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Why You Must See Ancient Akrotiri Santorini

Why You Must See Ancient Akrotiri Santorini

Santorini’s best-kept secret is Ancient Akrotiri, Greece’s Pompeii, a buried city that is one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece. Here’s the where, why, and how to walk through the excavated streets and peer into the homes of the people who perished when a volcanic explosion tore apart the island of Thera, ending the Minoan period.

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Akrotiri Santorini is one of the most significant archaeological sites in the Aegean and in Greece. Visiting Akrotiri Village is like visiting a mini-Pompeii, an ancient settlement of an advanced and prosperous people suddenly buried in volcanic ash.

Here’s the story of what’s been called the ‘Lost Atlantis’ site of Akrotiri and the best ways to buy tickets and visit the site.

Don’t miss your chance to see the ancient ruins of this Minoan city on the tip of Santorini island on your next trip to Santorini.

Visiting Akrotiri Archaeological Site

Tickets

You can stand in line with the tour groups, cruise ship day trippers, and everyone who has just got off the public bus, or you can pre-purchase a skip-the-line ticket online with free cancellation up to 24 hours before your booking date and time.

  • General Admission € 14.
  • €12 or €6 for EU citizens aged 65 or over and students of universities or other higher education institutions from outside the EU.
  • Entry is free for visitors under the age of 18 and students from institutions inside the EU.

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Entrance to Akrotiri archaeological site, Santorini

Opening Times (and Days)

The prehistoric city archaeological site operates on a timetable divided into winter and summer. These are the site’s opening days and times:

  • In winter (from November 1 to March 31), the site is open from 8 am to 3 pm.
  • In summer (from April 4 to October 31), the site is open from 8 am to 8 pm daily, and from 8 am to 3 pm on Thursdays.
  • The site is closed on Mondays throughout the year.

When to Visit Akrotiri

  • Cruise ship day trippers come in large numbers to the site from about 10 am. It is a small site and it can become difficult to read the displays.
  • Try to be there as the site opens for the day or just before closing time to beat the crowds.
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View at sunset from Akrotiri, Santorini, towards Crete

How to Visit the Ancient Ruins

  • By Public Transport– Regular buses are inexpensive and easy to use to get around Santorini. Private tours are plentiful and private car, motorbike, and quad bike car hire is available all over the island. Unless you get onto the bus at the central bus station in Fira 20 minutes before it leaves, you’ll likely be standing up.
  • By rental car – if you’ve hired a car to get around Santorini (it’s cheaper and safer to pre-book through a reputable company online for the best rates and to be sure you will have one when you arrive), there’s a car park at the Red Beach at Akrotiri, about 250 m from the entrance to the site.
  • As you enter Akrotiri, you’ll see the archaeological site to your left, the modern-day village and bus stop straight ahead, and the red cliffs of the Red Beach to your right. It’s only a short walk between all three places.

More Details and Links

  • Santorini Bus Timetable here: santorini_bus_timetable
  • Costs and opening hours of the Akrotiri archaeological site here
  • Costs and opening hours of the Thera Museum of Prehistory here
  • Santorini Guided Tours has created an Akrotiri audio guide app. It’s available on Google Play and the Apple App Store and doesn’t need wi-fi after being downloaded.

Santorini lifestyles before the eruption

From the rooftop balcony on a clear day, the nearby island of Crete could be seen by the prosperous villagers of the prehistoric settlement of Akrotiri.

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Bronze age ‘Flotilla’ fresco from room 5, in the west house at Akrotiri, Santorini

Not just any old Aegean fishing and farming village, the inhabitants of Akrotiri, a Minoan Bronze Age settlement of the ancient world, lived more than 3,500 years ago and were seriously wealthy.

They lived in stone buildings, sometimes three stories high with masonry facings, latrines and sewerage systems, an elaborate drainage system, and large airy rooms facing the Aegean Sea. The walls were reinforced with wooden beams from Crete to help the buildings withstand earthquakes.

Ceramics and pottery production in Akrotiri certainly occurred, but they also possessed wonderfully delicate teacups from Crete, vases from Knossos, chlorite vessels from the Early Cycladic period (c. 2700-2400/2300 B.C.), and other household items from as far afield as the Dodecanese islands, the Greek mainland, Cyprus, Egypt, Palestine, and Syria.

It was all going so well…

A beginner’s guide to the biggest natural catastrophe in human history

The young men and women are depicted in frescoes and they are fashionable and appear carefree and confident.

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Young man with fish wall fresco, Akrotiri, Santorini

This sophisticated society lies at the southern tip of the island of Santorini (ancient Thera), beside the modern day village of Akrotiri. It flourished until the residents evacuated as the largest geological event in human history occurred – the Theran volcanic eruption.

The mother of all volcanic eruptions, the Theran eruption abruptly ended the great Minoan culture of the Bronze Age.

