Santorini is one of the most romantic spots on Earth and is the most popular of all Cyclades islands. A few small islands nearby are also considered a part of Santorini, but basically, when we speak about this magical island, we mean the main island of Thira, where the most impressive sights are concentrated. It’s not only admired for its white sand beaches, imposing rock cliffs and turquoise waters, but also for the unsurpassed beauty of harbour towns and quaint cobblestoned streets. Santorini is great for couples, families, for a company of friends, because this fairyland has everything to offer to any kind of traveller. So if you are thinking about your next trip to Santorini, make sure you take a look at our list of must-sees and things to do in Thira.
One of the characteristic features of Santorini is its geological structure, which is the result of the activities of an extinct volcano. In the 16th century BC one of the mightiest eruption took place here, which resulted in the flooding of some parts of the island and the formation of a giant crater. Many scientists even link the history of this island to the mystical Atlantida. The coastline of the island is steep in the West, and there are countless gravel and sand beaches on the East coast. The marina is located in the small village of Athinios, from where you can reach the administrative center of Santorini. By the way, you can take a walk, ride a donkey or use the funicular. The city itself is a picturesque one, but you can easily get lost here amidst numerous arches and little streets.
The island has a traditional Mediterranean climate, but the central and southern parts can be rather hot. It may rain a little bit from now and then during the summer, but in winter you can walk along the island for hours, even in the evening and the mild weather will contribute to it. In May the weather in Santorini is hot enough to open the beach season (the temperature can get higher than 24-25 degrees Celsius). Many tourists from different countries strive to have their holiday here and the beaches are crowded up to November, when it gets colder and the rains get more frequent.
The Brief History of the Black Pearl of the Aegean
Evidences of the habitation of humans on Santorini date back to the 3rd millennium B.C and the sudden eruption of a volcano on the island is proven to be the reason why men’s activity came to the end here. It was around 1600 B.C when the island was buried under volcanic ash and up to the 13th century B.C. there were no traces of humans living there. The island was named in different ways by the people, who later on settled there. The Phoenicians were among the peoples who left traces here and they called the island Theras in honour of their leader. In the 9th century B.C. the island became an important crossroad for the Eastern and Western peoples and this is when the Phoenicians started to move on to the south, reaching the African coast and in 630 B.C. they founded their colony Cyrene. Thera is also referred as an ally of Sparta during the Peloponesian War. During the Hellenistic period Thera became an important strategic base in the Aegean. However, the role of this island wasn’t that important during the Roman period and Byzantine times when it lost its political significance. The current name was given to the island by the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade, when the island was under the power of the Duchy of Naxos. In the 13th-14th centuries the Frankish rule came to replace the local Latin rulers and the island had to face lots of challenges caused by the pirates and the rivalry between the Sultan and the actual leaders. The piracy was ended with the Turkish dominion beginning from the 16th century, when Santorini became an essential trading hub. After 1830 the island got rid of the Turkish dominion and became a part of the independent Greece. The next catastrophe happened to the island in 1956, when as a result of the earthquake, the population of the island was decreased for some time. The enhancement of tourism infrastructure beginning with the ‘70s was a turning point for the economy of the island and influenced it in the most positive way.
Visit the Museums of Santorini
The history and culture buffs are advised to visit the local museums, which represent the most significant epochs in the local history and spread light on historical events that may interest every traveller. The Archeological museum houses a priceless collection of Hellenistic pots and jars from the 4th century BC, Archaic inscriptions, Roman sculptures and portraits from different epochs. In the thematic sections of the Museum of Prehistoric Thira there are lots of exhibits from the excavations in Akrotiri dating back to the late Neolithic era and wall-paintings representing the Aegean culture and history.
If you want to observe the wall paintings of Akrotiri altogether, Santozeum is the right place for you. Here you can find three-dimensional reproductions of all exhibits that may interest you.
In the Naval Museum you have a good chance to see exhibits tracing the maritime history of the island and the surrounding areas. Lots of visual and textual materials alongside marine objects will help you get to know the Greek navy history. By the way, the museum is located in the village of Oia, which is also worth visiting separately.
Those interested in the workshops of carpenters and blacksmiths and works of local artists are advised to visit the Folklore Museum. The Megaro Gyzi Museum, located in a medieval mansion, houses a collection of historical manuscripts, old photographs of the island, paintings with Santorini landscape and dresses.
Another mansion worth a visit is Argyros in Messaria. The real clincher about this house is the combination of neoclassical and traditional styles in architecture and the furnishing, which represents a small part of the Greek cultural heritage.
For wine lovers a great museum dedicated to the history of wine on Santorini happens to be located on the way to Kamari beach. So take time to visit this family owned museum to get interesting information about your favourite drink.
Marvell the Sights of Santorini or Join the Festivals
Take yourselves out of your comfort zone and be immersed in a new culture! You are advised to seize the opportunity to explore every corner of this amazing island, including its archeological sites. You can begin your exploration in the center of Thira and then visit Akrotiri, one of the most famous archeological sites in Greece.
