across the caldera in the cyclades
Europe, Greece

Fira to Imerovigli and Skaros Rock • Hiking in Santorini

I wasn’t planning on walking from Fira to Imerovigli and on to Skaros Rock; it just sort of happened. Three kilometres may be quite a distance to accidentally walk the length of, but the hike from Fira to Imerovigli is so beautiful that it was a relatively easy walk to stumble into. Things got slightly more challenging once I reached the rocky peninsula of Skaros, but by that point I was in too deep and having way too much of a great time exploring to worry about a few crumbly rocks. 

This is definitely one of the easiest hikes in Santorini, although that’s not to say you won’t work up a sweat in the process. Particularly if you head over in the exact middle of the day, like me. 

Imerovigli on the cliffs
blue and white striped church pole
dry plants on the cliffs

The walk from Caveland to Fira

I left Caveland Hostel just after breakfast, following the main road to Fira past bakeries, hotels and quad bike hire shops. It was already scorching hot at 10.30am, and by the time I reached Santorini’s tiny capital I was desperately in need of both water and a coffee. There’s a bar on the cliffs that I revisit every time I’m on the island, which isn’t particularly special compared to some of the other choices of stops for coffee; but it has a pretty terrace overlooking the caldera, and is slightly lower down the cliffs so is tucked a little bit out of the way; fewer crowds flow along this lower pathway. Naturally I headed back to my old haunt.

A couple in their early twenties sat at a table close by, on what was probably their first holiday together. The girl was on FaceTime. “Oh my god mum, the hotel is amazing it’s soooo nice. Isn’t it, Jason!?” The guy looked up from his iPhone and smiled a charming smile at the screen- “that’s right, I wouldn’t have anything less for this one. Don’t worry, I’m looking after her.” The Greek waiter came over to take their order and the guy answered for both of them; “a beer for me thanks lad, and a coffee for the little lady.” (The lad in question was at least in his early sixties, FYI). They both went back to their phones. 

The sea in the caldera was royal blue, and on the horizon a sailing ship floated lazily along through the quiet. In Santorini at that time of day the sunshine is dazzling, the colours of everything are so saturated that it’s almost blinding. I could hear the distant clonking of bells on donkeys trudging up and down the steps, and once in a while a man wheeling a metal barrow of deliveries would rattle along the pathway, or a different man hauling suitcases up from a hotel to the main road. The cliffs of Fira are speckled with luxury cave hotels carved into the rock, and most of the hotels have tiny turquoise pools curving smoothly out from their rooms. Sunlight gets trapped momentarily on the water, twinkling back for miliseconds before skitting off to another liquidy surface. 

Read my detailed guide to Fira.

a shrine on the road in Santorini
Fira early in the morning
Mama's House in Fira Santorini
a donkey driver in Fira

Through Firostefani

I finished my coffee and downed the glass of water, then worked my way up the maze of twisting pathways and staircases, heading towards the entrance of the cable car that takes people down to the port. Past a donkey driver clattering downwards, bringing his herd of mules and donkeys with him, all dressed up with nowhere to go except down the hill and back up again, over and over throughout the day. Santorini donkeys are adorned in pom poms and beads and multicoloured blankets. It’s all very pretty, but I wonder whether the saddles and blankets are hiding something. And nobody warns you about the smell of manure that hangs in the air over Fira and Oía, but it is most definitely there, like a softly pungent cloud. 

I carried on upwards, past the cable car, through winding streets lined with souvenir shops selling evil eye dreamcatchers and turquoise ornaments and Santorini magnets. Around churches and ice cream parlours and leather sandal shops, and then along a long straight pathway running parallel with the edge of the cliff; technically this was no longer Fira but the village of Firostefani. Although it’s kind of impossible to work out where Fira ends and Firostefani begins, truth be told. The crowds thinned out here- the path is in vivid sunshine and is mostly home to restaurants and a few bars. At that time of day there’s not much reason for people to be there, particularly not when ‘there’ is in full extremely powerful sunshine. 

In the distance I could see the outline of Skaros rock, blunt and jagged all at once, jutting from the island’s edge into the cradle of the caldera. The exact point that I noticed it, was the exact point that the rock became my end goal.

