Santorini (officially Thira) is a volcanic island in the Cyclades group of the Greek islands in the southern Aegean Sea, about 200 km southeast of mainland Greece.
It is located between Ios and Anafi islands. Thira is essentially what remained after an enormous volcanic explosion that destroyed the earliest settlements on a formerly single island, and created the current geological caldera. It is famous for dramatic views, stunning sunsets from Oia town, the strange white aubergine (eggplant), the town of Thira, an active volcano, and its beautiful beaches (e.g., Perissa—possibly the best beach in Thira, the black pebble beach of Kamari, white beach, and red beach).
Villages : There are several villages on Santorini Island : Fira – the main stunning cliff-perched town, featuring all that Oia has, but much more overcrowded.
Kamari – black pebble beach. Oia or Ia – for unforgettable sunsets, probably the most charming place on the island. Pyrgos – highest point on the island; picturesque monastery and streets, can compete with Oia. Perissa – Nice, well-organized beaches and good Greek fish taverns. Megalochori -Traditional village with a lot of old white cycladic churches.
Akrotiri -Visit the archeological site of Akrotiri. Monolithos– Nice beach and a few good taverns. Very good for children, as the water is shallow. Vlichada – a small village and a beach. Vothonas – a small rock village, the church of St. Ann is here. Architecturally it is the strangest village on the island, as all the buildings were cut from the ravine that it is in.
Also there’s Thirasia, a village on the nearby island with the same name—visited by fewer tourists. There are daily excurisions to the Kameni (volcano) Island which also reach Thirasia island.
Understand : An alternative name for Santorini is Thira. Santorini is also a name for the family of islands surrounding Thira, once forming a single island prior to a major volcanic event in approximately 1500 B.C.E. The small island cradles a rich variety of landscapes and villages. Visit traditional architecture in the small village of Mesa Gonia containing a mixture of ruins from the 1956 earthquake and restored villas as well as a winery at the foot of the settlement. Pyrgos is another notable village set inland with its grand old houses, remains of a Venetian castle and several Byzantine churches.
The island has no natural source of fresh water. Prior to the early 1990s, it was necessary for water to be delivered to the island via tanker from Crete. However, most hotels and homes now have access to water provided by a local desalination plant. While this water is potable, it is still rather salty, so most everyone drinks bottled water while visiting Santorini.
Fira is the fiery capital, a marriage of Venetian and Cycladic architecture, whose white cobblestone streets bustle with shops, tavernas, hotels and cafes, while clinging to the rim of the caldera nine hundred feet above its port. If arriving by sea you can take a cable car up from the port or alternatively take a trip on one of the hundreds of mules up the 588 zigzagging steps. You could also attempt to walk up the steps but be warned, they are winding, narrow in parts with only low walls, they are covered in donkey excrement and the donkeys themselves will make no attempt to avoid you.
Walking along a path for about twenty minutes will bring you to Imerovigli where you can take in the magnificent views of the island’s unique scenery from the tiny town, as it is the highest point of the Caldera cliffs. Just above Fira is the quintessentially Santorininian town of Ia, also sometimes spelled Oia, with its whitewashed walls sunk into the volcanic rock and its blue domes rising above the sterling beauty of the stunning, russet Ammoudi Bay. At dusk, the town attracts crowds of people venturing to see the sunset. Santorini’s sunsets, as viewed from Oia, are reputed to be among the world’s most beautiful.
Due to the spectacular and unique natural beauty of Santorini, many Greek singers have chosen the island as the setting of their videos. Greek and Brazilian TV series have been shot of Santorini, as well as some Hollywood movies (e.g. Tomb Raider II). Generally Santorini is a pole of attraction for Greek and international celebrities. World-famous Greek composer Yanni wrote a song inspired by the beauty of the island, the song, also named “Santorini” is definitely worth checking out, specially the version performed live at the Acropolis with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.
Access : Coordinates : 36.416667, 25.433333 / Getting in from Athens by air is faster and not prone to sea sickness, compared to ferries. However, in season air tickets sell out well before most of the ferries.
