Santorini, a crescent shaped island, is the result of volcanic eruptions in prehistoric times. Formerly called Thera, Santorini was renamed around 1204 when the Crusaders changed it to honor the former chapel of Agia Irini. The island's tourism industry really took off in the 1970s and is famous today for its beaches, food, wine, nightlife, churches and ancient ruins.
Santorini is reached by air--it's a 40-minute flight from Athens--or by ferry boat. Ferry boats offer service from Piraeus, a major port near Athens, and also from Crete and Thessaloniki. For a quicker ride, fast ferries operate from Piraeus and Crete. If you arrive by boat, you must take a funicular--or walk--to the top of the cliff to the capital city of Fira.
Although most beaches are located on the east and southeast of the island, beaches on the north side of the coast are popular with locals because they can't been seen from the road. These include Baxedes, Koloumbos and Pori. Of the southeastern beaches, Avis is known for its variety of water sports, but Perissa and Perivolos, with their long black sandy beaches, are the most famous. Popular southern beaches include Vlychada, the Red Beach and the White Beach.
Santorini's 250 churches include the Panagia Episkopi, founded by Emperor Alexius I Comnenus during the Byzantine era, and the Agios Nikolaos Monastery, which was founded in 1651 and contains a famous icon of Saint Nicholas.
The most significant archaeological site on Santorini is the ancient city of Akrotiri, a well-preserved prehistoric settlement that is often called the ancient Pompeii of the Aegean. Mesa Vouno, built on limestone rock, was for centuries the only urban area on the island.
Generally, Santorini has warm, dry summers and mild, rainy winters. The warmest months are April through October with cooler temperatures showing up between November and the end of March. The island is not known for extended periods of rain and is sunny most of the time, even in the winter.