Greek island in the Cyclades

Santorini is an archipelago of 5 volcanic islands in the Cyclades group of the Greek islands in the southern Aegean Sea, about 200 km southeast of mainland Greece. It is located between Ios and Anafi islands. It used to be a single island, but was obliterated around 1600 BCE by an enormous volcanic explosion that destroyed the earliest settlements on the former island and created the current geological caldera.

View of Fira

The Santorini archipelago is famous for dramatic views, stunning sunsets from Oia town, the ancient city ruins of Thera and Akrotiri, unique wines, artists and craftsmen, an active volcano, and black or red volcanic pebble beaches.

IslandsEdit

 
Santorini

There are 5 islands in the Santorini archipelago, by far the largest of which is Thira with an area of 73 km² and a population of about 15,500 inhabitants. The second largest and only other inhabited island in the archipelago is Thirasia with an area of 9 km² and less than 500 inhabitants. Nea Kameni in the centre of the caldera forms the current summit of the volcano, although it has been dormant since a last minor eruption in 1950. Palea Kameni and Aspronisi are likewise uninhabited, relatively small barren rocks in the Santorini caldera.

  Thira
By far the largest and most populous of the islands in the archipelago, sometimes confusingly called Santorini itself. It has the only airport on the archipelago, and therefore Thira is the island where the majority of visitors will arrive. Almost all accommodation and tourist infrastructure is on Thira.
  • 1 Akrotiri — famous for the ruins of a Bronze Age Minoan settlement, charming lighthouse, and Venetian Castle.
  • 2 Emporio — second largest town on Thira, with narrow cobblestone streets and Venetian castle on top of a hill, as well as one of the best preserved marble temples.
  • 3 Finikia — a beautiful, well-preserved traditional village with 2 volcanic cones in its backyard. All dazzling white or colourful houses and notable churches are carved on the volcanic rocks, its Cycladic architecture takes visitors to another spacetime, while its unobstructed view to the vineyards and the Aegean is simply breathtaking.
  • 4 Fira — the capital city of the Santorini archipelago, this stunning cliff-perched town has many museums and cultural venues to offer.
  • 5 Oia — overrun by tourists, this traditional settlement is world famous for its lovely sunsets and lively cultural scene. It is on the western side of Santorini, and its charming cube-like houses with colourful façades are perched on the edge of the cliffs, about 150 meters above sea level.
  • 6 Imerovigli — coastal town overlooking the caldera, popular with tourists.
  • 7 Kamari — a cosy town with black sand beach. On top of the nearby hill are the ruins of Ancient Thera.
  • 8 Megalochori — traditional village with a lot of old white Cycladic churches that is famous for its wineries.
  • 9 Perissa — churches from all eras of civilisation, and good Greek fish restaurants.
  • 10 Pyrgos — highest point on the island with picturesque monastery and Venetian castle with narrow streets.
  • 11 Vlychada — fishing village on the southern shore of Thira, with nude beach and large marina.
  • 12 Vothonas — a small village in a ravine, and centre of Santorinis wine industry.
  • 13 Vourvoulos — inland town known for its vineyards.
  Thirasia
The second largest inhabited island in the archipelago.
  • 14 Thirasia — the largest village on the island with the same name
  Nea Kameni
The summit of the Santorini volcano, this circular island with a diameter of about 2 km is a barren volcanic rock with a crater in its centre and sulphur vents all around. Can be reached from Thira with ferries and excursion ships.
  Palea Kameni
The youngest island of the archipelago, Palea Kameni appeared around 2 millennia ago, and its birth was documented by Roman scientist Cassius Dio in 47 BCE. Palea Kameni has a single inhabitant, Sostice Arvanitis, who is a goat herder and keeper on the island. The only points of interest on this small barren island are a church and hot spring.
  Aspronisi
Aspronisi is the smallest island in the Santorini archipelago, with a length of only 650 m. It is uninhabited, mainly due to its steep cliffs which make approaching from the water difficult and hazardous. Aspronisi does have two pebble beaches and a disused anchorage, but there are no scheduled ferry services from any of the other islands. The name is Greek for White island, referring to the colour of the volcanic pumice that makes up most of what is visible above the waterline.

The Christiana Islands are sometimes counted as part of the Santorini archipelago, but actually are a completely separate group of islands about 20 km south west of Santorini, comprised of 3 small islands (Christiani, Eschati, and Askania) which have remained uninhabited since the late 19th century, although the largest of the islands does have archaeological evidence of a Neolithic settlement. They are privately owned, and there are no scheduled ferry services to or from the islands from the Santorini archipelago.

UnderstandEdit

 
Bells of the blue domed church (dedicated to St. Spirou) in Firostefani

Santorini is an archipelago of islands in the Aegean Sea. The largest of the islands is Thira, which dominates the archipelago culturally and economically, and is sometimes referred to as Santorini itself. It used to be a single island, until a volcanic eruption around 1600 BCE tore it apart, and left a crater that filled with sea water.

