What to Expect
The Red Beach in Santorini is one of the most unusual looking beaches you are ever going to see. Also called Kokkini Paralia, the Red beach is filled with ground down pebbles and granules of the same iron-rich lava rocks that frame it. Most visitors who come here brave the ‘unsafe’ signs put there by ISMOSAV and come and stare at its wild Celtic beauty that’s a gift of the volcanic eruptions which happened in Santorini.
It’s safe to say that such a vividly red-coloured beach is not found in any other part of the world. In Santorini, there are several startling shades of rocks but the oxblood coloured cliffs near Akrotiri town are the most eye-catching. These cliffs have powdered down to form the scarlet sands at the bottom of the beach.
This is the kind of beach you sit and admire the sunset while sipping on some wine that you have been carrying with yourself. Or this may be the beach where you sit and take endless photos and jam up the memory card of your phone. In the purest sense, the Red Beach is more of a geological attraction than just a beach and should be treated as such.
Beach Activities & Amenities
The Red beach is not a well-facilitated beach like Perissa and Kamari beach. It can be termed as a ‘semi-organised’ beach. There are some sunbeds and umbrellas there but there is no chain of eateries similar to the ones found in Kamari and Perissa. Some locals have taken an unofficial monopoly on hiring out umbrellas and sunbeds to tourists. There are a restroom and a solitary beach bar on the Red beach.
There are 30 sunbeds on an average on the Red beach and these cost about 25 euros (for a pair). You can also hire a chaise with an umbrella. If you aren’t planning to stay for a long time then bringing a thick towel would suffice. Simply put the towel over a pebble covered stretch and sit down to enjoy the view.
If you arrive at the Red Beach during summers then early morning is the best time to come. During the day the place is swarming with tourists and it gets difficult to find a place to sit. The area near the cliffs is cordoned off and that takes away much of the sitting space on the beach.
The red beach is flanked by tall red cliffs of Lava and these face the blue Aegean waters making up a rare and fascinating sight. The parking lot is located at the end of the road which is at a certain elevation from the beach and provides excellent views of the beach and the ocean. There is a couple of photo-stops as you descend into the beach (ten-minute walk) from the parking lot and don’t forget to take pictures of the view. You will also notice some stalls renting out surfboards and paddleboards on the beach.
You should admire the Red Beach from a distance if you have mobility issues. The path down is rocky and some of the rocks are unstable and you can lose your footing. If you are reasonably fit and are wearing trainers then you can think of venturing down. The trail is not meant for seniors or small children. If you are coming with kids then it’s recommended that you access the Red Beach by boat.
There is a small music shop at the beginning of the trail and it sells Greek music CDs. You can buy one for novelty’s sake. There are toilets close to the start of the main access path to the Red Beach. You will find many tavernas and souvenir shops on the short road between the Red Beach and the Akrotiri Bus stop so you can stock up on food and drinks from there.
Snorkelling near the Red beach is offered by some water sports agencies. The abundance of fishes near the shoreline and the colourful pebble filled ocean bed makes it an interesting snorkelling experience. Local swimming/ snorkelling guides keep roaming the beach. They can arrange a combined swimming/ snorkelling experience comprising of the red/ white and black beach. It’s easier to take off from the black beach.
Some shops near the beach are selling/ renting swim shoes for 10 euros. These don’t look fashionable but will protect your feet if you want to go into the water… there are sharp and hot stones around. For the record, these shoes are found all over the island. Swimming around the Red Beach is great if you are an experienced swimmer.
A visit to the Red Beach is a ‘Martian Trip’. The beach itself is reddish like how you would expect it to be in Mars. The cliffs are red-grey-black and the shoreline is strewn with pebbles in 50 shades of red and black. The scenery is passionate and wild and if you have any interest in science/ geology/ history then you should read up a little on the Santorini volcanic eruptions. After all, it’s the volcano that gave the red beach its flaming beauty. A stop at the Red Beach is a part of most Santorini Volcano tours.
Sadly, the red beach is actually rocky and you just cannot walk on it barefoot. You can, however, explore the entire beach wearing trainers and that’s a rewarding activity. The beach has two parts; one redder and fuller with pebbles and the other blackish with lesser pebbles.
If you want to sit and eat on the red beach you will have to bring your own supplies from Akrotiri village or from the 2 canteens that are situated right before the beach starts. The reason why there are fewer hawkers and stalls along this beach is the risk of landslides here (this is why the beach is marked unsafe). The ‘unsafe’ factor doesn’t seem to deter the hundreds of standalone tourists and scores of tour groups who arrive by catamaran each day.
A trip to the Red Beach is an essential part of your Santorini visit but do not plan to spend an entire day here. This beach has exotic beauty that’s worth a million photos but in terms of beach quality and facilities, it’s not up to the mark. Santorini has better beaches to relax in and enjoy the day like Kamari, Perissa and Perivolos. A visit to the Red beach should last for around 1 to 2 hours and then you could be spending all your time soaking in its beauty and inspecting the peculiar red colour of its soil.
