A visit to the Akrotiri Archaeological site was one of the highlights of my recent trip to Santorini. Recently excavated from under layers of volcanic ash, it is fast becoming known as the Greek Pompeii and just as fascinating to see. I recommend it as trip not to miss during your own stay on the island!
In this comprehensive guide, you will find all of the essential information which I uncovered during my own visit…
From how to get there, opening times, ticket prices and what to see; To everything currently known about the site’s history and the excavation process,
Our in-depth guide contains everything you could possibly need to know for before your visit!
Table of Contents
Visiting Akrotiri Archaeological Site
Where is Akrotiri on Santorini?
Situated in the southwestern part of of Santorini. The Akrotiri Archaeological Site site is located 2 kilometers southeast of the modern day village of Akrotiri, which shares its name.
The island’s capital, Fira, is approximately 15 kilometers north of Akrotiri. A short, scenic drive of around 20 minutes will take you from the bustling capital to this historic site.
Aswell as the Akrotiri Archaeological Site; its close by village, offers breathtaking views of the caldera cliffs.
The village is built on a hill around the remnants of a Venetian castle known as ‘Goulas’.
Adding to the charm of Akrotiri is its lighthouse. This popular attraction dates back to 1892 and is located on the westernmost tip of Santorini.
The archaeological site of Akrotiri, a significant Bronze Age settlement and is considered one of the most important of its kind in the Aegean region.
How to Get to Akrotiri
There are several ways to reach Akrotiri:
- By Car:
Rent a car from Fira or other parts of the island and enjoy a scenic 20-minute drive to Akrotiri.
- Private Transfer:
Travel in luxury to the site with a personal driver.
- By Bus:
A bus ride from Fira to Akrotiri (operated by KTEL) takes about 30 minutes and costs around €2 for an adult. Alternatively, a bus from Santorini Port to Akrotiri covers a distance of around 18 km in approximately 1 hour and 14 minutes.
- By Tour:
Opt for a guided tour that includes transportation. Choices range from a seven-hour bus tour encompassing several sights, including Akrotiri, to a one-hour small group walking tour of the archaeological site.
Upon arrival in Akrotiri, the archaeological site is within walking distance of the village.
Where to stay when visiting Akrotiri Archaeological Site
If the main purpose of your trip to Santorini is to visit the archaeological site, then I recommend having a look at the amazing accommodation options in Akrotiri village.
Aside from Akrotiri being a hidden gem on the island (think quiet, caldera and sunset views), it’s away from the bustling popular locations and staying here means you will be within walking distance of the site.
See our handpicked list of the 15 best hotels in Akrotiri, whether you’re a budget traveller or looking for something more luxurious, there are many choices for everyone!
The opening hours for the Akrotiri archaeological site vary with the seasons.
From April to October, the site is open daily from 8:00 am to 6:30 pm.
From November to March, the site is open daily from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm or 3:30 pm.
Note that the site is closed on certain holidays, such as January 1st and December 25th.
|Season||Opening Times||Closed On|
|April to October||8:00 am – 6:30 pm||–|
|November to March||8:00 am – 3:00/3:30 pm||January 1st, December 25th|
Tickets and how to purchase
Tickets to the Akrotiri Archaeological Site cost €12 per person for adults, with a reduced entrance fee available for EU citizens aged 65 or over and students of universities or other higher education institutions at €6 per person.
Children and young people between the ages of 6 and 25, as well as people from Greece and the EU who are older than 65 years of age, are also eligible for the reduced rate from 1 April to 31 October.
A combined ticket is €15 per person, this gives you entrance to multiple locations including Akrotiri Archaeological Site and the Museum of Prehistoric Thera.
|Adult||€12 per person||–||–|
|Reduced||€6 per person||EU citizens aged 65 or over, students of universities or other higher education institutions||–|
|Reduced (Seasonal)||€6 per person||Children and young people between the ages of 6 and 25, people from Greece and the EU who are older than 65 years of age||1 April to 31 October|
|Combined (Ancient Akrotiri and Museum of Prehistoric Thira)||€14 per person||–||–|
Tours available at Akrotiri Archaeological Site
Several tours are available to the Akrotiri archaeological site:
Offers a private guided walking tour of the Akrotiri archaeological site.
Offers several tours to Akrotiri, including a bus tour to the excavations and Red Beach, a half-day tour of the south coast and Akrotiri from Fira, and a sunset tour of Santorini with a stop at Akrotiri.
