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Travel in Greece: A Day in Oia Santorini

I must admit, my blog about OIA SANTORINI has been long overdue..way overdue I suppose! Nevertheless, I didn’t want to pass the chance to write about one of the highlights of Greece, or every Greece tour that is. Oia in Santorini Island might be just one of the most photographed Greek town! And just like me, the first picture of Santorini that you might have seen was of the town’s famous blue & white churches and houses that magically seem to float from the caldera’s cliff face. I am certainly not passing the chance to write about it and share it with YOU guys!

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Definition of Iconic – simply breathtaking!

We grabbed the chance to visit Oia in the second day of our Santorini Itinerary. Being second on our must see places in Santorini , we wanted to allot at least a full day to fully appreciate it’s world-renowned beauty. Staying in Fira (for our travels in Fira , click here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) which is a couple of kilometers away, we decided to have a quick breakfast in our hotel (our traditional Greek Guest House featured here) and then head onto the Fira Bus Station to catch the bus to Oia. Luckily, the bus timings from Fira to Oia was every 30 minutes and I do recommend that you catch the earlier buses, preferably the ones before 12 noon, to avoid having to squeeze yourself in the bus with other tourists going to the town. Imagine, even the aisle of our 10am bus was filled with other travelers who had to stand up and endure the tortuous journey.

Photo taken from Oia with the towns of Imerovigli and Fira seen in the distant cliffs. See the numerous cruise ships docked in Santorini's Caldera!

Photo taken from Oia with the towns of Imerovigli and Fira seen in the distant cliffs. See the numerous cruise ships docked in Santorini’s Caldera!

The bus fare from Fira and Oia only costed 1.60 EUR and payment is given to the bus conductor on board. Travel time from Fira to Oia is only 20 minutes but it might be the longest 20 minutes for some as the roads are really narrow (barely two-way) and are most of the time on hundred foot-drop cliff edges with no safety railings! I love the adrenaline rush though, LOL! Alas, we arrived in the Oia Bus Station. To get to the Oia you see in pictures though, just like in Fira, you need to walk a couple of meters south to get to the cliffs facing the caldera. We got quite a bit lost making our way from the bus station to this part of Oia as the alleys were winding but it was fun all the same and boy it was so worth it! Just look at the view!

Yay, we're in Oia!!!!

Yay, we’re in Oia!!!!

We heard that the town of Oia was badly damaged by an earthquake back in the 1950s, that is why most of the structures you see seem to look comparatively newer than those in Fira. Oia is like the more manicured, more clean (actually, very clean) looking counterpart of Fira. The white structures are almost blinding under the Mediterranean sun accentuated by bright blue domes, doors and windows! The pavement in the main thoroughfare was of marble (how luxurious!) as compared to Fira’s almost cobblestone-like pavements. Even the winding alleyways are more organized if you compare it to the standards of Santorini! Oia for us is the most upscale out of all the towns in Santorini and most of the high end hotels in the island can be found in this town.

*Note: There is a walking path from Oia to Fira. We didn’t try it though as we had limited time in Santorini. If I’m not mistaken, the walk takes around 2-3 hours.

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Wear linen or something light – it looks really cool and bring you more into the zone of being in this faraway Greek Island! 🙂 Picture taken facing east along the marbled pathway of Oia.

Nevertheless, the town is an actual living town, classified as a traditional settlement, not a tourist theme park, so you’ll find in it supermarkets, wine shops and most of the things you’ll find in a normal town. It is hard to imagine that in the olden days, this town was considered a home of vampires!

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Only, you’re in Oia, so things you’ll find in normal towns are more beautiful 🙂

And of course, lots and lots of souvenir shops! Fira is relatively a bit cheaper when it comes to souvenirs though but as the golden rule for souvenirs go,”When You Want It, Get It – You Might Not Have the Chance to Go Back Again!”. Souvenirs and things to buy in Oia are mostly ceramic plates and scale models of Santorini towns, and other ceramic works, lamps, paintings, books, etc.!

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Beautiful ceramic works in one of the street side souvenirs shops: we got the scale model of Oia that you can find the right hand side of the photo for around a couple of euros.

Since we wanted to save the best sites in Oia for last, we decided to explore first the eastern side of Fira (the most iconic sites are in the western part of the town). As we go along the main thoroughfare and the side alleys, we couldn’t do anything but be amazed by how gorgeous the buildings are as simple as they may seem – what took our interest the most are the beautiful doors and windows that deserve their own photo album:

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Walking towards the eastern part of town, we came across one of the most favorite photo shoot locations in Oia (when we got there, even a newly wedded couple were having their pictures taken) – the church whose name we unfortunately don’t know where you can take photos of yourselves on its roof (I love to call it the Church Roof in Oia). When we first saw other people’s photos in this church in Oia , we thought that you really had to climb your way up a high church. In reality though, the roof is right beside a park on a higher level than it – so the roof’s height from the ground is barely a man tall. Still a unique and awesome place to immortalize your travel in Oia! Stun your friends with the optical illusion ha-ha!

