Dramatic Santorini has everything you could want out of a Greek island vacation, and then some. Whitewashed Cycladic houses and blue-domed churches, vertiginous volcanic landscapes and fiery sunsets converge with a vibrant dining and shopping scene, to unforgettable effect. And while the island is best known for its dazzling architecture and impressive archaeological sites, the eastern side, the slope of a massive volcano, is fringed with lively beaches, many of jet black sand.
While it’s true that Santorini might not offer those glorious, golden-sand beaches that Greece is celebrated for, rest assured that this starkly beautiful island still offers sunbathing options and watersports galore. With their unusual and rugged geological features, the best beaches in Santorini are distinctive, with scenery that’s unique.
Santorini’s beaches reflect the island’s spectacular geology; in fact, several borrow their names from the colorful volcanic pebbles and sands that define them, Red, White, and Black beaches included.
Some stretches rank high for their vibrant beach bar scenes, while others cater to water sports enthusiasts with activities like jet-skiing, windsurfing, and scuba diving. Families, meanwhile, flock to strips like Kamari and Monolithos, with their shallower waters, seaside playgrounds, and friendly, bougainvillea-draped tavernas.
This lengthy stretch of black lava sand shoreline is one of Santorini’s most popular beaches, as evidenced by the cluster of upscale hotels, tavernas and lively beach bars that serve it.
Perivolos Beach is of the longest black sand beaches on the island, with some formidable rock formations as a backdrop. There’s plenty to do here apart from sunbathing and swimming, especially if you like a good beach party, thanks to the trendy beach clubs that emanate pulsating DJ music.
Perivolos Beach comes loaded with amenities. There are sunbeds and umbrellas for hire, beachside restaurants and bars, and active diversions aplenty like watersports (including scuba diving) and beach volleyball. Still, there’s space for everyone and a short stroll can land you in a more laid-back setting if you’d prefer one. Slip on some sandals, though; Santorini’s black-sand beaches can get incredibly hot in the midday sun.
The dividing line between Perissa Beach and neighboring Perivolos Beach is vague, both geographically and characteristically, since the two share similar black sand features, lively amenities, and easy access to cobalt seas.
Perissa, like Perivolos, is another of Santorini’s most popular beaches, perhaps most celebrated for its scenery, overlooked by the imposing Mesa Vouno rock formation, on top of which you’ll find the impressive archaeological site of Ancient Thera, and a tree-backed shoreline.
Perissa offers wide appeal, attracting backpackers, families, and couples. It’s a lively beach with plenty of eateries, amenities, and lounges to enjoy music and cocktails by the sea but perhaps not quite as rowdy as Perivolos.
Perissa tends to be more family-friendly, with additional features like a public playground and water park, volleyball, and watersports. You’ll find wind-surfing, parasailing, jet-skiing, and banana boats for rent here. Just be prepared for crowds; Perissa, like Perivolos, can get quite busy in the summertime.
Another of Santorini’s best beaches and also known for its black sands, Kamari Beach is located just north of Perissa Beach, the enormous Mesa Vouno rock formation wedged between them.
Similar in character to Perissa, it offers gritty black sand and pebbles, a little shade from trees, crystal-clear waters, and loads of diversions, though it’s on the quieter side. Beach clubs abound, offering spots to rent beach chairs and umbrellas, as do watersports rentals (try snorkeling, windsurfing, diving, paddle boarding, surfing, scuba, and more), and a slate of casual hotels, tavernas, bars, and gift shops that line a pretty promenade.
Families especially appreciate the mini-golf course, outdoor cinema, beach volleyball court, and playgrounds, while the archaeological site of Ancient Thira or indeed, the clifftop capital, Fira, aren’t far away. The beach is backed by its namesake, the busy resort town of Kamari, worth wandering into for souvenir shopping, or lunch on the shaded terrace of a local taverna.
This photogenic strip is one of Santorini’s most celebrated and visited beaches, and for good reason. Few beaches are as evocative of a volcanic landscape as the iconic Red Beach, defined by dramatic red lava rock formations, rich in iron ore, the pebbly red sands framed by massive, rust-red cliffs. It all makes for a stunning contrast against the shimmering blue sea.
Note that this Greek beach itself is narrow and does get crowded. However, the waters are ideal for snorkeling, thanks to the colorful rock formations and marine life found underneath.
