Is Santorini really worth the hype?

Santorini is regularly voted one of the most beautiful islands in the world. It has all the qualities you dream of when you picture the perfect Greek island: whitewashed houses, towering cliffs and spectacular sunsets.

But Santorini is made that bit more special by its extraordinary location. Thousands of years ago, a massive volcanic eruption caused the centre of the island to collapse, leaving a caldera or crater, with towering cliffs along one side of the island.

Santorini’s sunsets are indeed spectacular, particularly from Oia, the village perched at the top of the island. But how spectacular an experience can it be if you’re struggling to watch it behind a large crowd of people all holding up their phones to take a picture?

Is Santorini really worth all that hype? The trouble with places on the ‘Most Beautiful’ lists is that they tend to be very popular and Santorini is no different. Two million tourists visit the island every year and there can be as many as 57 flights a day in the summer. When you consider that Santorini is a relatively small island with an area of approximately 28 square miles you can get an idea of how busy the island can get – and that doesn’t even count the people coming off the cruise ships that dock from March to December, adding as many as 25,000 people a day to the island’s congestion.

Nobody could argue that the views over the caldera aren’t stunning. It’s definitely a wow moment when you see it for the first time. There’s an ethereal quality to the light here. Shades of blue appear to merge into each other, from deepest indigo to the palest turquoise. The mists in the sky melt into a sea that looks like velvety ink.

I first visited Santorini with a girlfriend before I had children. We walked to the top of the volcano, we visited the archaeological site of Akrotiri where you can see the remains of the Minoan city destroyed by the volcanic eruption and we sunbathed on a black sandy beach.

This summer I went back with my family. We flew into Santorini on our way to the smaller island of Folegandros, also part of the Cyclades. Due to the difference between our flight and ferry times I’d worked out that we had three hours spare on each leg for a mini tour of the island.

On the way out, we’d get a taxi to Imerovigli, the village at the highest point of the caldera’s edge and on the way back, we’d visit Oia, the village at the top of the island famous for its blue domed churches and incredible sunsets.

But things don’t always work out as you’ve planned when you’re travelling, do they? Our flying trip to Imerovigli was a good idea – it was relatively quiet and we had enough time to admire the views before heading to the port to catch our ferry. But on the way back, our ferry was an hour late. I assumed this would still give us enough time to visit Oia but we abandoned our plans when our taxi driver told us that the relatively short 11.8 mile journey from the port would take an hour and a half because the roads were so clogged up with all the tourist traffic.

So we went instead to Fira, the main town, which was much closer to the airport. It was a huge disappointment. The narrow lanes were packed with tourists and lined with tacky souvenir shops. The view over the caldera was spoiled by the masses of restaurants and hotels huddled together on the hillside.

Our couple of hours in Santorini came at the end of a two-week-long holiday on the tiny island of Folegandros and all we could think about was how lucky we were to have chosen to stay there rather than here, no matter how good the views. The food was more expensive, the streets were a lot busier and there were so many more tourists. It was a long way from being the Greek island of my dreams.

I wouldn’t say it’s not worth going to Santorini – it is certainly beautiful and perhaps it is one of those places you should see in a lifetime, but if you’re looking for a more traditional, easygoing Greece then you’re not going to find it.

If you’ve got the chance, see Santorini at its best outside of the main tourist season. As a family with school-age children we’re restricted to travelling during the school holidays. It’s always going to be busier over the summer so consider going in the spring or the autumn. If, like us, you have to visit in the summer think about a short stop at Santorini before heading to a quieter island.

I’ll be writing shortly in more detail about the perfect Greek island we found but in the meantime take a A Photo Tour of Beautiful Folegandros.

Pin ItIs Santorini really worth the hype?

Linking up with: Wanderful Wednesday

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59 thoughts on “Is Santorini really worth the hype?

  1. That’s funny – I went to Santorini for a day trip from another island (Ios, when I was more of a party animal), looking for something more beautiful, and I was not impressed. I had heard so much hype about how sensational it was, and i couldn’t see what was so great about it. Maybe it’s just the sunsets that made it famous? I dunno but yeah, all I remember are the souvenir shops.

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    • That’s so often the problem with places that are talked about and talked about – it’s so difficult to live up to the hype. I do think some of the views over the caldera are extraordinarily beautiful but it really is a busy, touristy island, particularly in the summer and that’s not my kind of perfect.

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  2. Loved your photo Clare, and truly enjoyed your observation for the hyped island. I have always wanted to go to Santorini and hope to make it there one day, although I always assumed my visit would be very short, idially on a Mediterranean cruise ship to be able to spend a day on the island soaking up the views and perusing the winding alleys, but not deal with a tourist trap hotels./restaurants/shops. Can’t wait to hear about the idyllic island you found 🙂 xoxo, nano | http://www.travelwithnanob.com

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    • How great that you’ve been to Folegandros too! I always suspected you were a kindred spirit in travel, Virginie. One of the things I loved about Folegandros was that the other tourists there were French and Italian rather than British.

