Santorini is known worldwide for its amazing scenery of white-washed houses against a stunning blue sky, overlooking the turquoise sea. No wonder that it is the most photographed of all the islands of Greece and attracts more than half a million visitors each year.
While this beautiful gem of the southern Aegean Sea is known as ”Santorini” all over the world, its official name is in fact Thira. The name Santorini comes from ”Santa Irina” (Saint Irene), the name of a small chapel on the island. It was the Venetians, ruling Santorini in the 13th century who first used this name to refer to the island itself.
Santorini is actually not a single island but consists of one large and several smaller islands. The present shape of the main island, as well as the small islands surrounding it, were formed by a violent volcanic eruption around 1600 BC. Even today, most of the beaches on Santorini are covered with fine black volcanic sand, which makes them quite a sight. The caldera of the Santorini volcano is a major tourist attraction.
Santorini’s two main towns are Fira and Oia, and the best way to discover the island and the stunning views it offers on the surrounding sea is to take the three-hour walk from Fira to Oia. The hike is not an easy one, especially on a warm summer day, but you can take a rest in Imerovigli halfway, and you are sure to stop several times to enjoy the view and take photos anyway.
Top things to do and see on Santorini
Watch the sunset at Oia
Oia is the greatest attraction of Santorini, the famous ”white village”. The whole place is like a postcard come alive: wherever you look, you are tempted to take a photo. The best spot for photographing the sunset is Oia Castle.
Visit the Akrotiri Archeological Site
This still active excavation site is the best place to discover Santorini’s rich prehistoric heritage. Much like Pompeii, the ancient city of Akrotiri has been preserved by the volcanic ash that covered it after the eruption of 1620 BC. You can walk through ruins of multi-storey buildings, warehouses, and a highly advanced drainage system, remnants of a highly advanced civilization more than 3000 years old. Most of the artifacts unearthed here including pottery, furniture and the famous frescoes of the blue monkeys are displayed in the Museum of Prehistoric Thira in Fira, which is also well worth a visit.
Visit the Santorini Volcano
Visiting the caldera of the Santorini Volcano is one of the most popular day trips offered on the island. You can take a guided boat trip from Fira, then from the boat, a roughly 30-minute hike will take you to the volcano’s caldera. You will walk past several active vents where you can smell sulfur and see smoke coming from the ground: a really cool experience! The view from the top is breathtaking. From the caldera head to the hot springs nearby where you can take a swim in the warm water.
Spend a day on Red Beach
Red Beach (Kokkini Paralia), named after its unique red cliffs, is situated near Akrotiri. Red cliffs, black volcanic sand, and crystal clear water: it’s the perfect setting for spending an unforgettable day of swimming and sunbathing. Akrotiri is also a great starting point for boat trips to other scenic beaches.
Go wreck diving
The majority of visitors come to Santorini to soak in its striking scenery and admire its famous sunsets, however, the island is also a great place for water sports, especially snorkeling and scuba diving. A special activity offered in the harbor is wreck diving. You can have the unique experience of seeing the wrecks of ancient Greek ships in a depth of 50 feet.
Getting to Santorini
While some airlines offer charter flights from various countries to Santorini between April and October, most visitors to the island arrive from Athens. From Athens International Airport (“Eleftherios Venizelos”), you can reach Santorini with a roughly 45-minute flight. The airport is about 8 miles from the main town, Fira.