Greece Travel Planning: Is it worth visiting Santorini?

Santorini

Santorini is one of Greece’s most popular and renowned destinations for visitors. This island is formed by the remains of a volcanic crater and is known for its stunning views and sunsets, framed by picturesque white buildings with blue domes. We visited Santorini for 3 days this September 2021 as part of our 3 week trip to Greece. Is it worth visiting Santorini? Find out in this post along with some tips to plan your trip!

Cost:

We visited Santorini in mid-September during the tail end of the peak summer season when the island is the busiest. We did find many things in Santorini more expensive than the other destinations we visited in Greece. Traveling to Greece and specifically Santorini during the summer is when it is the most expensive though, especially from July-September.

We were not able to use points to offset the cost of the hotel so we had to do a lot of research to find something at a reasonable price. Many people chose to splurge and stay in a cave suite with a view of the caldera (many with private plunge pools). We chose to stay in Imerovigli within walking distance to the epic views to cut the cost of accommodation in half. We stayed at a newly opened hotel, SantAnna Suites and were able to secure a cheaper rate as part of the hotel’s opening.

We also noticed that food and beverage were more expensive here than the other destinations we visited in Greece but that is to be expected because many people come to Santorini to splurge. A beer at a beach club ended up being about $10 and in other parts of Greece, they were about $3-$5. Cocktails were about $20 and a half-liter of wine at a taverna was $15. Meals at tavernas were also more expensive; about $5-$7 more for similar dishes. We found some places to offer very reasonable pricing for meals for those who don’t want to spend hundreds; Melitini, Roza’s and Volkan Pizza.

We also did not rent a car since the price was really high for our dates. Thankfully, you can take a bus between Oia and Fira for about 2 euros per person. If you want to stay in a less touristy area, you will need to rent a car, ATV, or scooter to get around and this may help to offset your daily costs.

You can come to Santorini on a budget but it will more difficult to stretch your dollars here.

Crowds:

Every destination we visited in Greece was busy and some were very crowded. In Santorini, most of the things are concentrated in Oia and Fira and so it did feel a little more difficult to escape the crowds than in Corfu or Crete. For us, the crowds in Santorini really dampened our experience. We knew it would be crowded and popular for photos but the mass tourism/Influencers in the Wild 24/7 scene was really annoying. It was hard to enjoy the views and walk around Thira and Oia because there were drones everywhere, people asking you to move so they can take the perfect photo (…for 20 minutes; take the photo and move on!), and people were jumping on roofs to get the perfect photo (even if that’s not allowed and is disruptive to other people). We’ve had similar experiences in places like Machu Picchu, Tulum, and Bali to be fair. Santorini felt more like a place where people come to take photos than anything else, and for us, it is not worth waiting in line-ups to get the chance to take a stunning photo.

Sunset selfie in Santorini

That being said, we did enjoy some less crowded activities in Santorini! A wine tasting and lunch at Vassaltis Vineyard, doing the caldera hike between Oia and Thira, walking through Vourvoulos village at sunset, having dinner at Roza’s Taverna on our last night, and hanging out at Yalos Beach Club.

It is harder to escape the crowds in Santorini than other destinations in Greece when travelling during the busy summer season.

Culture:

Since Santorini suffers from mass tourism, it may be more difficult to experience authentic Greek culture and hospitality. With so many bars, British pubs, souvenir shops, and party culture, the “Filotimo” in other parts of Greece is harder to find here. Some of Santorini’s infrastructure is struggling to deal with the increase in visitors each year; in order to cope with the increasing demand for resources, they are building the largest desalination plant in Greece for water. In 2018, Santorini’s mayor commented that the island has inherited the problems of a city due to the high numbers of visitors. The local government has also implemented daily caps on the number of cruise ship passengers that can visit. Some of the locals we spoke to have also commented that life is increasingly becoming hard for them due to rising costs of real estate, rent, hydro, and most goods and most all said “Yes, Crete is the best!”. From our experience, happy locals who get to enjoy the place they live tend to be more open to sharing their culture with visitors.