By air : Santorini (Thira) National Airport is an airport in Santorini/Thira, Greece (JTR IATA), located north of the village of Kamari. With regular flights from Athens by Olympic Air and Aegean Airlines. Flight duration from Athens to Santorini is about 30-45 minutes. During summer, Sky Express connects Santorini with other popular islands such as Crete (Heraklion), Rhodes and Mykonos. During the months of July and August Astra Airlines flies from Thessaloniki. From May till October charter airlines fly directly to Santorini from many European airports. Condor flies from Dusseldorf (DUS), Stuttgart (STR), Frankfurt (FRA), Munich (MUC), Hamburg (HAM),EasyJet flies from London Gatwick (LGW) and Milan Malpensa (MXP),Edelweiss Air flies from Zurich (ZRH),Eurowings flies from Cologne/Bonn (CGN) and Stuttgart (STR),Jetairfly flies from Brussels (BRU),Meridiana flies from Milan Malpensa (MXP),Norwegian flies from Copenhagen (CPH), Oslo (OSL) and Stockholm (ARN),Ryanair flies from Athens (ATH), Thompson flies from Manchester (MAN)
Transavia flies from Amsterdam (AMS).
From the airport there are buses to Fira, where you can change to buses for other towns. Taxis are also usually waiting at the airport, but competition for them can be keen. Many Santorini hotels offer airport transfers, usually for a fee that’s more than a taxi would charge you, but some may find it worth it for the convenience. As the island is very small it’s possible to walk from the airport if you are fit enough (cca 5.5km/90min to the centre of Fira)
By sea : Take the ferry from Piraeus past Paros and Naxos to the new port on Santorini. More details in the Cyclades article. There is also daily connection between Heraklion (Crete) and Santorini during high season. If you prefer sea, your best bet is high-speed catamarans. The trip from Pireaus to Santorini takes 4.5hrs with a high speed ferry.
Ferries dock at the port of Athinios, where buses and taxis meet each arrival to transport passengers to Oia, Fira, and elsewhere. All vehicles climb a very steep, winding road (it makes seven 180 degree turns) to get anywhere from Athinios.
If you arrive by cruise ship, the experience will surely leave you with lasting memories. Cruise ships that reach the island do not anchor near Athinios port, but one or two miles north, also within the caldron, but below Thira (aka Fira). Locals with fishing boats occasionally transfer cruisers to the old port (which seems not to have changed over the last 50 years), and larger, decorated shuttle boats take large-ship cruisers to/from the nearby docks below Thira. From the “Thira docks”, you can use the cable car to reach the town, taking perhaps 5 minutes for the ride. Or if you like small adventures you can ride a donkey, which climbs up a small path on the cliff (weight limits imposed).
With one or more large cruise ships off-shore, long lines may queue at the bottom of the cable car. Casual Thira walkers/shoppers may meet many others at the top returning after a few hours, and other queues form somewhat before passengers are expected back aboard their ship(s). Plan accordingly.
The donkey ride will last longer, may have no queues, and is definitely a unique experience for those meeting the weight limits.
If weight proves a problem and you’re fit, ask if you might walk up along the donkey path (no charge, but no mean feat).
Transport by sea is always dependent on weather. For safety, especially in winter or raining monsoon, cruise ships may delay or cancel shuttles to/from shore, and ferries their departure times to or from the island.
- Black Beach- see Kamari and Perissa
- Red Beach– it’s worth taking the Red Beach / Akrotiri bus from Fira and then climbing over the very rocky trails to get here.
- White Beach- available only from the sea; get there by boat from Red Beach or Akrotiri. There is no pier so the only way to get there is by getting of the boat and walking through water that starts at about you waist.
- Amoudi- this is not really a beach with sand, but is a wonderfully secluded swimming area reachable from Oia.
- Perivolos- lighter sand than Perissa beach, and is very enjoyable when the North Wind is blowing. It has beach bars and restaurants that makes it feel like a “beach day club”.
Monolithos- quiet but well organized beach with all the comforts of the other beaches such as clubs, restaurants, and umbrellas.
- Baxedes- this is the main beach at the north side of the Island. Baxedes is a peaceful place with black sand, it is much more like how Santorini was like before tourists discovered the island.
- Pori- this is an amazing beach on the east side of Santorini where the rocks have a very unique red color to them. This is an excellent beach for those who do not mind walking a bit to get there. No facilities, restaurants, or shopping is located here.
