What To Expect
Santorini qualifies as one of the best hiking destinations in the world and many seasoned hikers claim that the Fira to Oia hike is the best hike they have ever taken in any corner of the world. The hike proceeds along the edge of the caldera and offers marvellous views of the volcano, ocean and towns all embedded in a mystic landscape that’s only found in this part of the world.
This is an easy hike and even inexperienced hikers can (and should) do this. Hikers get the chance to experience some of the best towns of Santorini on this hike; Fira, Firostefani, Imerovigli and Oia.
The Fira to Oia Hike is about 10 km and it takes around 5 hours to complete the journey as you are bound to stop for multiple times for snacks, photoshoots. If you walk on without stops it will take you close to 2.5 hours to complete the entire journey. The hike will take longer if you decide to go on detours. It is recommended starting the hike early morning so that exploration time is maximised and you can end up being in Oia before the famous sunset.
The hike from Fira to Oia lets trekkers enjoy the wondrous submerged caldera and volcanic cliff view and maximises views of the cobalt blue Aegean sea. It also allows trekkers to explore the best towns of Santorini i.e. Fira, Firostefani, Imerovigli and Oia. It’s a long trek and each of these towns as well as the path connecting them has loads of things to see and absorb. It is logical to break up the hike into 4 shorter paths as many trekkers decide to walk up some of the sections and take a bus/ car for the rest part.
Remembering the elevations of each of the major places will give you an idea of the terrain you are about to traverse; Fira 270 meters, Firostefani 300 meters, Imerovigli 350 meters, Oia 130 meters.
Fira to Firostefani
The actual walking time between Fira to Firostefani is not more than 20 minutes but most people need a couple of hours as the road is steep, filled with photo-stops and Firostefani is a beautiful village full of attractions. Usually, the hike begins from the square near the hotel Atlantis in Fira. Walkers start going north to exit the exciting world of Fira but there is a high chance of taking wrong turns and the signage isn’t that great.
As you go north you are most likely to pass the Santorini cable car station and the Megaron Gyzi Museum, Cathedral of St Jhon, Dominican Convent (oldest catholic nunnery in Greece) etc. The path moves up and down and there are plenty of confusing turns but a ground-rule to remember is that Oia is at a higher elevation than Fira, so the road will go up as you travel north. You will be taking the spectacularly pretty caldera footpath that’s 100 meters to the west of the main street of Fira.
From Fira to Firostefani it’s a decent climb but after that, the road levels out. Before you approach Firostefani the black famous Skaros rock is visible to the left and this is a good photo stop. Did you know that (Firostefani) Fira + Stefani means the crown of Fira and Firostefani was once a part of Fira?
This village/ town has a relaxed upscale vibe about it and you will find exclusive boutiques and cafes here beside the female monastery of Agios Nikolaus (halfway between Firostefani and Imerovigli) and some interesting museums.
Between the border of Fira and Firostefani, there is a beautiful long stretch of a white balcony offering unhindered ocean views; an excellent place to rest and take photos.
Firostefani to Imerovigli
From Firostefani it will take another 15 minutes to reach Imerovigli (the next major village) but the actual time is taken (usually 1 hour) will depend on how much you stop for snacking/ photography/ admiring the view etc. Interestingly, Imerovigli is also known as the balcony of the Aegean… it’s built on the tallest position of the caldera cliffs (350 meters above sea level).
Imerovigli has a dreamy, romantic atmosphere and there are many serene churches here like the Panagia Malteza and the Panagia Theoskepasti. You will find lots of family-run hotels and studios, traditional tavernas and local boutiques here.
In Imerovigli, there is a confusing fork in the path right in front of the Blue Note restaurant. Incidentally, the Blue Note is an excellent place to lunch around here. Go right if you want to explore the town and have a nice meal but go left for continuing along the awesome caldera path. Its recommended that you do have a meal at this point as the stretch after this is exhausting and bereft of shops and cafes.
