Is Santorini worth visiting, you wonder? You bet it is! There are few islands in Greece that can evoke wanderlust like this one. It’s a sheer stunner, famed the world over as a bucket-list spot, known for its dramatic volcanic geology and shimmering whitewashed villages. It’s also packed with history and has some of the top hotels in the Aegean (honeymooners, get here now!). Oh, it’s all just so wonderful.
But with over 6,000 alternative islands scattered around the Greek seas, is Santorini worth visiting over its neighboring compadres? Or, should you consider sailing over to another of the Cyclades chain. Or is there something else even further afield?
Cue this guide. If you’re after that Santorini stamp in your passport, we bring you not one but a whole 11 reasons why Santorini is worth visiting. It ranges from the unrivaled and uber-romantic accommodation options that crown the rugged cliffs to the blazing sunsets and the come-explore-me villages. Let’s begin…
Is Santorini worth visiting for its sunsets? One word: Yes! Here, there’s absolutely #nofilterneeded come sunset time. It’s a real symphony of light as the sun dips low and blazes pink and red across the cobalt Aegean Sea.
As daylight fades away, visitors flock to the northern village of Oia. It’s probably the best spot to catch views of the iconic Agios Spyridonas and Anastasis churches at the golden photography hour. Unfortunately, that does mean crowds, especially during the peak season (June-August). Others will head for the crag of Skaros Rock for views that shoot directly west to the smaller islets in the caldera. Further south, there are boutique hotels in Akrotiri that have a slight southerly angle on the dusk show, which is great if you want to watch the light fade over the Orthodox churches of villages like Oia and Imerovigli in the distance.
Alternatively, book a table at one of the rooftop bars in Fira (the main town). From here, you get unobstructed sunset views, good vibes, and amazing drinks, all rolled into one. Oh, and another epic way of making the best of Santorini’s iconic sunsets would be aboard a sunset cruise. Most of those experiences also include a BBQ and complimentary drinks.
Okay, so Santorini isn’t even close to being the best island in Greece for hiking. That honor goes to Crete or Sifnos or Thasos. But there is one route here that helps the isle stand out from the crowd and keeps travelers with the poles and leather boots coming back for more…
Cue the Fira-Oia clifftop hike. This has to be one of the most dramatic single-day treks in the whole of the Aegean. It keeps walkers uber-close to soaring cliffs for the whole way and runs through a montage of idyllic villages and towns that are painted perfect white. It’s not easy – we’re talking six miles and up to five hours of walking in a single sitting, and that’s not even mentioning the sun beating down (take water and plenty of rest!).
The highlights are many but our favs include:
- Firostefani – Technically a suburb of Fira but also a lovely village in its own right, this one has some fantastic cafés for an espresso on the side of the caldera rim.
- Skaros Rock – A rock stack that looms like a cathedral on the side of the caldera.
- Imerovigli – A great lunch stop roughly midway along the hike, the charming village of Imerovigli also has great hotels if you want to break the walk into two.
We won’t hesitate to say that Santorini boasts some of the very best hotels in Greece. From uber-romantic honeymoon hotels with infinity pools gazing across the Aegean Sea to rustic Cycladean tavernas with cozy double suites upstairs, there’s all sorts to get through on this isle. You can even find the occasional backpacker hostel if you’re really watching the euros and the cents.
It’s always a good idea to pre-book accommodation when visiting Santorini. This is one of the most popular vacation spots in Greece and the best hotels will fill up fast, particularly in the high season months between June and August. Here are a few of the hotels that we think beat the bunch in Santorini:
- The Best ($) – has rooms for under $70 per night. It’s a high-quality budget hotel that is conveniently located in Perissa over on the quieter eastern edge of the island. You might not get the caldera views but you do get walking access to Perissa Beach and Ancient Thera.
- Kokkinos Villas ($$) – These spacious, self-catering villas sit on the clifftops of Akrotiri on the south side of the Caldera. They’re ideal for families and even have small splash pools with a view.
- Chelidonia Luxury Suites ($$$) – Sat right in the Instagram-worthy town of Oia, these stays are anything but commonplace. Infinity pools and magnificent views are the name of the game.
Arguably the prime place to be is on the edge of the so-called Santorini caldera. That’s the most dramatic part of the island. It’s basically the whole west coast. Award-winning hotels cluster on the clifftops there, offering untold luxuries and the best sunset-view suites around. As it’s such a popular area to be based in, we’ve actually got a whole separate guide to places to stay on the Santorini caldera.
Santorini showcases the fare of the Cyclades islands. At once rustic and traditional, simple and enticingly tasty, it’s precisely the sort of food you dream of when someone mentions a Greek mezze. However, there’s another side to Santorini. Thanks to its tourist credentials, the island also boasts a wide range of international eateries and cuisines, from pizza to Indian curries and more. We’ll focus on the Greek aspect here, though…
Kicking off on a high note, fava is an absolute must. It’s a yellow split-pea purée that’s mashed up and served with lemon juice and a dousing of olive oil. To indulge, be sure to order the saganaki – a fried cheese that’s a mainstay of the Cyclades and offers a hit of tanginess and salt. We also love the Greek tomato fritters, made with flour batter and served with mint yogurt.