A layer of tephra (a kind of volcanic ash) from the Theran eruption has been found in a lake in Western Turkey. Geologists agree that the eruption of the volcano is the biggest natural event that has ever been recorded by humans. The exact date of the eruption isn’t known, but the Egyptian New Kingdom’s records may contain a reference to the event in around 1560-1546 BC.

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Akrotiri Fresco in the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, Fira, Santorini

Like Pompeii, Akrotiri was covered in lava and its remains are slowly being excavated. In fact, it lay undiscovered until the ash from the volcanic eruption was being used to build the Suez Canal in 1967.

But when excavations finally began, archaeologists found the walls inside the houses were decorated with brightly colored frescoes of flowers, animals, religious rituals, and everyday life in Akrotiri.

Exotic animals such as monkeys, as well as deer, decorate the floors and walls of the second level of the buildings. The frescoes appear in all of the homes, not just those of the wealthy.

Wildflowers (saffron and crocuses) were popular as were geometrical shapes.

Ancient Akrotirians loved the sea and underwater life. This is clear in their intricate and plentiful seascapes and marine designs.

Jewelry and hairstyles tell us so much about this sophisticated culture.

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Pot found at Akrotiri – Museum of Prehistoric Thera, Santorini

Like many cities, it is laid out with its largest buildings facing the main streets and towards Crete (the center of Minoan culture). Archaeologists have only excavated a dozen houses and civic buildings so far.

The back streets contain more domestic-sized architecture. It is here that you can see wonderfully preserved vessels of all sizes. The Aegean lifestyle is clear in these painted vessels with dolphins, fish, birds, and waves decorating their sides.

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Conch Object from Akrotiri, Museum of Prehistoric Thera, Santorini

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Akrotiri Fresco of a Young Woman Weaver, Akrotiri, Santorini

However, unlike archaeological sites such as Pompeii, no human remains or precious objects have been found at the archaeological site of Akrotiri. Clearly, the residents had time to beat an orderly retreat.

Right at the southwestern tip of the island, you can walk through the streets of Akrotiri. This small hamlet has been a fishing village since the Late Neolithic times ( since at least the sixth century BC!) It was the main stopover port between Cyprus and the advanced Minoan civilization of Crete. Akrotiri copper molds and crucibles hint at a major source of the village’s wealth.

It vies with many other ancient sites as the possible location of the lost city of Atlantis. Is Akrotiri Atlantis? The Ancient Akrotirian name for the village before the eruption is not known.

It is hard to conceive the scale of this disaster. The volcanic eruption blew the island of Santorini into multiple smaller islands where they lay, uninhabited, for several centuries.

Practical Info and Tips on Visiting Santorini

Santorini Map: Arriving at the Ancient Akrotiri

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Map of Akrotiri Prehistoric site on Santorini Island, Greece

The bus from Oia (Ia) and Fira (Thera) winds through vineyards to the southwest tip of the island, before pulling up beside a tree across from the entrance gate to the Akrotiri archaeological site.

There are few amenities besides toilets and a gift shop at the site, but a one-minute walk brings you to the tiny port of the village of Akrotiri, and another five minutes along the coastline is the Red Beach, a stop on all sailing and bus tours of the island.

If you wander a minute further down the road towards the sea you may see the bus parked there. Akrotiri, as opposed to the Akrotiri archaeological site, is often its first stop, meaning that you will get a seat for the journey back!

In general, when boarding a bus in Santorini, get there 15-20 minutes early and stand at the place where the front of the bus will stop. If you stand in a general clump of tourists, you are unlikely to get a seat at any time of the year.

It’s not a big deal if you don’t mind the conductor squeezing past you twice on his journey to the back of the bus and back again.

Inside the Akrotiri Archaeological Site

Once you’ve paid admission, you enter a large covered structure that comprises all the excavated areas to date. A bioclimatic roof covers the entire archaeological site and walkways suspended above the excavations allow you to wander through and above the site and a path leading through the streets of the ancient city has been cleared.

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Akrotiri archaeological site ruins and bioclimatic roof, Santorini

Along the paths, you can peer into windows and doorways and get a real feel for how light and airy these impressive homes and civic buildings would have been.

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Akrotiri archaeological site, Santorini Island, Greece

Dodgy restorations, looting and pillaging, and the ravages of time and the elements account for why so many ancient sites are poorly preserved.

The lava that destroyed this Minoan civilization also preserved it. It makes it possible to almost precisely replicate every aspect of the architecture, streetscape, furniture, wall and floor coverings, daily utensils and vessels, and religious shrines.

Walk along the streets of this Minoan village and imagine what it would be like to be a resident. It is easy to picture yourself living in these houses, sitting on a rooftop balcony, and enjoying the breathtaking view. (A view that is just as breathtaking today – with the addition of the extra islands that were created when Santorini exploded in the eruption!)

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Ancient ruins at Akrotiri archaeological site

Several severe earthquakes occurred before the eruption. The eruption gave time for the residents to leave but not enough time to take household items with them. The site is unusual because these houses had three floors or stories.

