To go from Fira City to the Old Port or from the Old Port to Fira City; you will have 3 basic choices. The first choice is walking down / up 500 (or more) steps. The second choice is to ascend/ descend via a donkey/ mule ride… this is a long-running tradition in Santorini. The third, swiftest and easiest option is to take a cable car ride.
The Teleferico (Cable Car) has been operating not for long but it already has amassed legions of riders who wait patiently outside the cable car stations in Port and Fira Town. The usual time to ascend the 500 odd steps by foot between the port and Fira town is 1.5 hours and it’s extremely exhausting though rewarding in terms of views.
For kids and seniors, navigating the donkey poo-laden steps are next to impossible. The other option of using the poor malnourished donkeys is also extremely uncomfortable as well as unethical … it takes close to an hour too. Teleferico solves all these problems by providing a swift 4-minute ascent/ descent from the port to Fira town and lets tourists save their time and energy for more sightseeing.
The Loula and Evangelos Nomikos Foundation were started in 1979 by the shipowner Evangelos Nomikos that bore all the expenses for the purchase and the installation of the Cable Car. The transport problem of Santorini was causing a lot of issues to the locals as well as tourists who were visiting the island each year. It was becoming very difficult for seniors and kids to make the journey from the port at the bottom of the hill to Fira at the top of the hill.
The ethical concerns about the practice of using malnourished donkeys as the sole transportation medium was also another factor that necessitated the installation of the cable car.
Evangelos took the noble step of offering one of the most superior transportation works of the Cyclades province… the Teleferico. The cable car belongs equal to the 14 communities of Santorini and has now become an important part of enjoying the Santorini experience. The cable car started running in 1982 and has been serving the local community and tourists since then.
A percentage of the money earned by the cable car is offered to the traditional mule drivers who have been serving the island for decades and are an integral part of Santorini’s culture. The rest of the proceeds from the tickets go to the island communities for the execution of developmental work. Around 1200 people per hour are served by the Santorini Cable Car and the Doppelmayr cable car company has constructed it according to the Austrian regulations.
What to See and Do
The cable car carriages look modern and functional and each carriage will hold 6 people in 2 rows of 3 each. People inside will face each other and look inwards so everyone has to twist/ crane their necks for a better view. Windows will have ventilation slots but they don’t open. 6 gondolas travel in a line together and that means every 5 minutes 36 people are travelling up and 36 people are travelling down. It just makes you wish that there were larger and some more cable cars as there is a huge rush in peak ours.
If you don’t pre-book your cable car ride tickets then you might end up being shocked at the long serpentine queues that form outside the cable car station. Santorini is a busy place and in summers it’s even busier and the fact that the cable car is the easiest mode of transport between the fort and town makes it wildly enticing. You might end up queuing for 2 hours to avail the 4-minute ride. Lots of cruise ships pull up in the port below and the lines for the ascent into Fira town especially become too long.
The cable car will swing a little when it first starts and will then descend at a sharp angle (Fira town to Port). If you sit facing the Aegean water then you will benefit from the best view of the Caldera so choose your seats accordingly. On the other hand, if you have vertigo then a seat facing the ocean will only make it worse so you might as well sit facing the cliffs.
The hillside is very steep and the cable car ride provides exciting views. It also takes visitors to the proximity of the large cliffs. The town of Fira is roughly 722 feet above sea level, so you will be ascending/ descending that distance in 4 minutes flat.
One of the highlights of the trip is the cable car going through the hillside retaining wall that appears to have a large hole forced into it to create the passageway for the cars. The journey through an actual hill with an uneven hole acting as a passage is quite a unique experience.
Santorini has lovely private villas, churches, restaurants and shops and some of the best of these are in Fira. It’s also fascinating to watch the houses and, hotels and restaurants up close from the cable car in Fira and then enjoy them dwindling into monopoly sized toys when you descend into the port. You won’t be able to keep your camera away.
The view over the Aegean sea islets is exceptional and the houses will look snow-capped to you especially if you are seeing them for the first time. Later you will realise that all of them are painted pristine white.
