Despite its touristy reputation, Santorini is one of the most stunning Greek islands I’ve been to. And that’s coming from someone who generally likes to go off the beaten track on quiet and wild islands.
There’s a reason it’s one of the most popular places to visit, and even though it can be heaving in the peak season, it’s still a great spot to have on your island-hopping itinerary.
Although I’m giving you a load of suggestions for things to do in Oia, there’s much more to Thira (Santorini’s original Greek name) than just the village of Oia. So I absolutely recommend spending long enough there to explore the island entirely.
But if you’re one of the many thousands of visitors to the island who has a limited amount of time here then Oia, at the very northern tip of Santorini, may be your main focus.
🛬 Here’s how to get to Oia village from Santorini Airport
Whatever time of year you decide to visit, here’s a list of the top things to do in Oia, especially if it’s your first time on the island.
Watch the Famous Sunset
Even if you can only manage one full day in Santorini hopefully it will be long enough to catch one of the magical sunsets over the caldera. Because this is one of the main things Santorini is famous for, certain spots do get absolutely packed.
For a prime spot at the popular places in peak season arrive early (like at least 90 minutes before). And be prepared to be squashed with lots of other people. As well as the castle there are a few other places in Oia you can try.
If you travel out of the busiest months (June – August) it’ll be somewhat calmer but even May and September can be busy in Santorini.
Top tip for afterwards is to stay and have a meal or explore Oia as the light fades. You’ll miss the crowds lining up for the (limited) buses and taxis straight after the sunset.
Sunset from Oia castle
The most famous spot for this is the ruined Venetian castle. It really does get packed there in the summer months so go early or head elsewhere if you can’t avoid the busiest times.
Sunset from the Blue Domed Churches
The Blue Domes a bit further along the road (see below) is a quieter spot although in summer it will still be pretty busy.
Sunset from Profitis Ilias Church
Another place to consider is this church just out of Oia. From the blue domes, it’s about a 30-minute walk through Oia towards Fira. If you can manage the walk it’s much less crowded than the spots above for a sunset view.
Sunset en route from Oia
If you choose to walk to the caldera during your trip to Oia you could stop to watch the evening show along the way. The small church in front of Skaros Rock at Imerovigli is stunning. And you get brilliant sunset views from the end of Imerovigli village by Santorini Princes hotel.
Visit the Blue Domes
The Churches of Agios Spiridonas (Saint Spyridon) and Anasteseos (the Church of the Resurrection) create a really famous photo spot in Oia, one of the typical postcard-type views you see of Santorini. This location is one of the best places to get your pictures.
Views from both sides are great and both have blue domes you can stand in front of for pictures. As you can imagine, the area gets really busy in the summer months with long queues of people waiting their turn for a photo. The best time to go is early in the morning before it gets too hot.
Join a Group or Private Photo Shoot
Following on from above, you’ll see loads of photographers out in the morning doing private and group shoots as well. If you want the best shots with the famous blue domes in the background it’s worth booking a private or group photoshoot.
Some areas are cordoned off and only the photographers and guests staying in on those streets are allowed past the ropes. You can absolutely get some great pictures yourself. But I want to be transparent because no one seems to mention limited access when you see the pics on Instagram!
I did a group photo shoot (look on Airbnb Experiences for loads of options) and it was good in theory. The images were quite good quality but the photographer was really tiny and I’m 5’9 so I got a lot of chin views, haha.
It’s the second time that’s happened to me through Airbnb photoshoots so maybe next time I should check the photographer’s height!
Book a Flying Dress Photoshoot
For something really special consider indulging in a flying dress photoshoot. This is quite a lavish experience although you can book a basic package without any frills. Usually, the packages include a special dress with the flying train that an assistant will through in the air to get the unique flying dress look.
Hike the Caldera
On one my favorite things to do in Santorini is to walk the caldera between Oia and Fira. The views are absolutely stunning the entire way. My recommendation is to get the bus or a taxi down to Fira and then walk back to Oia.
