The Greek island of Santorini (officially called “Thira”) is the southern-most of the Cyclades: a group of islands 120 miles west of Greece’s mainland. Now a water-filled crescent, it was formed through a massive volcanic eruption some 3,600 years ago, triggering a mighty tsunami which some claim caused the parting of the Red Sea.
The capital town of Fira sits on the edge of the volcanic caldera (which surrounds a still-active volcano) and it’s here that a lot of 20-somethings spend their vacations, with popular nightclubs like Enigma and Casablanca as the main draw.
But Santorini is also known as “the most romantic destination in the Aegean,” with many couples looking for quiet, romantic hotels and a less frantic way to enjoy the island. If that’s you’re goal, then we’re sure you’ll find this article useful!
So read on, as we present nine cool things to do in Santorini at night — that don’t involve packed night clubs, loud music, or expensive drinks.
Watch the sun go down from Oia
While almost every city in the world will tell you their sunsets are spectacular, Santorini has most of them beat hands down. Some say it’s the effect of the whitewashed buildings, magically reflecting the colors, that makes the sunset so picturesque. We think it’s more about the silhouette of those iconic windmills, unchanged since the 17th Century (except that some of them are now hotels, with a waiting time of about 8 months!) Either way, to get the perfect photo you’ll need to find the best vantage point, and most people only get told about one.
The classic spot is by the ruins of St Nicholas Castle (“Kasteli Agios Nikolaos” — built for a Byzantine emperor’s family back in the 1480s). The big problem with this viewpoint is that everyone and his dog seem to turn up for the same photo, and unless you’re over 6 feet tall, an unspoiled picture is all but impossible. (There’s a slightly better viewpoint nearby marked as “Lookout Oia Panoramic View” on Google Maps, but it still gets pretty crowded.)
However, the other place to go is a lot less busy, with a maximum of maybe twenty people peacefully chatting as they take photos and selfies. This is at a spot near the Three Blue Domes of Oia, which is marked on Google Maps as the “Three Domes of Santorini.” It’s private land, and the owners recently closed that exact spot to the public. However, we can reveal there’s a public access terrace, near the Aspaki Exclusive Suites hotel, which gives a perfect, uninterrupted view. As we’re sure you’ll agree: the photos from there are a lot more stark, but just as powerful.
Enjoy a sunset cruise
On Santorini, the stylish way to sail is on a luxury catamaran. Many operators offer a variety of different sunset cruises, but if you don’t mind paying a premium, we can recommend booking through the Santorini Yachting Club, which charges about $250 for a private 2-person cruise on a luxury catamaran.
Private means you can choose your own itinerary, but all cruises include snorkeling (or diving, if you’re certified) and a trip to the aptly-named Red Beach and White Beach. You’ll also get to soak in the hot springs on the volcanic island of Nea Kameni. The thermal waters are rich in iron and manganese, and many believe they have curative powers.
Food is by way of an on-board fresh Greek barbecue, and you’ll be offered unlimited soft drinks, greek wine, or ouzo (top tip: don’t underestimate home-made ouzo!) The last part of the cruise is the easiest to enjoy, as you relax from the afternoon’s activities and take in that gorgeous, romantic sunset.
Take a night hike
Views from the clifftops of Oia are stunning, but for a true panorama you’ll need to get to the monastery at Mount Profitis Ilias (“mountain of the prophet Elijah”). This sits 567 meters (1,860 feet) meters above sea level, making it the highest point on the whole island, but it’s not that easy to get to.
The coolest way is by getting on the Santorini Night Hike there are a few different websites offering a night hike, but they’re all for the same thing). This takes you to the monastery in a big 4WD, and it’s from here, at Santorini’s highest peak, that you’ll finally see the truly uninterrupted, 360-degree sunset. But that’s just the start.
When night falls, everyone lights torches (in true Indiana Jones style!) and sets off on a 2-hour, 6.5-mile hike along the world-famous Fira-Oia trail. During the day this gets very crowded, but at night almost nobody is around, and you almost feel privileged to be there.