Ready to get stuck in? Some of the tavernas we recommend on Santorini are:
- The Cave of Nikolas – This Akrotiri gem has some of the most delicious tomato keftedes (tomato fritters) alongside an exquisite sea-to-table menu.
- Avra – Now a famous name in Oia, this elegant eatery puts a fine-dining twist on the Greek traditional kitchen.
- Misteli – Much-loved dining spot with a gorgeous al fresco area and a menu that includes Mediterranean fusion food with influences from Italy and Spain.
For a fully-immersive experience of Santorini’s food scene, we strongly recommend you hop on a food tour. It will let you discover the island’s best culinary nooks and crannies. It takes four hours, going through Fira and neighboring Firostefani to eateries only the locals know about!
Santorini’s award-winning wines
It’s not just about the food in Santorini. You’ll have absolutely no trouble finding a good glass of wine to pair with your red snapper fresh off the grill here, either. In fact, some sommeliers say that this island counts the best wines in the whole of Greece. Its volcanic soils and high levels of silica oxides make for a unique taste that’s at once crisp and nuanced.
In-the-know wine lovers will find over 40 different grape varieties on the island. The flagship variety remains the Assyrtiko, which accounts for 65% of the cultivation. There are now more than 18 wineries on the island, but our favorites are:
- Domaine Sigalas – A family-run vineyard and one of the most renowned wineries in the whole of Greece, Domaine Sigalas is open daily to the public. You’ll taste a collection of sensational wines (both white and red) in an amazing open-air environment.
- Gavalas Winery – Taste some of the more refined wines of Santorini in an intimate and charming setting, surrounded by the lovely countryside just outside of the village of Megalochori.
- Art Space Winery – Calling all art lovers, this quirky wine-tasting room is set in a series of natural caves near the hill village of Exo Gonia. There’s also an adjoining picture gallery.
There’s a raw and sobering history to this truly ancient island. Famously blasted by a massive volcanic eruption way back around 1,500 BC, it was once the home of the most developed fragment of the Minoan civilization outside of Crete. That was centred on the town of Akrotiri, which have been shown to have had a high degree of complexity – think water closets, large marketplaces, and saffron farms.
History buffs cannot miss the archaeology park at Akrotiri. Dating from the Cycladic Bronze Age, it’s been called the “Greek Pompeii” because it was largely preserved in ash at the time of the great eruption. Today, visitors can walk around suspended pathways to see merchant homes, palaces, and even rooms with wall paintings that are still intact (we’re talking 3,500-year-old wall paintings folks!).
The acropolis settlement of Ancient Thera is also one to make the jaw drop. It’s perched on a high hill on the east coast and was a later resettlement of the isle by colonists out of Sparta. It’s dramatic stuff, with a theatre carved into the mountainside and a scattering of intriguing, ruined temples and shrines.
The sea and coastline – is Santorini worth visiting for this alone!?
Santorini isn’t actually that well known for its beaches. If you’re keen to find stretches of powdery gold sand backed by eucalyptus trees, isles like Paros or Naxos are better choices in the Cyclades. Nearby Milos is better for swimmers, too, thanks to its array of stunning white-stone coves and inlets.
However, there are some pretty awesome spots on Santorini that we think make it a unique prospect for coastal explorers. A boat trip is the best way to see them. They usually take a whole day and whisk you to some seriously mind-blowing locations, like the hot springs that bubble up from the shoreline of Nea Kameni island, or the remote offshore isle of Thirassia. You can also take private catamaran tours to introduce a hit of luxury and more freedom – the skipper will go wherever you fancy for the duration of the charter!
When it comes to beaches, Perissa and Perivolos in the east are probably the best in Santorini. From the main towns, it’s an easy drive to reach them by car or local bus. Once there, you’ll have the whole day to enjoy a cluster of beach tavernas by the light waves of the Aegean Sea. Within a short 20-minute drive from Fira, you will also find the Red Beach. That heavily-marketed cove is covered in red sand, largely due to the cocktail of minerals caused by Santorini’s volcanic soil. It’s busy but striking.
Religious landmarks and culture
It’s hardly a wonder that people say “Santorini has more churches than houses and more wine than water”. Similar to other destinations across the Greek archipelagos, there are beautiful structures here related to Orthodox Christianity and the deep religiosity of the islands.
Events and traditions take place throughout the year. For Easter, the charming village of Pyrgos gets transformed with candle lights and a festive atmosphere. The summer, meanwhile, has the Ifestia Festival, when locals pay homage to the eruption of the island’s volcano in a symphony of local dance performances and music.
