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  • Oia-Santorini-9 - Oia, on the Greek island of Santorini, offers one of the most scenic lookouts in the world.
  • Oia-Santorini-classic.jpg - Captivating sugar-cube buildings line the cliffs of Oia on Santorini, Greece — one of the great views in the world.
  • Oia-Santorini-at-dusk-2 - Dusk falls on Oia, Santorini in the Greek isles.
  • windmills-Oia-Santorini.jpg - Two windmills stand out in a cluster of sugar-cube buildings in Oia at the north end of Santorini.
  • Regent-Seven-Seas-Voyager-Santorini -   Seven Seas Voyager sails through the flooded caldera that rings the glamorous island of Santorini.
  • Oia-Santorini-4 - Overlooking the sugarcube houses and shimmering bay in Oia on the Greek island of Santorini.
  • Oia-Santorini-hilltop - The sugar cube houses of Oia perch atop red rock cliffs that loom over the Aegean Sea on the magical island of Santorini.
  • red-beach-santorini-greece - Red beach on the island of Santorini, Greece.
  • Regent-Seven-Seas-Mariner-Fira-Santorini-3 - Seven Seas Mariner sails past the dramatic cliffs and pristine whitewashed buildings of Santorini.
  • Fira-Santorini-Greece - The scenic cityscape of Fira (or Thira) on Santorini, Greece.
  • Santorini-caldera-pumice-1 - Walk on the narrow paths ringing the caldera of Santorini and you'll come across outcroppings of pumice — light and porous volcanic rock — that betrays the island's eruptive past.
  • oia-santorini-greece - The town of Oia sports classic Mediterranean colors on the island of Santorini, Greece.
  • Santorini-caldera-and-Fira - The caldera of Santorini with a view of the whitewashed houses of Fira perched atop sheer cliffs that plunge a thousand feet to the sea. An ocean-filled volcanic ring was left behind by a titanic eruption 3,500 years ago that devastated the region. It's one of the most stunning views in the world.
  • Santorini-taverna-owners - JD Lasica: "I still fondly recall the best lunch I ever had, from several years ago: fresh hand-picked grilled fish, horta, Greek salad and spectacularly awful homemade wine prepared by two lovely sister-owners of a taverna on the southeast side of Santorini who spoke not a word of English."
  • Seabourn_ship_in_Santorini_Greece - A Seabourn ship in the picture-postcard cruise haven of Santorini, Greece.
  • Regent-Seven-Seas-Mariner-Fira-Santorini - Embark on a Seven Seas Mariner cruise and explore the blissful Greek islands. Here's a view from Fira, the capital of Santorini.
  • Regent-Seven-Seas-Mariner-Fira-Santorini-2 - Behold dramatic cliffs and the glimmering Aegean Sea from the hilltop capital of Fira during a cruise to Santorini and other Greek islands aboard Seven Seas Mariner.
  • Regent-Seven-Seas-Santorini-church-bells - Discover some of the most captivating views on earth when you explore Santorini on a Seven Seas Mariner shore excursion.
  • Regent-Seven-Seas-Oia - Stepping through the cobblestone walkways and sugar-cube city of Oia during Seven Seas Mariner journey to the Greek islands.
  • Regent-Seven-Seas-Fira-stairway - Perch atop a cliff in Fira, the capital of Santorini, and look down at sugar cube houses and a labyrinthe of walkways during your Mediterranean cruise aboard Seven Seas Mariner.
  • Norwegian-Jade-aerial-Santorini-Greece - Norwegian Jade stops in the flooded crescent-shaped caldera that forms the interior of Santorini, Greece.
  • church-art-Santorini-Greece - Inside the Catholic church in Fira on the island of Santorini.
  • Akrotiri-Santorini-Greece - The Red Beach near Akrotiri on the Greek island of Santorini.
  • lunch-Santorini-Greece - Lunch at To Psaraki restaurant by the Vlychada beach, Santorini.
  • donkeys-Santorini-Greece - The famous donkeys of Santorini carry visitors from the small port up the steep path to the town of Fira.
  • Agios-Nikolaos-Santorini-Greece - The caved-in church "Agios Nikolaos" at the caldera in Megalochori, Santorini.
  • Oia-Santorini-dome.jpg - A blue-topped Greek Orthodox church, with a pink bell tower, in Oia on Santorini, Greece.
  • Oia-Santorini-3.jpg - Sunlight reflects in the Aegean on a late November afternoon as seen from the cliffs of Oia on Santorini, Greece.
  • Oia-Santorini-2.jpg - Pink and white buildings hew to the cliffside in Oia along Santorini's caldera, looking south.
  • Fira-art-studio.jpg - An arts and icons studio in Fira, capital of Santorini.