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Strolling a bit further east along the main thoroughfare of the town and we had the chance to appreciate more the cliff-side houses and hotels in Oia! The amazing thing about the town and of Fira is that the roof of one structure may be the balcony of another – best example is where we took our shot below: it is a balcony and also a roof of a lower structure.

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Down east to the edge of the town and we found ourselves face to face with a bigger church than that before – unfortunately, we also don’t know the name of this church! There’s over 70 churches in the area of Oia alone and it is really difficult to remember the names of all of them especially because they’re in Greek!

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Since, we got to the eastern end of the town, we decided to follow our steps back and explore the western part of the  town where most of the famous sites in Oia can be found. Most of the restaurants in Oia could also be found there – you’ll discover why as you read along!

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Photo taken facing the western side of Oia

One of the features that make Oia standout are the skafta cave houses carved directly in the rock. Much like a European version of Petra (for our Jordan Travel Blog Series, click here, here, here and here ).

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Luckily, most of these heritage building where rebuilt after the 1956 quake – that is why we can bask in the glory of these out of this world structures. Neo-classical mansions can also be seen in some areas, built by wealthy shipowners back when Oia was still an important commercial center.

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The place is truly mesmerizing that we can’t help but take most of the pictures we can!!!:)

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Anyways, our first stop among the most famous places in Oia is what I believe is the main  and the largest church in town, Panagia Platsani Church . It was nearing 12 noon already when we arrived and just in time when the clergy was closing the church so we weren’t able to see how it looked from the inside. Regardless, it was still a beauty to behold from its exterior!

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And just like in normal towns, the church plaza is a favorite hang out place for locals and tourist alike – bustling with life, it’s one of our favorite places in Oia!

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Local musicians playing in the Panagia Platsani Church Plaza

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Jill with one of the local entertainers a couple of meters from Panagia Platsani Church

Second stop on the list is the postcard quality photo location in Oia, the Twin Domed Church of Oia which can be reached in a side alley (from the main thoroughfare) going down towards the cliff side of the town.

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It also offers a scenic view of the caldera. The steps are pretty steep and narrow so better be careful and surefooted while going down. Jill and I decided to take a rest here for a couple of minutes and just enjoy and absorb the incredible view! Before we left, there was a Japanese couple I believe, in their wedding attires about to have their photo taken in this spot. Proof that Oia is indeed one of the most favorite wedding and engagement photo shoot locations in the entire world.

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Deciding that we had lots more to do and we were getting hungry, we decided to continue following the way west passing by this rustic looking doorway inside one of the towns arched walkways.

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We noticed while walking in the streets of Oia lots of very cute dogs taking a nap and the like – we had fun taking photos of them 🙂

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Going further westwards in Oia gives you a more and more incredible panoramic view of the beautiful crescent shaped facade of Santorini that faces the volcanoes of Paleo and Nea Kameni.

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Alas, we nearing the end western Oia, we found ourselves in the exact spot we were searching for, the Byzantine Castle ruins that stand propped up in one outlying cliffs of the town. Why were we rooting for this spot?

First, because it offers the spectacular view of the Santorini crescent shoreline.

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Second, because, it is the best spot to appreciate the iconic Oia postcard view of the undulating white and pastel colored houses along the town’s cliffs with the backdrop of the Aegean Sea!

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Complete with the view of Oia’s famous windmill – I guess the only other place in the Cyclades Islands that competes with the superstar-like status of the Oia Windmill are those in the island of Mykonos.

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Third, and most importantly, it is the best spot to see and enjoy what most people go to Oia for – its sunset, said to be one of the most beautiful in the whole world. Sunset was still hours away but we just wanted to survey the spot where the climax of our Oia trip was to be, planning out where we wanted to sit when the magic hour comes. Famished and tired of all the walking, we decided it was about time to get lunch. And where did we want to have lunch? Of course, in the famous shores of Oia’s Amoudi Bay – which is basically around a thousand of feet beneath us. And how could it be reached? Yes, you’re correct, by more walking ha-ha!