There are more than 450 churches on Santorini to get through! St. Gerasimos in Fira has the blazing blue dome you see on the postcards. It’s unlike any other around and has been hailed as one of the most photographed churches in the Aegean. Next up is the stunning Monastery of Profitis Ilias, which even has its very own museum. Located at the highest point of Santorini, it is filled with artifacts, ancient books, and sculptures.
The architecture and landscape
Santorini is sometimes so ridiculously photogenic that you’ll need to rub your eyes to believe it’s real. From the wave-lapped beaches of the east coast to the sheer-cut caldera cliffs of the west coast, it’s just begging to be snapped. The unique Cycladic architecture helps matters considerably. That brings those eternal blue domes and white-painted cave houses into the mix. Lovely.
You might be wondering what are some not-to-be-missed architectural gems of Santorini? Needless to say that Oia makes it to the top of the list. With streets filled with cute bohemian boutiques and romantic hotels, the town has countless charming corners to explore, along with lookout points that can’t be beaten.
We’d also recommend that architecture buffs drop by the Folklore Museum of Santorini. This 19th-century cave house turned museum is perfect for gaining a deeper understanding of old-time building techniques. Inside, it’s brimming with ancient sculptures and books. It also showcases Santorini’s church heritage with its very own chapel.
We’re not going to say that Santorini is the most happening and hedonistic of the Greek islands. It’s not. Far from it, the evenings here are actually pretty chilled. Most people stick to sipping mixed fresh-fruit cocktails on the terraces of Fira’s sunset joints, then hit the tavernas for too much Cycladic food, and then beeline back to their luxury cave hotel.
But there are some places to shimmy the night away if you want to. We’ve actually got a dedicated guide to the nightlife in Santorini, so we’ll just focus on a few of the main spots. Fira – the island capital – is the hub of all the action. Go there if you do want to dance until sunup. The bars you’re looking for include:
- Koo Club – Uber-cool Koo Club is one of the liveliest spots on the island, complete with big outdoor patios dotted with palm trees and a colossal dance hall.
- Enigma – One of the oldest nightlife venues on Santorini, Enigma stays open until sunup and attracts famous DJ acts.
- Tropical Bar – Start your night here with some hand-mixed fresh-fruit cocktails. Needless to say, the views are to die for.
- 2 Brothers – A local’s fav with lots of beer and a jovial vibe, 2 Bros also goes on until very late (like 5am late).
Because of where it is
Santorini’s pretty darn cool. There’s no doubt about that. However, once you’ve ticked off sunsets on the caldera rim and a stay in a cave hotel, there’s no shame in craving something a little different. Thankfully, this one’s perfectly located for those looking to launch an island-hopping odyssey through the Aegean. You’ve got all sorts of incredible destinations within a few hours’ ferry ride. What’s more, there are LOADS of ferries on offer, since Santorini is so popular and all.
We’ve actually put together a complete guide to the best islands to visit from Santorini. It includes a whole medley of some of Greece’s most tempting spots, not to mention a few more off-the-beaten-track options that will appeal to those keen to get away from the crowds. Our favorites would probably include:
- Mykonos (2-3 hours) – Never discount Mykonos. For parties, chic sunset bars, boho hotels, and good-time living, this is the isle you’re after.
- Milos (2-4 hours) – Milos is famed for its white-stone shoreline, a montage of rock stacks, caves, water-logged grottoes, and arguably the best swimming in Greece.
- Anafi (2 hours) – Virtually completely undiscovered, Anafi is Santorini’s little brother. A teardrop of an island to the east, it’s got sleepy villages and rugged shorelines that are bound to impress.
How many days should you spend in Santorini?
With three to five days in Santorini, you’ll be able to explore and experience the best of what the island is famous for. That length trip should leave enough time for scenic hikes, romantic sunsets, and even boat trips around the dramatic coastline. The main thing to consider here is budget. Santorini is one of the pricier Cyclades island (only Mykonos is potentially more expensive), so keeping it short and sweet can help with outgoings.
Which month is the best to visit Santorini?
The best months to visit Santorini are the shoulder season months of April and May and then September and October. Yes, it won’t be blazing hot like in July, but you will dodge the HUGE influx of tourists that come to the Aegean in the midsummer. The cooler months of spring and fall are also better for hiking the famous caldera trail. Winter visits will be MUCH cheaper and the island will be at its least busy.
Here’s a handy crowdometer to get a handle on how many others you’ll be sharing the island with…
What is Santorini best known for?
Santorini is best known for its rugged geological topography and unbeatable sunsets. Is Santorini worth visiting for those alone? We’d say yes, 100%. However, the spot is more than just those two things. Santorini also boasts an amazing plethora of restaurants, upcoming wineries, luxury honeymoon hotels, and enchanting villages like Fira and Oia. Okay, so it’s not got the best beaches in the Aegean, but you’ll remember the views forever…