Institute for the Study and Monitoring of the Santorini Volcano (ISMOSAV) has marked the beach ‘unsafe’ and ‘closed to public’ since august 2013 and has cautioned tourists against going there. However, this has not stemmed the tourist flow to the red beach. The institute has also urged the Hotels Association of Santorini to dissuade tourists from going to visit this beach.
All the warnings have merely whetted up the appetite of curious tourists who are fascinated by the Red Beach. Often people are seen sunbathing right next to the rocks. Tourists are also seen walking along with the no-entry signs that are posted along the path leading up to the Red Beach. Some of the cliffs overhang the access path to the beach. The rock is so loose that you can pry open some pieces of it with your fingers (don’t try).
Some of the most gorgeous private villas on Santorini are in Akrotiri. The small town has undergone major revamps in the last 5 years and now has many beautiful hotels and restaurants. It’s a good place to explore after you are done photographing the red beach. Note that both the Akrotiri excavation site and the beach are a little removed from the Akrotiri town.
You could go out and check out the small white church built into the mountain near the red beach. You can see this white church with towering crosses and blue doors on it from a great distance.
Many small (and unnamed) hiking trails start from the Red beach. If you love nature and detest crowds then hiking is the perfect activity for you. Find the 20-minute long trail that will take you to Kambia beach… a secret and deserted beach of Santorini.
You could take a boat from the Red Beach and go off exploring the White Beach (not accessible by car) and the Black beach. Boat hopping to different beaches is a preferred activity in Santorini.
If you think of the Red Beach as an ‘attraction’ or a ‘geological marvel’ then you won’t be disappointed; in fact, you are likely to enjoy the unique experience. But if you think of Red beach as just a ‘Beach’ with perfect sands and a slew of beach bars serving cocktails and great food then you will get disappointed. If you want to stay on the Red Beach for more than an hour then do bring your own water, towels and some snacks.
How to reach
The Red Beach is in Akrotiri village that’s 12 km southwest to Fira and 13 km away from the Kamari airport. The red beach is 9 km away from the Athinios port and 9 km from the Perissa beach. You can drive to the Akrotiri beach but remember that it’s a good 10-15 minute walk away from the car park and the walk isn’t easy either (definitely not recommended if you have a bad knee or back). Coming by boat is so much easier and you won’t have to access the rather daunting rocky climb from the car park to the beach.
Most people who visit the red beach stop by the Akrotiri archaeological site before or afterwards. The same volcanic eruption that gave the red beach its beauty destroyed the Akrotiri civilization around 1620. Seeing both places together gives you an idea about the scale of the volcanic eruptions and their far-reaching effects. After visiting the Akrotiri archaeological site turn right and park in front of the Nikolaus chapel. Navigate the 10-minute path downhill and keep yourself safe from the rather jagged looking rocks that dot the place. You can also access the Red Beach from the Akrotiri village… it’s a longer but a safer route.
One of the nicest ways to see the red beach is to take a catamaran cruise and view the red pebble dotted beach from the sea. There is a bus service to a spot near the beach. If you are visiting the Akrotiri archaeological site first then you can come downhill via a roughhewn path to reach the beach. The red beach is known as the Akrotiri red beach because of its proximity to the Akrotiri archaeological site.
You can clamber up to the Akrotiri lighthouse and enjoy its famed sunset views. The peninsula of Akrotiri has a line of pebble-strewn coves that are etched from the iron-stained volcanic rocks. In case you have not zeroed in on a place for staying in Santorini then you can consider the option of staying at Akrotiri. Some of the prettiest hillside guesthouses and beach apartments of Santorini nestle inside Akrotiri.
Go into Akrotiri village if you want to see an untouched Greek village minus the tourist trappings… Akrotiri town. This is a place where you can get rare items like thick Greek coffee made with fresh goat’s milk and salad made with farm vegetables. There is an ancient fortress on top of the Akrotiri town that was decimated in 1956. Interestingly, this was the original site of the town and after the fortress fell down, the town was rebuilt below the fortress. Go up to the fortress and you can see the volcano, caldera and the vineyards of Santorini… the view is splendid indeed.
The same narrow strip of red pebble dotted land that contains Akrotiri has the Red Beach and the Vilchada Beach. Whenever you are accessing the road between Akrotiri archaeological site and the beach, keep an eye out for the Dolphin’s Taverna. Supposedly it serves the freshest fish in Santorini. Otherwise, the red beach zone is not a gastronomic hub and all you will get is some basic food supplies from the canteen that stands by the church and the parking lot. There are a couple of stray cafes on the beach too but these are closed sporadically.