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The steps downhill to Amoudi Bay are pretty much forgiving and are wide enough for a safe stroll – however, you must be aware of the hords of donkeys being used by tourists prefer to take a ride downhill or uphill. The owners don’t care much about people who prefer to walk and won’t bother going out of their way when they encounter them. So it is your responsibility to get out of the road (if you’re lucky, there are elevated cement seats that you can climb on when the donkeys pass) when the donkeys trod the steps! Be careful of “landmines” as well, donkey poops which are basically left where they fell.

Don’t get me wrong though, going down to Amoudi Bay is fun and a fulfilling experience by itself. Along the way, we got to even pass by this old rustic church…

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The walk downhill takes around 15-30 minutes depending on your speed. Make sure that you stay hydrated! When we counted the steps, it was around 200 plus steps.

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Nearing the bottom, you would pass by these cute donkeys, waiting for their next customers! There’s a less challenging modern downhill road but going down the old steps was more interesting.

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That’s the Greek cousin of Eeyore!

And at last, were at Amoudi Bay! And boy was it worth the thousand feet descent!

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Down there, you could really appreciate the deep blue vastness of the Santorini Caldera that seems to shimmer with diamonds as sunlight hits its pristine waters.

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Kids enjoying the cool waters of Amoudi Bay

This is the first time we were nearest the sea ever since we arrived in the island (blogged here) and it was really part of our itinerary to see the place and to have lunch in the restaurants set right beside the lapping waves in the bay. Among all the restaurants in the area, the best according to Tripadvisor was Dimitri’s Taverna, so that is where we decided to spend some wonderful hours eating our heart out with freshly caught seafood, brought by the fisherman directly from their boats in the bay. Our experience of Dimitri’s Tavern is blogged in this link.

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A weary fisherman with the Taverna’s of Amoudi Bay in the background

After spending around 2 hours at Dimitri’s, we decided it was time to go back thousands of feet up once again! It took us around 25 minutes to go back up and was more tiring obviously. I had to push Jill just so to help her conquer the steps up to Oia ha-ha!

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We were back in our chosen spot in the Byzantine Castle ruins at around 4pm. Sunset was at around 7:30PM. Wondering why we were there so early? It was because of this…

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Crowds gathered at the Byzantine Castle Ruins for the Oia Sunset

Yes, the site gets filled up by lots of tourist as sunset get nearer and nearer and since we wanted a prime location to see the sunset, we’d rather wait for 3 plus hours than to risk having to squeeze our way just to peep of the world’s most beautiful sunset! And with a view pictured below, I guess you won’t mind waiting for that long. Time will simply pass you by!

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Our spot in the Byzantine Castle Ruins while waiting for the sunset. Below me is Amoudi Bay.

As night came closer, the streets on the western end of Oia starting getting packed. If you have the luxury of it, you may reserve seats in the numerous tavernas/traditional Greek restaurants in the area with lovely terraces, but the rates would be higher than usual for sunset.

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Definition of Filled-Up Oia

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People climb walls and rocky outcrops to get a glimpse of the much-awaited sunset. Definitely not something for those who aren’t that fond of heights!

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The volcanoes Nea and Paleo Kameni in the background

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Panorama shot taken from the spot that we chose to enjoy the sunset, making the most out of the view of the volcanoes, the horizon, and the town of Oia!

At around 7pm, sailboats started to gather in Amoudi Bay, filled with visitors who wanted to appreciate the spectacle. As for my personal opinion, being on higher ground is the better way to go though! Nevertheless, it was magical! The sailboats started blowing their horns when the sun touched the horizon!

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Curious of what the fuss was all about? Maybe the picture below would make you understand – this view made us understand. Ain’t it amazing? With the wispy clouds in the sky, the vibrant colors in the horizon and fading sunlight hitting the island and reflected on the sea – it was enchanting! If you had one thing to do in Oia, this was it! It is so much worth it!!!

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And as the sun bade goodbye, it left such an awesome light show that would forever be in our memories…Definitely the most beautiful sunset Jill and I had ever seen…Wonderful, simply wonderful!

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We waited till the sun was out sight. As soon as it was all over, we decided to speed up going back to the bus station as there are limited buses going back to Fira and we wanted to get back there the earliest we could. The crowd was huge and you really have to be quick to get to the bus stop just in time as we did!

That concludes our day at the iconic Greek island town of Oia. Overall, I would still prefer Fira over Oia as a base in exploring the whole of Santorini island as it is more accessible and has more activities to offer than Oia, but Oia itself is definitely a must see destination when in Santorini! Till next time guys!

For the our blog series about our Santorini Vacation , just click on the links below:

On the Way to Santorini

Our Accomodation in a Traditional Guest House in Santorini

Exploring the Town of Fira Part 1

Exploring the Town of Fira Part 2

Best Location to View the Sunset in Fira

Akrotiri – believed to be the Lost City of Atlantis

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