Santorini is a distinctively shaped island in the middle of the Mediterranean sea, and maybe it’s the strange crescent shape of the land that ushers in the most beautiful sunsets you may be privileged to see. Fira, the capital village of the island, and Oia, the whitewashed wonder on the northern tip of the island, both lie on the western side, giving travelers ample opportunity to access the golden glow over the Mediterranean.
Sunsets are classically romantic, but you can also see them as part of an adventure; the challenge is to casually try to catch the stunning views from a new angle each evening. Santorini is part of the Cyclades island chain, and is much more easygoing than its reputedly “party-island” counterpart, Mykonos. But whether you’re a honeymooning couple or a trio of friends or a family, a beautiful view is a beautiful view – and there’s nothing that can replicate a Santorini evening.
Of course, you must fill the days as you await that magical moment in the evening, but I think you’ll find that you can turn your day into the perfect set-up for a Santorini sunset. Fill your agenda with adventure, food, and experiences with Greek culture so that you’re ready to relax and take it all in come eventide.
- Santorini is notoriously crowded in the summer months, which is when the sun shines and the seas are ripe for swimming and cliff jumping and beach time. But if you truly are looking for an adventure and not just another vacation in the shadow of huge crowds, I would recommend going to Santorini in mid-spring. The first weekend in April is technically the beginning of the season, but you’ll find that the island is still relatively uncrowded, you won’t have to make dinner reservations, and you can move around the villages and beaches with ease.
- If you do go in the off-season, be wary of the ferry schedule around the Greek islands, which can change without much advance warning. The good news is that you don’t have to book these ferries in advance if you’re travelling in the off season – you can usually buy your tickets as late as the day before. But the ferry service. Blue Star Ferries is reliable and their website is one of the most helpful. Also note that Athens is not quite a port city – the port of Athens is located at Piraeus, an easy cab ride from the city. Blue Star Ferries runs a ferry daily that leaves Piraeus at 7:25 a.m. and arrives in Santorini at 3:10 p.m. You can also fly directly from Athens to Santorini in less than an hour.
- Ouzo is the preferred local liquor, and is best enjoyed before, along with, and after your meal. If the anise-flavor of the alcohol does not appeal, try this local variation: warm ouzo mixed with honey, which will relax you faster than you can say “Yiamas!” (Greek for “cheers!”)
What to Do While Waiting for Santorini Sunsets
One of the coolest parts of the Santorini sunset itself is, of course, the presence of the volcano island in the middle of the caldera, or the volcano island, inside the bay formed by the crescent shape of Thira (the Greek name for Santorini). The way the glow of the sun descends on that smaller island in the middle of the bay makes the whole experience much more dramatic and visually interesting.
Watching the shadow of the caldera island is great from Santorini, but so is adventuring on and around the island during the daytime. You can take boat services from the port of Fira to the island; your hotel will be able to make this booking for you, or you can browse through the options of several companies, including Santorini Day Tours, which will charge 33 Euros for a full-day guided group excursion.
Brace yourself for a speedy ride with some saltwater spray casualty. Particularly for those travelling through the Greek islands in the fall, winter, and spring, this boat ride is a chance to get up close and personal with the blue waters surrounding these Cyclades Islands.
I went for the first weekend in April, and though several people on our boat tour took the plunge by jumping overboard to swim, I stayed wrapped up in my sweatshirt. In the summer months, however, swimming is a highlight in the Greek islands, and the waters around the caldera are known for their hot spring spots, where the sea suddenly gets warmer.
Once you are on the caldera island, you can join your boat group for a short hike to the top of the basin, where you can look down and see where the famous volcanic explosions took place in the Minoan era. The volcano is still active – think of the risk as part of your adventure, and the way you will earn the right to see a beautiful sunset that evening.
On the island itself, you will also notice the reddish color of the terrain, a welcome surprise amidst the endless combination of whitewashed walls and blue ocean and sky.
Where to Stay in Santorini
The Majestic Hotel is an excellent place to stay, with 5 star accommodations, an intimate setting, and an extremely friendly staff. Located just outside of Fira, the hotel provides a luscious infinity pool, spa treatments without too much fussiness, and a concierge that is willing to go above and beyond to book any activities you choose. I particularly enjoyed the lobby bar – usually just a standard, uneventful staple of a hotel’s entrance area – which provided a quiet, casual spot to enjoy a personalized drink after a full day spent in the sun.
If you are interested in staying directly in the town of Fira, Hotel Aressana is a great option. Their spa is top-notch, and the hotel does an excellent job of emphasizing the luxury of a Santorini experience. Their wedding services are also particularly helpful.
For a more private experience, try Chelidonia Villas in Oia. The private terraces offered as accommodations are excellent for private sunset viewings; every room has a view of the caldera.
Where to Dine to Watch Santorini Sunsets
Fira and Oia both have plenty of cafes and restaurants that advertise their sunsets. Particularly outside the summer months, these places lose their tourist-trap sense, and certain cafes are famous for a reason – they really do have the best views. Classico Café is one good option, with a beautiful balcony.
I would recommend the classic Greek salad with feta, tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers to accompany any sunset viewing; a viewing is also best enjoyed with an array of local seafood (beware: “squid” will definitely come in “squid” form) shared with friends.
Of course, part of the adventure is venturing off and finding your own café or restaurant to enjoy the sunset with your friends, family, or lover. Oia is perhaps best suited for this activity, as its streets have a particularly labyrinthine feel. All you have to do is head towards the reddening glow on the horizon. For instance, when I came upon the café called Karma, I knew I had found a special place to stop.
My favorite dish at Karma was the array of their house meatballs, made extra sumptuous by the addition of Greek feta cheese and particularly flavorful by the accompanying dip of sundried tomatoes grown on the island.
The bus that runs between Oia and Fira is also a must during your Santorini visit. Depending on the day of the week and the season, you will share the bus with local students going about their normal schedule.
Although not on the “sunset trail” along the west coast of the island, another fantastic restaurant to try is that at The Majestic Hotel, located just outside Fira. The Crocus Restaurant is their formal dining venue, and the tall windows offer a beautiful alternate view of the island’s eastern slope.
I would suggest walking to the Majestic Hotel (along the main road that runs south from Fira) during peak sunset hours to catch the view on your way to dinner. Immediately outside the village of Fira, you can enjoy uninterrupted views of the lighting on the water, as the land merely slopes to the water with hardly a building in sight as you gaze westward.