If you want to visit the Skaros rock then keep walking along the road that goes left from the fork. Around this point hikers are divided into two groups; some go on a downward path to the left for visiting the Skaros rock and some go right for reaching Oia.
Imerovigli to Skaros Rock
Skaros Rock is an important attraction of Santorini and naturally many tourists decide on taking a detour and hiking to the rock. This is a conical peninsula that forms a massive rock about 20m high and is the seat of Santorini’s first Kasteli (dates back to the 15th century). This was the medieval capital of Santorini and the Venetian royal line used to dwell there.
Skaros was mostly destroyed during the earthquakes and now only lithographs and ruins remain. The rock looks massive and scary from a distance and you can see the white cement stairs leading up to it. The islands of Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni are right behind the rock.
When taking the left turn from Blue Note, you will notice the pretty Church Agios Georgios that offers magnificent views from its patio. Don’t miss exploring this church with its gorgeous caldera views… it’s a few steps below the Blue Note. Look out for the prominent sign with its Greek inscription that says that this church was established in memory of the miracle of Saint George (14-3-98) when 20-year-old Evaggelos Spaiou (Verat, Albania) was saved after he fell from this spot into the gulch.
Just a minute’s walk away is the whitewashed Anastasi church… taking photos here and listening to the chiming bells is a must-do activity on the hike. Go right if you want to explore the Imerovigli town and have a nice meal, but go left if you want to just photograph the churches… you need to walk up to a vantage view (a small rewarding detour).
A path (few meters away from the church) leads downwards to Skaros. Keep following the steps till you reach the Chapel of Agios Ioannis Katiforis… an ancient chapel that affords excellent views of Oia (right) and Santorini cliffs (left). As you keep moving down, the view gets better and you will see huge chunks of red and black rocks with ruins of old houses interspersed between them… a clear testament to the inhabitants who once lived there.
The sight that greets trekkers at the end of the stairs is a feast of colours; purple (flowers), red and black (volcanic remains), green (grass and weeds) and grey-brown(ruins of houses). After this, you will have to ascend for some time before you reach the actual rock and the bevvy of building remnants and cave houses (called hyposkafa in Greek) that surround it.
There is a remote chapel called Theoskepasti (means ‘God Covered’) around here and this makes for amazing photographs. When you are walking back to Imerovigli, you will see the white St Georgios church getting you atop the red-black lava cliff. The entire side trip to Skaros Rock will take around 2 hours.
Imerovigli to Oia
For continuing the hike to Oia you need to return on the same path you had taken before you took the detour for Skaros. You will notice a profusion of 5-star hotels on this path. Some of the best hotels you will pass on this route are Grace, Kapari, Astra, Tholos and Sophia Suites.
The Imerovigli town is very pretty and many choose to wander through it though the maze of paths that exist inside make choosing just one difficult. Just remember one basic rule… head north. As you cross the Avaton Resort and Spa in Imerovigli, the multiple paths converge into one.
Keep walking and you will reach an important landmark… Profitis Ilias Church. Right before you approach the church there is a fork in the path. Go left if you want to see the church and enjoy an amazing view of the Caldera and go right if you want to follow an easier but less eventful route.
About 15 minutes of walk away from Imerovigli there is the Cavo Tagoo hotel bus stop. People who want to go on a shorter hike take the bus from Fira till here (as this is roughly the mid-point of the long trek) and then start walking towards Oia (still about 1 hour 15 minutes away).
Again there is a series of spectacular hotels along the road like Cavo Tagoo, West-East, Santorini Princess, Rocabella etc. The road becomes gravelly after this point and then converts to a path. You can continue walking towards the church of Ikklisia Profitis Ilias (there is signage pointing towards it) that falls along the road to Oia. Don’t confuse this church with the Profitis Ilias monastery that stands atop a grey hill near Fira… that’s historically a more important attraction.
