously smokey meats and fish caught merely moments ago, it is both indulgently rich and refreshingly light all at once. There are fewer places in the Greek Isles better to sample its delights than in Santorini, which boasts some of the finest restaurants and tavernas in the Cyclades. Among the island’s must-try foods are fava bean dip, tomato fritters, kopania (baked sweets made from barley, sesame, and sultana), and cured pork. But the jewel in any Mediterranean island’s crown is obviously the delicious seafood, which you’ll likely find grilled to perfection. But don’t just stop at dining out in Santorini – there are some great local-run cooking classes to sign up for here if you’d like to get truly immersed in authentic Greek cuisine.
Visit the Capital City, Fira
It may come as a surprise but yes – Santorini does have its own capital. Small in stature compared to capital cities as we know them, but mighty in charm, Fira is the largest town on Santorini. Clinging to the island’s western face, it overlooks the two smaller volcanic islets that nestle in the center of Santorini’s crescent-shaped caldera. Served by a cable car that whisks travelers from the port to the town in just three minutes, Fira is the main hub for shopping, nightlife, and entertainment on the island, but culture buffs are catered for, too; there’s a pair of cathedrals to explore, and two museums documenting the long history and heritage of Fira (or Thera, as it was known in ancient times). If you’ve not done enough walking by this point, there is a 10km-hiking trail that joins Fira to Oia in around five hours. Again, take care on hot days and stay hydrated, with plenty of rest stops along the way.
Enjoy a Drink at Santo Winery
Viticulture on Santorini traces back to the Romans, who knew exactly how to harness the island’s fertile volcanic soil for the plantation of vineyards. Of the many producers still cultivating grapes in the Santorini countryside today, those at Santo Winery are among the best regarded not only in Greece, but internationally too. Situated close to the pretty village of Pyrgos, Santo Winery is open for tours and tastings, where guests can learn all about the legacy and process of creating wine from the indigenous Assyrtiko grape. At the on-site restaurant, dishes are designed around local produce and can be paired with wines from the Santo cellars.
Have a Swim at Kamari Beach
Regardless of whether you’re more partial to an active holiday or a relaxing break, there should always be time in your travel schedule set aside for an afternoon at the beach. On Santorini, it’s difficult to argue with anyone who calls Kamari Beach the best on the island; its very name even means “pride and joy”. Lined with sunbeds, straw parasols, and beachside bars, Kamari is most striking due to its long, black shingle shores which contrast beautifully against the bright blue of the Aegean Sea.