20 Unique Things to Do in Santorini in 2023
Santorini is certainly one of the most popular Greek islands: the caldera that can be seen almost from every part of the island, a deep blue sea, the many shades of colors that follow one another and alternate on red, black and grey rocks, white villages overlooking the cliffs. All of the above makes Santorini a unique island, to visit at least once in a lifetime. If you are looking for a guide on the things to do on holidays in Santorini, keep reading this article where we give you tips on what to do, see and eat in Santorini but also what to avoid when in Santorini.
- Santorini: The Black Pearl of the Aegean
- What Is The Caldera of Santorini?
- How many days do you need in Santorini?
- What is the best month to visit Santorini?
- What’s the best way to get around Santorini?
- Best Hotels in Santorini
- Eat in Santorini: Is Santorini expensive to eat out?
- What to see and do in Santorini
- The Best Santorini Photo Locations
- Best Beaches in Santorini
- The Donkeys of Santorini
- Is Santorini worth visiting?
Santorini: The Black Pearl of the Aegean
Santorini is considered the pearl of the Aegean Sea and from the arrival one immediately has the feeling of having been catapulted into Heaven on earth. Santorini is ideally divided into two areas: the western zone with the northern part, famous for its white stone buildings and for its incredible sunsets and the southern area, less besieged and perhaps less spectacular but much more authentic and less touristy than its twin sister.
In this guide for your holiday in Santorini we let you discover both the most touristy Santorini and the less touristy one, to give you all the tools to plan your trip.
What Is The Caldera of Santorini?
The peculiarity of Santorini is the caldera which, originating from one of the most violent and destructive volcanic eruptions of all time, is today not only a tourist attraction but also an incredible place to observe from afar.
It is a depression that was created about 10,000 years ago after the island was buried by lava in 1450 BC; the largest central part of the island ended up at the bottom of the sea and was immediately covered by the sea, transforming it into a basin that today is called Caldera.
Part of the Caldera is therefore submerged, including the largest crater while on the surface today there is a smaller crater, Palea Kameni, and hot springs (Nea).
The rest of the island to be circular has taken the form of a crescent and over time there have been many associations between Santorini and the myth of Atlantis, precisely because of its conformation.
How many days do you need in Santorini?
Santorini is easily reachable by plane: the flights cost relatively little in low / medium season and quite in high season. It is also easily reached from other Greek islands (by ship or plane) and from Crete by boat.
Quantifying the time needed to see the island is difficult: some people say that 3 days is enough, others would not leave even after a week.
We stay in the middle: 4 full days to see the most touristic parts but above all to go in search of the most authentic ones. Four days is also enough to get bored and want to leave, to discover less crowded and less touristy places.
What is the best month to visit Santorini?
Santorini can be visited all year round: the temperatures are never too low but what can be annoying is the wind, which can blow too hard. August is certainly the busiest month ever and in general the entire summer high season. Spring and autumn are the perfect seasons to visit a slightly less crowded Santorini. Remember that if you are in Santorini during Easter, many activities are closed or closed earlier because it is a heartfelt celebration; it is celebrated a week after the Christian Easter, as in all Orthodox Christian places.
What’s the best way to get around Santorini?
Despite being considered “small”, Santorini can be explored much more thoroughly than it is usually done. To do this, we advise you to rent a car or a scooter. You can do like us and rent your vehicle directly at the hotel, choosing to take a taxi to go the hotel: in this way you will never have parking problems because the hotels are usually affiliated with car rentals and include parking in the tariff. The rental rates are quite low, both for cars and for scooters, and there are many who also choose quods to cruise around the island. We recommend full insurance because traffic and parking can be really wild.
Having a vehicle will allow you to get where others do not arrive, to leave chaos behind you when you feel the need to do it and to visit Santorini and its beauties in total freedom.
Best Hotels in Santorini
Santorini is visited annually by millions of tourists and has been considered a victim of the overtourism for years: overtourism is also defined as an unsustainable invasion by tourists, encouraged by those who do business with tourism.
