Last Updated on 10th February 2023 by Sophie Nadeau
Santorini is easily one of the top places to visit Greece, and for good reason. From relaxing meals to whirlwind adventures to the chance to enjoy some of the best views the volcanic island has to offer, here are the very best things to do in Santorini! In Greek, Santorini is written Σαντορίνη.
The domed rooftops, iconic architecture, and glittering waters of Santorini will be easily recognisable to those who have long dreamed of visiting the beautiful Cycladic Island. Located in the middle of the Aegean Sea and best-known for its ancient vineyards and volcanic beaches, the island is best visited over the course of several days.
- Where is Santorini?
- How long do you need in Santorini?
- What is Santorini known for?
- Is Santorini the real name of the island? Or is it Thira?
- Best time to visit Santorini
- Best things to do in Santorini
- Enjoy the Sunset on Santorini
- Marvel at the architecture of Santorini
- Visit the town of Oia
- Go wine tasting in Santorini
- Sample Greek food
- Soak up the sun
- Spy the Church Domes of Oia
- Purchase a book at Atlantis Books
- Relax on Volcanic beaches
- Discover the windmills of Santorini
- Explore the Capital of Fira
- Take a sunset catamaran tour
- Explore the island of Santorini via quad bike
- Learn about the archaeology of Santorini
- Best places to stay in Santorini
- How to get around Santorini
- How to get to Santorini
- A final note: Visiting Greece is always a good idea!
Where is Santorini?
Santorini is a Greek island in the Aegean sea. Santorini is an island that’s part of the Cyclades, a group of island that’s so called because they form a cyclical shape. The island is approximately 300 km away from Athens (the capital city of Greece, an island on the mainland), 150 km south of Mykonos, and 140 km north of Crete.
How long do you need in Santorini?
Setting aside world-famous sunsets and iconic architecture, there’s actually a surprising number of fun activities on Santorini to suit every travel style and budget.
From relaxing on iconic beaches to sampling local cuisine to stepping back into history among centuries old ruins, you’ll want to set aside at least two to four days in order to at least scratch the surface. For more inspiration, be sure to check out our guide to 3 days in Santorini.
Of all the Greece travel tips I could give you, it would be that you shouldn’t try and see too many Greek islands on one trip! It’s far better to concentrate on a few and do them well instead of going too fast and not being able to have enough time to relax!
What is Santorini known for?
Santorini is most famous for its beautiful sunsets and long volcanic beaches. This means that the Aegean island is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. If you know anything about Greek mythology, then no doubt you’ll have heard of the lost island of Atlantis. Local legend has it that Santorini is lost Atlantis…
Is Santorini the real name of the island? Or is it Thira?
Since ancient times, Santorini has been known as Thira (Greek: Θήρα) and this remains the official name of the volcanic island to this day. In Classical Greek, the island is known as Thera.
With this being said, if you use the name ‘Santorini,’ then everyone will know what you’re talking about, and even the Greeks themselves use the word Santorini to refer to the island.
Best time to visit Santorini
The best time to visit Santorini depends entirely on your personal preferences, though I would recommend not travelling in the off season (the end of October through to the end of February) as almost everything will be closed and so it will be hard to dine out or even find a place to stay.
The best time to travel to Santorini is probably in June or September, i.e. just before or just after the most popular months of the year: July and August. Visit just before or just after the busiest times in Santorini and you’ll be rewarded with slightly lower prices, amazing weather, and fewer crowds.
Best things to do in Santorini
Enjoy the Sunset on Santorini
One of the most magical things to do in the entirety of Greece is to see sunset in Oia. Eternal Santorini is well known for its breathtaking sunsets. Head to the Caldera in Oia for some of the best views of the island, sea, and sunset beyond.
Just bear in mind the sunset on Santorini can get pretty hectic, especially so during peak season (July and August) when it’s hard to even navigate the narrow lanes, let alone find an epic snapshot angle.
Of course, one of the best photo spots to enjoy the golden hour in Santorini is overlooking the blue domes of Oia. Other spots in the world-famous town include at the Santorini windmills, and from the stunning outdoor terrace at the Red Bicycle Restaurant, where you can enjoy traditional Greek food served with a modern twist.