Stopping at a variety of viewpoints along the way, your final destination is the Assyrtico Restaurant (be sure to ask for the fava bean puree!). You’ll start with a 4-glass tasting of Santorinian wines, including the world-famous “Vinsanto,” then end the evening with a homemade dinner. Quite a day!
Listen to some jazz
The oldest bar in Fira is also one of the coolest. Established in 1976 by local legend Dimitri Kira Thira is one of those old-style bars that you have to squeeze into, and hope a seat comes free. In here, the music is whatever the ancient DJ in the corner wants to hear, which is an eclectic mix of jazz, blues, latin, funk, and some frankly weird-ass Greek crossover stuff.
It’s a quirky place. The bar has two entrances, and there’s an old custom that one door is for locals, and the other is for tourists (if you walk through the wrong one, for a brief second everyone stares at you just like movie extras from an old western.)
There’s a fairly frequent bill of live music, with local and visiting musicians managing to cram into the smallest of spaces yet still play. On those days, getting there early is the only way to guarantee a seat, as live nights are always the most popular.
If the barman likes you – and he seems to like just about everybody – you’ll also be let in on one of Santorini’s secrets: Kira Thira sangria. Whilst it might not be the best sangria in town, it comes pretty close! The barman mixes a mean cocktail as well, so you’re catered for no matter what you fancy drinking that night.
This is not a lively, “happening” place, and most Instagram influencers would get bored after five minutes. But that’s just the point. And many couples tell us they went back to Kira Thira three or four times, despite all the upmarket and chic bars nearby. So don’t be surprised if it soon becomes your own personal favorite.
Try some Greek cookery
Cookery classes are a great experience in many ways. You get to meet some like-minded people, which is always great in a new city, and you get to learn a new way to prepare food. But, best of all: you always get an amazing meal at the end!
Without a doubt, the best cookery classes in Santorini are run by Chef Giorgio at his school Petra Kouzina (Petra’s Kitchen), named in honor of his grandmother. A session lasts about four hours and costs €95 ($113) per person. There are cheaper classes to be found, but none quite compare with Chef Giorgio’s informal and relaxed style. Plus, the location itself is amazing: a small traditional 17th-Century village called Megalochori, at the heart of the island’s wine industry.
The evening starts with Chef Giorgio welcoming you into his traditional family home, and then he’ll go through the details of that evening’s meal. Once the formalities are out of the way, the fun starts: because as well as being a superb chef and a natural teacher, Giorgio is a very funny guy! As well as his obvious passion for food, he and his sidekick Billy love to discuss local culture, and they’ll definitely recommend some of Santorini Island’s hidden gems for you to visit.
Once the cooking’s over, it’s out to the overlook terrace for the best part: dinner! Portions are always more than generous, and conversation flows as freely as the wine (which Giorgio and Billy never stop pouring). After finally admitting the meal has beaten you, all too soon, it’s time to go.
So, with perhaps one more glass of local wine “for the road,” you’ll leave feeling comfortably full and perhaps even a teensy bit drunk. And next time you eat at a Greek restaurant, you’ll have a new appreciation of just how much work goes into making their meals taste so special.
Get involved in a Greek comedy
If you’re after something a little more unusual, why not go and see a Greek Comedy? Now we don’t mean a stuffy ancient tale of morality from the Byzantine era: we mean a real comedy! And in Santorini, there’s really only one show that fits the bill, and that’s “The Greek Wedding Show” from the White Door Theatro company.
Billed as “interactive entertainment” rather than just a play on a stage, the English language show is performed in a courtyard set up to resemble a 1940s Greek wedding party. All the audience, including you, are the invited guests. An ensemble of professional performers and live musicians then invite you to join in with the singing, dancing, drinking, and, of course, plate-smashing. The theatre (bravely?) provides unlimited wine, so the later it gets, the better your singing gets!