This means that there are hotels and places where you can sleep almost anywhere, and in most cases these are luxury hotels that offer first-class services, views of the caldera, movie rooms; today Santorini hotels are themselves an attraction when in Santorini. It goes without saying that the prices are not at all low, especially in the most touristic areas.
At the same time, however, Santorini offers the chance to experience one of the most beautiful experiences ever: sleeping in a luxury hotel, waking up looking at the sea and the caldera, watching the sunset perhaps by the pool and having breakfast on the terrace overlooking the sea. In short, visiting Santorini without indulging in luxury is a bit like visiting Rome without seeing the Colosseum.
When you book a hotel in Santorini always remember that in addition to the view and the services, the real bonus is the presence of (at least) a swimming pool and a location that allows you to avoid chaos. For this reason, for us to spend something more in this case is really worth it.
We recommend Belvedere Suites in Firostefani: 24 rooms among which we personally point out the Junior Suites, an ideal solution for those who really want to live the Santorini experience at the most among traditional Greek architecture, overlooking the caldera and private balcony. Watching the sea at the poolside breakfast is simply divine as well as spending a day by the pool, away from the tourists and watching the sea, perhaps sipping a cocktail.
There are also cheaper solutions to stay in Santorini but for us, it is worthwhile to choose a little bit of luxury in this case and let yourself be pampered.
Eat in Santorini: Is Santorini expensive to eat out?
Santorini is Greece and in Greece, one can only eat well: we could not express this concept better than this.
The main question mark here is that Santorini is indeed a very tourist area and tourism has generated phenomena for which quality is no longer important but quantity above all: therefore green light for fast food, restaurants of dubious taste both in appearance and in food and chains.
This happens especially in the most tourist cities where restaurateurs sell not food but the view and where reading the reviews on the various sites what is highlighted is always the view from the terrace or from the main room and almost never the food, which instead should be the protagonist.
To eat really well and really spend the right, we recommend that you rent a car or a scooter and move around reaching all those parts of the island that mass tourism cannot reach and that, therefore, have not yet been affected by the virus of bad cooking.
Among the ones we mention, these are two that struck us a lot:
- The Cave of Nikolas near Akrotiri and the Red Beach;
- To Limanaki, on Vourvoulos’ beach.
Both taverns offer fresh fish and local produce and be cooked. The former is slightly better known than the latter, and given its proximity to the Red Beach it can be crowded while the latter is really local and the atmosphere is that of home. In both places the locals are bigger than the tourists, the prices are not for tourists and the food either: in short, this is the real Santorini and the real Greece!
We also recommend an incredible pastry shop, open 24/7: it is called Furnissimo and it offers many traditional desserts but also savory puddings, really very good coffee and dry biscuits. It is very popular with the locals at all hours of the day and night.
1. What to eat in Santorini?
Apart from the classic Greek specialties, moussaka and tzatziki, don’t miss these local dishes:
- Fava: a spreadable cream, served as an appetizer together with pita and other various appetizers, prepared with the beans of Santorini;
- Fish: the fish, especially the octopus, is really incredible if cooked well. It is usually grilled and served with salad and fries. Always choose local fish and don’t forget to taste the sardines in all ways;
- Gefthedes: local fried tomatoes, a real treat!
- White eggplants: it is a local variety of eggplant which in technical jargon is called Solanum avigerum and absorbs less oil than the classic ones;
- Melitinia: the typical sweets of Santorini prepared with unsalted mizithra cheese (similar to ricotta) and yogurt and flavored with mastiha. Traditionally prepared on Holy Tuesday for Easter evening, they can be available all year round in typical bakeries (for example Furnissimo).
2. What to drink in Santorini?
Santorini is famous for its wines that are produced on the island still using ancient methods with cultivations on the ground that protect the grapes from the winds that blow often and from the sun that beats very fast. The local grapes are:
- Assyrtiko (white PDO)
- Athiri (white)
- Aidani (white)
- Mandilaria (red)
- Mavrotragano (red)
Due to the presence of so many varieties of native grapes and so many wineries, it is possible to organize tours to discover some (or all!) Of the cellars of Santorini by following the so-called Strada dei Vini.