If the weather’s not too hot and you can time it right, it means you’re walking back towards the sunset. It’s absolutely beautiful and means that on top of the great views you can watch the sunset from Oia when you reach the end of your walk.
Although technically the correct way to do the walk is Fira to Oia you can absolutely do it in the other direction too. Imerovigli village, just before Fira, is another wonderful place to watch the sunset if you prefer.
If you want to do some or all of this walk in the summer a good time is very early in the morning. But be careful if you do. There aren’t always places open to buy water and the whole walk is very exposed. Use your common sense and be sensible. Just do a portion of the walk if it’s really hot, the views are outstanding all the way along.
Follow Your Nose in the Streets of Oia
Take your walking shoes (no really, make sure you have some comfortable flats, there are A LOT of steps in Santorini) and wander the streets. The village is pedestrianised so most of the shops are on the main street.
But let yourself follow the signs to shops lower on the caldera and explore the smaller streets, shops and churches that lead off the main path. You’ll find some hidden gems along with some photos spots that aren’t exactly the same as everyone else’s.
Do be mindful that a lot of the streets are only accessible by guests staying in hotels on those streets. So if there’s a rope and/or a sign saying guests only then please respect that. I noticed that in the off-season you could access the streets much more freely.
Visit the Church of Panagia Platsani
The main square is a good spot to have a seat after all your walking and exploring and have a refreshing drink while people-watching. It’s also the home of Panagia Platsani church. Step inside to see the ornate interior but make sure your shoulders and knees are covered.
Find the Windmills
Although Mykonos is the windy isle famous for its windmills, you’ll find a few in Santorini too. Most have been turned into hotels and cafes now (like every other building!). But they’re an interesting part of the island’s heritage.
Head to the end of Oia near the castle and wind your way through the narrow streets to find a good angle for photos.
Go on a Sunrise Tour with a Local
Yes, Santorini’s all about the sunset. But it’s pretty magical at sunrise too. Get out and about before crowds descend and the heat becomes unbearable in summer. This sunrise walking tour takes you around Oia with a combination of history and photos stops.
If you want to include a few others stops on the island try this tour. Both are through Airbnb Experiences, and if the links don’t work try nearer the time you arrive. Booking is unavailable through the winter.
Do Oia by Night
Packed in the daytime, Oia is pretty quiet at night when the cruise ships head off and everyone leaves after the sunset. I did an Oia by night tour and it was a calm way to get a bit of history about the place while not getting stuck behind 600 people.
Like with the sunrise tour you can visit the famous photo spots for a different perspective without queuing for ages.
Visit Atlantis Books
Atlantis is a quaint book shop packed with literature and Greek interest books in multiple languages. On the main pedestrian walkway from the castle to the main square, the unique exterior is hard to miss.
Pop in for an oasis of calm and spend as long as you dare to peruse the shelves to find a book you never knew you were lo
Walk to Oia Castle
As I mentioned, Oia Castle – the Castle of Agios Nikolaos – is probably the most popular spot on the island to see the sunset. But you can come and admire the view at any time of day. And if you’re exploring Oia in the early morning you can see a pretty sky at sunrise too.
Although the site is steeped in history there’s hardly anything left of the Kasteli itself, so be prepared for ruins.
Oia Castle is at the end of the main street through the village. If you take the steps that run below the castle you’ll get down to Ammoudi Bay.
Visit the Maritime Museum
If maritime history is of interest to you then a stop at the Santorini Maritime Museum is a must. It’s only a small site but a nice place to wander through if you’re keen.
Buy Some Souvenirs or Art
You’ll find some really lovely souvenirs in Oia as well as locally-made craft items. Souvenirs are usually a bit more expensive than in other parts of the island and art is priced relative to Santorini, so if that’s a concern wait until you have time to go to Fira.
But for something special and unique you’ll find some wonderful local crafts at one of the souvenir shops or art galleries in Oia.
