On a flooded ancient volcano, Santorini is the crown jewel of the Cyclades islands. The mesmerizing sunsets and caldera views have long held a grip on travelers who can’t wait to experience this quintessential Greek destination. But choosing where to stay in Santorini can be confusing. Where should I stay Oia or Fira, the pros and cons of each part of the island, or even where you can base yourself for the best views? Well, we are going to answer all of those questions for you in our ultimate guide to the best places to stay in Santorini.
Where to Stay in Santorini
Running along the volcanic-burnt landscapes are pristine white homes, with a scattering of blue-domed cathedrals. Cobblestone streets guide you through historic towns where romance and culture meet in equal measure. It’s an island
of pure luxury, where the scars of the volcanic eruption have only recently been discovered.
Stay in stunning Cycladic architecture with each hotel trying in earnest to elevate its surroundings, you can find private terraces and swimming pools to watch the sunset over and over again. It sounds like a dream, and Santorini can be just that.
First, let’s get some of the most popular questions out of the way. After all, you want to have the best vacation you possibly can, and knowing the answers to these questions can help you decide the best place for you to stay in Santorini. One thing you should be prepared for is the cost.
As the popularity of Santorini has grown so have the prices, especially in high season. So, if you are looking for the most beautiful place with the best views be prepared to pay for it.
Where To Santorini for the first time?
If this is your first time visiting Santorini then you are going to want to stay in either Fira or Imerovigli. Which one you choose will be based on your budget level. We don’t recommend staying in Oia for your first time as it can be extremely crowded and overwhelming.
Fira is great if you are not renting a car as it is the main transportation hub on the island. Imerovigli is a quieter and more secluded option, with stunning caldera views and luxurious accommodations. It is a great option for those looking for a more tranquil and romantic experience.
Is it better to stay in Fira or Oia?
We have stayed in both and recommend staying in Fira (the island’s capital) over Oia especially if you are visiting during the high season. Oia is incredibly expensive and it gets overcrowded when the cruise ships come in and is absolutely insane during sunset.
In Fira, you have more choices when it comes to hotels and you have more access to the rest of the island especially if you are without a car. The main bus station is located in Fira so you can make your way to different parts of the island during the day. Oia is definitely beautiful but you will be battling those cruise passengers every day, so just be aware.
What is the best area to stay in Santorini?
Truthfully it depends on what you are looking for and what your budget is. We believe the west side of the island is the best area to stay in Santorini as it has the best views of the caldera, the best selection of hotels, and the best sunset views. The towns you want o focus on are Oia, Imerovigli, Firostefani, and Fira. If you would rather hit the beach than sit in your swimming pool then the east side of the island around Perissa and Kamari is where you will want to look.
Our Recommendation: the Best place to stay in Santorini
Each town around Santorini has something unique to offer. Whether that’s chasing the famed local sunsets, lazing on the beautiful black sand beach, or exploring the archaeological site in Akrotiri. From families to solo travelers, you’ll find something that works for you.
But having stayed on both the east and west sides of the island we highly recommend basing yourself on the west side of Santorini. If you are looking for sunset views, luxury hotels, your own private plunge pool, private terraces, and those famous caldera views then Fira, Oia, Imerovigli, or Firostefani is where you will want to choose to stay in Santorini.
This is also where you will find the famed traditional cave houses/ hotels. If this interests you we have a whole post on the Best Cave Hotels in Santorini. But, remember that these are the most expensive towns in Santorini as well.
1. Best Place to Stay in Santorini for a Honeymoon
Santorini is one of the most popular destinations in the world for honeymoons, and you can see why. It combines the beauty of its surroundings, with a ton of things to do as well as offering seclusion and privacy when you need it. Idyllic when you think of the perfect honeymoon destination.
Most people instantly think of Oia for their honeymoon, but I think you can do better. Oia to me has become so overcrowded in the last few years that it takes away from that romantic feeling. It is not as private anymore.
Yes, there are some real exclusive hotels that block people off but for the most part, because of how it is built, anyone can pop onto your terrace to have a look at any time and check out the view. Not really romantic in my opinion. Combine that with the sheer mass of people at sunset and you can see why we have taken Oia off the list for honeymooners.
Our recommendation is to head to Imerovigli. You get the same amazing views but it is quieter, more private and just feels more romantic. It is just a short walk to the nightlife of Fira (Instead of a 25-minute drive from Oia), it has the most luxurious hotels on the island, and it has amazing Caldera views so you can enjoy those stunning sunset views from your own private terrace or private pool and you are a short drive from some of the best wineries on Santorini.
