If you ask anyone about their trip to Greece, it’s very likely they will talk about their time in Santorini and Mykonos. After all, everyone and their mother have been to Santorini. Literally. It’s the one place that has become more synonymous with Greece travel than even Athens (which is one of my favorite places). The go-to cookie cutter Greek honeymoon trip has become Santorini to Mykonos, or vice versa. I’ve visited both of these islands and this is what I would choose if I had to pick between Mykonos or Santorini.
It’s no surprise that everyone I spoke to before my four day trip to Santorini raved about how much they fell in love with the place, eagerly showing me their Instagram photos and such. I knew to temper down my expectations because for someone that has traveled as much as I have, I know what Instagram does to a place.
In the end, I was right. After spending four days in Santorini, I was left completely unimpressed. To preface this however, Santorini was my last island stop on a two month trip around the Greek islands. Having visited almost all the other Cycladic islands as well as a the stunning Ionian islands of Kefalonia and Zakynthos before Santorini really set the bar high; to a point that there was no way Santorini could reach. I’m glad I came to Santorini (although I’d take less days) but merely to check it off the list and nothing else. It was the least impressive island I went to, and I would not hurry back to Santorini any time soon.
If Santorini has always been a part of your deepest dreams, then this article will be a bit unpopular but this is just my opinion, from a guy that saw so much of Greece. I get it, the girls posing with their hats looking at the famous blue domes of Oia will make anyone’s wanderlust spike. However, that’s about all it did for me as it really had nothing else to offer.
The towns are overrun
As soon as you arrive in Santorini, whether you’re staying in Fira or Oia, you will immediately notice how many people there are. It’s a much more developed island with far more houses, and modern infrastructure than its neighbors so you can expect to see far more people.
Walking through the streets of Oia on a hot summer day is a bit overwhelming. The streets are narrow so it’s likely you’re bumping into people as you go. During Coronavirus times, this was a bit unnerving getting so close to people. I can only imagine how much more packed it would be during normal years.
The streets are also filled with shops hawking “local goods” which I’m quite sure are not local. There is an over abundance of shops making the town feel much more commercial than other islands.
Pyrgos was the one town that I did enjoy spending time in. It’s off the tourist path and has more historical character than the main towns. However, after visiting so many other beautiful villages in the Cyclades, it didn’t really stand out much.
The sunset in Oia was more of an outdoor concert
And not of the good variety like my outdoor concert at the Odeon theater in Athens mind you. Without a doubt, one of the main things people will tell you to do is to enjoy the famous sunsets from Oia’s beautiful whitewashed Cycladic houses. This sounds like a no brainer. That is until you get there and every other person in Santorini has the same idea.
I stayed in Oia and decided to visit the famous sunsets the first night. Safe to say, unless you get there 3 hours before the sunset to stake out a good spot or make a reservation at a bar with views of the sunset, it’s a disaster. It’s so packed, noisy, and claustrophobic, that there is no way to enjoy it. I visited during the times of Coronavirus too when tourism levels were at 20%, yet it still felt like a music festival. I can only imagine what Oia would be like on a summer day in normal times.
After seeing so many epic sunsets in other parts of the Greek islands, I was incredibly unimpressed with the sunset at Oia. The better move is to go to the Panagia right outside of town with beautiful sweeping views or book a private catamaran cruise. Otherwise, I would give this a skip.
Everything is more expensive
In normal times, 3-5% of tourists to Santorini are from Greece. Greek people from the mainland love traveling to the islands but they avoid Santorini for a reason. It’s too crowded and it’s too expensive. It’s assumed that Santorini is the island for foreigners which means that everything is more expensive.
Santorini was the last island I visited on my island hopping trip through the Cyclades. Having visited all the other islands with very modest expenses, I was quite shocked after arriving in Santorini. As you’d expect in a place that is home to more 5* hotels than anywhere else in the country, things are more expensive.
Everything from gyros to greek salads were a solid 30-50% more expensive. I knew this going in of course but just keep in mind that generally Greece is not an expensive country to visit. However, if you’re only focusing your time on Santorini on Mykonos, then you will be dishing out the cash left and right.