You will need to get off the beaten path to experience Greek culture in Santorini.

Activities:

There are lots of things to do in Santorini; sunset catamaran cruises, wine tastings, visits to museums and archeological sites, access to beaches and beach clubs, cooking classes, hikes/walks, and visiting churches and villages.

We did not rent a car and so we were limited in what we could do. We did try to walk to a beach and that was challenging despite the short distance as there aren’t many sidewalks in Santorini. There is also a taxi shortage in Santorini and so it can be difficult to find transportation unless you are booking a tour with arranged transportation.

We enjoyed the beaches in Corfu, Crete, and Mykonos more than the ones in Santorini. The beaches in Santorini are darker sand beaches and there are fewer of them. Ammoudi Bay was one of the nicer swimming spots we found but it is difficult to get in and out of the water. If beaches are important to you, Santorini may disappoint you.

Black sand beach in Santorini

We did the hike from Thira to Oia and really enjoyed it; the scenery is amazing! We also found it easy enough to do with running shoes and sturdy sandals and made sure to bring enough water because there is no shade. We saw so many people attempt the hike with improper footwear (high heels) and no water (Influencers in the Wild of course!).

We also enjoyed our wine tasting at Vassaltis; Santorini Assyrtiko is a unique wine and worth trying! It was also interesting to see the vines as they grow differently than other grapes due to the volcanic and dry terrain subject to lots of wind; the vines are basket weaved close to the ground.

Donkey rides/tours are popular but they are contentious. This post on Greece Travel Secrets has information to help you decide if you should do this activity.

It is also popular for people to hire photographers and also do the flying dress photoshoot. We took a few photos but that wasn’t the focus of our trip.

Overall, there are lots of things to do in Santorini like other Greek destinations. Some activities are also unique to Santorini.

Summary:

Overall, we did enjoy our visit to Santorini and would recommend others visit. Santorini was our least favorite destination though based on our itinerary and we did consider canceling to spend more time in Crete! Here are some tips to consider when visiting Santorini:

  • Your itinerary: Before we came to Santorini, we had visited Mykonos, Corfu, Athens, and Crete. Crete was our favorite and we really enjoyed Corfu too. We feel that our visit to Santorini was affected by experiencing other places where mass tourism was less present. We would probably have enjoyed Santorini more if it had been the first or second stop on our trip. It might be worth visiting Santorini first, then less touristy places in Greece to ease into the culture.
  • Plan your visit: We spent 3 nights/3 days in Santorini and felt it was enough for us. We feel that anything less than 3 nights somewhere gets a bit busy but 2 days in Santorini is enough if you plan to visit other destinations in Greece. Some people may want to spend a week here but that would be too much for us and encourage people to visit other spots in Greece.
  • When to visit: The best time to visit is between May and September. Some things do close down from October to April. We did notice a few places on our list had already shut down in mid-September.
  • Manage your expectations: Yes, Santorini is as beautiful as the photos you see; both the ones taken by travelers and the photographers they hire. With a place this stunning and beautiful, it is expected that everyone will want to come here and take photos but it makes it feel more like an amusement park than an actual place.

Over the years, we have come to realize there are pros and cons when traveling to destinations where there is mass tourism. The major pro is that tourist infrastructure is developed but that also turns into a con when you consider how it affects the place overall. It can be hard for destinations to maintain a balance between generating tourism dollars and becoming overrun; Santorini seems to suffer from this. When places become “very Instagrammable”, they often struggle to preserve what made them special to begin with and also seem to attract a certain type of tourist. Like most places, if you dig deep enough, you can escape the tourist ghetto to find the gems and experience Greek culture here too! We have mixed feelings about Santorini but are happy to have had the chance to visit!

Have you visited Santorini? If yes, what was your experience like?

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