No island better epitomizes the Greek vacation experience than Santorini. Upon arriving by boat, there’s a view that never palls: sugar-cube houses pasted onto the high clifftops of Fira’s caldera, washed by the cobalt Aegean and a light so pure and bright it makes you blink. Watched over by its famous smoldering volcano and steeped in lost-city-of-Atlantis myth, this is the Greece of photogenic sunsets and Hollywood backdrops, of blue-domed churches and donkey rides.
Santorini’s perpendicular coastline is pure drama. Pebbly Red Beach, White Beach and Black Beach named for the color of the cliffs above them, lie in the southwest. The lively southeast trio of Perissa, Agios Georgios and Perivolos are best for nightlife and watersports like windsurfing and jet skiing. Rock formations create a striking backdrop in family-friendly Monolithos. For total seclusion, descend the cliffs or hitch a donkey ride to one of Oia‘s postage-stamp beaches, with deep and startlingly blue water.
Akrotiri is an archaeological wonder: a Minoan town decimated by the 1650 B.C. volcanic eruption and preserved under lava until 1967. Some of its treasures, including frescoes and pottery, are displayed at the Museum of Pre-Historic Thira in Fira. Clinging to cliffs, the beautiful whitewashed capital Fira is rivaled only by Oia‘s cliff top mosaic of white houses and blue domes. A vertiginous hike brings you to the Greek, Roman and Byzantine ruins at Ancient Thira, straddling a high promontory.
Everyone wants to dine with a dress circle location of the Aegean, but you’ll pay a premium for that view. Follow locals in Fira to find authentic tavernas and ouzeries where mezedes are washed down with aniseed-flavored ouzo. At Katina’s, grilled fish goes well with crisp white Assyrtiko wine from Santorini’s volcanic vines in Oia, where sunset gazers linger over after-dinner cocktails. Housed in a neoclassical mansion, Restaurant-Bar 1800 is famous for its creative take on Greek cuisine.
One of the biggest volcanic eruptions in history shook Santorini 3,500 years ago and created its showpiece caldera. The best way to appreciate the views from its vertiginous cliffs is by hiking along the rim from Fira to Oia. Take a boat trip to see the volcano in all its steaming glory, stopping for a therapeutic dip in sulphur hot springs. The vineyards of Megalohori and Pyrgos produce volcanic wines such as dry white Assyrtikos and sweet, amber-hued Vinsanto.