The cast are uniformly excellent, and they never fail to deliver. The whole performance lasts 90 minutes and costs €55 ($65) per person, which includes some Greek mezedes (similar to tapas) and the never-ending wine. The food is really just a finger buffet, so you’ll need to have eaten elsewhere before the show starts. (If you’re looking for suggestions, our choice of the 10 best restaurants in Santorini is a great place to start.)
While the show may be a little bit “kitsch,” it’s also the most successful stage show in Santorini, and locals love it as much as tourists. If you don’t go expecting Broadway-style performances, then you won’t be disappointed. And although the emphasis is firmly on entertainment, you’ll also take away a better understanding of Greek culture. Who said learning couldn’t be fun!
Watch a movie in the open air
If you’re in Santorini between May and October, don’t miss the chance to see a movie at the island’s beautiful open-air cinema, known as Cinekamari. One of the most popular after-dinner destinations on the island, Cinekamari has been screening an eclectic mix of films for locals and tourists alike since 1987.
About a 15-minute walk from Kamari Beach, the cinema is set amongst palm trees and lush green foliage that bring to mind an old-style jungle camp, although the cinema’s website describes it as a “garden-like atmosphere,” which is probably a better description. The rest of the buildings, including the reasonably-stocked bar, follow the traditional architecture of Santorini.
The films all have an English soundtrack with Greek subtitles, which shouldn’t interfere too much with the movie’s enjoyment unless you read in Greek faster than you can hear in English! Films start at 9.30 pm, so this is definitely not a daytime activity (well, it needs to be dark). However, during the summer, the venue hosts afternoon cultural exhibits and promotes local artists by holding exhibitions, so space is never wasted.
You might be surprised to find that the presentation quality is excellent. The screen and projector are expensive flagship products, far superior to what you might expect at an outdoor cinema. The sound system is also first-rate: a Christie-made Dolby Atmos system that can handle up to 7.1 surround, and speaker arrays that wouldn’t be out of place at a stadium gig.
Not just a place to see a movie but a great night out as well, it came as no shock to Santorinians when CNN announced the Cinekamari as one of the most incredible outdoor cinemas worldwide back in 2015. We agree but can only wonder why it took so long for CNN to realize just how great the whole cinema experience can be.
Sample Santorini’s world-famous wines
It seems we’ve mentioned wine in just about every review in our list, so it’s fitting we should end with it as well. But firstly, it helps to know why wine experts across the world praise Santori wine so highly.
In the late 19th century, an outbreak of root-eating phylloxera insects wiped out most of Europe’s vineyards. A handful survived, including those in Santorini, where the volcanic soil had managed to keep the pests at bay. Santorini produces over 40 native grape varieties from these “own-rooted” vineyards, some with roots over 400 years old. A select few of them, such as the Assyrtiko grape, produce tiny yields of top-class wines. According to Master of Wine Yiannis Karakasis, the Assyrtiko wines “truly deserve their place among the finest white wines in the world.”
OK, history lesson over – let’s get to the part where you drink some wine! Almost every vineyard in Santorini runs a winetasting tour, but our recommendation goes to SantoWines in the village of Pyrgos. The largest winery on the island, SantoWines was started in 1947 as a small cooperative. Today, it’s Santorini’s largest organization with over 1,200 local members, and it actively works to safeguard the traditional cultivation methods used by the local workforce.
The best way to experience SantoWines is to first take the winery tour, where a member of the cooperative will reveal some of the secrets that help produce award-winning wines. This short introduction includes a taste of two wines, but that’s far too few! So next, you should sample a tasting flight. A “flight” is the term for a group of similar wines, and your only choice is how many in that group. A 9-glass tasting flight seems to be about average, but a flight of 16 is not unheard of!
Pyrgos sits in the foothills of Mount Profitis Ilias, the highest point on the island, and offers stunning views of Santorini’s famous sunset. So why not make a night of it, and stay for dinner. SantoWines offers a small but select menu, from simple farm-fresh meals to serious dishes like octopus with black garlic, or pork scallops in a mushroom and wine sauce. However you choose to spend your time, a trip to SantoWines is time well spent.