These are some of the wineries that can be visited:
Boutari: the first winery in Greece, housed in a photogenic white dome building in Megalochori;
Santo Wines: a cooperative of Santorini wine producers, famous not only for its wines but also for its sunset views;
Koutsogiannopoulous: located near Kamari, it has the particularity of selling wines that are not found anywhere else.
Do not miss a taste of the different local beers produced by Santorini Brewing Company (available on the whole island), which can also be visited for free every day.
What to see and do in Santorini
Even if the thought of staying in the hotel all day and lazing will touch you more than once during your stay, in this guide for your holiday in Santorini we cannot fail to show you what to do.
1. Hike Firostefani-Oia
For us, this is certainly the best thing to do in Santorini. It starts from Fira and you get to Oia (pronounced IA) walking on the caldera, in a hike that lasts from 2 to 4 hours one way, depending on how fast you are and how many times you stop. Until Imerovigli it is a walk in the village but from Imerovigli onwards the real mountain part begins.
The path is not always signposted but it is almost impossible to get lost and even if there are people who walk in slippers, we recommend at least comfortable sneakers since it is not a smooth path. In high season it’s good to start early because the sun beats down and it’s always good, regardless of the season, to equip yourself with sunscreen and a cap.
Note: on the road after Imerovigli there is only a bar that sells water (but does not have a bathroom) and a kiosk so remember to get the necessary water. You can walk the path backwards.
Part of the path to Oia which can however be done on different days in order to enjoy the spectacle of the alleys that intertwine and the unexpected openings on the sea.
Probably the most famous village in Santorini with the most sought-after restaurants, luxury boutiques, many many tourists, mills, sunset, photos for Instagram. It is worth taking a walk but if you are looking for relaxation it is certainly not in Oia that you will find it.
The southernmost part of Santorini that mirrors Oia but has nothing to do with Oia: there are far fewer tourists here and although the sunset is still spectacular there is never a crowd like in Oia. Definitely unexpected, definitely not to be missed. In the area also the ruins.
5. Kamari e Black Beach
A waterfront inaccessible to cars and a long black beach overlooking a deep blue sea: Kamari is the most famous beach in Santorini and is divided between private spaces and public spaces. Also in Kamari there are hotels and many places to eat.
6. Red Beach
Right at the end of the road where the ruins of Akrotiri are located, the Red Beach is considered by many a true spectacle; can be reached via a footpath in 15 minutes from the car park (well signposted). The path is sometimes closed in case of risk of falling rocks so it is always advisable to proceed with caution. We found it dirty and definitely not up to expectations.
7. Walk on the volcano
If you have time to spend, book a tour and visit Nea Kameni island where the dormant volcano of Santorini is located. The tour usually includes a boat ride with the possibility of bathing in the warm waters around the island and a guided excursion on the volcano and lasts about 3 hours including everything.
The Best Santorini Photo Locations
Santorini is notoriously the perfect place to take (and shoot) photos. Given that you need to know how to take pictures to take home a good photo, here are some areas where you can try to take pictures or take a picture of yourself in Santorini, as long as there are not too many people doing what you try to do.
1. Sunset in Oia
Unless you have booked a hotel in Oia in the direction of sunset, taking a image lazy photo of the Oia sunset can be very difficult and certainly to take home a really beautiful image lazy photo you need to be good and have time. The best place is the Castle but keep in mind that it is really taken by storm in every corner, without counting the people stationed everywhere.
Folk note: when the sun sets completely, a collective applause always takes place. We have found this thing tremendous indeed, just as we have found the sunset experience quite awful, because it is just one more occasion to do business.
2. The Blue Domes of Oia
The postcard of Santorini (the cover image lazy photo of the article) is not reported anywhere but can be found under the Bulgari in Oia. The GPS coordinates are these: 36.461245, 25.375832. It is not uncommon to find Asians with a photographer in this area, which becomes practically inaccessible and you have to queue.
