Earth : Europe : Greece : Greek Islands : Cyclades : Santorini
Santorini is a volcanic island in the Cyclades group of the Greek islands. It is located between Ios and Anafi islands. It is famous for dramatic views, stunning sunsets from Oia town, the strange white aubergine (eggplant), the town of Thira and naturally its very own active volcano. There are naturally fantastic beaches such as the beach of Perissa, maybe the best beach in Santorini, the black pebble beach of Kamari, white beach and red beach.
Villages and Towns
There are several villages and towns on Santorini Island, four of which are perched along the top of the crescent-shaped cliff of the caldera.
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 1628 BC
The small island cradles a rich variety of landscapes and villages. Visit traditional architecture in the small village of Mesa Gonia (now shown as Episkopi Gonias in Google maps) 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 one natural source of fresh water, a small spring situated in a cave behind a small chapel located halfway up the steep footpath between Kamari and the entrance to Ancient Thira. This spring only provides a small quantity of water; however, it is of good quality as it comes from the only remaining limestone outcrop of the pre-volcanic island. Prior to the early 1990's, it was necessary for water to be delivered to the island via tanker from Crete. Now most hotels and homes have access to water provided by a local desalination plant. While this water is potable, it is still rather salty, so most visitors drink bottled water while in 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 the 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 north from Fira 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.
At the northern end of the caldera is the quintessentially Santorininian town of Oia, also spelled Ia and pronounced EE-ah, 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.
The tourist season starts April 1, or around Greek Easter. The period from December through March is very much the off-season and marked by colder temperatures, rain and winds. Although the temperature is rarely cold, the poor weather makes for a less than optimal experience on this beautiful island. Most of the businesses, including hotels and guest houses, may be closed. The air is usually hot and dry during the busy summer months with very little rain between May and September. Ideal times to visit, for milder weather, lower prices and crowds, are April-June and September-October.
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.
Santorini (Thira) National Airport  is an airport in Santorini/Thira, Greece (IATA: JTR, ICAO: LGSR), located north of the village of Kamari. With regular flights from Athens by Olympic Air , Aegean Airlines  and AirSea Lines  (a seaplane airline). Flight duration from Athens to Santorini is about 30 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 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. You should agree on the fare with the driver (€10 - €14 to most places is acceptable) before departing. 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. There is also the alternative of using the Aegean Taxi App. Instead of waiting in line for a taxi, you can simply download the app from Play Store or App Store and request a taxi to pick you up and drop you off to any destination on the island.
Take the ferry from Piraeus past Paros and Naxos to the new port of Athinios  on Santorini. More details in the Cyclades article. There is also daily connection between Heraklion (Crete) and Santorini during high season. If you prefer traveling by 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 new 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 (with 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 call on Santorini do not dock but hold position in the caldera near the Old Port of Fira and require tendering, which is usually provided by the Union Boatman of Santorini. Locals with fishing boats occasionally transfer cruisers to the Old Port at Fira (Skala Pier, which seems not to have changed over the last 50 years).
From the Old Port (Skala Pier), there are three ways to reach the top of the cliff and Fira, which is 260 metres above sea level:
With one or more large cruise ships off-shore, long lines may queue at the bottom of the cable car. Casual Fira walkers/shoppers may meet many others at the top returning after a few hours, and long queues may form at the top of the cable car before passengers are expected back aboard their ship(s). There are six small cable cars ganged together (each holding six persons max), taking about a couple of minutes to descend. Do the maths, and plan accordingly.
Alternatively, you could take a speedboat, run by the Union Boatmen of Santorini, who also operate the tenders for the cruise ships, from the Old Port pier to Oia. Tickets are sold at the Old Port pier for €20/person. That covers a 12-minute speedboat ride to Ammoudiou Bay at the bottom of the cliff next to Oia, and a private bus ride up a switchback road to a NST bus parking lot in Oia. After you explore Oia for 1, 2, 3, or 4 hours, you can then board a private NST bus (included in the price) to Fira. One still have to contend with the long queue for the cable car or walk down with the messy donkeys.
