In Santorini, life revolves around the sunset. Visitors to this stunning island plan their days around the precious minutes when the sun sinks into the sea. During golden hour in Santorini, “I do’s” are said, roofs climbed, wine glasses clinked, hands squeezed a little bit tighter, and tens of thousands of camera shutters clicked in furious sync.
What makes the Santorini sunset so magical? Combine the drama of being perched on a tiny white village atop volcanic cliffs with the vastness of the Aegean Sea. Add the liquid gold of Greek sunlight and the mirror-calm waters of one of the world’s most famous calderas—the stillness is purely visual of course, there’s an active volcano down there!—and you have all the makings of an unforgettable experience.
As the saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat—and as I discovered, there’s more than one place to enjoy an amazing sunset in Santorini.
1) The village of Oia.
Anyone who’s been to Santorini will tell you not to miss the sunset in Oia. “It’s the most famous sunset in Europe!” a local resident declared to me with pride. This picturesque village at Santorini’s northern tip gives a view of the whole caldera, showing off the island’s crescent shape from one end to another.
Oia’s whitewashed houses are its most distinctive feature. The cliffside is studded with them, reflecting the changing hues of the sunset—a palette that cycles from warm gold to rosy pink to dusky blue.
Be warned: to say Oia is crowded at sunset is an understatement. People will hunt for their spot hours before the sunset and camp out in the blazing sun to protect it. Fortunately, pretty much any place in Oia offers a good vantage point for a spectacular sunset, whether it’s poolside at a hotel or perched on a random wall.
But there are a couple of sweet spots in Oia worth checking out, such as…
2) The kastro walls in Oia
The pictures above were taken from Oia’s kastro, or skaros. These are the ruins of an old medieval fortress or castle that dates back to the 1200s when Venetians governed Santorini. Jutting out into the sea, this outpost (theoretically) offers 360-degree view of the sunset.
I say theoretically because it gets so packed that you’ll have to choose one side or another (I chose the side facing Oia’s famous windmills, as you can see). The crowd building up as early as 5:00 p.m., a full 2.5 hours before the sunset (this was at the beginning of September). But, anything for the shot, right?
Sunset on the kastro walls is the “rock concert” experience: mash bodies with a few hundred people, watch the main event, and crawl home along with everyone else after the show. Yes, there is applause after the sunset, and there are human traffic jams. At the beginning of September, human traffic leaving the kastro was at a slow shuffle; I shudder to think what it would be like in the peak months of July and September.
3) Kastro, the restaurant (not the castle) in Oia.
If your rock concert days are behind you, you can enjoy your sunset with a delicious meal and a glass of wine at Kastro. This restaurant is the closest and nicest-looking establishment to the actual kastro walls.
Reservations are a must. I wish I had thought to reserve us a table—as we were sick and traveling with Tala, it would have been much more convenient. Parents traveling with babies and children, take note!
4) The donkey steps to the old port of Naoussa.
Did someone say donkey? Yes! Traditionally, donkey was the only means of transport from the old port of Naoussa to the village of Oia. This winding path with wide shallow steps isn’t used much except for tourist donkey rides, but this couple sure had the right idea.
While thousands crowded the kastro walls and cliffside, these lovebirds had this entire path to themselves. Smart!
This shouldn’t be so far down the list, because Imerovigli is my personal favorite spot to watch the sunset in Santorini. Here, the sun sets directly front and center, sinking behind the island of Thirassia. Our hotel was in Imerovigli, and we could see this every single day literally without having to get out of bed. Best of all, we could put our baby to bed and enjoy the sunset at the same time!
Not only is Imerovigli smaller and quieter than either Oia or Fira, Santorini’s main town, but at 300 meters above sea level, it’s also at a higher elevation. That makes the view from here is more expansive. I really felt a vastness and serenity at Imerovigli that I didn’t feel in Oia.
Looking misty and mysterious from a distance, Oia is visible from here…
but its crowds are not.
With just a few other people in sight, sunset in Imerovigli feels more intimate and special.
6) The lighthouse at Akrotiri.
On the other side of the island from Oia, this French lighthouse from the 1800s is an option for those who want to escape the crowds.
If I ever go back to Santorini, I’d like to try watching the sunset from here!
7) On a sunset cruise.
“The best sunset in Santorini is on a boat!” declared the captain of our sunset cruise. “Why be stuck to one spot when you can chase the sun?”
It’s hard to argue with that logic. That’s why there are so many companies offering sunset cruises around Santorini, on vessels ranging from disco catamarans with blaring music to glamorous, sleek speedboats. But my favorites are the traditional wooden schooners… so epic! This ship looks like it could be sailing to Narnia.
Have you ever seen the sunset in Santorini? Which sunset spot do you think you would enjoy the most?