Santorini is beautiful, so if you are lucky enough to be heading there on holiday, you won’t be disappointed. Our week on the island was more than enough time to get around to all the main towns and fit in a few days of sunbathing and soaking in the relaxing atmosphere.
It doesn’t matter where you stay or what time of year you explore Santorini, it is jam packed with things to do and places to see. This is a short guide to the key towns / villages we came across to help make you mind up on where to stay….or help plan your up and coming trip.
Santorini is an island of two halves, you have the beaches on the east side of the island and the caldera (cliff) on the west that runs southwards. It’s the caldera that gives the famous steeped views with the white houses and blue topped churches.
From North to South:
Oia (pronounced EEE-Ya)
Probably the best known Santorini town. It is most likely to be the one you see in pictures and has the gorgeous windmills over looking the sea. It is also the place to see the infamous sunsets as the sun disappears into the sea here. The main town centre is a series of streets packed full of shops and restaurants, but without a doubt this is the most expensive part of the island. The average meal and drink is a few Euro’s higher than anywhere else on the island and if you are booking a restaurant, to see the sunset do so in advance. We booked our almost 2 weeks in advance and at least two restaurants were fully booked. Also be prepared to spend on dinner, with most restaurants suggesting an arrival time of 7 if you want a table with a view there will be over an hour to sunset (depending on what time of year you go) and in our experience they did not appreciate people just buying drinks. Worth it though!!
When checking Oia out, make the effort to head to the Castelle that is situated at the end of the town, the views back over the island are worth the crowds and steps. The 39 Steps Cafe is also a great place to grab some shade and watch the donkeys rush by after you survive the walk out. Oh yeah – Santorini has donkey as their second most popular mode of transport after busses!
This is the place you will be most likely to find girls laid out against buildings, their boyfriends acting as personal photographers, or taking a TON of selfies. As our Airbnb host said, Oia is full of ‘Kardashian wannabes’ but we can’t blame them – it’s just so damn pretty there and there really is a need to photograph everything!
|Kardashian-wannabe photo example 1|
Rumour also has it that there are a few swimming pools that are open to the ‘public’ if you are buying food and drink, we didn’t find them but if you are in the area and in need of a dip it might be worth Googling.
The highest and most central part of the caldera and our base for the week. We fell in love with the steep cliff views of the caldera and view out over the volcano. We also found the walk to Skaros Rock rewarding and the views spectacular. From this point you can see the entire west side of the island and the beautiful ocean stretching out for miles. The winding paths that mean you never quite take the same path twice also mean there are plenty of photo opportunities and different places to discover. While the town isn’t packed with shops (or tourists, bonus!) it covers all the basics and has a number of excellent restaurants at reasonable prices.
The side of the caldera is covered in the cave houses that Santorini is famous for and are now available as hotels or Airbnb’s. Our apartment was an Airbnb with spectacular views and having the kitchen saved us money as we had all of our breakfasts and some lunches in the flat while enjoying our amazing view.
|If you’re interested in the Airbnb we stayed in, drop us an email, we will give you the link!|
Side note, if you do decide to stay in Imerovigli, make sure to do your shopping at the Nissi mini-market, which is owned by a Texan woman and her Greek husband. She moved to Greece to be with him 23 years ago, they have the cutest love story and are so friendly. Tell her we sent you! We literally went there daily to stock up on water and speak to her. Anyway!
|Two minutes walk from our apartment in Imerovigli|
Imervogli’s central position was also great to explore the island. It was a 20 minute bus ride to Oia so it was easy to make the trip and breathe a sigh of relief when we left the crowds and got back to our quiet village. It is only 20 minutes to walk to Fira too, so you get your own space, wonderful view and no need to spend the the time getting out of others’ photos.
Fira / Thera
|Imerovigli to Fira at night|
The capital of Santorini and a bustling place to spend a day. More spread out than Oia, the crowds here seem less crazy as there is more space. The streets are packed with shops, restaurants and bars and depending on what route through the town you take you either get a view of the volcano or get to immerse yourself in the holiday atmosphere. Either way a trip to Santorini should include a visit here.
