Often dubbed the “hidden gem of Santorini,” Pyrgos Village is one stop you should absolutely make in your exploration of the gorgeous Santorini. Though most people will gravitate to the caldera and the alien landscapes of Santorini’s volcanic beaches, devoting at least a few hours to wander around Pyrgos will be a treat!
Also known as Pyrgos Kallistis, this village is at the highest point of Santorini, offering you breathtaking views of the entire island and its most famous villages, such as Oia. But beyond the stunning views, what is it that makes Pyrgos truly the “hidden gem” of an island that is considered one of the most beautiful vacation destinations in the world?
Read on and find out in this guide, and make the most of your visit to Santorini and Pyrgos itself!
Where is Pyrgos?
Pyrgos is located at the highest point of Santorini island, part of the Cyclades islands in Greece. So primarily, you need to get to Santorini island. To get to Santorini, you can fly in from Athens or, during the summer’s high season, even directly from abroad, or you can take the ferry from Piraeus to Santorini’s port at Athinios.
Once you’re at Santorini, Pyrgos Village is only 8 km from Fira, Santorini’s Chora. You can go by car, bus, or taxi. A car ride is roughly 10 minutes long, while a bus ride with the local KTEL bus is around 15 minutes long, and the fare is 1.80 euros. If you go by taxi, expect the fare to cost anything from 10 to 15 euros.
If you do take the bus, be careful! Not all buses stop at Pyrgos. Make sure you ask the driver if you’re unsure, but a good rule of thumb is the time schedule: if the bus route from Fira to Perissa is timed to take 30 minutes, it includes a stop at Pyrgos. If it is timed to take only 20 minutes, then the route doesn’t include a stop at Pyrgos.
The best season to visit Pyrgos is from late April to late September, which is summer in Greece. April and May are warm months but not overly hot as June and August tend to be. September is mellow, and you have the best chance of enjoying little wind.
Keep in mind that Santorini is the most crowded in general during June, July, and August, so be prepared for that if that’s when you opt to visit, though Pyrgos is a little less crowded by comparison.
A brief history of Pyrgos
Pyrgos means “tower” in Greek, and it couldn’t be a more fitting name for this imposing fortified village that is imbued with historical significance. Pyrgos’ origins are traced as far back as the 16th century AD, during the Venetian rule of Santorini.
The Venetians picked the highest point of the island to build a castle as part of a give-castle project to fortify the island from invaders, pirates, and other enemy forces. Pyrgos became Santorini’s capital once the castle was finished. It was virtually the island’s acropolis, not only powerful from a military angle but also highly significant as a place of holiness, thanks to its multitude of churches and its famed monastery.
After Santorini fell to the Ottomans, Pyrgos’ functionality shifted from a fortress of protection to a place of exile for political dissidents as well as a place of pilgrimage and meditation for the religious.
During WWII, however, Pyrgos became one of the main scenes for the Raid of Santorini in 1944, where the Allies attempted to overtake the island and displace the German and Italian garrisons installed there.
The attempt wasn’t successful and incurred reprisals. A commemorative monument and plaque with those that participated and fell during the Raid, as well as in other instances of the war, can be found in the village.
After the war, the devastating earthquake of 1956 and the following preservation attempts caused a lot of damage to the village, and dwellers were forced to abandon it up until the tourist boom of the 1980s and 90s when serious restoration efforts revived the village.
In 1995 Pyrgos and its heritage were officially recognized by the Greek government by having its status elevated to “protected settlement.” This helped preserve Pyrgos’ authenticity despite the tourist boom, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in its rich history and traditional atmosphere while still having their needs perfectly met.
What to see and do in Pyrgos, Santorini
There are several things to see and do in Pyrgos, but these should be at the top of your list:
Explore Pyrgos itself
Walking around Pyrgos is tantamount to exploring an open-air museum. Thanks to its “protected settlement” status, a big part of the entire settlement is preserved to be entirely authentic. So, as you get off the bus stop and walk up the road to Pyrgos, you will be treated to a gorgeous view of the village, built like an amphitheater with a characteristic blue domed church overlooking the whitewashed houses.
Lose yourself in the meandering pathways with the bright white, the splashes of color, and the ornaments that are the neoclassical buildings standing out among the gorgeous Cycladic architecture, and discover the various little shops hidden in the picturesque nooks and crannies of the village.
Visit Kastelli (the Castle)
Pyrgos boasts one of the best-preserved castles from the Venetian era and the best-preserved out of the five that were built in Santorini. Stepping in it feels like boarding a time capsule to the medieval ages but also, uniquely, in a modern cubist painting.
That is because while Kastelli features all the elements of a classic castle village fortification, it also is made of volcanic materials that give the walls an unusual smoothness, highlighting the shapes of the structures more than anything else.
The paths are narrow, and the walls are high. Enter through the Kastelli Door (“Kastelloporta”) and feel the looming sensation of the weight of the structure, as well as the artistic poetry of its archways and pathways. Keep going up its sloping, meandering ways and be rewarded by the breathtaking, gorgeous view of the entire island and the Aegean.
Visit the churches
There are a whopping 48 churches in Pyrgos alone, and some of them are the oldest ones in Santorini. Most of them, however, can only be enjoyed from the outside as they are privately owned. Of those that aren’t and can be visited thoroughly, make sure to seek out the following:
Eisodia tis Theotokou (Panagia Eisodia): This is the largest church in the village and one of the oldest, dating from the 16th century. Admire its impressive bell tower that also serves as its entrance. Once inside, make sure to have a look at its gorgeous iconostasis with the reliefs of various saints.
Aghia Triada (Holy Trinity): This little church also serves as a museum of holy icons and other religious items dating from the 16th and 17th centuries onwards, so make sure that you pay a visit.
Aghios Nikolaos: This is another church that dates from the 16th century. It is situated near Pyrgos’ Ipsilos Kafenes Square (the name literally means “highland café”) along with the WWII memorial mentioned in the brief history. You’ll know it from its beautiful three-bell bell tower that stands out.
Visit the Monastery of Profitis Elias
This monastery dedicated to the Prophet Elias was built in the early 1700s and is also quite fortified. It also boasts a gorgeous church at the highest point, as is tradition for churches dedicated to the Prophet Elias. It is 5km from Pyrgos Village, but it’s worth visiting as part of the Pyrgos experience. Its castle-like architecture is nearly identical to Pyrgos’, and its stunning view will reward you for the trek!
Visit the Museum of the Past
The Museum of the Past is also called the Cultural Village, and it’s not your typical museum. It is designed to take you back in time as faithfully as possible, with displays of everyday life in the 19th century and earlier before Santorini was on anyone’s map. There are folk costumes, house interiors, historic photographs, and echoes of the past for you to experience in a uniquely immersive experience.
Sample the wine
Pyrgos is quite renowned for its wines, and there are two wineries and a wine museum you can visit to see why! While the Wine Museum isn’t at Pyrgos, the two wineries are:
Santo wine comes from a winery founded in the 1940s and renovated in the 90s. Visit the Santo Wine winery and enjoy wine tasting, a wine tour, and an unforgettable experience in its beautiful premises that often host events, including weddings. Enjoy the gorgeous view of the caldera and the Aegean, and sample some of the best wine the island has to offer.
Hatzidakis winery is also where a variety of high-quality Santorini wines are produced, such as Vinsanto and Aidani white wine. Take the wine tour to the Wine Cave and then sample the wine accompanied by goat cheese and breadcrumbs or more.