Having A Great Time In (Touristy) Santorini

Hello from Greece! We’ve spent the last four days on the island of Santorini. While the primary focus of this blog is always airlines and hotels, occasionally I also like to share my thoughts on destinations. Here are a few of my (random) thoughts based on our time in Santorini.

I’ve never really been to Greece before

It kind of blows my mind that this is the case, but prior to this trip I had never been to Greece as an adult. I remember as a kid I took a cruise with my parents that had a couple of stops in Greece, and I remember it being beautiful. However, other than that I don’t think I’ve ever been. I’m not sure why that’s the case, exactly. It’s probably because a lot of my travels are decided on based on airlines and hotels, and there aren’t that many great airlines flying to Greece, or that many great points hotels.

Having finally visited, I can’t believe I hadn’t ever really visited, because there are so many things to love.

Santorini is super touristy

Let me start by acknowledging the obvious. Santorini is incredibly touristy, and we haven’t even reached the peak summer season of July and August. So yeah, if you go to Oia you may find everywhere looks a bit like this:

So I’m not suggesting I’ve uncovered some hidden gem here. Santorini is incredibly touristy, and that’s just a reality.

Every destination is what you make of it

I also firmly believe that there’s a reason many places are touristy, and you can still choose what you make of a place. We’re morning people, so Oia (and surrounding areas) were significantly less crowded in the mornings.

Also, Santorini seems to be a destination mostly for people looking to relax, eat, drink, and party, though that’s not what we did.

We did at least a 10km hike every day, and over the course of those hikes we maybe came across a total of a dozen people. We basically had the areas we hiked in all to ourselves. The landscape was breathtaking, and I also loved how diverse it was.

Greece has outstanding food

I’m not someone who visits destinations because of food, though that doesn’t mean I won’t acknowledge great food. As someone who loves Mediterranean food, I found Santorini had spectacular food. Every meal was something to look forward to. I regret that I didn’t take more pictures of the food. Nom nom nom.

The local wine was excellent as well, and was cool to visit some vineyards and do tastings.

Four days was enough

We spent four days at Mystique in Oia. While we had a great time, by day four we were also ready to get out of there. Oia is the most picturesque area of Santorini (shown below), though the downside is that it’s also the most touristy. I felt like four days in this area was almost too much, and next time I’d mix up my time a bit more, and also stay at Vedema (the other Starwood property), or even at Istoria (a brand new Design Hotels property), which are on quieter parts of the island.

The people were (mostly) very friendly

On islands like Santorini you have people all over Europe working for the season. There were tons of Greek people, but also a lot of people from Turkey and other countries in Eastern Europe. I was very pleasantly surprised by the genuine warmth of many of the people on the island, especially given that many of these islands are overrun with tourists, which often leads to indifferent service.

That wasn’t the case across the board, though, and we came across our fair share of bad apples. Especially cab drivers. I couldn’t help but argue with them on principle. When you hire a private taxi and they decide they want to pick up more people along the way, how do they think it’s reasonable not to lower the price per party? Obscene. They were real jerks about it as well.

Is everyone here on their honeymoon?

This is more of an observation than anything. My gosh, I feel like we were the only people on the island not on our honeymoon. Just about everyone at our hotel seemed to be on their honeymoon. When we walked the streets of Oia we saw men and women in full wedding attire with photographers every 50 feet. Like I said, that’s not good or bad, but it can change the vibe of a place.

I’m excited to see more of Greece

Santorini was only our first stop, and if anything it has made me interested in exploring more of the country. I loved the food, the scenery, and (mostly) the people, but I’d also like to visit a quieter island next time.

Bottom line

I can’t believe I hadn’t really been to Greece before, given what a popular destination it is. Santorini is a beautiful island with great food. While it feels very touristy, that didn’t bother us too much, since we were able to do lots of hiking, and also explored the towns before most of the island woke up. This is only the start of our trip to Greece, though I’m already excited for our next trip here.

If you’ve been to Greece, what was your experience like? Anyone have a favorite island that’s a bit quieter?

