Santorini is the southernmost volcanic archipelago in the Cyclades archipelago in the Aegean Sea. Santorini reached its current state as a result of several volcanic eruptions. Currently, the main island (Thira) embraces the Caldera in the form of a crescent moon to the east and a smaller island, Thirasia, to the northwest.
The Caldera is the part of the bay surrounded by islands, a stretch of coast formed by volcanic eruptions, and in the middle of it the volcanic crater can still be seen today. Looking at the tiny little volcanic island, it is now hard to imagine that about 1,500 years B.C., this volcano could wreak such havoc that it ended even the thriving Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, more than 100 km south. According to many, this huge volcanic eruption not only took the island of Santorini into pieces, but also caused the disappearance of Atlantis. It may even be that the legendary city lies there off the coast of Santorini, and the Caldera hides even more wonders and secrets than have been revealed until today.
Thanks to the island's incredible history, magnificent architecture and enchanting geographical location, it is no wonder that Santorini is the dream destination for thousands of people. The magical island is visited by millions of tourists every year. Nowadays, it is easy to get to Santorini in many ways. Many visit Santorini from Crete on a few-hour cruise, but most people come by air with cheap low-budget airlines. However, the influx of tourists from large cruise ships is not negligible either. Santorini is an unmissable stop of the cruises, which are shipping around Greece. And because the water in the Caldera is quite deep as a result of the volcanic eruption, large boats and cruise ships can anchor quite close to shore.
The island of Santorini is quite contrasting. When you land with a plane, you first encounter the eastern side of the main island, Thira, which at first may seem very dry and barren. Especially in the summer season, when the drought is very high, there is hardly any green vegetation on the island, or if there is, it is also a little browner, yellower because of the lot of dust and drought. Most of the green plants that we find on the island, are the large cactuses, palm trees, fig bushes and dusty grapes.
However, for those who arrive on the island by boat at the west coast of Thira, their first sight of Santorini is the Caldera, which is sure to be a beautiful first impression for everybody.
As Santorini is very small, Thira, the main island is 79km2, so you can easily visit most places on the island in a week, especially if you rent a car. There are big price differences on the island. The main cities of the Caldera: Fira, Oia and Imerovigli offer a number of wonderful luxury accommodations with private jacuzzis, from where you can enjoy the magnificent Caldera sunsets. These small apartments are located on top of each other, completely crowded and with little privacy, as these tiny little terraces and jacuzzis are right below the pedestrian streets of the Caldera, but the fact is that it is still an amazing experience to admire the sunset from there. The price for these Caldera-view apartments has no limits. We can find accommodation for even 1500+ Euros in the high season in the Caldera. But of course, there are also cheaper, more budget-friendly accommodations in Santorini, especially in the parts where there is no view of the Caldera, or in the east and south of the island, and on the other small island of Thirasian.
In terms of transport, it is advisable to rent a car / quad / motorbike on the island because public transport is limited and Fira-centric. There are bus services that go in a circle through Fira and Oia, but only in one direction (Fira -> Oia, so clockwise), and there are also bus services to the southern part of the island, but you should know that buses are not very frequent and in the summer during busy hours you can easily wait hours for the bus, especially if you can’t get on the first one because of the long queue, but have to wait for the next one. This crowdedness is especially specific for the pre-sunset period. However, this time of day can also be a challenge by parking a car. Santorini is one of the few tourist places where parking is free, but in Oia and Fira it is only possible in the designated large shared car parks marked with large blue P-parking signs. However, this also means that the car parks are very crowded and if we want to be sure we can find a place, it is better to arrive well before sunset.
If you haven’t booked your accommodation on the Caldera, this earlier arrival is also good because it’s worth spending a minimum of 2-3 hours per city just wandering aimlessly, walking along the tiny streets while admiring the coastline and the beautiful panorama of the Caldera, with its iconic blue-dome churches. The three small towns along the Caldera have their own small charm and sights. Even though all three places are similar, you can still find completely unique sights in Fira, Oia and in Imerovigli as well.
Fira, perhaps the best known, is the so-called capital of the main island. It is located approximately in the middle of the island, in line with the volcanic crater, and from the harbor can be reached by a steep, more than 600-stair stairway.
In the port there are donkeys standing the whole day, and tourists from the port can pay for a donkey ride to go up to Fira, but I would not recommend it to anyone. Think about it, it’s tiring for people to go up the steep stairs in the scorching heat, and these donkeys do it all day long, with tourists up and down on their backs in such a heat. Therefore, please choose either walking up or possibly going by cable car, which costs 6 Euros (one way). The city offers beautiful views evening lights as well.
Oia has the most iconic blue-domed churches. Seeing the many beautiful photos of Santorini all over the internet, you might think that there is a blue-domed church on every corner, but that is not the case. In addition to the blue-domed churches of Oia, another attractions are the windmills, which are even more beautiful during sunset.
Oia is special because not only the entire Caldera is visible from there, but also because the sunset is obscured neither by the volcanic crater nor Thirasia, but it sets in the sea over the horizon. While walking in Oia, make sure to go up to the ruins of Agios Nikolaos Castle, from where there is a wonderful panoramic view in all directions.
