The famous white buildings and blue-domed churches are the essence of this Greek Isle
Cruises to Santorini take you into the magnificent caldera of an ancient volcano, where the ships drop anchor.
When you look out on arrival you should have a great view of the island and its capital Fira or Thira, which is where many visitors will head. As you can see from the picture below, this will involve a bit of a trek.
There are some fabulous excursions on offer for trips to Santorini including visits to Oia with its blue-domed churches, the archaeological excavations at Akrotiri, inland villages, viewpoints and wine tasting.
You can, however, have a great day on Santorini without booking a tour, and at much less expense. If this is your first visit and you are relatively fit and able then we would definitely recommend a DIY day! This may, however, be affected by the number and size of other cruise ships visiting on the same day. Competing with several thousand other passengers for a seat on the cable car is no fun!
We’ve done this the easy way and the hard way in our time (in that order, we confess), so read on for our advice. You can find out how many other cruise ships will be in on the same day on the website of the Boatmen Union of Santorini.
Cruise passengers are tendered to the foot of the cliff using local boats, with those booked on excursions usually taking priority on the first available tenders. These may go to an alternative landing point on the island depending on where the tour is going.
Our advice, as usual, is to make an early start by being ready to leave the ship as soon as you are allowed. This may involve simply joining the queue at the exit door or collecting a tender ticket and waiting your turn in an allotted seating area. This is usually well organised, but can involve a wait, so get there as soon as you can.
When you arrive at the harbour it is possible to take a speed boat to other parts of the island such as Oia and return to Fira by coach as part of the trip. We’ve not done this, however, and recommend checking reviews in advance.
To get to Fira you can ride a donkey (not recommended), walk (watch out for donkeys and donkey ‘side products’), or take the cable car to the top. Your choice, but for 5 euros each way (2014) the cable car has always seemed much more attractive to us!
If you follow our advice and head off early you will reach the cable car ticket office ahead of most of your fellow passengers and be amazed by the efficiency and speed of the operation.
If you do what we did on our last cruise, however, i.e. enjoy a leisurely breakfast and saunter along to get a tender ticket at 10am, then you may be greeted by something similar to the pictures opposite.
And yes, we are sad to report, that was indeed the queue for the cable car! To be fair, the queue moved fairly quickly and by 11.15 we were at the top, but we did wish that we had set out earlier, particularly when it came to the return trip (read on).
Once you are at the top, you will find the capital of the island Fira or Thira as it is also known.
More great views are to be had of the rest of the island and of cruise ships out in the bay and beyond.
Have your camera at the ready!
If this is your first visit to Santorini, you will probably find plenty to do and see for one day in Thira.
For a relatively peaceful walk with amazing views turn right at the cable car exit and follow the path along the coast away from the busy centre. There are several quiet cafes along here where you can get a coffee or a beer for about 5 euros.
In the other direction there are lots of tourist shops and cafes, many offering free wifi, so it’s a great place to send photos home.
Choose your café with care, those on the front can and do command premium prices, so make sure you get that great view that you will, no doubt, be paying for.
Santorini has several museums displaying a wealth of history from the excavations at Akrotiri and ancient Thira. There is a Santorini Museums website which gives details of what each displays together with opening times.
The Archaeological Museum in Thira is well worth a visit, various interesting exhibits and a pleasantly cool retreat on a hot day. When you get to the Atlantic Hotel (see opposite) turn left.
Cruise excursions in Santorini will call at such places as : Oia, Akrotiri and Pyrgos Village.
Oia – a beautiful village perched on a cliff top offering breathtaking views of the caldera – whitewashed houses and blue-domed churches. You will also pass the cave homes of the original inhabitants of Santorini.
Akrotiri – the archaeological excavations at Akrotiri have uncovered one of the most important and largest prehistoric settlements in the Aegean. The site re-opened to the public in April 2012, to get a preview of what is on view, check out the Akrotiri Excavation website.
It is possible to travel around Santorini independently by bus, taxi or hire car. Buses do seem to be unreliable however, and a return trip by taxi may need to be booked in advance.
Returning to the Ship
This, as always, is an important part of the day. Again, there are the options of riding the donkey (not recommended for either you or the donkey) or walking down to the harbour.
Tempting as walking may seem, especially to those of us who like to walk, remember that this will mean walking down the steep donkey track with all its associated perils! On our last visit we heard of people being barged by donkeys and of several ruined pairs of shoes.
Both the footpath and the cable car are clearly signposted from the town centre.
Unfortunately the cable car queue can get very long at lunchtimes. On our last trip there was a very large ship due to leave at 2pm, which caused great irritation as passengers tried to get back in time. We gave up and stayed ashore for a further hour or so, but it still took us over an hour and 15 mins from joining the queue to return to the ship.
Our advice is to go ashore as early as possible, returning to the ship either late morning or after the lunchtime rush.