Its volcanic history has lent Santorini, and its beaches, a unique character. With their smooth pebbles, pink or black sand, dramatic rock formations and deep, clear waters, they’re absolutely fascinating places to explore – not to mention extremely photogenic. And these – drum roll please – are the very best of them.
Nicely sun-baked and oh-so-refreshed? Then it's time to check out the best things to do in Santorini.
When you've worked up a perishing appetite, head to one of the best restaurants in Santorini.
This elegant beach 3km from Perissa (you can drive, catch a bus or even walk if you’re feeling intrepid) features Santorini’s longest stretch of striking black sand, and looks out onto clear blue sea. It’s well equipped with places to eat freshly caught seafood, hire jet skis or try scuba diving, but it doesn’t feel rowdy despite the number of bars and live music venues nearby.
Probably Santorini’s best known and most popular beach, Kamari sits at the foot of the Mesa Vouno mountainscape on the island’s southwestern coast. The facilities are impressive, with plenty of sunbeds and umbrellas, a diving centre with lessons on offer and paddle boats to hire, plus showers and lifeguards on duty. Although it’s very busy the efficient team keep it extremely clean and tidy and the water is pristine. There’s plenty of parking, or a bus to and from Fira if you don’t have your own transport.
On Santorini’s east coast, sleepy Monolithos beach is the quieter neighbour of Kamari, and a great choice for families. The water is shallow, and there are plenty of loungers, palm-frond umbrellas and a lifeguard on duty, as well as facilities like a football pitch, volleyball net and basketball hoops for exertion-happy types. The tree-shaded stretch of the beach is even quieter, and more secluded. A short walk away you’ll find plenty of places to eat and imbibe.
Another striking black sand beach beneath Mesa Vouno, Perissa has something for everyone. Windsurfing, jet skiing, canoeing and banana boat rides are all catered for, and there are two well-equipped diving centres for those who’d like to explore the clear, sapphire-blue waters. The water park will keep younger visitors happily occupied, while a good selection of beachfront bars and restaurants serving traditional dishes should please holidaymakers of all ages.
As the name suggests, one of the draws of this famous bay is the striking colour of the sand – that, plus the awe-inspiring volcanic formations and deep blue waters, make for a remarkable spectacle. It’s a fantastic spot for snorkelling, too, thanks to the dramatic underwater rock structures. Situated near Akrotiri on the southwestern side of the island, the Red Beach can become teeming with people taking photographs; for a more picturesque and relaxing approach, why not travel there by boat from Akrotiri itself?
With its dramatic, almost otherworldly cliff backdrop creating a kind of natural amphitheatre, this beach right on the southern tip of Santorini certainly stands out. As if that wasn’t enough, it also boasts wide, welcoming sands and shallow waters that are perfect for paddling. Not far from the beach itself you’ll find the Santorini Sailing and Yachting Centre, and the Tomato Industrial Museum, where you can learn all about one of the island’s most famous exports.
Possibly the island’s most secluded beach, Cape Columbo is on the northeastern side of Santorini. With its red cliffs, soft black sand and grassy dunes, it’s a truly unspoilt landscape, which more than makes up for the fact there’s nowhere to buy food or drink nearby. There are also no loungers, umbrellas or attendants, and you’ll have to park a little way away then walk along the path to the beach, but for getting away from it all it’s hard to beat. Fun fact: the beach takes its name from an underwater crater which hasn’t erupted for centuries, but is still considered active...
Another outstanding beach near Akrotiri on the west coast, Caldera offers gorgeous views around the bay to Oia and Finikia, as well as Thirasia island, but stays fairly sleepy. The best thing to do is bring everything you need and settle in for a day of peace and quiet next to the lapping waves (although there are a couple of tavernas nearby if you get thirsty or peckish). Swimmers should be aware that the sea gets quite deep not far out from the beach. Caldera is accessible by car.
A classic Santorini beach on the island’s northern coast – 3km from Oia – with a mix of dark sand and pebbly, almost lunar areas, and shallow waters for paddling. Baxedes is a lovely spot for getting a taste of Santorini before the days of mass tourism. It can get quite windy though, so check the weather forecast before you set off if you’re travelling any distance.
The nearest beach to Fira, pretty Exo Gialos has the quintessential Santorini combination of black sand, pebbles and deep water, and is divided into two by a small harbour. One side features loungers and umbrellas, plus stylish modern cabanas to hire for the day and some nice options for a drink or a meal.