Comments

  1. I’d recommend Naxos. It’s a great island that’s way quieter. Great hiking opportunities there as there are several mountains. Fabulous beaches too. And more Greek vacationers than foreigners. Stunning scenery. Highly recommend.

  2. Go to Crete…stay at the Domuz Noruz Chania autograph collection and as a platinum be upgraded to a front Water suites where you will have an amazing sunset from your private swimming pool. Rent a car and go to Elafonissi beach, one of the most beautiful places I have been. You will never forget this place

  3. Mykonos is similar to Santorini. Not quite as picture-perfect but very touristy but with more nightlife. There were only something like 30 cabs on the entire island when I was there which meant waiting quite some time for a cab, and this was at the very end of the tourist season (kate September).

    There’s plenty of Greek islands that have less people, I just haven’t visited them yet.

  4. Just left Vedema today, can highly recommend megalochori and the resort there (Vedema). The surrounding town was like a movie set for a traditional Greek village. Combined with the SPG luxury resort there, it felt like a real find. We did make it into Fira, but not Oia, and found it to be touristy as well. Cheers, and off to Mykonos. Will keep an eye out for you and Ford.

  5. Hey there,

    wonderful to hear that! Being half Greek, I spend a significant part of my childhood in Greece. Mostly in Athens, but also on Paros, which is close to Santorini. I am quite sure its less crowded than Santorini, but also more indvidual. I assume most people on Paros stay in Apartments. You might want to check that out though and fly a Dash or Metroliner from Athens to a fairly small field. I’d be happy to advise more, given that my mom moved back there in 2016 and has good insights!

    Makes me proud to hear you enjoyed your experience!

    Best regards from Germany,

    Marius

  6. Now that you are travelling more often with Ford, this kind of post should become a common place. You have already been to a lot of fantastic places but haven´t really explored them, so every time you revisit Japan (Switzerland, Argentina, South Africa, Thailand, Sweden, Brazil, Morocco…), we should expect something along these lines.

  7. Mykonos back in the 70s, that was quite something. These days I’m more at home on Crete.
    You shouldn’t bypass Athens. A few days at the Grande Bretagne or K.George is lovely at this time of year, before it gets too hot.

  8. Santorini is a magnet for bridezillas. But the great thing about Greece is that there are just so many islands, and most of them are nothing like Santorini and Mykonos in terms of crowds (and prices). You just have to explore and find your own favourites. I’ve been to a dozen or so but I’m selfishly not saying what my favourites are, because I don’t want them to get more crowded! 🙂

  9. LOL at the honeymoon comments xD I can confirm it is a very popular honeymoon destination in Europe!

  10. Lucky, does this mean you’ll be doing follow up posts on your reviews on flights to Greece and Mystique? If not, can you briefly share which airline you flew with (pts or paid) and your stay at Mystique (pts or paid & if you like the hotel)? Looking to visit Santorini & Mystique is high on the list on where to stay. Your feedback is appreciated! Thanks!

  11. “there aren’t that many great airlines flying to Greece” ?? Delta, AA, United, Air Canada, Lufthansa, Air France, Etihad, Swiss, Emirates, KLM, Qatar, BA, Turkish, Scandinavian and many others all fly to Athens…?!

  12. Just returned from Santorini (Oia) myself. Was going to go with the Mystique but my partner wanted another hotel. Couldn’t agree more with your assessment about it being packed with tourists. Those towns on Santorini have essentially become adult theme parks with nothing but hotels, shops and restaurants. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth visiting, but people should be ready for that if they are somehow expecting a more ‘authentic’ or ‘local’ experience.

    Agree with the other commenter about visiting Athens too if you’re in the neighbourhood. We had a great 2 night stay at the Grand Bretagne. Not the best hotel we’ve stayed in but excellent nonetheless, especially with its central location and Acropolis views. I just wish it would be a bit more exclusive. When we were there, there were some large Brazilian tour groups which detracted from the service: ie. when we were departing, the large tour group was hovering outside at the entrance of the hotel and so the doormen/bellmen couldn’t see us. We ended up just hailing our own cab and lugging our luggage to it ourselves: not something you’d expect at a 5-star hotel.

