Updated: October 12, 2016
Q. Where should I stay on Santorini?
- Best clubs and nightlife on Santorini: Fira
- Most romantic: Oia or Imerovigli
- Best views: Oia or Imerovigli
- Best shopping: Fira (then Oia)
- Best beach town on Santorini: Kamari (wonderful swimming, lots of restaurants)
- Best restaurants on Santorini: Fira or Oia
- Best sunsets on Santorini: Imerovigli
- Best for peace and solitude: Imerovigli
- Best budget choice (with caldera view): Firostefani
- Best for families: Fira (the most to do), Oia (the fewest stairs of any caldera town), or Kamari (great swimming, kid-friendly vibe)
The first and most basic decision that needs to be made is do you want to stay at the beach or in the towns along the caldera? The beaches are situated along the eastern coast of the island. The towns (Fira, Firostefani, Imerovigli, Oia) are located on the western edge of the island, are perched on the caldera cliff, and look out towards the volcano.
The caldera towns are trendier, the restaurants better, the clubs more sophisticated, and the hotels more luxurious. The beach towns are more relaxed, less expensive, and have a feel closer to the other Greek islands. Pub grub is the rule at most (but not all) of the restaurants along the beaches.
I strongly recommend that you stay in one of the caldera towns as this is what makes Santorini so special – the incredible views and almost surreal setting. But to each their own. If you do stay at one of the beach towns Fira and caldera is only 20 to 30 minutes away. Oia is an additional 20 minutes.
Fira is the island’s largest town and one of the most picturesque spots in all of Greece. Fira has the most restaurants, shops, and hotels and is the center of Santorini’s nightlife. If you like action, lots of choice for where to eat, and the most-happening clubs then this is where you’ll want to be. If you want peace and solitude then it’s not the best choice. (That said, if you’re just a little off the main street it’s pretty quiet.) Many of the hotels and restaurants in Fira have stunning views of the caldera.
Best Hotel in Fira: Aria Suites
Firostefani is a short 10 minute walk along the footpath from Fira. If you want to be close to the action of Fira but don’t want the crowds then Firostefani is great. Views are equally wonderful in Firostefani.
Best Hotel in Firostefani: Tsitouras Collection
Imerovigli is Santorini’s quietest town along the caldera and has the island’s best sunset views.. The cliff is higher here and the view of the sunset is unimpeded by any neighboring islands – which isn’t always the case in Fira and Firostefani. Imerovigli is a 20 to 30 minute walk from Fira (or a very short bus or taxi ride). Imerovigli doesn’t have a lot of restaurants, but the ones that are here are all very good to great.
Oia is Santorini’s most romantic town and has some of the island’s best hotels. It’s located at the northern tip of the island and is famous for its fabulous sunset views. The town is busy through the day up until sunset (when it’s packed in high season) but then grows much quieter. There are many restaurants in Oia but no nightlife to speak of. The southern portion of Oia looks into the caldera. The northern portion does not have views of the caldera but does have perfect sunset views. (Only a few Oia hotels have unimpeded sunset views.) The walk from Oia to Fira is beautiful but takes several hours so for the most part Oia is a taxi or bus ride away from the hub of the island.
The Island & Beaches
Santorini is small and getting from one town or beach to the next is quick and easy so you don’t have to feel limited by the place you pick. (It’s less than 30 minutes from Fira to the beaches by bus or taxi. 20 minutes longer from Oia to the beaches.)
Obviously, if you’re primarily looking to spend time lying on a beach then stay there and commute to Fira and Oia for sunsets and dinner. If you’re more interested in shopping, eating, and sightseeing then Fira, Oia, Firostefani, and Imerovigli are a better base.
The beach towns are fun, full, and busy from June to September. The weather is great for swimming from late May to early October. Outside of these months the beach towns will be very quiet and the weather usually isn’t consistently warm enough for swimming.
If you’re looking to save money then the beach towns offer better value for the money. Restaurants in Oia, Imerovigli, and Fira are also quite expensive (though there are cheaper options away from the views of the caldera). The beaches tend towards pub food that is not so pricey – though there are many exceptions.
As for Oia or Fira, both towns are very touristy but in different ways. Oia is quieter, more romantic, generally has more expensive hotels, and higher-end restaurants. After the sunset, Oia gets very quiet. Fira has the nightlife and lively restaurants. Fira is also closer to most of the beaches.
Fira itself can be quite busy (especially when a cruise ship or two are in port – though cruise passengers will return to their ships by late afternoon) so if you’re looking for peace and quiet but still want to be near the restaurants and nightlife then Firostefani and Imerovigli are good options. Both towns are uphill from Fira so the walk into town is easy and relaxing. If you find the uphill walk back to your hotel too taxing after a large dinner it’s easy to find a cab in Fira.
Similar to the beach towns, if you’re visiting outside of April to October then Oia will be very quiet – with many shops and restaurants closing from November to March. If you’re visiting Santorini in winter then Fira is by far the best choice.