The Greek island of Santorini (Thera) is one of the most famous, most popular, and most coveted tourist destinations. And with good reason as there’s nothing in Santorini that isn’t gorgeous!
From the classic whitewashed, sugar-cube houses to the churches with the blue domes and the rich blue waters under an endless cyan sky, Santorini is a bit of paradise in the middle of the Aegean.
There are a lot of breathtaking places to see in Santorini, but the first and perhaps the best place to start is its capital, the town of Fira.
Fira has it all: stunning views, amazing sunsets, picturesque architecture, fun traditions, an amazing variety of beaches, cosmopolitan nightlife as well as rustic and laid-back corners for everyone to enjoy.
There are many things to see and do in Fira, so here are all the things you need to know to enjoy it to the fullest.
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Where is Fira?
Fire is situated at the west crescent of the caldera of Santorini. To get to it once you arrive on the island by plane or boat, you have three options. By bus, private transfer, or car. If you have arrived at the old port, there’s also the option of the cable car.
By bus: You can take a bus from the port of Santorini, Athinios, to Fira. Just make sure to inform the bus driver where you wish to go so that it’s certain that he makes a stop. Buses often only stop where there are passengers to disembark.
You can also take the bus from the airport to Fira, where the main bus station is. This is a distance of about 5 km and there are buses that leave every hour on the high season. Make sure you double-check schedules before you make plans, however, since they are always subject to change.
By private transfer (taxi, minibus, private VIP car): You can pre-arrange your commute by private transfer. If you choose this option, you can be taken directly from the port or airport to your hotel or any other spot in Fira. Just make sure you make arrangements well in advance. Click here for more information and to book your private transfer.
By car: You can rent a car relatively cheaply, and gain full independence to explore the entire island on your own terms, including Fira. You can arrange to pick up your rented car from the airport or port, so you can drive immediately. If you opt for the rented car option, make sure you have all the necessary documentation and an international driver’s license to avoid any issues.
I recommend booking a car through rentalcars.com where you can compare all rental car agencies’ prices, and you can cancel or modify your booking for free. They also guarantee the best price. Click here for more information and to check the latest prices.
By cable car: This is a unique and fun way to get to Fira if you have arrived in Santorini by cruise ship. The cable car connects the old port of Fira to the town of Fira in a picturesque and carefree trip to and fro.
A brief history of Fira
Fira was first built as a settlement in the mid-18th century. It was chosen as the new base of the Venetian nobles when the Castle of Skaros at Imerovigli, Santorini’s first capital, became virtually inhabitable due to several earthquakes. However, it was considered too exposed to become the capital due to the fear of pirates.
Fira became Santorini’s new capital at the turn of the century when the island came under the rule of the Ottoman Turks and the threat of pirates was eliminated. It has remained so ever since.
Fira’s weather and climate
Fira’s climate is Mediterranean which means relatively mild winters and dry, hot summers. The coldest months are January and February, while the hottest months are July and August. Like all of the Cyclades, Santorini and by consequence, Fira, has very strong winds almost around the year. During the summer these winds can temper the heat of the scorching sun while in the winter they may make seem the cold even colder.
Temperatures average around 10-15 degrees Celsius during the winter and around 30-35 degrees Celsius in the summer. However, during heat waves temperatures may rise as high as 40 degrees Celsius.
The sea is at its warmest in August and September but depending on your stamina, it’s comfortably cool and suitable for swimming as early as late May.
Things to do in Fira, Santorini
Santorini is famous for its gorgeous sunsets. When the sun dips over the horizon, the sea turns gold and the sky becomes an expressionist painting full of flamboyant pastels. Discover your own ledge from where to watch the sunset, walk up to the caldera, perch at the top of a beautiful terrace, or do it while fine dining in one of the exquisite restaurants of Fira. Share the unique experience with your loved one, your family, or your friends, and make unforgettable memories.
Fira is a unique combination of traditional Cycladic architecture and remnants of the Venetian era of the island.
Walk around the winding paths and several steps to discover beautiful spots in the shade or with breathtaking view, while enjoying the postcard-perfect whitewashed houses and blue-domed churches. Escape the sun inside a church and enjoy its fragrant tranquility while you cool down surrounded by exquisite Byzantine artwork.
Then let yourself wander towards the Venetian part of town, with the neoclassical houses and the occasional baroque and Italian traces adding their own charm and beauty to the scenery.
Fira boasts several churches and chapels for you to discover, but three are the big, main attractions you should keep on your list:
The Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral is a beautiful example of modern Cycladic architecture, with several great whitewashed arches and a big white dome. It looks like it’s made of sugar and is resplendent in its brilliance under the sun. Inside, crisp and beautiful byzantine frescoes and brilliant light give a sense of calm levity.
For another astounding modern Byzantine interior where the light is part of the art every day, visit St. John the Baptist’s Orthodox church.