2. Fira or Oia? How to Choose.
If there is one question that we get often it is; Which is the better place to stay in Santorini? Oia or Fira. And the truthful answer is it depends on what you are looking to get out of your vacation. Are you looking to be close to the action or are you looking for a quieter more secluded vacation?
If you are looking for the quieter option of the two then we would suggest Oia. Located on the foothills of an ancient volcano, Oia is straight out of a postcard. A mix of bright white and dense blues with a backdrop of earthy tones. It’s everything you would expect from one of the best places to stay in Santorini. The mix of blue-domed churches, turquoise plunge pools, and white homes with the sunset is one of the most memorable sights in all the Greek islands.
Of course, you’ll share this experience with hoards of travelers and cruise ship passengers but truthfully this mainly happens in the high season between 3 PM and 8 PM. Most of the other times of the day it is not too crazy. And at night you can enjoy the quiet streets and higher-end restaurants.
Choose to Stay in Oia if:
- Budget is not a concern. Oia has some of the most expensive accommodations on the island and in Greece for that matter.
- You want that famous Santorini Sunset view.
- You are looking for a private luxurious experience. There are a lot of exclusive hotels in Oia.
If you are a couple that likes to have access to everything within close proximity then we would suggest Fira. Having a central location and the bulk of the island’s public transport, Fira is a great option for those wondering where to stay in Santorini. Fira is the biggest town on the island, and while it may lack some of the charms of Oia or Firostefani, it makes up for it in other ways.
The atmosphere in Fira rises early and maintains its momentum throughout the day. Here, locals and travelers alike mix in great numbers as they make their way around the busy town. With restaurants, bars, and attractions within walking distance, you’ll be able to get about on foot more often than not. Importantly, you’ll never have a shortage of things to do.
Fira is home to Santorini’s main bus terminal, which is in the middle of town. After exploring your local attractions, you’ll love having easy access to far-off destinations without the need for a rental car. Being such a huge hub for tourism means Fira will have more than its fair share of tour offices selling all sorts of island experiences for you to try.
This has also led the town to have an immense selection of restaurants, hotels, and the best nightlife scene in Santorini. The range of options and competition means life in the capital of Santorini is cheaper than other major towns along the Caldera side of the island.
Choose to stay in Fira if:
- You don’t have a car and want to be close to the bus station to access other parts of the island
- You want to enjoy the nightlife on the island
- You are visiting in the off-season as most other parts of the island will be closed
- You are not in Santorini for the beaches
The major drawback of staying in Fira is the commercialization of the town. It’s a major destination for cruise ships, whose passengers flood the town, leading to a less authentic experience. Away from the historic landmarks and epic views, you’ll find rows of souvenir shops, the kind many travelers see and dread.
3. Where to Stay in Santorini for Families
We have given you suggestions on where to stay in Santorini if you are on your honeymoon, but what if you are traveling with your family? Contrary to popular belief Santorini is not just for couples and lovers.
There is quite a bit to see and do if you are traveling with your kids as well. I will say though, most of the west side of Santorini is more suited for couples, which means you are better off staying in the beach towns of Kamari Beach or Perissa if you are visiting as a family.
Both destinations are set on the Aegean Sea and offer cheaper accommodation, meaning you’ll be able to fork out for that extra bedroom. Without large crowds, you can enjoy your surroundings without feeling rushed, perfect for families with younger kids.
Ideally, I would suggest Kamari Beach first because not only does it have a beautiful beach but it is also within walking distance from a ton of restaurants, taverns, cafes, and shops where you can easily spend the day. Convenience is key when traveling with kids.
Like Kamari, Perissa is much quieter and cheaper than the more iconic towns around the island. The budget-friendly destination is one of the best places to stay in Santorini. South of Kamari, Perissa welcomes you with that same warm, dark sand with ample cocktail bars along the beach. Just minutes from Santorini Airport, you’ll be lounging by the electric blue ocean in no time.
Aside from lounging under an umbrella at one of the many beach bars, water sports are the thing to do. From your cozy spot on the sand, you’ll see jet skis skimming across the water. Without the sunset and caldera, the prices here are lower despite offering such wonderful access to the best beaches on the island.
4. Best Place to Stay in Santorini for Nightlife
For those chasing adventures after dark, then you’ll have the best time staying in Fira. After the sun goes down, attention quickly turns to the array of dim-lit cocktail bars, boisterous pubs, and pumping dance halls.
Santorini may not be famed for its nightlife (there are literally only restaurants in Oia and Imerovigli) you shouldn’t stack it up against other notable party spots around Europe. But that’s not to say you won’t enjoy life after dark in Fira.