Red Beach is situated close to one of the most famous landmarks in Greece, Akrotiri, on the island’s southern tip. Red Beach is accessed via a boat transfer or a short, steep hike from the parking lot.
Be forewarned, though, that the terrain is rugged and unsteady; you may struggle in flip flops. And because of the remote access, there are few amenities on offer here, apart from some chair and umbrella rentals. Stock up on food and water before heading in. If you’re not up to the rocky trail, take a boat tour and admire the beach from the sea.
Yet another spectacular setting, Santorini’s White Beach, near Akrotiri, is defined by white and grey pebbles underfoot, against a backdrop of towering white cliffs. Given that the beach is hemmed in by cliffs, the only access here is by taxi boat. That helps ensure that crowds are kept at bay, which helps to make it one of Santorini’s best beaches in our book.
Diversions in this secluded cove are limited to little more than the sun, surf, and sand. While there may not be much in the way of amenities—you’ll find some chairs and umbrellas for hire and a small taverna—the dramatic scenery and inviting, crystal-clear waters are reason enough to seek it out. Bring snorkeling equipment to take in the underwater landscapes, too.
Near the airport on the east coast of the island, Monolithos Beach is a family favorite and is popular with locals. The shallow waters and gently sloping seabed, a rarity on this island, earn big points for wee ones, while the black sand is fine enough, unlike many of the other lava-rock beaches, for the kids to actually carve out a sandcastle or two. Umbrellas and beach chairs are readily available for hire, as well.
Apart from the picturesque shoreline, amenities like a playground, watersports rentals, and basketball and beach volleyball courts score high marks with families. You’ll find plenty of tavernas for lunch, too, from which you can sit and watch the acrobatics of the kite surfers.
Get ready to land on the lunar-like landscapes of Vlychada Beach, with its backdrop of chalky, sculptured rock formations and coarse, gray-and-black sands. The atmosphere is bolstered further by a small marina with bobbing fishing boats and yachts at one end of the beach.
Umbrella and sunbed rentals abound, and local tavernas cater to hungry sunbathers. Vlychada is a peaceful beach retreat that’s primed for R&R; this isn’t the spot to head to if you want boisterous beach bars or active watersports. The beach does, however, have a clothing-optional stretch beyond the sunbeds.
If the mood strikes, the Tomato Industrial Museum, set in a former tomato factory just a few steps from the beach, will fill you in on everything you could ever want to know about one of Santorini’s best-known crops.
Cape Columbo Beach
This isolated strip of beach, perched on a promontory in the island’s far northeast, is notable for its wild landscapes. The rugged rock formations that fringe the shore have been sculpted by wind and waves, two elements that you’re likely to find in abundance on your own visit.
You’ll be surprised by the warm temperature of the water, thanks to the presence of an active underwater crater. The sea can be rough here, though, and swimming is only recommended for stronger swimmers.
Cape Columbo beach itself is made up of powdery and pebbly black-and-gray sand. There are no facilities, so come prepared with your own food, drink, and beach gear. Given its relative isolation, those who seek this beach out will be rewarded with plenty of space but be warned that some take advantage of the lack of crowds to sunbathe nude.
This windswept strip of dark sand in the island’s northeast fronts a series of eroded rock formations, some sculpted by wind and water into caves and curious shapes, while a tiny fishing port offers up some quality seafood tavernas.
Vourvoulos Beach is fairly wide, and sunbeds and umbrellas are available for hire, but not many people come here. The wind is almost always strong and the sea sometimes rough, but there’s a certain wild beauty about this remote spot.
While most Santorini beaches lie on the gently sloping, eastern side of what was once a mammoth volcano, Caldera Beach, near Akrotiri in the south, is actually on the western side, a strip of black pebbles shaded by a line of scrubby trees at the foot of sheer cliffs.
You’ll have fine views of the arc of the crater rim, the capital, Fira, spilling over the clifftop like white frosting in the distance and beyond that, the village of Oia. The island of Thirasia, opposite, is all that remains of the western half of the caldera, while two lava islands in the center, Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni, are still active.
This quiet beach offers decent swimming and amenities that include a jetty, taverna, and dive shop. Just note that there are no beach clubs or chair/umbrella rentals here. The seafloor slopes steeply away, too. But it’s the relative remoteness of Caldera Beach that makes it one of Santorini’s best-kept beach secrets.
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