The small islands cradle a rich variety of landscapes and villages. Visit traditional architecture in the small village of Mesa Gonia containing a mixture of ruins from the 1956 earthquake and restored villas as well as a winery at the foot of the settlement. Pyrgos is another notable village set inland with its grand old houses, remains of a Venetian castle and several Byzantine churches.

The island has no natural source of fresh water. Prior to the early 1990s, it was necessary for water to be delivered to the island via tanker from Crete. However, most hotels and homes now have access to water provided by a local desalination plant. While this water is potable, it is still rather salty, so most everyone drinks bottled water while visiting Santorini.

Fira is the fiery capital, a marriage of Venetian and Cycladic architecture, whose white cobblestone streets bustle with shops, tavernas, hotels and cafes, while clinging to the rim of the caldera 275 m (900 feet) above its port. If arriving by sea you can take a cable car up from the port or alternatively take a trip on one of the hundreds of mules up the 588 zigzagging steps. You could also attempt to walk up the steps but be warned, they are winding, narrow in parts with only low walls, they are covered in donkey excrement, and the donkeys will make no attempt to avoid you.

Walking along a path for about 20 minutes will bring you to Imerovigli where you can take in the magnificent views of the island's unique scenery from the tiny town, as it is the highest point of the Caldera cliffs.

Just above Fira is the quintessentially Santorininian town of Ia, also sometimes spelled Oia, with its whitewashed walls sunk into the volcanic rock and its blue domes rising above the sterling beauty of the stunning, russet Ammoudi Bay. At dusk, the town attracts crowds of people venturing to see the sunset. Santorini's sunsets, as viewed from Oia, are reputed to be among the world's most beautiful.

Due to the spectacular and unique natural beauty of Santorini, many Greek singers have chosen the island as the setting of their videos. Greek and Brazilian TV series have been shot of Santorini, as well as some Hollywood movies (e.g. Tomb Raider II). Generally Santorini is a pole of attraction for Greek and international celebrities. World-famous Greek composer Yanni wrote a song inspired by the beauty of the island, the song, also named "Santorini" is definitely worth checking out, specially the version performed live at the Acropolis with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.

ClimateEdit

The season starts April 1, or around Greek Easter. The period from December through March is very much the off-season and marked by colder temperatures, rain and winds. Although it is rare for the temperatures to get very low, the poor weather makes for a less than optimal experience on this beautiful island. Most of the businesses, including hotels and guest houses, may be closed. Ideal times to visit, for milder weather, prices and crowds, are April–June and September–October.


Santorini
Climate chart (explanation)
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Source: Wikipedia
Imperial conversion
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Choosing the right time to visit Santorini is extremely important. The best season to visit Santorini is spring, from early April to the end of May. During this period, wild flowers blossom and the otherwise barren islands turn into a colourful sea of wild flowers. In April and May, temperatures are pleasant and the chance of rain is low, which is ideal to hike from one town to the other, such as the famous Fira - Oia hiking trail. After May, temperatures soar with an extreme UV index: summers on Santorini are extremely hot. With very few trees to provide shade, the weather becomes too hot to do anything but stay inside the cooler cave houses. Public life slows down, restaurants and amenities close during the hottest hours of the day (noon - 15:00), and the beautiful spring flowers are scorched away with only dried out grasses left. From September, the weather becomes cooler again and more attractive for a visit, although the chance of rain also gradually increases towards the end of the year -- Santorini receives most of its annual precipitation during the winter months.

Get inEdit

The main options are ferries from Pireaus (standard ferryboats and high-speed catamarans) and flights from Athens.

Getting in from Athens by air is faster and you avoid possible sea sickness. However, in season air tickets sell out well before most of the ferries.

By planeEdit

There are regular flights from Athens by Aegean Airlines, Sky Express, and Volotea, with a flight time of 30-45 minutes. Volotea also has a regular service from Thessaloniki.

From May till October many charter airlines fly directly to Santorini from many European airports. Listed below is commercial air service.

1 Santorini (Thira) National Airport (JTR IATA) (located north of the village of Monolithos). The airport is very small, so passengers are allowed to drop off their luggage only two hours before their flight. There is a large number of seats outside of the terminal with a cafeteria, where passengers may wait. In the gate areas, seating is very limited. There is a cafeteria upstairs with outdoor tables for a view of planes.    

Getting there:

  • From the airport there are buses to Fira, €1.8 (Apr 2019), where you can change to buses for other towns.
  • Taxis are also usually waiting at the airport, but competition for them can be keen, €30 to Fira (2019).
  • Many Santorini hotels offer airport transfers, usually for a fee that's more than a taxi would charge you, but some may find it worth it for the convenience.
  • As the island is very small it's possible to walk from the airport, if you are fit enough (~5.5 km/90 min to the centre of Fira).

By boatEdit

See also: Fira#Get around
 
Panoramic view of the Catholic quarter of Fira

There are the standard ferryboats that need about 7–9 hours to reach Santorini from Piraeus and the fast ferries or high speed catamarans that take about 4–5 hours to reach the island. Check what you have bought: just because you have a reservation for a ferry, doesn't mean that you have a place to sit. Seats could be at extra cost.

