Home Destination Guides Accommodation 27th January 2020


The island is commonly known as Santorini, but its official name has now reverted to the classical THIRA - sometimes written as Fira.
       Part of a group of islands known collectively as The Cyclades and located in the central Aegean, Thira is an island of visionary delight, breathtaking views and dramatic vistas.  The island name of Thira is the Classical name, which has now been reinstated as the island’s official name and Santorini, the Venetian name, is the one most used by travel agents and tourists.                       
   Steeped in legend, Thira is believed by some to be the lost island of Atlantis.  In around 1500BC there was a massive volcanic eruption on an island named ‘Stromboli’, after its circular shape.  This eruption created a massive crater in the centre, called the caldera, which was flooded by the sea.  One side of the lava covered land mass was left intact, creating a crescent shaped island, with a magnificent black rock face on the western inner rim gently sloping away to the east.  This became the island we now know as Thira, or the Black Pearl of the Aegean as some have called her.  There are other volcanic island fragments in the caldera, including the volcanic centre itself, which has become a popular excursion destination.  The effects of that volcanic eruption are believed to have spread right across the Aegean, destroying the Minoan civilizations of both Thira and Crete.  There have been smaller eruptions subsequently within the caldera, the last of which was in 1925-26.
   Approaching by ferry, (as I did for the first time), Thira greets you head-on, with a black volcanic rock face, interspersed with layers of pale pumice stone and red lava, rising a breathtaking 1,000 feet out of an azure sea.  Clinging impossibly to the top of the rock face, like ice cream on a dark choc-ice, are small white houses of varying shapes and sizes.  An incredible sight and surely the best introduction to Thira you can have!  Thira’s architecture follows tradition by keeping to the white washed Cycladic style and is much-photographed.
  With such dramatic scenery, a quietly simmering volcano and hot springs, Thira has become a ‘must’ on most cruise itineraries.  The numbers of day trippers added to those already holidaying on the island make it particularly busy in high season.  Some of the accommodation is said to be some of the most romantic available, with spectacular views and sunsets across the caldera. The island is quite commercialized, with plenty of amenities and has attracted an upmarket clientele. This combination has also attracted honeymooners looking for a holiday with a difference, sparking a new and active market in Wedding packages.  Thira is expensive in comparison to most of the other Greek islands but this has added to its exclusivity and it is well worth the extra!
       The capital of the island is Thira town, which is perched on the top of the volcanic rock face on the inner rim of the caldera.  Thira is a maze of cobbled streets, where round-domed churches, souvenir shops, exclusive jewellers, restaurants and bars all rub shoulders.  The island has sought to keep its uniqueness by re-styling many of the caves and old houses hewn from the soft rock, transforming them into quirky hotels, cool bars and trendy nightclubs.  The most select establishments are those on the very edge of the caldera offering amazing views across the deep blue sea-filled crater.
  Quite apart from the scenery, Thira is a trove of historical interest.   One of the most important museums in the town, and a ‘must’ for every visitor, is the Museum of Prehistoric Thira.  This Museum provides an excellent introduction to the archaeological discoveries on the island, including a model of the excavations at Akrotiri, with unearthed artifacts and frescoes.   There is also the Archaeological Museum, with a good collection of post-Minoan exhibits and the privately run town museum called Megaro Gyzi.  Another unique attraction is The Thira Foundation, an exhibition of 3-D reproductions of ‘The Wall Paintings of Thira’, housed in amazing galleries cut into the pumice.
   The old port, aptly named Skala ("Steps") Thira, is connected to Thira town by a steep pathway of 587 steps, as the rock face is too precipitous for a road to be built.  In previous years the only way up to the town was on foot or by donkey.  Fortunately, there is now a cable-car connecting the two, although the other options are still available for the more intrepid.  This is where the majority of cruise liners arrive, whereas the ferries berth at the main ferry port of Athinaos, located 4 kms south of Thira town. Here it was possible to build a narrow, winding road down to the quay.   Athinaos is only a small quay and can become jammed with vehicles.  Local taxis are usually available but if you are travelling alone or as a couple, it is customary for the taxi driver to wait for all the passengers to disembark from the ferry in the hope that he can fill all the seats in his cab.
    Just north of Thira town, the village of Imerovigli is located at the highest point of the caldera, and subsequently offers some of the most fantastic views of the crater and beyond.  However, although it has its own shops, cafes and tavernas, Imerovigli is more low-key than Thira town.  Some of the hotels and apartments are built into the cliff sides of the inner rim and can be quite pricey, but they do have views to die for, particularly at sunset!  All rooms with good views of the caldera are sought after and it is always advisable to book in advance if you particularly want this type of room.  Also worth a visit are the Venetian ruins of Skaros, just below Imerovigli.
     On the far north western side of the inner rim is the delightful town of Oia. This is another great example of sympathetic expansion as most of the hotels are restored village houses, some hewn from the volcanic rock, retaining the unique character and charm of the town.  Oia is renowned for the stunning sunset views across the crater and attracts many day trippers.  It is also popular with artists because of the architecture, clarity of light and picture postcard setting.  Along with the usual amenities there are a couple of steep paths (with lots of steps…) that lead down to Oia’s tiny harbour where you can enjoy a midday meal of fresh fish.  The cliff path leads further on to a small swimming cove where, 20m offshore, there is a tiny chapel sited on top of a lava rock.  The neighbouring unspoilt village of Finikia is also worth a visit and there is a local bus service from Oia into Thira town.  Taxis are available virtually all over the island. 
