Santorini, Italy

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Updated: February 7, 2020

Santorini is NOT in Italy

…but you should visit anyway.

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Santorini is among Greece’s most exclusive destinations. Yes, it has an Italian name, shortened from “Santa Irini” or Saint Irene. Although the nickname Santorini has stuck, the island is officially called Thera. Santorini is best loved for its caldera, an enormous crater in the sea formed in the wake of a catastrophic volcanic eruption more than 3500 years ago. A highlight of any Santorini trip is to watch the spectacular sunset over the caldera.

Sunset view with windmills in Oia

Santorini’s famous sunset view seen from the Venetian castle ruins in Oia.

Oia is the most popular sunset viewpoint, but all of the villages along the caldera have great sunsets. This is the view from Mesaria, the village just south of the island’s capital Fira, near the ferry port.

Sunset caldera view with a volcano in Mesaria.

Sunset caldera view with both volcanoes and Thirassia Island. Photo taken from Mesaria, south of the capital Fira, near the ferry port.

The caldera is gorgeous in the daytime, too.

Caldera and volcano view from Tsitouras Collection

Caldera view from the Tsitouras Collection hotel in Firostefani, a quiet neighborhood at the north end of Fira.

Fira is the capital of Santorini, the nightlife hotspot, and the hub of all bus transportation on the island.

View of Fira, Santorini

View of Fira village from Firostefani village.

Oia is the most luxurious and romantic village on the island. From Oia, you have easy access to Ammoudi Bay, a can’t miss spot for fresh seafood, sailing, and great swimming.

Ammoudi Bay view

View of Ammoudi Bay below with Oia village above.

Swimming at Ammoudi is amazing, but there is no beach there. Most of the beaches in Santorini are on the opposite side of the island from the caldera, and most are black sand beaches. Kamari, Perissa, and Perivolos are the most popular beaches here.

Perissa is a black sand beach in Santorini

Perissa, a black sand beach in Santorini.

Santorini is also known for amazing wine, a product of their volcanic soil and unique climate. Vineyards here are small and mostly independently owned. Vines are grown low to the ground and coiled into a basket shape to protect the grapes from the harsh sun and strong winds.

Santorini vineyards in Megalochori

A traditional Santorinian vineyard in Megalochori.

Aside from its rugged landscape, Santorini is known for its picturesque blue-domed churches, ancient Minoan ruins, sailing cruises, and hiking. The most popular hikes are along the trail from Fira to Oia (seen here) and on the top of Nea Kameni, the old volcano (you’ll need to take a boat to get there).

Skaros Rock in Santorini

The landmark Skaros Rock in Imerovigli, a popular detour when hiking the Fira-Oia trail.

Traditional cave-style architecture is also a draw here, with many luxury hotels and houses built in the side of the cliff. The caves are dug into the side of the caldera using hand tools with the debris and equipment moved along by donkeys and mules. In the high season, donkeys carry luggage and tourists.

Donkeys in Oia.

Donkeys in Oia.

Most of Santorini’s best hotels are cave-style, with hand-sculpted walls and ceilings (never perfectly straight) and built-in sofas, shelves, and bed platforms made with pressed concrete and marble dust. A typical cave-style suite looks something like this.

A cave suite at Andronis Boutique Hotel

A luxury cave suite at Andronis Boutique Hotel in Oia village.

The best hotels offer suites with sweeping caldera views from private terraces, many with jacuzzis or plunge pools, like this one at Vora Villas in Imerovigli. It’s no wonder why Santorini is so popular for honeymoons, weddings, or romantic getaways.

Private jacuzzi with caldera view.

A private jacuzzi with a view at Vora Villas in Imerovigli.

Santorini is a small island in the Cycladic island group in the Aegean Sea, part of the Mediterranean Sea. Many travelers visit Santorini as part of a vacation to Italy, other Greek islands (especially Mykonos), or the Mediterranean. It takes less than an hour to drive from one end of the island to the other, even with heavy traffic. It’s just a 1-hour flight from Athens (or 5-hour ferry), a 2-hour flight from Rome, 3.5 hours from Paris, and 4 hours from London. There are no direct flights to Santorini from the USA, Canada, or Australia.
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