In fact, the island’s biggest town has a little bit of something for everyone. Enjoy quiet and romantic bars by the Aegean Sea or venture to where the music is loud, and the night doesn’t end. If you do choose to stay elsewhere on the island just be aware that taxis and busses can be hard to find early in the morning.
If nightlife is your jam then I would suggest checking out the island of Mykonos. There is always a party happening on that greek island.
5. Best Place to Stay for Caldera Views
Between Fira Town and Oia, the smaller towns of Imerovigli and Firostefani are teeming with whitewashed manors, private terraces, and cave hotels located with stunning sea views of the caldera and sunset. Truthfully any of the towns on the west side of the island will provide good views of the caldera.
Our personal favorite though is Imerovigli. Imerovigli is considered the Balcony of the Aegean. Built over 1000ft above sea level, you’ll enjoy a spectacular platform from which to admire the Caldera itself. While many visitors flock north for the sunsets in Oia, the small village of Imerovigli remains peaceful and charming.
Life here is slower and you’ll have room to breathe and roam as you discover this part of Santorini all to yourself. Importantly, facing west, Imerovigli has equally spectacular sunset views while the caldera remains ever-present. At night, Oia dazzles along the ridge to the north. But as we have said previously the accommodation options here can be very expensive.
If you are looking for a more budget-friendly option I would look at Akrotiri. A quickly developing town in Santorini, Akrotiri, is the best area to stay if you want those stunning caldera views without the lofty price tag. Boutique hotels continue to pop up in Akrotiri as the town’s popularity grows. However, its distance from Fira (a 25-minute drive) allows the seaside town to remain without crowded streets and a touristy experience.
6. Where to Stay in Santorini for Shopping
Fira and Oia have the bulk of the island’s shopping. With rows of shops and boutique stores catering to tourists, you’ll be able to spend your afternoon browsing the shops or picking up some mementos and gifts for those back home.
Fira caters to a wider audience with more budget offerings and souvenir stores. On the other hand, Oia leans towards high-end stores with a greater number of international brands.
Between the two, Firostefani has a lively shopping street in the center of town that travelers should experience. With a greater number of locals, the walk down the street is an authentic experience. Similar shopping can also be found in Pyrgos.
7. Where to Stay in Santorini for Sightseeing
Owing to its central location and its transport hub, Fira is the best place to stay for sightseeing. If you hire a car, you’ll be well-placed to explore the four corners of the island. Whether that be the coastal towns of Akrotiri and Perissa or the mountain villages around Pyrgos.
Without a rental car, you’ll also have an easier time exploring from your base in Fira. The main bus station is in town with a greater number of services around Santorini.
But no village on the island has as much to do within its boundaries as Fira. Visitors will have many attractions nearby, including the Three Bells of Fira, the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, and the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist. Not to mention the jaw-dropping Santorini Cable Car.
site Lycabettus restaurant, one of the best restaurants in Oia, for traditional Mediterranean cuisine that will blow your mind.
8. Best Place to Stay Off the Beaten Path
The trendy town of Akrotiri is home to the Red Beach of Santorini. Although popular during the day, the striking beach is peaceful come sunset. Allowing you to enjoy the uninhibited views with just your friends and family. From the red sands, you’ll find a dock, where for a small fee you can venture around to the black beaches on the eastern coasts.
Although Akrotiri may be considered off the beaten path, it’s a historically significant village. During the Neolithic Age, the first inhabitants of Santorini settled on the cardinal shoreline. Over time, the settlement grew into one of the most prominent commercial centers in the Aegean, allowing the local community to develop a fascinating culture. Until a historic volcano eruption covered the town.
With ample warning time, residents were able to evacuate, and Akrotiri was written off the pages of history. No one knew what lay beneath the surface until the mid-19th century. Making Akrotiri a more recent and potentially more fascinating discovery than Pompeii.
The town is now a captivating archaeological site with fresco buildings from 1600 BC having been frozen in time under the hardened lava. It’s said that only 5% of the town has been excavated with many more amazing discoveries waiting in the wings.
Aside from lounging by the beach and enjoying the spectacular sunsets, Akrotiri provides an intriguing look into the first communities that were created in Santorini.
With new hotels, great views, and an incredible history, Akrotiri is an amazing place to stay when visiting Santorini. However, its distance from Fira will mean you’ll need to rent a car to explore the rest of the island.
