How to Spend 12 Hours in Oia, Santorini

Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to visit the iconic island of Santorini. The romantic views, the amazing sunsets, the stunning blue waters…it’s all just perfect, isn’t it? In 2019, when we were looking for our summertime cruise, we knew that we wanted to experience Greece; and when Santorini was on the list of cruise ports, we were hooked. Adam and I were super excited to visit this island and want to share our idea of how to spend 12 hours in Oia, Santorini.

the truth about cruising to santorini

You’re def. thinking of Oia.

When searching for things to do in Santorini, I learned the truth. Oia was where we wanted to go; it, and it alone, represents Santorini. You see Oia in all of the photos and in all of the movies – and one can easily see why…it’s absolutely gorgeous!

But the cruise doesn’t tender there.

I’m so glad I research places prior to us going. Through all the research, I learned that the cruise ships tender in to the Old Port of Fira. But what does that even mean?

The short of it? You must take a bus to get to Oia.

Want more detail? The bus pick-up area wasn’t difficult to find at all. It cost us about four Euro to get to Oia (and we paid four more to return to Fira). The bus ride took about 20 minutes and, while there were stops along the way, it was quick.

oia santorini

In truth, it wasn’t bad at all. We didn’t mind the bus stops, as each was super quick; and it was nice to see a bit more of the island. There is (obvi!) more to Santorini than Oia.

Oh, and there’s also the cable car.

The last thing we should inform you about? The cable car (it wasn’t bad either).

At nine am, when we left the ship the morning we arrived, the lines weren’t bad and we didn’t wait too long. As we returned to Fira, so that we could take a break on the ship during the hottest part of the day, we saw that the line was much longer. It was so long that it was outside the terminal, and we had to stand in the hot sun as we waited for the line to push forward. During this instance, we waited 30 minutes (FYI – not all of that was in the burning sun).

oia santorini

But later in the evening, after we went back out to watch the sunset, the line was much better.

We guess that we kind of need to state that one can also go the traditional route and ride the donkeys. We definitely didn’t want to. This is, in part, due to the fact that this is a tourist attraction now…and the poor things are treated like a ride at a theme park. It’s also because we weren’t interested in managing the steep climb (or decline) while attempting to hold on with all our might.

our recommendations for oia, santorini

Ok, let’s get down to it. We said that we’d share our idea of how to spend 12 hours in Oia, Santorini, so let’s go ahead and share them!

We’d wander around Fira first.

When we first reached the Fira, we decided to explore it. It was still early and the streets were quiet. Most of the shops weren’t open but we wanted to check it out.

oia santorini

oia santorini

So, we meandered through the winding streets of the port town, snapped photos of the view, and then made our way to the bus station to grab our seats for the quick drive to Oia.

Now, we recommend wandering around Fira first, because we got in earlier. If you sleep in, we’d recommend heading straight to Oia.

Then, we’d go and explore Oia.

Just like with Fira, we recommend exploring Oia. There were lots of little alleyways to walk down to catch glimpses of the iconic views.

However, due to the amount of people clambering on rooftops, whether of public spaces or personal homes, we noticed lots of barbed wire and signs asking people not to climb over the low walls or barbed wire fences. While I had my heart set on getting some amazing rooftop snaps, we always respect people’s wishes.

oia santorini

santorini blue dome

oia church

For those that walk from the bus station to the larger square that sits adjacent to a church, we recommend heading to the right (although we did head left to visit one of the hotels we’re interested in booking at a later date).

Toward the right are tons of little viewpoints, including the one of the three blue domes and the beautiful bells, amazing shops, and the castle. There’s also this tiny, colorful church.

To be honest, we wish we knew where to find these places; however, we couldn’t tell you, so this section isn’t as detailed as we’d hoped.

While there, we’d stop at the Castle of Agios Nikolaos.

Even though this spot is most popular for those iconic sunset views, we made our way to the castle ruins during the day. Here, we were able to see another view of Oia – and we got to see the famous pink house!

oia castle

oia castle

oia santorini

Little Fact: We tried to head here to see the sunset but it was far too crowded for our liking. We’re def. not crowd people.

In truth, though, the castle was also quite crowded during the daytime hours. We felt pretty lucky to get some of the snaps that we did.

At midday, we’d head back to the ship for lunch and a change.

Yeah, it’s going to be hot. You’re going to get super sweaty too; and this is why we fully recommend heading back to the ship for lunch and a shower.

oia santorini

Our cruise line, Seabourn, made skipping a lunch in Oia worth it. We love the luxe line and laughed and talked over a nice lunch in their Sushi restaurant. Then we went back to the room to shower and relax.

And then we’d go back out for sunset.

Almost (if not all) of the cruise ships that port in Santorini remain there for a longer duration. Our ship wasn’t going to leave Santorini until 11 pm; others were there until 2 am. This makes is perfect for a sunset excursion.

In Santorini, there are lots of options. You can choose to go out on a sunset cruise, or you can do what we did and go back out to Oia to check out the most amazing not-to-miss sunset!

oia sunset

oia sunset

As we mentioned earlier, we attempted to go back out to the castle but decided it wasn’t worth the crowd or the long wait for the actual moment, especially because it was still soooo hot! So, as we wandered back through the streets to find a different (and shadier!) viewpoint, we stopped at Pelikanos Restaurant and Bar.

We got a couple drinks and looked out over the busy streets as we waited for the perfect moment to head back out. Then, as the sunset drew nearer, we went back out and ended up at the viewpoint near the three blue domes. We stayed here until the sunset yielded the most beautiful pink hues, and then we went back to the ship and hung out at the bar before going to bed.

Overall, it’s a chill destination.

Oia, overall, was a more-or-less chill destination…there weren’t a ton of things on our to-do list, and there weren’t a ton of options out there. To be honest, if we went back (which we hope to!), we’d spend a few nights at a hotel. We think that it’d be a better option for seeing more of this amazing island.

Oh, but for those heading to the Greek isles on a cruise, check out our guide to Mykonos and Kos!

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