Santorini, Greece, may be the most melodramatic of all the Greek islands. One of the biggest volcanic eruptions ever blew out the center of island, which is now crescent shaped, with a dramatic landscape of cliffs towering over an enormous crater. Its two principal towns, Fira and Oia, are perched on the edge of the caldera and overlook the Mediterranean.
The best way to arrive is by arriving by boat at the smaller port of Skala, whose spectacular harbor is part of that volcanic crater. It’s a scene vibrant with color and contrast. White-washed villages stand out against the dusky greens and red earth of the island; endless blue skies soar above, the bottomless blue of the Mediterranean lies below.
Tourism is big business in Santorini, you’ll find plenty of shops (especially jewelry shops) restaurants and discos in Fira and Oia. Wandering their steep, winding streets and gives you views of both the sea and infinity pools, as well as major landmarks such as Fira’s two cathedrals, Catholic and Orthodox. There are also several archeological and prehistoric museums, as well as a folklore museum.
Santorini is justly famed for its sunsets, the best place to watch them is from Oia, on the northern end of the island, because it gives you an uninterrupted view of the sun dropping into the sea.
Beyond the towns are Santorini’s beaches--some with red or black sand-- are stunning, perfect for diving, windsurfing, kite-surfing and sailing--or for just kicking back to enjoy the view. The island also has a rich archeological heritage. Akrotiri is the main archaeological attraction. The volcano destroyed this ancient Minoan city, but preserved under layers of lava. As soon as you reach Santorini, check to see if Akrotiri is open; the site's protective roof collapsed in 2005 and the site has been totally, or partially, closed since then. If Akrotiri is closed, visit Ancient Thira. The remains of this Greek, Roman, and Byzantine city sprawl over acres of rugged terrain overlooking a black lava beach. You can also visit the volcano itself--hiking to the peak and then down for a dip in the hot springs that gush near the coast of two islets in the caldera.
Volcanic islets are in the center of the Bay of Santorini, you should explore their otherworldly landscapes. The rocky soil of the island produces a plentiful grape harvest and local wines are among the best in Greece. Visit a local winery for a tasting. And then, there’s the food, a mix of classic Greek dishes that show the foreign influences the centuries. You’ll find anything from rustic tavernas to French and international cuisine.
Santorini has a small airport, but there is frequent ferry service to the island (larger ships dock at the port of Athinios). Santorini is very multi-modal--you can get about the island by bus (although these can get crowded), rental car, ATV, cable car (from Fira up on the edge of the caldera to the small town below) or even by donkey. Avoid visiting Santorini in July and August because of the crowds; it’s best to visit at the beginning or end of the season.