Santorini Day 2: Fira and Skala/Old Port
On our second day in Santorini was a little more adventurous, we had the whole day to explore and decided to venture out further in the island.
We spoke to our tour guide in the morning after breakfast, and also the hotel manager, for advice on travelling around the island and getting to different parts. Both suggested going to Fira, which is the capital and the busiest hub of Santorini – from there you can get a bus or ferries to other parts of the islands.
The layout of Santorini means that the beaches, towns and places to visit are spread all over the island, and there are a lot of winding, long roads to get to each of them – which means no one walks around, but rather takes a car, bus or even quad bikes to get around.
On our last holiday, my husband and I opted not for the easier, touristy route of taking taxis everywhere, but rather made the most of public transport to see more of the country – and we decided to do this again, getting around with the buses on the island (which were actually really nice, more like air-conditioned coaches! I’m guessing they’re usually used around summer time for the tourists).
First we went to this place (above) which was next to the hotel and also in front of the bus stop, called Dorian’s Bar. The place was quiet because it was morning, and the owner of the bar (Dorian himself? I have no idea!) invited us in to wait outside of the sun for the bus to come. We got talking to the owner, who told us his place has its own history, having been there since the 80s, and told us a little about the bar.
Finally the bus came and we hopped on, with a conductor coming along to issue us small paper tickers for €1.40 to Thira, and we watched the view of the town go past on the way to the capital. To say the island is green is an understatement – you can see the greenery, mountains and houses all along the roads, with roads winding around moutains to get to the top and get back down again.
Eventually the Aegean Sea came into sight, and a few islands in the distance, while the bus (after picking up and dropping off passengers on the way) finally stopped at the main bus station in Fira and let us off to walk around.
The streets of Fira, much like some other cities we have been, were sloping, some narrow and leading off to other roads, to the shops and markets, and also to the museums, churches and restaurants which were higher up.
The first thing we visited was the White Orthodox Cathedral of Ypapanti, a big white building with arches and a tall spire. It had a garden in a middle (but we couldn’t walk through it), and it was the perfect starting place to lead us upwards to more buildings and things to see.
From here we walked through the roads and saw more of the rich blue Aegean Sea, giving us a better view of what was below and the boats sailing past.
Eventually we got to the edge, that iconic part of Santorini which you often see on Google and on holiday brochures – the expanse of beautiful white buildings against bright blue sky, gorgeous cliffs and the view of the sea (where we posed for a good few minutes and watched the other tourists)
We stopped for a quick lunch at a restaurant at the peak called Zafora, where we had a cheesy pizza and lots of cold drinks, and watched the view.
- If you’re staying in another part of the island, you’ll find Fira pretty expensive in terms of food and drinks – come prepared with money!
- Like Perissa, ask the restaurants if they have WiFi, and they’ll give you access if you are a customer
- Watch your step! There’s a lot of narrow steps and slopes downwards from the top when going into hotels and restaurants. Most of them are smooth but some of them aren’t and if it’s busy and congested, you’ll want to be more careful.
We saw a gorgeous bridal shoot while we were eating as well, which really made our day because it got my husband and I talking about our owe wedding shoot – we thought Fira was an amazing backdrop for a wedding day and loved how happy the couple looked (in fact, during our whole stay we saw another 3 weddings in various places, which was amazing as we never knew what a popular place it was for weddings!)
We decided to go down to the bottom of Fira where one of the ports where – there’s a variety to ways to travel downwards, cable-cars, donkey rides or climbing the 587 steps in a zig-zag formation, by foot! We decided to spare our feet (I think we both had sandals on which weren’t the best footwear) and take the cable cars, which was a nice treat, costing €5 per person.
We reached the bottom, called the Old Port, which is officially called Skala. It has a real simple-town, seaside-y feel to it, perfect for a stroll with an ice-cream, and looking at the sea.
