Santorini, Greece, is a very well-known and popular travel destination. This is for a good reason: it is very beautiful. A hiking trail that leads from Fira to Oia takes in some of the key sights of the island. It’s a truly spectacular dayhike.
Santorini is one of the Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea. It’s a volcano that’s partially submerged into the deep blue Aegean Sea. In map view the island is crescent-shaped, with gentle slopes on its east side dipping toward the Aegean Sea, and steep cliffs plunging into the caldera (crater) to the west. The trail follows the crater rim from Fira (pronounced fee-rah) to Oia (oye-ah). Fira and Oia can get very crowded, but the trail in between these towns was not busy at all when we hiked it.
The trail starts in the town of Fira, at the bus station. From here, follow the road upwards (clogged with parked cars) to the Orthodox Metropolitan cathedral. The square in front of the cathedral offers the first view of the caldera. Turn right and follow the crowds up the street. Soon the souvenir shops close in, and there are some high-end stores catering to the many cruiseship tourists that wader around here. Some of the cruiseship tourists have themselves transported up to Fira by donkey. It is surreal to watch the donkeys lift their tails in front of sterile-looking shops selling Rolex watches and Swarovski crystals.
At a junction head left, going downhill, and at the next junction head right, going uphill again towards the upper cable car station. From here the routefinding is easy: just follow the crater rim.
The trail goes around a small headland and enters the town of Firostefani at St. Gerasimos church. By now the crowds have thinned out and the surroundings are more peaceful.
In this area are some very fancy accommodations, and you can have a peek at what 800 Euro a night might buy you.
There are some really pretty churches along the trail. I’ve put some photos in a separate post.
We enjoyed peeking around corners and looking at Santorini’s pretty architecture.
Beyond Firostefani the trail climbs up to Imerovigli, the highest point on the trail. Here there is a spur trail to Skaros Rock, a promontory.
It was a hot day. We stopped at a little grocery store to get popsicles.
Just beyond Imerovigli there are fewer buildings. There are just a few hotels on the right, and on the left the there are wide-open views into the caldera.
The trail then goes through a dip up to a chapel. From here a road leads around a hill to a second chapel.
We found some shade here and stopped for a drink of water.
At the second chapel there is a sign pointing to Oia.
The trail leads around a hillside, and there are far-reaching views into the caldera.
The trail heads down steeply to hotel San Antonio, where it meets the main highway going to Oia. Here you must walk along the busy main road for several hundred meters. Behind a snack shop the trail diverges from the main road and wanders through abandoned terraced fields before it begins the climb the final hill before Oia.
There is some nice desert vegetation here. The views back towards Imerovigli is very impressive as well. Those with an eye for geology will notice that cliff-forming andesitic lava flows alternate with crumbly volcaniclastic rocks. This layered nature indicates it’s a stratovolcano. At the top of the hill is a chapel (no surprise), and it’s a good spot to wipe the sweat off of your brow before descending to Oia.
We started the descent to Oia.
There are some nice views of Oia on its approach.
The outskirts of Oia are somewhat ramshackle, compared to the sleek and expensive hotels in the center of town.
We stopped at a taverna for a late lunch.
After lunch we explored Oia.
Oia has several windmills.
We walked to the fort at the tip of the island. We then took the bus back to Fira.
Even though Santorini is quite a small place, it has an international airport with flight connections all over Europe. We flew in from Athens on Ryanair. There is also a ferry from Piraeus (Athens). From Santorini there are ferries to smaller islands in the Cyclades.
There is an efficient bus service on Santorini, and it’s a good way to get around. All buses connect in Fira (hub). Just hop on and an attendant will come and sell you a ticket. Given that Santorini is quite small and parking is limited, there really is no reason to rent a car. There are also quads available for rent. I think they are a nuisance.
There is a lot of accommodation available on Santorini. On the crater rim in Fira, Imerovigli, and Oia are fancy hotels catering to honeymooners. These hotels are very expensive. Prices start at about 300 Euro per night and go north from there, sometimes running well in excess of four figures per night. This will get you one of the romantic whitewashed buildings with views of the caldera. Be aware that Fira has discotheques that blast music from midnight to sunrise.
Backpackers tend to flock to the town of Perissa where there is a plethora of lower-priced accommodation. Perissa is on the shore of the Aegean Sea, away from the crater rim. There is a long black-sand beach. Fira is just a short busride away.
We stayed in hotel Olympia, on the outskirts of a town called Karterados, just down the hill from Fira. It was a wonderful little hotel. We had a simple but comfortable room. Our peaceful terrace looked out towards vineyards and the Aegean Sea to the east. There was a nice pool. We highly recommend this place. The price (in May) was about 40 Euro per night. The owner of the hotel is a very friendly, kind, and hospitable gentleman. He likes to chat with his guests. In fact he told us he’s offended when guests walk by his desk and don’t acknowledge him.
The hotel itself is set back from the main road and is in a vineyard. Fira was about a 20 minute walk uphill, so close enough to go watch the sunset.
At the junction with the main road is a restaurant called Taverna Kyra Niki. The food here was quite good, and our Bulgarian waiter was very friendly. Just up the road towards Fira is a bakery that’s very popular with locals. It’s in a modern-looking shop. The baked good are really really good. You can get coffee and pastries for breakfast, and you can buy spanakopita to go.
We celebrated our wedding anniversary at Naoussa, a traverna in Fira with sunset views.
We watched the sun approach the horizon, turning the clouds orange.
After sunset the lights in Fira came on, one by one.
In all, considering how touristy Santorini is, I think we really scored when it came to our accommodations and choices of places to eat.
See my photo gallery of Santorini’s churches.