Santorini travel guide
Not only is Santorini one of the most beautiful islands in the world, it is also geologically and archaeologically one of the most dramatic. The island, which is also called Thira, is shaped like an enormous pair of jaws encircling a lake filled with pure blue water. This is the core of an ancient volcano, which according to legend destroyed the lost continent of Atlantis when it blew its top about 3,600 years ago, burying the ancient city of Akrotiri (now being excavated) under tons of ash and sending out tidal waves that inundated other landmasses.
The island's two towns, Fira and Ia, are perched on the cliff tops of the highest part of the island. Ferries arrive and depart in the harbour below, and visitors walk or ride donkeys up the steep winding path to the towns. The towns are equipped with hotels, good restaurants, bars and plenty of nightlife to keep tourists happy while they relax between visiting the archaeological remains of ancient Thira, dating back to the 9th century BC, on the east side of the island. Other attractions include the excavations at Akrotiri, an archaeological museum, and an 18th-century monastery. Santorini has two swimming beaches, Perissa and Kamari, both characterised by their volcanic black sand.
The beaches of Santorini are unlike other Greek beaches and have
special and dramatic geological features like black shining pebbles
and unique land formations, coloured by black, white and red sands.
The beaches tend to be coves surrounded by steep cliffs which add
to their beauty. The waters are deep though, so be cautious. The
Red beach is possibly the most famous and is located near the
village and ancient site of Akrotiri. It is popular because of the
stunning volcanic slabs and colour of its sand, although the sand
is not comfortable to sit on so the sun loungers on the beach are
Perissa beach, just southeast of Fira, is another favourite and has an impressively long, black sandy beach with an enormous rock rising out of the sea. For those who prefer a quiet and unspoilt beach environment, Cape Columbo is one of Santorini's most beautiful and most isolated beaches. The waves here are rougher though so beware of a more dangerous sea. The southeastern beaches of Monolithos, Avis and Kamari are family favourites. At Monolithos beach kids love the football pitch, basketball court and play area. Trees at the back of the beach provide shaded respite from the sun, and there are also snacks available on the beach.
Santorini is a large wine-producing region, which was helped
along by a volcanic explosion in 1650 BC. The vines on the island
are very old, and are trained into a distinctive basket shape to
protect them from the elements. Wine has been grown in the region
since ancient times and has been renowned since as early as the
Middle Ages, when the Venetians made it famous - the Italian
influence is still detectable in the wine tradition of Santorini
today. One of the grapes that the region is known for is the sweet
Vin Santo (or vinsanto) which is dried in the sun before use. The
blended rosé from white grapes likes Athiri, Aidini and Assyrtiko,
and red grapes like Mandelaria, is also highly acclaimed.
There are a number of great wineries on the island. Antoniou is very popular, particularly for weddings, and Boutari is the largest vineyard in the region. Sigalas, which has spectacular views from their patio, is a lovely place to while away a day, and Volcan has a Wine Museum which will interest fanatics interested in the production process and history of the area.
Museum of Pre-Historic Thera
The Museum of Pre-Historic Thera has displays of many archaeological finds from the excavations at Akrotiri, including Neolithic pottery from as far back as 3300 BC. The exhibits attempt to show life in prehistoric times, with tools, metalworkings, pottery, furniture, and other artefacts on display. The exhibition is laid out in four parts: the history of research at Thera; the geology of Thera; the island's history from the Late Neolithic to the Late Cycladic I period (early 17th century BC); and the heyday of the city at Akrotiri (mature Late Cycladic 1 period, 17th century BC). Look out for the gold ibex figurine and the magnificent wall paintings, or frescoes, of Ladies and Papyri and of the Blue Monkeys. A visit to this small but interesting museum is a great complement to exploring the archaeological site of Akrotiri as it provides context and displays the impressive artefacts discovered at the site. Often tour guides will combine the site and the museum. The museum is well-organised and informative and offers a lot of good background information; it consistently rates well with tourists in reviews.
Address: 847 00 Fira, Santorini
Restaurants in Santorini range from bland and commercial near the tourist traps to unforgettable tavernas where tourists have to compete with locals for seats. Local specialties include tomato keftedes, white aubergine, and fresh grilled fish. Fast-food-style gyros places are plentiful in all the larger towns and resorts. Selene is a popular Greek restaurant in Fira, but those hungry for American-style burgers and beers can head to Just 4 Beer Bar Restaurant in Kamari.
