Santorini has a reputation for being one of the most beautiful, most romantic places in the world. Somehow it manages to live up to the hype. With white houses, blue-roofed churches and a spectacular clifftop walk, Santorini is worth visiting just for the views. Formed by an ancient volcanic eruption in 1450 BC, its famed caldera creates an impressive spectacle of steep, rugged cliffs, with small white villages clinging to the rocks.
The island’s warm weather means Santorini’s long summers attract many tourists. Visitors tend to gravitate towards Fira, the main town, with the stunning caldera views. Saying that, there are other places to stay in Santorini which many visitors don’t even consider, including traditional villages, glitzy cliffside retreats and more affordable coastal towns. To give you an idea of what might suit you, here’s a guide to the best areas on this picture-perfect Greek island.
The capital of Santorini, Fira is awash with restaurants, bars, and accommodation options. Situated on the island’s west coast, the capital boasts a mix of modern day living and cultural attractions, including museums.
Fira is dramatically perched on a high cliff looking out towards the water. Because of this, visitors can soak up some amazing views out over the wide Aegean Sea. The attractive capital of Santorini is made up of a jumble of typical Cycladic houses. It’s all white-washed walls and blue window frames and doorways. Despite being the modern hub of the island, Fira has managed to retain much of its traditional architecture and remains a charming place to explore.
Fira is arguably the best place to stay on the island for those looking for a vibrant slice of nightlife. The small city features numerous bars and late-night venues for night owls and party animals alike. There’s also a high-end food scene and cocktail bars for that extra touch of luxury.
In terms of cultural sights, you can spend time in Fira visiting places such as the Archaeological Museum and the museum Museum of Prehistoric Thera. One particularly atmospheric museum is Megaron Gyzi, a museum dedicated to the history of Santorini situated in a beautiful 17th-century mansion.
Due to it being the capital, Fira is also a transport hub, making it a great jumping off point for exploring the rest of the island - and for jumping on a boat for a spot of island hopping, too.
Also known by locals as Pano Meria, the town of Oia is a charmingly beautiful destination on Santorini. The town has become an iconic hotspot for those wanting to lap up the classic Cycladic architecture, and skyline punctuated with windmills.
Oia developed particularly in the 19th and early 20th century as a mariners’ town, owing to its history of seafaring. In the 1950s, Oia experienced a large earthquake that led to much of the town being damaged. Thankfully, it was rebuilt and soon became the picturesque modern-day town that visitors know and love today.
Like Fira, Oia is situated high on a cliff and the town is particularly famed for its sunsets. The view from Oia encompasses Santorini’s breath-taking caldera - and the island of Thirassia in the distance. Because of this location, there’s no beach on the doorstep: to reach Oia’s port, visitors can tackle the 300-plus steps to the waterfront. From here you can take a boat over to Thirassia island.
Oia is fairly compact in size, meaning you can explore it easily on foot, and why wouldn’t you? The streets are narrow and winding, leading past white-washed buildings with flower boxes and blue domed chapels. Despite its size, there’s a lively dining scene in Oia that visitors can indulge in; many are congregated around the pedestrianised Nikos Nomikos Street.
In terms of accommodation, Oia features a surprising selection of options. From small, family-run hotels to glitzier, five-star boutique offerings (complete with infinity pools and incredible views) there’s something for all budgets here.
Stay in Oia Mare Villas for cosy cave rooms in incredibly romantic surroundings.
Worlds away from the usual quaint island village, Imerovigli is an upscale destination for those looking for a slice of luxury during their trip to Santorini. Located only around three and a half kilometers from the capital, Imerovigli is known as the “Balcony of the Aegean”.
That’s down to its setting: perched up high on the caldera cliffs (300 meters above sea level) and with sweeping views across the sea. The houses here seem to tumble down the cliffs, creating an amphitheater-like scene.
Imerovigli is a very famous destination for sunsets on Santorini. In fact, the name itself derives from the word vigla meaning “viewpoint”. In the past, the location was strategic, allowing residents of Santorini to spot incoming pirates and marauding ships. Today, however, this location makes it one of the most popular places to experience what Santorini has to offer.
Accordingly, the accommodation on offer at Imerovigli is chic and, often, quite high-end. The many hotels and guesthouses are usually tailored towards couples, lending themselves to creating a romantic atmosphere. There’s also a good selection of equally romantic restaurants; here you can indulge in local cuisine as much as the incredible views.
