10 Things to do in Santorini Greece (or what Santorini sites should be on your Santorini Bucket List)
So unless you have been living under a rock that completely disconnects you from all of human society, chances are pretty good that you’ve heard of the Greek Island of Santorini (If you’re reading this post, then you probably aren’t living under rock since you would never get good wifi reception down there. So that means that this post is for you my dear reader. So stay tuned for a hopefully epic list of the top 10 things to do in Santorini Greece a.k.a. What Santorini sites should be on your Santorini bucket list).
And for good reason. I mean, the sunsets here are the stuff that Instagram dreams are made of. Just add in some rollings hills, vintage windmills, and iconic blue domed churches and you can quickly see why tourists and cruise ship passengers flock here by the masses (Do yourself a favor and go in October to avoid the hordes of travel enthusiasts. Everyone likes being a tourist but no one likes dealing with them. That way you can live out your Santorini Bucket list in relative peace or go off into the sunset and create a DIY travel itinerary in Crete).
But once you hop off the ferry and feast your eyes upon these stellar views of the Aegean Sea, er, um, now what? Do you roam around the capital of Fira or head over to Oia for the day? I mean, for a smallish island there sure are a lot of things to do in Santorini. That’s why it can be tricky to figure out what should be at the top of your Santorini bucket list. It gets even trickier when you are in a time crunch and are dashing around Greece to see Athens, Santorini, and Mykonos in less than two weeks (Let’s be real, most of us don’t get two months off in the summer so we need to travel as efficiently as possible).
That’s why you can’t waste time sitting around, sniffing armpits (kidding but seriously guys, no picking noses either), and wondering what to do next. Hence this hopefully helpful (fingers and toes crossed on that one) guide that attempts to strip away the tourist traps and focus on all the Santorini sites that really deserve your attention. I mean, this may be the only time you get to visit Santorini and I know you want to make it count and focus on the most important things to do in Santorini. So let’s check out some of the sites that people during their 2 day Santorini itinerary.
1. Watch the Sunset in Oia (Don’t forget to stop by Atlantis Books while you’re here)
Everyone goes weak in the knees for the sunsets in Oia as the vibrantly colored sun gracefully sinks beneath the horizon along the sea, amidst the panoramic views of the Aegean and the quaint town of Oia; with its iconic white washed buildings, blue domed churches, and archaic windmills that are perched atop a mesmerizingly beautiful set of sheer cliff faces.
Pretty dreamy right? Well, it is until you see the mack truck size buses that roll on up into Oia each night, about three hours before the sunset. But then you tell yourself, “Well maybe they’re here for a party…” Haha, in your dreams. No way are you gonna have one of the most Instgrammable moments on the planet all to yourself.
Instead, you’ll be fighting umbrella wielding tour guides with loud speakers as you make your way to the beach just to get that perfect shot of those glistening colors from the sunset that seem to dance along the water (cha cha real smooth) as the sun sinks beneath the waves.
Like any good tourist I wanted to live out my Santorini bucket list and had a total fear of missing out on this epic item on my list of things to do in Santorini. That’s why I tried viewing this sunset in two ways. I tried the traditional way where I did Mortal Combat with other tourists just to procure the ideal picture taking location for the sunset extravaganza. I hate crowds so this option wasn’t my fave.
The next night, I did it my way and I highly recommend this. I would get a hotel room in Oia and just watch the sunset from your room. I did this and observed the sunset from the heavenly solitude that was my hotel balcony. Plus, I even setup my own little picnic with some local cheese (yum) and bread (yummier) that I bought on my way to the hotel. It was the perfect end to the prefect day and was way better than gaging on exhaust fumes from enormous tour buses or having cantankerous kids maim my toes as I bobbed and weaved through the masses of families in Oia.
2. Hike from Fira to Oia
Okay, so I like to be totally honest. Therefore, I must admit that I only did part of the hike from Fira to Oia. I swear I was gonna do the whole thing since the views and Santorini sites here really are super spectacular, but I got a little confused when following the signs and didn’t want to get totally lost and dehydrated in the heat of the day, so I turned back (I was also too prideful and nervous to ask anyone for directions but thats my own crap. I have also seen one too many episodes of Unsolved Mysteries but thats an issue for another day).
But since Fira is super touristy and basically just an overcrowded bunch of souvenir shops and overpriced restaurants, I highly recommend this hike (a local also recommended this to me since she agreed with my assessment of Fira).
Just make sure you adequately prepare yourself because the stairs will be steep and the sun will be hot. That’s why you need plenty of water, sunscreen, a hat, and proper shoes since the path can be slippery and has some areas with loose gravel. Also stock up on supplies before you begin the hike because later on, there won’t be any stores to stop at and procure either food or water.
