It may be Angelina Jolie jumping off the cliff in Tomb raider 2 or Hrithik & Katrina Kaif romancing Meherbaan song; most travellers know this town full of white houses crowned with blue domes in the Caldera. The grey pavement, white walls, and blue dome feels like a perfect canvas painting. The town’s colour palette is so calming that every corner by the cliffside is picturesque. Melon and mustard-coloured houses popping up here and there break the monotony of white cube houses.
That yellow house with a blue door covered in pink Bougainville adds vibrance to the soothing palette. Seafood to pep up your mood, wine to relax your mind and frozen yoghurt to keep your tummy calm- all this can happen with an excellent view of mountains and deep blue ocean. Sometimes you may want to be in a bustling town and later escape to solitude. Santorini balances it all with hidden villages along with vibrant towns.
This is a list of the 21 Best things to do in Santorini – Obvious and Offbeat things
- Watch the sunset at Oia.
- Walking, shopping and Partying in Fira
Watching the sunset at Oia
Witnessing one of the world’s best sunsets with a fantastic backdrop is most travellers’ dream. There is no doubt; that it is magical in Oia. You feel the magic if only you are ready to face the chaos! The windmills, blue domes, and white houses at different levels are a piece of heaven. The tour organisers bring their busload/shipload of tourists to Oia sunset point right before the sunset without a miss. So Oia sunset isn’t over-rated but surely overcrowded. Read our post” Worst and best spots to watch the sunset in Santorini” to know more.
Walking, shopping and Partying in Fira
No tourist goes back without seeing the town -Fira. Each tourist enjoys this capital in their own way. Some may stay here because of the convenience. Others find the streetside cafes to be the best. You name a nation; its cuisine is available here. Eat as much as you love, and shop as much you want. If you find it super touristy at the end of your day, take a deviation from the main road, sit with a cup of yoghurt and watch people from a distance. If that isn’t enough, party till late at night at “Two Brothers Bar.”
Things only a few tourists do
Go on Sailing in Santorini
We weren’t sure about going on sailing because of its price. However, after doing it, we now know it was the best decision we made. The stagnant endless blue water against brown mountains topped with white houses is a thing to see from the sea. Unless you are in Santorini for more than 10 days, it is impossible to explore every beach. Sailing across various beaches gives you an idea of which beach is nicer for you. Plus, that conversation over lunch with fellow travellers from all over the globe while sailing is fun! Jumping into the sea in the middle of nowhere and sunbathing on the boat’s net deck while sipping wine is an experience you must have. Read our post “Sailing in Santorini” to know more.
Try street food in Fira
Whether it is in India or any other foreign country, street food is the most delicious. But not every country’s street food is safe to taste. In general, Greece is clean and hygienic, and Santorini is a great place to explore street food. Fira bustles with kiosks and cafes serving traditional Greek food. The cliffside cafes are better than the main roads because the views make the food taste better, but the Greek’s most famous and super delicious Gyro tastes best in the roadside stalls. Read our post “Greek Gastronomy” to know more about where to find the cheap and best food here.
Sit back and enjoy the beach vacation at Perissa.
The ideal beach vacation in Santorini starts at Perissa. Shoreside cafes and clubs by the black sand, a sleepy town of small restaurants and bakeries, and the convenience of Fira’s reach by public bus made it a most pleasant and laid-back vacation for us. The only problem we had with Perissa was – it was too addictive! Once you sit on the sunbed, you can’t get your butts off to go somewhere else. It is not a hidden gem, but it is less crowded than Fira and oia.
Treat yourself at a luxury hotel room with a hidden cave pool
Budget travelling is any day good to see more in less money. But when you have a caldera view with endless blue water, you may want to remain undisturbed in your own cave. You may feel like watching the sunset on the Mediterranean by your private pool. You may have had a fantastic experience with the infinity pool in Maldives or Bali; the cave pools open to the Caldera view are differently mesmerising here. If you plan well in advance and save money, the cave pool luxury hotels in Santorini may work out a bit cheaper than you thought. Our one-night stay at Dana villas with the cave pool suite was undoubtedly the “highlight” of our trip.
Get married (or watch someone getting married) in the most romantic sceneries of the Mediterranean in the background.
Strange to do, but if you believe in fairytales and dreamy weddings- Perhaps this is the most romantic thing to do in Santorini. We were clueless when we heard a young Greek man singing “Siemera Gamos” playing the violin outside our room. We thought the hotel must have arranged for a musical evening. Later the beautiful bride in her white dress and tiara came out of her room. The bride maids joined her in their light Cyan dress! The setup, live music, sea breeze, and the glitter of blue water with brown mountains made it look like a marriage made in heaven. Quite obviously, it was an RSVP function, we couldn’t crash the wedding! If you dream of a dreamy wedding venue, start saving your money right now. Else you have to be lucky like us to witness a Greek wedding in a dreamy location.
Stroll in the cliffside walkways of Firostefani.
