Beautiful Santorini, forged by the fury of the volcanic earth and moulded by the warm Aegean, is as close to paradise as you'll find in the Greek islands. With its multicoloured cliffs and beaches, whitewashed hillside terraces, ancient sites and rolling vineyards, the island offers excitement, intrigue and sun-soaked relaxation.

If you're heading to the Cyclades, these are the must-see attractions on Santorini.

Fira

Fira presents a delightful, if haphazard, network of narrow, winding alleys, adorned with cube-shaped houses, terraces and blue-domed churches. Santorini's dramatic capital clings to the clifftops high up above the caldera - the sea-filled volcanic crater, formed 3,600 years ago through an island-shattering eruption - offering incredible views along with great hiking terrain. Make your way up the cable car from the port at Skala, or take the lengthy staircase, for boutique shopping, souvenir-hunting and dining out.

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By Norbert Nagel - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22671160

Kameni Islands

In the centre of Santorini's submerged crater lies the twin islets of New Kameni and Old Kameni, two products of ongoing geothermal activity within the caldera. Jump off your boat to enjoy a therapeutic dip in the hot sulphur springs, and if you choose, lather your body with warm mud. A day trip out to the satellite islands also includes a visit to nearby Thirassia, a peaceful outpost that once formed Santorini's north-western coastline before the eruption.

Akrotiri

Discovered in the late 1960s, Akrotíri is a supremely preserved archaeological site which offers a close-up glimpse of what life was like for the ancient Minoans. The 'Greek Pompeii' found itself buried below lava for three-and-a-half millenia, but its fascinating pathways, homes and artefacts are now visible to the public as a museum. The village remains covered to protect the excavations from the elements, although this time by a roof rather than thick layers of rock and ash.

Oia

Poised on the northern tip of the caldera, 7.5 miles (12km) up the coast from the capital Fira, idyllic Oia offers arguably the best views on Santorini. From this upmarket clifftop town, with its tangled labyrinth of streets, you can gaze out across the crater towards the Kameni islands and beyond. Photographers flock to the Venetian castle of Agios Nikolaos in the late afternoon and early evening, eager to take the perfect pictures of the shimmering sea and rolling landscape.

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_By Pedro Szekely - Flickr: Oia, Santorini, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23519420_Red Beach

The aptly named Red Beach, just outside of Akrotiri, is a genuinely intriguing stretch of coastline and one of the major natural attractions on Santorini. Formed by volcanic rock from the nearby caldera, the unique, rust-coloured shore is framed by towering, red-hued cliffs, which prove an inevitable draw for curious visitors. This really isn't the place to come for a quiet sunbathe, or to feel fine golden sands between your toes, but it's a rugged geological feature not to be missed. If you don't fancy taking the rocky path down the cliffs, the beach is easily accessible by boat.

Prophet Elias Monastery

From its elevated outlook on Mount Profítis Ilías - Santorini's highest point - Prophet Elias Monastery provides room for quiet contemplation amid inspiring natural scenery. This is one of the oldest and most attractive of Santorini's many churches, notable for its fortress-like exterior and bell tower. Standing in the chapel gardens you can see right across the island, taking in views of the vineyards, valleys and the undulating clifftops. Take a deep breath and simply admire the beauty.

Perissa Beach

The jet-black beach at Perissa, which stretches 3.5 miles (6km) along Santorini's south-eastern coast, is the most famous on the island. This lively tourist hub, flanked by tamarisk trees at the foot of Messavouno mountain, provides sandy access to the warm, clear Aegean and offers leisure time both at sea and on-land. You can enjoy a wide range of watersports here, go on a diving expedition, or simply relax in a coastal bar or café.

Pyrgos

The traditional hillside settlement of Pyrgos, the most elevated on the island, shows Santorini in a different light to the bustling resorts. This sleepy village, centred around the ruins of the medieval Kasteli Castle, offers an authentic snapshot into Cycladic life before the tourists arrived. Declared a protected settlement in 1995, this living, breathing museum features charming pale-white cottages, churches and galleries.

Ancient Thira

You can't help but be impressed by the ancient ruins of Thira, perched on a ridge high up on Messavouno mountain. Stroll around the site to view the remains of homes, temples, a theatre and gym dating from the early Roman and early-Byzantine era. Access to the archaeological site is via a winding road up from the mountain from Kamari - you can get your heart rate up en route to one of the most striking historical attractions on Santorini.

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By Tomisti - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15976486#### Photo Credits

Cover pic: By Klearchos Kapoutsis from Santorini, Greece - Red Beach Uploaded by Yarl, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25307753