Offers a private walking tour of the Akrotiri ruins.
- Santorini View
Offers a tour of the Akrotiri excavations with an English-speaking licensed tour guide.
Check the details of each tour before booking as some may include transportation to and from the site, while others may require visitors to make their own way to the site.
Video: Visiting Akrotiri Archaeological Site
Map of Akrotiri Archaeological Site
So you can easily orientate yourself on arrival, here is a map of the excavation site.
Best Time to Visit Akrotiri Archaeological Site
I arrived at the site around mid-day, there were a few other tour groups walking around the complex at the same time. As I was trying to take photos and record videos (which you can see in this article), this made getting a good shot a little bit tricky and required some patience.
Although not essential, I do advise visiting at less busy times of day (see below).
Best time of day to visit
For the most pleasant experience while walking around the site. You should try to be there as the site opens for the day or just before closing time to beat the crowds.
Cruise ship day trippers come in large numbers to the site from about 10 am, it is recommended to visit the site early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the crowds.
Best time of year to visit
The best time of the year to visit Akrotiri archaeological site from April to mid June and then September to October. The site is open for longer hours during these parts of the year and the weather is mild.
Best of Akrotiri Archaeological Site
If you’re still wondering is Akrotiri worth visiting?, here a few of the highlights to be found while walking around the Akrotiri ruins, which are well worth the visit to see.
The West House
Located in what is known as ‘Triangle Square’, the West House is a grand two-story structure is one of the most completely excavated buildings on the site. It features a well-organized layout with a storage-focused ground floor and a living space on the upper floor, accessible via a subtly important entranceway.
The second floor was adorned with magnificent frescoes upon excavation, including the renowned “Ship Procession Fresco” and “Boxing Boys Fresco“. The well-preserved architecture of the West House, typical of urban houses in prehistoric Akrotiri, provides invaluable insights into the societal dynamics, emphasizing the importance of accessibility and the role of art in the society.
Pottery production was clearly prolific at Akrotiri going by the assortment of it which was unearthed. Ranging from storage jars, used for preserving grains and oils, to pouring vessels for dispensing liquids like wine or water. Cooking pots, indicative of meal preparation methods, were also discovered alongside various drinking vessels such as cups and goblets.
The presence of smaller containers, possibly used for storing spices or other minor items, further underscores the diversity of the pottery types. This variety not only points to a sophisticated society with specialized vessels for different uses but also suggests trade connections and cultural exchanges with other regions, as evidenced by the mix of local and Cretan ware.
Beyond pottery, the site has yielded other intriguing artifacts, including items made of precious stones and bronze, as well as imported ceramics. Castings of wooden furniture such as bed frames can also be seen here.
The House of the ladies
The House of the Ladies, a multi-storied and free-standing edifice, is a fascinating structure with a complex layout where an array of intriguing artifacts were found. Although its exact function remains uncertain, it’s believed to have served as a residential building, earning its name from the discovery of numerous female figurines within its confines.
These figurines, along with a collection of frescoes depicting natural scenes of monkeys, birds, and fish, offer a captivating glimpse into the artistic preferences and daily life of the civilization that once inhabited this place.
Despite the fact that much of the House of the Ladies remains shrouded beneath layers of volcanic ash, ongoing excavation efforts continue to reveal more about this significant structure, promising further insights into the architectural prowess and societal dynamics of ancient Akrotiri.
Although there isn’t a museum at the Akrotiri Archaeological site itself, the focus during your visit will be on the well preserved Akrotiri ruins themselves…
But if you’re keen to see many of the fine examples of the pottery and other artifacts found at the site, you can take a trip to the Museum of Prehistoric Thera which is located in Fira, Santorini’s capital.
At the museum, you will get the chance to see many of the famous frescoes which were excavated from the site, as well as fascinating examples of advanced craftsmanship from this ancient civilization.
Entrance to the museum is €6, or you can get a combined ticket for €15 – which includes entrance to the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, Akrotiri Archaeological site and Ancient Thera.
Or if you want to ensure that you learn everything during your visit, you can book an in-depth archaeological history tour with a knowledge guide.
The History of Akrotiri
What happened to Akrotiri
Once upon a time, Akrotiri was a bustling city on the island of Santorini. Its strategic location made it a hub for commerce, with trade routes extending to mainland Greece and even reaching the distant lands of Egypt and Syria.