Transport by sea is always dependent on weather. For safety, especially in winter or raining monsoon, cruise ships may delay or cancel landing shuttles, and ferries their departure times.

Take the ferry from Piraeus (port of Athens), past Paros and Naxos, to the new port on Thira. More details in the Cyclades article. There is also a daily connection from Heraklion (Crete) during high season.

Ferries dock at the 2 port of Athinios, where buses meet each arrival to transport passengers to Fira (trip takes 15 min and costs €2.3); taxis are also available. All vehicles climb a very steep, winding road (it makes seven 180 degree turns) to get anywhere from Athinios.

When by cruise ship, the experience will surely leave you with lasting memories. Cruise ships that call at the island are often unable to dock at Athinios port due to size constraints, but instead anchor 3 km north in the caldera, west of Fira. Locals with fishing boats occasionally transfer cruisers to the 3 old port of Fira (which seems not to have changed over the last 50 years), and larger, decorated shuttle boats take large-ship passengers to and from the docks below Fira.

Get aroundEdit

By busEdit

Only Thira has a public bus service, KTEL Santorini, with buses costing €1.60-3.00 (Apr 2022), depending on the route. This is probably the only cheap thing you'll find on the island considering the buses are comfy and air conditioned! During peak season, buses run up to every 15 minutes on the three highest-volume routes, which are the ones from Fira to Oia, Kamari, and Perissa. Other buses may run anywhere from twice an hour to only a few times per day. Timetables are available at the KTEL website. The buses occasionally miss trips, and some drivers are less than friendly. In peak season the buses will fill up at their starting points and will skip intermediate stops, so keep this in mind when considering where to stay. Tickets can be purchased on the bus, with cash only — so bring some coins. The buses have luggage compartments that can be used to transport large backpacks or cases.

The 1 bus terminal in Fira is the hub for the bus network, and almost all the lines "branch out" from this hub. For example, if you wish to travel from Kamari to Akrotiri, you will need to transfer to another bus in Fira, and purchase another ticket for the second lap of your journey.

By boatEdit

Boats run between major coastal towns in the archipelago, notably between Fira, Nea Kameni, Palea Kameni, and the old port of Thirassia. Tickets can be purchased at ticket offices in most of the ports. The ticket will list the port of departure, port of arrival, and the number of the vessel instead of its name. The vessel number is always printed on the lifeboats, when in doubt. A single journey between Fira and Thirassia starts at €10 (Apr 2O22). It's also possible to book a 6-hour "tour" around the caldera, which costs €30 per person.

Larger boats have a bar where drinks and snacks can be purchased.

By carEdit

 
Night view of Oia

Cars can be rented from about €40 a day during high season and from €20 during off season. An international driving permit is recommended. Without one, many car rental places will rent cars, but travel guides have mentioned tourists having insurance problems in case of accident. Scooters and 4-wheelers (quads or all-terrain-vehicles) are available to rent starting at about €15 or €30 per day, respectively. A drivers license is required to rent these 4-wheelers. Most of the people in Santorini are tourists, so road conditions are extremely unsafe, with many people driving by the laws and conventions of nearly every country in the world. It takes about an hour to drive the island from end to end (from Exomytis to Oia).

A popular method of getting around is to rent ATVs, though the "all-terrain" part is a misnomer, as most ATV riders are tourists riding on the paved road. ATVs share the road with other drivers and are usually all over the island. The island is small enough to travel around on an ATV, and is a cost-effective way to self-explore the further reaches of Santorini. ATV rental shops are all around the island, so it's best to ask your hotel owner/concierge on the closest/most trusted vendor. You will need your local driver's licence to ride one of these, and a helmet is recommended.

Some hotels advise booking a taxi in advance, as there are not enough available taxis on the island during high season. As is the rule in the Cyclades, taxi fares are typically shared between multiple passengers, so don't be surprised if your cabbie picks up more passengers during your trip.

By bicycleEdit

The island is small enough that it can be thoroughly explored by bicycle. Bicycle rentals are fairly hard to find—most places advertising bike rentals refer to motorbikes, rather than bicycles. E-bikes can be rented at 2 E-bike Adventures in Exomytis.

Santorini is not at all bicycle-friendly — there are no dedicated bicycle routes, so you must share roads with vehicular traffic. In addition, the island is very hilly with a few steep mountains as well. Maps are generally intended for hikers, and the recommended routes are impassable by bicycle.

By footEdit

Recommended routes by foot include the amazing walk from Fira to Oia (this walk is less nice in reverse, it can take less than three hours but can be difficult, for up and downhill climbs, the rocky surface at times, and the proximity to unprotected cliffs that drop sharply into the caldera) along the caldera, and the paths over Perissa Rock connecting Perissa, Kamari, and Pyrgos. The walk between Perissa and Kamari is fairly short (via Ancient Thira), while the walk to Pyrgos is somewhat longer, passing through the highest point on the island. In Santorini, you shall find pathways paved mostly with cobblestones and steps at the cliffside, so it is not the best place for heels or non-comfortable shoes. A pair of sneakers or comfy walking shoes will be ideal during your day or evening strolls around the island.

