Fira is the isalnd’s capital and the livelier village of the two with much more nightlife and shopping.
Oia is the more luxurious village with romantic restaurants and high-end shopping.
Both Oia and Fira have some great places to eat (and some average ones), but I would give a slight edge to Oia for the quality of restaurants. Oia has more fine dining restaurants, while Fira has more casual restaurants.
Both Oia and Fira have great views of the caldera – very different perspectives, but I couldn’t say one was better than the other.
Both Oia and Fira have good sunset views (though the best are in Imerovigli). In Fira most hotels on the caldera have a pretty direct view of the sunset over the caldera. In Oia, most hotels don’t have a direct view of the sunset, and you need to leave your hotel and take a short walk to see the sun set into the water. Hotels in Oia with sunset views do not face the caldera.
Easier to explore the island from: Fira is more central and makes getting to the southern parts of the island easier and faster. This matters more if you’re getting around by bus as Fira is the hub for all bus routes on the island which means passengers taking a bus from Oia to the beaches will need to change buses in Fira (a bit of a hassle). If you rent a car then there’s not as big of a difference.
Renting a car: Slightly easier in Fira, since there is a direct bus from the port or airport to the Fira but station, and then it’s just a short walk to most car rental lots. If you pick up the car at the airport (recommended), then it doesn’t matter which town you stay in.
Closer to the airport and ferry port: Fira is about 10 minutes from the airport and 15 minutes from the ferry port, and there is direct bus service. Oia is about 30 minutes from both the airport and ferry port by car. If traveling by bus, you’ll have to transfer in Fira, making the whole journey closer to an hour.
Closer to the beaches: Fira is about 15 minutes closer than Oia to the beach towns. As I say, this isn’t a big deal if you have a rental car, but makes a bigger difference if you’re getting around by bus.
ATMs are easy to find in both Fira and Oia. Both towns have grocery markets but Fira has an actual grocery store. If you need to do laundry Fira is better.
Fira vs Oia – A Comparison
Fira is up at the top, the Old Port (only used for cruise ships, not ferries) is at the bottom. To get up to Fira from the Old Port, there’s a choice of cable car, walking, or riding the donkeys.
Looking up at Oia from Ammoudi Bay. Ammoudi Bay is known for its fresh seafood restaurants and as a popular port for caldera sailing trips. It’s a short walk down to Ammoudi and a lot of steps back up. (The restaurant will call you a cab, if you’re not up for the hike.)
View of Oia village, looking northwest from Perivolas Hotel.
View of Fira from looking south from Firostefani. The large, white-domed building is the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral, Fira’s most recognizable landmark.
This is Skaros Rock in Imerovigli, which divides (to me, at least) the north and south points of the caldera. I point it out because you can see Skaros from Oia and Fira, and it appears in many pictures on this page. It offers a good landmark to get your bearings.
View of Fira, looking south from Skaros Rock.
View of Oia, looking north from Skaros Rock.
Looking north towards Skaros Rock from Kavalari Hotel in Fira. Oia village is in the background behind Skaros.
View from a church in Oia looking south towards Skaros Rock with Fira on the right and Imerovigli on the left.
The main, marble footpath in Oia – flat, wide, and stroller-friendly – runs pretty much the entire length of the village (with one main interruption just past Canaves hotel).
In contrast, the cobblestone main path in Fira is not as stroller-friendly.
Whether in Oia or Fira, it’s easy to get (happily) lost in the paths and stairwells of Santorini.
One of the highlights of a trip to Santorini is walking the footpath between Oia and Fira. It doesn’t matter whether you walk from Oia to Fira or from Fira to Oia.
Another sign for the footpath along the caldera. This is in Firostefani (the village closest to Fira).
From Fira to Imerovigli you’re largely walking on town sidewalks. North of Imerovigli on the way to Oia, the stone path gives way to a dirt hiking trail.
Imerovigli is about half-way between Fira and Oia and has the best views of any town along the caldera (because of its higher elevation).
Perissa is the best sandy beach in Santorini. It’s definitely easier and closer to get here from Fira than Oia.
Kamari is a pebble beach and is the most family-friendly swimming spot close to Fira. Oia is 20 minutes farther from Kamari than Fira.
I love going to the open air cinema in Kamari, near the beach. It’s quite a bit easier to do this from Fira than Oia.
Oia is farther from the beaches of Santorini, but still has great swimming at Ammoudi Bay below. There’s no beach here – just jump from the rocks. Ammoudi is best known for its fantastic seafood restaurants, the best on the island.
Fira has far more nightlife, bars, and clubs than Oia.
Koo Club and Enigma are the big dance clubs in Fira. Oia has only one stand-alone bar (most restaurants have full bars, though) but no clubs.
Marykay’s Bar (aka Hassapiko) is the only real bar in Oia. It’s tiny but gets good and lively after midnight.
Oia is the most popular town on the island to watch the sunset from. Here is the sunset view as seen from the Byzantine castle ruins, Oia’s most popular sunset viewpoint.
Though Fira is busier than Oia throughout the day, it is quieter than Oia during the sunset. This is the view from Tropical Bar with Franco’s and Tango Bars in view.
