Is Santorini worth it? Behind the scenes of the most glamorous Greek island
Little Santorini is one of the more than 200 Greek Islands, and one of the most famous, but is Santorini worth it?
The only possible answer is obviously yes … but there are many elements to take into consideration to properly answer that question. If you are deciding whether to include Santorini in your itinerary of discovering the Greek islands, then keep reading because whilst it is a unique island it is also true that Santorini is now a victim of its own fame, and so it is better to know what to expect to not be disappointed.
It would be easy for me to simply list a number of reasons why not to visit Santorini, but it is a complex topic that everyone must consider personally. If you have been looking for different opinions, you may already know that probably the con’s weigh more than the pro’s from your research; the problem is all the amazing photos you have seen and the fear of not visiting their location, but let’s go in order.
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What makes Santorini unique
The only thing that truly makes Santorini different from any other Greek island is the island itself is the remains of the top of a volcano. Around the year 1600 BC, a catastrophic eruption of the volcano in the centre of the island (at that time Santorini was almost round in shape) completely devastated the island of Santorini, sinking the centre and separating the island into three parts.
The cliffs that house the characteristic perched villages are the slopes of the sunken caldera. Even those who are not particularly interested in volcanoes or who consider Santorini to be overrated, cannot deny the geographical splendour of the caldera.
Is that all? Well yes… of course this is not a small element as it creates the picturesque views we have seen always associated with Santorini. Don’t get me wrong, this does not mean that Santorini has nothing else to offer, but rather that the other elements are not unique to this island, you will find them in many other Greek islands, less overpriced, less crowded, and more authentic.
Yes these are some of the reflections you will have to make in order to answer the question, is Santorini worth it? Let’s go into some more detail.
IS SANTORINI WORTH IT? THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY
– Does Santorini meet the hype?
The advertising of Santorini is very accurate … at least for a small part of the island. Images of white and blue houses overlooking the sea with a perfect sunset behind them is what you can take home with your photos.
The atmosphere that the advertisements imply with these photos however is what often misleads and disappoints. Those photos tell of romance, of enchanted landscapes seen by solo spectators. They tell of almost Zen places where you can isolate yourself and soak in the beauty …. this is not what you will find.
Do you want to take a perfect photo home with you? With a little patience even in the pressing crowd you should succeed … the rest? The feelings you imagined when seeing those photos? Well, to get those you will definitely have to work harder, choose your accommodation carefully, visit Santorini in very low season, and be open-minded.
– Is Santorini overpriced?
If you are planning an itinerary in different Greek islands, you will probably already be looking for accommodation and will have noticed that in Santorini prices skyrocket. Personally, as I spent endless hours looking for the right hotel I wondered if it would have cost us less to return to the Maldives! Of course you can still find some accommodation from €80- €100 per night, but if you wish to stay in Oia, in one of the secluded hotels on the caldera, then better prepare yourself to pay €300- €400 plus per night.
The restaurants, bars, and so on have obviously adapted too: stop for a juice, an ice cream, or a meal in the more touristic areas, and when paying the bill ask yourself if perhaps London is not cheaper!
You want an umbrella and sunbeds in the most exclusive beach spot? €30 a day minimum!
Taxis and car rental companies are obviously not far behind. There aren’t many taxis on the island and they certainly don’t need to negotiate their rates! Car rental companies seem to have a secret code to align prices or other rental conditions in order to eliminate competitiveness. (Many companies, for example, refuse to rent a car for less than two or three days)
– Is Santorini overcrowded?
Yes it is! Not everywhere of course, but also during Covid time, the more touristic areas like Oia, Fira, or Ammoundi are teeming with flocks of people, with the enchanting narrow and cobbled streets filled with crowds of at times quite disrespectful people. This is perhaps the aspect that I found most annoying and irritating about Santorini, being uncivilized is intolerable but unfortunately not controllable with so many packed into narrow spaces.
Obviously I’m talking about small gestures, but for me they make the difference between a pleasant experience or not. People who push others, scream in the crowd, others who use a selfie stick risking hitting other people … and if you travel with children get ready to hold them up because after being hit by the latest model of Gucci bag you will receive only a hasty “sorry I had not seen him” …. Oh yes, the handbag on the head plus a few feet stepped on, my children took it for real!
This is not the case everywhere, but this is definitely the reality we saw in Oia and Fira. The restaurants are no exception. The most exclusive seats must be booked in advance and customer care is certainly not a priority.
– Is Santorini authentic?
