When someone asks about the sights of Santorini, it is the town of Oia (Οια in Greek) that comes to my mind first. Oia is probably the most beautiful town on the entire island of Santorini. Well, okay, one of the most beautiful – we have literally one or two other towns that can compete with it.

Oia is in the north-western part of the island, 100 metres above sea level. Today I’m walking there from the centre of the island, so it’s a long way to go. I go out on the balcony and estimate the length and duration of the walk – there it is, on the horizon, nowhere else to go:

"View of the village of Oia from the centre of Santorini Island: today we're going for a walk to the very north!" - Sergey Kolyer (Santorini Travel Agency)
“View of the village of Oia from the centre of Santorini Island: today we’re going for a walk to the very north!” – Sergey Kolyer (Santorini Travel Agency)

The town of Oia impresses with its architecture, tranquillity and picturesque panoramas. The quiet and peaceful atmosphere is of course relative, as it is the most popular place during the summer season in Santorini, but it is easier to embrace it with joy than the more bustling and energetic atmosphere in the island’s capital.

Oia is the most beautiful town on our island

Santorinika Travel Agency, from personal experience of living on the island
View of Oia from the sea, Santorini, Greece
View of Oia from the sea, Santorini, Greece

It’s hard to see it from afar, but Oia is all about tiny houses with round roofs, the soft rounded lines of stairs and narrow streets, arches, old mills, pure white and stunning views all around:

The city of Oia, Santorini, Greece
The city of Oia, Santorini, Greece

When you’re in the city and out on the viewpoints, suddenly everything becomes so tiny and intimate that sometimes during a walk you might accidentally find yourself… on the roof of someone’s house!

The village of Oia, Santorini, Greece
The village of Oia, Santorini, Greece

It feels like walking among the toys, which is why the picturesque town of Oia in Santorini is so appealing. How could you not take selfies, even if you could come here at any time? 😉

Behind me is the village of Oia, Santorini, Greece
“Sorry about the haircut – it can be very windy in this part of the island!” – Sergey Kolyer (Santorinika Travel Agency)

This is the view of Oia from the north side of the island of Santorini, the village is just behind me. The photo was taken almost from the extreme point – on the observation area in the old fortress (GPS coordinates: 36.46034, 25.37309).

The history of Oia

Unlike many other settlements on the island, Oia boasts a rather rich history. The first mention of the settlement dates back to the beginning of the Venetian era. During the Venetian domination, the village of Oia in Santorini was one of the five fortresses of the island. In those days, such settlements had a corresponding prefix in the name – “castellia” (kαστελλια in Greek), and Oia was then called Castelli St. Nicholas, that is, the Fortress of Saint Nicholas (or Agios Nikolaos). The fortress is now both a landmark on the island and one of the most popular viewpoints in the town.

Beneath the cliffs of Oia was a port, and it ensured the prosperity of the island’s economy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was originally a purely “maritime” town, inhabited by sailors and shipowners, “karavokirides” (καραβοκυριδες in Greek).

Now looking at the size of our island it is rather difficult to imagine, but in the past hundreds and hundreds of ships were involved in trade between different countries. Its fortunate location made Santorini one of the most important ports of the eastern Mediterranean. By the way, even then the wine produced here was so good that it was exported to France and Italy.

The port of Oia was for a long time an important naval hub and lost its importance only near the middle of the 20th century with the development of the large port of Piraeus (Πειραιάς in Greek) near the capital of Greece.

Oia architecture: smooth lines, boundless white and more

From the beginning, the village of Oia in Santorini was formed under conditions of austerity of resources. A volcanic island with a minimum of suitable plots and materials did not allow any large-scale construction.

It was very difficult to build houses in this area because of the almost vertical slopes, loose and easily crumbling soil, and difficulty in transporting expensive materials. The strongest winds and lack of fuel to heat the dwellings in winter also had their effect.

All these difficulties formed the basis of its unusual architecture, which now pleases the eyes of millions of travelers from all over the world. But keep in mind that the streets in the village are very narrow, and there are a lot of people who want to walk along them! Look:

The streets of Oia in july, Santorini, Greece
The streets of Oia in july, Santorini, Greece

Walking in the village of Oia you can find two main groups of buildings, originally dating from the period from the 13th to the 16th century. The first type is “yposkafes katoikies” (yπόσκαφες κατοικίες in Greek) – submerged rooms with domed roofs and tiny interior rooms. The second is “kapetanospita” (καπετανόσπιτα in Greek) – rectangular buildings with domed roofs and large living spaces above the ground.

The buildings of the first type were smaller and simpler, and ordinary sailors lived in them. The larger and richer buildings belonged to the ship owners.

Traditional white buildings with blue doors and shutters in the village of Oia, Santorini, Greece
Traditional white buildings with blue doors and shutters in the village of Oia, Santorini, Greece

In 1956, Santorini was struck by a massive earthquake that severely destroyed Oia. Since then and until the arrival of tourist fame, the town was practically abandoned by its inhabitants: in the 1970s there were barely three hundred people in this village!