Get Glam in Oia
In terms of shopping in Oia there are no high-street shops. But you’ll find some small boutiques with resort wear and Greek-designed clothes. If you travel light and want to add a few bits and pieces to your holiday wardrobe then browse in some of the little shops along the main pedestrian section.
If accessories are more your thing, you’ll find plenty of jewellery shops and the opportunity to buy designer sunglasses.
Do a Boat Tour – Daytime or Sunset
One of the highlights of my Santorini visits was a full-day boat tour. I chose a sunset cruise with dinner and it really was a great way to watch the sun go down without being mobbed. Boats leave from various points on the island and Amoudi Bay would be the closest port for you in this part of the island.
There are several options you can choose but if you have the time then do a full day (daytime or sunset) boat trip. It’s the best way to admire the beautifully layered cliffs of Oia as you sail along the caldera.
Usually, the longer trips include a stop at Nea Kameni volcano where you can hike up the volcanic rock to the top and see the still-smoking fumaroles. The volcano’s not desperately high but it’s a great place to see the entire island of Santorini opposite.
There’s plenty of time for swimming including at the hot springs on the island next to Nea Kameni. The hot springs aren’t the same as what you might have experienced elsewhere. And since they mix with the cold sea water the temperature in the bay is only about 31 degrees. But it’s still fun to enjoy.
The only way to get there is by swimming about 50 – 100 meters from the boat since the boat needs to stay in the deeper water. So only jump in if you’re able to manage that. (Oh and don’t wear a white swimsuit because it’ll stain red from the sulfur.)
At the end of the sunset cruise, the boats line up beside Ammoudi Bay for the best views of the sunset going down into the Aegean Sea. Truly a wonderful day.
Enjoy a Wine Tasting Tour
Another thing Santorini is famed for is its wines. The best local wines are the white including Vinsanto which I thought was a red! The unique composition of the volcanic soil gives the grapes a unique quality. If you book on a wine-tasting tour you’ll hear all the details and get to taste plenty of samples.
Domaine Sigalas Winery is eight minutes by car from the bus station in Oia. They offer lovely wine tasting and food pairing. You can book with them directly to arrange your visit.
If you’d like to see a few more wineries in other parts of the island then the simplest thing is to join a tour that will collect you from Oia. I did a great sunset wine tour with Santorini Day Tours that I’d highly recommend.
Have a Fish Dish in Ammoudi Bay
For a laid-back dining experience head down to Ammoudi Bay (sometimes spelt Amoudi Bay). This is down the many wide steps below the Kastro. It’s a famous photo spot and renowned for its fresh seafood. If you go, you’ll no doubt see the octopi hanging out to dry in the sun.
Lovely for lunch, you can also get a decent view of the sunset at dinner. Some of the best restaurants for seafood are clustered along the bay here so take your pick. Ammoudi Fish Tavern and the restaurant with orange chairs are the two that I hear being recommended again and again.
Experience Fine Dining in Oia
There are a number of places for a fine dining experience in Oia. Now’s your chance to dress up and wear those heels you packed and haven’t worn once since you arrived in Greece! Some restaurants are more welcoming than others.
Try Lauda for a friendly experience and excellent food presentation with a view. (No sunsets but a beautiful sky nonetheless and a moon if you’re lucky).
Have a Private Chef Cook for You
Now for this one, you do need a functional kitchen. Much of Oia is luxe hotels and suites that aren’t suitable for a private chef.
However, if you’re staying in one of the villas or houses in the area then absolutely consider hiring a private chef. Giannis comes highly recommended and will take care of everything.
If you’re travelling in a large group or would like an intimate dinner to mark a special occasion this could be a real highlight of your trip.
Go Cliff Jumping
If you fancy a swim then take your togs with you to Ammoudi Bay and when you come down the steps follow the path around to your left, away from the restaurants. There’s no beach but a rocky area where people cliff-jump (be careful!) and swim across to the little islet opposite.
