Domes and donkeys: Things to do in Fira, Santorini

Things to do in Fira, Santorini, Greek Islands

Santorini is Greece’s postcard island. The place where photos of bougainvillea-strewn terraces, blue-doored houses and white-domed churches come to life. The island’s main town is Fira (or Thira) and if you visit Santorini, you’re guaranteed to pass through. It’s where cruise ship tenders land and where the majority of the hotels, nightlife and shopping are. The town is perched on top of a 260-metre-high cliff overlooking the blue waters of the Aegean. The views are so spectacular you could probably spend your days sitting on a terrace soaking them up. But views aren’t all it has to offer – here are my favourite things to do in Fira, Santorini.

Read more: The ancient city of Akrotiri: Santorini’s Pompeii

The best things to do in Fira, Santorini

Caldera views in Fira Santorini

The winding donkey path to Fira from the cruise port

Escape the crowds in the backstreets

There’s no doubt that Fira is one of Santorini’s busiest spots, and when three or more cruise ships are docked at once the streets can be packed solid. But if you head away from the main shopping area it doesn’t take long to find a quiet spot. There’s a maze of winding backstreets to explore, passing hidden chapels, arching doorways and sunbathing cats.

Follow the caldera northwards to the neighbouring village of Imerovigli. Or if you have time, carry on along the 7.5-mile cliff path from Fira to Oia. It takes three and five hours to walk (depending on how many photo/baklava stops you make) and there’s not much shade, so late afternoon or early morning are the best times. The route is a mixture of pavements and rough mule paths, with a string of picturesque churches and stunning views along the way.

Spectacular views from Fira Santorini, Greece

An archway into the blue in Santorini

Learn about Santorini’s history

Santorini hasn’t always been this picture-perfect slice of Greek whitewashed perfection. The island has a long and dramatic history, and there are a couple of museums in Fira where you can find out more about it. Santorini was originally inhabited by the Minoans until a huge volcanic eruption blew the middle right out of the island and formed the caldera.

The ancient city of Akrotiri, in the south of the island, has only recently been excavated after being buried by ash from the eruption. Some of its artifacts are on display at the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, which also has exhibits about the island’s geology. After the eruption Santorini was eventually recolonised and occupied by a whole series of invaders over the years including the Phoenicians, Dorians, Romans and Ottomans. The Santorini Archaeological Museum displays relics like sculptures, ceramics and carvings from different periods of island history.

Minoan artefacts in Santorini archaeological site

Minoan artefacts at Akrotiri

Watch the sunset

The village of Oia is Santorini’s most famous sunset spot, but Fira does a pretty good version too. Oia is the place to go for the classic view of church domes and windmills silhouetted against an orange sky, but it also has the crowds to go with it. So you need to get there well in advance to bag a prime Santorini sunset spot. In contrast it’s easy to find a quiet place in Fira and even at the main sunset viewpoints there’s normally only a small group of people.

With so many hotels along the caldera in Fira, if you’re staying in town you often have a terrace where you can watch sunset with a glass of wine. Otherwise stop by a cliffside bar for a sundowner with a view as the sun sinks into the Aegean. Or if that still sounds too crowded, get up for sunrise instead when the sky glows pink and you have the place almost to yourself.

Santorini sunset views from Fira (Thira)

A Santorini sunset from Fira

Head out on the water

For a totally different perspective on Fira, take to the water on a Santorini boat trip. From sea level the cliffs tower high above and you can see the layers of different coloured rocks making up the island’s unique geology. And from a distance the mass of white buildings almost looks like a sprinkling of snow on top of the cliffs. There are a range of boat trips available, from luxury yachts perfect for a Santorini honeymoon to traditional sailing boats.

Watch the sunset from the water, sail and swim along the island’s coastline or visit the island of Nea Kameni in the centre of the caldera. This is the heart of the volcano and is still active, so you can smell the sulphur and see the steaming vents. There are also hot springs and mud baths on the island of Palea Kameni, and a hot water beach in Agios Nikolaos bay.