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    • Thanks so much. Oh me too! The views from Imerovigli were quite exceptional but I really didn’t like the crowds everywhere else. Even in the summer you can still find much less crowded, less touristy islands to visit in Greece.

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  3. When we did Greece in the spring, we skipped the islands all together. After Athens, we opted to visit the Peloponnese and Mani Peninsula with stops in Nafplion and Kardamyli. These areas were remarkable and much quieter than the islands.

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  4. I’ve never been to Santorini but had heard it was getting ‘full up’ particularly now it’s a cruise stop. The photos are beautiful but your photos of the neighbouring island are breath-taking. Surely that’s why you would want to go to Greece – to feel relaxed and unhurried.

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  5. It is such a conundrum! I went to Santorini for a wedding for about a week. We slept a lot during the peak cruise ship visiting hours and explored outside of Oia and Fira. I loved it but I can imagine in peak summer it can be close to unbearable. If someone was to suggest going again I’d say yes but maybe just a couple of days and then explore the other islands

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    • I can’t argue that the views aren’t extraordinary so I really do think it’s an island worth visiting – but I, for one, can’t stand jostling with the crowds at peak season anywhere so I’d love to see it outside of the main summer season.

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  6. I remember stopping off in Santorini years ago, I guess I was too young to notice all the crowds – or maybe it wasn’t so bad back then. I don’t know how much of the beauty comes from the island itself and how much is the architecture… or does that matter?

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  7. I have visited Santorini twice and loved it both times, but yes totally agree about the crowds. That sunset at Oia isn’t as specially as it could be with 1000’s of other tourists vying for a spot on the edge of the cliff to get that magical photo op. But of course I wouldn’t have known to visit Santorini had it not become a tourist mecca. Oh how tourism does become a victom of its own success.

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  8. This is really interesting to read – I haven’t been to Santorini yet although I would love to see for myself. Everything talks about the stunning views but also the big crowds and I can’t imagine doing that with my daughter. Maybe one day out of season…

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    • I think out of season has to be best. I’m sure the views are just as beautiful outside of the summer months and crowds with children….not a good combination although sometimes I think I’m less tolerant about crowds than they are!

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  9. Oh, your photos alone make me want to go but I’d certainly visit at the very beginning of summer to try avoid the crowds anyway. We’re very fortunate in that we can travel outside of school holiday times.

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    • You’re very lucky, Mandy. It is so much nicer being able to choose when to travel rather than being restricted by term times. Still, there are places that are relatively quiet even in the summer months.

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  10. I went to Santorini during the summer as a teenager and remember being “wow-ed” but I was also very young and impressionable. It was actually these young years in Greece that really made me fall in love with travel. However, if I were to go back as an adult I can totally see your perspective and I’m sure would feel the same way. Can’t stand crowds, especially with kids!

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    • There is a wow moment when you see the caldera, for sure! I just love Greece so I’m not surprised it was that trip that made you fall in love with travel, Corey. I was really put off by the crowds this summer but felt very lucky that we had chosen to go to a quieter island for the majority of our trip. It really was very special.

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  11. We’re in the Worth It camp, but maybe the better question is “Worth how much?” A day or two, sure. A week? Maybe there’s more to see elsewhere. That said, we feel like much of what made Santorini so popular is hard to experience today. The views are great but, at one time, the main attractions were people, the lifestyle, the food, and the architecture. Today, it’s harder to find that Greek mystique, let alone a picture with more Greece than tourists. But still, worth a go!

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    • You’re right. At the height of the season I wouldn’t want to spend too long there – just enough to see the views. There are plenty of other Greek islands that are more traditional and beautiful in their own right. Stay tuned for a write up of the most perfect Greek island I’ve ever stayed on…

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  12. Santorini has been on my list for so long that I definitely would visit it, if I get the opportunity to travel to Greece. However, I understand what you say about the crowds and expense and that it is much more fulfilling to visit a less touristic island. I have been noting down such islands and am hoping to experience both.

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  13. Hi Clare, as I read your account of Santorini, I saw all of the warning signs: only had a couple of hours…. went to Fira instead of Oia (here’s where I really said “uh-oh…) – both of these are going to make for a less-than-perfect trip to the island, absolutely.
    I’m sorry you didn’t have the best experience, but it’s all about the circumstances you create. For example, my trip to Santorini was leisurely (5 nights, stayed in Imerovigli which was super quiet, peaceful, serene, beautiful… should I go on?), having enough time not to feel stressed getting around the island, and I found that instead of dealing with crowded Oia for the sunset, it was just as stunning on the balcony of my hotel!
    A bit of time and a peaceful location goes a long way for a Santorini holiday – I didn’t even notice it was high tourist season as I didn’t do the same things that all the other tourists were doing. It is the ultimate “what you make of it” destination.