SeeEdit

For an archipelago its size, Santorini has an incredible wealth of attractions to offer a curious traveller. From fascinating museums to Bronze Age city ruins or black sand beaches, Santorini has attractions that make a visit worthwhile in every season.

NatureEdit

Santorini is one of the great natural wonders of the world, and its main attraction is its landscape and seascape. The configuration of the present, roughly semicircular archipelago is the result of an enormous volcanic explosion which occurred probably around 1600 BCE, literally blowing the top off the island and changing what had been a typical half-submerged mountain of an Aegean island into a flooded crescent caldera. Some have speculated that this event was the inspiration for the myth of Atlantis.

 
Climbing the slopes of Nea Kameni

In the middle of the caldera is the volcanic island of Nea Kameni, which can be visited with a 20-minute ferry trip from Thira and allows adventurers to climb the slopes to peek into the smoking crater. Steam and sulphur vents can be observed along the way — from a safe distance, of course! Volcanic cones also survive on Thira itself, with Mavro Vouno and Kokkino Vouno climable with hiking trails from Finikia. The steep cliffs of the caldera are a magnificent sight best enjoyed from a ship in the caldera. A climb up the cliff face is possible at Fira where the Karavolades stairs lead into the caldera.

Erosion of the volcanic cliffs leads to surprising geological formations such as Fira's Skaros Rock, which towers high above the water and is host to the ruins of a fort. The Heart of Santorini near Megalochori is another geological formation that has become a popular spot for photographers. The cliffs also form countless bays of all shapes and sizes that used to be hide-outs for pirates, but in more modern times are beloved spots for watching Santorini's famed sunsets. The most idyllic is without a doubt Amoudi Bay in Oia, which also serves as a port from which ferries depart to Therasia, Santorini's second inhabited island that is worth a day trip of its own.

ArchaeologyEdit

Santorini has been known since ancient times, and throughout the millennia has been inhabited by many civilisations. The south of Thira is home to two ancient cities, dating from different eras.

 
Pottery in the courtyard of a house in Ancient Akrotiri.

The oldest and scientifically most valuable is Ancient Akrotiri, a Bronze Age city built by the Minoans, who are best known from their heritage on Crete. When the volcano erupted and obliterated Santorini around 1600 BCE, the Minoan city was buried under volcanic pumice and ash — much like Pompeii — and incredibly well preserved. The entire city is covered with a giant canopy, so it can be comfortably visited even during the hot summer months.

 
Ruins of Ancient Thera

The Phoenicians founded their own city on the island that was known to them as Kalliste, and promptly renamed it after their leader Theras. Thus, the island became known as Thera in ancient times, from which the modern name Thira was derived. The city of Ancient Thera survived for centuries and was known to be prosperous, as evidenced by gold coins and many archaeological artefacts that have been found during excavations. The ruins sit on Gavrilos Hill between Kamari and Perissa, and a visit is worth it for the view as well as for the history of the site.

The frequent seismic and volcanic activity in the archipelago unfortunately leaves few structures intact over geological time scales, but one remarkable exception is the Temple of Agios Nikolaos Marmaritis, a marble temple near Emporio that dates to the 3rd century. The square temple is only 4 m long and wide, and is still in use for liturgical purposes today.

 
Fortifications of Pyrgos Castle.

The Santorini archipelago was conquered by the Venetians in 1207, and 5 fortified castles were constructed from the 13th century onward to protect the island from invaders, most notably the Ottomans with whom the Venetians were perpetually at war from 1396 until 1718. The largest of the castles is La Ponta in Akrotiri and the newest and best preserved is Pyrgos Castle, but if you have limited time, you might want to prioritise a visit to the 15th-century Castle of Emporio, which still forms the centre of present day Emporio. The medieval castle boasts narrow streets and picturesque churches, with many fewer gift shops than in Fira or Oia.

Those interested in the history of Santorini benefit from getting a 3-day ticket upon arrival on the island, which costs €15 and grants access to the archaeological site of Akrotiri, the archaeological site of Ancient Thera, and the Museum of Prehistoric Thera at a reduced price.

MuseumsEdit

 
Sculptures in the Archaological Museum in Fira.

When the weather isn't as sunny as the travel brochures promise, there are quite a few alternatives indoor. All museums on the archipelago are on Thira, most in the unofficial capital Fira. Confusingly, Fira has two different history museums: the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, which tells the story of the ancient Bronze Age settlement at Akrotiri, and the Archaeological Museum of Thera, that has a collection of pottery, amphora, and figures from the beginning of the Proto-Cycladic period of the 3rd millennium BC and continues on to the Classical period. There are also museums about naval history, tomatoes, wine, ethnography and several other subjects; see the Fira article for more information.

