Churches, towers, windmills, Venetian castles, bells, ancient houses and alleys, colorful doors, beautiful beaches, and excellent value accommodation – that’s Emporio Santorini! Emporio feels far away from the sophisticated glamour of Oia and the caldera edge villages and towns.
Emporio is where the locals live and the clever travelers stay. Read on to discover why Emporio is one of Santorini’s best-kept secrets, what to do and see, and where to stay.
Getting to Emporio Santorini
Located on the southern part of the island at the foot of Prophet Elias Mountain, Emporio (Emporeio, Emborio, and Nimborios) is the largest settlement of Santorini.
As it’s hardly one of the outlying areas of the island, getting to Emporio is easy. It’s less than six km from the island’s airport or about 10 minutes via taxi and shuttle. It’s also 12km (and a cheap 20-minute bus ride) from the capital at Fira, which you’ll have to get to first if you’re coming via ferry from the island’s port at Athinios.
If it’s a day trip from the caldera-edge towns you’re looking for, a taxi, bus, or hiring a scooter makes this an easy day out. You” want to walk and lose yourself in the winding lanes of the old town center.
The History of Emporio
The name Emporio probably derives from a Greek word meaning trade (related to the modern English word emporium) and was the commercial center of the island.
In fact, Emporio might have begun life as a port of ancient Eleusis.
Another theory is that the name Emporio is a corruption of the German, Neuburg, perhaps given during the region’s Frankokratia period when Western Europeans rushed in to claim the land as the Byzantine Empire collapsed.
A Commercial Stronghold
Trade in those days was a very risky business, as the Cyclades were often plagued by vicious pirates.
A visitor to Emporio will notice that its houses are pushed in close together and connected via the rooftops. This was so that they would be more defensible if the town was under attack.
When the Venetians came into possession of Santorini in the mid-15th century, they built a great kasteli or castle at Emporio, right in the center of the village, to guard its wealth.
A Pirate Hideout
However, these carefully built fortifications weren’t enough to save Emporio and the rest of Santorini from their pirate enemies. Towards the middle of the 16th Century, the infamous Turkish corsair Hayreddin Barbarossa captured the island and annexed it to the Ottoman Empire.
Some say that Barbarossa used Emporio as a hideout during his campaigns of plunder, and a set of local suites are today named in his honor.
Map of Emporio Santorini
Emporio’s Living Heritage
But if you can tear yourself away from the sun and surf, Emporio itself has much to offer.
Santorini might be known for its beautiful villages, but Emporio is special. Much of the town has been carefully restored but retains its stark and lonely air.
Jean-Paul Sartre visited the Kasteli back in 1937 and was supposedly so struck by its sinister atmosphere that he was inspired to write Les Mouches, one of his first existentialist plays, based on an Ancient Greek tragedy.
One of the five castles of Santorini, Emporio’s Kasteli is thought to have been built in the 15th Century by the Venetians.
Once inside, the visitor travels down narrow alleys covered by arches and through labyrinthine passages to reach its center, where a series of old churches stand, the ornate steeple of one towering above all else in the village.
The Churches of Emporio
Lying at the entrance of the village is the church of Agios Nikolaos Marmaritis.
A tiny structure made from marble, Agios Nikolaos was built on top of an ancient burial site or votive shrine that dates back to the 3rd Century BC.
Despite the heritage of Agios Nikolaos, it is the church of Panagia Mesani that gets the most attention in the village, with its magnificent bell tower and wood-carved iconostasis.
A number of other churches sit around it, including sites dedicated to Saint Spyridon (with a beautiful blue dome) and Saint Theodosia, the protector saint of castles.
Standing to the north of the main Kastelli (and connected to it by an underground tunnel) the Goulas takes its name from the Turkish word “tower.”
It is sometimes called the tower of Nimborio. A square building, it once acted as a watchtower, a store for grain, and finally a refuge for villagers in times of trouble.
