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Ever since I started planning our winter trip to Santorini I knew I want to hike the Caldera Trail from Fira to Oia. It seemed like the perfect way to explore the most remarkable villages of the island while enjoying the striking scenery of Santorini’s caldera, all in one day. And it was even better then I expected!
The walk from Fira to Oia has around 10 km and based on the information I found online it should take 3 – 4 hours to complete. As embarrassing as it is to admit, it took us a whole day to get from Fira to Oia. But it wasn’t for lack of stamina, there is just too much to see along the way!
The hike itself is easy, there is not much of elevation and the roads and paths are mostly wide and comfortable. The only difficulty could come from the weather. We walked from Fira to Oia the first weekend in February and the weather was close to perfect. It started as a cloudy day but the skies cleared during the day and we arrived at Oia just in time for a beautiful, colorful sunset. With a temperature of about 17 degrees and no wind whatsoever, we couldn’t wish for better hiking weather.
During the summer, it would be another story. There is no shade and not many refreshment options along the way, especially on the second half of the hike between Imerovigli and Oia. Therefore, it’s a good idea to plan the walk as early in the morning as possible or late in the afternoon to avoid the highest temperatures in the middle of the day.
Hat, sunblock and plenty of water are a must, I got a bit of sunburn even during the winter (I’m an extreme case of pasty white, though, so this probably wouldn’t happen to the majority of “normal” people). The summer Meltemi winds can be another issue but there is no solution for that really. They are a necessary evil of any holidays in the Aegean and a reminder that nothing in life is perfect.
As a true map enthusiast, I bought the Anavasi Hiking map of Santorini long before our trip but it was really unnecessary in order to find the trail from Fira to Oia. First of all, the path is obvious and easy to follow and Oia as the final destination stays in clear sight for the whole hike.
What’s more, the trail is marked well by wooden signs pointing towards Oia and possible detours. The markings are scarce on the first section through Firostefani and Imerovigli where the direction is clear but later on, they mark every crossroad that could be confusing.
Even though we didn’t need the map on this hike it is useful if you plan to explore some lesser known trails of Santorini on foot. It includes 19 hiking trails all over the island (and another 6 on the neighboring Therasia) with descriptions in both Greek and English. The trails range from short village walks to day-long treks through the more remote parts of the island and completing them all could fill a whole week of awesome hiking holidays.
If you plan to hike in the afternoon and want to stay in Oia for a sunset like we did don’t forget to check the bus time table and alternative transport options like a taxi or private shuttle back to your lodgings. In the winter, the last KTEL bus leaves Oia at 17 o clock and we were left with hitchhiking as our only option for getting back to Fira in the evening.
We started our hike to Oia on the main square of Fira in front of the characteristic building of hotel Atlantic. If you are very new to Santorini and want to get your bearings right just face the caldera and look right. You will see the white silhouette of Oia crowning the dark cliffs at the far end of the bay.
There is no sign or map marking the beginning of the trail so just start walking north towards Oia keeping the caldera views to your left. The street (later called Nomikou) follows the rim of caldera climbing up slightly towards the first of Fira’s “suburbs”, Firostefani. If you don’t plan on spending much more time exploring Fira later on, I recommend to make a detour here and visit the Catholic Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist.
Catholic Catedral of Saint John the Baptist in Fira: From the outside, this smallish Roman Catholic churches don’t differ from the other (Greek Orthodox) churches and chapels scattered all over the island. To be completely honest, we stumbled upon it by a chance when wandering around Fira and entered only out of curiosity. But the inside is beautifully decorated and has a peaceful, calming atmosphere.
I’m not a religious person at all and as much as I love visiting churches and monasteries during my travels, its mostly just for historical reasons or out of curiosity. But this little Catholic cathedral, possibly the only one I have visited during my years in Greece, reminded me of home (Prague) and was an unexpected but pleasant surprise.
Three Bells of Fira: Another church you will probably want to visit while hiking toward Imerovigli is the iconic Three Bells of Fira in Firostefani. This traditional whitewashed church with a blue dome and pretty bell tower is one of the most photographed sights in Santorini and cannot be missed (if only for that reason).
To get the characteristic picture of the church’s silhouette against the sea you’ll have to climb up to a small car park above the church. When walking from Fira just continue past the church turning right at the first staircase you’ll meet. There are signs marking the way from the main street and the walk takes only a couple of minutes.
The church itself is as charming and picturesque as any other Greek church but its surroundings were a bit underwhelming. It took some serious composition skills to exclude the less pretty parts from the picture whilst keeping both the dome and the bell tower in.
A lot of people omit the detour to Skaros Rock altogether in order to make the hike easier and shorter. And it makes sense, from a distance it doesn’t look like there is much to see on the rock itself anyway. But surprisingly, Skaros Rock was one of my absolutely favorite places along the trail and I wouldn’t want anyone to miss it.
To get to the Skaros Rock from Imerovigli, watch out for a sign pointing to the left towards the rock.
The path passes a small church called Anastasi (head to its terrace for stunning views of the Skaros Rock and caldera) winding down towards the rock. It was broken down during our visit and after a couple of minutes asking for directions we ended up sneaking down through a closed hotel. However, under normal circumstances, it is easy to find and follow, no climbing across closed gates necessary.
Watching the steep, stark slopes of the Skaros Rock it’s hard to believe that this was once the most important settlement of Santorini. It was built during the late Byzantine period and despite many destructive earthquakes it remained inhabited up until the 18th century. Today, there isn’t much left of the castle or the town itself and the whole place looks coarse and even spooky especially on a moody winter morning.
Walking on the narrow path with dark reddish rocks towering above our heads we couldn’t help but feel like Frodo on his grueling quest to Mordor. However, this feeling was gone the second we spotted the charming little church of Theoskepasti sparkling bellow our feet on the western side of the peninsula.
This small lonely church built in the typical blue and white Cycladic style is utterly peaceful and charming, at least in the midst of winter. It offers amazing panoramic views of the whole caldera, including Oia and the Thirassia and Nea Kameni islands, and is a perfect place for a bit of soul searching and meditation.
The last section between Imerovigli and Oia is definitely the wildest and a personal favorite of mine. The cobbled walkways turn into narrow, dusty paths right outside of Imerovigli and stay the same way all the way to Oia.
At the church of Profitis Ilias just outside of Imerovigli, you’ll have a choice of two trails. The right one, starting couple hundred meters before the church, is easier and more comfortable but without the caldera views.
The left one on the other hand, while rough and slippery at places, continues to provide stunning views of the towering cliffs from the rim of the caldera. So unless you have some mobility issues or the conditions are extremely tough (high winds) the second option is the one I would recommend.
Once reaching the San Antonio hotel and a small cantina (closed during the winter) the path disappears and you’ll have to join an asphalt road for few hundred meters. As annoying as this section is, it is not too long and soon enough you’ll see a sign for Oia pointing to the left.
The highlight of this part of the hike is the area around a tiny church called Psilos Stavros sitting near the top of a barren hill above Oia. Not only it offers amazing views across the caldera and the village of Oia but there are some pretty impressive rock formation nearby, too.
Even if geology is not your thing in everyday life, here you’ll be amazed by the huge, weirdly shaped pieces of the volcanic rocks scattered across the unusually reddish ground. They make for awesome photo subject, especially when painted by the beautiful golden afternoon light. For best pictures of the church and its stunning surroundings make a short detour to the top of the hill. You won’t regret it I promise!
From here the descent to Oia pretty easy and straightforward. For the best sunset views walk through the village to the small but scenic castle of Oia or head all the way down to Amoudi Bay for a well-deserved lunch in one of the famous fish taverns by the sea.