Views of Oia from a Santorini boat trip

Santorini from the water

Try some local wine (or beer)

Wine’s been grown on Santorini back since the time of the Romans. You won’t see the traditional rows of vines here though. Instead the vines are grown coiled up in a dip in the black volcanic soil which protects them from the wind and heat. You’ll find whites made from local grape varieties like Assyrtiko, Athiri and Aisani, as well as rosés and reds. There’s also a special vin santo sweet wine that’s made from sun-dried grapes.

Most wineries are in the south of the island, but just outside Fira is Santos Winery where you can do a tour and tasting on their caldera view terrace. Or if beer’s more your thing then try a donkey. Local craft brewers Santorini Brewing Company produce three beers – Yellow Donkey, Red Donkey and Crazy Donkey (a 6% IPA). They’re surprisingly hard to track down in the shops but you can see the brewers in action and stock up at their brewery just outside Fira.

Baklava in Santorini Greece

Baklava in Santorini – Greek food heaven

Feast on Greek food

You’ll find all the Greek classics like moussaka, kleftiko, spanakopita and Greek salad at Santorini’s restaurants. But there are also local Santorinian specialities to try when you visit the island. One of them is fava – a yellow split pea puree served with olive oil and lemon juice. You’ll also find keftedes (meatballs) and the vegetarian version ntomatokeftedes (tomato fritters). These are made with Santorini’s local tomatoes, a sweet, bright red fruit the size of a cherry.

There’s also saganaki, a fried cheese which is served with honey, and melitzanosalata, a paste made from unusual white aubergines. And leave plenty of room for dessert – you can’t go to Greece and not eat baklava, thin filo pastry layers filled with nuts and soaked in sticky syrup. Some of the our favourite places to eat in Fira were Argo and Parea Tavern. Or if you want to learn to cook Santorini-style yourself, you can take a cookery class.

Boat in Fira Santorini

A boat with a view

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Things to do in Fira, the main town on the Greek island of Santorini, home to donkeys, domed churches and spectacular views. #Fira #Santorini #Greece #GreekIslands #CycladesThe top things to see and do in Fira, Santorini, a Greek island escape packed with domed churches, spectacular views, boat trips, sunsets and tasty food. #Fira #Santorini #Greece #GreekIslands #Cyclades

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  • Reply
    December 9, 2015 at 9:32 pm

    Gorgeous photos and a wonderful article! Definitely on my list now, thanks!

    • Reply
      December 13, 2015 at 10:29 pm

      Thanks – it’s such a photogenic spot, I couldn’t stop snapping away!

  • Reply
    December 9, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    Looks like a wonderful place to relax and enjoy the sights. On my list!

    • Reply
      December 13, 2015 at 10:32 pm

      It is just gorgeous, I spent lots of time on a terrace staring out at that blue view!

  • Reply
    December 10, 2015 at 5:11 am

    Great photos and informative article, always wanted to see Santorini. Maybe someday!

    • Reply
      December 13, 2015 at 10:33 pm

      Thanks, hope you get to make the trip out there sometime soon!

  • Reply
    Claire Walter
    December 10, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    We spent a couple of days on Santorini — hiked to Oia on the first, visited the museums/churches in Thira on the second. The first was sublime — just like the pix here. Took the cheap bus back to town. Two cruise ships were in on day two. Fortunately (for us), most passengers were shopping, so the museums were relatively tranquil. If there had been a third day, we would have spent it visiting wineries.

    • Reply
      December 13, 2015 at 10:34 pm

      Sounds like you fit a lot in! I’d love to come back and tour some more of the wineries and explore some of the smaller villages.

  • Reply
    December 10, 2015 at 6:02 pm

    Santorini is definitely on my bucket list! Great article and thank you for sharing all of this information.

    • Reply
      December 13, 2015 at 10:34 pm

      You’re very welcome – and hope you get to visit soon!

  • Reply
    December 11, 2015 at 2:05 am

    Great Article! I look forward to going here one day. Thank you for the great photos and information.

    • Reply
      December 13, 2015 at 10:37 pm

      Thanks, it is a beautiful island, hope you get to see it someday.

  • Reply
    December 15, 2015 at 9:18 am

    One of Greece’s most popular islands, I believe. And for a good reason. Beautiful photos, Lucy! I can’t help looking at them for a long time. 🙂

    • Reply
      December 15, 2015 at 9:48 pm

      It is a really popular place but you can really see why! Despite it being busy I still loved it and it’s such a great place for photography.