In the 16th century BC, a catastrophic event known as the Theran volcanic eruption, sealed the city’s fate.
It was buried under a colossal layer of volcanic ash and debris. This disaster not only reshaped Santorini’s landscape but also wiped out the city, reminiscent of the fate of Pompeii.
Despite the city’s obliteration, archaeologists have been unearthing its secrets since 1967, revealing around 40 buildings to date.
Yet, it’s believed that only a fraction of the city has been exposed, with the full excavation potentially taking another hundred years.
Today, visitors can wander through the remnants of this Minoan port town, forever frozen in time by the volcanic ash of the 16th century.
When was Akrotiri Discovered
Recognizing its archaeological potential, the site was earmarked for further exploration.
However, it wasn’t until 1967 that comprehensive excavations were initiated at the Akrotiri Archaeological Site.
These excavations unveiled the city’s true significance, revealing a plethora of well-preserved buildings, streets, frescoes, and other artifacts.
The thick volcanic debris which had entombed the city also served as a preservative, maintaining the structures to a height of more than a single story.
The excavation work continues to this day, with only a third of the city believed to have been unearthed so far.
The Minoans of Akrotiri
The prehistoric city of Akrotiri was inhabited as far back as the 4th millennium BC.
Initially a modest fishing and farming village, it flourished into a significant port city due to its strategic position on the trade route between Europe and the Middle East.
The city was a trading hub, with ties extending to mainland Greece and even distant lands like Egypt and Syria.
The civilization of this ancient settlement was closely linked to the early Cretan culture. The city’s prosperity was abruptly halted in the 16th century BC when the Theran eruption buried it under volcanic ash.
The excavation site, a Cycladic cultural settlement on Santorini, is associated with the Minoan civilization due to inscriptions in Linear A and similarities in its artifacts and fresco styles.
The city boasted paved streets, a sophisticated drainage system, and a vibrant art scene. Its architecture was also advanced compared to its contemporaries.
The Role of Akrotiri in the Aegean and Mediterranean Trade
Akrotiri played a pivotal role in Aegean and Mediterranean trade.
As mentioned above, its trade relations extended to other cultures in the Aegean, as evidenced by fragments of foreign pottery found at the site.
Akrotiri’s strategic location on the primary sailing route between Cyprus and Minoan Crete made it a crucial point for trade.
It was a hub for the copper trade, with molds and crucibles found at the site testifying to its role in copper processing.
As a prosperous merchant harbor, Akrotiri traded with various regions, exporting goods from mainland Greece and maintaining ties with Crete, Cyprus, Syria, and Egypt. Its main exports included olive oil and cloth.
The city’s trade connections and prosperity made it a significant prehistoric site in the Aegean, underscored by its association with the Minoan civilization in Crete.
Akrotiri showcased a high level of sophistication, evident in its paved streets, extensive drainage system, and high-quality pottery production. The presence of craft specialization indicated a thriving economy and skilled artisans.
In essence, Akrotiri was a crucial hub for commerce, contributing to the economic and cultural development of the region.
The Impact of the Volcanic Eruption that Destroyed the Akrotiri
The volcanic eruption that obliterated Akrotiri had far-reaching effects on the site and its surroundings.
The Minoan eruption, also known as the Thera eruption, decimated the ancient settlement of Akrotiri.
The city was entombed under a thick layer of volcanic ash and pumice, preserving its structures and artifacts.
The eruption completely wiped out the city, covering it in a 60-meter thick layer of white tephra.
As no human remains have been found at the Akrotiri site, it’s believed that the local population had forewarning of the impending eruption and evacuated the island before its destruction.
The eruption significantly impacted Minoan trade, particularly with the loss of Akrotiri as a trading center.
The city’s destruction would have disrupted the trade networks of the Minoan civilization, leading to economic repercussions for the region.
The Thera eruption is thought to have caused climatic changes, with the release of volcanic gases and ash potentially affecting weather patterns and climate in the region.
However, the exact extent and nature of these climatic changes are still a subject of debate among scientists.
It’s speculated that the eruption and the destruction of Akrotiri may have inspired Plato’s story of Atlantis.
The eruption also influenced certain Greek myths and possibly caused turmoil in Egypt, as well as influencing the biblical Exodus stories.
