Santorini has long been hailed as one of the most picturesque holiday destinations in Europe due to its spectacular panoramic views of the caldera (cauldron-like volcanic crater) and its aesthetically pleasing, uniformly whitewashed, cubic architecture, which has become synonymous with engagement and wedding photoshoots. The southernmost member of the Cyclades islands is undoubtedly the star pupil.

But there is more to Santorini than striking a pose on the famous black sand beaches and spending time by the pool. Below are some of the top things you can do on the island, with activities suitable for sun worshippers and adventure-seekers alike.

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The Prehistoric City of Akrotiri
Visit the Prehistoric City of Akrotiri on Thera to learn more about the islands' ancient history © Gonzalo Azumendi / Getty Images

1. Visit the real Atlantis 

Well over 3000 years ago, a catastrophic volcanic eruption (one of the worst in recorded history) on the island consumed Santorini, causing the middle of the island to fall in on itself before being swallowed by the sea. Due to the unearthed writings of Greek philosopher Plato, it has long been believed that the ancient Minoan settlements that were destroyed during the eruption are, in fact, the fabled Lost City of Atlantis.

You can take a trip to the prehistoric town and archeological site of Akrotiri, located on the southern tip of the island, to learn more about the lost ruins of this Bronze-Age city and the island's dramatic past. The massive excavated site (often dubbed the "Pompeii of Greece") is visitor-friendly with covered, wooden walkways that lead you around the old city while still protecting it. There aren't many placards and pamphlets to explain your surroundings, so we'd recommend pre-booking a guided tour for the full experience.

A magical Santorini sunset
The village of Oia in Santorini is famous for its beautiful sunsets, which frequently draw awestruck crowds © Mike Ledwidth / Getty Images

2. View the famous Santorini sunset

The sunsets in Santorini are renowned as being some of the most beautiful in the world, and the picturesque town of Oia is a prime spot to give yourself a bird's-eye view. There are a few key locations in the town where you can catch the big event, but the Byzantine castle ruins have by far the most beautiful view. The crumbling remnants of the castle walls offer a gorgeous glimpse into Oia's past, and their elevated location also provides panoramic views of the island.

Unfortunately, these upsides deliver one downside – the Byzantine ruins are very popular with visitors and get incredibly crowded as the evening draws in. Get there early and make yourself comfortable in a prime spot before the sun dips below the horizon.

Nea Kameni lava landscape.
Adventurers and volcano enthusiasts can take a guided hike up the Nea Kameni volcano © John Elk / Getty Images

3. Hike up Santorini's volcano

Enjoy a guided hike up the ash-laden landscape of the still-active Nea Kameni volcano located in the center of the caldera. Nea Kameni is the youngest of the two volcanos and is a popular tourist attraction due to its surrounding golden, sulfur-infused waters and springs known for their healing properties. During the hike, you can walk up to the black lava perimeters of the volcano, as well as discover the crater and other openings bursting with sulfur steam. Not only that, but you also get a magnificent view of the Santorini cliffs and sister towns, Oia and Fira. 

The heat can be oppressive during the high season, and we'd recommend an early start to take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures. Sunset-chasers should plan to finish their hike later in the evening to make the most of Oia and Fira being framed by the last rays of the day.

Quaint village store, Pyrgos, Santorini, Greece
The quaint village of Pyrgos is home to a variety of charming stores selling a wide selection of local products. ©

4. Visit the charming town of Pyrgos

Although not as busy as its sister towns of Oia and Fira, Pyrgos is a quaint, charming town that offers stunning scenery and some of the most popular restaurants in Santorini, such as Selene. The town is a great place to get to know the locals and see what everyday island life is really like, without the clamor of crowds of tourists. There are also opportunities to capture beautiful images along the tiny, winding footpaths that lead to side streets and cul-de-sacs housing scenic cafes, restaurants, and churches.