Fira also hosts the ‘main’ bus station so you can get to anywhere on the island from here. In fact, all the busses on the island go to/from Fira. So if you wanted to go from Oia (North) to Kamari (East), you’d need to get one bus South to Fira, then another East to Kamari.
We also checked out the tourist booking office on the main square and got a great deal for our volcano / Thirassis / hot springs boat trip!
|Volcano hot springs – read more in a future post|
Fira old port is located at the base of Fira, some 600 steps below the town, the steps are easy enough to go down but it does take almost half an hour. Our route down was slow as we had to pull over to let donkeys past – super intense when you have donkeys trying to pass both ways! Oh and the steps are also covered in donkey poo so you have to watch your step. If you don’t fancy the exercise or the donkey ride there is a cable car. For €5 you get a 3 minute ride (up or down) the cliff and get to admire the view slightly more than you would if you did it on foot. Whatever you do, we recommend taking it at least one way.
|We walked down that.|
Oooh also, they had a fish foot spa place, which we treated ourselves to after a week of walking pretty much everywhere. We’d done it once before in Thailand, and it was totally rejuvenating!
We’d recommend staying here if you want to be close to nightlife or have early commitments (like a boat or cruise), so you can get there quickly. Otherwise, we’d recommend staying elsewhere and exploring for the day.
We loved Pyrgos. The village is the highest part of the island and less focused on tourism so feels far more ‘local’. There is a cafe area as you drive through but the main gems are found on foot. Pyrgos is built on a hill so at times the footpath becomes steep but on arrival at the top the view helps you forget the workout as the monastery is so pretty. Also lookout for the ruins of the Kasteli castle that have been turned into outdoor restaurants and some of them provide stunning views over the island.
Before arriving in the village we spotted a restaurant that looked so pretty, set on the hillside by a church we could see the views it had were spectacular. We decided to have lunch there and spent almost equal time looking out over the fields and vineyards as we did raving about the food. The amazing thing about Santorini is that the built up areas are restricted to the towns and villages so when you get out of the residential areas you can really appreciate the rest of the scenery and Prygos was the perfect place to do that.
Located on the east side of the island, Kamari is the place for beach lovers. Not quite the smooth sand you’d expect, but rocky black sand that requires footwear to save your feet from scorching or cuts. The great thing is the beach is what the Santorinians call ‘organised’, which basically means that it has sunbeds. As long as you are buying something from one of the bars or restaurants, you get to use their sunbeds for free. Most of the bars had waiter / waitress service so you could find a bed, lay back and enjoy the delivery of food and drink for as long as you wanted.
|Such a poser with a mango margarita|
As the sun moves across the sky it is quite the sight to see the sun-worshippers (Sarah included) moving the sun beds around the canopies to get maximum exposure.
|In the shade 🙂|
From the beach you can take the short walk into the sea, the beautiful transparent sea that is just cool enough to be refreshing without being cold. The only advice is watch your feet though as you get in it’s pretty rocky under foot, once you passed that though the sea suddenly deepens and you are free to swim freely.
When you are on the beach make sure and look right towards the big mountain and see if you see the ridiculously steep and windy road you take to the Ancient town of Thera – it’s like a slalom! There is also a walk you can do but in the heat we passed on it.
Voted the best beach on the island, Perissa is certainly the longest. It allows the visitors to spread out along the coast line and pick their perfect tanning spot. Slightly less resort-like than Kamari, its bars and restaurants are less focused on getting you on sunbeds and more interested in getting you to sit and eat.
There are plenty of beach-based activities on offer here including water sports, so depending on what you like to do on holiday it could be worth hanging out here if you love the beach / sea.
There are plenty of other villages to check out too and if you want the official tour guide rundown check out: https://www.santorini.com/santorini/
We personally were really happy we stayed in Imerovigli, as we felt it was perfect for what we wanted – quiet and picturesque, but close to hustle and bustle – we ventured over to the beach side twice which was lovely, but because it wasn’t sand, and because when we think of Santorini we think cliffs and churches, not beaches, we were pleased we stayed on the volcano/sunset side.
Hopefully this mini-rundown will help you decide where you’d like to stay on the island!