Then, visit the fully renovated Catholic Cathedral with its warm peach color and intricate belltower with the clock. Go inside for a look at its intricate and highly artistic interior.
The Santorini Dominican Convent, located in the Venetian part of Fira, is a wonder of the medieval architecture of the island. It is still used by twelve nuns of various nationalities. There is a church, the Rozario church, within the convent walls.
There are tours of the Convent so that you can admire the wonderful baroque elements of the church and the exquisite craftsmanship throughout the convent. If you time it right, you will be enjoying the tour while listening to the nuns singing.
Fira boasts several important museums, such as the Archaeological museum of Fira with the extensive collection of pottery, artifacts of trade with all the major civilizations of the ancient era, and many more. Make sure to visit the Prehistoric Museum with the famous frescoes and all the findings of the ancient town of Akrotiri of Thera.
Visit the Santozeum for a stunning 3D display of all the frescoes discovered at Akrotiri (Lost Atlantis) and a bronze age boat model dating from around 3000 BC.
Then, there is the Museum of Folklore, housed in a restored, authentic 1681 domicile, for a comprehensive tour and time travel from Santorini’s age-old history to its modernity.
If you time it right, be there for the annual cultural festival in August that takes place at the age old “Megaro Gyzi”, built in the 1700s, also known as the Fira Cultural Center. The festival is a free entrance treasure trove of artistic and musical events.
Walk along the path at the cliff edge and see the caldera from all angles before you end up at the Nomikos conference center. If you time it right, you will enjoy the stunning views while the sunset is taking place, for an extra dose of magic.
There are also boat rides to the volcano which you can take, as well as take a dip at the shores of Nea Kameni, the small volcanic island that formed in the 1500s as a result of several successive volcanic eruptions. The waters there are always warm and have an otherworldly, orange tint. These waters are known for their therapeutic properties, and are also known as the Santorini Hot Springs.
I recommend the Santorini: 5-Hour Small-Group Catamaran Cruise that includes a swim in the hot springs and buffet lunch and drinks onboard or its sunset version.
If you actually want to walk on the volcano I suggest the volcanic island cruise.
The “gold” street and shopping
Its actual name is Ypapantis street, but everyone knows it as the “gold” street because it’s one of the most high-profile shopping streets of Fira, where all the goldsmith’s shops are. The latest and most popular designs of all kinds of jewelry are to be seen there in beautiful windows for window shopping and things to buy for all budgets.
Shopping in Fira is a special treat, no matter which of its highly commercial streets you opt to explore. You will find beautiful arts and crafts, traditional works, edible souvenirs, top fashions in clothes and accessories, and the latest the best of the international markets, designers, and innovators.
Shopping in Fira is like touring all the world markets!
Hotels in Fira, Santorini
Volcano View by Caldera Collection – This hotel boasts incredible views of the sea and the volcano. The rooms are modern and spacious and have quirky little touches to them making them very welcoming. There is also a great restaurant and bar, that offers beautiful views. Click here for more information and to check the latest prices.
Aria Suites – It offers large, spacious suites many of them also come with individual pools, that offer incredible views. One of the highlights of Aria Suites is its incredible position, which in the evening, is perfect for viewing the famous sunsets of Santorini, from the comfort of your own room. Click here for more information and to check the latest prices.
San Giorgio –San Giorgio is a simple, cozy hotel that offers great rooms. The rooms have their own unique charm with friendly touches that make for an unforgettable stay. This is the perfect place to base yourself on your visit to Fira because it offers excellent service and a great location. Click here for more information and to check the latest prices.
Restaurants in Fira, Santorini
Fira is a very cosmopolitan town and as such, there are several top tier restaurants, bars, and cafés alongside the picturesque traditional tavernas and the abundant street food shops. Make sure you book well in advance, when you are designing your vacations, to ensure that you visit every restaurant that catches your eye as a lot of them are internationally popular!
Some of the best restaurants to consider are:
Argos: This fine-dining restaurant specializes in fusion and contemporary Greek cuisine. The excellent view of the caldera is wonderful to enjoy the sunset from as you taste fine Greek and international wines including the renowned Santorini varieties.
Selene: Selene is the epitome of fine dining, with a Michelin-star chef and an excellent menu of contemporary Greek and Cycladic cuisine. Enjoy the excellent tastes in an exquisite neoclassical building with an amazing view.
Sphinx: Another fine dining restaurant specializing in Greek and Mediterranean cuisine in general. The view from its warm, hacienda-style environment is unequaled, as you are treated to a complete caldera panorama. Enjoy excellent tastes and a wide range of local and international wines.
Naoussa: This is a classic Greek traditional tavern that specializes in tasty grilled meat and fish in a quaint setting with a breathtaking view.
Nikolas: Nikolas is of the oldest taverns on the entire island! Here you will find a cozy atmosphere, good homemade food, and a wonderful sensation of tradition, family, and love of good tastes, and excellent wine.