Ready to explore the best things to do in Santorini? Picture-perfect sunsets, delicious cuisine, and ancient archeological discoveries await…

Look, Santorini is no secret. In fact, it’s the most visited island in Greece. That doesn’t mean you should skip it, but it does mean that without a little bit of planning, your trip has the potential to turn into a frantic mess. 

In general, I try to give you a look at destinations before they become so touristy they’re borderline impossible to enjoy. But sometimes, there really is a reason (or several in Santorini’s case) why it still deserves a spot on your bucket list even when it’s firmly front and centre on the radar. 

I spent a hefty chunk of time in Santorini on my most recent Cyclades trip and really dug into what makes this island so special. 

Julianna watching the sunset
Watching the sunset in Oia

The famous village of Oia is renowned for its sunsets and vistas, and they’re truly great. But to really experience everything Santorini offers, you need to go well beyond the Insta-famous hillside town and tap into local secrets and hidden gems. 

That’s exactly what this guide is going to help you do. Want to explore some well-kept secrets (like the fact the best sunset views aren’t actually in Oia at all)? Of course you do. 

Keep reading, and I’ll tell you all about the best wineries, beaches, and historical landmarks in Santorini for your itinerary. Let’s go!

Best Things to Do in Santorini

Explore the Famous Village of Oia 

When you think of Santorini, Oia is more than likely what comes to mind. The authentically Cycladic scene of white and blue houses and churches teetering high up on the edge of the Caldera looking over Ammoudi Bay is really as beautiful in person as it in photos.

Walk around the unmarked roads and marvel at the wooden windmills and almost too-blue-to-be-true skies, and you may just fall in love. Plenty of people do. 

To be perfectly honest, Oia is not my favourite place on the island. You can expect to pay a significant markup compared to other destinations in Santorini, and places are genuinely way too crowded – particularly in peak season.

But as is often the case, millions of tourists don’t flock here yearly for nothing. The sunsets here are as excellent as they are busy. I mean, where else can you perch on an ancient fortress and watch the sun sink into the Aegean Sea? 

Sunset in Oia

So by all means, you should visit Oia if it’s your first time visiting Santorini. But, you’ll want to show up to popular sunset lookouts like Oia Castle, like 1-2 hours early. The views from the top of the 15th-century defence fortress are worth competing for.

As an aside, I actually thought the sunrise in Oia was just as beautiful and a lot less crowded. You’ll need to head over to the eastern part of the town for the best views but they do look quite wonderful…

Sunrise in Oia
Sunrise in Oia

For an ancient island, the city is relatively new. It was rebuilt after the 1956 earthquake, and Lauda, which is the oldest (and possibly best) restaurant in town, was established in 1971. 

Lauda is the best way to enjoy a stress-free view of the sunset; just plan it as a splurge meal. The upscale dining room has brilliant Caldera views, and the 6-course menu (it’s €200 per person with wine pairing as an additional €145) is fantastic.

Watch the Sunset at Akrotiri Lighthouse 

Views from Akrotiri

Evenings in Oia are legendary, and if you do it right, they can be as enjoyable as advertised. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: Akrotiri Lighthouse is the best place to watch the sunset in Santorini. 

The French lighthouse built in 1892 is beautiful on its own, with its rectangular white-washed base and picturesque tower perched high up on the rocky banks of the Aegean Sea. But you’re coming here to see the sunset. Trust me. 

The small lighthouse has stunning views of the orange, pink, and blue evening skies. You’ll have the best lighting if you arrive late in the afternoon.

Parking is a bit tricky, but it’s nowhere near as crowded as Oia. If you don’t luck out near the lighthouse, just head over to one of the other bays and hike in.

Pack some snacks, bring your camera, and thank me later.

Top Tip

You can also get some wonderful shots around sunrise with fewer people around.

Explore the Ancient Village of Akrotiri

Arkrotiri Archaeological Site

This famous Cyclades Island is home to some of the most amazing historical sites in Greece, so a visit to one of them is an absolute must. 

First of all, Akrotiri is one of the oldest archeological sites you’ll find anywhere in the world. Parts of the site show architecture and artefacts from as far as 2,000 BC. 

Because Santorini was a thriving island before the devastating volcano over 3,600 years ago, it shouldn’t come as a shock that ancient villages are still being unearthed today. But what surprised me was just how well this Bronze Age site is preserved. 

In fact, it actually goes by the nickname of the second Pompeii. 

When you walk around the complex, you’ll notice ancient stone walls and Minoan pottery abound. It’s really stunning that some of these artefacts are in absolutely perfect condition after literally thousands of years.

What’s even more amazing, however, is that some scholars think that this site may be none other than the mythical empire of Atlantis. Seriously.