The old port area is an excellent place to explore if you are bargain hunting and scouting for souvenirs. Small shops sell greek art and local craft and they are always open to negotiations. Prices will be cheaper than in Fira and some small cafes and tavernas serve excellent seafood and the freshest Mediterranean cuisine. It’s one of the best places in Santorini to people watch while eating olives, feta cheese and warm bread. It’s also fun watching the large yachts and bigger double-storied cruise liners roll in though immediately afterwards the old port area becomes very crowded.
Sometimes swimming competitions are going on and it’s a lot of fun to see all the swimmers compete. Many small boats have a connection from the old port to the islands of Nea Kameni, Palea Kameni and Thirasia.
If you have time then it’s worth taking two cable car rides; one in the morning and one in the late evening. You get to enjoy the caldera, ocean and volcanic cliffs in the morning and you can watch the houses and buildings light up late evening.
Turn left from the bottom (old port) cable car station and you will be able to see the donkeys carrying people up. Though it’s not recommended using this mode of transport, click a few pictures for memories sake.
The Teleferico timetable is complicated as it has 5 sets of timings for 5 different slots in the year.
From 1st April to the end of April, the Santorini cable car runs from 7.00 a.m. to 9.00 p.m. There is a cable car available every 20 minutes.
From 1st May to the 31st May and the 1st September to 31st of October the Santorini cable car runs from 7.00 a.m. to 11.00 p.m. There is a cable car available every 20 minutes.
From 1st June to the 31st of August, the Santorini cable car runs from 7.00 a.m. to 11.00 p.m. There is a cable car available every 20 minutes.
From 1st November to the end of November and the 1st of March to the end of March, the Santorini cable car runs from 7.00 a.m. to 10.30 a.m. and from 2.30 p.m. to 6.00 p.m. There is a cable car available every 30 minutes.
From 1st December to the end of February, the Santorini cable car runs from 7.30 a.m. to 9.00 a.m and from 3 p.m. to 4.00 p.m. there is a cable car available every 30 minutes.
Keep an eye on the Santorini Cable Car Time Table Page as the timings can change suddenly without notice
It takes 6 euros to go up and 6 euros to go down via the cable car. The ride is very short… about 4 minutes and in this context, the prices seem a bit steep. Children’s tickets (below 5 years) will cost 3 euros and if you lug aboard heavy pieces of luggage they will cost 3 euros too. You will feel better about the prices when you compare the cable car ride with the donkey ride up to Fira town that also costs 6 euros and is way more uncomfortable and time-consuming.
You can take the cable car up and then opt to walk down. Walking down the 500 odd steps to Oia will not make you as breathless as climbing them up.
You can pre-book the tickets from Viator and choose the time of your travel.
How to reach
If you are arriving in Santorini via a passenger ferry then it will dock at the port of Athinios that’s located on the southeast side of the island. The best way to reach the cable car station from the new port (Athinios) is to call for a prepaid taxi. You can call a taxi by dialling +302286022555 and arrange for it to meet you at the port and drop you right at the cable car station. The cable car station is 20 minutes of walk away from the parking lot if you are travelling by rented car.
On the other hand, if you are arriving in Santorini via cruise ship then you will get down at the Old Port that’s directly beneath Fira and very different from Athinios. The cruise ships will anchor in the bay and then small boats (tenders) will come up and meet the ship. These take the passengers from the cruise ship to the dock and then everyone joins the queue to ride up in the cable car. You need to follow the left side road towards Santozeum and the cable car station will be visible after a few meters.
Many tourists mistakenly think that the cable car station is beside Athinios Port whereas the fact is that the distance between Old Port of Fira and Athinios Port is 8 km. The Cable car station is located next to the Old Port and it is not within walking distance from Athinios Port unless you want to hike up 8 km lugging heavy luggage along steep uneven terrain.
Once you reach the cable car station at Fira town there is plenty to see and do. You can start by exploring the small Archaeological museum right opposite the cable car station (open from 8.30 a.m to 3.00 p.m.) daily. Dekigala street near the cable car station has loads of restaurants; Mamalena (Mediterranean), Bubbletale (ice cream), Luck’s Souvlakis (gyros and street food) and Food One F1 Santorini (grills). Fira is one of the most exciting cities of Santorini and there is plenty to see and do around here.