Santorini is one of the most-visited places on Earth and certainly a favorite in Greece. As an island with so many glamorous things to do, the sweatier activities can be forgotten for more refined alternatives like perusing boutiques, sipping sunset cocktails, and savoring excellent dinners. Yet Santorini, the outer rim of an exploded volcano, has a fascinating geologic history that makes for breathtaking vistas and worthwhile hikes.
Santorini was once round
Santorini, now a group of islands consisting of a crescent-shaped island with a few other nearby islands, was once a single, round island and home to a thriving civilization. This society was destroyed when the island, which was in fact the peak of a volcano, erupted nearly 4,000 years ago — leaving only the crater’s eastern edge.
The most dramatic effect of the eruption was the collapse of the center of the island, which left a bay in the middle that is called Caldera and created the steep cliffs for which the island is famous. It also formed two volcanic islands in the center of the caldera. Santorini today is an archipelago consisting of five islands.
There is a special energy here, and if you have a little extra of your own, you can enjoy the hikes that this beautiful island has to offer! Get your trainers (and cameras) ready for once in a lifetime views and some glamorous selfies if you’re social media inclined. Fira is the main town of Santorini, a great base for exploring too.
Fira to Skaros Rock — 40 minutes, 1.7 miles
This hike takes you from the main town of Santorini, Fira, to Skaros Rock, a formation that gently stands apart from the island, presenting panoramic views of Fira and its neighboring villages. With much of the hike taking place along the caldera, the crater’s rim, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views from up high. Walking uphill from Fira town, you will enjoy the trek through the neighboring Firostefani and into Imerovigli, the highest cliffside village of the island. It is from here that you can follow the path to Skaros rock and reflect on the beautiful journey that brought you here. Its proximity to Fira makes it a great hike to do early in the morning to catch the morning glow. Note that the hike distance here is written in one direction only.
Fira to Oia Village — 2.5 hours, moderate
This is a popular six-mile walk from Fira to Santorini’s most famous village, Oia. You start on roughly the same path as the one at Skaros rock. After stopping at Skaros rock, you continue on towards Oia. Keep hiking along the caldera through Imerovigli, admiring the exclusive resorts and infinity pools as you go. If you’ve gone in the late morning, then before you head out, consider picking up some snacks, such as spanakopita or tiropita — filo bread with spinach or cheese — from a local bakery in Fira. There are some scenic picnic spots, the first of which is at Agios Markos church at roughly the halfway mark. The next is at Panagia church just before you begin your descent into Oia. Both are painted in the characteristic bright white of the island, a gleaming against the backdrop of the blue sky.
Oia is a beautiful village, most famous for its blue-domed churches and sunset views. As sunset is the busiest time to visit, we suggest actually departing early from Fira and having breakfast in Oia, enjoying the quiet streets. Find Melenio Cafe for the best cheat meal view you will ever have. A public bus service to Fira is also available if you want to cheat a little further — and avoid the midday heat — for your return.
Nea Kameni Volcanic Island — 25 minutes, moderate
Get a boat to Nea Kameni island in the center of the caldera and hike to the top of this volcano. Although technically active, there is no lava, and the small entrance fee ($2.15) ensures that it is monitored 24/7 for your safety. It’s a popular excursion, so you’ll find shared sailboat departures from Athinios port and the old port below Fira town every day. The hike to the top of this volcanic island is short but intense. Be sure you have proper shoes, as it is very rocky, and bring water — as there are no places to buy it on the island.
Since Nea Kameni’s highest point is well below that of the crater’s rim on the main island, take the opportunity to look back up at the many villages perched high atop the cliffs. It’s an impressive sight. Be sure to pack your swimming gear as there is also a stop off Paleo Kameni island for a swim in the warm springs, still heated by the magma deep underground. You will enter the water from the boat and swim towards the muddy water. Light-colored swimsuits and no jewelry are highly recommended as the sulfur will stain.
588 Steps to Fira Town — 20 minutes, tiring
Arriving back at the old port from Nea Kameni, you will have a couple of options for your return to Fira town above. A cable car donated by the Nomikos family costs only $6.50 and will get you up to Fira main town in only three minutes. Alternatively, you can hike up the 588 zig-zagging steps that link to Fira town above. A grueling task, as they are the same stairs that the donkeys frequent daily, and just a little bit more difficult because of how long each individual step is. Conveniently, at step 588 (yes they have numbers painted on them!) there are two gelato shops to treat yo’ self!
Santa Maria Church — 25 minutes, easy
Perissa village is one of many volcanic sand beaches on the coastline of Santorini. It is a hub for travelers and a quieter refuge compared to the hustle in Fira town. With the mountain of Profits Ilias to your left, it towers over Perissa and creates a magical setting. Hike from the beach to the church of Santa Maria for an even better view. Nestled in a cliff, presenting the most amazing view below for those who make the journey. It is a short hike up but so worth sitting in the shade to look down at the stretch of black sand below. Upon your descent, dive into the waters below to cool off and enjoy a smoothie at one of the many cafes.