For cruise-ship excursions, the cruise ship may tender passengers to the new port at Athinios, where chartered buses wait to start the excursions. Typically, excursions end at Fira.
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.
The island has a public bus service, with buses costing € 1.60, € 1.80 and € 2.20. There are no daily or weekly bus passes available. The bus stops do not resemble the ones you usually find in other cities in Europe. They are a white closed small places with low roof. There might be a bus sign near the bus stop( if you look for it closely). Buses run between every 30 minutes to every other hour. Timetables are available at website . The buses occasionally miss trips, and some drivers are less than friendly. Buses are air-conditioned but may be overcrowded during the high season. If you prefer getting a private or shuttle transfer from airport or port to your destination or even a private tours service throughout the island, there are companies such as Santorini Transport  offering such services. In addition, there are "hop on hop off" private bus services, . Boats also run between major coastal towns on the island.
Cars can be rented from € 22 a day. An international driving permit is recommended. Without one, many car rental places will rent cars, but travel guides have mentioned tourists having insurance problems in case of accident. Scooters and 4-wheelers (quads or all-terrain-vehicles) are available to rent starting at about €15 or €30 per day, respectively. A drivers license is required to rent these 4-wheelers. Be aware that most of the people in Santorini are tourists. As a result, road conditions are extremely unsafe, with many people driving by the laws and conventions of nearly every country in the world.
A popular method of getting around is to rent ATVs, though the "all-terrain" part is a misnomer, as most ATV riders are tourists riding on the paved road. ATVs share the road with other drivers and are usually all over the island. The island is small enough to travel around on an ATV, and is a cost-effective way to self-explore the further reaches of Santorini. ATV rental shops are all around the island, so it's best to ask your hotel owner/concierge on the closest/most trusted vendor. You will need your local driver's license to ride one of these, and a helmet is recommended.
Some hotels advise booking a taxi in advance, as there are not enough available taxis on the island during high season. As is the rule in the Cyclades, taxi fares are typically shared between multiple passengers, so don't be surprised if your cabbie picks up more passengers during your trip. The Aegean Taxi service makes transfers in Santorini easier, since it allows you to book your ride through the Aegean Taxi App at any time and to any destination on the island. You can book a transfer in advance or on request for a taxi on the spot.
The island is small enough that it can be thoroughly explored by bicycle, or with a few bus trips, by foot. Bicycle rentals are fairly hard to find -- most places advertising bike rentals refer to motorbikes, rather than bicycles. The maps are designed for hikers, however, so the recommended routes are impassable by bicycle.
Santorini is not very bicycle-friendly -- there are no dedicated bicycle routes, so you must share roads with vehicular traffic. In addition, the island is very hilly. The traffic was more friendly to bicycles than to pedestrians or other vehicular traffic, however.
Recommended routes by foot include the amazing walk from Fira to Oia (note that this walk is less nice in reverse, it can take less than three hours but can be difficult, for up and downhill climbs, the rocky surface at times, and the proximity to unprotected cliffs that drop sharply into the caldera) along the caldera, as well as the paths over Perissa Rock connecting Perissa, Kamari, and Pyrgos. The walk between Perissa and Kamari is fairly short (via Ancient Thira), while the walk to Pyrgos is somewhat longer, passing through the highest point on the island. The views are breathtaking and you could find different kinds and colours of rocks and plants as you walk. The walking route is different from where the city buses go.
Santorini is one of the great natural wonders of the world, and its main attraction is the landscape and seascape of the island itself. The configuration of the present, roughly semicircular island is the result of an enormous volcanic explosion which occurred probably around 1630 bce, literally blowing the top off the island and changing what had been a typical half-submerged mountain of an Aegean island into a flooded crescent caldera, in the middle of which a few small smoking islands still bear witness to volcanic activity. Some have speculated that this event was the inspiration for the myth of Atlantis. The towns of Fira, Ia (also known as Oia) and Thirasis cling to the steep cliffs facing into the caldera bay. Tours to the central "smoking" islands are readily available and one can see and feel steam vents and recent (1950s) lava flows.
