Santorini is the supermodel of the Greek islands, a head-turner whose face is recognizable around the world: multicolored cliffs soaring out of a volcanic crater, topped by whitewashed buildings.
With its reputation for dazzling panoramas, romantic sunsets and volcanic-sand beaches, it’s hardly surprising Santorini features on so many travelers’ bucket lists.
There’s no denying the uniqueness of this place or its huge allure: the island hosts 2 million visitors annually, leading some to question whether Santorini has become a victim of overtourism.
If you're planning to join the crowd, here’s what you need to know for your first trip to Santorini.
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
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.
Fira, the island’s capital, sprawls into villages called Firostefani and Imerovigli. A path running through the villages is lined with upmarket hotels, restaurants 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.
Santorini’s east coast is lesser known than the celebrated west. Here, the caldera-edge heights have sloped down to sea level, and volcanic-sand beaches and resorts offer a very different drawcard.
East coast resorts such as Kamari and Perissa have a more traditional (and more affordable) island-holiday appeal: sunlounger-filled beaches, water sports, bars and taverna-lined promenades.
The east coast’s beaches are lined with black sand. On the south coast, there’s a string of beaches famed for their multicolored sand. The dramatic Red Beach is a traveler favorite.