Beyond the open blue and the stunning sunsets, there are a number of sights and landmarks on Santorini to enchant you further, as you deepen your understanding of the island’s past, through beholding those that have stood the test of time. Located around the many villages, there is much more to visit than just the beaches. If you’re interested in the windows into history and deepening your own cultural understanding, not to mention finding some rare viewpoints, then keep reading.
Located in Imerovigli village are the remains of the old castle, now known as the Skaros Rock. It was considered the most important of the five Venetian castles built on the island, as it provided a superb lookout point from high above the caldera, fortified away from any attacks from the sea below. It was in use for over 600 years and has been considered a hugely important site throughout time on the island. It is now often used as a location for honeymooners and wedding ceremonies, with its direct trail and proximity to St George’s church.
One of the best-preserved castles on the entire island, this structure located in the village of Pyrgos is atop the summit of the island. With panoramic views of all around and the feeling that you can touch the sky with your fingers, or like Atlas the titan holding aloft the world. It was built in 1580 and has served as a protective complex for about 70 families at a time. Some of the old houses and the churches are still visible today, especially the central church of St George, built upon the original watchtower, or Goulas. Feel your way through the winding streets and admire the beautiful church of St Nicholas in the square outside.
The famous archaeological site which is forever popular amongst tourists is the ancient Minoan town located at Akrotiri. Founded in the 19th century, expert excavations began in the late 20th century to unearth a culture that wasn’t known to exist before. Here they have found remnants of a highly sophisticated civilisation and artefacts of real elegance. The famous frescoes and tapestries have been preserved and are displayed in museums all around Greece. But the site still holds the structures, well preserved, due to the volcanic eruption that happened over 3,500 years ago.
Built in 1893, this neoclassical lighthouse is a beautiful building that marks the shores of Akrotiri village. It is known to be the oldest lighthouse that is still active in Greece. Whilst it was originally built to light by burning oil, it is now powered by electricity. Known for being one of the most romantic spots on the island, the sunset is absolutely breathtaking from amongst the rocky top where the lighthouse sits. As more people catch on, it can get crowded here, so make sure you get there early for the best viewing spot. This area is also surrounded by some fantastic restaurants, which you can read about here.
Also located in the village of Akrotiri is another one of the most important castles that were built on the island by Venetian settlers. Due to its coastal location, the castle is also known by its Italian name as La Ponta (the peak). The castle remained in good condition since its first construction over 800 years ago, until the earthquake that affected the region in 1956, crumbling many of the walls and structures. Thanks to a restoration project, the central watchtower, or ‘goulas’, is open for people to visit. Here you can have guided tours of the tower and the historical museum that is located inside. In the summer season, there are also occasional evening concerts to enjoy in this historic setting.
When heading on from Perissa, the coastal village, up towards Mesa Vouno, you will find the site of Ancient Thira, high above Santorini’s coastline. It was originally occupied in the 9th century BC Doric period and was subsequently taken over by the Ptolemies, around the 4th century BC. Excavations of the area have found evidence of a Hellenic settlement of about 800-metre length, built amongst the slopes. The buildings that were there would have originally been built with limestone or dry stone walling. A number of artistic artefacts have been found at the site, dating back to the Geometric period. It’s certainly well worth a visit, and even a guided tour, to be able to properly experience one of the most important historical sights of the island.
If you want to get away from the crowds and experience Santorini without so much hustle and bustle, you can take a boat from either Ammoudi or Athinios to Riva or Korfos port on Thirassia island. It is located directly opposite the caldera from the main island. They were once part of the same landmass, but now they are separated after the volcanic eruption. Thirassia itself is just 9km square in size, with its capital village, Manolas, and a number of peripheral villages. Therefore, it is an extremely charming place with a feeling of authenticity. If you go to one of the taverns for lunch, you can certainly look forward to genuine local food, as tourism is not largely developed here. The houses are painted bright colours and the streets are lined with attractive flower pots and the residential gardens. There is also a small, non-organised beach and some hot springs to take a dip in. And of course, the view back to the main island is equally stunning as where you came from.