3. The Three Bells of Fira
Another postcard is that of the 3 bells found in Firostefani. They are marginally marked and to photograph them you need to find the right angle and have the right equipment because the whole outline is really disastrous. You must arrive at the end of Firostefani and take the ladder at the Mama Thira restaurant. From here, follow the road towards the car park and you will find the directions and the wall where you can try taking the picture.
Set between Fira and Oia, Imerovigli is a photographic paradise with its white structures overlooking the sea and its white and blue streets. Just get away from the main road to find many interesting and suggestive corners and take pictures like this:
The opportunities to take pictures in Santorini are endless but we remind you that it is forbidden to go beyond private property (and churches) and that if it says that an area is not accessible, it means that it really is not accessible.
Respect for others must always be a priority, even at the expense of a potentially pleasant photo.
Best Beaches in Santorini
Santorini’s beaches are mostly covered in black thick sand and the majority of them is very well organized so to please both the lazy tourists and the most active ones.
Santorini is not the ideal destination if you’re looking for Caribbean beaches: the water is very often dark and deep and it can be hard to swim in, also because of the winds. The many cruises also make the sea around Santorini not that pleasant.
That’s why the majority of the hotels and accommodations are equipped with at least one pool, so not to make people feel disappointed.
These are the best Santorini beaches:
- Red Beach
- Ammoudi bay
- Eros Beach
If you want to experience the sea in Santorini, we highly recommend renting a bot to circumnavigate the island: in this way you’ll have the opportunity to reach places very few people know and also swim in a marvellous sea.
The Donkeys of Santorini
In Santorini it is full of donkeys that are used to transport goods and people from low areas to high areas and vice versa. Even tourists can take advantage of this service, of course by paying, especially to get from the port to the town of Fira (400 meters in altitude / 600 steps).
It is not the most sustainable and correct way to do tourists and we are convinced that it is not correct to do so: it is not a case that at the end of 2018 a law was enacted (which will become effective in 2020) that forbids donkeys from make overweight people back up.
But it should not be a law to forbid the use of these animals in this way so we hope that, you who read us, decide to make a right and sustainable choice. Choose the steps to climb from the port to Fira (there are 600 of them but the view is fantastic!) Or get on the cable car!
Is Santorini worth visiting?
For us, Santorini is very beautiful but in many ways also very overrated. Mass tourism, including cruises, hit and run trips and organized groups, is compromising the authenticity of the island but above all it makes everything difficult.
In 2017 alone, the island attracted 2.4 million tourists, and more than 700,000 of them were cruise passengers. Crazy numbers if we think that the island has an area of less than 76 square km.
The famous sunset in Oia, beautiful but certainly not the most beautiful in the world (or the most unmissable!), is the most surreal experience we have ever had in our lives: thousands of people piled one on top of the other to try to take a image lazy photo home (with questionable results because it is not the sunset that makes the image lazy photo but the skill of those who shoot) to share on social media, without respect for the environment and for the local population. In the picture below you can only partially see the situation: we assure you that people are really everywhere, even in places where they shouldn’t be.
People climbing on private balconies and roofs to take photographs despite bans. Restaurants offering tourist menus, with poor products, at crazy prices, in one place, Greece, which is famous for its good food and for its more than honest prices.
Such destructive tourism that even the European Union has raised the alarm by producing a report that shows how the entire ecosystem of Santorini is at risk of collapse. Not to mention the residents, who have opened websites and petitions (Save Oia is the most important initiative) to try to remind visitors that people live in that place and that these people must be respected.
What about the sea? Santorini is not a destination for experiencing the Greek sea, the waters are often rough and not always as clean as in the nearby islands. The beaches are often full and in some places construction has taken over. In short, if you go to Santorini to go to the beach it is good that you be prepared and book a hotel with a pool.
Is Santorini really that beautiful or is it overrated? We have given you our opinion, now it is up to you to check the place in person.