This is another hot potato to consider. You will often hear that Santorini is not authentic, but what does it really mean? In my opinion, a distinction must be made between authenticity understood as culture and traditions, and authenticity of places.
Santorini as we said before is a well publicised destination, advertising brings tourists, tourists bring money, and money allows investments. This process is absolutely normal and occurs everywhere. No one is surprised or finds as less authentic cities like Porto, Barcelona, or Berlin if contemporary architecture is introduced with functional and well-designed buildings alongside historical buildings, but for some reason Santorini is expected to remain unaltered and consistent.
Already during the last earthquake in 1956 (after the eruption of the new volcano in what was the centre of Santorini) there were many houses built on the slopes of the Caldera. Most were destroyed or significantly damaged. In my opinion, the reconstruction that has now reached saturation represents an interesting architectural evolution that reflects modern society and its expectations.
No, the hotels in Oia with their infinity pools perched on top of each other are not authentic, but they are not fake either, they are there because that was their natural evolution and as a backdrop for a perfect picture even before Instagram was a new reality.
On the other hand discussing whether culture and traditions are still present on the island can lead to different conclusions. The soul of commerce dazzles and too often spaces dedicated to traditional activities are sacrificed as they are less profitable than luxury boutiques.
– How are the beaches in Santorini?
This aspect is a bit secondary, but still an important reflection to keep in mind, especially if you have previously visited other Greek islands. There are many other islands where the sea and beaches are more enjoyable than you will find in Santorini.
Some might argue if there is even a choice in Santorini. There are the particular volcanic black sand beaches of the east coast (Kamari and Perissa the most famous). There is the photogenic but dangerous Red beach with large pebbles and red walls overlooking the sea. To complete the colour options there is also a white beach (bright white walls, but sand and pebbles more grey-ish). However, many beaches are not easily accessible, especially if you decide to travel by local buses.
+ Santorini offers many things to do
Although the sunset in Oia is what makes Santorini famous, there are actually many other things to do on the island.
- There are the archaeological sites of Thera and Akrotiri, which in their small way provide interested visitors with an insight into the island’s past. The ideal is to have a guide to make sense of visiting the ruins.
- Wine tasting: Santorini has a small wine production business. Assyrtiko is the grape variety that covers about 80% of the production. Only a minor percentage of the production is exported, so it is worth visiting one of the producers to taste some of the different blends and get an overview of how it is possible to produce with such an inhospitable soil. No worries if you don’t want to drive after drinking, check out this great organised tour that will bring you around.
- Oia the romantic and the more touristic Thira are at the top of the list of villages to visit, but we should not forget the quieter Pyrgos and Megalochori where the tourist facades fall and leave space for little squares where the locals gather for a chat al fresco.
- While I did suggest not to visit Santorini for the sea, it is still a source of various attractions. The red beach is definitely worth a visit and it can also be very pleasant to participate in one of the boat trips to have a splash in the famous hot spring that gushes near the new volcano. Check here one of the most popular tour. If you are also fond of water sports such as canoeing, jet skis, waterskiing… you will find everything at your disposal on the east coast.
- The famous walk from Fira to Oia (11km) is an activity that, although tiring, will offer you a different and varied point of view on the Caldera.
+ Hotel are stunning!
I’m certainly not trying to justify a room in a hotel in Santorini costing more than a room in a resort in the Maldives, but it is undeniable that some hotels have definitely invested time and money to create small oasis of peace where you can take refuge and truly have the opportunity to appreciate the landscapes in tranquility.
I’m not just talking about luxury, as an architect and interior designer I admire the audacity and the challenge with the topography of the island that imposes limits that have been carefully circumvented to make the new accommodations that rise on the slopes of the Caldera even more impressive.
The most talented have built small modern sanctuaries, but they have also been able to integrate traditions in a sublime way. Many buildings refer to traditional cave houses and the furnishings often include fine works by local artists hired to stand out and offer guests something unique.
Staying in Oia and having the opportunity to close the door on the crowds that clog its streets is a privilege, but, if you can, also a recommendation to take the best that this island has to offer.
WHAT ELSE TO CONSIDER?
How many days do I need for Santorini? Is one night in Santorini enough?
If after weighing the pro’s and con’s of Santorini you have decided to visit, you now have to decide for how long. In my opinion, a lot depends on the period in which you go to the island.
- From May to mid-October, my advice is to limit your visit to just one night. Rent a car for 24 hours so you have the flexibility to move independently and see many sites even if in a short time. Last but not least, you will avoid spending too much time in the scorching sun waiting for the buses.
