Where to stay in Santorini: best towns and villages
When you travel full-time, it seems that each new location, beach, seaside is practically no different from the previous ones. This, however, cannot be said about the towns and villages in Santorini Island, where each village, even the smallest one, has its distinct character and charm.
Towns and villages facing caldera are located on the west coast of Santorini island:
The heart and capital of Santorini Island is Fira, a city built as an amphitheater around the volcano crater. Fira is an ideal place for recreation, shopping, excursions and nightlife. The city can be reached from the main port by a cable car, on foot, or even on a donkey! Along with the village of Oia, Fira is considered to be one of the most picturesque places not only in Santorini, but also in the whole Greece.
Couples will certainly appreciate the sunset in the “romantic capital” of Santorini – Oia. This village is also known as the cultural center of the island - there are several good art galleries, and the streets are full of colorful mansions and houses. Oia is located 11 km from the capital of Santorini.
If you want to be close to the capital but looking for something quieter and less hectic, consider Firostefani or Imerovigli. Both villages offer an amazing panorama of the caldera. Firostefani village is a walking distance away from Fira and Imerovigli is located 3 km from from the capital and harmoniously combines neat white houses with wild natural landscapes.
9 km from the capital is another popular settlement - Megalochori, one of the most charming on the island. Almost all the buildings and roads that you see there were built in the 17th century, and have not changed much since. By the way, in Megalochori you will find one of the most beautiful churches on the island and three largest wine estates of Santorini, which you can visit with a guided tour.
Villages in the middle of Santorini island:
Interested in history? Get on a tour of the Venetian castles in the villages of Pyrgos and Emporio, where you can also enjoy a leisurely walk through narrow cobbled streets. Most of the houses in Pyrgos were also built during the Middle Ages, hence the village is considered the main “medieval” jewel of Santorini. Emporio enjoys a well-deserved reputation of a local maze due to dozens of narrow streets with dead ends, turns, steps, arches and bends - you can wander there for hours!
Villages and beaches on the east coat of Santorini island:
For a beach holiday, we would not recommend Santorini as such, however, the best beaches can be found in the villages of Perissa, Perivolos and Kamari. Families with little kids often stay there as the rest of the island is too rocky and steep for children to walk.
In the village of Akrotiri, you should definitely visit the local lighthouse, Kokkini Paralia beach (also known as Red beach) and the archaeological park with the same name (open daily except Mondays).
The capital of Santorini is a beautiful city of Fira, which stretches along the caldera - the crater of a sleeping volcano. A special feature of Fira is, above all, the architecture of the city - an incalculable number of narrow streets, descents and ascents, alleys and stairs with white houses placed almost on top of each other. Well, you probably have seen all this beauty in the photos more than once, it's time to see it with your own eyes!
Fira is not only administrative, but also touristic center of Santorini. It is here that you will find the best transportation hub (you can get to any point on the island by bus or a rent car) nightlife, cafes restaurants and bars. In addition, Fira offers a lot of hotels with magnificent view of caldera especially fascinating during sunset. The bulk of the shops and bars are located on Ipapantis Street. Also there is a number of hotels without any view which makes them cheaper – a good choice if you are visiting the island on a budget.
You will also notice that there are a lot of small churches and temples in the city - do not miss the chance to look into some of them. In particular, one of the most interesting one would be Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral.
Another highlight of Fira is a so-called "medieval district" with all the old mansions concentrated there. For example, Megaro Gyzi - Gyzi Palace of the XVII century, which now functions as an art center and regularly organizes various exhibitions, events and master classes. Open May-October, Monday-Saturday: 10:00–16:00, closed on Sunday. And every year in August from the 1st to the 20th, the Megaro Gyzi Festival is held there.
You can also go to Santozeum Museum founded by Petros Nomikos, where you can look at exhibitions of photographs, frescoes and reproductions of paintings by local artists.
As for the local museums, there are two of them in Fira:
1. The Museum of Prehistoric Thera which contains the oldest archaeological finds of the island, for example, a fresco from the 17th century BC.