ArchitectureEdit

 
Churches with iconic blue roofs in Oia

Although the volcanic pumice quarries were decommissioned in the 1980s, the architectural style of square dwellings with white painted facades is still used consistently. The iconic blue roofs are not as common as one would think; they appear just about every postcard but in reality only a handful of churches actually have the blue roofs — all postcards use pictures of the same few buildings, but photographed from different angles!

Pumice is a natural insulating material because it is filled with little gas bubbles, and historically many houses were either partially built into the mountain side to take advantage of the insulation, or were built with underground cellars. The strategy is effective to keep heat out in summer, and keep houses warm in winter.

As iconic as the white walls and blue roofs are the windmills, which can be found all over the islands. There are two in Oia, and a few east of Finikia as well as south of the island near Emporio. Windmills in the same style can be found on many nearby Cyclades islands, but somehow they have stuck with Santorini's image. The windmill of Oia is the most photographed structure of Santorini.

At the other end of Thira, at cape Akrotiri, the Faros lighthouse is a popular place to watch the sunset, and far less crowded with tourists. The lighthouse is still in active operation by the Greek Navy.

There appear to be a nearly endless number of churches on Santorini, along with several monasteries. Even Palea Kameni, one of the smallest islands in the archipelago, doesn't have any infrastructure or buildings except for... a church! Most of the churches are Greek Orthodox. Their bells, usually in groups of odd numbers such as 3 or 5, are typically mounted in a stepped wall. The Three Bells of Fira became particularly popular for no apparent reason, as there are many churches on Thira that have a similar bell configuration. The picture perfect location on the ridge of the caldera may have something to do with it. Fira is also home to not only one, but two cathedrals, both of which are Christian but with different flavours: the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist is Roman Catholic and was founded in 1204. Its bell tower is a landmark of the city and worth a visit. The Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral was built in 1827 when Roman Catholicism fell out of favour. It has a large courtyard and beautifully decorated interior.

 
St. Nektarios chapel in the Profeta Elias Monastery

The Profeta Elías Monastery near Pyrgos is on the highest hill of Thira. It is rarely open to visitors, but the magnificent view from the top of the hill makes the climb worth it. It is on the hiking trail from Fira to Kamari. Not too far away is the Panaghia Episcopi, a church commissioned by the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos at the end of the 11th century. The interior is worth seeing for its interesting architecture as well as its numerous frescoes. The honour of most spectacular church on the Thira arguably goes to Timiou Stafrou, a very traditional Greek Orthodox church in Perissa, one of the largest on in Santorini, with characteristic blue domes. It is right next to the beach, offering opportunities for idyllic pictures.

DoEdit

Santorini's breathtaking volcanic landscape, with steep cliffs and smouldering craters, is what draws the adventurous traveller to the archipelago. It does not have water parks, theme parks, or zoos, but when strolling through narrow streets in authentic villages such as Pyrgos or Oia gets monotonous, there are ample opportunities for hiking and water activities on Santorini.

HikingEdit

 
The spectacular caldera ridge hiking trail from Fira to Oia.

There aren't as many dedicated footpaths as one might expect, and cycling or mountain biking infrastructure is absent entirely. That said, there are several hiking trails on Thira illustrating that quality is more important than quantity in this case. The best example is the famous Fira to Oia trail with a length of ca. 13 km that follows the crater ridge, and offers spectacular views of the caldera along the way. The route from Fira to Oia is uphill, with a climb of over 300 m, so the reverse direction is considered a bit easier. At a moderate walking pace, the hike takes about 3 hours. From Oia it is easy to take a ferry to the neighbouring islands Nea Kameni or Thirasia, which offer good hiking opportunities. The volcano craters of Nea Kameni in particular are worth seeing. There is no infrastructure on Nea Kameni however, so make sure to bring loads of water, good hiking shoes for uneven volcanic rocks, and plenty of factor 50 sun cream. Instead of taking the ferry, a connecting hiking trail from Oia branches off at Finikia for the Finikia to Cape Koloumpos trail. This 5 km long route passes through Finikia, and continues around the volcanic cones through vineyards, passing caves and a Minoan cistern along the way.

In the southern half of Thira, the most scenic route is the Pyrgos to Kamari trail, starting just south of Pyrgos and passing the highest point of the island at Profitis Ilias monastery. The descent passes the Zoodochos Pigis cave on the southern flank of the hill before reaching Kamari. From Kamari, the trail continues over the hill and passes the archaeological site of Ancient Thera, which is best visited in the morning. Descending the other side of the hill leads into Perissa. For those preferring an easier route with less climbing, the Perissa to Agios Georgios trail starts at the Basilica ruins of Perissa and follows the beach for 3 km. Continuing the walk to Exomytis is also possible, for a total length of 5 km, and it passes the necropolis of Ancient Eleusis on the way.

BeachesEdit

 
A red pebble beach in the south of Thira.

