Santorini is a tender port – Ships have to anchor off Santorini and tender passengers ashore by boat into Fira. When tendering is required, guests using mobility devices will not be transferred into or out of the tender. Many tender ports do not provide wheelchair access so even if the guest can board the tender they may not be able to disembark ashore. Again the shore-side facilities, movement of the tender, weather and tidal conditions can also preclude tendering.
Santorini is one of the world’s most popular islands, known best for its dramatic scenery, whitewashed villages clinging to the sides of the sea cliffs and fiery volcanic activity. Scene of one of the world’s most violent volcanic eruptions around 1450 B.C. Santorini is inarguably the most scenically dramatic of all the Greek Islands.
Officially the island is Thira, yet the Latin name of Santorini persists. With its pitch-black beaches, rugged landscape and stunning caldera (volcanic crater), it’s worth remembering that the bay surrounding Santorini is actually the world’s largest volcanic crater, created 3,500 years ago by a massive eruption of the Thera volcano (which is still active). The bay is also believed by some to conceal the legendary lost city of Atlantis. Santorini is more akin to one of the Canary Islands than the Cyclades, though its whitewashed churches and clifftop houses score highly in the charm stakes.
If you’re happy to enjoy a browse around the shops and a lazy lunch with a view, Fira will fit the bill perfectly — and it even has some 9th-century clifftop ruins to explore. This is the island for lovers of natural beauty, though sun seekers may not fancy its beaches. Best views are from the cliffs bordering the caldera, which was formed when the center of the island basically collapsed into itself. There’s plenty here to set your imagination working, even though the modern-day city of Thira, officially Fira, was completely rebuilt after an earthquake in 1956.
Here adventure bubbles above the Aegean Sea in the most bold and breathtaking ways. A cable car takes you to the capital of Fira, a bustling cliff-top town awash with old cathedrals, enthralling museum collections and cozy tavernas. Venture to the coast for a swim in the deep blue waters that lap red and black pebbled beaches. And peel back layers of lava and history among excavated Akrotiri.
The disabled cruiser visiting Santorini will find the terrain most unfriendly, and you must assume you will encounter stairs everywhere throughout the Greek Islands. Even where there are not stairs, the inclines can be quite steep to the point you wish there were stairs. Since the cruise ship does not dock and is tendered to the island from out in the harbor if the water is too rough, the captain may not let the disabled cruiser off the ship. Anyone with limited mobility would have some difficulty. Anyone in a wheelchair would have to be carried on and off the tender.
Right off, there is a fairly challenging flight of stairs just as you leave the cable car that brings you up the mountainside crest from the sea below. The delightful blue white church you see featured in all the posters of Santorini has a number of steps down from the path that circles the village. If you truly cannot do stairs, you could not get into the church. There is enough to see so that would not be a “deal-breaker”, but it represents an example of the compromises you will be forced to make. Even with a dune buggy powered wheelchair, because of a number of ill-placed stairs and the steep paths around town, it can be a challenge for the disabled cruiser.
Where You’re Docked
Cruise ships to Santorini Island dock (anchor) at Thira – port town on the western coast. The cruise port is a tender port (doesn’t have passenger terminal). Cruise vessels anchor in the caldera and their passengers are tendered ashore to the Old Port in Fira via local tender boats (called skunas).
Santorini Island is essentially what remained after an enormous volcanic eruption which destroyed the earliest settlements on a formerly single isle, and created the geological caldera. A fisherman’s harbour is located at Vlychada, on the southwestern coast. The principal port on the island is Athinios. Fira is the capital, clinging to the top of the cliff that is looking down on the lagoon.
Tenders shuttle passengers right to the base of Fira, which lies atop 1,000-foot cliffs at the edge of the caldera. You can reach the town itself by funicular, bus or go up the steep, winding steps or the fun way, by donkey! Some ships transfer their passengers direct to Athinos from where there are bus transfers to the top.
Good to Know
All kinds of two and three-wheel vehicles speed around corners and up and down the narrow streets. This seems to be a chronic and serious problem. Also, be prepared to be hustled onto a donkey at the port.
Fira can easily be explored on foot, and buses run hourly to Akrotiri and Oia from the bus station at the end of Gold Street. Taxis also abound (negotiate a rate in advance) and are a more reliable option if time is at a premium.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The euro is the official currency. There are banks and exchange bureaus in Fira.
Greek is the official language, although English is widely spoken, to say “do you speak English?” in Greek: “milte anglik?”
The best art shops are in Oia, although Mati Art Gallery in Fira and Santorini Art Center on the Caldera Steps, Fira are well worth visiting. Mati is one of many small art-cum-jewellery shops running north from the Orthodox Cathedral. The Art Centre sells a lot of sculptures and oil paintings out of an old wine cellar.
The wine industry has taken off massively, with a Wine Road running the length of the island. If your ship will allow you to, buy this gorgeous wine. Santo Wines in Pirgos is the island cooperative and seems to be a must for cruise ships. It’s right above Athinos port. As the wine is so good, and the view superb.
Avoid restaurants and cafes advertising pizza, toasted sandwiches and other fast-food staples, and seek out a clifftop restaurant with fresh fish on the menu, grilled red mullet is particularly good. Not looking for a large meal? Order mezedes, small portions of traditional Greek food like taramosalata, olives and tsatsiki, with bread and salata choriatiki (salty feta cheese salad) on the side and a bottle of local wine to wash it down.
Points of Interest
- Oia – At the northern tip of Santorini lies this charming Greek village, known for its picturesque architecture, cobblestone lanes, pastel-tinted and whitewashed houses set into the cliffside and a host of leafy squares, picturesque restaurants, art galleries, decent craft shops and blue-domed churches. There are also paths down to two black-sand volcanic beaches.
