Even though we’d seen so many pictures of Santorini all over the place, it was never really on top of our list of Greek islands to visit, mainly because we are typically not the biggest fans of the most popular spots. But when the opportunity to visit this summer presented itself, we decided to do it and if we had to sum it up: it lives up to the hype.
A Little Bit About Santorini
Santorini today is essentially what remained after a huge volcanic eruption destroyed most of the island along with its inhabitants a few thousand years ago. Only the tip of the volcanic crater remained and it filled up with water after the mouth of the volcano collapsed. This is what we call the Santorini caldera. Oia, Thira and Imerovigli are the major towns on the island. Oia is the most famous (and most expensive one), followed by Imerovigli and the capital, Thira. Read about our stay in Imerovigli here.
So let’s start with the positive.
Those famous Santorini views! The towns on the western side of the island all face the caldera and boast unbelievable views in every direction. The pristine white Cycladic-style houses contrast with the dark volcanic rocks and the blissfully calm deep blue waters of the Aegean sea. It truly feels like walking into a postcard that came to life. I cannot exaggerate how beautiful it is and, even if you don’t like anything else about Santorini, the views alone are worth the trip.
This one goes without saying but Greek food is delicious and Santorini does not disappoint in that department. From the fresh greek salads and seafood to the tomato keftedes, fava beans and white eggplant. We also recommend you try the local wine, which has a very specific taste derived from the mineral content of the volcanic soil.
On our first evening walking around Oia, something strange happened. Around 6pm it felt like every single person in town started walking in the same direction, trying to get to the same place. We had no idea what was going on so we started following the crowds until we reached the Westernmost part of Oia. An incredible view to the sea opened up in front of us! We watched herds of people take position along the hill swarming in front of cafes, along the town stairs and pathways and basically anywhere there was any space for people to sit down or stand and watch the sunset.
Maybe it’s because of the way the sunlight reflects in the sea, or the way it paints the white houses in rich orange-pink hues… Or maybe there’s just something in the air here. We guess the reason is not really important but every single sunset we watched in Santorini was a spectacle.
Let’s be honest – there are a lot of places that look amazing in pictures but are not actually fun to hang out in once you get there. Some feel a little too snobby, others don’t have a lot of good restaurants or bars. And some places are just plain boring and don’t have a lot happening. That’s not the case with Santorini. We only recently realized this but our favorite type of places always have the same thing in common – an old town with a modern spin. We love places with a lot of history, an authentic old-time character, but also a lot of new restaurants, fun cafes and a trendy young crowd. You can find all of that in Santorini and that’s the main reason why we’ll probably be back multiple times.
But we also have to admit there were a few things about Santorini we didn’t love…
Privacy Is A Luxury
This is an issue mainly if you are staying in Oia. Most hotels here consist of traditional cave houses stacked on top of each other with tiny pathways spiraling up and down between them. Space is very limited and so is your privacy. Your suite’s balcony is often at the same level as the street or right on top of someone else’s roof. Make sure you know exactly how much privacy you’ll get when booking your hotel, if that’s important to you. Thira and Imerovigli are a lot better in that regard, which is why I recommend you don’t stay in Oia (and also the more competitive prices, of course).
Driving Is A Pain
Make sure you prepare yourself for the driving situation here. It’s definitely not as bad as, say, the Amalfi coast but it’s not the easiest either. The nice thing about Santorini is that it’s not really as cramped as you would imagine. Outside of the small coastal towns there is actually a lot of parking space and a lot of the roads are quite new. There are public parking spaces and they are all free. But they are also in high demand as you can imagine, especially Oia in the evenings. Some of the roads are also very narrow and often half-blocked by some very creative parkers.
Oh, and did we also mention that Google maps and other navigation systems here are not up to date at all? We spent a lot of our driving time in Santorini trying to figure out which street we need to take. Reality often did not correspond to what the maps said.
This one is understandable – Santorini is one of the most photographed tourist destinations on the planet, so yes, it can get pricy. We’d say be prepared to pay NYC prices here but we’re sure you already knew that 🙂
All About The Photos
One of the reasons why we love going to places with an old-time atmosphere is that we enjoy getting immersed into the culture and feeling like we traveled back in time for a little bit. Nothing else ruins that vibe like crowds of people lining up in a queue to take a photo. We don’t mind people at tourist destinations in general, we are tourists too after all and that’s the whole point of being there. But Santorini doesn’t just feel crowded. At times it feels like there is a photoshoot happening at every corner of every street. Of course we didn’t mind it that much, that’s what we do after all :). But it’s important to mention for people who might not be into that kind of thing on their vacation.
The good overweighs the bad overall. Even though there are some small inconveniences, like any other travel destination, Santorini is still an amazing place to visit and we would recommend it enthusiastically to anyone. Know what to expect and you’ll have an unforgettable time!
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