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    • Hello Cynthia, thanks so much for commenting. You’re right about making your base in Imerovigli. As I mentioned in the piece, that’s where we went on our first stop-over and where I took the beautiful photos.

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  14. Thanks for this post, Clare! I’ve never been to Greece, so I’ll be sure to do Santorini during the off season or just make a quick trip. I also LOVED that you shared the photos of the overcrowded main town instead of just the Instagram worthy, straight out of a travel magazine snaps that gloss over the nuisances. Thanks – and linking up through Wanderful Wednesday 🙂

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    • Thanks so much, Erin! Like most bloggers I want my blog to be filled with beautiful pictures but I did get fed up with reading about how Santorini was the ultimate destination when there are some parts of it that felt so crowded and touristy, and I wanted to show those photos too to show both sides of the island. I really appreciate your lovely comment.

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  15. I haven’t been to Greece yet, but Santorini is definitely at the top of my list, but I am quite afraid of being disappointed by the mass tourism. I felt this way last summer after we went to Croatia and found that every.single.location we went to was packed to the max so it kind of ruined it for me. #WanderfulWednesday

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  16. Really interesting to read about your point-of-view on Santorini, and one that isn’t usually covered. I know exactly what you mean about so many tourists as I felt the same way in Rome. I still had a good time there, but I couldn’t help but want to wander down quieter streets.

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  17. I had no idea Santorini was so small, but it makes sense how crowded it would be. As much as travelling during off season can dampen the experience, as in my experience some things close down all together in places during off season, I would much rather that than be stuck in a throng of tourists bumbling around. I think I’ll stick to some other less crowded islands when it comes time to visit Greece.

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    • I think most of the Greek islands shut down in the winter so definitely. I’ve been to quite a few of the Greek islands now and you really can find much less crowded places than islands like Santorini and Mykonos – even in the summer.

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  18. I was one of those mass tourists that visted Santorini from a cruise ship and I couldn’t agree more. I really did love the island and thought it was very beautiful, but I wouldn’t rush back. For me any place that is clogged with tourists is a little too much. Something about having to push and excuse your way through the quaint cobblestone streets just ruins the charm. Now that I’m a little older and have been traveling for a while, I’d so much rather find a hidden quiet gem then a Top 10 destination!

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    • I’m so with you, Lauren! I am really happy to have seen the stunning views over the caldera at Santorini – they really are incredible – but I’d much rather spend time on a smaller, more traditional and less touristy island when we visit Greece. We’ve found a few of them over the years and this summer we discovered one of the best yet!

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  19. I would love to visit Santorini as the pictures I see on Pinterest and Instagram are just incredible! But I appreciate to read a realistic view on the island as obviously, most hyped places have some downsides. I’ve read at Land of Marvels that there’s quite a lot of garbage around on the island too and I guess that’s just worse during high season?! Anyway, have you been to other places in Greece and know of an equally stunning but less touristy one? There’s only direct flights from Tromso to Crete which I guess is exactly touristy and little traditionally Greece…

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    • I’ve been to quite a few Greek islands, Van, and you can definitely find charming, much less touristy places – even in the summer. I published a blog post recently with photos of Folegandros, the wonderful island we stayed at this summer, and will be writing more about that. Actually, Crete is pretty nice. It’s quite a big island so there are lots of quieter villages and fantastic places to stay. We spent one summer in a village there which was perfect and there are plenty of other parts of Crete I’d still like to discover.

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  20. I would love to visit the island but I will follow your advice and visit in the low season. Hope it is not like other places in Europe that are clogged even in the off season (like Barcelona).

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    • I’m sure it’s still quite busy outside of the main summer season, Ruth, but it’s bound to be much less busy than a European capital city. If you base yourself in one of the quieter villages like Imerovigli, it’d be even nicer. Thanks so much for commenting and sharing.

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  21. The photos look amazing, but it’s tough to enjoy places when they’re SO overcrowded. We’re looking at which Greek isles to visit and it sounds like this may not be worth the trip if we’re looking for relaxation (unfortunately!)

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  22. I’ve been to Santorini this summer and I totally agree with you! It’s very beautiful but is very crowded with tourists. Luckily our hotel was at an less popular (but still as beautiful) area (Mechalogori) and this gave us the opportunity to escape from the crowd!

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    • Thanks Lyn. Parts of Santorini really ARE unbelievably stunning but it’s too busy a tourist destination for me. Quite nice to visit for a couple of hours en route to a quieter island though!

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