My tip for this part of Fira/Firostefani: look out for Volkan on the Rocks, which is home to an open air cinema on the cliffs, as well as a restaurant and bar.

a fig tree against blue sky
cable car sign in Fira Santorini
Santorini souvenirs against a white wall
a blue and white tower in santorini
cacti in a restaurant window
tourists near the cliffs
view from Fira to Imerovigli

The village of Imerovigli

The path led me steeply uphill, past white houses and scraggly trees, and a church with a couple of cats neatly tucked into the only patch of shade available to them. The hike from Fira to Imerovigli seemed like a long one, but I think that was mainly down to the heat; the distance between the two is only 3km but being drenched in sweat and running low on water really didn’t help my situation. Although that’s not to say that I wasn’t loving every second of it. (Despite wondering whether I was risking heat exhaustion several times.)

The uphill trek made it clear why they call Imerovigli the ‘Balcony of Santorini’; the village is located on the very highest point of the caldera cliffs, with a view down to Fira in the distance along the earthy brown edge of the old volcano. Imerovigli has the same trademark gleaming white houses and hotels that can be found across the entire island of Santorini, but the atmosphere here is very different to back in Fira.

There are no bustling crowds, in fact when I was there the streets were almost empty. Plenty of people still live in the village, but the overall vibe was much more relaxed than in Fira. I spied someone reading a book under a parasol down below, and a man walked past me discussing something in depth with a priest. If you’re wondering whether to stay in Fira or Imerovigli on your Santorini trip, the main difference is this peaceful atmosphere compared to the bars and business of Fira.

the hike from Fira to Imerovigli
shadows from wild thyme on a white wall
man reading in the sun
a passageway looking across Santorini caldera
the village of Imerovigli, white houses with a palm tree
street corner in greece with blue and white stripe pole
shadows from a church gate
the steps to skaros rock

Imerovigli to Skaros Rock

Steps lead steeply down the cliffside and then upwards towards Skaros Rock, and I worked my way along slowly, one foot over the other on uneven concrete which gave way to dusty crumbling rocks. A steep drop into the cerulean sea. Peeking over the edge I could see a line of scraggly green plants, a streak of colour on the brown rock. 

The beauty of staying in hostels is the amount of people you meet in the process, and I recognised one of my dorm-mates navigating her way onto Skaros Rock as well. Stefania was a really nice lass from Italy, and I’d embarrassingly woken her up the night before when I’d had a nightmare and began shouting in my sleep. The uncomfortable thing about staying in hostels is moments like that; embarrassing for me and potentially disturbing for your dorm-mates. Luckily Stefania had been very casual about the whole thing, and I actually appreciated that she’d asked me about it in the morning. What a good lass. It made sense to continue the hike together, and we continued scrambling up the rubble, following a rough pathway which appeared and disappeared at intervals, as if somebody had scrubbed parts of the trail out with an eraser and then scribbled across the gaps at random. 

Skaros Rock was once home to a Venetian fortress- back when the Venetians were a super-power of the Mediterranean- and there are a few half-walls and abandoned foundations scattered across the rock, leftovers from the earthquake which destroyed it in 1817, and easy to miss for the less-observant humans of the world. I soaked in the silence and wondered what the fortress had looked like and how many people had stood on this rock over the centuries, protecting Santorini from potential invaders. 

yellow flower in front of Skaros Rock
Skaros Rock old Venetian fortress in Santorini
ruins in Santorini
across the caldera in the cyclades

The hidden church

We made it to the other side of the rock, and discovered more steps leading down towards the sea. Naturally we followed them, and as we did a boat sailed by far below us, blasting a Nicki Minaj song as the people on deck drank unlimited cocktails and cheered. It faded away as we reached the white church at the bottom of the steps; back to silence. This would be a great place to watch the sunset in Santorini, I thought to myself. 

Greece is full of churches, hidden away in all kinds of strange places, so it was no real surprise to find Theoskepatsi Church balanced on a cliff edge, away from prying eyes. We poked our way around the the building and I wondered whether people worshipped here regularly; it’s obviously still in use and is well-maintained, unlike the ruined fortress higher up. 

the church on Skaros
hidden church on Santorini
blue and white church on Skaros rock
down the steps to the church on the cliffs

After a while we turned around and scrambled our way off of the rock and back into Imerovigli. Refreshment was desperately needed, and we stopped into a cafe to get water and fresh orange juice. The lady inside took one look at us- drenched in sweat and slightly sunburnt- and said “You’ve just come from the rock, girls? Come inside.” 

Tips for your hike from Fira to Imerovigli and Skaros

  • Don’t forget to take water with you. I forgot to take water with me. I am an idiot. 
  • It’s definitely a good idea to hike from Fira to Imerovigli either first thing in the morning, or later in the afternoon, when the sun isn’t so strong. 
  • There’s barely any shade on this hike, so don’t forget suncream. 

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