There is no doubt that Santorini and Athens are two of the most famous places in Greece. Millions of tourists flock into this crescent-shaped volcanic island in the Cyclades each year to experience sensational sunset, gorgeous beaches and local charms. Most important of all Santorini has the sensational view of the multi-level white Santorini buildings. It can be a challenging to decide where is the best place to stay in Santorini. The following is a guide to help you decide on the best place to stay in Santorini when you come here to enjoy your amazing island holiday.
Tourists will often wonder where is the best place to stay in Santorini as there are so many towns and villages in Santorini with its own uniqueness. Most of people’s final choices will be either Fira or Oia. My choice will always be Oia.
Is Fira the best place to stay in Santorini?
Fira is the main caldera town with all the features of Oia, with one large drawback. It is overcrowded. The old port here is where the cruise passengers dock, it is no wonder this place is bustling with tourists. Fira is also a central for backpackers as food and accommodations are cheaper. The main bus stations in Santorini is in Fira where you can catch a bus and go almost everywhere on the island. With all this in mind Fira does sound like the perfect location to stay.
Fira maybe still the perfect place to stay in Santorini if you would like to spend time at the beaches (eg. Red Beach, White Beach, etc) and visit other towns or see archaeological sites. Fira is at the central location and could be your base to access to all the touristy places at ease with all the public transport being so accessible.
However the reason why we came to Santorini to relax. We wanted to enjoy the views over caldera and live in a traditional Cycladic house. Fira was simply too touristy for us. The shops on both sides of the narrow streets in Fira were filled with jewelries, designer brands and souvenir items. At times we had to squeeze past people just to get into a shop or an attraction in Fira. Keep in mind that we were here in low season. This place is very commercialized. It is impossible to navigate the streets by midday with so many people around.
We met a couple from USA, they booked their hotel in Fira but they bused to Oia everyday just to capture the picturesque views of Santorini where you can’t get else where in the world. The scenery is still better in Oia than Fira. I will now explain why I think Oia is the best place to stay in Santorini.
Why is Oia the Best Place to Stay in Santorini?
Oia (or Ia) is a picturesque village located on the north west edge of Santorini island. Most of the luxury resorts in Santorini are located in this area. It is famous for having one of “The Most Beautiful Sunset in the World” over the caldera.
The village itself is around 2 kilometres in length and around 70 – 100 metres above sea level. Most of the houses are built on the steep slope of the caldera and carves into it, it is also famous with the blue-domed churches and white-washed homes.
As Oia is one of the top destinations for all the cruise passengers, the town gets very busy in the afternoon. Especially an hour before the sunset, the western side on Oia Castle is packed with tourists. But after the tourists all leave afterter the last bus leaves Oia, you will have your peace in the paradise again.
Yes, you can live in Fira or other towns and bus to Oia, but by staying in Oia, you will be surprised the big difference it makes when you get up early in the morning and catch the real beauty of this place. You can only appreciate the beauty of a place when you are not tired after bus rides and pushing past other tourists just to see a scenery. This is the main reason why I think Oia is the best place to stay in Santorini. Don’t make the mistake of the USA tourists who thought their biggest mistake is to not stay in Oia because this is the most beautiful place on Santorini.
Zoe’s House: Our accommodation in Oia
You may now think staying in Oia is expensive but staying in Oia really won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Zoe’s House the accommodation we stayed at during our 3 days in Santorini. It is possibility the best place to stay in Santorini in terms of the location and dollar spent. It is located on the western side of Oia, only 5 minutes walk from the famous sunset located at Oia’s Castle. The owner Zac can organize private transport to and from airport/ port for €30, which is very convenient as it is about 30 minutes drive from the airport to Oia.
As we had four people, we decided to stay in “Zoe’s private villa” where it had two double bedrooms, a large spacious lounge with dining table and a full self-service kitchen. They even had sugar, coffee, olive oil, salt ready to go for some basic cooking! The main thing about the private villa was the fact we had a 3 level private terrace all to ourselves!
The private villas are around €230- €330 depending on the month. They also have other 2 bedroom apartments sharing a balcony as well as a honeymoon suite. These 3 options costs less than the private villa and can live up to 6 people. Which is perfect for families or a group of friends.
According to the website, Zoe’s House (official website) is a century-old traditional cave house built into the natural rock of Santorini. Cave houses are unique to these islands, I would recommend to stay in one of these houses if possible. The cave houses are naturally quite cool inside. Our cave is also fitted with an air conditioner which cools us further during the hotter days. We recently changed our refrigerant with the tdx 20 available from Bluon, it has made our house much cooler. The free Wi-Fi speed here was also acceptable.