Near the church, there is another confusing fork in the path. If you take the left path… the road is very scenic but a little rough. The right side is a comfortable walk that’s not so pretty. If you continue taking the right path then you will pass San Antonio hotel at some point and thereafter the walker’s path disappears forcing you to walk on the road for 5 minutes. Thankfully the walker’s path resurfaces after those 5 minutes and there is a snack shop at this point too.
To reach Oia, you need to take the curving path to the left that keeps going up… this is probably the hardest and the most boring part of the trail. This is when many walkers want to cut the hike short and take a bus till Oia. However, if you persist walking you will be rewarded with views of Santorini’s wild uninhabited landscape… very different from the picture-postcard white house dotted scenes you have seen.
You will cross a white building named Agios Markos at the top of a hill and right after that, you will finally reach the blue and white chapel of Profitis Ilias. There is another blue-domed chapel that you can spot (Psilos Stavros Church) around here.
Once you reach the top of the trail, the difficulties recede and you begin the descent into Oia. You will be presented with a lovely view of Finikia and the luscious vineyards. After some time you will be able to see the mysterious and uninhabited Thirassia island to the left. There is the lovely Panagia Church that falls on the route.
Oia’s road system is bereft of proper walking paths in some sections but traffic is slow here so there is no hazard. Soon after the Oia market, there is the Lioyerma pool that’s a good place to relax and enjoy a drink and meal after the long and tiring walk. This is also a good place to catch the sunset. For a proper meal though, go down to the famous Amoudi Bay that has fantastic seafood restaurants.
Don’t miss clicking a photo of the Agios Georgios church in Oia. The yellow colour of this church distinguishes it from the usual blue-domed ones. Speaking of blue-domed churches, there are a couple of very pretty ones in Oia along the Nikolau Nomikou street (Agios Spyridonas and Anastasios,). This area is a jewellery hub and is worth exploring. Just beside the churches, there is a set of orange bells framed against the blue Aegean sea… a wonderful sight.
Keep following the Nikolau Nomikou street towards the massive stairs that lead down to Ammoudi Bay. If the sunset is what you are after then go to the nearby ruins of the Agios Nikolaos castle. This is the best place to catch Oia’s famed sunsets and tourists wait for hours before sunset hours to savour this experience.
It’s such a reward to check out the spectacular view of Imerovigli from Oia, and Fira is seen just like a small clump of white buildings to the far right side. The far west portion of Oia has large groups of windmills and blue-domed houses that are often seen on picture postcards.
Many travellers prefer to split the hike into two parts and two days, taking an overnight stopover in Imerovigli. There are lots of things to see in Imerovigli so this is a good idea. Many others prefer to halt for a day at Oia and explore its myriad of attractions before taking the route back. Experienced hikers and very fit people can walk from Fira to Oia in one day and then walk back to Fira the next day.
If your hotel is based in Fira then the best option will be to take a taxi back if you want to start immediately after the mandatory sunset watch in Oia. In case you plan on taking the bus back then be prepared for long serpentine ques in the bus stand right after sunset. A better idea is to spend a couple of hours having a great meal in Oia and then taking a night bus back to Fira. The last bus takes off from Oia around 10 pm.
Public bus connectivity is available between Fira, Firostefani, Imerovigli and Oia. Frequency is not that great always (half an hour to an hour).
The one-way walk if done from Oia to Fira is equally rewarding. The only reason for starting from Fira is that the hike warms you up gradually and the difficulty level increases little by little… the Imerovigli to Oia stretch is the toughest. Ending the trek with an Oia sunset followed by dinner at Amoudi Bay are just awesome rewards.
Three important things which you need to carry on your Fira to Oia/ Oia to Fira hike are a water bottle, camera and sunglasses. And of course, you need to wear a good pair of walking shoes as the path is uneven, dirty and even rough in patches. Wear sunscreen as there is little or no shade on the trail.
Whenever you feel lost and there is nobody around to give directions; follow a simple rule. Keep to the left and make sure that the Aegean sea stays to your left too. The only time when the sea is on your right will be on the last part of the journey (just before getting back on the asphalt road) on the Imerovigli-Oia trail.