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Triangle Square, in front of the West House, Akrotiri, Santorini

It has been possible to recreate each of them. The work has a long way to go and only a fraction of the site has been excavated. New items are continuing to be discovered.

Once you’ve walked along the raised walkways, head down to Triangle Square and look through the doors and windows of people who lived and loved here 3500 years ago. It will send tingles up your spine!

The landscape of Santorini provides numerous minerals which gave the artwork its vivid colors. Luckily, the minerals have also preserved the designs for centuries.

Guided Tours of Akrotiri

There are signs and a video presentation inside and I found it informative and interesting, but some visitors to the site complain that without a guide, it is hard to understand the Santorini Akrotiri site fully.

Guided tours in different languages are available from travel agencies on the main streets of Fira (Thera) and Oia (Ia). You can also hire a guide at the site.

If you’d rather be picked up and have your transfers, tickets, and guide all arranged beforehand, there are tours that involve return hotel transfers and others that meet you at the site itself. There are also tours that combine a guided tour of Akrotiri with visits to wineries and wine-tasting. Here are the best four:

Best Private Guided Tour of Ancient Akrotiri with Hotel Transfers

Explore Akrotiri: Private Guided Tour with Hotel Pick-Up 

This three-hour tour is wheelchair accessible. You are met at your hotel and transferred to the site. Entrance fees are not included. At the conclusion of the tour, you are transferred back to your accommodation.

Best for: Travelers not wanting to deal with the hassle of buses or taxis to the site and who would like to learn about the archaeological site of Akrotiri, its structure, main points, and what happened here.

Best Private Guided Tour of Santorini that includes the Archaeological Site of Akrotiri

Santorini – 5 Hours Most Attractive Sightseeing Island Tour

This five-hour tour is wildly popular. You can be picked up from pretty much anywhere and you’ll visit all the big attractions in Santorini: Akrotiri archaeological site, Red Beach, Perissa Black Beach, and the villages of Pyrgos and Oia. You’ll also experience wine tasting. The entrance fee to Akrotiri is included.

Best for: Travelers with a limited time on the island who want to see all the major sites from a reputable tour company with excellent reviews.

Best Ancient Akrotiri and Wineries/Wine Tasting Tours

Discover Santorini: Prehistoric Akrotiri & Winery Tour

This tour contrasts the winding laneways of a modern Santorini village with the archaeological remains of Akrotiri and manages to fit in a walk on a beach and a visit to a winery. A five-hour tour that allows you to see a lot of this wonderful island and the Santorini ruins.

Key Facts:

  • Return transfers to your accommodation on this 5-hour tour are included
  • Admission to Akrotiri archaeological site is included, as are all admission and wine-tasting charges at the winery
  • A perfectly-reviewed tour

Private Group Visit to Akrotiri & 3 Wineries with Tastings

This tour is a serious winery tour as it visits three wineries and allows you up to 12 tastings of local wines. As a private small group tour, it allows between 2 and 4 people, making it an excellent choice for honeymooners and couples.

It is also a great tour if your time on Santorini is short because all of your travel to Akrotiri and the wineries are included in the 5-hour tour. It is also good for Cruise Ship passengers because of its pick-up and drop-off locations. In addition, the tour is customizable.

Key Facts:

  • Cruise Ship Passengers: can join the tour from Oia where the cable car begins. It is also possible to be picked up from your hotel, from the airport, and from Athionios Port.
  • Taste 12 varieties when visiting 3 wineries
  • Admission to Ancient Akrotiri Santorini is not included in the price but all admission and wine-tasting charges at the wineries are included
  • This tour sells out fast and has only perfect reviews.

Museum of Prehistoric Thera in Santorini

It is disappointing that there is no Akrotiri museum on site. Instead, you need to head back into town to the Museum of Prehistoric Thera.

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Cups from Akrotiri, Museum of Prehistoric Thera, Santorini

It is definitely worth the effort to visit the Museum of Prehistoric Thera after you’ve been to Akrotiri. Like so many archaeological sites in Greece, they are interesting but empty ruins that only come to life once you’ve visited the nearby museum.

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Cycladic Marble Figurine (2200-2000BCE)

The archaeological museum has some excellent 4000-year-old Cycladic figures from Santorini. It is here you can see the wall frescoes, vessels, pottery, and other objects unearthed at the archaeological site.. If your travels will take you to the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, you can also see the “Akrotiri of Thera” room with objects from Akrotiri.

Other wonderful Akrotiri archaeological finds, including Akrotiri frescoes such as the Spring Mural, can be seen at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens

Final Thoughts

Cultures rise and fall and sometimes our view of history needs to be modified. Akrotiri invites us to reconsider our own history and it gives us a new appreciation for the Greek people and their proud heritage. Of course, Akrotiri is just one small piece of amazing Santorini, so keep planning your trip to Santorini with the guides and tips below.