Owing to Santorini's volcanic legacy, the island coast lines along the caldera edge are typically steep cliffs where there are no beaches. Instead, beaches on Santorini are on the exterior of the semi-circular archipelago, most of them on Thira. A young archipelago on geological time scales, the sea hasn't had the time yet to erode the volcanic rocks fine sand, and therefore you won't find sandy beaches on the Santorini archipelago. Instead, beaches are generally composed of pebbles of varying sizes, and proper footwear is required to traverse them comfortably. A unique feature of beaches on Thira is that eroding cliffs on different locations on the island have greatly varying colours, resulting in beaches that are equally colourful. The most common beach colours are black, white, and red. Some of the most interesting beaches are listed below.

  • Kamari Beach, a black sand beach in Kamari, continues south in Perissa.
  • Red Beach south of Akrotiri. Reachable by bus from Fira and then climbing over the very rocky trails to get here (though there are water taxis and various schooners that make their way here as well). Red Beach earns its name from the iron-rich sedimentary rocks in the cliff face towering above the water, as well as the red sand. It's quite crowded. The first few meters of the water near the shore are quite gravelly, so be prepared to step on some stones. Women are frequently topless. Many distant yachts can be seen from the beach—it looks really romantic at sunset time. Great snorkelling - an abundance of sea life is present, as with Perissa. The tavernas built into the caves on Red Beach seem to have no electricity or running water, so if you eat or use the washrooms there, bring along hand sanitizer!
  • White Beach can be reached only from the sea; get there by boat from Red Beach or Akrotiri. There is no pier so the only way to get there is by getting off the boat and walking through waist-deep water. It is beautiful, but very small with only a few beach chairs and umbrellas and no facilities. Boat from Akrotiri stops at Red, White and Black beaches, about every 10-20 minutes, €10 for a round trip, travellers may get off the boat, visit the beaches and get back on in a later boat.
  • Vlychada nude beach is popular with naturists.
  • Perissa — Perivolos — Agios Georgios beach is a continuous beach with varying colours and sand/pebble sizes stretching from Perissa to Agios Georgios with a length of 3 km. It has beach bars and restaurants that makes it feel like a "beach day club".
  • Baxedes beach is the main beach at the north side of Thira island. Baxedes is a peaceful place with black sand, much more like how Santorini was like before mass tourism discovered the island.

CultureEdit

 
Sunset seen through the Heart of Santorini

The oldest theatre on the archipelago is Fira's White Door Theatre, which plays local and Greek comedies. In the summer months, the Open Air Cinema near Kamari also offers a unique experience.

Scuba and snorkellingEdit

Santorini has 5 dive shops. Prices are typically around €80 for two dives, including equipment rental, transport, and usually, a light lunch. The offerings are otherwise quite similar. Prices are sometimes lower when booked directly through dive shop, rather than through a travel agency. Try the Mediterranean Dive Club. Their dive station is on Caldera Beach near Akrotiri, but they also have an office on Perissa Beach. There are also two dive shops in Kamari: Navy's Waterworld Dive Center.

Diving, visibility is amazing, but there are not as many fish as more popular scuba and snorkelling locations. Dive sites include a wreck near the volcano, caverns, reefs, as well as wall diving. The wall dive is the most interesting. Octopus are not uncommon. To minimize environmental damage, all five dive shops go to the same locations (although not at the same time), with moorings shared by all the dive shops. If you want to go to a specific dive site, call ahead, and find out which dive shops are heading to which locations on which day (or ask to go to a specific location).

Recommended sites for snorkelling include Mesa Pigadia beach, somewhat out (some people recommended a diving buoy for boat safety), the beach south of Oia, as well as Perissa Rock (esp. somewhat further around the rock). There are supposed to be some nice spots between Perivolos and Vlichada Beach as well. The beach on Thirasia also has some reasonable snorkelling. Caldera Beach, near Akrotiri, has a few amazing snorkelling spots. When walking down to Caldera Beach (follow the signs to Santorini Dive Center), you will see some rock formations further out into the water. If you can find those once in the water, and swim to them, you will find wonderful snorkelling.

Virtually all beach-side shops will sell cheap, low-quality snorkelling gear (mask for around €10, fins for around €20).

BuyEdit

With the exception of a single Lidl near Mesaria, there are no supermarkets on Santorini, but there are plenty of mini markets, which are convenience stores that can be found near town centres and on secondary and tertiary roads. Expect prices to be inflated by 25% - 50% compared to Lidl prices.

  • Santoríni is one of Greece's most prominent wine regions, whose wines enjoy special designation of origin status from the European Union. The method of growing grapes (with vines close to the earth and individual vines spaced far apart from each other) is unique to the island, with its dry soil and windy climate. Wineries open to the public are located throughout the island.
  • Buy Santorini wines on Iama Wine Store in Oia. Very nice shop with all Santorini wines and over 350 labels of other Greek and international wines.
  • Bottled water is essential since tap water on Santorini is not potable.