Strolling in Santorini is the best way to explore the island. Firostefani, in particular, is made for hikers and strollers. Often overshadowed by its neighbour Fira, this town remains exclusive for those who stay in the locality. So it attracts the young locals for their get-together or evening gossip sessions. The views are absolutely stunning and get stunner with less crowd. One of the best walking trails to take while in Santorini is from Imervogili to Firostefani.
Book a table for dinner in a restaurant at the bottom of the mountain by the sea at Fira.
This is for luxury travellers or budget travellers who have saved enough money, particularly for this! Who doesn’t want to have dinner with a view, tell me? However, the places are pricey, and almost all restaurants put a board that says” Guests with table reservations only.” Very likely, it can’t be your last-minute plan. So book the tables early and enjoy the dinner with a view :). We have no recommendations as we sat with a bowl of frozen yoghurt on these hotels’ parapet instead of getting inside! The prices were off our limits.
Get a photoshoot done in the quiet town of Imerovigli.
Honeymooners, couples and models dream of a photoshoot in Santorini. Yes, Oia is the most beautiful town with the best backdrop for a photoshoot, but Imerovigli is a better choice since it is less crowded. Most locals living there have not yet converted their homes to BnBs. The access to the rooftop, terraces of stranger’s houses, blue domes and white cube houses with the glittering Aegean Sea in front – What more do you want for a fancy photoshoot? Plan much in advance to save money on last-minute photographer booking.
Take a wine tour of the volcanic islands.
The Santorini wines may not be the best in the world, but they are unique. The volcanic soil makes the grape taste different, just like it does for tomatoes. Wine tasting with the view and eating cheese is ideal for experiencing the Santorini for those willing to pay a minimum of 70 Euros each! To save money, you can even opt for just wine tasting and not opting for lunch. The pickup and drop services can also be removed to get the prices further lower. On-spot wine tour bookings are almost impossible during peak season. Out of all the wine we tasted, we loved Atlantis Rose from Estate Argyros. Their wine tour is famous among tourists.
Offbeat things to do in Santorini
Have breakfast in the local’s way at Perissa’s bakery.
While walking to the bus stop nearby in Perissa, we came across a baker. The board said 24hrs bakery and Pastry. Curiously we went to check if we could grab some quick bites. The local bakery was surprised with an ocean of bread, pies and cakes. It was a typical small-town baker where locals go to pick their usuals. It had a porch with a few chairs and two tables. Everything was happening at a slower pace here. The cashier used to smile and talk to each of his customers, asking how they were doing.
It looked like he knew most of his customers! Few locals came and picked their usuals without paying. This reminded me of my home town! Every small village works in the same way! The Grocery owner takes money from his regular customer once a month or so. Each time we buy something, he will ask,” how are you? How are your parents? Long time no see.” These types of conversations were happening here too. Grab a sandwich and a Cappucino, get a seat under the shaded porch and watch the Santorini routine pass by.
Watch the sunset in Firostefani
There is a huge difference between watching the sunset at Oia and Firostefani. You can appreciate the miraculous sunset better here than anywhere else in Santorini. This is because not many tourists come to Firostefani. It neither has a glamorous shopping arcade, not fancy restaurants. The cliffside land is mainly owned by luxury resorts. So the walkways are maintained well. The locals come here to hang out in the evenings. The local youngsters come here to relax in the evening. There is no rush; nobody pushes you to move aside. The yellow-golden sky and the infinitely blue waters are all yours when you sit on the parapet of the walkways here.
Climb on the terraces of a local’s house in Imerovigli to witness the sea turning gold from silver.
Imerovigli is famous among luxury travellers and those getting a photoshoot done. That is for a reason. The rooftop of local houses is reachable!
There is a catch here. The photoshoot crew may ask you to move aside or go further away. In peak season, you may find more than a group photo shooting on the rooftop here. But the place is so big and quiet that spending time on a stranger’s terrace without disturbing them is surreal to watch the sea changing its turquoise colour in the morning to silver in the noon and finally gold by the sunset.
Enjoy the gardens at the local cafes of Oia.
There is more than Bougenville to Santorini’s flora. Touristy places like Oia aims to attract visitors in all possible ways. While doing so, they are extremely good at their gardens. The home-run cafes and galleries maintain their garden with various colourful flowers. Go to Oia early before the tourist folks march towards the sunset point. Stroll in the alleys and enjoy the colours of Oia’s cafe gardens.
Visit an art gallery to meet local artists even if you aren’t buying anything.
How do you avoid crowds in Santorini?
The best way to meet the locals is at the art galleries for multiple reasons. First, Fira and Oia are so crowded that you can’t differentiate between locals and tourists. Plus, no local person is free here- they have to cater to the flooding tourists. The art galleries are the place where you can meet with local artists. While walking in Firostefani, we noticed the boards of “art galleries” Curiously, we entered one of those -“Art of the loom”, where a lady store manager welcomed us with a smile and took us around the gallery. A 15-minute shopping went on to be a heartful conversation with a local for an hour in the art gallery.