Marvel at the architecture of Santorini
Greek architecture, and specifically that of the Cyclades (a group of islands so-called because they form a circular shape) is unique in its white-painted houses and cobbled lanes. The villages of Santorini are no different and some of the most interesting structures are to be found in the form of cave dwellings.
These homes and houses are constructed in niches in the volcanic rock and always remain the perfect temperature; in the summer they stay cool, while in the winter months the caves are easy to keep warm. Elsewhere on the island, Neo-Classical 19th-century mansion houses built by wealthy captains can be found in nearly every village and town.
Visit the town of Oia
Oia (pronounced e-ah) is one of the most picturesque places in all of Greece. Home to oodles of litle lanes and small boutiques, Oia may well be the most famous town of all the Greek islands. First founded before the Venetian rule of the Middle Ages, the former fishing village has been inhabited for centuries.
Go wine tasting in Santorini
If you’re a fan of anything wine related, then consider a visit to Santorini, and specifically a Santorini winery. After all, the volcanic island is home to some of the oldest vineyards in the world. However, when you first glance towards the countryside, you may not even realise that you’re looking at vines. I know I didn’t!
This is because the vines are cultivated close to the ground so as to form a natural basket which will protect the grapes as they grow. Santorini is incredibly windy and so if the grapes were to be cultivated along poles, much of the harvest would be lost.
Local wines are of the red, white, and rosé varieties, with some of the most famous being dry yet fruity whites! For more information, check out our guide on how to go wine tasting in Santorini.
Sample Greek food
Traditional Greek food consists of plenty of cold dishes, sea-inspired living, and cold meat cuts. And the Cyclades Islands are no different. Santorini is well known for its seafood; calamari and cuttlefish are locally fished.
While, if you’re like me and don’t eat meat or fish, then there are plenty of vine wrapped leaves, olives, and tomato dishes available. For those who are looking for a fine dining experience on Santorini, you simply must visit the Red Bicycle Restaurant.
This fine dining restaurant offers an open-air experience and the taster menu is filled with experimental food based on traditional Greek dishes. For example, the ‘cheesecake’ course is actually savoury; the base is crushed bruschetta, the ‘cheese’ part is feta and the ice cream is a savoury tomato!
Soak up the sun
Sun for days and little rain, if you’re searching for some beautiful weather, then you simply must visit Santorini! Home to plenty of beaches and sunny spots where you can enjoy all of the incredible weather, the temperature never drops too low and snow is pretty much unheard of. If you’re looking for the best of the weather when you’re looking to visit Santorini, then make sure to head to the island in May, September, or October!
Spy the Church Domes of Oia
If you’re truly looking for ‘must-see Greece,’ then you should most definitely check out the domed church of Oia. Pictured on almost every postcard promoting Greece the world over, the church domes of Oia are best seen during the golden hour. For the sun setting behind your shot, make sure to head to the domes for sunset. If you’re looking for an iconic photo with fewer people, then set your alarm and head to the blue domes for sunrise!
Purchase a book at Atlantis Books
As our guide said while we passed through the winding lanes of the famous bookstore, ‘Atlantis Books is the most famous bookshop in Greece, if not all of Europe’. Head to Instagram and you can expect to find plenty of snaps of this iconic storefront. While there, you’ll discover rows upon rows of books to read, as well as comfortable reading nooks in which to curl up with a good read.
Relax on Volcanic beaches
As Santorini was formed by volcanic activity tens of thousands of years ago, so the geographical history of the island can be seen in its many rock and mineral formations all over the island. Much like the lesser-known island of Milos and the beautiful island of Mykonos, where the largest mineral mine in Europe is located, Santorini is covered in plenty of unique and unusual rock formations.
The island is also home to unique black sand beaches where it’s possible to swim in crystal clear water and relax under palm shades. Some of the best (and most popular beaches in Santorini) include Perissa and Kamari.
Both of these are black sand beaches and are home to oodles of cafés, bars, and mountains rising up above the waters to either side of the sandy straights.
Discover the windmills of Santorini
Thanks to the sheer wind on the Cyclades, many of the islands have taken advantage of the weather and constructed windmills to harness the wind power to grind flour. Santorini is no exception and there are plenty of windmills on the Greek island. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous during your time on the island, then you may even want to stay in a windmill!