- Mesa pigadia- A beautiful rocky beach near the nature side of the island by the town Akrotiri. About 800 meters away from the Akrotiri main road there are restaurants on the beach itself. There are several ways to reach the beach which include driving, biking, or taking a small boat from Akrotiri.
- Agios georgios- at the southern tip of the Santorini this beach has everything from water sports to beach bars. There are a few small taverns here and it is the perfect spot to have a quiet swim and avoid the massive crowds. You can reach this beach from Emporio and Perissa by rented or private car. Walking is also an option.Historical sights :
- Akrotiri, in the south, a roughly 3,500 year old Minoan town preserved in volcanic ash like Pompeii, is one of Santorini’s “must-sees”. The excavation site is covered by a roofing system, which makes it something that you can comfortably visit no matter what time of year. The ruins, are extremely well preserved. Streets, buildings, stairs and even second floors of buildings are still visible. Visitors can stand in the ruins and look at Minoan pottery and frescoes, and with a little imagination, feel what it would have been like to live in ancient Greece. Due to an accident in September 2005, the excavation site was temporarily closed to the public, but as of April 2012, the site is once again open.
- Ancient Thera, the Classical city of the island is on Mesa Vouno, 396 m. above sea level. It was founded in the 9th century B.C. by Dorian colonists whose leader was Theras, and continued to be inhabited until the early Byzantine period. The preserved ruins belong to the Hellenistic and Roman phases of the city. The residential area and the larger part of the cemeteries were excavated by German archaeologists between 1895 and 1902. The cemeteries on the NE and NW slopes of Sellada were excavated by N. Zapheiropoulos in the years 1961-1982.
Fira has the Museum of Prehistoric Thira that contains some of the artifacts, which were found in the ruins of Akrotiri. So first visit Akrotini, where the items came from and then Thira to understand what the items are. The museum has more pots, pottery and other household items than you can shake an antique stick at, but the highlight is the frescoes of the blue monkeys—a mystery since historians say there is no evidence that there were ever monkeys on Santorini. Also in Fira, near the cable car station, is the Archeological Museum that contains artifacts from various eras. Most of the exhibits are dated from the Classic and Roman period from the ancient town of Thera and it’s cemeteries.
Architecture : Panoramic view of Oia, Santorini island (Thira), Greece
The Cycladic Islands are world-famous for their picturesque towns of cubic white-washed homes and blue-domed churches. Santorini is especially famous for the towns of Fira and Oia, whose white and pastel-colored homes and churches—seemingly stacked on top of each other—are perched on the cliffs of the caldera. Many of these traditional homes are built on cliff-side caves, thus having a much larger interior than their exterior would suggest. The architecture of Santorini’s picturesque towns is typically Cycladic, but with strong neoclassical and baroque influences visible in many of the island’s churches and public buildings.
The arts : While Santorini cannot claim a prominent art collection, why not see some local and international artists work by visiting the Art Space Gallery and Winery in the small village of Exo Gonia, on the way between Fira and Kamari. Art Space is a winery built in 1830, an old canava. Also an museum with old installations for raki and tomato-juice. Owned by the same family (Argyros) for three generations.
Scenery and nature : The landscape here—the blue sky, the little white houses perched on gigantic rocks on hills that plummet to the sea, the lemon and orange groves, the pink and white churches that look like pastrycakes, the faces and warmth and expressiveness of the Greek people—little wonder this may be the most photographed scenery in the world.
Activities : Walk along the caldera from Fira to Oia
Climb to see Ancient Thira, or more ambitiously, the monastery, for an amazing view of the ocean, beaches, and island from up high. Horseback riding in Exo Gonia , Scuba diving and snorkeling. Even non-qualified divers can dive up to 14 metres down on a wreck next to the volcano. Caldera Cruise and Oia Sunset – Plan your wedding in Santorini
Go next : Ferries are available to : Anafi, Chalki, Folegandros, Heraklion (Crete), Ios, Karpathos, Kasos, Katapola, Kos, Koufonissi, Milos, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Piraeus, Rafina, Rhodes, Serifos, Sifnos, Sikinos, Sitia, Syros, Thirasia, and Tinos.