Photograph the Red Beach (Kokkini Paralia) 

Red Beach

While there are better beaches on other Cyclades Islands (like my personal fave Naxos), Santorini certainly has some of the most unique. 

Kokkini Paralia, or Red Beach, boasts incredible contrasts of rusty red cliffs and bright blue waters, making it one of Santorini’s most famous beaches.

You can get there by boat or a park just a short walk from the beach.

Swimming is possible, but you’ll want to make your way to the cove carefully. The shores are rocky, and the beach itself is kind of small.

Top Tip

There’s a legitimate risk of rock falls from the cliffs behind, so tread carefully.

Sundowners at Theros Wave Bar 

Santorini has some wonderful bars and restaurants, many of them with incredible ocean views. When you’re on the island’s southside be sure to check out one of my favourite spots on Santorini, Theros Wave Bar.

It’s been voted one of the best beach bars anywhere in the Mediterranean, and once you’re looking out at the Aegean Sea with a delicious cocktail, you’ll know why. That said, you might just get lost on your way there (I’m half joking). 

Theros Wave Bar

The remote section of Eros Beach is a bit tricky to locate, so download a map and don’t be afraid to ask locals or tourists for directions if you get turned around.

Once you’re looking out at the pristine coastline from one of the patio tables, you won’t mind the effort and slight anxiety it took to get there one bit. Try the fresh catch of the day, order a second cocktail, and revel in the fact that this is as close to paradise as you may ever find.

Visit the Kameni Islands 

Visiting the “lava islands”, the 2 volcanic islands off the coast of Santorini, is a must when you have some extra time on the island. Known as the new (Nea) and old (Palea) islands, each has unusual scenery and plenty of hiking trails to explore.

Starting at Athinios Port, you can take a boat to either island, but heading on a guided tour is the only way you can get there (unless you know someone with a yacht). It’s not a big surprise, as both islands are uninhabited.

Both Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni offer unique things to do, so I encourage you to take the time to see each of them.

Nea Kameni is often (and best) described as a desert of black stone. It’s a tiny island with a diameter of 2 kilometres and very much an active volcano. Be sure to hike to Georgios Crater. The constantly emitting sulphur stream is fascinating to see from afar. 

Palea Kameni has some cool geological features, too. The warm, ferrous, and sulphurous waters and the hot springs where you can even take a dip.

Kayak, Swim, and Snorkel at White Beach (Aspri Paralia) 

White Beach

Another famous beach on the island is Aspri Paralia (White Beach). Just like the name implies, the chalky volcanic mountains provide a stunning backdrop for the cerulean waters sparkling under the Santorini sun. 

Not only is it one of the most beautiful places to photograph, but it’s actually a perfect place to snorkel and swim. Keep your eyes peeled underwater for amazing geology and even the occasional seahorse (!).

Getting There

You can only reach White Beach by the sea. Either take a water taxi from Akrotiri or hire a kayak (this gets my vote), which you can arrange through a guided tour.

Chill Out in Perissa 

Perissa Beach

Perissa is tucked away, far from Oia, on the southeastern coast of the island. This village is where you want to go if beaches, luxury hotels, and chilled-out vibes are on your list of must-do items in Santorini. 

Not only are there great beaches in Perissa, but the black sands at Paralia Perivolos are among the most unique on the island. Paralia Perivolos is a long stretch of volcanic coastline that contrasts amazingly with the clear skies and deep blue sea. 

It’s also home to one of the biggest (and best) resorts on the island. Istoria Hotel (read about their spa below) is a stunning 5-star property and an ideal place to catch up on some rest while looking out at some of the most picture-perfect oceanfront scenery on Santorini.

Don’t worry, there’s more to do than lazing on the beach (need there be, though?). 

The Church of the Holy Cross is the biggest church on the island, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. The 5 sky-blue domes and multi-tiered bell tower make it one of Greece’s most photogenic examples of Cycladic architecture.

Take a Boat Trip to Thirasia 

Another day trip from Santorini you can reach by boat is Thirasia. The famous stretch of the Caldera formed after the destructive volcano around 1645 BC. 

What we now know as Thirasia emerged when Santorini sank into the Aegean Sea. Naturally, you get some pretty amazing views of Santorini from the nearby island.

The island is far less populated than Santorini and really offers visitors a chance to see what life on a traditional Cyclades Island is all about. Small coastal towns like Agrilia and the large hillside village of Manolas offer tourists a chance to tap into local Cycladic culture through excellent local cuisine at spots like Fyrgano.

But if you want some incredible views looking back at Santorini, bring your hiking boots. The 5.8-mile point-to-point hike from Riva Beach to Korfos Bay is the best way to get excellent views of the Aegean Sea, Santorini, and Thirasia itself.


Thirasia easy to reach and pleasant to explore on your own, but you can also book a guided tour if you’d rather see the island from afar.

