So you’re planning a Greek island getaway (post-pandemic) and Santorini made the cut. Yay! You won’t regret it. Even though there are hordes of people in the summer and shoulder seasons, Santorini should still be on your Greek itinerary. In my opinion, there is perhaps nowhere more stunning and photogenic in the world. Now that you’re planning your visit, you’re probably wondering where to stay in Santorini. Do you pick Imerovigli or Oia? Perhaps Fira? What’s the difference? What is the BEST area to stay in Santorini?
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An Overview of Santorini
Santorini island is literally the remains of an enormous volcanic eruption that occurred around 3,600 years ago destroying the local civilization. Today, the 28 square mile island has a population of around 25,000 but tourism makes it feel like much more. There are numerous small villages which include Fira, Oia, Imerovigli, Pyrgos, Emporia, Kamari, and Perissa. The largest of these, Fira, is the capital and built high up on the rim of the crater (aka caldera). It is the most modern and commercialized of the villages. You should definitely visit Fira for restaurants and shopping. If nightlife is what you’re looking for, Fira is your place.
Although I wholeheartedly suggest visiting Fira and Pyrgos (an amazing traditional village) and any of the other villages, for the purpose of this post, and choosing where to stay in Santorini, I want to focus on choosing where to stay between Oia or Imerovigli. These two villages are the most popular, romantic, picturesque, and best areas to stay in Santorini (not to mention, expensive). The majority of luxury cave suites can be found in Imerovigli or Oia. Both are built along the rim of the caldera that was left after the volcanic eruption and have incredible views.
Location of Imerovigli and Oia
As you can see below, Oia is at the north western tip of Santorini and Imerovigli is south of that across the small bay. Both of the two villages are perched on the caldera cliffs and each village is visible to the other. Both face west and have sunset views, although not every spot in each village is created equal for sunset.
If you zoom in on the map, you can see the ferries arrive even farther south of Imerovigli at the Athinios port. The drive to Fira or Imerovigli takes about 20-25 minutes. The drive to Oia can take about an extra half hour. So the distance to Oia is definitely farther, but not so much that it should affect your decision about where to stay in Santorini.
Things to do in Santorini
Some of the most popular things to do in Santorini include sailing tours around the caldera, sunset dinner cruises, wine tasting tours, hiking the caldera trail between Fira and Oia (11 km) and exploring via ATV or scooter. One thing to note: Santorini is much more strict about requiring a motorcycle endorsement than any of the other Greek islands we visited for riding scooters. So if you don’t have that, you’ll be able to rent an ATV only.
Exploring Santorini By ATV
Places you may want to cruise to on your ATV are Red Beach or the black sand beaches of Perivolos and Perissa, on the southeastern and southwestern coasts respectively. These are quite a bit closer to Imerovigli than Oia. We rented an ATV for the two days we were in Imerovigli because we could walk to a rental shop and it was central to exploring the southern areas of Santorini. We cruised to the town of Pyrgos (highly recommended) and the Red Beach one day, both of which were easy drives. Imerovigli is certainly a little closer to some things you’ll want to drive to.
Best Tours in Santorini
Day excursions and tours in Santorini can be taken from anywhere. They will pick you up from wherever you are staying in Imerovigli or Oia and drop you back off again afterwards. So don’t let tours determine where to stay in Santorini. Some of the most popular ones are sunset dinner cruises on catamarans, day sailing trips around the caldera with stops at hot springs, and wine tasting tours. Here are some of the most popular tours in Santorini:
Nightlife or Solitude in Santorini
Despite its distant location, Oia actually has a very bustling atmosphere. There are tons of people milling around, a plethora of shops, galleries, restaurants, and it feels large and touristy. During the day, the main street is a sea of people packed tightly together like sardines.