Another popular reason for coming to Santorini are the legendary sunsets, some of the most spectacular in the world. Ia is one of the few places on the island which is both close to a sea and offers a good view to a sunset over the sea: in other towns, the sun disappears behind the volcano.
Additionally the town of Fira is stunning.
Be sure to explore the areas outside of the towns. There is beautiful countryside where tradition still survives. Cave houses (both abandoned and occupied), gardens, vineyards, small family business, and tiny churches are there to be discovered.
Santorini ranks among top destinations for wedding celebrations for at least 4 years -- primarily for sunset and peace, like those in Oia. Couples often arrive with few friends, stay in Ia (places like Fanari Villas). Groups often arrive in the beginning of the week -- judging by demand for cabrios and number of corteges seen on Mondays compared to weekends.
Certainly to mention the viticulture and winemaking of Santorini. One of the most ancient vineyards of the world has been developed on this island, a veritable monument created by nature and humans. Vineyards are seen anywhere on Santorini, especially on the central and northern parts of the island. The volcanic soil and the special climate contribute to the unique character of the island's wines.
While the island is full of medium- and top-cost hotels and villas, there are still lots of abandoned caves and modest private houses where no one seems to live for a long time -- even in western Oia where every inch seems to be occupied by some villa. And this doesn't seem to change for years, judging by 2001-2005.
Public beaches do not seem to have showers or places for changing.
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 Akrotiri, 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 Archaeological 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.
The Cycladic Islands are world-famous for their picturesque towns of cubic white-washed homes and blue-domed churches. Santoríni is especially famous for the towns of Firá and Oía, 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 Santoríni's picturesque towns is typically Cycladic, but with strong neoclassical and baroque influences visible in many of the island's churches and public buildings.
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.
Scuba and Snorkeling
Santorini has 5 dive shops. Prices are typically around € 80 for two dives, including equipment rental, transport, and usually, a light lunch. The offerings are otherwise quite similar. Prices are sometimes lower when booked directly through dive shop, rather than through a travel agency. Try the Mediterranean Dive Club ( +30 22860 83080 , [www.divingsantorini.com], [[email protected]]). Their office is on Perissa Beach (near the Tranquilo Bar). There are also two dive shops in Kamari: Navy's Waterworld Dive Center (+30 22860 28 190, ), and Aegean Divers (+30 22860 33210, [email protected], ).
Diving, visibility is amazing, but there are not as many fish as more popular scuba and snorkeling locations. Dive sites include a wreck near the volcano, caverns, reefs, as well as wall diving. The wall dive is the most interesting. Octopus are not uncommon. To minimize environmental damage, all five dive shops go to the same locations (although not at the same time), with moorings shared by all the dive shops. If you want to go to a specific dive site, call ahead, and find out which dive shops are heading to which locations on which day (or ask to go to a specific location).
Recommended sites for snorkeling include Mesa Pigadia beach, somewhat out (some people recommended a diving buoy for boat safety), the beach South of Oia, as well as Perissa Rock (esp. somewhat further around the rock). There are supposed to be some nice spots between Perivolos and Vlichada Beach as well. The beach on Thirasia also has some reasonable snorkeling. Caldera Beach, near Akrotiri, has a few amazing snorkeling spots. When walking down to Caldera Beach (follow the signs to Santorini Dive Center), you will see some rock formations further out into the water. If you can find those once in the water, and swim to them, you will find wonderful snorkeling.
Virtually all beach-side shops will sell cheap, low-quality snorkeling gear (mask for around 10EU, fins for around 20EU).
A combination of climatic factors and the tastes of those who have occupied and lived on the island have formed an eclectic cuisine. Santorini specials include: the white aubergine (eggplant); fava caper ; a variety of tomato keftedes, with whole slices of tomatoes fried in batter; dolmades, stuffed vine leaves. Another must-try is fresh fish grilled in tavernas, esp. those close to a sea.
If you decide to eat or drink in a taverna overlooking the caldera or having a good view to a sunset, expect higher prices than a similar establishment in one of the many side-streets as you are charged extra for the view –- but what a view!