The Beaches are very unattractive
If you’ve come to Santorini to bask in the glorious azure beaches of the Greek islands, you’ve come to the wrong place. Santorini is not a normal island but rather the remnants of a volcano eruption thousands of years ago. The topography here is largely volcanic ash.
While this is quite stunning on its own (make your way to the Red Beach), it does not make for a good experience if you’re wanting long white sandy beaches. There simply isn’t any of that in Santorini. It’s best to head next door to Ios which has some of the best beaches in the Cyclades.
I walked on to some of these largely rocky beaches and while it could have made for a nice volcanic beach day, there are just way too many people. The beaches are absolutely packed to the brim with people which just isn’t my thing. This goes back to what I was saying earlier about visit Santorini in the shoulder seasons and avoid it in August like the plague.
The natural beauty is so-so
While I think Santorini’s natural landscape being formed from a volcanic eruption is quite unique, I just didn’t find it as breathtaking as other islands nearby.
Others might disagree and I can totally understand this. The formation of the Caldera and the crater hike is beautiful but having just been to Amorgos before this, I was completely blown away.
Everything is artificial
I think a lot of the “beauty” in Santorini is actually man made. The incredible architectural feats that have been made on the cliffs of the caldera are quite impressive.
Being able to stay in this luxury resort overlooking the ocean is a stunning experience that does photograph well. However, the island has become overdeveloped and there aren’t many traditional houses left. Typical Cycladic houses have been long replaced by big modern villas.
Instagram has ruined everything
Now I’m a fan of using Instagram as a place to showcase the photos I take traveling around the world. However, Santorini has become the Instagram capital of Greece, if not the world.
What I mean by this is people come to Santorini solely to take those iconic photos of themselves standing next to the blue domes in Oia. Girls will bring entire outfits and change into them specifically to take photos. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this, but Santorini just has so many of these people that it is too much.
I stayed in an Airbnb with direct views of the three famous blue domes and I could see the line of semi-influencers lined up outside the door waiting to take photos. People would be climbing onto the church roofs next to my Airbnb and it would just be constant. From 7am in the morning to 11pm at night.
Because of the massive influx of Instagram tourists, lot of buildings specifically have erected signs and blockades to make sure people don’t climb onto their roofs and whatnot.
It was too much. I knew what I was getting myself into before coming to Santorini but even I was unprepared. I also came during Coronavirus times so capacity was at 20% according to locals and it was still too much.
There are just way too many other options
Most importantly, Santorini is just one of many islands in Greece. Literally if you look at a map, you will see there’s a dozen islands in the vicinity of Santorini and many of them offer that “authentic” Greek island experience that Santorini does not.
I think Santorini is unique in that it’s been developed by man over the past few decades to showcase different architectural marvels you can make when building hotels and luxury resorts. If you want that ultra luxury experience with the stunning views but are willing to dish out the cash, then Santorini is your spot. If you can’t bear the thought of leaving Greece without taking photos of those famous Santorini blue domes, then definitely go ahead and do it.
However, if you want the traditional white washed houses with blue doors on a peaceful secluded island, you need to go somewhere else.
Literally anywhere else.
Next door to Santorini is the absolutely stunning island of Folegandros that is far more charming and authentic, not to mention way cheaper. North of it is Amorgos which boasts the most beautiful Chora in my opinion as well as the most dramatic landscapes in the Cyclades. Even Naxos, which is the largest island in the Cyclades is home to the most beautiful and photogenic villages I saw. You can expect to pay about 30% to 50% less when going to these islands which offer better beaches, more beautiful villages, and way less crowds.
In the end, I did not hate Santorini. I think if I had visited Santorini first on my Greek island hopping trip, I would have been in awe. However, having just come from a dozen other islands like Amorgos and Sifnos prior to Santorini, it was a shock to the system and not in a good way.
Santorini is still very unique and beautiful in its own way. You just need to be prepared for the crowds and craziness because it is the most popular island in the world after all. Once you get your expectations in line, and preferably staying in a nice place away from the swarms of people, you will enjoy it! In the end, you will have amazing views of the Mediterranean, delicious Greek food, and photos galour here.
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