Explore the Capital of Fira
Many visitors to the Greek island don’t know this before visiting, but the capital city of Santorini is actually Fira. Some of the top highlights of Fira include Museum of Prehistoric Thira (which showcases items from the Bronze Age) and the whitewashed Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral.
Take a sunset catamaran tour
Hands down, one of the best ways to enjoy the Sunset on Santorini is by boat. For the ultimate sunset experience that you’re likely to remember for the years and decades to come, you might even consider booking this Santorini Catamaran Red Cruise with Meal & Drinks. Well-reviewed, the itinerary of this five-hour excursion includes several beaches, drinks, and food!
Explore the island of Santorini via quad bike
Those looking for a convenient and fun way to explore Santorini may well consider doing it by quad bike. Find out more details here.
Learn about the archaeology of Santorini
For fans of history, it’s well worth noting that Santorini is home to a plethora of incredible archaeological sites. Some of the sites you can visit back thousands of years and are a chance to delve deep into history and discover how people lived many millennia ago.
Best places to stay in Santorini
There are three main places to stay in Santorini, each at slightly different price points and so you’ll want to choose the location you stay at depending on your budget and also what kind of activities you envision doing during your time on the island of Santorini.
Of course, the most famous place to stay in Santorini is in the town of Oia, which lies to the North of the island and is actually not the capital city but remains the most famous town on Santorini. It’s worth noting that Oia is the most expensive place to stay since it’s the most popular. Check hotel availability in Oia here.
The capital city of Santorini is that of Fira (sometimes also written as Thera), which can be found in the middle of the island. It’s also here where the main port of Santorini is and is likely where your first port of call to the Greek island will be if you’re arriving by boat.
Thanks to Fira’s central location, it’s a great place to base yourself in order to explore the wider island. Since it is much less popular than Santorini, places to stay in Fira tend to be significantly cheaper than those in Oia. Check hotel availability in Fira here.
One of the newer up and coming popular places to stay in Santorini is a little off the beaten path though still remains close to several popular attractions on the island such as the red beach and the archaeological park, and the Santorini lighthouse.
Akrotiri is where visitors will be delighted to discover a plethora of upscale and boutique hotels which are much more exclusive and private than those found in Oia. You see, due to the stepped nature of Oia, you should note that the villas are not nearly as private as you think they are. Sitting in a small private pool in a hotel in Oia, you may still easily be seen by tourists and locals.
How to get around Santorini
Santorini is pretty large and if you want to see the island sites away from the crowds of Oia and the hustle and bustle of Fira, you’ll want to arrange some form of transportation to travel around to various attractions on Santorini.
The cheapest way to get around Santorini is by bus, which is actually fairly comfortable on account of the fact that it’s air conditioned. What’s more is that it only costs a few euros to get between destinations, making this the perfect option for those travelling to Santorini on a budget.
Other options including renting a private driver (check prices and availability here) which will give you more flexibility on timings or alternatively renting a car yourself.
However, you should note that the roads on Santorini can be pretty narrow and steep and so you might want to think twice before renting your own vehicle. Another popular option is to rent a quad bike. See more details here.
How to get to Santorini
Although Santorini is an island, it’s probably easier to reach than you might think! After all, as one of the most popular tourist destinations in Greece, there are plenty of ferry routes operating to and from the island on a regular basis.
A final note: Visiting Greece is always a good idea!
You will surely not be disappointed should you opt to visit Greece, though there are a number of things to consider while planning your trip, such as the best time of the year to visit and other travel considerations.
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Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, travel, pizza, and history. A fan of all things France related, she runs solosophie.com when she’s not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming something sweet. She currently splits her time between Paris and London. Subscribe to Sophie’s YouTube Channel.
Friday 13th of September 2019
Couldn't agree with you more on the beauty of Oia. I fell in love with this town and its sunsets too when i was there :) Simply breathtaking, aren't they? https://www.goodvibesspreader.com/
Saturday 16th of June 2018
Lovely pictures. I am making a Greece itinerary and bucketlist items, so thank you for sharing this post. Greece is every travelers dream
Saturday 16th of June 2018
I've been to Santorini and agree that it is a very special place and as dreamy as the photos. Now your post has me longing to return!!