Imerovigli is located between Fira and Oia. This is the third town where we can admire the Caldera. It is very pleasant to walk along the small streets. For me, the most amazing sight of Santorini is in Imerovigli. A blue-domed little church in front of which a huge beautiful bougainvillea bush expands.
From the main street of Imerovigli, it is almost impossible to see the beauty of the smaller hidden street one above. This church is the Church of the Resurrection of the Lord. If you go after the crowd, you see the church from below, so let’s take a sidewalk to the tiny street above the church, either through stairs at the base of the church, or by the little streets on the right-hand side, by going up the regular street stairs.
If you do so, you will arrive at this beautiful photo spot, with the bougainvillea in the front and the church in the back. Because there is a beautiful panorama, it is quite common for girls to take photos in long, vivid silk dresses, as if the wind was floating their skirts, but what is not visible in the insta photos is that photo assistants waving their skirts in the background to make the skirts' look like floating on the photos.
Pyrgos is the former capital of Santorini. Beautiful views from Callisti Castle on a hill it overlooks the inner arch of the half moon shaped island and the bay of the Caldera surrounded by it.
Akrotiri is located on the southwestern tip of the island. This place is called the "Pompeii in the Aegean Sea" by many, as during the eruption of a volcano in the 17th century BC, the whole city was covered with volcanic ash, thus preserving Bronze Age secrets for posterity. The excavations have not yet been completed. But in the already excavated area an archeological museum has been established, where you can admire a part of old town, architectural remains, murals, etc.
If you are there, add the Akrotiri sunset at the Akrotiri lighthouse to your visit. It’s similarly difficult to park there at sunset, so it’s worth getting there in time. It is a wonderful sight as the Sun disappears on the horizon, while looking back you can see the whole Caldera illuminated by the rays of the setting sun, and if you are lucky some local musicians might play some musical instruments during sunset.
Other super activities in Santorini:
Sunset boat trip:
There are plenty of types of boat trips to choose from. Large group / private cruise / dinner, wine tasting on board ... We paid for one that left the port of Fira at 2 pm and returned after watching the sunset in Oia, so the boat trip was about 7 hours. This tour cost 40 Euros per person and we got a snack before sunset which was so substantial that it almost caught up with a dinner. The ship docked at three locations:
On the island of the volcanic crater, where we got about 1.5 hours, and we could climb to the crater of the volcano, where we could see a very interesting phenomenon, because in the crater we could see sulfur smoke in two places, bursting from under the ground. The road up to the crater is very exhausting, especially in 40-degree heat. Be sure to have water in your backpack. (By the way, in Santorini it is not recommended to drink tap water, but bottled water can be bought anywhere.) For the entrance fee you have to pay 5 Euros per person on arrival.
Natural hot spring behind the volcano. Once the boat is anchored, you can swim there to the natural "hot" springs. Its water is very brown and although not hot, but because of the heat of the volcano it is actually much warmer than the sea.
In front of the island of Thirasia, we got the early evening snack and had the opportunity to bathe, and jump off the boat.
This was followed by the iconic sunset, for which we sailed out to the northernmost point of Santorini, in front of the shores of Oia. The sunset is a wonderful closure of this boat trip and I can only recommend this program to everyone. By the way, it is best to pay for the program at a small local travel agency, because tickets are sold more expensive online. There are also local travel agencies on Fira’s main road and pedestrian street, where you can pay for various programs. It is worth fixing it at least 1-2 days in advance, so that there are still spots for the chosen tour.
For those who like challenges, I definitely recommend the approx. 10 km-long Caldera-hiking trail. It is worth walking in the direction from Fira -> Oia, because in this direction there are fewer ascents and a little more slopes. However, it is challenging both ways. Therefore, it is definitely advisable to start early in the morning, take a lot of water with you and go in comfortable shoes. Super experience and very nice hiking trail.
Viewpoint at Plaka bay
And of course, swimming on the pretty beaches.
The beaches of Santorini are very varied, from the red rocky shore to the brownish-yellow sandy beaches to the black pebble beach. If you have enough time on the island, you should visit the following beaches:
It is important not to go there according to the instructions of Google Maps, but to follow the signs on the road near Akrotiri, because according to Google Maps it is very difficult to get there. (Impassable narrow, poor quality roads). From Akrotiri you can park in a parking lot on the beach and from there after a short walk this sight unfolds before you.
This beach stretches along the southeast coast of the island at the foot of Mesa Vouno. Nice beach with black-grayish pebbles. If you’re already here and tired of having a bath / swim, head to a local gyros vendor called Gyros Place where you can try very delicious, good-value local gyros.
Sandy yellow beach at the foot of Mesa Vouno south of the airport. The cozy promenade is full of restaurants.
This beach is located in the south of the island. It is worth a visit because it is a very nice sandy beach bordered by a very special rocky wall with a crooked loess wall effect. If you are interested in the tradition of growing tomatoes on the island, visit the Tomato Museum in Vlichada, which you can smell already from further away, because they cook tomato jams right at the museum.
In a nutshell, this was my summary of the island of Santorini. I hope many of you will get to this wonderful place at least once in your lives.
It is a stunning island whose charm completely captivates the visitors, and the beautiful sunsets and sunrises will definitely engrave themselves in our memories for a lifetime.