The Island of Santorini – Fira and Oia

Map of Santorini Island

Map of Santorini Island.

When one thinks of Greece, images of whitewashed homes and churches with blue domes is usually what comes to mind. Well, there is no better location for actually seeing these images of Greece than the crescent-shaped island of Santorini. Seeing Fira (the main town) and Oia (the picture-perfect village at the north end of the island where everyone goes to watch the sunset) in person was really beyond words. We flew to Santorini from Rhodes via Athens. It was a pretty quick connection–we left Rhodes at 4:30 pm, made our connection in Athens and were in Santorini by 7:00 pm–in time for the sunset.

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View from Hotel Keti (Fira, Santorini). Our room – lower right.

Our hotel, Hotel Keti, was at the south end of Fira, directly below the cathedral and literally on the edge of the caldera. The only thing we didn’t like about the hotel was the hard beds (a Greek mainstay). The view from our hotel, as shown in the pictures in this post, was absolutely stunning.

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View of the Caldera – Santorini.

From our hotel we could see most of Fira, the old harbor and the cruise ships in the caldera. (The caldera is what’s left from the island’s volcanic explosion in 1600 B.C. – more to come on that in another post: “Into the Caldera”). I recommend staying in a hotel that offers views of the caldera. It is definitely worth the splurge. Our room was large and had a separate sitting area, with a window view of the caldera in addition to a private patio. We paid €105 per night (double) in late May, right before high season. The hotel staff was great, and very helpful. Due to the great setting, we felt like we could have spent our three days right there on the hotel’s patio!

Be forewarned—Fira is all stairs….if stairs are a problem, it will be difficult to get around the town.  So, best to think ahead of anything you need before heading back to your hotel room.

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Mules resting while waiting for passengers.

The main thing to do in Fira itself is to wander through the town, along the cliffside, from one end of the town to the other–afternoon is best when the sunlight dances off the white buildings. We also walked the 600 steps down to the old port right below Fira (where we took a boat ride).  The locals bring down about 100 mules for the cruise day-trippers to ride up the steps. There also is a tram running from the port to the top of the cliff in town that is €4 each way.  Being lazy, we took the tram back up from the port!!

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Oia, Santorini.

We visited Oia in the afternoon, debating whether to stay for the famous sunset views. We ended up going back to our hotel and watching the sunset from there, which was beautiful and relaxing. Oia is a small village, and one of the most the picture-perfect towns in Greece. From the bus stop, walk a block to the main pedestrian route, and turn right (north) and head out to the point, to “Oia Castle.” You are literally at the end of Santorini, and are rewarded with a wonderful 360 view of the town, a windmill, the little harbor, the caldera, Fira in the distance and other little islands. It would be easy to spend the day right here. When ready, walk south along the little alleys, and wherever possible, turn right out to the caldera and to take in the views of the little churches and homes set along the cliff.

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Fira Bus Station.

We did not rent a car in Santorini. The island is small, and the bus goes about everywhere you want.  The “bus station” was just a couple blocks from our hotel. The fare to most destinations on the island was €1.60, including from the airport to Fira. The fare to the ferry terminal was a little more, €2.20 per person. I would suggest getting to the bus station earlier than the posted departure time, because when the bus fills, it takes off, regardless of the exact time! If I was to rent anything, it would be an ATV, which are available everywhere, it would be a fun way to get around the island. In May, we saw about 3 cruise ships a day entering the harbor, so it’s a busy island, but a must-do sight when you visit Greece.

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House with a view – Oia.

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Another view of Oia.

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Another glorious sunset over Santorini.