Like the rest of the Greek Cyclades Islands, Santorini is one of the preferred travel destinations for international holidaymakers. Airplanes, ferries and cruise ships bring countless visitors to Thira, the main island of the mini-archipelago of Santorini, every year. Colloquially, Thira is often equated with Santorini.
When cruise ships call at Santorini, most passengers book one of the cruise lines' excursion packages. The day trippers can be tended to the port of Athinios by the boats of the Santorini Boatmen Union. At the pier, the guests get into the waiting buses and begin the tour of the island. Four hours later they have seen the sights of the island and are going back to their ships. That is far too little for such a spectacular destination as Thira.
Santorini - tender boat in the caldera
Santorini - an incomparable destination in the Mediterranean
From our point of view, Santorini is not comparable to other Mediterranean destinations, although there are enough admirable destinations there. Cities like Dubrovnik in Croatia or Valletta in Malta both have stunning fortress walls; the Greek Katakolon takes advantage of its proximity to the ancient sites of Olympia, and the Greek metropolis of Athens offers its guests a wealth of historical sites and museums. None of this is offered to visitors to Thira. Instead, day visitors especially admire the abruptly towering coast of Thira and the towns of Fira and Oia on the cliffs.
Fira - no house without a terrace
Santorini - Oia
Fira and Oia - Santorini's tourist magnets
On the main island of 79 square kilometers, the two communities of Fira and Oia, enthroned high above the caldera, are particularly worth seeing. The winding streets, the alleys and the many stairs are busy during the season. Cafés, restaurants, hotels and shops of all price ranges can be found everywhere. Thira's tourist spots are very busy during the day until late in the evening.
Santorini - island capital Fira
In Fira and Oia, houses and terraces were built in compacted construction on the steep slope of the caldera. It seems that every available square meter of space has been used. Winding paths and alleys connect the houses. A move seems difficult to imagine in these locations.
Oia offers another special feature on the hillside: Many apartments were built into the rock. These caves were initially the domicile of common people. Wealthy citizens, such as ship owners or their captains, had detached and representative houses built above the slope.
Santorini - Oia
All places are ideal for a longer vacation on Thira, and each settlement has its own special charms. We recommend that cruise ship guests limit themselves to Fira and Oia during their day-long stay. In both communities there is a lot to see and experience in addition to the magnificent landscape.
Notes for the individual shore leave
Cruise ship passengers who tend to make individual shore excursions take the tender boats that run regularly from the cruise ships to the Skala jetty below Fira.
Santorini - Fira - Tender boat in the port of Skala
Fira's bright white houses are more than 200 meters above sea level. To get to the top, the following alternatives are available for the ascent:
- An exhausting path over almost 600 uneven steps and inclined planes;
- A ride on one of the more than 100 donkeys or mules; a questionable business model for animal rights activists;
- The ride with the cable car (three minutes travel time). We did not experience the waiting times at the train station described in some places.
Fira - useful information
Fira - donkeys and mules on the stairs
Tour of Fira
Greeks consider Fira to be one of the most beautiful (and most expensive) places in the country. Fira invites you to take a casual tour of the town, to go shopping (everything from stickers to Rolex watches is offered) or to a cool drink on one of the many viewing terraces. The stunning view from the height of the built-up slope and the caldera is a free bonus.
Jewelry stores in Fira
Café terrace in Fira
Two churches are worth visiting: the Roman Catholic Church of St. John the Baptist and the Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Its attractions are an ornate bell tower, the high dome and a beautiful arcade.
Fira - the Orthodox cathedral
Fira - the nave of the Orthodox Cathedral
Visit to Oia
Oia is twelve kilometers from the island's capital on the northwest tip of Thira. Similar to Fira, Oia was built high above the caldera. At first glance, the two places look alike. In Oia, like in Fira, there are houses built one on top of the other, winding streets, cafes, restaurants, shops with arts and crafts and much more to discover. In Oia, visitors will find the remains of the Argyri castle built by the Venetians, windmills with no working blades and a small maritime museum. Little reminds of the glorious times in the second half of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. At that time, Oia's owners owned 130 sailing ships.
Day guests arriving by cruise ship are denied the fabulous sunsets of Oias. When the sun sets, the cruise ships will have already left the caldera. Sunsets lovers watch the spectacles from the café and restaurant terraces.
Oia - the sunset
Fira - the sunset
The high path on the caldera
Visitors can get back to Fira either by bus, rental vehicle or via the eight-kilometer high trail. The path leads along the edge of the crater, offers magnificent views and has been connecting the two villages since ancient times. If the footpath above the caldera seems too long for you, take the bus and leave it in Imerovigli or Firostefani. Even a shorter section offers unforgettable experiences.
Santorini - coastal path at Firostefani
Santorini - Firostefani
Bus service between Fira and Oia
The KTEL buses start and stop in Mitropoleos Street next to the Prehistoric Museum. In 2021, a single ticket will cost 1,80 euros. Payment is made on the bus. The buses run every half hour during rush hour.
Santorini - main street of Fira
Santorini - Fira bus station
It is also possible to rent a car, quad or motorcycle. Guests will find the stations of various providers near the bus station.
Beaches on Thira
For longer stays under the Greek sun, beach stays and baths in the crystal clear sea are indispensable. However, one looks in vain for sandy beaches on Thira. Thira was created by volcanism, and visitors have to make do with stone beaches. Well frequented beaches are:
The well-frequented beach section of Kamari stretches in a northerly direction from the mountain Mesa Vouno to the airport of Santorini. Loungers and parasols are lined up invitingly.
Santorini - Kamari Beach
Santorini - Kamari Beach
The beach section is located in the south of the island near the town of Akrotiri. Its trademarks are a high, red rock wall and fine, black and red pebbles. The Red Beach is suitable for swimming and snorkeling.
Santorini - Red Beach
Santorini - vacationers on Red Beach
This 800 meter long beach is located in the south of the island in the community of Vlichada. Its trademarks are the steep coast and fine black pebbles interspersed with white pumice stone. Parasols and loungers are available for bathers.
Santorini - Vlichada Beach
Santorini - Vlichada Beach
The excavations of Ancient Thera
In the southeast of the island, on the mountain Mesa Vouno, at a height of more than 300 meters, are the excavations of Ancient Thera. The ridge stretches between the villages of Kamari and Perissa. What was recovered from a meter-thick layer of earth and ash in Alt-Thera is most likely to inspire scientists. The experts recognize the agora, the remains of a portico, the theater and the sacred precinct. Alt-Thera was once a naval base: The experts came across remnants of the commandant's office and the officers' houses.
Santorini - Alt Thera - access road
Santorini - Alt Thera - overview plan
The towns of Fira and Oia are the preferred destinations for visitors to Thira. The island's sloping landscape to the east is less interesting for day visitors. - Organized tours do not need to be booked on Thira. Those who follow this recommendation and limit themselves to both places will see and experience a lot of interesting things for a fraction of the cost of the excursions offered on the ships.