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Domes and donkeys: The best things to do in Fira, Santorini

Things to do in Fira, Santorini, Greek Islands

Discover the best things to do in Fira, the main town on the stunning Greek island of Santorini, from sunset views and boat trips to delicious local food and drink.

Santorini is Greece’s postcard island, with bougainvillea-strewn terraces, blue-doored houses and white-domed churches against the backdrop of the blue Aegean Sea. The island’s biggest and busiest town is Fira (or Thera), and if you visit Santorini, you’re likely to pass through. Fira is where cruise ship tenders dock and where you’ll find the majority of hotels, nightlife, shopping and services. Perched on a 220-metre-high cliff, Fira’s views are spectacular, but that’s not all it has to offer – here’s my pick of the best things to do in Fira, Santorini.

Read more: Visiting the ancient city of Akrotiri: Santorini’s Pompeii

The best things to do in Fira, Santorini

Looking down on Fira, Santorini, with Celebrity Apex cruise ship in the distance
Looking down on Fira

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 there at once the streets can be packed with people. But if you head away from the busiest spots – the area outside the Orthodox Cathedral, the cable car station and the main shopping area – it doesn’t take you long to find a quiet spot.

One of my favourite things to do in Fira is to just choose a direction, follow the path and see what I find. The town is fairly small so you can walk from one end to the other in half an hour. But along the way there’s a maze of alleyways to explore, with hidden chapels, arching doorways, tucked away viewpoints, colourful flowers and sunbathing cats.

Backstreets of Fira, Santorini
Fira’s quiet backstreets

Photograph Fira’s churches

Fira’s skyline is dotted with church domes, and they make one of the town’s best photo opportunities – as well as a peaceful, shady stop. The town’s biggest church is the 19th-century Orthodox Cathedral, which was rebuilt after being damaged by an earthquake in 1956 and contains some beautiful frescoes. Plateia Theotokopoulou square in front of the cathedral is where you’ll find locals gathered to meet, chat and shop at the small market.

There’s also a Baroque Catholic cathedral dedicated to St John the Baptist, built in the early 1800s, and a Dominican Convent where you can hear the nuns singing in the evenings at the church of Our Lady of the Rosary. The town is also dotted with other picturesque churches with panoramic views, including the Three Bells of Fira – also known as the Catholic Church of the Dormition – which is famed for its three bells and blue domed roof.

Churches in Fira, Santorini
Churches in Fira

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 few 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 Museum of Prehistoric Thera (closed Tuesday), has exhibits about the island’s geology and some of the artifacts uncovered from the ancient city of Akrotiri, in the south of the island, which has only recently been excavated after being buried by ash in the eruption. After the eruption, Santorini was eventually recolonised and occupied by a whole series of invaders including the Phoenicians, Dorians, Romans and Ottomans.

The Santorini Archaeological Museum (closed Monday) displays relics like sculptures, ceramics and carvings which have come from different periods of Santorini’s history. And the Santorini Folklore Museum has exhibits about island life, culture and traditions, including an old winery, furniture, clothing and artworks, in a cave house built in 1861.

Minoan artefacts in Santorini archaeological site
Minoan artefacts at Akrotiri

Watch the sunset

The village of Oia is Santorini’s most famous sunset spot, with church domes and windmills silhouetted against an orange sky, but it has the crowds to go with it, so you need to get there well in advance to bag a prime position. You don’t need to go that far though as Fira does a pretty good Santorini sunset too, and its easier to find a quiet place – busiest is the area in front of the Orthodox Cathedral but there are plenty of other sunset viewpoints.

With so many hotels along the caldera in Fira, if you’re staying in town you’ll often have a terrace to watch sunset with a glass of wine. Otherwise visit a cliffside bar for a sundowner with a view as the sun sinks into the Aegean. Or if that sounds too busy, get up for sunrise instead, when the skies glow pink and you have it almost to yourself.

Sunset views, one of the best things to do in Fira Santorini
A Santorini sunset from Fira

Walk (or cable car) to the old port

Fira’s old port – known as Gialos – lies at the bottom of the cliffs below the main town. If you’re visiting Santorini by cruise ship, this is where the tender boats dock so you’re guaranteed to be passing through. But even if you’re not it’s worth making the trip down to visit some of the waterside restaurants or dip your feet in the sea.

To get to the old port, if you’re feeling fit you can climb the 587 Karavolades stairs which zig-zag their way down the hillside (there’s no shade for most of the day so bring a hat and water). Santorini’s famous donkeys also carry passengers up the path, but concerns over their welfare and the tough conditions mean we wouldn’t recommend using one.

There’s also a cable car which was built in 1982 by local ship owner Evangelos Nomikos. It only takes a few minutes to travel up 220 metres to the town of Fira, with great views. One-way tickets cost €6 for adults and €3 for children. Though beware that both the path and the cable car get very busy when multiple cruise ships are docked in Fira.

The cable car from Fira to the old port in Santorini
The cable car from Fira to the old port

Hike along the caldera

For a string of spectacular views, follow the edge of the caldera northwards where a cliff path runs through the villages of Firostefani and Imerovigli to Oia. The full route is around 10km/6 miles and takes three to five hours to walk (depending on how many photo stops you make). 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 picturesque churches, hotels, restaurants and viewpoints along the way. You can also add in a diversion to Skaros Rock just after Imerovigli if you have time (allow an extra 45 minutes to an hour). Or if you don’t want to walk the full stretch, it’s only 3km/2 miles from Fira to Imerovigli.

Walking path through Imerovigli in Santorini
The path through Imerovigli

Head out on the water on a boat trip

For a totally different perspective on Fira, take to the water on a Santorini boat trip*. From sea level the cliffs tower high above you, showing the layers of different coloured rocks which make 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’s a range of boat trips from Fira, 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.