There’s plenty of shopping in both Fira and Oia, but Fira has more shops and more variety in the winding streets inland from the caldera.
Though Oia has less shopping overall, the shops here tend to be more high-end. Most luxury shops are lined up along Oia’s wide, marble, pedestrian path.
Fira is the hub for buses getting around the island. If you’re in Oia and want to go anywhere on the island (besides Imerovigli and Firostefani) then you have to switch buses in Fira.
Donkeys are everywhere in Santorini, though riding them is not recommended, as they are often overburdened. Here are some donkeys making their way through Fira.
Another donkey carries luggage through Oia’s busy lanes.
Fira in Pictures
The view from Fira looking north towards Skaros Rock and Oia.
View from Fira facing west over the caldera toward the old port and volcano.
View from Fira facing southwest toward the volcano and the Akrotiri peninsula. Photo taken minutes after sunset. The tiny light at the tip of the peninsula is the Akrotiri lighthouse.
Fira has two main streets streets. One (seen here) runs along the caldera’s edge, passing by the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral, higher end hotels with views, and sunset-view restaurants and bars.
A peek inside the cathedral, covered in gold and frescos.
The other main street is inland from the caldera lined with fun, lively collection of budget hotels, affordable shops, and great cheap food.
The taxi and bus stations in Fira are to the east of this inland street. The taxi station is closest to the main road with the bus station right behind it, seen here in the back left.
The bus station in Fira is the main hub for the whole island. Every bus route in Santorini begins and ends here.
Between Fira’s two main streets, there is a tangle of narrow lanes brimming with shops, bars, and restaurants.
Just below Fira village is the Old Port, used primarily by cruise ships tendering passengers ashore for day trips.
The port connects to the village by the Karavolades Stairs, which zigzag along the side of the caldera for 1 km. Many people walk down…
…then take the cable car back up to Fira.
Riding a donkey up or down is also an option, but this practice is highly controversial now, as the animals are not treated well.
Lots of cafes, restaurants, and hotels look out onto the caldera in Fira.
The best restaurant with a view in Fira: Naoussa.
Ouzeri is my favorite restaurant in Fira.
If you’re looking to save money on food nothing beats a gyro. Lucky’s in the heart of Fira has the best gyros and souvlaki on Santorini.
Tropical Bar (along with Franco’s and PK Cocktail Bar) is one of the best places to watch the sunset in Fira.
Fira is busier than Oia but there are still plenty of quiet spots in Fira.
Oia in Pictures
View from Oia’s Four Bells at the western tip of the village, facing west toward Thirassia Island.
View from the caldera’s edge close to the center of Oia, facing south over Armeni Port, also toward Thirassia Island.
View from the eastern end of Oia, facing west toward the village with Armeni Port below and Thirassia on the left.
View from Mystique Hotel in Oia, facing east toward the end of the village.
Oia is the most romantic and exclusive village in Santorini, and is best-loved for its spectacular sunset views. This shot of the windmills was taken from the Byzantine castle ruins, perched over Ammoudi Bay.
The castle ruins on the rim of the caldera are the main spot to watch the sunset in Oia. Get there early for the best views, bring a bottle of wine, and have fun.
Just don’t expect to have it all to yourself.
Visiting Ammoudi Bay is the other major highlight of staying in Oia. The restaurants here are all amazing, serving the freshest fish in Santorini. This is also the closest swimming spot to Oia village.
Ammoudi Bay is usually then end point of the sunset sailing cruises in the caldera.
Both Fira and Oia have lots of steps but the main walkway in Oia is flat and much better for getting around with a stroller.
The footpath passes by several luxury hotels, high-end shops, great restaurants, and the picturesque, blue-domed Church of Panagia Platsani.
A maze of narrow paths with more boutique shops, hotels, and cafes branches out from the main path down the side of the caldera.
Even more shops and some of Oia’s best restaurants are found along the winding lanes in the main village.
The best restaurant in Oia is charming Candouni, serving local dishes and paired with live music most evenings.
The best restaurant with a sunset view in Oia is Elinikon.
The best gyros in Oia are at PitoGyros. They’re not as legendary as Lucky’s in Fira, but they’re still fantastic.
Marykay’s/Hassapiko, in the building on the left, is the only stand-alone bar in Oia.
Atlantis Books in Oia is a fabulous little bookstore in Oia, consistently recognized as one of the world’s best bookstores. Don’t miss it.
Lioyerma pool in Oia. Nice size and good views. It’s the only “public” pool in Santorini and nice if your hotel doesn’t have a pool. No fee, you just have to buy something to eat or drink. Strangely, it never gets all that busy.
The main driving road on the backside of the village is where you’ll find Oia’s bus station, with routes bound for Imerovigli, Firostefani, and Fira. You’ll need to change buses in Fira to reach any other villages, the ferry port, or the airport.
For those staying at the eastern end of Oia, it may be faster to walk to the smaller bus stop at the edge of nearby Finikia village, seen here. All buses between Fira and Oia stop here.
Just north of Finikia is the fantastic Domaine Sigalas winery, available for tasting flights, tapas, and tours. This is one of the best wineries on Santorini and sits about a 30-minute walk of a 5-minute drive from the heart of Oia village.