Most of Santorini’s pocket-sized beaches are made of dark volcanic sand and pebbles set against black, austere cliffs, but perhaps its most unusual beach is near the Minoan ruins at Akrotíri on the south coast. Aptly named Red Beach (‘Kokkini Ammos’ in Greek) for its blood-red sand and gently crumbling burnt-umber cliffs, the crescent of beach forms a bizarre Martian landscape of red and black lava boulders scattered over grainy red and black sand. Rocks thrown up by ancient volcanic activity lurk just offshore in the calm bay, forming perfect platforms for sun worshippers, and the crystal-clear waters are paradise for snorkelers.
Open-topped wooden boats, known as kaiks, trundle backwards and forwards between Red Beach and Akrotíri disgorging a constant stream of visitors.
Centered around a ruggedly beautiful volcanic crater, the small island of Nea Kameni offers a dramatic photo opportunity, with its dark cliffs sculpted from lava rock and natural thermal waters tinted orange by the mineral-rich seabed. Floating off the coast of Santorini Island, Nea (New) Kameni and neighboring Palea (Old) Kameni lie at the heart of the mostly-submerged Santorini caldera, and are Greece’s newest volcanic islands - Nea Kameni dates back just 425 years.
Reachable only by boat, Nea Kameni makes a popular choice for cruises from Santorini Island, with visitors free to explore the unique volcanic landscape and bathe in the natural hot springs, legendary for their healing and rejuvenating minerals.
In 1967, archaeologists uncovered the spectacularly well-preserved remains of an ancient Bronze Age Minoan village at Ancient Akrotiri, destroyed by a mighty volcanic eruption in around 1650 BC.
The most famous Minoan site outside Crete, the sandstone remains of Akrotiri’s buildings reach several stories. Their door and window lintels are spookily intact, along with stone walls and porticoes, courtyards and rooms. As at Pompeii, the buildings were preserved by the volcanic ash. Fortunately, unlike Pompeii, it appears that the villagers were safely evacuated, as no skeletons have been unearthed during the excavation. The excavation site has been closed for several years, though restoration is continuing. To get an idea of what lies beneath, visit the Museum of Prehistoric Thira, where gorgeous frescos of boats, fishers, wildlife and everyday people from several millennia ago are displayed. You can also see personal artifacts like pottery and furniture.
The little island of Thirassia has a population of only 200 or so, making it the perfect spot for a relaxing lunch at a cliff-top taverna, with views over to Santorini. The island used to be part of Santorini’s mainland, until the violent volcanic eruption of 1650 BC set it free.
Sail over from Santorini to escape the crowds on Thirassia’s lovely beaches, and bring a traveler’s dictionary as not many people here speak English. Those tavernas are clustered in the village of Manolas, near the ferry stop, and the tranquil island also has scattered blue-domed churches, ancient monasteries and stone villages.
With its wide-arching strip of beach dotted with striped umbrellas, it’s easy to see why Kamari Beach is resort central on Santorini.
The Brits feel at home with English-style breakfast cafes and pubs, but there are resorts, tavernas and restaurants here for all tastes, along with bobbing fishing boats and the easily accessible volcanic-sand beach. In fact, it’s the resort town’s variety when it comes to choosing restaurants and hotels that makes it so popular.
Rent a sun chair and umbrella, or organize water sports like diving and snorkeling. Excursion boats sail along the coast, past the rocky headland of Mesa Vouno that frames Kamari’s beach, across the water to the isle of Anafi. A trail leads to the ruins of Ancient Thira, and in summer the town hosts a jazz festival and outdoor cinema.
The archaeological site at Akrotiri may be closed, but fortunately you can get your fill of excavations at the site of Ancient Thira. There’s a mix of ruins to explore, including Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine remnants, excavated in the 1890s. Take a tour to identify the different structures – temples, houses, the market (agora), theater and gymnasium.
At its height, this was a thriving center, with dramatic sanctuaries hewn into rock, temples, an impressive theater and porticoed administrative buildings. The central area is the Agora, the old commercial hub, encircled by temple sanctuaries ringing the city. There are also ancient cemeteries here, unearthed since the 1960s. Don’t miss the views over the coast while you’re here.