Fira Santorini as seen from the water
Fira from the water

Admire local art

As well as being the island’s capital, Fira is Santorini’s centre for art and culture, with galleries dotted around its streets. One of the best known is MATI Art Gallery, whose exhibits spill out onto the street near the Orthodox Cathedral. It was founded by artist Yorgos Kypris in 1990 and features his series of fish sculptures as well as works by local artists.

There’s also the Tzamia-Krystalla Art Gallery for contemporary Greek art, Gjopalaj Gallery’s delicate wood sculptures and the Art of the Loom Gallery for glasswork, paintings, jewellery and ceramics. And if you want to take a memento of your trip home with you, there are many art, craft, jewellery, pottery and clothing shops to shop at around Fira.

Shopping in Santorini, one of the best things to do in Fira
Shopping in Fira

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. They include fava – a yellow split pea puree served with olive oil and lemon juice – 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 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, Naoussa and Parea Tavern. Or if you want to learn to cook Santorini-style yourself, you can take a cookery class*.

Baklava in Santorini Greece
Baklava and local rosé wine

Try some local wine (or beer)

Wine has been grown on Santorini for over 3000 years. 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 to protect 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 red wines.

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 a range of beers, including their signature Crazy Donkey (a 6% IPA) which you can find for sale in Fira, or their brewery is just three miles out of town where you can see the brewers in action.

A Yellow Donkey beer from craft brewers Santorini Brewing Company
A Yellow Donkey beer

The details

When to visit Fira, Santorini

Santorini sees visitors year-round, but the busiest months are June to September when it’s dry, sunny and the sea is at its warmest – average high temperatures range from 26–29°C (79–84°F). Spring and autumn are cooler, quieter and cheaper. April, May, October and November are best for sightseeing, but prepare for the odd grey or rainy day.

Winter is the quietest time to visit Santorini, though there is a still a decent selection of hotels and restaurants open in Fira. It never gets too cold, with daytime average highs of 14°C/57°F and lows of 10°C/50°F. December and January are the rainiest months though – and it’s even been known for there to be a few snow showers on Santorini.

View across the caldera and Greek cat in Fira, Santorini
Santorini views and cats

How to get to Fira, Santorini

Santorini is one of the Cyclades islands, located to the southeast of mainland Greece, and the only way to reach the island is by plane or by boat. Santorini has an international airport with flights from various destinations around Europe, or you can fly to Athens and connect onto a local flight to Santorini from there, which takes just under an hour.

From the airport you can catch a local bus to reach Fira, which takes around 20–25 minutes and costs €1.80 one way. Buses run around once an hour in summer but are less frequent off-season. There are also a limited number of taxis on the island which cost around €25 from the aiport – though agree the fare in advance as most don’t use their meters.

You can also reach Santorini by ferry* from Athens’ Piraeus Port, which takes around 5 hours on a high-speed catamaran or 8 hours on a regular ferry. Santorini is also has ferry links to other Greek islands like Mykonos, Crete, Ios, Paros, Naxos and Rhodes, though frequencies vary. Santorini’s port is at Athinios, 8km from Fira, which you can reach by bus in around 20 minutes for €2.30, or you can take a taxi or pre-book a transfer to your hotel.

Book your travel to Santorini with Bookaway*

Boat overlooking the caldera in Fira, Santorini
Boat overlooking the caldera

Where to stay in Fira, Santorini

Fira has the best selection of places to stay in Santorini, with everything from hostels to five-star hotels. If budget allows, it’s worth staying in somewhere with a caldera view to make the most of those fantastic sunsets. The Aroma Suites* are just 100 metres from the cathedral along a quiet alley, with a roof terrace overlooking a domed church and a mix of standard and sea view rooms and cave suite rooms, two of which have their own indoor jacuzzi.

Or the Cosmopolitan Suites* are a favourite for a romantic break with their wow-factor infinity pool looking out over the caldera. It’s one of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group, with just 10 individually designed rooms, many of which have verandas or balconies, and is just a few minutes’ walk from restaurants, bars and the cable car.

Looking for somewhere to stay in Fira?*

The Aroma Suites hotel in Fira, Santorini
The Aroma Suites in Fira

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The best things to do in Fira, the main town on the Greek island of Santorini, home to donkeys, domed churches and spectacular views | Top things to do in Fira | Things to do in Santorini | Fira Santorini travel guideThe 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 | Top things to do in Fira | Things to do in Santorini | Fira Santorini travel guide

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    Darlene
    December 9, 2015 at 10:22 pm

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

    • Reply
      Lucy
      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
    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
      Lucy
      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
    Bama
    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
      Lucy
      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
    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
      Lucy
      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
      Lucy
      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
    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
      Lucy
      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
      Karen Kramer
      September 3, 2021 at 6:24 pm

      Riding the mules was one of the most fun thing we did. I suggest all to try it. They take good care of the donkeys and switch them out often. It is NOT cruel to ride a donkey. It has been a main way on transportation for century.

      • Lucy Dodsworth
        September 6, 2021 at 10:47 am

        I know there are concerns from some animal welfare organisations about the conditions the donkeys work in, but it’s one of those things that’s up to people to make their own minds up on – not something I would be comfortable doing myself though so I wouldn’t want to recommend it to others hence the note in the post.

  • Reply
    Nick @ Greekboston.com
    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
      Lucy
      September 28, 2018 at 2:24 pm

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

  • 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
      Lucy
      November 28, 2018 at 8:18 pm

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

  • Reply
    Ferne Arfin
    August 25, 2021 at 8:14 pm

    Brings back some great memories. I stayed in Imerovignli and Oia and also inland.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      September 6, 2021 at 10:51 am

      Would definitely like to go back and stay in Oia sometime too having just done a day trip this time.

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