Santorini is the supermodel of the Greek islands, a head-turner
whose face is instantly recognizable around the world: multicolored
cliffs soar out of a sea-drowned volcanic crater, topped by whitewashed
Part of the Cyclades island group,
Santorini (officially known as Thira, a name that encompasses the
volcanic islets within Santorini’s orbit) sits in the Aegean Sea,
roughly halfway between Athens and Crete. The island is shaped like a
wonky croissant, and the neighboring islets hint at the fact that
Santorini was once circular. It was known as Strongili (the Round One).
Thousands of years ago, a huge volcanic eruption caused the center of
Strongili to sink, leaving a caldera (or crater) with towering cliffs
along the east side, now Santorini’s trademark landscape.
Which part of Santorini should I visit?
Santorini’s commercial development is focused on the caldera-edge
clifftops in the island’s west, with large clusters of whitewashed
buildings nesting at dizzying heights, spilling down cliffsides and
offering gasp-inducing views from land or sea. Fira, the island’s busy
capital, sprawls north into villages called Firostefani (about a
15-minute walk from Fira) and Imerovigli (the highest point of the
caldera edge, about a 30-minute walk from Fira). A path running through
these villages is lined with upmarket hotels, restaurant terraces and
endless photo opportunities.
These three conjoined settlements draw most visitors, together with the
stunning and quite exclusive village of Oia in Santorini’s north.
There’s a growing number of hotels in the island’s south, offering
caldera views to the north and northeast. Akrotiri’s views come cheaper
than Oia’s, but it’s a fair way from the action of Fira.
Best things to do in Santorini
Sure, Santorini's views will stop you in your tracks and you'll get
great glimpses into how A-listers travel, but there’s plenty more to
explore, from a gorgeous open-air cinema to a cool microbrewery, wine
caverns adorned with artworks, and cooking demonstrations and classes
that celebrate Santorini’s growing foodie culture.
The obvious activity in Santorini is to walk the caldera edge and
admire the views. Walks in and around Fira are spectacular,
particularly heading north to Firostefani and Imerovigli along the
caldera-edge pathway. Keep walking and you’ll eventually reach Oia, but
be aware that this is no small undertaking and the trail beyond
Imerovigli can be rough. It’s about 5.6 miles (9km) in all, and a good
four-hour walk one way.
Santorini’s lauded wines are its crisp dry whites and the
amber-colored, unfortified dessert wine known as Vinsanto. Both are
made from the indigenous grape variety, assyrtiko. About a dozen local
vineyards host tastings (usually with a small charge) and some offer
food, with scenery and local produce combining to great effect. Start
your investigations at SantoWines.
Santorini’s intrigue reaches deep into the past, with the fascinating
site of Akrotiri displaying a Minoan city destroyed by the volcanic
eruption of 1613 BC. In Fira, the impressive Museum of Prehistoric
Thera helps piece together the story of ancient Akrotiri.