Imerovigli, on the other hand, feels incredibly quiet, like a suburb neighborhood. The crowds are minimal, the restaurants are fewer and farther between. There are far fewer people walking the streets. This definitely feels more secluded and peaceful. However, you have fairly easy access to Fira about 1 mile away with tons of shops, restaurants, nightlife, etc. But maybe you don’t want to walk back uphill 1 mile after eating dinner? You could take a taxi or rent an ATV if there is parking for it at your hotel. There is also a bus that runs between the main towns, the airport, and the port. You can find the prices and timetables HERE however their website is not always working.
Fira is the real place for nightlife, Imerovigli will have none (but is close to Fira), and Oia is a happy medium, but it’s still fairly quiet after dark. Hopefully that helps you decide where to stay in Santorini if nightlife (or lack thereof) is important to you. I’m in bed at like 9pm, so I can’t help you much with where to find this nightlife.
Sunset in Imerovigli or Oia
Watching sunset in Santorini is like everyone’s favorite sport. Both Imerovigli and Oia have some views towards the west, but I think most will agree that the actual sunset from Imerovigli is a little better than Oia. It sits higher on the caldera, is directly facing west, and has unobstructed views. You can also have a view of Skaro Rock and Oia in the distance which is magical. Many hotels will have great views, but check their websites and TripAdvisor for photos to see what view you’re getting if sunset from your hotel is important to you.
These views are from our private rooftop pool at SOPHIA CAVE SUITES.
In Oia, the village sits a little lower, so for many hotels it is harder to see the actual sunset. The village faces more south than west. Many people congregate at different viewpoints around the village for sunset in Oia. The old castle is a very popular spot. People start staking claims on prime real estate spots hours before the sun actually sets. The castle is at the tip of the island and juts out enough to see the sun set on the ocean. Alternately, you could book reservations at a restaurant for sunset. I read Kastro (or the area around it) is a good spot. The windmills are popular as well.
If you find the blue domed churches, you’ll also find a heck of a crowd for sunset. We stayed in the most amazing Airbnb right amongst the domes and there was no shortage of people trying to sneak into our gate and pathway (which was private property) to get better views and pictures. Multiple times per day there would be a wedding photo shoot right outside. If you try to sneak in there, chances are, someone will have something to say about it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I also saw a lot of people hopping fences to climb on top of buildings and church roofs to get those perfect “IG shots.” All I can say is it’s frowned upon and someone in the crowd will likely call you out in front of everyone and you’ll look like a bit of an ass. But it seems everyone is doing it. Book THIS Airbnb like we did, with it’s own private rooftop and amazing views, and you won’t have to worry about it. Sunrise from the blue domes is actually even better. You’re welcome.
If you don’t mind catching sunset shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other cell phone gripping tourists, Oia is an unforgettable place to see it. So the verdict between Oia vs Imerovigli? Imerovigli for romantic, private viewing of the best sunset and Oia for great photography with the blue domes in the foreground. That’s my two cents.
Best Hotels in Santorini
One thing Santorini does not have is a shortage of ridiculously rad hotels. Literally some of the most uniquely luxurious hotels in the world can be found here. When you stay in Santorini, I hope you splurge on a cave hotel with a view. Airbnbs are great options as well. Keep in mind, hotels will typically include a hefty complimentary breakfast, whereas Airbnbs will not.
Many of the houses and hotels in Imerovigli and Oia are built into the caldera on the cliff. Something to keep in mind when comparing hotels and prices on Booking.com is to look at photos provided for each individual room. Because of the landscape of Santorini, most hotel rooms at a particular hotel are each quite different from one another. It’s nice to be able see pictures of the exact room you book.
Also make sure to book early, especially if you’re visiting in high season (May to September). If you want to save money, consider visiting during the shoulder season. April and October usually provide lovely weather in the Greek islands. Choosing a hotel can be difficult. All you need to do is narrow your search by location, budget, and rating, sort by review score or price, then read reviews, look at pictures, and make a decision. I’ve done most of the research for you!
