Visiting Santorini on your next cruise? You’re probably acquainted with it already! This stunning, crescent-shaped island, classically known as Thera, is unmistakable – you’ve no doubt seen photographic vistas of its steeply terraced white and blue houses on postcards, calendars, and more. Arguably the most picturesque of Greece’s islands, Santorini draws huge crowds year after year, who marvel at its exquisite natural beauty.
The island’s rocky 300-metre cliffs and odd shape are evidence of a volcanic eruption some 3,600 years ago, which blasted apart what was once a single, larger island and created today’s geological caldera. (A caldera, from the Latin for ‘cauldron’, is a volcanic crater formed by a collapsing empty magma chamber.) Some even speculate that the eruption of Santorini is the source of the legend of Atlantis!
Today, despite past geological violence, Santorini is serene again – though bustling with visitors marvelling at the jaw-dropping panoramas and jostling for the best picture. If your cruise ship is stopping over in the island’s generous harbour (formed courtesy of that volcanic eruption we mentioned), you’ll be in prime position to sample and savour Santorini. Only have one day to visit this Grecian paradise? These sights should be at the top of your list.
Can’t get enough Greece? See what the capital has to offer.
What to Do
Start your day at the island’s capital, Fira, which clings to a cliff conveniently nearby the main sea port. The town’s main street, Agiou Mina, runs along the edge of the caldera and is lined with interesting shops, art galleries, and street benches where you can rest and enjoy the view. There are also a number of picturesque churches to be seen in town – don’t miss Agios Theodori church with its sky blue dome and white bell tower, a combination that has become emblematic of Cycladic Islands’ architecture.
As you make your way around town, you may notice a lot of people getting around via donkey. The steep cliffs around Santorini’s caldera are impossible to navigate by car, so the locals use these nimble, patient animals to navigate the sloping streets. In fact, without Santorini’s donkeys, many of the cliff-side hotels and villas could never have been built! If you’re keen to travel like a local, take a donkey ride through the streets of Fira, enjoying the spectacular views along the way.
Next, stop in at the Museum of Prehistoric Thera. The artefacts in this excellent little collection are mainly from Akrotiri, a Bronze Age settlement on the southern edge of the island. Even if you don’t make it to the site of Akrotiri itself, the museum can satisfy your appetite for history with its exhibits of pottery, frescoes, and other artefacts dating back to the time of the Minoans in 3000 BC.
Mitropoleos Street, Fira 847 00, Santorini, Greece Tel. +30 22 86 02 32 17
Before you leave Fira, stop in for lunch at Nikolas, right in the main square. Enjoy sampling different mezze (appetisers) and local wine straight from the barrel. Casual but authentic, you’ll get a real slice of Santorini and this small taverna.
Erithrou Stavrou, Fira 84700, Santorini, Greece Tel. +30 2286 036422
After lunch, it’s time to get out on the water. Catch a short, three-hour cruise to the volcanic island of Nea Kameni, clearly visible within the caldera. Formed over the course of two million years from repeated eruptions of lava and ash, Nea Kameni is still closely monitored by scientists and is a protected scientific site. The island has many active sulphur vents as well as bubbling hot springs (yes, you can swim in them!). You can also visit the (dormant) volcanic crater and complete a full circuit of the rim. Dozens of tourist boats leave for Nea Kameni every day from the port of Skala Fira, so you’ll have no shortage of options!
Upon your return to Santorini, head for the island’s other main town, Oia, perched on the rocky northern arm. Here you’ll find houses and cafes built in niches carved right into the rocky sides of the caldera. Browse the narrow passageways and you’re sure to discover any number of charming galleries and shops. Stop into Mnemossyne Gallery to see stunning local photography and simple but elegant jewellery – perhaps a keepsake from your trip?
Ploiarhon Street, 84702 Oia, Santorini Tel. +30 22 86 07 21 42
Also worth a look is Atlantis Books, a hidden gem tucked away in the alleyways of the village. Here you can find works by Greek writers translated into English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish, as well as posters and postcards. Even if you don’t intend to buy anything, it’s worth a visit just to soak up the cosy atmosphere, browse the shelves, chat with the knowledgeable staff, and enjoy the delightfully surprising nooks and crannies.
84702 Oia, Santorini Tel. +30 22 86 07 23 46
Then, make your way down to Amoudi Bay, a tiny fishing port surrounded by red cliffs. Here you’ll find fishing boats and row boats bobbing gently at the dock and any number of tavernas serving up the catch of the day. Stop into Ammoudi Fish Tavern to feast on prawns, sea bream, red snapper, mussels, lobster, and much more – all served in a beautifully modern waterfront deck designed to resemble a ship!
Ammoudi, 84702 Oia, Santorini, Greece Tel. +30 22 86 07 22 98
If you’ve timed it just right, you’ll be in perfect position to catch the sunset after supper. Head up the the Byzantine castle ruins for a bird’s eye view of the island. Not much of the castle remains – just the rocky foundations – but this is an excellent vantage point to survey the blue domes, whitewashed walls, and windmills of Oia and the rest of the island. As the sun dips down toward the sea, everything is bathed in a sublime reddish light, and the waters of the caldera turn from turquoise to bright gold.
How to Get to Santorini
Santorini’s caldera is a blessing for large cruise ships, which can easily moor in the deep volcanically-made harbour. There is no actual cruise terminal here, so you’ll be brought to shore by a small boat. Despite this fact the port is very busy, with the island hosting some 80,000 visitors per day during the high season. Don’t get lost in the throng – book your transport around the island with Shuttle Direct so you won’t lose a minute of your time onshore. After you’ve watched the sunset from the top of Oia, rest assured you can get back to to port safely with a pre-booked Santorini cruise port transfer and an experienced driver.
About Shuttle Direct:
As the top provider of transfer services across Europe and North Africa, Shuttle Direct is trusted by countless travellers from all over the world. Whether you’re on month-long holiday or just a quick business trip, our speedy and convenient transfers make travelling a breeze. Book your next transfer online with us and see why our customers trust us to get them from Point A to Point B.