  • Reply
    December 17, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    Great photos. Excellent place, I have never seen like this before. Would like to visit there.

    • Reply
      December 20, 2015 at 6:04 pm

      Thanks, it’s a beautiful place!

  • Reply
    December 20, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    Santorini always looks so stunning, I have been to a few Greek Islands but not here yet. Would absolutely love to go there one day.

    • Reply
      December 20, 2015 at 6:05 pm

      It does get a lot of hype but I wasn’t disappointed at all, it really does look like the postcard photos!!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    December 20, 2015 at 10:48 pm

    Your photos of Santorini are gorgeous – such soft, muted colours in the sunset shots and vibrant crisp Greek blues in the daytime images. Santorini is so on my wishlist 🙂

    • Reply
      December 21, 2015 at 3:26 pm

      It really is ridiculously photogenic – we only had a couple of days there this time but I managed to take so many pictures!

  • Reply
    Mrs Ayla's Adventures
    May 9, 2016 at 10:16 am

    Looks so beautiful Lucy! I’m hoping to visit at the beginning of September (hope it won’t be unbearably crowded!) and I can’t wait to see it for myself 🙂

    • Reply
      May 13, 2016 at 11:24 pm

      It is just as stunning as you imagine! September should be good too, we were there in October and the weather was lovely. It can get pretty busy – especially when there are a few cruise ships in at once – but you can usually find a quiet spot off the main paths.

  • Reply
    Chanel | Cultural Xplorer
    July 18, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    Great tips! I love Santorini, it is so beautiful. Next time I go back I will definitely get out on the water.

    • Reply
      July 25, 2017 at 7:56 pm

      It is such a beautiful place – a real postcard destination!

  • Reply
    bobbie brown
    June 23, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    Yes, Santorini is beautiful but my family will never visit again after seeing the donkey abuse on the steep climb (over 550 steps and some 1,000 feet) up to the town of Fira. Why do overweight tourists think this is fun? The animals are beaten by their owners, do not have rest breaks, no shade or no water these long days in the scorching sun. Some poor donkeys & mules have dropped dead on these slippery steps. If you must visit Santorini use the cable car instead!!

    • Reply
      June 25, 2018 at 11:14 am

      I didn’t ride the donkeys either (the cable car queue was really bad but the walk up isn’t too bad) – they didn’t look in a good condition and it’s really unnecessary. There are moves around at the moment to ban it and I would be happy to see it go.

  • Reply
    Nick @
    September 26, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    Santorini is definitely a magical place and there are a lot of things to do. If you only have a short time on the island, you can still find nice ways to enjoy it. For example, the walk from Fira to Oia is picturesque and interesting. You’ll have just enough time to do it even if you are only on the island for the day.

    • Reply
      September 28, 2018 at 2:24 pm

      Yes you can fit a lot in even with a short time!

  • Reply
    Nick @
    October 3, 2018 at 5:24 pm

    When visiting Santorini, spending time in Fira is a must! If you have a chance, taking a donkey ride is an experience you need to have. After all, it’s the traditional way to get around on the island!

    • Reply
      October 5, 2018 at 9:39 am

      Fira is a great place! I would urge caution with the donkey rides though, especially on the route up from the port – there has been a lot of concern about animal welfare standards and how they are treated so it’s not something I would be comfortable with at the moment until those have been addressed.

  • Reply
    ramon perry
    November 14, 2018 at 10:29 pm

    So much to do, so little time… We stayed in Fira 3 nights at the most expensive hotel I’ve every paid for in my life. It was so nice that we never wanted to leave. Perfect sunset, perfect views, and perfect comfort. (Asma suites if you want to look it up). Whilst I’d love to do the history thing, I was also supremely happy to stay home and watch the sunset. Nice article Judy and great pics.
    This has to be the most photogenic island on the planet. Oh actually I did do the wandering around the backstreet thing, often. Highly recommended.

    • Reply
      November 28, 2018 at 8:18 pm

      Thank you, yes it is a beauty of a place!

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