Opening hours: Mon, Wed-Sun 09.00–16.00. Entrance fee: €3
2. The Archaeological Museum, which, in fact, is an analogue of the previous one. However, it has a larger collection - marble products, ceramics, jewelry, etc.
Opening hours: Tue-Sun 09.00-16.00. Entrance fee: € 3.
In the vicinity of the city you can also visit local archaeological sites - Akrotiri and the ruins of Ancient Fira, in fact, the only surviving evidence of the existence of prehistoric settlements on the island.
In the village of Akrotiri, you should definitely visit the local lighthouse, Kokkini Paralia beach (also known as Red beach) and the archaeological park.
Opening hours of the archaeological park: Tue-Fri 08.30–15.00. The ticket is quite pricey – €8 per person, but this price also includes visits to two local museums (the Archaeological and Prehistoric).
From Fira you can take a tour to caldera or wine tours and tastings – a popular tourist entertainment on the island.
Pro tip: make sure to take sport shoes with non-slippery soles – otherwise the cobbled streets and steps of Fira can be a real torture for you! Also keep in mind that the capital of the island and nearby beaches are not suitable for families with children - in this case it is better not to stay near the caldera, but somewhere in the southern side of the island, in particular, near Perissa beach, which is the most suitable for families with little children.
Getting lost in an unfamiliar city is not at all what tourists expect from a trip, is it? However, you would love to go out there, get lost on the streets of Oia and wander there for a long, long time. It doesn’t matter where you go: along a picturesque narrow street, towards a small blue-domed chapel, down a steep staircase past white houses or turn into an alley surrounded by flowers, - everything around is picture perfect and magical. You will be looking around convincing yourself that this is all real, that you are not in a movie or in a dream.
In Oia nobody rushes anywhere, this place magically soothes and relaxes, the passage of time here really slows down. You won’t meet people who are fussing around or being loud. Even dogs, spoiled by the attention of vacationers, sleep all day on the warmed streets.
You can escape the daytime’s heat in your hotel room, looking at the sea, and sipping a sweet, weeping frappe (yes, the Greek drink it all day). The hotels resemble toy houses with low vaulted ceilings, arched doors, and wooden shutters. Many of them are built right in the rock, so it's cool inside. The main thing is not to give in to your own laziness and temptation to stay in a cozy “cave” but to go wandering through the streets with many cafes, souvenir shops, and art galleries. Get ready to stop for a beautiful photo at every step, so do not hide the camera away.
Sunset in the village of Oia can only be compared with a trip to the theater. People sit outside on the railing or stones and discuss something in various languages. Some travelers prefer places in restaurants with sunset views. And when the sun starts to slowly sink into the sea, everybody watches it closely as if the time has stopped.
After seeing a sunset, people go to restaurants but be prepared that it will be really difficult for you to choose a place for dinner - there are many restaurants in Oia and they are all good. Not only the food is delicious - the waiters will meet you like an old friend and will always find a free moment to ask how you are doing. At the end of the evening, you might even be treated to a dessert or a glass of special wine.
Imerovigli is a small town 2 km from Santorini’s main town, Fira, with stunning views of the sunsets, the volcano and the resort of Oia, and with a very dramatic history. Not so long ago, this resort was famous for the picturesque area of Skaros, where the ancient Venetian castle, beautiful mansions, and administrative buildings were located. However, the infamous earthquake of 1956 brought the entire area down to the sea, turning it into a huge rock.
Along with neighboring Firostefani, Imerovigli is one of the four main locations in the Santorini caldera chain between Fira and Oia. And although it is considered to be a relatively “quiet” direction of the island, one should not expect that people will not be here: Santorini is too small for the division between “large” and “medium-sized” resorts to be clearly seen.
Once on the streets of Imerovigli, you would never say that there are only 470 permanent residents here. Imerovigli should be chosen as the base location on Santorini if you want to avoid noisy crowds of tourists under the windows, but do not want to deprive yourself of such benefits as banks, shops, and museums. Another advantage of Imerovigli is that you can find available accommodation there when Fira and Oia are already sold out.
A small village is located on the cliffs, with a panoramic view of the azure sea from almost any point.