  • scenic-Oia-Santorini-Greece - The gorgeous sugarcube village of Oia juts into the hillside of Santorini, Greece.
  • fira-buildings-on-cliff.jpg - Fira, the capital of Santorini, as seen from the water.
  • Celebrity_Equinox_Santorini - Celebrity Equinox moors beneath the majestic cliffs of Santorini, Greece.
  • Oia-pool.jpg - A pool with a view of the Aegean Sea in Oia on the Greek island of Santorini.
  • Santorini-donkeys.jpg - Donkeys making their way up the steps of Oia, Santorini.
  • Dinnerware-shop-in-Oia.jpg - Pottery and earthenware at a shop along the main walkway in Oia on the Greek island of Santorini.
  • fira-clock-tower.jpg - The clock tower in Fira, the main port of Santorini, Greece.
  • octopus-Fira-Santorini-Greece - Octopus sun-drying out of the restaurant Mama Thira in the Firostefani neighborhood of Santorini, Greece.
  • Oia-looking-north.jpg - A view of picturesque Oia on Santorini, Greece, looking northward.
  • Oia-looking-southa.jpg - A view of a Greek Orthodox church, with a Greek flag fluttering, in Oia on Santorini, Greece.
  • Oia-looking-southb.jpg - View of the picture-perfect sugar-cube buildings in Oia on the Greek island of Santorini, looking south.
  • Oia-rooftops.jpg - Rooftops and iconic Cycladic architecture in Oia on the Greek island of Santorini.
  • Oia-Santorini-9.jpg - Captivating sugar-cube buildings line the cliffs of Oia on Santorini, Greece — one of the great views in the world.
  • Santorini-donkey-2.jpg - Donkeys making their way up the steps of Oia, Santorini.
  • Santorini-donkey.jpg - Donkey power used to be the primary way visitors would ascend the steps of Oia, Santorini.
  • Santorini-flowers.jpg - A display of bougainvillea adorns a resident's porch in Oia, Santorini.
  • Santorini-north-of-Fira.jpg - The hillsides of Santorini, north of the capital of Fira.
  • Selestina's-House-boutique-shop.jpg - Selestina's House, a boutique shop in Oia, Santorini.
  • Souvenir-shop-in-Oia.jpg - A souvenir shop in Oia on the Greek island of Santorini.
  • viking-star-in-santorini.jpg - Viking Star, Viking's first ocean ship, sits in the middle of the flooded caldera in Santorini, Greece.
  • viking-star-in-santorini-3.jpg - Viking Star, seen against the cliffs of Santorini, Greece.
  • windmill-Oia-Santorini.jpg - Classic buildings in Oia, Santorini, looking southward.
  • Santorini-Star-Clippers.jpg - The stunning landscape and architecture of Santorini makes it a popular destination on Star Clipper cruises.
  • Star-Princess-Santorini-Greece - Star Princess near Santorini, Greece.
  • Santorini-cliffs.jpg - Santorini's cliffsides reveal the area's stunning volcanic past when you visit Greece's most popular island.
  • cliff-homes-in-Oia.jpg - Sugarcube homes in Oia, Santorini.
  • santorini-buildings.jpg - Santorini with its classic Cycladic colors.
  • oia-donkeys.jpg - As has been the custom for decades, donkeys make their way up the steep steps of Oia, Santorini.
  • couple-wedding-1.jpg - A couple during their wedding day in Santorini, Greece.
  • santorini-buildings-1.jpg - Houses and churches in the traditional colors of the Cyclades on Santorini, Greece.
  • Seadream-Santorini.jpg - Santorini is the backdrop for a rejuvenating day on a SeaDream cruise.
  • Oia-Santorini-row-of-buildings.jpg - Classic buildings in Oia, Santorini, looking southward.
  • santorini-oia-hillside.jpg - The pretty hillside village of Oia, Santorini, the most-visited Greek island.
  • Oia-Santorini-at-dusk - Dusk falls on Oia, Santorini in the Greek isles.
  • Regent-Seven-Seas-Voyager-Santorini-2 - Travel on board Seven Seas Voyager and take a short hike to see breathtaking views of Santorini.
  • horta-Greek-restaurant-Oia - A plate of horta (greens) at a restaurant overlooking the Aegean Sea in Oia, Santorini.
  • Donkey-Milk-billboard.jpg - Really? A billboard in Oia, Santorini.
  • Fira-church-bells.jpg - Church bells spotted in Fira, the main port of Santorini, Greece.
  • Fira-seen-from-the-water.jpg - Whitewashed buildings line the rim of the caldera overlooking the Aegean Sea on Santorini, Greece.
  • Fira-shops.jpg - Modern boutique shops line the main visitors' walkway in Fira, capital of Santorini.
  • Greek-vases.jpg - Greek vases for sale in Fira, the main port of Santorini, Greece.
  • Oia-church.jpg - A well-kept church in Oia on Santorini, Greece.
  • Oia-doorways.jpg - Doorways of local residents in Oia on Santorini, Greece.