Plate of fried sardines at taverna
 Greek food is known to be both simple and delicious! A cooking class can help visitors recreate their favorite meals when they return home. ©

5. Take a Greek cookery class

Dive into a hands-on experience and learn all about Santorini's traditional cuisine by taking a local cooking class. The Petra Kouzina Cooking Experience will teach you all the skills required to produce a multi-course feast in a beautiful, charming setting.

Alternatively, you can choose a combination cooking class and wine tasting tour – the fun starts with a tour of carefully selected wineries before you start cooking, so you can plan your menu to include the perfect accompaniment to your meal! 

People are seated on the ground waiting for a movie to begin at the Kamari town open air cinema
Enjoy the silver screen after a golden sunset at the Kamari town open-air cinema © FotoHelin / Alamy Stock Photo

6. Catch a movie at the open-air cinema

Given Santorini's beautiful weather, you’ll definitely want to make time for an outdoor movie during the warm evenings. Hosting one of the best open cinemas in the world, Kamari Village boasts tasty cocktails, trendy director’s-chair seating and, of course, popcorn. Early arrival is advised to get a good seat.

The caldera after sunset, Fira, Santorini, Greece
A cruise of the caldera offers a unique view of Santorini and the eruption that forever changed the area's landscape  © David C Tomlinson / Getty Images

7. Take a caldera cruise 

One of the most popular activities for visitors to Santorini is to take a midday or sunset cruise around the caldera on a catamaran. The caldera is a large, crescent-shaped volcanic depression with a fascinating history – some factual, some folkloric – and is an ideal activity for those interested in merging beautiful views with learning more about the history of the island and its legendary volcanic eruption.

Many tour companies offer this service, complete with an onboard meal, with Caldera Yachting company being one of the most popular. I recommend booking the sunset cruise to make the most of the gorgeous sunset views.

Bell tower of Monastery Prophet Elias, Santorini island, Thira, Greece
The bell tower at the top of the Prophet Elias Monastery is one of the oldest on the island and is located at the highest point of Mount Eros © sjhaytov / Getty Images

8. Make a pilgrimage to the monastery of Profitis Ilias

Built in the 17th century, the monastery of Profitis Ilias (Prophet Elias) is one of the oldest buildings on the island and is located at the highest point on Mount Eros. The site is littered with beautiful gardens, pine woods that lead you to the door of the monastery, and the most incredible panoramic views of the whole island – don’t forget to pack your camera. The grounds of this religious attraction house a variety of local stores that offer a selection of homegrown produce, including olives, wine, olive oil, candles and honey.

9. Attend the White Door Theatro show

For those looking to partake in some lively theater, the White Door Theatro show is unlike any other. The performance features an interactive wedding celebration performance, where audience members are cast as "wedding guests" and required to take part in a host of fun and playful activities during the show, including singing, dancing, mezes, and even smashing plates!

Beautiful Oia
Nothing beats the view of Santorini from the air. A view visitors can only see via a helicopter tour. © Daniela Duncan/Getty Images

10. Take a helicopter tour of the island 

It doesn’t get much more bucket-list worthy than having your own private aerial scenic tour of the island, where you soar above the picturesque landscapes of Santorini, getting a bird's-eye view of the beautiful beaches, whitewashed cliffs and blue-domed churches, not to mention the volcanic caldera. Even with all our tips and tricks for navigating the crowds this beautiful island attracts, nothing compares to your own private A-list experience in the sky above Santorini.

Black Beach in Greece
The opportunity to relax on a black sand beach is one of the unique experiences Santorini has to offer © 

11. Sunbathe on the black sand beaches

Alongside its famous sunsets, Santorini is also known for its iconic black sand beaches, formed by the erosion of centuries of volcanic molten rock poured forth after each eruption. Perissa beach lies at the base of Mesa Vouno mountain and is one of the longest beaches on the island.

Alongside the multitude of cafes, bars and restaurants on the beach, there is also an elevated spot for adventurous divers to leap off into the crystal-clear waters. Families with young kids will find endless fun awaiting in the on-site water park.

You may also like:
How to enjoy Santorini on a budget
First time Santorini: top tips for your first visit

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