Discover the Lost City of Ancient Thera 

If you have time for another historical site in Santorini, taking a trip over to Ancient Thera on Mesa Vouno will give you a look at another incredible archaeological find on the island. Ancient Thera is an important part of Santorini’s history and really reached its most influential years during the Ptolemaic period. 

Walk around the rather massive 800-metre-long complex high above the Aegean Sea and you can see evidence of ancient roads, homes, and government buildings from thousands of years ago.

Walking around the complex

You can easily spend an entire day roaming around examining all the remarkably well-preserved artefacts. 

So which should you make a point to see? The Temenos of Artemidoros and its incredible pillars and the Rock Shrine of Egyptian Deities Isis, Serapis, and Anubis (also known as Sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods) both offer a unique look back to an era thousands of years ago.

You can go on your own, but I highly recommend going with a guide. If you explore the site with an expert, you’ll learn more about the history and geology of one of Greece’s most important archaeological sites.

Top Tip

To get to Thera, you’ll need to take a bit of a hair-raising drive or set off on a long and grinding hike / bike ride. It’s worth the effort though. 

Walk the Balcony of the Aegean at Imerovigli 

Imerovigli is easily one of the most scenic villages in Santorini, and being on the highest point of the Caldera only adds to its charm. The small town offers several unique things to do in Santorini, so you won’t want to skip the relatively short and indisputably scenic walk over from Fira.

Walk around the “Balcony to the Aegean” and take notice of spots like the blue domed Anastasi Church or balcony bar Kapari Wine Restaurant that nearly get lost in the endless collection of whitewashed Cycladic homes dotting the hillside.

And hiking down to Skaros Rock nestled on the edge of the cliffside path from Agios Georgios Church, is absolutely a must. The loop trail only takes around 30 minutes, but you need to watch your footing, and bring water as the short and challenging hike is in the wide-open sun.

Top Tip

Imerovigli is also one of the best places to stay on the island. Boutique hotels with private terraces and infinity pools are par for the course. Stay at the luxury hotel San Antonio, and it feels anything but ordinary.

Wine Tasting Around the Island’s Vineyards 

You might not know it from the photos of village after village of cliffside coastal charm, but Santorini has some of the best vineyards in Greece.

The volcanic soil that’s all around the small Cycladic Island is the perfect recipe for growing complex, nuanced wines. Guess what? The white and red wines aren’t just easy to find in Santorini, many of them are spectacular.

You’re not short on places to choose from, especially near Pyrgos. My favourite? It’s hard to choose, so I’ll fill you in on a few.

  • Estate Argyros Winery is an underrated vineyard serving delicious wines (try the Vinsanto) and cold cuts in a breezy space between the Aegean Sea and volcanic mountains.
  • Venetsanos Winery is the most storied, a boutique winery that’s turned out some of the best wine in Santorini since 1947. And the views of the Caldera are truly spectacular.
  • But pressed to choose one, Gavalas Winery might just be my pick. This hidden gem produces wine using indigenous grapes, like the rich, berry-forward Mavrotragano. It’s also a family-run operation with an atmospheric tasting room featuring stone floors and cavernous tunnels.

Panoramic Views at Prophet Elias Lookout Point 

Near the charming village of Pyrgos is the Prophet Elias Monastery, which is home to one of the most scenic vistas on the island. 

The building itself is from the early 18th century and was an important Greek Orthodox monastery and church. It’s a beautiful example of Cycladic architecture worth taking the time to walk around.

But the main reason to visit? The views. Look out from 567 metres up Mount Profitis Profitis Ilias from any and every angle for a fully panoramic viewpoint of Santorini.

Not only can you see the villages and coastline of Santorini, but you can see quite far out into the Aegean Sea.

Spend Time Exploring Fira 

Three Bells of Fira

It’s tough to pinpoint the most beautiful places in Santorini, but Fira definitely has a good claim. The 17th-century town is packed with white and cream-coloured Cycladic homes almost miraculously clinging onto the Caldera above the Aegean Sea. 

It’s extremely photogenic, and sights like the Three Bells of Fira are worth waking up early to capture in the best lighting. The iconic triangular tower behind the blue-domed Catholic Church of the Dormition is easily one of the most captivating images on the island.

But believe it or not, Fira offers a lot more than photo ops for the socials. It’s a wonderful place to learn more about Santorini and Greece as a whole.

Fira perched on the coast

Fira has some of the most interesting museums anywhere on the island, including the Archaeological Museum of Thera. You can browse through artefacts dating back to Roman times, which were uncovered in the famous Thira and Akrotiri archaeological sites. 

The Megaro Gyzi Museum is also worth checking out. The stunning 17th-century Venetian mansion holds an informative collection of anything from clothing to maps to photographs depicting life centuries past in the Cycladic Islands centuries past.

