The best things to do in Santorini prove there’s more to this idyllic island than its amazing views and gorgeous sunsets. The island has had many other remarkable claims to fame in the past, giving it a fascinating history for you to explore. The rough, rocky landscape hosts a selection of historical churches and monasteries, ancient vineyards and, if the stories are to be believed, the Lost City of Atlantis.

    Thanks to social media, Santorini has gone from virtually unknown to a must-visit in no time at all, largely thanks to its pretty landscapes. The volcanic island in the Aegean Sea is mostly known for its quaint, whitewashed villages atop sheer, rugged cliffs, the brilliantly blue shutters and rooftops mirroring the summer sky.

    What are the best things to do in Santorini?


    Theotokopoulou Square

    Grab a coffee and hang out with the locals

    • Budget
    • Photo

    Plateia Theotokopoulou is the main square in Fira, the largest town on Santorini. It’s the place where locals come to meet up and chat, sometimes grabbing a bit of fresh produce from the small street market, or just sitting on one of the benches and enjoying the fantastic view across the caldera. At the back of the square (which is really more like a long rectangle) is the imposing Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral, as well as several banks, pharmacies, shops, galleries, cafés and restaurants. It’s a lively spot, particularly during the peak season, with many narrow alleys and staircases leading off to other parts of town.

    Location: Ipapantis 307, Fira 847 00, Greece


    Red Beach

    Sunbathe with views of rust-red rocks

    With a very pebbly shore and few facilities nearby, Red Beach would ordinarily not appear on the radar of any self-respecting sun-worshipper. However, it’s always packed during the high season simply because it lives up to its name – it is extremely red. The narrow strip of sand is backed by high cliffs of rust-red rocks, which slowly blend into black, and then suddenly white. The sea here is beautifully clear and the deep turquoise colour makes an Instagram-worthy contrast with the red cliffs. The path down to the beach is quite short but quite rough, so wearing proper shoes is a must.

    Location: Akrotiri 847 00, Greece


    Cruise around a dormant volcano

    Take a dip in the hot springs

    The island of Santorini is one side of a very large, mostly submerged volcano, and the lagoon-like waters in the centre of the archipelago are actually the caldera. It’s a beautiful place to explore, so booking a boat tour is highly recommended. There’s a choice of boats available, from simple ferries to luxurious yachts. Aside from giving you a different view of the beautiful Santorini coastline and a day out on the Aegean Sea, most tours will give you the chance to swim in the hot springs created by volcanic vents. They’re really more ‘slightly warm’ than hot, and the water has a rusty colour that’ll stain your swimwear, but it’s still a novel experience.

    photo by Steve Jurvetson (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Hike from Fira to Oia

    Take plenty of water, sunscreen and photos

    • Budget
    • Families
    • Photo
    • Adventure

    The 3-hour trek between Fira and Oia presents you with some of the most beautiful scenery on any of the Greek islands, which will certainly liven up your Instagram feed. At just under 10.5 km with some rough bits, it’s not exactly a walk in the park. However, the trail is generally clear and passes through a couple of small villages along the way, so you don’t need to be an experienced hiker to attempt it. To avoid the hottest part of the day, it’s best to set off either early in the morning or late in the afternoon.



    Traditional village near Fira

    • Food
    • Budget
    • History
    • Photo
    • Unusual

    Pyrgos Kallistis is a small, quiet village about 7 km south of Fira. It’s one of few spots on Santorini which remains virtually untouched by tourism, partially thanks to its protected status. It’s a lovely place to explore, with the island’s traditional architecture on full display and narrow alleys winding between shops, churches, galleries, museums and restaurants. Most eateries sell the delightful tomatokeftedes, a Santorini speciality made from crushed or pureed tomatoes deep-fried in oil. Look out for rooftop bars and restaurants around the ruins of Pyrgos Castle for amazing views stretching all the way to Oia, which are especially good at sunset.


    photo by Edal Anton Lefterov (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Prophet Elias Monastery

    Visit the highest point of Santorini

    • Budget
    • History
    • Photo

    The fortress-like Moni Profiti Ilia (Prophet Elias Monastery) sits at the highest point of Santorini – about 565 metres above sea level – so you can see almost the entire archipelago from its balconies and walkways. Built around 1711, the monastery was once very wealthy and powerful. Its influence may have waned, and the beautiful Cycladic buildings may be damaged from the 1956 earthquake, but they still house some remarkable frescos, rare religious artefacts, and ancient Byzantine sculptures. There’s a fantastic (if challenging) hike up to the monastery, as well as a tarmac road for the 3-km drive southeast of Pyrgos. If you need a snack or refreshments, you can buy produce from the monks.