The water’s deep so you must be a decent swimmer. But it’s a fun place to cool off and the church on the rock in the sea is pretty.
Swim in Armeni Bay
If you’re looking for a slightly quieter spot for swimming and seafood then you could try Armeni Bay. It’s just round from Amoudi but you’ll need to access it from the steep path past the blue domes. There’s one fish tavern and a few sunbeds that you can hire too.
Have an Indulgent Spa Treatment
If you have a bit of time to slow down then I highly recommend getting a spa treatment at Evexia Spa at the Andronis Hotel in Oia. There are several Andronis properties in Oia but the one on the main road beside the Santo Pure Suites has this wonderful spa.
You’ll feel completely looked after whichever treatment you go for. Everyone’s very friendly and there’s great attention to detail.
I highly recommend adding the Kneipp Pools to your session. You walk in one warm pool and then one (very) cold one. It’s good for your circulation and various other things. Read up about it all on their website and book in. I loved my time there.
Relax at Lioyerma Lounge Cafe Pool Bar
If you prefer to swim in a pool than the sea head to Lioyerma Lounge. It’s the only place in Oia you can enjoy a pool if you’re not staying at a hotel with one included.
The loungers are reasonably priced and you can enjoy a sunset view from here too. It’s also the perfect place to while away some time before or after a hotel check-in if you have time between your travel and hotel.
Stay in a Luxury Hotel
Oia used to be a small village but it exploded with the increase in tourism. Now it’s a labyrinth of white buildings, blue domed churches, cave houses, captain’s houses and hotels. The buildings carved out of the steep cliff run over and under their neighbours so space is absolutely premium.
How long these structures will stay in place with the undersea volcano threatening to erupt again is anyone’s guess! But for now, you can book a luxury room with an excellent vantage point of the outstanding caldera view.
Many of the classy hotels along the volcanic caldera have infinity pools, hot tubs and private plunge pools to enjoy the breathtaking views from. If you specifically want a sunset view it’s a good idea to before booking to make sure that your room has that.
Propose or Get Married!
Yes, it’s a cliché but for good reason. Santorini, particularly Oia is very romantic especially in the evening when the sky is ablaze with colour. Then then the twinkly lights come on and make the village seem like a fairyland.
If you’re thinking about proposing, this could be the place to do it. Find the perfect spot, whether it’s a posh restaurant or in front of a simple chapel, and give your heart if you’re ready. Or come and get married against this beautiful background.
Take the Boat from Oia to Thirasia
If you head down to Amoudi Bay for a meal or some cliff jumping you’ll probably see the small boat that ferries people to and from Thirasia.
Thirasia is one of the volcanic islands that was created during one of the eruptions that split up the original landmass that was Thira/Thera island. It’s just a mile over the water from Santorini and about 50 years behind in terms of way of life.
Should you need to escape Oia altogether then pop over to Riva, the first ferry port, for 1 euro. Take the minibus (included in your 1 euro ticket) up to Manolas village and hike out to the monastery at the end of the island.
I honestly think it’s one of the best things you can do if you have the time. You’ll experience solitude and get fabulous views of Santorini. Plus you can get some cool pictures leaving Amoudi Bay.
The ferry runs 3 – 4 times per day, depending on the season. Check when you leave what time the boat back is, and double-check it’s running if it’s windy and the water’s choppy.
If the boat can’t dock safely, it won’t run, and you don’t want to get stuck there! (Although there is accommodation on the island.)
The Best Time to Enjoy Oia, Santorini
To beat the crowds, it’s worth going to Santorini in the shoulder seasons. The summer season on Thira is longer than on Mykonos for example. So if you come in April – May or September – November, you can still have great weather and waaay fewer people.
In April and October – November, the weather can be more changeable, so expect that.
Read about Santorini in the spring and also in the autumn.
For more information about Santorini, all my Thira Island posts are here.
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