  13. Lucky u mist go to crete and stay at the domes of elounda. Its a pricy marriott but wow is it gorgeous!!

  14. I was just in Athens, Mykonos, Paros and Santorini a few weeks ago. Santorini was def my least fav and Mykonos/Athens were my fav. I would not visit Santorini again, too touristy. Although my hotel was very nice.

  15. Don’t forget about mainland Greece as well. Just google some images of Meteora. Definitely worth a night or two, and it was my favorite place in all of Greece (more than Santorini, Athens, et al). Also Delphi has some truly breathtaking scenery!

  16. Since you are a SPG guy try the Blue Palace in Crete and The Romanos in Costa Navarino. No tourists and an amazing place to relax.

  17. If you’re an animal lover Oia and the rest of the islands are you’re worst nightmare. The donkeys are treated horribly forced to carry heavy peop up those steep steps while having wounds from straps cutting into their flesh. In the dark of night or early morning hours the restaurants trash is piled like a mountain top onto donkeys and they are forced to walk to trash containers where they wait for long times until someone comes to throw it into bins. Tourist up have seen this and even started helping remove big bags and throw in bins. A cat at our hotel was so ill she couldn’t eat. I found a vet through Sterila Cat Rescue and SAWA but they are tiny groups who could use tourist help and donations. After the summer season the cats typically starve or the natives poison them. Many dogs run in groups starving and feed on cats. Yes Oia is beautiful as is most of the surrounding areas but the animal issues are truly the saddest I’ve seen besides Mexico. If tourist would learn about this and actually care there’s more that could be done to help. We made another trip to Oia last February to help Sterila with trap neuter return and rescue and yes we used points flying Emirates first class from Newark to Athens as the flights are limited. The animals on Santorini really need help…your help if you consider going please do more than just eat and drink. Look into how you can help the animals of Santorini! We have personally rescued 3 cats from Santorini who are happy now living in Texas.

  18. Thira (santorini) is my favorite island, although admittedly I never ever go to Greece in the summer. In general the mainland is significantly less touristy, less expensive, but still full of breathtaking views. I’m partial to Nafpaktos where my family is from. A beautiful two hour drive to both Delphi and Olympia. As for the cab drivers… unless you speak Greek you will be taken for a ride (literally and figuratively). Just rent a car or take the bus.

  19. Take it from the guy who lives in Athens. Mykonos is not a place to go. All too many people getting blazed and drunk out of their minds (unless that’s your thing of course I’d say spend a couple of days, if that). Athens itself is a nice place to start your holiday. You should definitely try and get 5-6 days out of it. Then there’s Thessaloniki, also a lovely place, and from there you have all sorts of islands to explore like Paros, Naxos, Syros, Crete, Rhodes etc.

  20. Would strongly recommend Meteora on the mainland and Rhodes for an island. Rhodes has everything that you need as a tourist and very few crowds. We were there at about this time of year and saw none of the crowds that you saw. And the cab drivers that we used were fantastic.

  21. I second Meteori… even as a staunch atheist.
    And yes, with a number of islands you will never run out of the options on more/less touristy more/less luxury, more/less “Greek”. The rainbow of choices is not as diverse as Caribbean islands (all islands are still very Greek, if you know what I mean), but it is still fun exploring.

    If you want waaaay less touristy with more hiking opportunity (think dense forests and empty beaches and everything in between) – checkout Halkidiki. Since it is not an island, it is still somewhat “undiscovered”.

  22. I predict this trip to Greece will include a stop at Amanzoe. If a great airline won’t bring you to a destination, the lure of an Aman is the only other thing I can think of that will!

  23. Great post. Have been to Santorini three times, it is the ‘Positano, Italy’ of Greece (too crowded/ too touristy). Have stayed at Katikies & Perivolas House (really liked).
    Agree with @Paolo – do not skip Athens. King George Hotel Athens one of my favorite ‘old Europe’ lux hotels. Rooftop restaurant called Tudor Hall has amazing food, even better view of Acropolis at night while dining on their terrace. Funny what we remember, one of my fav memories was a ‘fat dog’ that belonged to the owner of the King George, the dog would lie on the front steps of the hotel, he/she would greet you upon arrival. I stayed maybe 5 times almost 10 years ago, always the same dog…always made me smile.
    If you love Greece, don’t forget about some of Turkeys beach destinations, Bodrum, Izmir etc.
    There is a new Bodrum Edition Hotel opening soon as well. Safe trip!