You may need to stop a fair bit though since although this is the most scenic hike in Santorini, it is also a hike of 9 km that will take you about three hours to complete (since this route connects the towns of Fira and Oia). But you won’t mind the stops since the views along the picturesque caldera are stunning (seriously one of the most gorgeous Santorini sites).
***The path is really easy to find. Just take the main walkway heading out of Fira and continue straight, following the signs along the way that point to Oia. And if you do get lost, there are plenty of people around so you can always ask a local for help (the people here are nice and the men are hot).
3. Hike to the top of a Volcano (How James Bond of you)
Sounds cool right? Kind of feels like something out of Indiana Jones where you’ll be weaving in and out of molten lava fields while carrying some long lost buried treasure. Oh and don’t forget the swarms of indigenous people chasing after you. Well, not so much. There is no magma or smoke or lava or buried treasure or irate people chasing you (thank God). But there is a path up Nea Kameni that will take you and about 10,000 other people to the top of this volcano since this is a popular stop for day long boat tours.
Okay, I’m making it sound pretty lame. I just expected this epic crater filled with crystal blue water or at least some smoke or something. But it was really just this hole in the ground with a bunch of black lava rocks. The good thing though is that once you get to the top, you’re rewarded with fantastic views of the surrounding islands; views that you would never get from Santorini itself.
Just keep your expectations fairly low though and I’m sure you’ll enjoy the hike up the volcano since it is one of those things to do in Santorini that is a lot of fun (when you don’t have insane expectations like me). Also try and get off the beaten path and escape some of the tourists that invade the island en masse.
***This trip can be booked as part of a day tour or as an excursion from the old port in Fira. I would compare both options and see which one is cheaper (My day tour was €30 a person).
***If you decide to do this hike, be aware that it is mildly strenuous and goes uphill for about 30 minutes. The trail is also littered with many loose and craggy, black lava rocks so bring a good pair of sneakers or hiking boots, as well as some water since there is literally nothing on the island (not even a toilet).
***Also note that aside from the price of the tour, there is a park fee that you must pay to get on the island. It needs to be in cash and costs €4.00.
This tiny fishing port lies at the base of Oia and is a nice respite from the crowds that overwhelm the old port at Fira. Here, you’ll find more mules (and horses) than people which is lovely until you slip in something not so nice, like me, and get way more than you bargained for.
Sure, it’s a total pain in the ass to get down here (and back up again since my hotel was in Oia) since you have to either ascend or descend 300 tortuous and excruciating steps while simultaneously dodging piles of excrement that are not so delightfully rotting in the sun. However, the physical pain is worth it and honestly, I’m being a bit melodramatic. It’s really not that bad. I mean, I survived and just used it as a great excuse to eat more for lunch.
What sets this village apart is that there is a quaint feel here that reminds you of a time when Santorini was nothing more than a small island littered with fishing villages; not some ultra exclusive vacation destination with a bunch of high end villas that are full equipped with their own infinity pools (I’m not bitter or anything. LoL).
But if you can catch your breath long enough to admire the scenery, you’ll notice an authenticity about this port that is devoid from other, busier places. Here there are an assortment of charming and colorful fishing boats that are docked up against a series of mesmerizing, blood red cliffs. It is in this moment that Ammoudi reminds you of the beautiful and exciting culture that exists here, once you strip away the designer boutiques and souvenir shops on the main streets of Oia (Over-priced souvenir shops that probably don’t have a whole lot to do with Greece. I swear I’m not hating though because I went to one and bought my ultra cool Santorini shirt. #touristpride).
Okay so since you’ve gone through al the effort of getting down here, might as well enjoy some of the pricey but delicious fish tavernas that sit along the water’s edge. It worked out well for me since my day tour let me off here so I could sit down for a bit and enjoy this charming port as the sun set in the sky.
***This advice goes for any place on Santorini that has a ton of stairs. As tempting as it is, do NOT ride the horses and mules up or down the steps. I spoke with a local who warned me that the animals slip on the ground and people do get hurt quite often. So ride at your own risk.
5. Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral
Okay, I know I might get called out for saying this, but I really felt like Fira was a giant cultural wasteland that was littered with overpriced souvenir stalls and restaurants that capitalize on the stunning views but have absolutely nothing to do with Greek culture.
That being said, the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral in Fira is an exception to this rule. Nestled right on the caldera edge in Fira, this prominent Orthodox Cathedral is one of the Santorini sites that can be seen from many parts of the island. Built in 1827, this church’s stunning architecture was badly damaged in the earthquake of 1956. But thanks to the awesomeness of modern technology, this house of worship was fully renovated soon after and contains some beautiful arches and mosaics that are only enhanced by an impressive bell tower that hides a quaint and sometimes peaceful courtyard, if you don’t run into too many other travelers (I would explore Fira early to avoid the crowds). Also head inside to check out some of the lovely frescoes, that were painted by local artist Christoforos Asimis, and see why this church is on my Santorini bucket list.