EatEdit

SpecialitiesEdit

Santorini's volcanic soil, dry climate, and near absence of tree coverage has had its impact on the island's agriculture. It forced the cultivation of carefully selected variants of fruits and vegetables. Since the 1980s, several factors have contributed to the decline of the archipelago's agricultural diversity. The introduction of desalination plants has largely resolved the traditional water scarcity, which enabled cultivation of fruits and vegetables with higher yield that are not traditionally native to Santorini. The growth in tourism has also led to farmland being sacrificed to build hotels, villas, and other tourist accommodation. And finally, the popularity of Santorini wines abroad has caused a shift from traditional crops to a near-monoculture of vineyards across the island since the early 2000s.

The result is that many Santorini specialities that used to be served in many restaurants on the archipelago, have now become extremely rare or extinct. The most infamous example is Santorini's white aubergine. White aubergines have fewer seeds than their mainland counterparts and a much sweeter taste. Dishes with white aubergines have a unique flavour, but in the 2020s they have become an increasingly rare product, only served in the most exclusive restaurants. Krinak in Finikia is one of the only restaurants still serving white aubergine puree.

 
Tomato keftedes

Another famous Santorini speciality are tomato keftedes. These tomato fritters traditionally use Santorini's sweet cherry tomatoes and are served as appetisers or condiments, and consist of tomato slices in a batter of bell peppers, onions, mint, and aromatic herbs, deep fried in olive oil.

Fava is possibly the most popular Santorini speciality. It is a split-pea puree, usually served warm, that is topped with olive oil, lemon, and occasionally chopped onions. Onions are sometimes substituted for capers which are another traditional favourite on Santorini. Fava is considered a healthy comfort food by the locals, and it is served as a side dish or as a main dish with bread. It is sometimes also served with chlorotyri, a local cheese made form goat milk that is used in salads or spread on bread.

As a resource-constrained island, livestock other than goats and donkeys is uncommon on Santorini, and meat dishes are not part of the traditional diet. One notable exception is apochti: pork loin salted and pickled before being air-dried in the heat of the summer sun. After drying, a mix of pepper and cinnamon is rubbed on the meat, and then cured. Apochti are used in different recipes, often accompanied with red wine. Nowadays meats are imported from the mainland to satisfy tourist expectations, and both souvlaki and gyros can be found in every tourist town.

Sea food is very popular, in particular grilled octopus and deep fried fish. Many traditional sea food restaurants along the coast have disappeared and converted into generic "Greek" tourist restaurants. Traditional restaurants can still be found in Vlychada, such as the Fisherman's House in the harbour, where fresh fish is served while watching small fishing vessels enter and leave the marina. Asking for the catch of the day is always a good idea!

For dessert, baklava can be found everywhere. Kopania are traditional Santorini sweets made of powdered barley rusks and mixed with raisins, sesame seeds, or other nuts. The dough is rolled in balls and sprinkled with roasted sesame seeds. Kopania can be found in traditional bakeries. Around Orthodox Easter, towards the end of April, a traditional sweet cheese pie called melitinia can also be found in bakeries. It is prepared in a wood-fired oven, using fresh mizithra cheese, sugar, and mastic powder.

Where to eatEdit

The archipelago doesn't have many large supermarkets, but there are many smaller shops and convenience stores where food can be purchased to take away. Bakeries can be found in every town or village, and serve bread as well as a variety of pastries such as the traditional saganaki (fried cheese in filo pastry covered in honey) or spanakopita (spinach pie). These are good hearty options when hiking across the island.

There is no lack of restaurants either, although the ones serving authentic Santorini cuisine are in decline, usually morphed into generic Greek restaurants aimed at a tourist clientele. The most extreme example is probably Oia, where Greek fast food at elevated prices is the norm in almost every restaurant. As a rule of thumb, look at the menu displayed outside: if the menu has moussaka but not fava, you're probably better off looking elsewhere.

Many restaurants overlooking the caldera in Oia, Imerovigli, Fira, Megalochori or Akrotiri will charge a premium for the view, especially those advertising "sunset views". Expect prices that are at least 30-50% higher than what is charged for comparable food in side streets a bit further away from the caldera. Stay away from places that are overtly commercial and instead visit family-run fish taverns that are near the smaller beaches and communities.

If you want to learn how to make Cycladic cuisine, Kokkalo in Fira offers cooking courses.

DrinkEdit

WineriesEdit

Tour local wineries and enjoy the local wines, well thought of, if not world famous. The island is famous for the grape, which is grown as a shrub rather than a vine, and is visible in vineyards across the island. A combination of climatic factors and the tastes of those who have occupied and lived on the island have formed an eclectic cuisine.

SleepEdit

 
The iconic windmill of Oia

Santorini island could be divided into two sides. Santorini mainly owes its popularity to the western side. This is where the caldera is, and the villages, like Fira and Oia, that are built on the cliff. On this side, most hotels have terrific views of the caldera, volcano, the sea and sunsets. There is of course a drawback that you have to keep in mind before making your reservation: most of the hotels built on the caldera have many stairs. Some of the hotels do not accept children under 13, because they do not offer any children's facilities, due to their dangerous location on the cliff. There are hotels that are specially oriented to couples and honeymooners. Most of Santorini luxury resorts can be found on the western side of the island. Note that not all hotels which are on the western side of the island offer views, as some of them are in town.