Best Cave Hotels in Imerovigli
There are so many more hotels than what I’ve listed here, and of course everyone’s taste is different. After extensive research, I think these are some of the best, as well as the most popular and highly rated ones. None of these are budget hotels, but you could certainly filter by price and review score which is what I do. The following are listed in approximate order of increasing price, however this varies greatly on the category of room and season. I’ve separated these lists as Imerovigli and Oia so you know specifically where they are. Don’t fall out of your chair when you check prices.
Above Blue – This hotel has some of the best reviews in the village and is quite affordable for such luxury and style in Santorini.
Santorini Princess Hotel – A very popular, extremely well reviewed hotel with awesome views.
Sophia Luxury Cave Suites – I booked this hotel because of the unique and magical cave rooms with private pools and insanely cool views. Plus the rooms are especially instagrammable, and let’s be honest, I take this into account when I book my hotels. This isn’t some new obsession for me since the invention of IG; I’ve literally always been obsessed with booking unique and photogenic hotels. There is not a main pool, just small private pools.
Pegasus Suites and Spa – Beautiful tradition Greek style with excellent reviews and location. I’m starting to sound like a broken record here.
Honeymoon Petra Villas – This hotel is uniquely perched on the cliff and some rooms are literally carved into the rock. Great reviews and location.
Kapari Natural Resort – A truly stunning hotel, this one would be really high on my list.
San Antonio – This stunning hotel is actually a little north of Imerovigli, so it is very quiet and private. A perfect romantic escape.
Cavo Tagoo – Well known as having a high standard of luxury, this hotel has incredible views and fantastic decor. It is a favorite among couples.
Astra Suites – Stunning view (is there anywhere in Imerovigli without?), infinity pool, and uniquely colorful and quirky rooms that combine traditional Greek design with fun pops of color.
Hotel Iconic Santorini – Gorgeous tradition Greek style cave suites, outdoor infinity pool along with private outdoor or indoor plunge pools/jacuzzis.
Grace Santorini – Also quite popular with a modern sophisticated flair, again with incredible views and location.
Best Cave Hotels in Oia
Oia (pronounced Ee-aa) – it’s what dreams are made of. Like if you could dream up the most picturesque village on earth, I am pretty sure this would be it. Unfortunately, it’s also everyone else’s dream village too, so it’s packed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find your own slice of private paradise in one of the many cave hotels nestled into the caldera.
Strogili Condo/Hotel – Budget friendly for the degree of luxury you get, Strogili has great views and reviews, includes breakfast and a pool while still providing mini kitchens for a more “apartment like” feeling.
Anemi House and Villas – Insanely good reviews, the most colorful and unique rooms ever, and fantastic location.
The Sea Captain’s House – This historic hotel with an old European flair is unique and more affordable than most of the luxury hotels, and it boasts great views and reviews.
Kastro Oia Houses – These pink cave houses are kind of Instafamous. They are set in a very picturesque area of Oia and stand out beautifully.
Canaves Oia Hotel – One of three hotels in the Canaves group in Oia, this one has a bit of a modern flair. All three are stunning, and I’d have a hard time picking between them.
Perivolas Hotel – A little south from the center of Oia, this hotel is actually a short walk outside of the village and has an amazing view looking back towards Oia. There’s a wellness center, wine cellar, incredible infinity pool views, and really beautiful spacious rooms.
Andronis Boutique Hotel – I love the style of this hotel. It is a true cavelike design. Definitely would be high on my list.
Hotel Alta Mare by Andronis – Gorgeous, sophisticated rooms, a main infinity pool, and all rooms include a private hot tub.
Canaves Oia Sunday Suites – Whitewashed luxury with an infinity pool and amazing views.
Canaves Oia Suites and Spa – Luxury with views and an infinity pool, this is a favorite for world class luxury.
Andronis Luxury Hotel – The third of the Andronis hotels, all three are close to each other and very beautifully styled with great views.
Maregio Suites – Classic Greek white cave style interior, awesome reviews, and excellent location for sunset viewing.
Katikies Hotel – A standard for luxury with an infinity pool with jaw dropping views, this well known hotel is great for couples and they offer free transportation to the beach 2 miles away.
