The island of Santorini (Thíra) is most impressive when approached from the sea as you sail into the massive caldera (sea-filled volcanic crater), almost totally enclosed by sheer cliffs ranging in height between 200 and 400 meters. Along the gray-black lava cliff tops, the whitewashed settlements of Firá and Oia are the island’s most alluring (and most expensive) destinations. In fact, Santorini lives almost entirely from tourism, attracting visitors with its extraordinary landscape and its ancient archaeological sites.
Best Time to Visit
If you are planning a Travel to Greece then best time to visit Santorini is between late April and early November when the weather is warm and there is little rain. For nightlife, swimming, and sunbathing visit in June, July, August, or September. For comfortable sightseeing March to June or September to November are best.
Top Places to Visit in Santorini
The capital of Santorini, Firá (Thíra) is made up of whitewashed cubic houses and terraces, winding lanes, little squares, and blue-domed churches perched on the cliffs 300 meters above the caldera. Below town, from the small port of Skala, Firá can be reached either by walking or riding (mules are for hire) up the steep and winding stepped path (587 steps) or by taking the cable-car.
On the northern tip of Santorini, 12 kilometers up the coast from Firá, Ía (Oia) is a picture-perfect village of whitewashed houses, several of which have been converted into chic little boutique hotels with infinity pools, overlooking the caldera. Like Firá, it lives from tourism, but caters for a more upmarket clientele. Steep paths zigzag up to town from Ammoúdi Bay, where you’ll find a row of waterside seafood eateries. Oia is especially known for its stunning sunsets, which attract visitors from all over the island each evening through summer. It’s possible to walk all the way from Oia to Fira following a footpath along the cliffs high above the caldera (allow three hours).
3. Akrotíri Archaeological Site and Red Beach
Near the village of modern Akrotíri, 12 kilometers southwest of Firá, the ancient settlement of Akrotíri was buried below lava following the 16th-century BC volcanic explosion that created the caldera. Excavations have shown that Santorini was a flourishing and prosperous island before the eruption and probably lived from shipping and trading. Its connections with North Africa can be deduced from the outstanding frescoes (most of which are now in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens) that decorated its houses. Akrotiri reopened to the public in 2012, following several years of closure.
4. Ancient Thira
On the southeast coast, Ancient Thira dates from the ninth century BC. You can see the ruins of Hellenistic temples and other structures, as well as the foundations of Roman and early-Byzantine buildings. Finds from the site are displayed in the archaeology museum in Firá.
5. Museum of Prehistoric Thira
Slightly confusing, the Museum of Prehistoric Thira displays finds from Akrotiri archaeological site. For many people, the top tourist attraction is the Blue Monkeys wall fresco, but other ancient artworks on display include marble figurines, painted ceramics, tools, and weapons. You’ll find it in a modern white building, close to the 1950s Mitrópolis church in Firá.
Santorini’s capital before Firá took over in 1800, tiny Pyrgos is made up of whitewashed Cycladic cottages built around the ruins of a medieval hilltop castle. Previously a sleepy, all-but-forgotten town, Pyrgos has, since 2004, started to cater to up-market tourism with the opening of several small chic restaurants and boutique hotels. You’ll find it in the center of the island, eight kilometers southeast of Firá.
7. Beach at Perissa
Santorini’s best known and most popular beach lies on the southeast coast, between the villages of Perissa and Perivolos. A six-kilometer-long stretch of fine, black volcanic sand, it is backed by tamarisk trees and overlooked by a string of seafood tavernas and cafés. There are sunbeds and umbrellas to rent, plus water sports facilities. It is approximately 12 kilometers from Firá.