Santorini is widely considered to be the most spectacular of all the Greek Islands. Likewise, the villages of Santorini are thought to be among the quaintest, most charming, and scenic of all Greek villages.
Some of the villages on Santorini are better known than others. For example, most of the island’s visitors are familiar with Fira and Oia, with their breathtaking views of the volcano’s caldera and the sparkling Aegean Sea below. But lesser-known villages like Imerovigli, Firostefani and Emporio (among others) also have their own unique charms. Here’s an overview of some of Santorini’s villages. Most Santorini tours begin with Fira and Oia. Lets start here:
Fira is on the west side of Santorini, only 10 kilometers away from the island’s main port at Athinaios. It’s not large, having a population of only around 1,600 people, but in addition to being Santorini’s capital, Fira serves as the island’s central transportation hub.
The village perches precariously on the side of the caldera, and it offers some of the island’s most magnificent sunsets and views of the volcano and the sparkling Aegean waters. It gets a little crowded during the summer tourist season because of its panoramic views, but Fira is still full of charm. Most of its hotels offer swimming pools and private verandas to enjoy the scenery. A cruise ship port sits at the base of the caldera, and visitors can get up and down the steep rocky path by cable car or on the back of a mule, like the locals.
Fira’s quiet cobbled lanes are lined by quaint whitewashed houses decorated by blue doors and windows – a color scheme often used for homes in the Clyclades. But, the main streets of the village are festooned with restaurants, cafés, tavernas, jewelry shops, smart boutiques and night clubs, so Fira offers plenty of things to do.
The village cathedrals, monasteries and blue-domed churches add a touch of local color and culture. But for even more local culture, Fira’s Archaeological Museum is the home of many interesting artifacts dug out of the earth at the ruins of Akrotiri, an ancient Minoan settlement on the island.
Oia, located about 11 kilometers northwest of Fira, is the best known and perhaps most picturesque of Santorini’s villages. Like Fira, Oia sits atop a cliff on the rim of the caldera and it offers spectacular sunsets and panoramic views of the surrounding area. Its architecture resembles that of Fira and the town is every bit as pretty. However, Oia is predominantly quiet and peaceful, while Fira is more commercialized – at least along its main roads.
If you take a stroll along the streets of Oia, you’ll encounter a number of charming cafés, tavernas, local craft shops and boutiques. Artists have always gravitated toward Oia, and you’ll be able to browse through a number of art galleries in the village.
Oia overlooks Thirassia, a neighboring island, and the views are beautiful. However, if you’re looking for the best views of the volcano, you’re probably better off in Fira.
A Maritime Museum houses a variety of nautical items and the ruins of a medieval Venetian fortress. The 300 steps leading down to Armeni Bay and Ammoudi, a small port, are near Oia’s Central Square. Don’t expect a sandy beach because the shoreline is pebbled, but you can take a small tour boat from Ammoudi over to Thirassia.
This village lies between Fira and Oia, but it’s located on a higher cliff so its views are even better. In many ways, it’s like a suburb of Fira – quieter and more charming, but with plenty of opportunities for tourists. Hotels are abundant in Imerovigli, but it also has a large number of quaint houses.
Like Imerovigli, Firostefani is within walking distance of Fira. And also like Imerovigli, it seems like an extension of the capital. Firostefani features charming examples of the quaint local architecture, wonderful views due to its position high on the caldera rim, and a variety of activities for tourists. In addition to its hotels and restaurants, Firostefani has an interesting monastery which is open for public tours during the day.
Pyrgos is a charming traditional village located just a few kilometers southeast of Fira. Among its other attractions, the village sits atop a hill and gives its visitors an impressive array of views of the entire island. It’s a tiny place with a population of only 500 people, and it’s full of traditional houses that were built under the protection of an old Venetian castle. Pyrgos is known for its many old blue-domed churches, including the most famous church on Santorini: the Monastery of Prophitis Ilias.
Emporio is another one of Santorini’s traditional villages. Located about 8 kilometers south of Fira, Emporio is surrounded by a long string of windmills on the hillside and a number of verdant vineyards. The village itself has two beautiful blue-domed churches and a dilapidated medieval-era fortress sitting atop the hill. Perissa Beach, a tremendously popular spot on Santorini, is located near Emporio.
Finikia, about 10 kilometers northwest of the capital, is a quiet, calm little place “next door” to Oia. There aren’t many hotels in Finikia, but it does have something that makes it unique: “cave houses” dug into the island’s soft volcanic rock. By taking advantage of the rock’s natural insulating properties, these cave houses keep their residents toasty in winter and cool in summer.
Quite possibly the quietest, calmest spot on the entire island, Akrotiri is also the most historically significant place on Santorini. Located adjacent to Red Beach, about 10 kilometers southwest of Fira, Akrotiri has not yet been spoiled by armies of tourists. The ruins left behind by an ancient Minoan settlement make Akrotiri the most significant archaeological site on the island.
Whether you’re looking for spectacular natural scenery, local color in the form of quaint whitewashed houses and blue-domed churches, fresh Greek or Mediterranean cuisine, or a glimpse of the remains of one of the most ancient civilizations on Earth, you’ll find it in the villages of Santorini.