The ruins of the Minoan city were buried under the volcanic ash before the excavations revealed amazing finds from the era of this phenomenal civilization. Some roads and drainage systems are well preserved under the protective structure, which by the way will provide shade to make your excursion here more convenient. Ancient Thera, which was divided into two parts by Iera Odos or the “Sacred Road”, used to be a Roman, Phoenician, Dorian and Byzantine settlement. Here you can see ruins of houses and graves from different epochs, theatres and sanctuaries. The city is surrounded by rocks, which are covered with names of men in the language of Apollo.
The village of Oia attracts many visitors with its unique style. It’s only 11 km away from Thira, which means getting there is not a big deal. Furthermore, you’ll admire the beauty of white and blue houses carved from rock, cobbled streets and courtyards. The medieval settlement of Pyrgos and the village of Imerovigli are also among the highlights of the island.
The abundance of cultural monuments, elegant architecture and amazing scenery attract many tourists to the island of Santorini. This island is especially famous for its ecclesiastical architecture, whitewashed houses and windmills that cascade down the hills. Among the must-sees of Santorini are the monastery of Elijah the Prophet and the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist.
Once you are in this amazing island, you have a good chance to get to know the traditions of the locals taking part or just watching the religious festivities, which are usually devoted to the patron saints of the villages. The national music, dances and of course the great food are the fun part of the festivals. On the 15th of August the church of Panagia Episkopi becomes the epicenter of a massive holiday dedicated to the Holy Virgin. The Festival of Volcanos or Ifestia takes place in late August and is accompanied with dances fire-woks and virtual eruption of the volcano.
Summer is also great in terms of music festivals, because this is when the International Music Festival takes place and believe it or not it lasts from the end of July till September. Can you imagine two months of multi genre music performed by international artists? Chamber Music, Byzantine Music, tango and jazz are among the most popular music types that attract a huge audience. The Jazz rhythms dominate the atmosphere of the island from the end of June till July and welcome both the local and foreign jazz performers.
Get Married in Santorini
The stunning landscape of Santorini, the tender waves of the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean sun are able to ignite a fire of love in the hearts of people and the fabulous vacation of two on this island will be a fantastic memory for a lifetime. The famous local wine, the endless stretch of beachfront cafes, bars and restaurants create a unique atmosphere of relaxation, romance and positive mood. The island is popular with newlyweds, who choose Santorini as their honeymoon destination. Most of the couples prefer to get married in Santorini and it’s not difficult at all to find a romantic place to hold the ceremony, almost every corner of the island is saturated with tenderness and romance. You can admire the glittering sea in front of you during the ceremony while exchanging your vows. Taking unbelievable photos, seizing the advantage of sunset backdrops and dreamy sea views is way too nice, than having an ordinary ceremony in your city with hundreds of guests but banal photos and impressions… Anyway, it’s up to you.
Say “S’agapo” Once in a Lifetime
On an island, where hedonistic indulgence seems to be the main philosophy, nothing is better than falling in love. The magnificent vistas and the breathtaking landscape seem to be created just for lovers. Santorini, though a little bit more expensive, is worth the efforts you take to have a holiday there. Falling in love in a Greek way is highly recommended. Of course, if you are in love the scenery doesn’t matter, but imagine how much better it is to hold the hand of your beloved one watching the stars at night or waters that kaleidoscope in color as the sun hits the seabed, whispering sweet nothing into each others ears.
Santorini welcomes the couples to get lost in the quaint streets and among whitewashed houses dreaming of the time when you will have your own house on this island or somewhere else on the beach under the shade of palm trees. An intimate candlelight dinner will make you feel like all the world goes round your love-story. We don’t mean that Santorini is for lovers only and there is a strong taboo against families and children, but the fact is that the nature itself contributes to romantic feelings without any doubt. Feel truly in touch with the beauty and depth of nature and enjoy love with all your senses.
Enjoy the Slow-Paced Beach Life
The crown jewel of the Greek islands has won lots of awards from tourism magazines and organizations and has an unrivaled reputation as one of the top islands in the world for a beach holiday. It’s worth mentioning that the main reason why so many people come to Santorini isn’t just a beach holiday, because there are plenty of other islands in Greece, with a greater array of availability. The real clincher about this island is that the beaches of Santorini are sights in their own right. These beaches are a vivid example of the fact that the sand can be not only yellow. Due to the fact that the island is closely connected with the history of an extinct volcano, Santorini has a unique topography and sandy beaches of different colors: white, black and red. Though there are nearly 20 places on the island, where you can swim and sunbathe, the beach life of Santorini is mainly focused on Kamari, Red Beach and Perissa. You can choose a beach according to the sand type you prefer and your other needs.
The Red Beach or Kokkini Paralia is located near the archeological site of Akrotiri, which means it’s easy to combine sightseeing and sun-and-sand experiences in the best way to save some time. The beach is completely piled with loungers and parasols and gets crowded very quickly. So you are advised to come here early in the morning to enjoy the beauty of brick-red cliffs that surround the beach and have fun on black and red porous pebbles. Be ready to clean your towels from the red sand, which can cover all your personal belongings if the wind decides to do so.