Santorini: World-class views in a timeless setting

our guide

The vibe

The words magical, iconic and breathtaking don’t do justice to Santorini. So perhaps the photo gallery above will convey the otherworldly beauty of Greece's most visited island. 

Recently I cruised on Viking Star to Santorini after a 20-year absence and became swept up once again by her Mediterranean charms. First-time visitors will be enchanted by the crescent-shaped island's jaw-dropping ocean views, pristine beaches (your choice of black, red or golden sand), gorgeous traditional Cycladic architecture, fine dining (once you leave the tourist areas) and bustling cobblestone streets filled with shops, tavernas, hotels and cafes that cling to the rim of the caldera 900 feet above the port.

While there are tons of activities available to the day-tripper, don't overdo it. Just enjoy the views and Aegean breezes and don't try to squeeze everything into one day. Because you'll be back. 

Cruise ships calling on Santorini

Top reasons to go

  • The views and landscapes are spectacular. We are talking extreme geology at work.
  • Choose your beach. Whether you like black pebbles, red sand or white, you will find a beach of your liking on the southern end of the island.
  • Wander the narrow streets and alleys of Fira or Oia to find something new around each corner.
The caldera of Santorini with a view of the whitewashed houses of Fira perched atop sheer cliffs that plunge a thousand feet to the sea. An ocean-filled volcanic ring was left behind by a titanic eruption 3,500 years ago that devastated the region. It's one of the most stunning views in the world.
JD Lasica / Special to CruiseableThe caldera of Santorini with a view of the whitewashed houses of Fira perched atop sheer cliffs that plunge a thousand feet to the sea. An ocean-filled volcanic ring was left behind by a titanic eruption 3,500 years ago.

Santorini's backstory

One glance at Santorini's caldera and you'll want to know how this natural wonder came to be. Santorini was shaped by an enormous volcanic eruption in1620 BC that destroyed most of the original island and created the current geological caldera. The sea rushed in to fill it, leaving the crescent-shaped island, while the accompanying earthquake triggered a tsunami that accelerated the demise of the Minoan civilization on Crete.

Things to see & do on Santorini

While there are lots of choices of activities, from sightseeing to shopping, most cruise visitors arrive in the capital port of Fira before fanning out. 

Here are some top options for day trippers.

Oia

Make sure you set aside time to take a taxi or bus to Oia (pronounced EE-ah), one of the most stunningly beautiful villages in the Mediterranean. (On my first trip, pre-smartphones, a local in Fira said it was a short walk. Two hours later, I was still walking.) Stroll the cobblestone streets past whitewashed sugar-cube houses and Orthodox Greek churches painted in traditional Aegean blue. Chat up local shopkeepers about their handcrafted wares. Stick around, if you can, to watch the sun set over Ammoudi Bay, one of the most beautiful scenes in he world. Dining here is higher end, with Mediterranean cuisine leaning toward Italian specialties.