  24. Milos was a really nice island, and the locals described to us as “Santorini, only 20 years ago”. 😉

    My wife & I (on our honeymoon!) did a sailboat cruise around Milos with 7 other young couples, most of whom where Greek & Italian. It was interesting to spend time with them and enjoy coastline. Rented a buggy too and had a blast driving around the island. Visited the actual spot where the Venus de Milo was found and it was deserted. Very cool.

  25. I was at Amanzo’e over memorial day, perfect time to go, weather was ideal. The physical property is spectacular, and the GM Sven is cool, but service was otherwise mediocre, particularly at the beach club. Also, I feel like you have to rent a multi-bedroom villa to get great views from your residence, which I didn’t do, and the views from the highest category 1 bedroom didn’t make me want to spend time in the room. In other news, apparently Malta is having a moment.

  26. We did a group trip where we made our way to Lefkada, chartered 2 boats and sailed between Lefkada, Meganisi, Ithaki and Kefalonia over a week. These islands are also accessible by ferry, but because by water is basically the only way there, they are much less crowded. Great hiking, outdoor activities and the food!

  27. We traveled to Santorini at the end of April/beginning of May a few years ago. That early in the season, the flowers are blooming, and it is not quite so crowded. That being said, Oia has typically been less crowded (except at sunset) than Fira where the cruise ships dock.
    Crowds are to be expected where there is so much amazing beauty. I’m still yearning to return!

  28. Just got back yesterday from Greece. Spent time in Athens, Santorini and Milos. Milos was a new destination for me and it was wonderful!

    We stayed in the village Imerovigli on Santorini which is just as nice as Oia but much quieter. It was the perfect place to stay!

  29. Pretty identical to my experience. I went to Santorini (mostly Fira) in early April for a few days and then to Athens after having never been to Greece. Both are rather touristy but if you know how to avoid tourist traps both are rather scenic and pleasant.

  30. My experience at the Vedema was one of extreme disappointment! Very poor and at times felt unhygienic breakfast, rooms that could do with a spring clean and all that at quite a high price! I’ll give the staff at reception top marks, but otherwise, a very disappointing stay altogether!

  31. Zakynthos is a beautiful Island. I took an Easy Jet flight over there during the summer back in 2011. At least that point the island was not overrun with tourists and was insanely beautiful. We rented a car and drove around the island it was great.

  32. Check out Paxos and Antipaxos. Totally gorgeous, off-the-beaten track, great food and scenery, and best of all devoid of obnoxious tourists. We went with our Greek friends.

  33. You can’t judge Greek islands by Santorini. It’s hideous.
    BEST OF SANTORINI
    PK Cocktail Bar – my favourite bar in the whole world!
    WORST
    The airport. Inexcusable.  And voted fifth worst in the world (somehow beating Jeddah, Juba, Port Harcourt and Tashkent. Just.)
    THINGS TO DO
    Get a boat to Ios, only half an hour, and fabulous. Or if you have the time, Amorgos, about an hour. Absolute heaven….

  34. I made my first trip to Athens, Greece in 1977 and went back to do the islands in 1978 and have been going back just about every other year, ever since. Santorini is breathtaking, especially if you have a small hotel with terrace or outside bar in Fira overlooking the caldera at sunset. I can’t imagine anything more romantic. I have been also to many of the other islands as well. All are worth a visit. I remember when you could get a room for about $8.00 US a night.
    Now we just go to Mykonos; good beaches, good food, good end of season sales at the shops and incredibly good nightlife. We go at the end of August through the middle of September. We usually stay downtown, stay in a small hotel with a shady garden and a balcony or patio. Perfect weather and most of the crazy, young tourists have gone by then. I met my other half there 32 years ago. I hope to have my ashes scattered there. Love it. Ernie, Dallas, TX

  35. Been to Greece multiple times. Vedema is the place to stay on Santorini. It is tucked away from the tourist crush of Oia. You need a car to explore the Island if you stay at Vedema. Hopefully you are staying at an independent boutique hotel on Mykonos; the Belverde is our favorite. Outside of Athens, take a trip to Olympia or Delphi (touristy, but not as bad as Athens or the Islands). If you have time go to Napflio and see the ruins of Mycenae. Napfilo is a wonderful town, with several great hotels.

