There are many truly memorable things to do on Santorini, one of the world’s most beautiful islands. Check out this list of unique travel experiences.
Best Things to Do on Santorini
I just returned from my third trip Santorini, the island I always recommend to any first timers to the Greek islands. It may be touristy but there’s good reason for it. It’s stunning.
This is the island (especially if you come in high season) you’ll be surrounded by throngs of honeymooners, lovebirds, cruise ship groups, families and every other kind of traveler really. They all want to experience an eternal beauty that has catapulted this Cycladic island to fame.
Here, whitewashed buildings cling dramatically to cliffs above a sea drowned caldera (crater). Here, beaches are formed from black, red and white lava rocks and sand. Here, there are so many villages to explore, wines to taste, foods to savor and countless corners to just feel the beauty and energy of the island.
Based on all of my trips to the island, here’s my list of the most unique things to do on Santorini.
Unique Things to Do on Santorini
Glide in on the Ferry
One of the most unique things to do on Santorini starts before you even get there!
If you happen to be coming in by ferry boat, you’re in for a treat. While it is a long ferry ride (8 hours) via Blue Star Ferry, you’ll be rewarded with amazing views as you cruise to Santorini’s Athinios port.
Tip: If you want a comfortable seat and space without crowds, I highly recommend booking Blue Star’s Business Class for another 15 euro each way.
Explore the Gorgeous Caldera Villages
These are the most famous villages of Santorini, whitewashed and perched high above the sea on rocky multi-hued cliffs. From these towns, you can take in amazing views to the Aegean Sea and the caldera.
Fira and Firostefani are both known for its stunning volcano views. Head to one and you can walk to the other. Imerovigli is further north (after Fira and Firostefani) where you’ll find Skaros Rock.
Oia is tucked at the top northwest end of the island. This bend of the island is known for its quiet lanes filled with hand holding couples. It also draws in crowds for unobstructed sunset views.
Tip: If you are a book lover, stop into one of the most unique bookstores in the world called Atlantis Books — an charming book shop built into a cave.
Explore Inland Villages
Interested in what Santorini life could be like away from those caldera views? There are several fantastic inland villages in Santorini to explore. One favorite of mine is Pyrgos where you can take in a panoramic view from the Prophet Ilias Monastery.
I also loved exploring Emborio which is an inland village that is so quiet and beautiful to explore and there are hardly any tourists.
If you have more time, make it a point to check out Megalochori, Agios Georgios, Exo Gonia, Exomitis, Panagia Kalou, Vothonas or Vourvoulos.
Nightlife in Fira
Santorini nightlife happens in Fira. Koo, Casablanca and Tropical are three legendary top nightlife spots here. Also, just being out at night in Fira is magical. I love how the lights twinkle across the cliff top towns and how the ships out in the pitch-black sea shine in the water.
Another place to get in on the happening nightlife is to head to the beach clubs in Kamari and Perissa.
For more detail, visit my earlier and updated post: Santorini Nightlife: Where to Go.
Sunset in Ammoudi Bay
You can eat at the fish tavernas here with the turquoise bay waters lapping close to you, watch the sunset or go for a little hike around the rocky bend and take amazing photos of it all. Another option is to take a sunset cruise that stops in Ammoudi Bay.
Enjoy Santorini Wines
One of the unique things to do on Santorini is go wine tasting. Some of finest wines from Greece are from this island. In fact, Santorini currently has 16 wineries producing excellent wines.
Not only does the island have a long wine-making tradition, the volcanic soil and the special climate give the wine varieties a beautiful taste. If you love wine you should definitely book a tasting and learn about the unique wine making process here.
I highly recommend Domaine Sigalas in Oia. A fairly new winery that opened with much acclaim is Venetsanos Winery which has an amazing view.
Akrotiri: The Greek Pompeii
Did you know this island is home to the Greek Pompeii? Walking through this fantastic archaeological site is a one of the unique things to do on Santorini especially for history lovers.
A whole thriving community from the Minoan Bronze Age was preserved after the volcano erupted in 1627 BC and buried everything volcanic ash. The site is protected indoors and I viewed it all in wonder. Check out my earlier post here.
Stay in a Cave
From simple to luxury caves, another one of the unique things to do on Santorini is book a hotel that is carved into the rocks of the caldera towns.
This is how the Santorini people traditionally live and today, amazing architects and designers have created some cozy and beautiful properties inspired by that lifestyle. I suggest several cave hotels at the end of this post.
