The Three Bells of Fira: how to get the best sunset views

Three Bells of Fira

Santorini is all about chasing beautiful sunsets. Here’s my guide to watching the sunset at the famous Three Bells of Fira…

If you visit Santorini then there’s one thing you’re pretty much guaranteed to do during your trip: chase the sunsets. This is an island ruled by the sun, where tourists elbow each other out of the way in order to get the best view of that big ball of fire in the sky.

Luckily, there are lots of great places to see the sunset in Santorini. One of the most famous, leaving aside the three blue domes of Oia, is the Three Bells of Fira. It’s the view you’ll probably have seen on Instagram a million times over already, right? This is my guide to making sure you get the perfect sunset photo from the Three Bells of Fira….  

Three Bells of Fira

What is the Three Bells of Fira?

Officially known as the Catholic Church of the Dormition, the Three Bells of Fira is one of the most iconic landmarks on the island. In terms of recognition, it probably only sits behind the three blue domes in Oia. That other iconic Santorini landmark you may have heard of.

It’s also known as the Church of the Ascension of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Here’s a quick run-through of its history. It was originally built into the then-solid cliff face but was later destroyed as a result of the cliffs receding. The church as it stands currently was built in 1757. Although it was damaged in the Amorgos earthquake in 1952, it was rebuilt.

How to get to the Three Bells of Fira

Despite some people saying that the Three Bells of Fira is really easy to find, I didn’t find it that easy. I have been known to be geographically challenged on the odd occasion, but I would find myself seeing a blue dome, thinking it was it, and then realising it wasn’t. A rookie error I know.

We Google-mapped it in the end. You actually have to go through the back streets of Fira, or you can cut up from the map street. It also doesn’t look like anything until you’re right there. You’re wandering around these empty back streets, find yourself approaching a car park like what on earth am I doing and then – bang – you’re there.

Three Bells of Fira

Three tips for sunset at the Three Bells of Fira

1) Scout out the location first

One of the best things we did was scout out the location ahead of time. Despite all the reports that the Three Bells of Fira was super easy to find, as I said we had to Google map it. I definitely didn’t think it was the right place until a tourist bus pulled up ahead of us.

However, it was. One of the advantages of scouting out the view in the middle of the day was that we could figure out the best angle to take your photographs from. This meant that when we showed up at dusk we were able to pick the right spot quickly.

2) Leave yourself plenty of time

I’m writing this from the perspective of visiting Santorini in October, so I appreciate that arriving early in October is probably a lot different to arriving early in peak season. But the advice remains the same: if you want to guarantee yourself a good view, be early.

I called it chasing sunsets at the start. And that’s entirely accurate – you’ll end up speed walking from your hotel as you panic watch the sun getting closer to the horizon. Somehow, I always end up in a mad rush when everyone else enjoying a leisurely stroll.

3) Be patient

When we arrived at the Three Bells of Fira at sunset my heart sunk. There was a huge crowd and as we approached it only seemed to get bigger. Not only were there people standing up and eagerly trying to take pictures, there was also a row of people sitting on a ledge below.

The mood was a little bit frantic to say the least. My hopes of getting a good photo of the sunset without someone else’s face in it vanished. However, I was wrong. The crowd moved around and after a while we were even able to take a pew on the ledge. This might not be the case all the time but, in shoulder season, patience can win you a great spot!

Sunsets in Santorini

sunset Fira

Which has the better views, Oia or Fira?

I think it depends. We didn’t manage to catch the sunset in Oia but I did find the town a lot busier than Fira, even though it’s smaller. With Oia we had a couple of times where we were absolutely hemmed in by the crowds. You couldn’t move at your own pace, you simply had to move with the pace of the people in front of you – which was ever so slightly annoying to me.

There are a couple of favourite views of the sunset in Oia – the one with the windmills and the one of the three blue domes, which you can allegedly see from more than one location. I say allegedly because I read a blog that had a pin dropped on a map on an amazing viewing spot. But when we tried to find it, it took us to somewhere you couldn’t see it!

We also had to stand in a line for about forty minutes to get a photo of the three blue domes – and that was in the middle of the day. But the windmills in Oia are beautiful and the spot at the Castle of Oia gives you a great view of them and the rest of the town.

How to get from Oia to Fira?

You have a few options. If you’re feeling energetic, you can walk. More on that below. You can get the bus – it leaves from the centre of Fira and there’s a regular timetable. You can also get a taxi but from what I read there isn’t a massive taxi service in Santorini.

Can you hike from Fira to Oia?

Yes, you can hike between Fira and Oia. There are some seriously stunning views along the way – you walk right along the edge of the caldera and, compared to how it is in the towns and villages of Santorini, it’s completely deserted. It’s really quite spectacular.

It’s 10km and it’ll take you about three hours in total – a little bit longer or shorter depending on how quickly you walk and how many times you stop to take photos.

I’ve written a whole blog on the subject that you can read here.

Where else is good to see the sunset in Santorini?

There are many big-ticket locations to see the sunset in Santorini. Fira, Oia, and so on. However, if you want to mix it up there are a few other locations worth considering. We didn’t catch all of the below landmarks at sunset, but I’d definitely recommend them!

1) A cocktail bar in Fira

If you’d like to have the sunset with a side order of delicious cocktails then I’d highly recommend heading to one of the cocktail bars in Fira. Or one of the other towns in Santorini for that matter, it’s not like there’s a short supply to choose from.

We went to Iriana’s Cocktail Bar and had some of the yummiest cocktails of the whole holiday. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what either of the cocktails I had were called, but I do remember that they were excellent. Plus, our server was sassy AF – in a good way! 

2) Skaros Rock

If you want a different view of the sunset in Santorini then why not try walking out to Skaros Rock? It’s a large imposing landmark located opposite the village of Imerovigli in Santorini and you can hike out to it to get a completely different perspective of the sunset.

We only walked out here in the daytime and it’s worth mentioning that there are a fair few steps to climb back up. The pathway is also a little rocky and uneven at times. If you’ve had a few drinks then I wouldn’t do it. Sober though, it could be a great sunset spot!

sunset in Santorini

3) Outside the El Greco Hotel, Fira

We were staying at the El Greco Hotel, which is located a five-minute walk outside Fira. Step outside the hotel and you’re on the main road, with some rocky wasteland on the coastal side. It doesn’t sound very picturesque but the sunsets here were kinda amazing.  

You won’t get the picture-perfect whitewashed buildings clinging to the caldera, no. But what you will get is a clear and unobstructed view at the sunset, without having to battle the crowds. You can also really see how the sun lights up the island in a fiery glow.

4) The Church on the top of the Hill

The church I’m referring to here is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Holy Chapel, which is located on a hill just outside Oia. You’ll come across it when you do the hiking trail between Fira and Oia. It’s instantly charming, with the church painted a warm shade of peach.

However, it’s the bell tower that you’ll want to feature in your sunset photographs. Arching perfectly over the landscape that slowly shelves down to Oia, it’s a pretty special spot. Then you can head down into Oia and reward your exertion with cocktails and dinner.

sunset in Santorini

5) Anywhere in Fira

The great thing about Santorini is that there are amazing views on every corner. You don’t have to be in one of THE locations to get a great view of the sunset, you can just walk around. In fact, some of my favourite photographs are the off-the-cuff ones.  

I managed to get this lovely photograph of this couple stepping through an archway in Fira as we moseyed around looking for a restaurant one night. These ones are just from the street, and I got some more lovely pics perched on a wall in the middle of town.

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That was my guide to watching the sunset at the Three Bells of Fira. What’s your favourite spot to watch the sunset in Santorini?

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