You can get to Kamari Beach taking a bus from Thira, the administrative center of Santorini. The beach is very popular with the visitors, so here you’ll find a wide variety of water attractions. Since there is always a big concentration of tourists in this beach, a lot of small bars, taverns and hotels dot the area. The nearby rock Mesa Vouno guards the peace of the beach adding even more charm to this fantastic place with black volcanic sand. The waterfront promenade is ideal for evening walks when the sun has already sunk in the calm waters of the sea.
Perissa is on the opposite side of the mountain Mesa Vouno. Here the atmosphere is conducive to a quiet and relaxing holiday with your family or loved ones. The access to the water is very convenient, and the rocks protect the 8-kilometer coastline from the wind. If this doesn’t sound perfect enough, the diving center of Perissa offers unbelievable adventures under the water to make your time even more memorable. After all, even the grown-ups are sometimes into making sandcastles. What about you?
Enjoy the Local Greek Cuisine
Santorini is considered to be a gastronomic destination for many visitors. Due to the constantly growing tourism, there are numerous restaurants, cafes, Greek taverns that offer amazing food, the secret of which is mainly in local products. The best food here is easy to find, you just can rely on your nose to guide you through a fantastic gastronomic excursion. But you should keep in mind that the food in classy restaurants may be a bit pricey, so if you don’t want to spend a hefty chunk of the budget on food only, take this fact into account.
Koukoumavlos is one of the most famous local restaurants, where you can have a nice evening tasting amazing food from the Aegean cuisine made from fresh local products. The menu contains not only delicious, but also very creative dishes, like smoked feta mousse or duck burgers with truffle mustard. The slow cooked lamb shoulder, the sea bass fillet and of course the famous Greek gyros, but this time with marinated veal cheeks are the most popular main dishes of the menu.
Another outstanding restaurant is Mario No 1, which is located near the airport and serves a wide variety of traditional dishes, assortments of appetizers and fresh seafood. Here you can take in the views of the Aegean Sea while enjoying the mix of flavours of the Mediterranean cuisine. Mussel saganaki, pork fillet a la creme and seafood tagliatelle are among the signature dishes of this top class restaurant.
Winemaking is a tradition in Santorini dating back thousands of years. The amazing grapes growing in the volcanic soil provide a fertile background for the wine to have unique characteristics. Assyrtiko and Nihteri are local varieties of wine grape, and are used to make excellent dry white and rose wines. But the most popular of all wines in Santorini is perhaps Vinsanto. The process of making this wine is quite interesting, because the grapes are left in the sun up to 30 days after harvest and then the wine is aged in oak barrels for minimum two years to get the incredible taste and flavour.
Besides the restaurants there are also lots of bars and cafes, where you are advised to visit to enjoy the famous local wine, frozen drinks and Mediterranean cocktails and desserts. Bars are the ultimate places to relax with a glass of exotic drink after a swim in the sea. Among the most famous bars are Casablanca Soul, Chilli, Tango, Murphys, Vertigo and Tropical. The fabulous thing about the Greek bars is that it’s more than acceptable to dance on a bar counter.
There are also purely Greek-type bars in all parts of the country called Bouzoukia. The Greek spirit with urban folk music will penetrate deep into your soul after the first visit. Such “ethnic” bars are famous for their unique atmosphere, which sets them apart from other European-style ones and this is the reason why the foreigners strive to spend a single night at a Bouzoukia during their vacation. After all, visiting ordinary bars is an option you can take almost everywhere, so why spend the precious time in vein without seizing the great chance of a lifelong “relationship” with Greece?
You just have to think about the reservation of the tables beforehand, because during the beach season and especially on the days when a famous singer is to perform, it will be nearly impossible to find a vacant place in the limited territory of the Bouzoukia. Be ready to get to know the interesting tradition of the locals: while their favourite singer performs on stage or some attractive girls are dancing around, most of the attendees throw flowers on them to express their admiration and why not to flirt? Trays of flowers are sold right in the establishment, but be ready to pay a shark bite out of the bill for these flowers if you want to feel Greek for a single night. Believe it or not, the compliment may also be expensive.
And Finally a Few Tips for Travellers
You can get to Santorini from the airport of “Eleftherios Venizelos” in Athens. It’s also possible to fly to this island from Mykonos, Thessaloniki, Crete and Rhodes. If you wish, you can also take a ferry or reach the island in a fast catamaran. In fact, it really is worth considering taking a tour of the beautiful Greek islands.
Nowadays Greece deals with a serious financial crisis, but that doesn’t mean tourism is not actual anymore. Furthermore, a holiday in Greece, which once meant an overpriced delight, is now way too affordable. You can take the advantage of many cheap opportunities and travel as a backpacker tourist, instead of paying five-star-hotel fees and dining in classy restaurants (the food in seaside taverns is also great). Breaking the bank is a no go!
Santorini has always been famous for sky-high prices, but even here you can act a little bit flexibly renting an apartment from locals and using the services of family-owned restaurants and cafes. And at the very least keep in mind that the sparkling azure sea and the Mediterranean sun are equally wonderful for both the budget travellers and the ones, who always prefer to pay more just to be on the safe side.