- Fira – Perched on the edge of a dramatic cliff, the island’s capital boasts a stunning combination of Cycladic and Venetian architecture, outstanding views of the submerged volcano and an aerial cable car transportation system. Cobbled streets, whitewashed houses and churches, lots of jewelry and craft shops, a small archaeological museum, clifftop restaurants and cafes with terrific views of the sparkling seas below are also instore for you.
- Prehistoric Museum – A treasure trove of history and culture, this museum contains an excellent collection of artifacts found in excavations throughout the area, including the archeological site of Akotiri, known as Santorini’s “Pompeii.”
- Palaia & Nea Kameni – Santorini Volcano – These uninhabited islands, located in the center basin of Santorini, were created by a series of volcanic eruptions 3,500 years ago. Jagged black lava and therapeutic hot springs characterize their extraordinary landscape.
- Winery Tour – This region is famous for world-class wines and unique vinification methods. Visit some of the world’s oldest vineyards and learn how the micro-climate and rich volcanic soil produces such a full-bodied bouquet.
- Black Sand Beach (Kamari) – This seaside village, on the southeast side of Santorini, is famous for its expansive and dramatic black sand beach. Created by volcanic activity, this area is teeming with watersports, cafes and taverns.
- Santorini Crater – A volcanic eruption around 1650 B.C. caused the center of the island to implode into the sea, forming a huge water-filled crater called the “caldera,” which legend proclaims to be the lost city of Atlantis.
- The Mountain of Prophet Elijah – The island’s highest point towers 2,000 feet above the sea and offers panoramic views of Santorini.
Santorini Accessible Excursions
The Greek Island of Santorini has some of the most beautiful, iconic Greek scenery you will ever see. These wheelchair accessible excursions includes a step-free route or uses a wheelchair accessible van.
Highlights of Santorini Accessible Shore Excursion
With the Highlights of Santorini Accessible Shore Excursion you will visit Fira, the Archeological Museum of Santorini, and the small fishing village of Amoudi on this 8-hour accessible shore excursion by wheelchair accessible van.
After your driver and guide pick you up from the cruise terminal in an accessible van, spend the whole day on the Island of Santorini. You will see all of the highlights of this volcanic island on your accessible Santorini shore excursion, including the natural landscape as well as the landscape of thousands of years of civilization.
In Fira, the capital of Santorini, you can enjoy some shopping and sightseeing in this city on a cliff. Your driver will take you to see the 1,000 foot high caldera, caused by a volcanic eruption 3600 years ago. You will visit the Archaeological Museum of Santorini to see some of the interesting artifacts that have been uncovered showing evidence of an advanced civilization that lived on the island over 3600 years ago before it was destroyed by the volcano. At the end of your Santorini accessible shore excursion, you will have some free time to spend visiting other parts of Santorini.
Even though the Highlights of Santorini Accessible Shore Excursion is advertised as being wheelchair accessible with a step-free route, it does have many steps to the cable car and when you get off the cable car to meet your driver. Also, you can only be in a manual chair for this tour.
Best of Santorini Accessible Cruise Excursion
With the Best of Santorini Accessible Cruise Excursion you will start the tour off when your guide and driver pick you up from the cruise terminal in a wheelchair accessible van. You will see (and taste!) the best of what the island of Santorini has to offer. You will visit a winery, the picturesque village of Oia, and much more on this 5-hour accessible cruise excursion of Santorini that includes accessible transportation.
The first stop on your accessible Santorini cruise excursion will be the famous Blue Domed Church in Fira, the one you always see in photographs. You will stop here for an opportunity for memorable photos from the Cliffs of Firostefani. You will also see the 1,000 foot high walls of the caldera, the volcanic formation that makes up the island.
A littler further along the way, you will stop again for another opportunity to photograph the village of Fira from a distance before visiting Oia. In Oia, you will see more fantastic views of the island as well as have the opportunity to sightsee and shop. Afterwards, your guide and driver will take you down to the small fishing village of Amoudi.
Because of the massive volcano that erupted here thousands of years ago, the soil is rich with volcanic ash, making everything grown here sweeter. To end your Best of Santorini Accessible Cruise Excursion, you will visit a local winery to taste some of the unique wine that is special to Santorini.
Even though the Best of Santorini Accessible Shore Excursion is advertised as being wheelchair accessible with a step-free route, it does have many steps to the cable car and when you get off the cable car to meet your driver. Also, you can only be in a manual chair for this tour.
Panoramic Santorini Accessible Driving Tour
With the Panoramic Santorini Accessible Driving Tour your guide and driver will pick you up from the cruise terminal in Santorini in a low vehicle. Enjoy Santorini as you drive along the rocky coast and learn about the fascinating history of the island that many believe was the inspiration for Plato’s “Lost City of Atlantis.” This 4-hour panoramic accessible driving tour includes fantastic views and visits Fira, the villages of old town Santorini, the caldera and more.
The first stop on your panoramic Santorini accessible driving tour is Fira, the capital of Santorini. From Fira, you will have a panoramic view of the 1,000 meter high Santorini caldera, the impressive volcanic formation caused by the inward collapse of the island thousands of years ago.
You will also see the famous blue domed churches and white washed houses that seem to be stacked precariously along the cliff faces of the island. Afterwards, you will drive to some of the smaller villages, off the tourist path will give you a more authentic look at the way the locals live. Before ending the Panoramic Santorini Accessible Driving Tour, your guide and driver will take you to one of the best lookout points on the island, just outside of Fira, the cliffs of Firostefani.
The Panoramic Santorini Accessible Driving Tour does have many steps to the cable car and when you get off the cable car to meet your driver. It is not step free and you can only be in a manual chair and able to step some to take this tour as it does not use an accessible van.