9. Where to Stay in Santorini Away From the Crowds
Like Akrotiri, Megalochori and Pyrgos are a great way to experience Santorini away from the crowds. Pyrgos is a charming hilltop town close to the highest point in Santorini. From your hotel room or restaurant terrace, you’ll experience amazing views in every direction.
Look to the west to see the ancient caldera enveloped by the Aegean Sea. Capture the towns along the cliffside surrounded by lush green landscapes. To the east, see the black sand painting the edge of the coast while enjoying the crisp mountain air.
The west coast may have a greater concentration of blue-domed buildings and chalky homes, but Pyrgos has a traditional Greek feel. Here, only 1000 residents go about their daily lives, driving up and down the windy roads that caress the mountainside.
On your explorations of Pyrgos, you’ll pass neoclassical museums, rows of vineyards basking in the warm Greek sun, and charming cafes surrounding the town square. At night, kick back from your elevated position and take in the sunset at any of the hillside restaurants offering unbeatable vistas.
Like Pyrgos, Megalochori has a rural vibe untouched by the movement of time. While not quite Akrotiri, the village hails back to the 1600s when pirate dens popped up, traditional cottages arose and wine caverns first made an appearance.
There is an aura of history as you wander around town. Much of this is because of the efforts of locals who have maintained a reverence for the historic buildings, keeping them in excellent condition for you to admire. Here you can live like a local. Wake up each morning and make your way to the village square where you can join the community in sipping on a coffee as the sun soars ever higher.
From Megalochori and Pyrgos, you can catch the bus from the main streets to explore Santorini. While the cheaper accommodation should leave some room in the budget for car hire and plenty of day trips.
10. Best Place to Stay for Cheap Hotels
Most of the best cheap hotels in Santorini take you out of the most popular areas. You will definitely have to avoid most of the western side of the island and look more toward Perissa, Kamari, Megalochori, and Pyrgos. By giving up that famous view of the Cladera and the stunning sunsets from Fira and Oia you can benefit from lower prices.
What you don’t have to give up is some amazing accommodation. Sure you may not have hotels with private balconies or infinity pools, but you will be getting more bang for your buck on all amenities and restaurants.
One place where you don’t have to give up those caldera views and sunsets that still have some of the best cheap hotels in Santorini is Akrotiri. This part of the island is less developed than Fira or Oia so it can price hotels accordingly.
The one caveat is that if you decide to stay out here you should rent a car. You are about a 25-minute drive from Fira and accessing other parts of the island is not as easy by bus. Note: The bus does run here from Fira.
Another option, as we stated above, is to check out the charming Towns of Megalochori and Pyrgos. You don’t get caldera views or the beach but they really have their own charm and are definitely worth checking out if you are on a budget.
Our Money-Saving Tips for Santorini
Santorini isn’t a haven for budget travelers, thanks to its popularity and incredible views. But what makes the island such an iconic destination also opens the door for budget travelers to save money. Unlike other Greek islands, Santorini remains open during the winter. During this period you can enjoy cheaper accommodation. It is easy to get luxury hotels right on the Aegean Sea for a fraction of what they would cost in high season.
If you’ve arrived in peak season, you’ll notice it isn’t cheap to eat out. Especially if the restaurant has a view. Forego the view for lunch and dinner to help balance the budget.
Getting Around Santorini
Driving around Santorini is not only a great way to explore the forgotten villages away from Oia, but it will save you time and patience. Check out the best car rental prices here.
Santorini has a decent public bus network that services all the major villages on the island. But unless you are in Fira, you’ll be restricted by the limited offerings, especially if you wish to go to the east coast.
In peak season, you’ll be sharing the buses, not just with locals but the mass of travelers who all had the same idea as you. If you want to see all of Santorini and it fits the budget, we recommend picking a car up for the trip.
How to Get to Santorini
You can fly or take the ferry to Santorini. Daily flights leave Athens International Airport (Eleftherios Venizelos) and take 40 minutes to get to the island. Once there you can catch a taxi to your hotel.
Ferries also operate daily to Santorini from the Piraeus in Athens. Santorini is also connected by ferry to other Greek Islands. We flew from Athens to Santorini and then continued on the Crete by ferry.
Best Time to Visit Santorini
The busiest times to visit Santorini are during the summer months. This is the best weather as Santorini has a Mediterranean climate however, it is also the most crowded with cruise ships. However, if you are staying in a luxury hotel or a boutique hotel with a private pool, you may not care about the crowds. You can relax at the pool bar away from the crowds and wait for the cruise ships to leave.
If you are staying in one of the beach towns, the best weather is from June to September.
To avoid the crowds you will want to visit in shoulder season either September and October or April and May. We visited in October and the weather was still very warm.