Two windmills stand out in a cluster of sugar-cube buildings in Oia at the north end of Santorini.
JD Lasica / Special to CruiseableTwo windmills stand out in a cluster of sugar-cube buildings in Oia at the north end of Santorini.

Kamari Beach

Head to Kamari Beach, 4 miles southeast of Fira on the island's east coast, for a stretch of powdery black sand. The largest and most popular beach on Santorini, you'll see first-hand evidence of Santorini's volcanic past. Don't expect smooth Caribbean beaches — it's pebbly terrain — but you can tell your friends about your first black beach experience and the people watching is first rate. 

Red Beach

Less crowded than Kamari, the Red Beach takes its name from it reddish volcanic sand. You'll find beachside tavernas, cafes, stunning red cliffs, aquamarine waters and a laid-back vibe at this beach at the end of the road to Ancient Akrotiri. The snorkeling is said to be top-rate here. Another choice, Vlychada, is a nude beach (be cool, Americans). 

Museum of Prehistoric Thira & Ancient Akrotiri

An example of Cycladic pottery depicting birds, dating  from the 18th to 20th century B.C., at the Museum of Prehistoric Thira.
An example of Cycladic pottery depicting birds, dating from the 18th to 20th century B.C., at the Museum of Prehistoric Thira.

Santorini is sometimes called the "Greek Pompeii" because of the fascinating archaeological site of Akrotiri. The former Minoan outpost was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in the 16th century B.C. So here's a two-fer:

  • The Museum of Prehistoric Thira showcases artifacts, such as Minoan murals, found in the ruins of Akrotiri. 
  • If you have the time, you can visit the stunning coastal ruins of ancient Akrotiri directly — it's the best-known Minoan site outside of Crete. The site is incredibly well preserved: You'll see former homes decorated with pottery and prehistoric frescoes. Akrotiri is on the southern part of the island.

Wine tasting

I live an hour from Napa Valley so I'm not a super fan of Greek wines, but many people are, and a trip to one of Santorini's famed vineyards is a relaxing way to spend an hour or two. Top choices include Santo Wines, Argiros Estate, Roussos Winery and Boutari Winery in the town of Perissa.

Shopping

Fira features picturesque little shops offering a wide range of goods, from designer clothing, shoes and accessories to souvenirs and handicrafts. Fira has one of the biggest gold markets in Greece, featuring elegant designer jewelry; it's located on Ypapantis Street (also called gold street).

Oia has similar shops with an emphasis on souvenirs by local artisans. You'll also find ceramics and gold and silver jewelry in modern and ancient designs. 

 

Restaurant 1800 in Oia offers fresh local fare ...
Courtesy of Restaurant 1800Restaurant 1800 in Oia offers fresh Greek dishes and memorable views. 

Dining

Trust me, you don't want to just wander into one of the numerous tourist-trap restaurants along the caldera where you'll find mediocre cuisine at sky-high prices. Seek out fresh local produce, calamari, lamb skewers or gyros, tomato keftedes (deep-fried patties of tomatoes, onions, flour and herbs) or a Greek salad with hunks of feta. If you're lucky, you'll be able to select your own fish from the owner's refrigerator case, as I did during a memorable lunch at a tiny taverna on the island's south side.

Some top dining choices:

  • Red Bicycle (Oia) is a restaurant that serves upscale Greek fare in a comfortable setting with a large terrace.
  • I was wowed by Restaurant 1800 (Oia) 20 years ago, and its reputation as a fine dining establishment has only grown. You'll find creative, fresh Greek dishes with Mediterranean inflections and sweeping views of the island's cliffs.
  • Roka (Oia) is a cozy, no-frills venue where you can dine on meze (Greek starters), salads, mussels, fried cheese and thin-sliced eggplant with a nice sea view from the terrace.
  • Selene (Fira) is a renowned 30-year-old high-end restaurantFodor's raves: "Selene is now probably the best in the Cyclades, with a beautiful location, elegant setting and service, and a deep love of island cuisine with local ingredients. The terrace of the old aristocratic house has two sea-views—south and caldera sunset—and overlooks vineyards spreading to the Aegean." 
  • Aktaion (Firostefani) is a tiny, inexpensive, family-owned taverna that has been a local favorite since 1922.
  • Almira Restaurant (Kamari) is another spot that earns high marks from recent visitors thanks to its beachside location and variety of food options. 

