Spectacular Santorini is one of the most stunning of all the Greek islands. The villages in Santorini are many people’s idea of a typical Greek village, with their beautiful white houses and blue church domes.
Yet Santorini villages aren’t that typical of Greece. The beautiful villages on Santorini caldera are unique, perched high on cliffs overlooking an underwater volcano crater. Most visitors spend their time in the villages with a caldera view, especially Oia and the capital of Santorini, Fira (also sometimes spelt Thira). Understandably – they are incredible. See one Santorini sunset and you’ll see why.
There’s more to the island than the caldera, and there are plenty of other places to explore on your Santorini holidays. You can also discover the coastal villages and many Santorini beaches. Or you can venture inland to uncover a Santorini secret like Emporio or Pyrgos, two gorgeous traditional Greek villages.
Want to discover more? Our guide to the best Santorini towns and villages takes you the length and breadth of this, one of the very best Greek islands.
Fira is the Santorini main town, and hub of the Santorini bus network. It’s perched precipitously on the edge of the Santorini volcano, with stupendous views over the caldera and islands.
The village of Fira is so iconic, and along with Oia has become one of the most famous of all Greece attractions. The church domes, white cube and cave houses symbolise Greece to the world in the internet age, possibly even more than the Parthenon in Athens.
You’ll almost certainly spend time in Fira during your Santorini vacation. The Santorini view is sublime, and many luxury Santorini hotels have the prime spots looking out to sea. Behind the sheen, the streets of Fira are full of souvenir shops, and the modern village around the bus station is a far cry from the caldera indeed. That said, Fira is still unmissable.
Firostefani is the northern continuation of Fira. It also fills the gap to the hilltop village of Imerovigli. It’s a lot quieter than Fira, has the caldera views, and a great choice of Santorini accommodation. All this makes it a contender for the best area to stay in Santorini, especially if you’re keen on a Santorini caldera view.
Firostefani is best known for the Catholic church known as the Three Bells of Fira. It’s one of the best views in Santorini, a simple blue dome and a belfry with three bells overlooking the sea below. It’s a popular Santorini sightseeing spot, but compared to some in Oia and Fira, it’s pretty quiet.
Imerovigli is the highest of the Santorini cliff villages. It overlooks Skaros Rock and faces almost south, so it’s the place to watch a Santorini sunset in winter. If you want the full Santorini effect, Oia and Fira are better bets.
Imerovigli is another of the best places to stay in Santorini. It’s conveniently situated between Fira and Oia, and has a great choice of Santorini hotels with caldera views.
There are several other Akrotiris around Greece: it’s a common place name, meaning ‘peninsula’ in Greek. Akrotiri is situated on the south side of Santorini island, with parts of it overlooking the caldera.
The most interesting parts of Akrotiri village to explore are the lanes below the Venetian kastelli, which is in ruins. There are several beautiful churches around it, with typical Santorini architecture, white bellcotes, blue domes and all.
Santorini’s earliest known settlement was the prehistoric village of Akrotiri, to the south of the village and just above Akrotiri beach. Many just pass through Akrotiri en route to the surrounding beaches. Red Beach Santorini is the best known and most photogenic of all the beaches in Santorini; it’s a five-minute walk from Akrotiri beach and its tavernas.
Further to the west, Black Beach Santorini – also known as Mesa Pigadia – and White Beach are two remote, spectacular black sand volcanic beaches. Another Santorini hidden gem is tucked away below the caldera cliffs. Caldera Beach is the one bona fide beach on the caldera that you can reach, and it’s a lovely spot to escape the Santorini crowds in summer.
My visit to Pyrgos turned out to be one of the highlights of our first trip to Santorini. It’s the highest village on the island, atop a mountain overlooking much of Santorini.
Pyrgos Santorini is very much a traditional Greek village, full of whitewashed houses and churches. The old village is a warren of lanes leading up to the Venetian kastelli, one of five around the island. It’s not one of the high profile Santorini attractions – I probably encountered about a dozen other visitors there all afternoon. The Cycladic architecture is breathtaking; seeing it with so few others around helps you to appreciate it even more.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Pyrgos is as beautiful as the best of Oia or Fira. If you’re spending four days in Santorini or more, this should be one of your essential Santorini day trips
Emporio is another candidate for the most beautiful Santorini village. It’s a familiar formula, like Pyrgos up the hill. You’ll find a labyrinth of narrow streets, mostly whitewashed Santorini houses, a steep hill with steps aplenty, a Venetian castle and plenty of cats slumbering in the shade. And even less visitors than Pyrgos.
Head up the hill from the modern village to the old heart of Emporio. Some of the houses and the kastelli are built into the rock of the hill summit. Some of the streets are tunnels. It’s an adventure for younger ones like our 5-year-old, and an achingly beautiful place for older souls. Seeing Emporio is one of the best things to do in Santorini, no question.
Karterados is a small village just over 2 km down the hill from Fira. It has a very different feel to the Santorini capital, surrounded by countryside and with views to the east coast of the island, where the nearest beach, Monolithos, is located. It’s also close to Santorini airport but seems a world away.
We probably wouldn’t have visited Karterados had we not chosen to stay there. We’d recommend it as one of the best places to stay in Santorini as it has such a relaxed village vibe. It’s a welcome change from the summer crowds of Fira, and the pace of life is so much slower. We sat on our balcony, watching the horses roam around the fields. We also walked through the narrow lanes, passing the brilliant whitewashed churches that stood out against the deep azure sky. And we loved hanging out for the evening in the village square, while our Little Man played with the local kids.
There’s not a great deal of Vlychada village to see – if anything, it’s really just a hamlet. However, it’s worth the short journey down to the south coast, for this is one of the most pleasant places to visit in Santorini.
Vlychada beach Santorini is one of the best beaches on the island, a wide long swathe of black sand with a stunning line of cliffs as a backdrop. Most of the beach hasn’t been developed for commercial purposes, so once you’re past the initial sets of umbrellas and sun loungers you can roam to your heart’s content.
There’s also a harbour full of beautiful colourful fishing boats and a few restaurants and tavernas on the hill above. The curious chimney next to the cliff belongs to the old Nomikos tomato factory, which is now the Tomato Industrial Museum. This gives you an intriguing insight into what was once the largest industry on the island, long before Santorini mass tourism took hold.
Perissa black sand beach is one of the best on the island. It’s also one of the most popular, and a large village has grown up around it. Perissa has some of the bigger Santorini resorts and a host of smaller hotels. Most of the action is centred around the road alongside the beach, which is lined with beach bars and restaurants.
The rest of Perissa village is more of the same. It’s well worth stopping by at Holy Cross church, a block inland from the beach, and close to the bus station. There’s also a steep uphill hike to ancient Thera, the main settlement on Santorini in Classical times.
Visiting Oia is one of the most popular things to do in Santorini. And no wonder. Oia village is one of the most beautiful in Europe. Its striking Santorini buildings, including blue church domes and cave houses , are unmistakable, seen on thousands of postcards and calendars in gift shops all over Greece.
Oia – pronounced ‘EE-ah’ is perched dramatically on cliffs in the north-west corner of the island, 12 km from Fira. The Byzantine Castle ruins are the most popular sunset spots on the island, with unforgettable views of the village. Prices tend towards the upper end and exclusive, but it’s not to be missed.
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times.