The eastern side of Santorini resembles the rest of the Greek islands in the Cyclades. There are many beach hotels, especially in Kamari, that also attract a lot of tourists, mainly youngsters and families. These hotels usually offer larger rooms and pools than those on the other side of the island.

Keep in mind that the room rates are often set according to the view of the room, which makes the hotels on eastern side much cheaper than those on the western side.

Booking your accommodation in advance would be very helpful, as most hotels have no more than 20 rooms.

Most of the island's hotels are closed during winter. They open during or after Greek Orthodox Easter (April or May) and usually close by the end of October. As in other Greek Islands, July, August and September are considered high season.

Stay healthyEdit

 
A European cat snake, despite its dangerous looks completely harmless to humans

Because the island receives so little rain, and has no rivers or lakes, fresh water is scarce. Most of the tap water on Santorini comes from 2 large and a few smaller desalination plants scattered across the island. This desalinated tap water is not safe to drink. Bottled water is widely available in supermarkets and its price is regulated, which means it's relatively cheap at €2 for a 6-pack of 1.5L bottles. Dehydration is, together with sunburns, the most common health issue encountered on Santorini.

There are no hospitals on Santorini, but there is a clinic in Fira that is reasonably well equipped. Their phone number is +30 228 602-2237. Smaller clinics can be found in Emporio, Kamari, Oia, Pirgos, and Thirassia. For serious medical attention or emergencies, you are likely to be airlifted to Athens. Having a good travel insurance is no excessive luxury!

The UV index on Santorini is 9 or 10 throughout the year which is considered extreme. A factor 50 sun blocker is an absolute necessity, even under T-shirts! Avoid going out into the sun during the hottest hours of the day (12:00 - 15:00). Don't be deceived by the cool sea breeze that lowers the temperature, the sun burns regardless.

Compared to mainland Greece, there are no dangerous fauna to be concerned about on Santorini. The 2 species of snakes on the island, the leopard snake (Zamenis situla) and cat snake (Telescopus fallax), are completely harmless to humans. There are also 2 species of scorpions which have the tendency to hide in cracks in stone walls, but are likewise harmless. The only significant health hazard are drunk slob tourists, who can be found in abundance in the touristic areas of major towns between midnight and the early morning hours.

Stay safeEdit

 
Bell tower of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Fira

Be aware of rental scams, especially with agencies working only with motorbikes and ATVs. Using these types of vehicles is very common on Santorini and there are a lot of rental agencies. Some of them are ready to cheat. They will offer faulty motorbikes or ATVs for a lower price, but in case of accident they will demand that the customer pay for the whole cost of damage. They are offering only basic insurance but will present it like full insurance. Also, there is a big possibility of serious injuries.

It is possible to recognize these rental agencies by observing them aggressively attracting tourists and offering lower prices than others. Employees in front of these type of agencies will be loud and ready to promise everything until the contract is signed. It is necessary to check the vehicle before making any decision. Their vehicles are in most of the cases dusty, dirty and look old.

Santorini is relatively crime-free: you are quite unlikely to be pick-pocketed. On the other hand, you may feel you have been ripped off by some restaurant or bar bills. Remember not to shop at stores or order at restaurants without posted prices.

Physically the cliffs and low walls guarding large drops pose a danger to children while the elderly may encounter problems with the many steps. Cave exploring can be fun, too, but it is not recommended to deviate from the paths because of the unstable rocks made of tufa.

ConnectEdit

There are some local radio stations in Santorini, mainly in Greek language. When in Santorini, turn your radio at: Volcano Radio at 106.4 MHz and Top Melody Fm Radio at 104.9 MHz.

InternetEdit

Free Wifi is available in most cafes, beach bars, and hotels. You can find internet cafes in Kamari, Perissa, Fira (wireless access also available) and in Oia.

There is a booth selling prepaid SIM cards in the Arrivals hall of the airport, for durations of 3, 7, or 10 days. The default package is €25 for a data volume of 8 GB for 7 days. Although there is supposedly 5G, wireless routers do not connect with prepaid SIM cards (as of 2022) and only offer 2G (EDGE) connection without data. It is recommended to try the SIM card in your wireless device before purchasing to verify that it works properly.

There is only cellular coverage on Thira and Therassia. Santorini, being part of Greece, offers EU roaming free of charge to visitors with an EU SIM card.

Go nextEdit

Ferries are available to Anafi, Chalki, Folegandros, Heraklion (Crete), Ios, Karpathos, Kasos, Katapola, Kos, Koufonissi, Milos, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Piraeus, Rafina, Rhodes, Serifos, Sifnos, Sikinos, Sitia, Syros, Thirasia, and Tinos.


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