- In March, April, October, and November if your finances allow it you could stay 3/4 nights, using Oia as a base. Choose a hotel with Caldera views and a heated pool. During this period, you can safely use the buses to explore the rest of the island less overrun by tourists and enjoy the most famous places in greater tranquility.
Is it worth going to Santorini for a day?
During the summer season there are many day trips departing from Crete, Ios, and other islands. Personally, although it may seem like a convenient way to see everything in a short time without having to worry about accommodation etc, my suggestion remains to stay at least one night.
How much should I budget for Santorini?
As in many parts of the world it depends on what kind of compromises you are willing to accept. A couple who choose a decent hotel in Perissa or Kamari, choose to travel by local buses and eat in small tavernas, should consider spending € 80-90 pp per day.
If, on the other hand, you prefer a hotel in Oia with a Caldera view, you want to rent a car, and dine every night in the more fashionable restaurants, then consider from €350 pp per day and up. (I know this seems more than how much you should budget for a trip to the Maldives!!!!)
Where should I stay in Santorini for the first time?
In my opinion the first time you visit Santorini it would be better to spend less time, but invest in accommodation in Oia possibly on the Caldera. These accommodations are ridiculously expensive, but the location of the accommodation can make the difference between a good or bad memory of Santorini. Staying in Oia will allow you to enjoy the town in the morning before the day-trippers reach it. If you choose well, you can enjoy the sunset sitting directly in front of your room or by the pool with the romantic atmosphere that you have always imagined from all the photos you have seen on Instagram instead of feeling like spectators at the stadium.
This recommendation applies to both couples and even more so for families with children. Children will appreciate not having to defend themselves from the crowds that trample them and even if they are not very interested in the sunset, you will certainly be more relaxed not to having to worry about losing them. Children will generally not appreciate the black sand beaches that are too hot to make castles, but they will certainly be happy in the pool with a view!
In this article you will find the best hotels with private swimming pools in Oia, and other areas of Santorini.
What is the best way to get around Santorini?
Can you rely on buses?
The local bus network provided by Ktel works well and is quite cheap and if you want to save money, they are an excellent solution. There are a couple of things to consider:
- Fira is the central hub of the buses. Wherever you want to go you will have to go through Fira. If you are in Oia it is not a big problem because in any case you would pass by Fira (or nearby) in any direction you want to go. Completely different if you are for example in Kamari and you want to visit Pyrgos or Megalochori because you will still have to get to Fira and then take another bus.
- In July and August the buses can be very full. There is air conditioning, but if there are no seats you will be forced to make the entire journey standing.
- To some destinations there are only two or three trips a day so you will have to do some planning for your trips.
- If you have a lot of luggage you can use a good value for money shared transfer service at arrival / departure and then use the buses during your stay
Are taxis expensive in Santorini?
Taxis are extremely expensive and even a short ride like Fira to Oia can cost you €30
Do I need a car in Santorini?
If you visit Santorini and only stop for one night, the best option is to rent a car in order to have the flexibility to visit more attractions. Don’t worry though if you don’t drive or have not found a car at an acceptable price, the bus network will allow you to visit almost the whole island, you will just have to consider a little more time and plan in more detail.
Where should I stay in Santorini without a car?
Even without a car, Oia remains the best place to stay in my opinion. From Oia in 20 minutes by bus you will be in Fira and from there you will have buses available for almost every destination on the island.
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AT THE END…IS SANTORINI WORTH IT?
If these reflections have not yet helped you make a decision whether or not to visit Santorini, I will give you some more direct indications here. Santorini is a must-visit destination, but to avoid returning home with negative memories, here are some specific suggestions:
- Do not visit Santorini for the beach life, leave the sea for other islands. Come for the very scenic and suggestive natural and built landscapes.
- Do not come to Santorini on a cruise in the summer. Probably the worst way to visit the island and also the least appreciated by the inhabitants.
- Visit Santorini in March, April, October, or November. In these months the temperatures are still mild (in October you could still find 30 degrees) and the crowds are a fraction of the summer crowd. Hotel prices are a little more reasonable and you may be able to find an offer in one of the properties that offer heated private swimming pools!
- Book the most exclusive restaurants in advance.
- Book a rental car for at least one day. You will have all the flexibility you need for a complete and independent visit, including attractions that are a little more out of the way.
- If you like to show off your classy wardrobe, Santorini is the right place. In Oia you will fit perfectly promenading in a beautiful evening dress if you like. In the Greek islands I’ve never found an opportunity to dress more elegantly without being overdressed than in Santorini … not for everyone, but maybe you would like to take it into consideration.
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