6. Ancient Akrotiri (History nerds rejoice)
Shocker, there are ancient ruins on Santorini. I know, pick your jaw up off the floor because this is some pretty stocking news indeed. Okay, okay, it’s not really surprising at all. I mean this is Greece and it is home to one of the most ancient civilizations in the world so yeah, they kind of sort of have a lot of ruins.
But that’s fine by me because these ruins are pretty cool to explore, and right next door to some of the best beaches in Santorini. Ancient Akrotiri was uncovered on Santorini in 1967, when Indiana Jones, I mean archeologists uncovered a Minoan City that was buried beneath the volcanic ash for an eruption in 1613 BC (Thank God I wasn’t around for that. Sounds very Pompeii).
Currently, these ruins are housed under a protective structure that prevents further deterioration for environmental conditions. However, wooden walkways have been setup to help you easily pass through the city. Before you leave, peek inside some of the three-story buildings and take in some of the roads, drainage systems and pottery that stand as monuments to the civilizations of the past.
***Guided tours are available to give you a little context. Sadly they are not free though and cost €10. But there aren’t a lot of information placards here so you may want to purchase a tour.
***The site is surprisingly large so I would allocate about two hours for your visit, depending on how much you enjoy ancient Greek history. There also great views here but it is rather windy so hold onto your hats. On the plus side though, there are shady areas where you can sit and enjoy the view. One of the great things to do in Santorini.
Admission: Admission is €12 for adults, €6 for students, Greek citizens, students, and people over 65, and children under 18 are free.
Hours: winter (November 1 through March 31) Tuesday tο Sunday 8:00 am – 3:00 pm and closed Mondays.
Summer: (April 1 through October 31) 8.00 am – 8:00 pm and Thursday from 8.00 am – 3:00 pm.
How to get there: Take the KTEL bus from Fira to Akrotiri
7. Take a Dip in the local Hot Springs
Oh how charming, you can take a dip in nutrient rich, volcanic hot springs… that smell like ass because of all the sulfur in the water. And yes, the water also dyes your jewelry a lovely shade of yellow. Just what I always wanted to do! Yippee skippy! Okay I kid but not really. Well, let me back it up for a hot minute. So if you book a day tour to the volcano of Nea Kameni then chances are your tour will stop at the local hot springs, which are created by the upwelling of warm water from this volcano.
Now it sounds great, until you actually do it. First of all, it smells because of all the sulfur fin the water rom the volcano. Secondly, the bottom is squishy and filled with algae so it’s not super awesome to walk on (its pretty gross since it feels like slime squishing in between your toes). Thirdly, the hot springs are in the island shallows so you basically have to jump off the boat, into the water, and then swim over to the hot springs. Oh, did I mention that the water around the hot springs is frigid? Yup. The water is ice cold and because the warm water from the volcano is emitted unevenly, you have to swim from one pocket of hot water to the next.
So that’s what the hot springs are really like. Okay, I actually made them sound really bad but it wasn’t awful, it just wasn’t what I expected when I heard hot springs. It really was fun to jump in the water and splash around in the Aegean. Plus, as an added bonus, the nutrients in the water are great for your skin so its worth it and I’m glad I did it. I just want you to know exactly what you’re getting into when you tick this item off your Santorini bucket list.
8. The Red Sand Beach
If you’re headed to ancient Akrotiri anyway, might as well check out the Red Beach in Santorini since it is less than a mile away. Now, as I am sure you could gather, this beach gets its name from the dark almost reddish sand that is surrounded by sheer red cliffs and crystal clear, aquamarine water. So the perfect spot to snap a picture and then take a dip right? Well, while I think this is an amazing place to photograph, I wouldn’t want to swim here, per local advice.
Not only is the path to the beach rocky and difficult to traverse (takes a little over 2 minutes), landslides are a major threat to the area since many of the cliff rocks are quite loose (and if you think I’m being paranoid, the beach has been closed in the past due to landslides). There are even portions of the beach that are roped off because they have been deemed unsafe.
Now if you’re braver than me, which is not hard to do, make sure you bring proper footwear to navigate the path to the beach. Also get there early and snag a beach chair and umbrella because the beach is small and fills up quickly. Plus, the sand here is rather rocky so you don’t want to have to sit on the shore if it is at all possible. Also try a bit of snorkeling since many of the rock formations here are quite interesting.