Tip: If you want the unique experience of swimming in a whitewashed cave or cave inspired pool, Santorini is the place to do it!
Hike a Volcano, Hike a Trail
You can take a caldera boat tour and hike the volcano itself! I did this during my first trip to Santorini when I first moved to Greece. These boats also stop in hot spring waters for a swim. There are a variety of tours to choose from and they start at 50 euro per person and go up into the hundreds.
On the island itself you can hike the trail from Fira to Oia which is about three hours long. Time it so you end up in Oia at sunset or after sunset. There are also hiking trails throughout the island including in Pyrgos.
See Therassia Island
Therassia is a small island just west of Santorini. You can take a boat to this little island and see the main town Manolas (population 300) or another town called Potamos. It is a great place to view the caldera, Palea Kameni, Nea Kameni and, of course, Santorini. The Dormition Monastery offers panoramic views. There are several smaller churches here too to check out, a few abandoned towns and beaches including Riva which has black sands and a pebble beach called Korfos.
Boats depart from Ammoudi Bay (20 minutes) or you can join a boat tour which stops on the island.
Take a Santorini Photo Tour
One highlight during my last trip to Santorini was taking the Shotz Photo Tour. If there’s something you want to do in Santorini it’s to shoot a million photos – it’s just so beautiful around every corner.
If you are a photo aficionado like me and want to learn more about taking great shots in one of the most beautiful places in the universe, professional photographer and expat Olaf Reinen can help. He leads individual and small tours (2-4 people traveling together) so you can see Santorini in a personalized way with great local perspective.
Love the Colorful Santorini Beaches
Truth is this island isn’t the Greek destination for beaches, but going to them is still one of the unique things to do on Santorini. You won’t find those postcard perfect sandy beaches which is a surprise for many. What it does have is interesting and colorful beaches due to the volcanic nature of the land.
In Perissa, Perivolos and Kamari you can enjoy a beach with black sand backed by a lively beach resort community. You’ll find restaurants, taverns, shops and all types of accommodations.
Another favorite of mine is the currently “at your own risk” Red Beach. That’s because the rocks have been falling off the cliffside onto the thin strip of beach lately. If you want to take a picture from afar – you can go for that too. It is quite a sight. A good idea would be to head here while visiting the nearby Akrotiri site.
There’s also a White Beach, a rocky beach, which is considered quite romantic. You can also book a boat tour to take you too some of the fantastic beaches that are only accessible via sea.
Try the Local Specialties
Santorini has some amazing gastronomy. Be sure to try dishes that reflect what is grown locally including domatokeftedes (tomato fritters), salads with capers and local mizithra cheese, local beans and fava dip. Look out for any dishes with apochti (Santorini cured pork) and sweets like meletinia (sweet, disc-shaped cheese pie).
Stay tuned for a post about the best places to eat on Santorini. This island has some of the best restaurants on the Greek islands. Be sure to sign up for my bi-monthly newsletter here.
Santorini Travel Tips
- Best time of year to go? I say May, early June, September and October. Less crowds and good weather.
- Don’t ride the donkeys. Yes, they’re terribly cute. Know that they are often mishandled and overworked and riding them continues the cycle.
- If you don’t like climbing steps or have difficulties walking up and down stairs, don’t stay in the caldera towns. If you don’t mind a hike, the caldera towns are the best place to stay. Make sure you book a room with a view.
How to Get to Santorini
International travelers can get to Santorini by plane, usually with a stop in Athens. Check Vayama for the best flight deals.
I highly recommend booking with Blue Star Ferries which leaves from the Athens port of Piraeus.
Getting Around Santorini
Santorini is a big island. It takes about an hour drive to get from the ferry port to Oia which is the furthest town north.
There is a KTEL public bus, find the schedules here. You can also rent quads, motorbikes and scooters which is a fun experience on any Greek island. A car is ideal to save time and you can rent one through Avis Europe – especially to go for a day exploring.
Where to Stay on Santorini
For a boutique, close-to-the beach option head to Orabel Suites, member of Tresor Hotels & Resorts, in Perivolos. Stay tuned for a full post with reviews about these Santorini hotels.
Where to Eat on Santorini
Stay tuned for a full post featuring my first-hand experiences reviewing some of the top restaurants on this island.
Have you been to Santorini? Tell me if you’d like to add anything to this list. Feel free to comment in the comment boxes below.
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