Oia has been revived as one of the most popular resorts in the Cycladic archipelago

Modern city of Oia is the result of a program of reconstruction and restoration of the old city with maximum preservation of the original architectural style and materials, which took place here for a decade and a half. Looks nice, huh?

Modern hotels in Oia, Santorini, Greece
Modern hotels in Oia, Santorini, Greece

In this relatively short time, Oia has turned into an amazingly beautiful city, which attracts many tourists every year. By the way, these days the former homes of sailors and shipowners have become hotels!

Hotels in Oia are the former homes of sailors and shipowners

Snow-white arches in the little lodges of Oia, Santorini, Greece
Snow-white arches in the little lodges of Oia, Santorini, Greece

A modern hotel in Oia in traditional architectural style – isn’t it a pure beauty?

Most of the hotels are in the spirit of the whole village of Oia, Santorini
Most of the hotels are in the spirit of the whole village of Oia, Santorini

What to see in Oia: the sights of the northern capital of Santorini

The entire town of Oia – down to the smallest street – is one of the most important and interesting attractions of Santorini. The maximum use of white and ochre in the exterior of the buildings, a little bright blue and red in the elements of the houses – here you will see stunning combinations of colors and shapes in every street, many balconies and gray and white staircases over the dizzying cliffs.

The snow-white stairs in Oia, Santorini
The snow-white stairs in Oia, Santorini

It’s pure beauty, isn’t it? These stairs lead down the caldera to (mostly very expensive) hotels with sunset view:

The snow-white stairs in Oia, Santorini
The snow-white stairs in Oia, Santorini

The sights of Oia are varied, and especially worth noting the Maritime Museum (coordinates for GPS: 36.46128, 25.37379) and the Museum of Musical Instruments, as well as several art galleries on the main street.

While walking the streets, don’t forget to visit the main religious landmark, the Church of Our Lady of Akafistu or Platsani (Ο Ιερος Ναος της Παναγιας της Πλατσανης in Greek). In front of the church there is a spacious square, a favorite meeting place for those who are lost or have a date (GPS coordinates: 36.46198, 25.37635), so it’s easy to find:

Church of Our Lady of Platsani in Oia, Santorini, Greece
Church of Our Lady of Platsani in Oia, Santorini, Greece

The church of Panagia Platsani was originally built inside the walls of the fortress of Oia. After the earthquake of 1956, the church was moved to the center of the village. The inhabitants decided to build a cathedral in honor of an icon of the Virgin Mary that a fisherman found in the sea. They rebuilt it on a higher and more stable foundation, so it is a reconstructed and relatively modern building. Today it contains many tributes to sailors and townspeople, and also Church of Our Lady of Platsani overlooks the sea, where her spirit can bless all ships and their passengers.

By the way, traffic is prohibited in the tourist part of Oia, which gives unforgettable silence, peace and tranquility, especially at night

Santorinika Travel Agency, from personal experience of living on the island

Walking along the main street, you can reach the ruins of the ancient fortress (GPS coordinates: 36.46016, 25.37282). From here you can have a beautiful panoramic view of the island of Santorini and the caldera. Unfortunately, the current condition of the ruins leaves much to be desired (it needs some restoration works), so in many places there are signs prohibiting access. Anyway, this place looks great!

The old fortress in Oia is now one of the most popular viewpoints of Santorini
The old fortress in Oia is now one of the most popular viewpoints of Santorini

Don’t limit yourself to the main street and choose narrow paths over steep cliffs. They will wander and loop, playfully running up and down, leading you to more and more places (or even to tiny balconies and patios of someone’s houses) with unrealistically beautiful views:

Streets of Oia Village, Santorini, Greece
Streets of Oia Village, Santorini, Greece

Sightseeing, huh? You need to watch your step, too!

Oia stairs, Santorini, Greece
Oia stairs, Santorini, Greece

Do you have the strength left and are you ready to climb about 250 steps down and then up? Be sure to go down to Oia harbor to see the view of the beautiful city from the sea, take pictures on the red rocks and return… On a donkey? ????

Donkey taxi in Oia, Santorini, Greece
Donkey taxi in Oia, Santorini, Greece

However, this route is not for everyone: if you have no special purpose in the port, then it is not worth going down – it is better to spend more time upstairs and prepare for the main event – meeting the sunset in Oia.

Sunset in Oia: one of the best places to watch the sunset in Santorini

Of course, people come to Oia not only for roaming around the city. The city of Oia in Santorini is one of the best areas of the island to watch a beautiful sunset and to capture this incredible beauty – in your memory, your heart, your camera, your phone – and so on down the list 🙂 So my advice to you: try to orient yourself during the day and choose in advance the place where you would like to look at the setting sun in the evening. In the evening, firstly, it will be too busy, and secondly, there will be more tourists on the streets!

