Famed for its white-washed clifftop villages, offering sublime sunset views, Santorini is top of many cruise itinerary wishlists. Nikos Zorzos, mayor of Santorini, shares his knowledge of the port
Where do cruise ships dock in Santorini and how do passengers come ashore?
The main harbour of the island (the ferry port of Athinios) cannot accommodate a lot of large cruise ships so ships wait at the bottom of the Caldera Cliffs in Fira, the capital of Santorini. There is no cruise terminal. Visitors are tendered ashore by small boats, most of them operated by the Santorini Boatmen Union. Passengers booked on their ship’s shore excursions are tendered to Athinios and take coach tours from there. Other passengers tender to the port of Skala below Fira, the capital of the island.
From the port of Athinios visitors board buses or whatever they have chosen for their island tour (car, mini bus, local transportation). The distance from Athinios port to the main city is not walkable, it is about 15-20 minutes with a bus.
From the Old Port of Fira, the visitors can take the cable car up to Fira (also suitable for people that are mobility challenged). They can also hitch a ride on a donkey up the hill or they can walk all the way up to Fira. It’s more or less 600 stairs, but a lovely walking path though.
What are the island highlights?
Santorini is gifted with a unique natural beauty and a wild scenery created by the volcanic eruptions. It is extremely famous for its beautiful caldera (a volcanic crater submerged in the sea). Views are best from Fira, Firostefani, Imerovigli and Oia. The island is also known for the two small islets of black lava, where you can walk on lunar scenery and absorb the benefits of healing hot springs. There are a number of archaeological sites such as Akrotiri and the ancient Thera. The Museum of Prehistoric Thera and the Archaeological Museum at Fira both house finds from excavations on the island. The Monastery of Prophet Elias, at the highest point of Santorini, is worth a visit. Or you can saunter around traditional villages, such as Oia, Fira, Pyrgos and Megalochori or just laze on the beach – Santorini has beaches that are red, white and black! And remain on the island for sunset if you are able, best viewed from Oia.
What delicacies are there to be sampled?
Our local wine, made from the white variety Assyrtico, is popular among wine lovers. There are 15 local wineries, most of them open to visitors, such as Venetsanos Winery; Domaine Sigalas; Estate Argyros Winery; Hatzidakis Winery and Gavalas Winery. We have locally-grown fresh produce, such as Santorini tomatoes, fava (split peas), capers and white aubergine, which you can find in most typical restaurants. One of the best is Selene at Pyrgos but there are plenty of fine gourmet restaurants on the island. The ecosystem of Santorini was created through the years by volcanic eruptions. The lava made the soil porous, porcelain-rich and pumice-like, which gives Santorini’s agricultural products a unique and delightful taste.
Any other advice for cruise passengers?
Wear comfortable shoes and light clothes (you can end up doing a lot of walking on the island and the summer is quite hot). Plan your day wisely before you leave the ship and choose the places you want to visit – you cannot enjoy the whole island in a few hours and you will end up spending all your time on the road. During high season, the island can host 8,000 visitors per day, which makes it one of the most crowded cruise ports in the world. It’s more comfortable to visit during spring or late autumn.
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