For those who enjoy the Mediterranean diet -- fresh fish, vegetables, and meat dishes can be found at several moderately priced restaurants (average 40 Euros for two) in Imerovigli, Oia, and Fira. To save money, stay away from places that are overtly commercial and go to the family run fish taverns located nearby the smaller beaches and communities.
Gyros places are everywhere.
Don't miss the traditional fried tomato balls of tomato keftedes and be sure to ask for local tomatoes in your salad. They may be the best tasting you have ever had. Santorini is particularly well known for its cherry tomatoes which are very sweet. The cherry tomatoes are usually sun dried or sometimes made into sweet tomato marmalade.
Assyrtiko grape dominates Assyrtiko-Santorini(PDO Santorini) wines are rare and distinctive. These wines are born in some of the world’s oldest vineyards, dating back 3.500 years, on the volcanic island of Santorini. Visit local wineries and enjoy the local wines, Assyrtiko, Aidani, Athiri, Vinsanto, Mavrotragano.
Santorini island could be divided into two parts, the western side of the island and the eastern. Santorini mainly owes its popularity to the western side. This is where the caldera is, and the villages, like Fira and Oia, that are built on the cliff. On this side of Santorini most hotels have terrific views of the caldera, volcano, the sea and sunsets. There is of course a drawback that you have to keep in mind before making your reservation. The majority of the hotels built on the caldera have many stairs, which is usually annoying for tourists not willing to climb up and down all the time. Some of them do not accept children under 13, because they do not offer any children' facilities, due to their dangerous location on the cliff. There are hotels that are specially oriented to couples and honeymooners. Most of Santorini luxury resorts can be found on the western side of the island. Note that not all hotels which are on the western side of the island offer views, as some of them are in town.
The eastern side of Santorini resembles the rest of the Greek islands in the Cyclades. There are many beach hotels, especially in Kamari, that also attract a lot of tourists, mainly youngsters and families. These hotels usually offer larger rooms and pools than those on the other side of the island.
Keep in mind that the room rates are often set according to the view of the room, which makes the hotels on eastern side of Santorini much cheaper than those on the western side.
Moreover keep in mind that booking your accommodation in advance would be very helpful, as most hotels have few rooms (usually not more than 20) and quickly fill.
Most of the island's hotels are closed during winter. They open during or after Greek Orthodox Easter (April or May) and usually close by the end of October. As in other Greek Islands, July, August and September are considered high season.
Be aware of rental scams, especially with agencies working only with motorbikes and ATVs. Using these types of vehicles is very common on Santorini and there are a lot of rental agencies. Some of them are ready to cheat. They will offer faulty motorbikes or ATVs for a lower price, but in case of accident they will demand that the customer pay for the whole cost of damage. They are offering only basic insurance but will present it like full insurance. Also, there is a big possibility of serious injuries.
It is possible to recognize these rental agencies by observing them aggressively attracting tourists and offering lower prices than others. Employees in front of these type of agencies will be loud and ready to promise everything until the contract is signed. It is necessary to check the vehicle before making any decision. Their vehicles are in most of the cases dusty, dirty and look old.
Santoríni is relatively crime free: you are quite unlikely to be pickpocketed. On the other hand you may feel you have been ripped off by some restaurant or bar bills. In particular:
Physically the cliffs and low walls guarding large drops pose a danger to children while the elderly may encounter problems with the many steps. Cave exploring can be fun too but it is not recommended to deviate from the paths because of the unstable rocks made of tufa.
Like most areas of Greece, Santorini has a very high number of stray dogs, or dogs otherwise left to roam as they please. While the majority of Santorini's large dogs are generally friendly they have been known to follow large tourist groups, with some going as far as to follow hiking groups travelling from Fira to Oia. Pack activity is common and basic precautions involving stray or feral dogs should be followed should a pack form around your group.
There are some local radio stations in Santorini, mainly in Greek language. When in Santorini, turn your radio at: Volcano Radio at 106.4 MHz and Top Melody Fm Radio at 104.9 MHz.
You can find internet cafes in Kamari, Perissa, Thira (wireless access also available) and in Oia. As of year 2014, most hotels and cafes offer free Wi-Fi Internet access (available even on the beach). (at least, in Perissa, Perivolos and Kamari)