Santorini is undeniably one of Greece’s most famous and popular islands, and when you see images of Greece in the media, you’re likely seeing shots of Santorini.
The problem with visiting a “most famous” or “most popular” anything when traveling is that these places tend to be overcrowded and teeming with tourists. Santorini is no exception to this rule, especially in summer during high tourist season when cruise ships are arriving into the port on what seems like an hourly basis.
Luckily for those who try to avoid situations like this while traveling, Santorini is home to endless hidden gems that offer visitors authentic experiences.
From hikes with unparalleled panoramic views to secluded beaches, ancient cave homes, and some of the best Grecian cuisine on the island, head for the following amazing hidden gems in Santorini when you’re ready to venture off the beaten path.
Oia and Fira are arguably the two most popular villages on Santorini, and as a visitor to either, it’s difficult to escape mass tourism. Situated right in between these two regions is Imerovigli, a spectacular alternative to the island’s most visited areas.
2. Skaros Rock
Skaros Rock, also known as Fortress Skaros or Castle Skaros, is a stunning rock formation and collection of ruins in Imerovigli. Soaring out of the Aegean Sea, the former castle on Skaros Rock used to be the head of the Christian congregation in Santorini until it was destroyed in an earthquake in the mid-19th century.
Today, visitors can hike Skaros Rock and take in its incomparable 360-degree panoramic views of Santorini. While the hike up Skaros Rock may look daunting from a distance, it’s a not-too-demanding hike that is relatively rocky but flat and doesn’t take more than one hour to complete. Just be sure to bring a decent pair of walking shoes and avoid wearing sandals.
3. The Blue Note
As you approach the last stretch of steps on your hike of Skaros Rock, you’ll run into a seaside restaurant called the Blue Note. Walk up the restaurant’s stairs and you’ll be welcomed by yet another stunning panoramic view of the Aegean Sea.
While my mother and I didn’t have a full meal at the Blue Note, we worked up a bit of an appetite after hiking Skaros Rock and ordered -- without a doubt -- the best Greek salad we tried on our trip (and we tried a lot). The presentation itself was top-notch, especially when accompanied by a bottle of local Grecian white wine.
4. Agios Georgios
When dining at the Blue Note, you’ll notice Agios Georgios, a beautiful church with striking views of the Santorini caldera, just down below. You can walk all the way around the church to enjoy lookout points that cover the entire island. This is a great place for a photo op.
5. Anastasi Church
Just about a one-minute walk from the Blue Note sits Anastasi Church, one of Imerovigli’s prominent white-washed basilicas.
While Anastasi Church can easily be overlooked, it has become a popular stop on the walk from Fira to Oia. Take a few photos as you listen to the chiming of the church’s bells.
Emporio, the island’s largest village and former hub for trade and commercial affairs, is one of Santorini’s best hidden gems.
Sitting at the foot of the Profitis Ilias Mountain, Emporio is situated less than seven miles southeast of Fira. This peaceful village will afford you a candid picture of what life is truly like in Santorini. It’s bursting with charming homes and yards, shops, cafes, bakeries, and traditional taverns.
If you decide to take up residence in Emporio, you will likely need to rent a car if you plan on visiting the rest of the island.
Depending on where you stay in Emporio, the roads are mostly cobblestone and can become incredibly winding and narrow in some areas. Rent a small car, and know that you may only have the option of manual vehicles.
One of the most charming aspects of Emporio is its traditional white-washed cave homes. You can find many of these traditional Grecian homes listed on Airbnb. If you get to stay in one, you’ll have a candid experience that will truly make you say “We’re not in Kansas anymore!”
Emporio is also home to a number of luxury villas built in traditional Grecian style, including Rock Villas, a fully-equipped complex with pool views, a grill, garden, spa baths, and hot tubs.
Canava Villas consists of three distinct villas, ideal for a romantic couples’ getaway or family vacation. Methodically built into the cliffs of Emporio, Canava Villas has rooftop accommodations, a secluded jacuzzi, a 16-foot jet plunge pool, and a stunning outdoor seating area.
7. Stavros Restaurant
Although it comes as no surprise considering this quaint village’s authenticity and overall atmosphere, Emporio is arguably one of the best areas on the island to indulge in Grecian cuisine. And Stavros is just one of many examples of Emporio’s best local restaurants.
When you first glance at Stavros restaurant, it doesn’t really look like anything promising. My experience traveling, though, is that these are usually the places where you’ll find the best local eats.
Stavros is known for its mouthwatering grilled meats that you can see spinning on a spit for hours on end at the front of the restaurant, slowly cooked until the meat is perfectly tender and juicy. These meat-filled plates are massive and affordable, usually accompanied by pita bread, fried potatoes, tzatziki, tomatoes, and onion, all for under 10 euro.
8. Bakery In Emporio
Directly across from Stavros is a bakery (it actually just says “Bakery” out front), selling freshly baked bread, cakes, biscuits, ice cream, coffee-to-go, and savory pies. This traditional Greek bakery is known for its chocolate baklava, a must-try sweet treat when visiting Emporio.
After filling up on hefty plates of meat and chocolate baklava, you can kick back and relax with a warm cappuccino or cold freddo at Desiderio, Emporio’s hip and bohemian-style coffee shop.
Desiderio offers a laidback atmosphere with comfortable indoor and outdoor seating, chess tables, and excellent made-to-order sandwiches accompanied by friendly waitstaff.
10. Perissa Beach
Known as Santorini’s largest black sand beach stretching more than four miles, Perissa Beach sits at the base of Mesa Vouno Mountain less than two miles east of Emporio and features unique dark sand that gets its hue from black lava.
Perissa Beach is a well-organized public beach, with copious amounts of lounge chairs, umbrellas, lifeguards, showers, seaside cafes, restaurants, and a playground.
When visiting Perissa Beach, head to Ntomatini, a meze dining experience that centers around appetizers and starters. This establishment prides itself on offering the finest and freshest local products in Santorini.
Be sure to try the restaurant’s stuffed tomatinis, spetzofai (Cretan sausages), and variety of saganaki dishes.
11. Red Beach In Akrotiri
Debatably the entire island’s most famous beach, Red Beach in Santorini is situated in the village of Akrotiri, surrounded by colossal red rocks that blissfully collide with the Aegean Sea’s crystal-clear waters. Though a popular beach in Santorini, Red Beach is still situated off-the-beaten-path and is secluded enough that it doesn’t feel overcrowded. Santorini’s Red Beach is located just four miles west of Emporio and about seven miles south from the popular town of Fira.
There is a free parking area at Red Beach, and visitors will have to walk about 10 minutes downhill on a rocky path to reach the beach. There are small stalls selling fresh fruits, souvenirs, smoothies, and sandwiches, and there is one nearby seaside cafe with restrooms.
Red Beach attracts visitors mainly due to its astonishing contrasting colors, and it’s a great place to snorkel with rich marine life. This beach is considered semi-organized since there are limited lounge chairs and umbrellas and no lifeguards on duty.
Want to island-hop? Check out these five amazing Greek islands you might not have heard of before, plus these 11 colorful sand beaches you have to see to believe.