How to get there: Take the KTEL bus from Fira to Akrotiri and then walk from the ancient site to the beach.
***If you want to see the Red Sand Beach without visiting the site directly, you can also see some of the stunning cliffs here from Amoudi Bay.
***You can also access the beach by taking a boat from the port at Akrotiri.
9. Take a Cable Car Ride
So I wanted to check out the Old Port of Fira, but I didn’t want to hop on a local mule, given their not so great reputation. That’s why I opted to walk the 600 steps down to the Old Port, and then take the cable car back up.
Once you reach the Old Port, you’ll find a bunch of souvenir shops, restaurants, and agencies that sell tours to the nearby volcano or hot springs (the ones I mentioned above). Since I already had my tour, I basically snapped a bunch of photos, relaxed for a few, and headed back up in the cable cars. The ride was fun and the view was lovely so it was one of those Santorini sites that I really enjoyed in Fira (way better than walking back up and made me feel like a kid again). I would just advise you to ride the cable cars either early in the morning or late in the day since this activity is on everyone’s Santorini bucket list and the lines do get incredibly long (as quaint as this ride is, it is NOT worth waiting an hour in line for).
Hours: 7:00 am – 9;00 pm (In April with rides every 20 minutes), 7:00 am – 10:00 pm (In May, September, and October, with rides every 20 minutes), 7:00 am – 11:00 pm (In June, July, and August, with rides every 20 minutes), 7:30 am – 10:30 am and 2:30 pm – 6:00 pm (In November and March, with rides every 30 minutes), and 7:00 am – 9:00 am and 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm (In December, January, and February).
Admission: €5 for adults one way and €2.5 for bags and children one way (Because bags and kids are obviously the same. LoL)
***They have bathrooms here so it’s a good place to stop if er um, nature calls.
10. Eat A Santorini Salad
Okay, so typically speaking, I am not a huge salad person. Somehow chomping on a head of lettuce is not my idea of an awesome dinner. Plus, before any trip, I try to eat as healthy as possible so that I can basically eat all the fat and carbs I want while I’m away, and not feel so guilty about it (I know this defeats the purpose of eating healthy but this practices makes me feel a little better about “splurging” on vacation). Therefore, I am typically not really in a salad mood when I am on vacation.
However, the salad’s on Santorini changed all that and that’s probably because traditional salads here do not come with lettuce (yippee) and are served with the most glorious, rich, and flavorful feta cheese that I have ever tasted (the stuff they call feta in the US is craptastic by comparison). Also add in some cucumber, grape tomatoes, feta (had to throw that in there again because it’s so good), capers, red onion, Greek olives (duh), and some extra virgin olive oil ta da! You have an awesome Santorini salad that even I would eat.
Now if you’re really lucky, you’ll get a salad with toasted sourdough or brown bread. Obviously I like this one better because it is served with crunchy carbs and carbs always make me happy. So make sure you stop at a local restaurant and try this salad. Not only is it tasty, but it is light and refreshing so you don’t feel like a beached whale while walking around in your swimsuit.
***Salt and Pepper in Fira is known for their salads, some of which are served with sun dried tomatoes.
***I ate mostly in Oia since my hotel was there so I would check out Nikos Place, Lotza (for great caldera views), and Sunsets Cafe (for stellar sunset views). These places are known for great food in general, not just salads. There is also a great Greek bakery on your left as you walk down the main road from the central Oia bus station (Just ask the tourist information desk. This place is cheap and has awesome baked goods).
***I didn’t do this but another one of the many cool things to do in Santorini is sleep in a windmill at Windmill Villas. This hotel is in Imerovigli and has developed some newly built, luxury windmills that you can sleep in. They also have a private pool with hydro-massage jets and a terrace with a panoramic view of the Aegean Sea. A little out of my budget at $479 a night but each windmill can house up to five people so bring some friends (To check this hotel out click here). Also check out some other great Santorini Sites and Hotels to live out the vacation of a life time.
***Can’t get enough Greece? I totally feel you. I can’t wait to get back and explore more. If you’re anything like me then you should check out this post about Athens, Naxos, and Amorgos. Some seriously cool parts of Greece that I would love to explore.
In the immortal words of one Porky Pig, “That’s all folks!” I hope you found this Santorini bucket list useful and enjoy the various things to do in Santorini. It’s a truly magical place that is more beautiful than you can even imagine. And please don’t let the reality of some of these Santorini sights dampen your spirits. This place charmed both my heart and soul and my only wish is that Santorini leaves you feeling the exact same way.
***Does Santorini’s beauty make you want to visit other islands in Greece? If so then check out this awesome post about what to see and do on the gorgeous island of Crete. One island I am dying to visit!
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