Fira is also home to an intriguing restaurant scene, including the al fresco dining at Barolo, which serves a nice mix of pasta, salads, and grilled seafood on a beautiful patio.

Wine and Dine in Megalochori 


Looking for places to visit in Santorini Island that are off the tourist trail? Head to Megalochori. The small village is only home to a few hundred people, giving you an opportunity to experience small town Santorini at its best.

But don’t be mistaken. There is a lot to do in the southwest coastal village. For starters, you’re around some of my favourite wineries on the island, like Alisachni Art & Wine Gallery

The adorable indoor/outdoor space looks exactly like what you’d imagine. White-washed walls, a cavernous cellar, an art gallery, and a terrace overlooking a blue-domed church are your backdrop for tasting incredible local wines. And with quite a few vineyards in the area (more on that in a bit) the local wines are outstanding.

Megalochori is a foodie’s dream town. Outdoor dining for lunch at Raki or dinner at Taverna Tzanakis both offer farm-to-table experiences. Taverna Tzanakis even serves up the same veggies and meat they grow on their nearby farm.

And no trip to Megalochori is complete without walking the cobbled streets to the arching bell tower. The 3-tiered white and blue structure features 6 bells hovering in the magical clear blue skies, providing Santorini’s most underrated photo opp.

Spa Treatment at Istoria Hotel 

Spa at Istoria

Santorini is a great place to plan a holiday for some R&R. The restaurants, wineries, and sunset views are built for a romantic escape (or some much-needed alone time).

What better way to pamper yourself than by visiting the design-centred Istoria Hotel and taking advantage of the spa menu there? Surprisingly, Santorini’s spa scene is pared back, but this small spa is a great option. I had a fabulous scrub and massage here and came out feeling totally blissed out. 

Inside, the large stone walls and hanging plants add a relaxing vibe. The premium beauty products and expert staff really hone in on what a spa experience is all about.  

Walk Around the Charming Village of Pyrgos 

Santorini isn’t short on charming villages, but Pyrgos might just be my favourite. 

The former capital during the Byzantine period (between the 13th and 16th centuries), Pygros still has an old-school feel when you get away from the main road.

It’s a small town but has no shortage of things to do. And honestly, I found it to be the perfect place to spend half my time on the island and get away from the rather chaotic vibe in Oia and Thira. 

So, what are the must-see places in Santorini when visiting Pyrgos? The Venetian Castle is a great place to start. It’s one of five on the island and offers excellent photo opportunities amongst the crumbling stone walls, meandering staircases, and hilltop vistas.

Food at Penelope's
Food at Penelope’s

It’s a really chill town and home to what might be my favourite restaurant in Santorini, if not Greece. Penelope’s Ouzeri Pyrgos Santorini offers traditional dishes like tomato fritters (a Santorinian specialty) which are both rich and crisp. They were herby parcels of heat and crispness that sang with flavour.

Top Tip

I highly recommend staying in Pyrgos instead of Oia. It’s central, far less crowded, better value and hotels like Alleys Boutique Hotel where I stayed offer everything you want in a Cyclades Island resort.

Practical Tips for Your Santorini Trip 

Views of Oia

Santori isn’t the type of place I’d recommend visiting on a whim. Over 2 million visitors head to the Cyclades Island each year, so it’s wise to lock in your accommodations and ferry tickets way before you go. 

Top Tips for Your Visit 

  • The best spots to watch the sunset fill up fast. Arrive at least 90 minutes ahead of schedule to get a good view, especially in Oia.
  • Days are hot, but nights can be cool. Dress in lightweight layers and carry a daypack with a jacket.
  • Santorini can experience Meltemi winds during the summer months. The northerly winds can produce strong gusts, so check with your tour guide if you plan to sail around the island.

How Long to Visit in Santorini? 

3-5 days gives you enough time to fit in everything the 29 square mile island offers. 

Best Time to Visit

Summer is the most popular time to visit for a reason (the weather is sunny and the water is warm, although it is windy). But September and October are a bit less busy and equally beautiful.

Where Should I Stay in Santorini? 

Armenaki (Luxury) 

Armenaki Oia

This cosy all-suite cave hotel features small but nice rooms in a charmingly quieter section of Oia. There’s also a nice little jacuzzi, but beware, it’s right next to a public path.

Check Rates and Availability 

Istoria (Luxury) 

Istoria Hotel

Istoria is a 5-star hotel on the black sands of Perivolos Beach. The stylish suites, spacious swimming pool, and small but charming spa are truly lovely. 

Check Rates and Availability

Alleys Boutique Hotel (Mid-Range) 

A chic all-suite hotel in Pyrgos. Rooms come with terraces and hot tubs and they serve a stellar breakfast. Excellent value. 

Check Rates and Availability


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