    Athens is Athens. I assume you are staying on the square at the Grand B or King George. Either is a great base for exploring on foot. Take time to climb/hike Lycabettus Hill. There are wonderful restaurants, bars, boutiques, etc. tucked everywhere. Of course, exploring the Acropolis zone will give a full day hike.

  36. YES to these kind of posts!!!! Every trip you make where you explore a town, make a post about it Ben! We love to hear more diverse content rather than just planes or hotels.

    Greece looks stunning, just wish it warm year round. Sucks that its only a hotspot for 4 months out of the year 🙁

  37. If you are considering a trip on the mainland, I would suggest Monemvasia and the Mani area. Stay at the Kinsterna hotel, and visit the medieval town of Monemvasia. The drive down from Athens is lovely and you can stop at the ancient theatre of Epidaurus and visit Nafplio (first capital of modern Greece). If you have more time, you can add Nikki Beach (not too far from the Amanzoe) or even take a water taxi across to Spetses and stay at the Poseidonio Hotel (lovely old hotel built on the early twentieth century).

  38. I love these “thoughts-about-somewhere” posts!
    Having spent several weeks of my teenage vacations in Greece, hopping around the island or exploring the mainland, I can’t help but love the country and its people. They are so often very kind with foreigners and eager to help.
    Last autumn I had the chance to stay for a more extended period of time for study-internship purposes.
    I stayed in Serres, a town in Central Macedonia, about 80 Km north of Thessaloniki. Admittedly, I loved the experience, but when I had time to move around a little bit, I had a terribly different experience from what you can find across the Aegean or even in (central) Athens. I don’t know exactly how to describe it, I would say its more coarse, genuine and fulfilling than the others I had before.
    I was way out of the beaten track and there you can find extremely cheap and tasty traditional food, which I loved. Sometimes it was almost cheaper to go out dining that heading to the grocery store to get pasta and veggies. (tip: Ellinon Tavern, Serres)
    As an Italian, I was amazed how laid back the Greek lifestyle is (which is saying a lot). A good thing when you are enjoying a holiday, not so much when you have to speak at a 10:30am presentation and catch an afternoon flight home in the evening (fortunately it ended up being delayed, hihihi).
    If you have the chance, I definitely recommend visiting Greece and exploring its amazing archeologic heritage, famous islands but I suggest to go also beyond that.

  39. I loved Santorini! I went there on girls trip a few years ago. We stayed in firostefani (its been a while so the name may be wrong) but I think it was the best choice b/c it was a lot smaller and less touristy but we still were on the caldera side and had amazing ocean views… on the down side, we had an insane hike up the cliff whenever we wanted to go out but that worked well. Oia and Fira were super touristy (and Fira was a cruise ship port) so I was glad we stayed a little off the beaten path. Also, don’t go in the summer!

  40. We did several nights at Mystique as well at the end of April! How did you like it? Totally agree with you about the taxis, bunch of a-holes. They quoted us an obnoxious price so we walked off. My wife somehow figured out the bus schedule and within a minute we caught a bus (lucky timing) and were on our way. After that I only used private car hires via a travel agency, much more reasonable pricing.

  41. +1 for Crete. Went there for 5 days a few years back and felt like I easily could have spent another week. Big island, lots to do, few tourists. And pretty much the best olive oil you’ll ever find.

  42. Completely agree with you, if visit Santorini, stay away fro Oia, but I liked Emporio and Pyrgos.
    But my heart belongs to Paros, amazing island, will return in heartbeat

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