This was a lot quieter than the city above, and a lot more peaceful as well. There’s a line of restaurants and souvenir shops along the pier and benches to sit and contemplate the scene in front of you, examine a few boats (docked or sailing) and even board one.
We decided to relax for a while at the pier and watch the clear water from the edge of the rocks. One thing which continued to strike me over and over again during our stay on the island was how beautiful the water looked everywhere we went, it was pretty clear in most places and in beautiful shades of greens and blues. Naturally, hubster and I took this as a chance to take our sandals off and stick our feet into the water, which was cold but very refreshing!
It was also pretty crazy how far down we were from Fira, and it’s difficult from this angle to show how far down we were, but the hundreds of buildings were a lot less visible and a lot more tiny. We could also see donkeys carrying passengers up and down the 587 steps as well!
After relaxing for a while (and eating an ice-cream, mine was watermelon flavoured!), we wandered around the shops, and even discovered a tiny church hidden away as well.
Eventually we decided to make our way back up to the top, and decided to skip walking up the stairs and be a bit more adventurous – we decided to ride donkeys up them. While we don’t regret this afterwards, it was pretty scary for both of us. Our donkeys were a little moody and kept stopping for no reason, they kept pushing our feet (and past each other) and you had to be extremely careful when they were either near the cliff wall (so you don’t get your leg squashed) or on the wall facing the sea (which was really scary because I had a constant fear of falling off the edge). Nevertheless, it was actually fun once we got the hang of it, and we even got to see photos of us taken by the donkey-owners at the end of ride, just like a theme-park ride, with our mouths open. Needless to say, we didn’t buy our photos, even though it was a shame I didn’t get to take more than two with my own camera because I had to keep my hands free.
- Hold tight! Don’t be stupid (like I was) and try to take photos unless you’re really sure you know what you’re doing. It’s better to hold onto the saddle with both hands and feel a lot more secure (and don’t worry, I put my camera away after I got scared of dropping it a few minutes into the ride)
- If you think you’re riding too close to a wall, you can kick a leg out and push away from it to cause some more room.
- Don’t be alarmed if the donkeys stop suddenly, they do that. A lot. To sniff each other, to sniff donkey droppings on the floor, heck, pretty much anything.
- Don’t try to be too adventurous and do your own thing. At the end of the day, we were riding up 587 steps and it was steep at some points, with some steps not very level or wide, so don’t scare the donkeys and don’t try to go your own routes, it’s better if you travel together.
- Once you get off the donkeys, some donkeys may keep going past, face them and flatten yourself against a wall, and STOP. Don’t try to outrun them.
Eventually we got to the top, and wandered around a little more, and shopping around – while there were a lot of shops and cafe, some of them had a market-feel to them (although we tried haggling, unsuccessfully, when Hubster tried to buy a hat, after being told everything had a fixed price.) We discovered a variety of places (like the ones below), including a Bubble Tea place (which is pretty much popular everywhere now!) and some ice cream places to sit and relax in.
It was a really nice day out, and a taste of how to get around the island and explore. Looking back at this post, it looks bright and very blue, and in honesty that’s how it looked from when we stepped off from the bus in Fira and walked around – the weather was beautifully clear and bright blue to match the sea, and it was a nice difference from Perissa Beach, which is more for relaxing, while this involves walking around and exploring. It was also really nice to meet a variety of tourists, the resort in Perissa that we were staying in was a lot quieter and had a lot more maturer couples and tourists; in busy Fira it seemed that everyone and anyone came to visit!
After the long day out, we decided to head back to the hotel before the sun set (which is around 8.30ish when we were there) to avoid walking through the lanes in the dark. We caught a bus and it was a lot quicker on the way back, probably because the driver knew the passengers didn’t want a leisurely, scenic route! Once we got back, we relaxed at the lounge by the pool for a little while with coffees (him) and cake (me) – we both agreed that it had been a really nice day out and that neither of us were going to sit on donkeys again for a while!