Located in the Cyclades group of islands in the southern Aegean Sea, the Greek island of Santorini is what remains following an enormous volcanic eruption which took place around 1600BC. For centuries scholars have theorised as to the Greek philosopher Plato’s inspiration for the lost continent of Atlantis referred to in his works Timaeus and Critias. One of the most plausible theories is that Atlantis refers to the destruction of the Minoan culture on the island of Crete due to a tsunami resulting from this very eruption. Other academics have suggested a link between the biblical reference to the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and the Minoan eruption.
It’s hard to imagine, but as your ship manoeuvres its way around the small islands of Therasia and Nea Kameni on its approach to Santorini you are sailing on the caldera of an active volcano.
More recent earthquakes in 1956 destroyed much of the island forcing mass emigration to the mainland. Today’s resident population of around 15,000 lives in villages scattered around the island earning a living from tourism and agriculture. Only two destinations attract significant numbers of visitors: Fira which stands on top of the Caldera Cliffs above where your ship drops anchor and Oia in the north of the island which has an equally impressive location overlooking the deep blue waters of the caldera.
Port of Santorini
Most cruise ships are too large to approach the island’s two small ports so they generally anchor off the Old Port and provide tenders to get passengers ashore. Once on dry land you can walk up the steep hill into Fira, take a donkey or queue for the cable car. The walk should only be considered if you’re fit and in very good health as the climb up almost 600 steps in the summer heat is not to be taken lightly. Ideally the cable car would be the best option but if you’re unlucky enough to arrive at the same time as other cruise ships you could find yourself having to queue for a significant amount of time.
You can often avoid this inconvenience by booking one of the ship’s official tours as tenders often drop passengers at the Athinios Ferry Port which is a little further south. Tour buses can access the road from here so you aren’t left to your own devices to get up the cliff.
Insider Tip: If you’re planning on using the cable car to get back to your ship you should allow for long queues especially when numerous vessels are in port at the same time. There are often more people trying to go down on the cable car than the number who went up as organised tours usually end in Fira leaving all passengers having to get back down the hill to their ship.
If you’re meeting a cruise ship in Santorini or your journey ends here you shouldn’t have too much trouble arranging flight connections through the island’s busy airport. Most services are seasonal and cover destinations all over Europe although both Olympic Air and Ryanair provide scheduled year round connections to Athens. The airport lies just 6km south-west of Fira, the island’s main town. Buses and taxis are available for arrivals at the airport or you can pre-book a private transfer from Santorini Airport to Fira, Oia or anywhere else on the island. Vehicles are available for all group sizes.
Main Tourist Attractions
On arrival in the two main towns of Santorini you may experience a sense of déjà vu due to the many photographs taken here showing whitewashed houses and a blue domed church standing high above the glorious waters of the Aegean Sea. Such images appear on many brochures and websites promoting the delights of the Greek islands. Clearly they know what they’re doing as Santorini is frequently selected as one of the world’s most beautiful islands by a number of authoritative travel magazines.
Fira: Once you’ve made your way up to the town of Fira from the port you’ll find a compact town of winding streets which is easily accessible on foot. The main attractions include the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral and the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist which were both rebuilt after the 1956 earthquake together with the Museum of Prehistoric Fira which has Minoan artefacts dating back to 3300 BC. Wine enthusiasts will also enjoy a visit to the underground Koutsoyannopoulos Wine Museum where you can learn about the history of local winemaking and taste a few of their wines.
Oia Excursion: Standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking the waters of the volcanic caldera is the beautiful village of Oia which lies just 12km north-west of Fira. Less crowded than its better known neighbour, Oia is everything you are probably expecting of Santorini including that elusive blue-domed church favoured by the Greece tourism board. There are frequent buses to Oia from the bus terminal in Fira or you can take a return boat trip from Fira’s Old Port to Ammoudi Port in Oia which means you don’t have to make your way up those dreaded cliffs. Official shore excursions of the island provided by the cruise lines will always include Oia in their itineraries.
One Night in Santorini
If your cruise ship includes a scheduled overnight stay in Santorini you might consider hiring a car or a moped and taking a tour of the island. This allows you to visit the Minoan archeological site of Akrotiri, take in stunning views of the island from the top of Pyrgos mountain and visit the charming village of Oia. Of course most official shore excursions will include these stops en route if you aren’t keen on renting your own vehicle.
For a unique experience during your night in port you should consider going to the White Door Theatro to take part in the ‘Greek Wedding Show’. You’ll be served typical Greek tapas (mezes) and local wines at your table whilst being treated as a guest of either the bride or the groom. You’ll be invited to dance with members of the cast and can smash plates during the Greek dancing. Great fun!
For something more tranquil head for V Lounge Cafe & Cocktail Bar (Ipapantis Walkway) where you can watch the most beautiful of sunsets followed by dinner at Theoni’s Kitchen (Dekigala Street) which is highly regarded for its excellent Greek cuisine. Another recommendation is the upmarket Argo Restaurant which is located at the top of the steps to the Old Port. It has a lovely terrace in a romantic setting where guests are served quality Greek dishes by a very friendly and professional team of waiters. An excellent choice for special occasions.
About Shuttle Direct
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