     On the south western arm of the caldera rim is the village of Akrotiri, which offers fantastic views across a sapphire sea to Thira town and Oia in the north west of the island.   It is just outside Akrotiri village that one of the most important Minoan sites in Greece can be found, nestling in a small ravine.  The Akrotiri excavation began in 1967 when, after years of searching, archaeologists discovered an incredible Minoan town, dating from 16th century BC, covered in layers of volcanic ash.  This excavation proves just how sophisticated the Minoans were, with examples of street drainage, houses with heating, baths and inside WC’s.  The frescoes from this site were so impressive that they were removed to Athens, where they are on display at the National Archaeological Museum.   Local buses from Thira town run directly to the excavations at Akrotiri and from this site it is only a short walk to the southern coast.  From here local caiques will ferry you along the coast to Red Beach and White Beach, named after the colour of their volcanic sand. 
     From the cliff face on the western inner rim of the caldera the island slopes down to fertile plains in the east where vineyards flourish and local produce is grown.  It is the eastern coast which is host to great stretches of black volcanic beach.  The most popular and well established resort on the eastern coast is Kamari.  It is a bustling resort with 5 kilometres of beach, conveniently situated close to the island’s airport and with good links to Thira town, approximately 10 kms away.  There is a lovely waterfront with a long swathe of black sand and shingle where sun beds, umbrellas and a variety of water sports are available.  The resort has great amenities with a choice of shops, tavernas, cafes and restaurants, and in the evenings you can enjoy laid back bars offering a quiet drink or vibrant nightclubs and dicos for the more energetic.  Kamari caters for all age groups offering something for everyone.
     The resort of Perissa in the south east is also host to a wide stretch of dark sandy beach with water sports on hand.  This is a popular resort for both families and couples, being quieter than Kamari.  The atmosphere is laid back with a choice of bars, traditional tavernas and shops, and in the evenings lively entertainment can be found by those who want it.
      Sandwiched between Perissa and Kamari on top of the headland, is the archaeological site of Ancient Thira, which is thought to have been colonized by Doric Greeks.  It is possible to walk to the site from both resorts, but good walking shoes are required.  Nearby is Mount Profitis Ilias, the highest point on the island, where the Prophet Elias Monastery dating back to 1711 is built.
       Further south is the small resort of Perivolos with 7 kilometres of black beach and a variety of watersports.   This resort has a choice of tavernas and shops and the nightlife is quite lively in the high season.
     On the southern tip of the island is the small, traditional village of Vlyhada with an attractive fishing harbour.  It offers peace and tranquility with a handful of shops and tavernas and dark volcanic beaches for sun worshipers.
         Thirasia is a tiny, peaceful island lying offshore from Oia and was once joined to Thira until the volcanic activity split them apart.  Visiting Thirasia is like stepping back in time.  The island has two small ports, the old port of Korfos and the northern port of Rivas, normally used by ferries.  Most of the tour boats berth at Korfos which has a handful of tavernas and shops and a steep pathway up to the village of Manolas on the crater rim.  Manolas is a delightful village where the local houses are carved into the pumice cliffs and there are lovely views across the crater to Thira. 
The famous volcano islet of Nea Kameni has been formed gradually by eruptions over hundreds of years, making it the shape and size it now is. It is a popular destination for tour boats as it gives visitors the opportunity to experience a sleeping volcano.  A black cinder track leads to the ‘smoking’ crater ‘Georgios’, but be warned, the smell of sulphur is strong and the pathway hot, so bottled water and walking shoes are advisable.  Separated from Nea Kameni by a narrow channel of water lies the older, Palia Kameni, which was the first islet to appear after the eruptions.   Tour boats often call at the hot springs in this narrow channel enabling visitors to swim in the springs and wallow ashore in the black salty mud.
         Thira’s airport is about a 30 mins drive from Thira town and about 10 mins away from Kamari.  Package holidays are available from both the major and Greek specialist tour companies.  Charter airlines fly direct from the U.K. to Thira during the Summer months, usually from April to October.  Flying time from the U.K. is almost 4 hours.  Olympic Airways offer scheduled flights from the U.K. to Thira via Athens.  Timings vary depending on how long you need to wait for the connecting flight to Thira.  The Olympic Airways domestic flights from Athens to Thira run all year round, although the flight schedule will be less frequent in the Winter months and the flight time is approximately 30 mins.  Thira also has domestic flights to and from Heraklion airport on Crete, and Paradisi on Rhodes, taking approx. 30 mins.
      Thira is a very popular destination for island hoppers; it has numerous ferry connections mostly embarking from Athinaos, to the rest of the Cyclades islands, including Ios, Naxos Paros, Mykonos, Amorgos, Tinos and Syros.  These ferries are usually circuitous calling at several islands on the way before arriving at the Athens port of Piraeus.  There are numerous ferry connections from Thira direct to the ports of Heraklion and Agios Nikolaos on Crete, including fast craft and more traditional ferry boats taking 4 hours.  There are also ferry connections, on a more infrequent basis, sailing to the islands of Karpathos, Rhodes, Milos and Sifnos.  It is also possible to get a connecting ferry to Thessalonika, in northern Greece and Limassol, Cyprus.  Frequency of sailings and timetables are subject to change depending on ferry operators and weather conditions.  The circuitous routes tend to be more susceptible to delays than direct sailings and information should always be checked locally.  If you are booked on a charter flight home you should aim to arrive on the island at least 2 days prior to your return flight to allow for unforeseen delays.
The foregoing information was last reviewed in November 2006. Things change, and whilst we are often travelling in Greece we do rely to some extent upon others to provide updates in order to keep the site as current and accurate as possible!  If you have updates or information that you think should be included here, please mail the webmaster@aguide2greece.com  - thank you.


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