Sunset in Oia, Santorini, Greece
Sunset in Oia, Santorini, Greece

Maybe it will be a small cafe or a hotel, or maybe a good turn and a viewing point in the street… The most iconic place for sunset in Santorini is the windmill of Milos (GPS coordinates: 36.46147, 25.37233), which is located in the western part of the town of Oia. By the way, this windmill is often seen on souvenirs and postcards!

Windmill in Oia after sunset, Santorini, Greece
Windmill in Oia after sunset, Santorini, Greece

However, in the other – opposite direction – the view is certainly not worse!

The city of Oia after sunset, Santorini, Greece
The city of Oia after sunset, Santorini, Greece

By the way, this week’s approximate sunset time in Santorini is 20:28.

With sunset the adventure does not end: after the sunset be sure to stay in town and watch the lights begin to shine on one side of the hotels and stores, and on the other – catamarans, yachts and ships in the sea.

Meeting the sunset together with Viktoria Doukmasova (Santorinika Travel Agency)
Meeting the sunset together with Viktoria Doukmasova (Santorinika Travel Agency)

Wait for all the city lights to come on and walk through the familiar streets. You’ll see Oia gradually sink into night, and the streets and houses, flooded with soft, warm light, change their appearance. By the way, all the stores, restaurants and cafes are still open, so you can continue your walk even until midnight. We called a familiar pastry shop at that moment, though – we really wanted some sweets instead of jewels 🙂

Night Streets of Oia, Santorini
Night Streets of Oia, Santorini

Late night? Great! The nighttime Oia is beautiful and amazing in its own way:

City of Oia at night, Santorini, Greece
City of Oia at night, Santorini, Greece

Where is Oia in Santorini: go to the north coast… All the way to the end!

The village is located on the north-west of our island in the inner part of its tip – you just can’t go wrong! Firstly, because all roads and signs lead here, and secondly, it is simply the northwesternmost village on the edge of the island, and you can’t go further by land 🙂

The place is so popular that it is marked on absolutely all maps. The city of Oia on the map of Santorini:

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GPS coordinates of Oia village: 36.46168, 25.37506

How to get to Oia

Santorini is quite a small island, and you can get to Oia fairly quickly by taxi or by shuttle bus, not to mention rented cars, quad bikes and, of course, organized bus excursions. Briefly about each way.

Regular bus

To get to Oia by bus from Fira you can take any of the following routes Fira – Oia or Fira – Baxedes Paradisos (read more about public buses in Santorini).

Please note that in the evening the buses are often crowded with many people who want to go to the sunset. From about 17:30 until 20:00 there may well be traffic jams on the roads. It is therefore advisable to be in the city a few hours before sunset so that you do not miss this magical experience (be prepared: weather forecast and sunset times in Santorini).

Special transfer to the sunset viewpoints by minibus

Oia is a very popular place, so you can also get to the village by special shuttle minibuses, which depart from almost any part of the island. For example, our route from Fira to Oia will cost about 10-15-20 euros (this is the price for both ways, not single direction!), which is noticeably cheaper than a taxi. The minibus must also be booked at least one day in advance, especially during the high season. For details read more about bus tours.

Organized excursion to Oia

If you want to see not only Oia, but the entire island, then pay attention to the special organized excursion routes. Comfortable bus, professional guide and optimal route of the trip – you can choose the tour that suits you.

For lovers of the sea, there is the option of a boat trips: the ship docks in the port of Oia, from where you can go up to the city.

Both excursions must also be purchased in advance, otherwise there is a great risk of running into a lack of availability, especially from June to September.

Taxi for the sunset ride

If you are traveling as a family or in a small group, you can take a taxi for sunset time. Depending on the season and taxi service, a one-way trip from Fira to Oia will cost at least 30-35 euros. You also need to be cautious: it is almost impossible to find a free taxi before sunset and it’s better to arrange a transfer in advance (more about taxi in Santorini).

A trip to Oia by rental car

For those who like to travel in a rented vehicle (more about car rental in Santorini) the route will be very simple. To reach Oia by car from the south or central parts of the island, you have to take the main road and… just follow it north. And it’s that simple! We don’t have a lot of roads and complicated interchanges on the island.

If you are staying on the east coast of the island, you can reach Oia by taking the road that goes through the villages of Panagia Kalou and Koloumpos. In both cases, the village of Oia will be the terminal point – it is impossible to pass by, and parking can be found at its northeastern end (for example, here: 36.46262, 25.37327).

Panoramic views of the caldera and Santorini, the best places to watch sunrises and sunsets… The city of Oia was created as if for unhurried walking and quiet contemplation. If you want to combine your stay on the island with a beach holiday, look no further than the southern and eastern regions: the beautiful black volcanic beaches of the small sea-side town of Kamari are waiting for you!


Sergey Kolyer

I am co-founder of the Santorinika Travel Agency, a personal guide and the author of the island travel guide. I share the beauty of Greece all year round and help organise great vacations on land, sea and air.