Airbnbs In Oia
There are a plethora of awesome Airbnbs in Santorini and you should definitely consider this option. But I have to tell you about the best one (no bias here :-). It would be unfair not to mention the amazing little cave house I rented in Oia because it literally blew my mind and I’ve had soooo many people on Instagram ask me to send them the link for it.
In comparison to some of the luxury cave hotels, the price comes in at about half that of the base level rooms at luxury hotels. Keep in mind we didn’t have a luxurious breakfast delivered to a private pool, in fact we didn’t even have an outdoor pool (just an indoor cave jacuzzi). But having our own little house right in the most picturesque part of Oia was priceless. We felt like we lived there, right in the heart of the best area to stay in Santorini.
As romantic and peaceful as it looked, this is what it actually looks like from another angle. Like I mentioned before, this is the most picturesque spot in Oia right behind the blue domes. A crowd forms every evening for sunset. But don’t let that deter you. Consider it a shared event by dozens of people who share your love for sunsets and have gathered to witness it together.
We had this incredible indoor jacuzzi which was like a glowworm cave.
So without further ado, here is the link to the Airbnb with the greatest view ever.
Eating in Santorini
There is so much incredible food all over the island. Fine dining in Oia is too plentiful to list. I will mention though, for a cheap quick meal, there is no better place than Pita Gyros.
Its a local favorite and very popular. My favorite for breakfast? Vitrin Cafe Creperie. Such delicious crepes and coffees, incredible views (I bet sunset is great here too), and very photogenic! We were so eager each morning, that we’d stand outside waiting for them to open, which was probably super annoying to them.
In Imerovigli, the FlyAway Restaurant and Bar is arguably the finest dining, not to mention it’s great sunset views. If you read the reviews, numerous people say it was literally the best meal of their life. For a more moderately priced meal, we thoroughly enjoyed Avocado. Even though Imerovigli feels quiet, rest assured there are plenty of restaurants. Just skim TripAdvisor for advice and go for a walk up the main road until you find a menu that tickles your fancy. For breakfast, definitely hit up Galini Cafe closer to Fira. And if you’re a crepe addict like myself, stop by Creme de la Crepe in Fira. According to some, they’re considered the best crepes in Santorini.
How to Find the Blue Domes in Santorini
It may seem like you’ll show up in Santorini and the blue domes will be so prominent that you can’t miss them. This is not technically the case. Once you arrive in Oia, there is a main square with a big giant white church in it (also with a blue dome) called Ekklisia Panagia Platsani. That church is shown in the top red circle. You will follow the path from the top church to the second, and then to the bottom church.
The first church and main square look like this. Walk out straight to the main pathway facing the ocean with the church at your back, and turn right.
This will be your path to follow.
Continue on the path for a short distance until you come to another pretty white church with 3 bells (and yet another blue dome) on your left. There is a narrow pathway immediately in front of the church where you’ll take a left. Another landmark is a jewelry shop just past where you turn left. This is what the second church looks like.
This path down will fork and you can go either way for views of the blue domes. To actually get closer to the domes, take the left fork and continue downhill. Here you will likely encounter a crowd of photographers, wedding parties, and hordes of people.
The sun sets behind the blue domes which is lovely, but the sun will rise behind you, casting a lovely glow on the domes, which I think is the most spectacular time of day to see it.
I hope all of this has been helpful for your Santorini trip planning and deciding where to stay in Santorini. I know it’s a hard enough decision picking which Greek islands you will visit (READ MY POST on less crowded Greek islands to visit). But figuring out where to stay in Santorini is even more difficult. I really think you can’t go wrong with either Imerovigli or Oia, Santorini.
Sooooo, after all that, did we reach a verdict of where to stay in Santorini? Did you think I was actually going to pick for you? I was in your position before my trip, and here’s what I decided: I split my time half and half between Imerovigli and Oia. I couldn’t pick. And I don’t regret my decision for a second. I feel like I got the best of both worlds. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions and know that whatever you decide, you will love Santorini and the Greek islands. They are a magical and special place.
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