I am not sure if she was the artist, but she was well informed -about the sculptures, paintings, and Santorini. After 15 minutes of seeing around, she offered us a shot of espresso. She explained how they converted an 1880s winery into a Gallery in 2010, why volcanic soil is so good for sculpting & growing tomatoes, her favourite restaurant Aktaion and so on.
Someone doesn’t want to live in Santorini and why?
However, the most shocking sentence that we heard from her was when we mentioned that we were on a 3 week trip in Europe,” Oh, you are on vacation? I am so bored in Santorini! I want to go out too. It has been more than eight years since I took a vacation” We were shocked to hear someone saying they were bored of Santorini. For us being in Santorini was like being in a Blue and white exotic Paradise. Living there since her birth, she was bored with it and wanted to explore beyond it. Someone’s paradise, maybe a cage for the other!
Explore the real Cycladic village of Pyrgos
A 20 min bus journey takes you to the town of Pyrgos from Fira. With the island’s highest point, the original Cycladic village, and old cafes serving traditional food, Pyrgos is a real gem of Santorini. You can never get enough in this maze of sugar-cube houses! The only town in Santorini to witness the authentic Cycladic village unadulterated by mass tourism is Pyrgos. Read our post “Less travelled roads of Pyrgos” to know more about our stories on Pyrgos.
Stay back after sunset for twilight to see the sky changing its colour to purple
On our first day, it rained, and the sunset was blurry at Firostefani. But Twilight after didn’t disappoint us. The yellowish-orange sky faded away slowly into darkness. The hidden sun rays painted the sky dramatically in a new colour scheme! It may be Oia or Firostefani; when the sun goes down the horizon, people pack their bags to catch the bus to their next destination or to Fira for partying. So you ease it down, sit back and wait for the mad crowd to vanish. It is okay, you can catch the next bus. But you can’t see that time when Santorini sky turns purple once you leave the town.
Walk down from the highest point of Santorini at Prophet Elias.
Before you go to Santorini, you will look into its map for sure. The shape looks like a prawn or a mirrored C. Other than while flying, you can’t’ see the island as a whole except at the highest point in Pyrgos. The 5km hike to Eliyas monastery from Pyrgos square rewards you with that view where you see the sea, towns and hills of Santorini – all at one glance. Begin your walk either early in the morning or late in the evening for the fantastic and rare sight of Santorini that nobody talks of.
Ladies- drape your saree and men wrap your dhoti and walk in Firostefani.
This was our first foreign trip together; we wanted to make it even more memorable by clicking a photo wearing our traditional outfit in an exotic location like Santorini. So I carried a dark turquoise green saree with a Persian blue border that matches the sea and domes’ colour. The white dhoti and his light blue shirt represent whitewashed houses and the sky.
Whoever we met at that time, was amused to see our outfits. That group of young locals wanted a picture with us because of our costumes. Dana Villas employees, the manager, was surprised to see two humans draped in something they had never seen. We took advantage of this situation and requested everyone who smiled and appreciated us to click our picture.
Visit a community church in Pyrgos to get the real essence of Santorini.
After spending a week in Santorini, I am not sure why Santorini is white & blue – Some say the military compelled it in the 1970s. Others say Greeks showed their rebellion against the Ottomans by painting their homes representing their country’s flag. The extreme heat of summer made Greeks paint their house white to keep it cool they say.
If you want to know more about these, you should head to small community churches in Pyrgos. Most of these are maintained by local older men, and they sell candles for less than a Euro. It is free of cost unless you want to donate to the church. If you know to speak Greek, the elderly gentlemen can be your chatting partner for hours together. If not, with google translator and the manageable English of locals, you can sit on the side walls under a tree and ask them all about Santorini at Pyrgos – How much does one kg of Santorini Tomato cost to their favourite wine, their pick of the local cafe to what they think of tourists flocking in Oia – They are friendly to talk it all.
Watch a Greek wedding show
During our usual strolling in Fira on the 4th day, a group of artists dressed in traditional Greek outfits walked beside us, singing and handing over a brochure. It said- the White Door theatres- Greek wedding show for 50 Euros each. We were already impressed by how they looked and sang and booked two tickets for the same night’s show at 9 PM.
Hoping it was good and worth our 100 Euros(for two), we reached the venue 5 minutes early. There was not even one dull moment after the show began. The family hosts you in a house with a 1940s setup, and you feel you are in that era. It is not about watching a Greek wedding, but they make you a part of their show. Helping them, laughing with them, dancing with them –
It felt like we were really in a Greek wedding, not a show.
Finally, the bride arrives, and the cheerful music peps the entire atmosphere. You will be invited to join the reception and greeted with wine and Tapas. Good food, great wine, peppy live music dancing your heart out, the last part of the wedding comes – Breaking the glass as part of their Traditional Greek wedding. The interactive show of almost 1.5hr is worth all the money and is a must-have experience when in Santorini.