In essence, the volcanic eruption that destroyed Akrotiri had a profound impact on the site, the surrounding areas, and the broader cultural and historical context of the region.
The Archaeological and Historical Significance of Akrotiri
The Akrotiri site holds immense archaeological and historical significance as excavations have revealed one of the most important prehistoric settlements of the Aegean.
Its first inhabitants date back to the 5th millennium BC when Akrotiri was a small fishing and farming village.
The site evolved into a prosperous port city, serving as a center for trade with connections to mainland Greece and as far afield as Egypt and Syria.
Aswell as its close links to the early Cretan culture and was related to the Minoan civilization, the site has provided valuable insights into the prehistoric civilization that once thrived there.
The site’s preservation under layers of volcanic ash, have provided valuable insights into the prehistoric civilization which once thrived there.
Akrotiri exhibited a high level of sophistication, evident in its paved streets, extensive drainage system, and high-quality pottery production. The architecture was also advanced compared to its contemporaries. The site is also known for its well-preserved frescoes, including the famous “Spring Fresco“.
Akrotiri was a prosperous merchant harbor, trading with various regions. It exported goods from mainland Greece and maintained ties with Crete, Cyprus, Syria, and Egypt. The loss of Akrotiri as a trading center would have had economic repercussions for the region.
In essence, the Akrotiri site is one of the most significant archaeological sites in the Aegean and in Greece. It has shed light on the history of a thriving civilization and provided valuable insights into prehistoric life and culture.
The Excavation Process
The excavation process of the Akrotiri ruins has been ongoing since 1967.
Initially, tunneling was attempted at the site, but the soil’s composition of volcanic mantle and ash made the process challenging which meant that the excavation process was then switched to a more traditional method.
The excavations were conducted under the supervision of the eminent Greek archaeologist, Spyridon Marinatos.
Since then, other archaeologists, including Christos Doumas, have continued the excavation work. The excavation process has involved uncovering buildings, streets, frescoes, and many artifacts and artworks.
The ash preserved the remains of these structures and objects, providing valuable insights into the prehistoric civilization that once thrived there.
The work is still ongoing to this day, and it’s estimated that only a third of the city has been uncovered so far.
Artifacts found at the site
Excavations of the ruins at Akrotiri have uncovered fragments of clothing, providing a glimpse into the fashion and textiles of the time.
Archaeologists have discovered burned fruit at the site, providing evidence of the agricultural practices and diet of the ancient inhabitants.
Various types of pottery have been unearthed at Akrotiri. This includes black-and-white painted pottery, as well as pottery made in the shape of shells. The painted pottery showcases intricate designs and artistic skill.
Among the artifacts found at Akrotiri are objects made of precious stones and bronze. These objects highlight the craftsmanship and the use of valuable materials in the ancient civilization.
Excavations have also revealed imported ceramics at the site, indicating trade connections and cultural exchange with other regions. Only a single gold object has been found at the site, hidden beneath flooring.
This rare find adds to the significance of the archaeological discoveries at Akrotiri.
These artifacts, along with the well-preserved frescoes, furniture, and advanced drainage systems, provide a comprehensive picture of the daily life, culture, and artistic achievements of the ancient inhabitants of Akrotiri.
They offer valuable insights into the Minoan civilization and its connections with other cultures in the Aegean and Mediterranean. Many of these artifacts can be seen today at the Museum of Prehistoric Thera in Santorini and the National Archaeological Museum, Athens.
The importance of preserving and studying archaeological sites like Akrotiri cannot be overstated.
The preservation of it ensures that future generations can learn about the Minoan civilization, its culture, art, and way of life.
Despite extensive excavations of these ruins, Akrotiri still holds many mysteries. As only a third of the site has been uncovered, there is still much more to discover about the city’s layout, its people, and their way of life.
Future research may reveal more about the Minoan civilization, its trade connections, and its cultural practices.
It may also shed light on the events leading up to the Theran eruption and its aftermath.
Ready to step back in time and explore the ancient city of Akrotiri?
Purchase your tickets today and embark on a journey through history.
For a comprehensive and enriching experience, I recommend booking a guided tour. Your knowledgeable guide will provide you with fascinating insights into the site’s history, its excavation process, and the artifacts discovered.
Don’t miss this opportunity to witness the marvels of the ancient world at the Akrotiri Archaeological Site.