The breakfast is provided daily by the owner’s wife. She makes fresh bread or cakes every day which are delicious. Although we were a bit disappointed at the variety as it was mainly bread, yoghurts, fruits and fresh juice. We requested for some hot breakfast but Zac (the owner) told us we could make it ourselves in the kitchen. I guess this is the type of breakfast Greeks each traditionally, however I did see better breakfasts provided by other guest houses. Nevertheless it was nice seeing the owner chatting the guests every morning and made us feel like home.
During our stay in Santorini, we really enjoyed the convenience of the location as well as the scenic views Zoe’s House had to offer. As we are here in Santorini for the caldera views, we were able to walk around after breakfast and came back in the afternoon to nap a bit before venturing out to admire the beautiful sunset then have dinner. It was the perfect location for a relaxing holiday!
My Impressions on Santorini
Brides & Glooms
Santorini is labelled as one of the most romantic places on earth. It is no surprise that couples all over the world come to this island for proposal, celebrating their anniversary and shooting weddings/engagements photos. Most couples we have seen are from China or Korea, however I do think the Korean photographers direct their clients better as the poses were more natural. During our 3 days in Santorini, we saw the same photographer photographing different couples. It turns out you can pay €1256 or more for a wedding photographer and €698 and above for a wedding ceremony.
Blue Domed Churches in Santorini
When people arrive in Santorini, the first question they usually ask is “Where are those famous blue domed churches of Santorini that’s in every postcard pictures?” The answer is EVERYWHERE! You may not get the “exact” blue-domed church you see on TV, but there are blue churches everywhere. There’s even one seen from our balcony! No wonder when I asked Zac, the owner of Zoe’s House, he looked confused and said the blue-domed churches are everywhere and pointed outside.
Food in Santorini
There is a large variety of food in Santorini. However compare to Fira, the restaurants in Oia mostly serves Mediterranean cuisines (although I still think Oia is the best place to stay in Santorini). With a hefty price tag, you can eat or drink with a beautiful sunset view in a restaurant on the caldera. To save money, the best way is stay away from beach-front locations and find somewhere to eat in the side-streets. I have written a separate blog “Our Recommendations of Food in Santorini” where you can read more about it.
Transport in Santorini
- The main bus stop in Santorini is in Fira. The cost of the bus from Oia to Fira was €1.80 per person and takes around 30 minutes. Hiking to Fira is possible and may take 3 hours, however my parents were not keen on doing it. It would’ve been a beautiful hike though.
- You can take direct flights to Santorini from Athens via Olympic Air or Aegean Airlines. During high seasons (May till October) you can also fly directly into Santorini from some European airports. From the airport you can take buses to Fira and then change to other towns. Alternatively you can take taxis directly from the airport or arrange it through the hotel. In our case we flew from Izmir Turkey transferred in Athens and then to straight to Santorini.
- To travel to and from Santorini by sea, you can board Blue Star Ferries and take the ferry from Piraeus (Athens) via Paros and Naxos to the new port of Athinio in Santorini. Our journey from Santorini to Paros costed €27.90 per person (almost 4 hours) and then Paros to Athens costed €43.31 (4 hours 45 minutes). We did stay in Paros for 3 days to break up the journey but most people did take the ferry straight into Athens. By looking at the cost of ferry, it could probably be cheaper if you fly on a discounted ticket.
- One of the main reason why we decided to stay on the islands rather than doing a cruise is because we want to enjoy the island itself. Take Santorini for example, the ship docks at the old port in Fira. You can only do a day trip to Oia with other tourists and cannot stay longer than what the cruise had planned for you. Cruise usually costs more than island hopping as well since food and accommodations are included.
- Full Itinerary: Turkey and Greece Itinerary in 17 Days
I hope this article has been useful in your trip planning to Greece. I have also written another article on Greece travel “Athens on a Budget: €12 to See Acropolis & Other Ancient Ruins“, which can be used as a reference for the capital city. For more about our most beautiful proposal at Mt Fuji, please read “The Proposal in front of Mt Fuji @ Lake Kawaguski“.
Our 33 seconds of Santorini Travel Video
Chinese Version 中文版: 聖托里尼島 Santorini: 世界最美的夕陽 Oia 伊亞