To be fair, driving in Santorini is not for the fainthearted. If you are a bit nervous around steep cliffs and narrow roads that you have to share with buses coming the opposite way, then you might need to decide which driver in your group will be happier to take on this challenge before you rent a car. Having said that, all of us in Simplybook have happily driven in Santorini while on holiday, exploring this unique island of the Aegean.
We discovered that no matter how many photos you have seen and how many descriptions you have heard, nothing is like the real thing. The view of the Caldera is simply breathtaking. However, if you rent a car and set off driving in Santorini you will find out there is much more beauty on the island to be discovered.
Here are our 6 favourite destinations that make driving in Santorini an unforgettable experience:
1.Fira, 8 km from the port of Santorini or 5 km from the airport
If you arrive at Santorini by boat you will have the opportunity to experience straight away some adventurous driving on the hairpin uphill turns to Fira. If you arrive by plane and rent your car at Santorini airport, it is only a short drive from the east to the west side of the island. The heart of Santorini offers a central view of the Caldera, created after a massive volcanic eruption that took place during the 17th century BC.
In Fira you can find accommodation, travel services, shops, restaurants, as well as the busy nightlife of the island, as many old houses, carved in the volcanic rock, have been turned into bars and clubs. Early in the morning or in the evening, when it’s not too hot, park your car at the public parking areas, wear comfortable shoes and go for a stroll at the cobbled streets among the whitewashed houses. For a beautiful hike by the cliffs, take the path leading to the villages of Firostefani and Imerovigli. It can take around half an hour to get there, but you will want to stop and enjoy the view along the way.
2.Akrotiri archaeological site, 15 km southwest of Fira
15 km south-west of Fira, in the archaeological site of Akrotiri, you have the chance to see what used to be one of the most important urban centres and ports in the Aegean sea. The volcanic materials covered an entire Minoan town with multi-storey buildings with a sewage system, bathrooms, houses, artisan shops decorated with frescoes which are now kept in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
Getting there from Fira involves driving among the relatively fertile parts of the island where the locals grow vines. When driving in Santorini you will often notice that the vines here have a strange round shape. In order to protect the grapes from the heat and strong winds, the vinedressers weave the canes of the vines in the shape of a woven basket or “kouloura” in Greek.
3.Oia, 12 km north of Fira
Oia (pronounced “Ia” in Greek) is a small village standing at the northern edge of the caldera, with whitewashed carved cave houses built on the steep cliff. The locals sometimes still call it with its former name “Pano Meria” (=upper side in Greek) as it is the north part of the island.
The road to Oia is probably one of the hardest parts of driving in Santorini. The roads by the cliffs are narrow and there are more than a few vehicles coming the opposite way, including buses. Even so, we strongly recommend that you drive towards Oia, and on your way take the time to stop and park to take in the unique view. You will also find a few viewpoints where you can see both the eastern and western coasts of the island.
Oia is known worldwide for the amazing sunset and the luxurious hotels, and its beauty has been captured in uncountable photos, videos and movies. We can assure you that there’s nothing like the real thing, although it’s better to see for yourself. As no vehicles are allowed in the narrow alleys, park your car at the public parking area and stroll through the village on foot.
4.The harbor of Ammoudi, 12 km north of Fira
At the foot of beautiful Oia, Ammoudi is a small harbour with fish restaurants where you can enjoy a meal next to the waters of the Caldera. A swim to the rock with the chapel of Agios Nikolaos can be a small adventure as the blue waters become very deep incredibly fast. If you feel up to it you can park your car in Oia and take the 300 steps down to Ammoudi. Keep in mind though that you will also need to walk back up. If you decide to drive down to Ammoudi, notice the rockfall warning signs and make sure that you park your car at the side of the sea.
5.Perivolos and Perissa beach, 11 km southeast of Fira
The sunset view spot of the island may be Oia, however, Perissa is the place to see the sunrise. It’s worth waking up a bit earlier or even better staying up after a long night out. If you came to Santorini especially for the sea and sun, we advise that you find accommodation at this part of the island. It is closer to the beach and much more affordable than the villages with a caldera view. If you rent a car, you can always drive to Fira or Oia for a sunset view or a stroll in the picturesque villages. Drive by the 7 km beach of Perivolos and Perissa to find the part that is ideal for you.
The beaches of Perivolos and Perissa are fully organised with sunbeds and umbrellas provided by the beach bars who usually rent them for a few euros. For a more quiet option, far from the beach bar music, drive past Perivolos to Agios Georgios, where you will also find more space to place your own umbrella. There is only one downside. The impressive thick black sand is seriously hot and you should definitely not forget to put on your flip flops before you put your feet on the sand.
6.Red Beach, 17 km from Fira, or 1.5 km from the archaeological site of Akrotiri
We would be surprised if you had not heard about the famous red beach of Santorini. Its name comes from the impressive colourful volcanic rocks that create dramatic scenery. What you may not know is that according to the Institute for the Study and Monitoring of the Santorini Volcano, the red beach is considered to be extremely dangerous due to landslides. This is why the local authorities have forbidden their access. After you visit the impressive nearby archaeological site of Akrotiri, park your car and walk to the viewpoint of the Red Beach. It is still an impressive area to enjoy nature’s art, but like many natural wonders, when driving in Santorini it is better to stop and admire from far.
Want to learn more about the breathtaking island of the Aegean Sea? Read Dave’s and Vanessa’s 4-day guide in Santorini.