Aside from the vista, there are also cultural sites and heritage to explore in the town and nearby. One example is Skaros - the site of a Venetian castle following the conquest of the islands by the Venetians in the 13th century. Other sights include charming churches and chapels scattered around the volcanic cliffs.
Stay at the Santorini Princess Luxury Spa Hotel, a small yet luxurious hotel with an infinity pool, spa and two on-site restaurants.
Quiet and traditional, Megalochori is yet another of Santorini’s charming towns. Located just a stone’s throw from the port, but practically untouched by mass tourism, this hillside settlement is an intriguing place to explore.
One of the reasons for this is the warren of tiny, cobbled streets that wind their way around the hillside location. Wandering around here, you’ll pass white-washed houses punctuated by blue doors and windows, and stumble across local squares and people going about their days.
From the hillside, there are also spectacular views of the caldera and the ocean - and accommodation with a view is definitely more affordable than in Fira, Oia or Imerovigli. Because it’s not an overly developed tourist destination, the village of Megalochori doesn’t have a whole lot to offer in terms of restaurants or bars. However, what it does have is a handful of hearty, local eateries that serve up some delectable regional dishes.
This is the place to stay if you want to get away from the big tourist crowds and large resorts - and if you want to spend time soaking up a more traditional village setting. The surrounding area of Megalochori is also known for its vineyards and wineries - more than enough reason to visit for wine buffs.
There’s actually a number of family-run accommodation and small hotels to opt for if staying in Megalochori sounds good to you. There’s also a decent choice of self-catering villas for a touch of living like a local.
Stay at Grand View for beautiful views of the famed Santorini sunset.
The coastal village of Perissa lies on the southeastern shores of Santorini. Unlike many towns on the volcanic island, Perissa isn’t located up high on the caldera cliffs. Instead, it’s nestled at the base of Mount Mesa Valno, and is home to its very own stretch of beautiful beach. This, of course, makes Perissa very popular for holidaymakers seeking some sun, sea, and sand.
Possibly because it doesn’t come with those jaw-dropping caldera views, Perissa is actually one of the more affordable places to stay in Santorini. Not only is accommodation fairly affordable - with many self-catering studios and apartments - but the cost of eating out in Perissa is also less than in other towns on the island.
But that doesn’t mean that Perissa isn’t an attractive option. This seaside village has a charm all of its own, with white-washed buildings, small churches and dramatic mountain scenery rising up from the glistening seas.
The beach is the showstopper here. It’s one of the most beautiful on the island. A Blue Flag-certified stretch of black volcanic sand, Perissa Beach is seven kilometers long and is lapped by the deep blue waters of the Aegean Sea.
The beach is backed by a lively promenade that’s bustling with bars, tavernas and shops, with plenty of beach facilities for those spending a day on the sand. And, as night falls, visitors to Perissa enjoy candlelit dinners by the beach, while live music sessions start up in late-night venues. Don’t expect nightclubs: it’s a family-friendly destination.
The hilltop village of Pyrgos lies in a idyllic muddle of vineyards and dramatic scenery. It’s the highest village on the island, surrounded by sloping valleys and winding roads. Because of this, Pyrgos affords visitors some incredible panoramic views across the island of Santorini.
Located around seven kilometers from the capital, Fira, Pyrgos is a much more low-key and off-the-beaten-track alternative. Here you can discover a slice of Santorini of the past - with a much slower pace of life to boot.
Interestingly, Pyrgos was once the capital of Santorini, which probably has something to do with its strategic location overlooking almost all of the island. Today, however, Pyrgos is somewhat sleepy and is one of the best-preserved villages on Santorini and remains down to earth.
It’s thanks to this that you won’t see too much in the way of tourist restaurants or large hotels. Instead, what you get in Pyrgos is small, family-run accommodation and local tavernas. It’s definitely the place to come for those looking for a tranquil vacation. Spend your days exploring the charming mediaeval streets, snap pictures of the awesome scenery, and while away the hours in its local restaurants and bars.
The town is also a popular destination for wine lovers. The region around Pyrgos is known for vineyards, with many fantastic wineries dotted around this part of the island. Thankfully, these are within walking distance from the village, meaning you can simply stumble back to your accommodation after sampling a few wines.
Stay at the Kastro Mansion in a beautifully-decorated apartment with views of the town and the sea, or choose a more affordable studio at the Cultural House. For the ultimate honeymoon away from the crowds, spend a few nights at the Carpe Diem Santorini.
Last Updated 2 June 2022