With one of the best nightlife scenes in the Cyclades, Santorini has many cafés, bars and nightclubs to enjoy on holiday. Many cafés and bars are found along the caldera, and most nightclubs are in the capital city of Fira, which is the best place to go for all-night partying. The bars and clubs are always rotating, but be prepared to pay upwards of €15 for a drink in the most popular spots on the waterfront. As with shopping and accommodation, Santorini is not the cheapest Greek island to party on, although it can be very rewarding if you are prepared to pay that little bit extra. Oia and Kamari also have a number of bars and discos.
For those who prefer quieter evenings and more relaxed, cultural night time attractions, there are classical music performances at the Nomikos Centre in Fira. There are also a number of quieter, more authentic restaurants where visitors can enjoy drawn out meals with lovely views. Finding somewhere away from the crowds and bustle can be challenging in summer but a good rule of thumb if you want to soak up genuine Santorini atmosphere is to avoid the resort areas and big towns and look out for places frequented by locals.
Shopping in Santorini offers a range of lovely holiday purchases, the most popular being gold and amber jewellery. The island's cobbled lanes are flanked by jewellery shops, boutiques, galleries and leather shops, as well as stores selling local handicrafts and souvenirs. The Hondos Center and the Fabrica Shopping Center in Fira are popular shopping destinations for jewellery and fashion items such as clothing, bags and shoes. Oia has great Art Deco galleries to browse, as well as shops selling gold jewellery and handmade wooden artefacts. Santorini is also a wine-producing region in Greece, so a bottle of wine is a popular souvenir. Keep in mind that Santorini prices are generally higher than in most parts of Greece; if you are island-hopping shop for special, unique items in Santorini which has great but expensive handicrafts, and shop more broadly and extensively on one of the more reasonable islands. For those who are self-catering on Santorini there are grocery stores and the like from which to buy supplies. Those visiting in winter may find that some of the shops and restaurants are closed or have greatly reduced opening hours, but what is available will be cheaper off-season.
Santorini Thira Island National Airport
Location: 2 miles (4km) southeast of Fira/Thira Town, near Monolithos
Time: GMT +2 (GMT +3 between last Sunday in April and last Sunday in October).
Contacts: +30 22860 28400
Getting to the city: There is bus service to many local destinations in Santorini, and several shuttle transfer companies operate from the airport.
Car rental: Herz, Europcar, Axion and Budget have car hire offices at Santorini Airport.
Airport Taxis: There are taxis available from the airport.
Facilities: The terminal contains duty-free shopping, ATMs, travel agencies and information services.
Santorini is well connected with the main cities in Greece both by sea and by air. Ferries and catamarans depart from Piraeus Port, in Athens, and there are boats to ports on the surrounding islands. The ferry system in Greece is reliable and convenient if not always very comfortable. The main arrivals port in Santorini is in Athinios, and there are boats departing for the volcano and Thirasia from the port in Fira. Santorini airport is about three miles (5km) from Fira and easily reached by bus or taxi. Although there are not many direct flights to Santorini from overseas there are some available from the UK, and it is easy to fly to Athens and take a connecting flight to the island. Taxis are available throughout the island and rates are fixed. There is a well organised bus network and the main bus terminal is in Fira. It is also possible to rent a car, motorbike or scooter on the island, although the roads are steep and can be unnerving. Having said that, having your own transport makes for a very pleasant way to get around Santorini, despite the relative ease of using public transport.
Santorini is part of the Cyclades Island group, where the climate is almost typically Mediterranean but has some influences from the North African climate. The island lends itself to hot, dry weather in summer and mild winters. Temperatures in July and August, which is peak season for tourism, range from 86ºF (30ºC) during the day to 72ºF (22ºC) at night, although it can get hotter during heat waves. Summer is crowded and expensive on Santorini and it can get oppressively hot; however, summer never goes out of fashion as the peak time for visitors. Rainfall is almost non-existent in summer but showers can be expected between October and April. Despite the popularity of the hot months the best time to visit Santorini is probably during the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn. As with many of the Greek islands the best two months are arguably May - the end of spring, when the sea is getting warm again after winter and the island is green and pretty - and September - the beginning of autumn, when the ocean is still very warm, most tourists have departed and the rainy season has not yet begun. Depending on what you are planning for your holiday winter may be an option: it can get a bit cold and there may well be rain but the lack of crowds and cheaper accommodation are a big draw for some.
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