Santorini is one of the most unique places in the world, and the village of Oia is a big reason why. Famous for sunsets, windmills, and cave hotels, Oia is once-in-a-lifetime trip material. I have to say, though, there are a few things I wish I’d known before I went! It was a great experience, but just so that you’re not disappointed or taken off-guard, here are some tips for visiting or staying in Oia, Santorini!
Know How to Pronounce It
You’ll get around fine pronouncing it like it looks (oi-ya), but you’ll sound like you know what you’re talking about if you say it like the locals do: Ee-ya. Just remember the “O” is silent!
More info here: What to Know Before You Visit Santorini
No Cars Allowed
So, somehow I missed the memo that Oia, Imerovigli, Fira, and most other places to stay are all pedestrian-only! It makes sense, since the roads are hundreds of years old and were certainly never meant for cars. You will have to walk to and from your accommodation, and it might be kind of far. Wear good shoes. Oh, and there are no street names!
Also helpful: What to Know Before You Visit Greece
You Will Climb Lots of Stairs
Okay, if you’ve read anything about Santorini, you probably already know about the hundreds of stairs leading from Oia village down to Amoudi Bay. But what no one seems to mention is that there are steps everywhere! The only other place where we climbed over 100 floors in a day was Chefchaouen, Morocco, and I think Oia may actually have more stairs!
Not only that, the steps are various heights, made from an assortment of materials, and not in the best shape. If you have bad knees or struggle with stairs, this may not be the place to stay for you. The bright side is that, by the time you leave, you’ll have great legs and a tight behind!
Book Your Transfer and Let the Porter Take Your Luggage
The number one tip I found in my research about Santorini was to book your airport to hotel transfer in advance. Do it! A strong porter will meet you where the car drops you off. He’ll not only show you the way to your accommodation, he’ll also tote your luggage for you. Let him! Steve and I are strong, carry-on only travelers, and we never “need” anyone else to take our luggage. But the farther we walked and the more slippery steps we walked down, the more thankful I was that someone else was toting our stuff!
Also, keep this in mind when you’re packing for this trip—these guys are amazing, but no one needs to be toting steamer trunks weighing 100 lbs each up and down these steps for you!
Get your exercise without the luggage: Everything You Need to Know about the Hike from Oia to Fira
Parking Lots Outside the City are Mostly Free
If you do decide to rent a car or ATV while you’re on the island, you can park it outside the village in parking lots that are mostly free. Certain lots require payments, so just ask before you park it.
The Best Sunset Spot Is…
Okay, so maybe there’s more than one “best spot” for this particular sunset, but the idea is to see the colors of the sunset reflecting off of the white buildings of Oia—that’s the iconic shot you see when you do any research on Santorini and Oia! We found a great spot at Oia Castle. People start staking their claim on a spot as early as 3:00pm, but you really don’t need to. Just try to be as far over on the Castle as you can, and watch!
Keep reading: The Best Things to Do on Santorini
You Can Walk, Take a Taxi, or Ride a Donkey from Amoudi Bay
Okay, this is a point of contention for some travelers. Amoudi Bay is hundreds of steps down from Oia. The walk down is a challenge! The walk up is even more challenging, but it’s doable if you don’t mind a good workout, and you’ll get lots of great photos along the way. Another option is to take a taxi from Amoudi Bay all the way up the back side of the mountain, to the top of Oia town, where you were dropped off when you arrived from the airport.
The sometimes controversial part is the donkeys. Some people think it’s inhumane to ride a donkey up the stairs, although let me reassure you, they have much more sure footing that you do on those steps! Having grown up on a farm myself, I have a different appreciation for animals. Donkeys have been carrying people up these steps and all over the island for centuries, and it’s part of Santorini’s history and culture. No judgement on that, please.
The donkeys did not look at all tired, thirsty, or malnourished. In fact, they seem to be very well-fed according to the droppings they leave behind on the stairs! If you feel differently, I respect that. I’m not going to change your mind, and you’re not going to change mine. Whatever anyone’s opinion, please pass no judgement on the people who live in Santorini and work with the donkeys!
Read next: 30 Trips to Take in Your 30s
Meeting Point for Tours is the Post Office
If you plan to take any tours while you’re staying in Oia, you’ll meet them at the post office. It’s conveniently located where your airport transfer dropped you off, and if you get a little lost looking for it, you can ask anyone in town how to get there.
Accommodations are Semi-private at Best!
Staying in a “luxury cave villa” sounds very romantic and intimate, am I right? And it is… Well, until you step out onto your patio or other outdoor space. As in many historic towns and villages around the world, accommodations are quite tight, and rooms are all but on top of each other. This isn’t necessarily bad, but if you’re expecting privacy outside, you’ll be disappointed! Right-size your expectations and enjoy your chosen accommodation.
Get all the details: What It’s Like Staying at Oia Mare Villas
Run on the Main Road Through Oia
Runners gotta run! For me, an intentional stair climbing session is plenty, especially since my husband and I would be walking so much every day. But my husband did go running, and we definitely saw others doing the same! Watch your step always, but generally, the main street through Oia is relatively flat and good for running. Due to crowds, though, I suggest running early and being finished before the first buses arrive around 8:00am!
Read next: How to Run Anywhere on Travel
Want more? Check out all my posts about Oia and Santorini on my dedicated Greece Page!
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