Once housing and an internal chapel run by the monks at Patmos, it is now open to the public, although somewhat dilapidated.
Hill of Gavrilos
Just across from the Goulas and a little outside the village is the Hill of Gavrilos, known long ago as Mount Plantanimos.
This area is also known as Miloi, for the 19th Century mills which dot the high ground. Although once ruined, many have been restored and some even offer tourist accommodation.
In addition to the mills, there are a number of Byzantine ruins in the area for visitors to investigate as well as the Chapel of Saint Elias the Low (the young brother of the Chapel of Saint Elias the High, which sits at the summit of Prophet Elias Mountain).
Emporio’s Beautiful Beaches
Centuries later, Emporio’s troublesome past is all but forgotten. And today throngs of outsiders arrive not to steal its material wealth but to enjoy its natural beauty.
Emporio’s popular beaches (sometimes called the beaches of Perissa) are made up of a single long strip of black sand in which one beach segues seamlessly into another.
Though each part is unique, these beaches are together rated as some of the best in Santorini.
Just a few hundred meters down towards the sea is the long black sand of Perissa. Facing out into the Aegean, Perissa Beach gets its striking color from the island’s volcanic geology.
The sand the smooth black rocks that lie beyond color Perissa’s calm waters a deep dark blue.
Public amenities including changing rooms and sunbeds are available and a variety of water sports are on offer for the more active traveler.
Just a little down from Perissa is Perivolos Beach. Though blessed with the same black sand as Perissa, it’s a bit livelier than its more famous sibling with nightlife catering for younger people.
Happening bars and outdoor restaurants adjoin this beach, and don’t be surprised to see a volleyball tournament or even an open-air rave happening at the water’s edge should you come at the right time.
Agios Georgios Beach
Named after Saint George, this is the southernmost part of Emporio’s black sand coast and is the quieter of the three.
That said, if you’re after a bit of Aegean serenity, make sure to get down to Agios Georgios early and make the most of the solitude.
Where to Stay in Emporio
Like the villages of Pyrgos and Megalochori, Emporio offers more spacious and private accommodation than in Oia and along the caldera edge.
Aegean Sea views, great prices, and restaurants and tavernas, wine bars, and upscale bakeries close by and not too crowded – what’s not to love about Emporio?
Here are the 3 best quality and value places to stay in Emporio Santorini:
Black Rock Traditional Rooms
Black Rock Traditional Rooms offers accommodation in the traditional settlement of Emporio.
Black Rock Traditional Rooms boasts views of the sea and is 13 km from Oía. Perissa Beach is 2 km away.
This family-run apartment complex is set amidst lush green landscape, and right next to the beach of Asselinos. All units have a fully equipped kitchen and a living area.
Kokos Traditional Houses
Situated 2.2 km from Perivolos Beach, Kokos Traditional Houses offers a garden, a terrace, and air-conditioned accommodation with a patio and free WiFi. The accommodation has a spa bath and a hot tub.
- If you liked Emporio, you’ll love reading about the Santorini village of Megalochori.
- See all of the best things to do in Santorini, from Get Your Guide
- Read where to stay on Santorini for the pros and cons of the 9 main villages and towns on Santorini, the best Luxury Cave Houses, and the Best 25 Santorini Hotels with Private Pools.
- Read about the Best Santorini Wineries and Wine-tasting Tours.
- You must see Ancient Akrotiri, Santorini’s buried Minoan city.
- Sail around Santorini – read how to choose and book the best sailing cruises.
- And make sure you take the incredible Fira to Oia Caldera Edge Hike.
- Greece is a land of ancient societies and ruins read about how to visit the best ones here with Best Ancient Ruins in Greece. In Athens, read about Everything You Need to Know About Visiting the Acropolis: Acropolis Entrance Fees, Hours and Tours, the best Athens Ruins: Ancient Greek Sites of Athens, and Best Athens Hotels Near the Acropolis.