    Location: Epar.Od. Pirgou Kallistis - Profiti Ilia, Moni Profitou Iliou, Pyrgos 847 00, Greece

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 4 pm

    Phone: +30 2286 031210


    photo by Klearchos Kapoutsis (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Santorini wine-tasting tours

    Try some of the oldest wine in the world

    Wine growing in Santorini is known to date back to 1200 BC and there’s evidence to suggest the industry could have been around 500 years earlier than that. The local method of cultivation is to cut the vines back to virtually ground level and then weave the vines into little baskets, with the grapes nestled inside and protected from the strong winds and harsh volcanic sand. The indigenous white Assyrtiko grape is the most commonly grown, and produces an extremely dry wine with a citrusy, earthy flavour. You can find out more about Santorini’s unique wine-making process (and try some of the end result) on wine-tasting tours, such as those provided by Boutari Winery in the traditional village of Megalochori. As a bonus, this is also one of the island’s many fantastic sunset spots.

    Location: Boutari Winery Santorini, Megalochori 847 00, Greece

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 3 pm

    Phone: +30 2286 081011



    A prehistoric town on Santorini’s south coast

    • Families
    • History
    • Photo

    The Ancient Minoan town of Akrotiri, on Santorini’s south coast, is sometimes called “the Pompeii of Greece”. Just like its more famous sister city, Akrotiri was both devastated and preserved by a massive volcanic eruption some time between 1642 and 1540 BC. While the dates don’t really line up, some believe that Akrotiri could be the lost city of Atlantis described by Greek philosopher Plato. Exploring the well-preserved remains of a Bronze Age settlement is a deeply moving experience as the buildings, frescoes, pottery, and furniture are in surprisingly good condition. It’s even family-friendly since, unlike Pompeii, no human remains have been found.

    Location: Epar.Od. Akrotiriou, Akrotiri 847 00, Greece

    Open: November–March: Wednesday–Monday from 8.30 am to 3.30 pm. April–October: Wednesday–Monday from 8 am to 6 pm (closed on Tuesdays)

    Phone: +30 2286 081939


    photo by Tatiana Matlina (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified


    Sunset in Oia

    It’s busy but beautiful

    Watching the sunset is unquestionably one of the absolutely essential things to do in Santorini. Even if you're staying on the east side of the island, you need to head west on at least one afternoon of your stay. Of all the many amazing views around Santorini, the most iconic is undoubtedly found in the northern village of Oia. Its whitewashed houses with vibrantly blue domes and shutters make it one of the most Instagrammed places in Greece, if not the world.

    Beautiful during the day, the best photos of Oia are taken around dusk, as the sun is setting and the lights of the cliffside village are switching on. It’s a magical scene, but one that’s very popular, so expect big crowds in the narrow alleyways, particularly late in the day.



    Go bar-hopping in the island’s capital

    As a popular destination with young travellers, you’d think that Santorini would be packed with lively nightspots, particularly in the island’s capital, Fira. While there is some variety of venues to be found, mostly packed into a small area just north of Theotokopoulou Square, the choice is a little limited. However, for the hardcore party animals, there are nightclubs like Enigma Club. If you want something more sophisticated, head to MoMix for amazing mixology. For those looking for a quiet, romantic spot, the view and classical music of Franco’s Bar make it a sure-fire hit. A word of wisdom, though: Leave the high heels at home. With cobbled streets and steep steps throughout Fira, your ankles will thank you.

    Ben Reeves | Compulsive Traveller

    Start planning your trip

    Back to top