The village has one of the most famous wine cellars on the island – “Gavalas” that invites tourists for tastings and excursions. In addition, you can visit the winery “Boutari”, located in the neighboring village of Celadya.
Another great reason to visit Megalochori is to come here for Easter. During the Easter holidays, it is here that one of the most solemn church services take place, and after that folk festivals with fairs, performances and concerts. The village is also known for its ancient Easter rite “Lazarus”, which is visited not only by tourists, but also by many Greeks from all regions of the country.
Despite its tiny size, Megalochori is a fairly developed tourist center. Here you can easily find a lot of hotels, hotels, taverns and restaurants.
The distance from Megalochori to Fira, the capital of the island, is only 9 km. You can get there by bus, taxi, rented transport, and, if you desire even on foot or by bicycle.
Pyrgos in the past was the capital of the island, but gradually lost its status, and today is one of the resort areas of Santorini. Pyrgos, by the way, was built at the highest point of the island - on the slopes of the Prophet Elias mountain, so you can enjoy a stunning view of the surroundings from there.
In the center of the village is an old Venetian fortress, surrounded by Byzantine churches and houses made of wild stone. We also recommend visiting the main church of the village - the Church of the Prophet Elijah, which is also the oldest holy place on the island, dating back to the 10th century.
When going to Pyrgos, please note that there is no beach there - this is a mountain village. If possible, we also recommend visiting the nearest village of Kasteli, which is considered one of the most romantic settlements of the island, and also go on a mountain hike - you will not regret it!
Emporio is the largest village in Santorini to have retained its medieval charm thanks one of its main attractions – medieval Kasteli, one of the five fortified castles of Santorini. There is a church dating back to the 16th century located inside the castle. Tower of Nimborio (a former watchtower) lies nearby the castle.
Another attraction is the Gavrilos hills where eight 19th century windmills and ruins of a Byzantine civilization can be found.
Perissa village is located in the close proximity to Perissa, so you can take a walk to Perissa beach.
The main advantage of Perissa beach is that it is almost the only family beach in Santorini, i.e. it is comfortable and safe to relax with children.
As you already know, or will find out on arrival to the island, Santorini consists of descents and ascents. The rocky embankments are often picturesque, but difficult to reach and windy. Therefore, the southern coast of the island is more suitable for a family holiday.
There is a relatively wide coast surrounded by low cliffs that protect it from strong winds and waves, a shallow clear sea and a very picturesque landscape. Perissa is fully equipped for a comfortable stay – there are sun beds, umbrellas, taverns with good food and drinks, and most importantly – it's easy and safe to get here.
Of course, Perissa is popular not only among families with children – young people, locals, and couples come here too. However, Perissa is rarely crowded and noisy, so nothing will prevent you from enjoying a peaceful rest.
The beach is located at the foot of Perissa village – one of the most popular resort areas on the island. The village of Perissa is located 15 km from the capital of the island – Fira and has about 500 permanent residents. Here you will find many coastal hotels with a wide range of services at affordable prices, as well as a lot of cafeterias and taverns with delicious island cuisine. Shops, car and bicycle rental centers – all this can be found there.
We also recommend visiting Perissa during the period of traditional festivals: The Festival of Sotiros (August 6), the day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven (August 15), The Festival of the Cross (September 14). Traditionally, these holidays are called “Panigiri” and on these days colorful parades, fairs, theatrical performances and mass folk festivals are held throughout the village.
Kamari beach is without a doubt one of the most famous beaches in Santorini. The beach itself is huge five-kilometer coast, located at the foot of the Kamari village.
Tourists love this beach for two reasons: a picturesque volcanic rock on the south side, which, in addition to pleasing the eye, also protects the coast from the wind. The second reason is the airfield located right at the end of the beach with the planes flying almost over the beach!
Of course, not everyone likes this noise, and not everyone dares to spend a summer day here. In particular, this beach is not very suitable for holidays with small children, and also definitely does not please those who prefer quiet and deserted beaches. Other than that, be sure that Kamari will delight you!
By the way, the Archaeological Park of Ancient Fira along with an ancient theater, is located next to Kamari.