Don’t miss

Sunsets in Oia and Fira are spectacular, so stick around if you can. Grab dinner or drinks in one of the terraced restaurants on the rim of the caldera, and be sure to bring your camera. Then turn your camera to the sloped hills as soft golden glows begin to illuminate the buildings at twilight. (Alas, we were summoned to be back on the Viking Star by 5 pm.)

Insider tip

Be on the lookout for fast-moving mopeds, which seem not to take notice of pedestrians.

The caved-in church
Klearchos Kapoutsis / Creative Commons BYThe caved-in church "Agios Nikolaos" at the caldera in Megalochori, Santorini.

Best time to go

Peak season on Santorini begins in early April and ends in late September. But the island is at its best in spring and fall, when the weather is warm but not sweltering and the crowds thin out a big. I visited in late November on the last cruise ship of the year, and the crowds were sparse, but a lot of shops and restaurants were closed. 

Fun facts

  • Five words you should know in Greek:
        Good morning – Kalimera (pron. cally-mare-ah)
        Good afternoon/evening – Kalispera (pron. cally-spare-ah)
        Good night – Kalinihta
        Please – Parakalo
        Thank you – Efharist
  • Thira, as the locals call the island, gets its name from the Dorian colonizer Thiras in the 9th century BC. 

When you arrive

Docking information

You'll take a tender over to the island's main port of Athinias. The capital, Fira, clings to the top of the cliff high overhead. You can walk or take a donkey ride up the arduous, zigzagging 588 steps, but most visitors opt for the cable car (5 euros per adult and 2.50 euros per child). 

Getting around

Taxis are available on the island but they're sometimes in short supply, especially when many ships are in town. The main taxi stand is close to the central bus station and a 5-minute walk from where the cable car drops you at the top.

The central bus station in Fira provides comfortable coach transportation around the island, and to the most popular beaches. Most rides cost about 3 euros per person each way and there are reliable schedules posted in English.

Free Wi-Fi

As far as we know there is no free Wi-Fi available in Fira. However, many restaurants and cafes will offer this when you're a customer. Just ask your server for the password.

  Seven Seas Voyager sails through the flooded caldera that rings the glamorous island of Santorini.
Courtesy of Regent Seven Seas Cruises Seven Seas Voyager sails through the flooded caldera that rings the glamorous island of Santorini.

Need to know

Documents: U.S. and Canadian citizens need a passport to visit Santorini.

Language: Greek, though vendors in tourist areas often speak English

Currency: Euro

Store hours: The major business in Fira is tourism. Expect nearly all stores to be open when cruise ships are in town.

Tipping: In restaurants and taxis you should 5% to 10%. Some restaurants will round up the bill, so you should check this before tipping. Also you can expect a small service charge to cover the price of bread and water.

What to wear: The sun in Greece can be quite intense, so apply sunblock if you plan to be outside and carry a bottle of water with you. Flat comfortable walking shoes are a must.

Safety: Santorini is generally quite safe. As always, be aware of your surroundings and keep your valuables secure. 

Your take

How about you? Have you been to Santorini? Have any tips for visitors or photos you'd like to share? I'd love to hear about your experience.  

Help improve this article! See anything wrong? What did we overlook? Be a co-creator!

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JD Lasica
I'm co-founder, Editor and chief cat herder at Cruiseable. Follow your cruise bliss to any land where it may lead. Let's connect! I'm @jdlasica on Twitter.

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Overheard

“With a bowl-shaped cliff-boasting harbor formed from a 1500 B.C. volcanic eruption, this island boasts one of the most stunning sea approaches on the planet.”

Porthole magazine 

“The best thing I've brought back from a trip is a bottle of Assyrtiko from Santo Wines in Santorini. Sarah and I have never opened it but just having it in our rack reminds us of eating olives, cheese, and honey while watching the sun set behind the caldera. Ahh, sweet memories of life before kids.”

Condé Nast Traveler

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