I debated writing this post for a while. I went to Greece in September and almost everything I have to say about it so far has been good. Santorini is the exception to this. I didn’t fall in love with Santorini as so many people do, and blog posts promised I would. Let me say this now before everyone tells me I am terrible, it is beautiful and it is romantic. However, it just wasn’t for me, but I am glad that I went.
I expected it to be crowded, but this was beyond my expectations! Most of the crowds were in Oia, where I happened to be staying. Since I had never been to Santorini, I want to stay in the heart of it or so I thought. There was a constant stream of people walking past my hotel. This was after the summer crowds have left Santorini.
The first night I was there, I headed to watch the sunset like everyone else. It was crowded, but not too much as I had been told to head there early. The captain of my boat advised me to walk further down from the fort where everyone gathers to watch. I trudged down a set of steep donkey crap covered stairs and claimed my spot.
After watching the sunset, I started the walk back to my car. I think it took 30 minutes when it should have taken 10! At some points along the way, I was stuck at a standstill because it was so crowded. The streets of Oia are just too narrow to handle the crowds.
Still planning a trip to Santorini? Buy my Santorini Itineraries to help you enjoy it!
Santorini is a large island, larger than I expected. I had read up about getting around the island and decided that renting a car was the best way. Best decision in terms of time I could have made. However, the traffic on Santorini is terrible. Getting from the port to the main road was a winding road, and if you got stuck behind any bus or delivery truck, you could be stuck for a while. This was one of the main reasons I left my hotel two hours before my ferry was to depart.
Traffic and Driving
Getting around was made easier by the car, but all the roads are winding! It makes getting around take much longer than expected. As a result, I didn’t get to see all the things I wanted to.
The roads in Oia were so narrow in some places; cars had to go one at a time. Granted, I probably should not have been driving in Oia, but I was suffering from land sickness and walking in the heat was not a good idea. The narrow roads led to the long waiting area, and you had no idea if the traffic was moving or if there had been an accident. Only at night did I see police out directing traffic. It also didn’t help that my hotel was right at the start of the really bad traffic spot.
Parking in Oia can be done, but you have to find a parking space. The best spot I found was down the hill from the bus station parking lot. I was able to park my car along a wall that offered some shade.
I am sure you are thinking, Tiffany it’s one of the most popular places on the planet to go and you didn’t expect it to be touristy!? I expected it to some degree, but some parts of it were over the top touristy. One of those places was Fira. Fira is the capital city of Santorini. I stopped here to buy an SD card for my camera and it was just one souvenir shop after another. It was also quite dirty. That is probably due to the overcrowding of Santorini during the high season. It also one the cheaper areas to stay on Santorini, which probably contributes to the crowds.
Oia had its touristy sections as well. Lots of shops along the walk to the sunset. Many of these shops offering souvenir and overpriced designer beachwear. Slightly ironic since all the beaches are located elsewhere on the island.
I live in Qatar, and I am from Texas, but the heat on Santorini was something I hadn’t experienced. The combination of the heat the whitewashed walls created an oven effect. There is no offer of shade because all the trees have been removed out to build hotels! I had on sunscreen and still felt a bit burned after only an hour in the sun. Hats and umbrellas are needed!
Let me say you will be hard pressed to find too many blog posts saying someone didn’t like Santorini. I tried! I managed to find a few. One is Suitcases and Sandcastles, and you can read about how she didn’t think it was worth the hype. The other is from Hannah Rose and how traveling there as a backpacker may not have been the best plan. Christina of Santorini Plus, who is also a Santorini tour guide, tells you what not to do on a visit to Santorini.
Of course, tons of people love Santorini. Here are some of the posts I have found about loving Santorini! Radha and Brook from On Flight Mode think Santorini should be at the top of your bucket list and give some great tips on what to see and do! Angela from the Sunday Chapter gives us 7 reasons to visit Santorini.
How to Make Your Experience Better Than Mine
- Go in the off-season, like October or April. The crowds will be less, and the weather will be cooler. Some hotels and restaurants will be open, but now that Greece is going to limit the number of tourists that can arrive by cruise ship more places might stay open. Give yourself more time. I was only there for two days. You probably need 3 to 5 days depending on what all you want to see.
- Stay outside of Fira and Oia. Those places can be visited by car, and you can still have a great view of the caldera. If you really want to have a caldera view, stay in Oia one night for the experience and spend the rest of the time elsewhere. Walk through Oia in the early morning to beat the heat and the crowds.
I went back in May one year and it was so much better. If you are still planning a trip to Santorini, check out my Santorini Itineraries – 1, 3, and 5 Day Guides.
Have you been to Santorini? What did you think?
Hi Tiffany, a friend of mine here they went there last December for a holiday and because it is a bit cold it is not that crowded. Good deal she said but actually they stayed somewhere out of Santorini just similar to it but the view was still awesome.
I think that is the way to go, off-season. Thanks!!
Definitely take Tiffanys advice and visit when it is off-season. Less packed and more time to enjoy the country.
Thanks for including my post, Tiffany. I really do think Santorini is overhyped. Yes, the views are amazing but the crowds and the tourist tat – ugh. Not my scene at all. There are so many wonderful, more laid-back Greek islands even in the height of summer.
I agree! I saw 12 islands and some of smallest ones were my favorites. You’re welcome!!
We went in April (Spring) and LOVED it. Stayed in Oia. I think the trick is to find a hotel that doesn’t have the walk past tourist traffic. We walked past lots of places where I thought ‘wow, that must be annoying!’ It was low 20’s temp and PERFECT in every shape and form. I thought the views and atmosphere was good for the soul. We also hired a car and experienced the narrow winding roads but after Qatar, we thought it was relaxed and cute rather than annoying. We travelled right round the island without any bother. We stayed for 5 nights and I would go back in a heart beat (at this time of the year!)
I think the time of year is the key! Everyone who has read this said they loved it in the off-season. The roads didn’t bother me, I just didn’t realize it would take so long to get from one end of the island to the other. And five days sounds much better! Thanks!!!
This is all very very true. I am a tour guide in Santorini so I know how crowded it can get and it is really a shame. I get weird looks when I tell people that the sunset in Oia is not worth it, just because it is so crowded! Glad to finally see an honest post about it 🙂
My advice would be to visit off season to enjoy the views, but also get some quiet and privacy. In my opinion, best town to stay is Imerovigli. It is half way through Oia and Fira (so you can easily drive to both places) and still has all the amazing views , but is far away from the crowds. Also, there are so many lovely places to enjoy the sunset from. It is not just Oia!
Hope you can come back in the winter and enjoy the island Tiffany, it is truly beautiful 🙂
I am so glad you agree with me. Nice to know the experts think the same. I think off-season is definitely the way to go. Thanks for the location suggestion too. Now I want to go back.
Yes absolutely off season is much much better (and much cheaper as well). Next time you do come back, let me know and I will help you plan the perfect holiday- to make it up for this one!
I would love that!
Very interesting to read! I’ve never been to Greece but Santorini is definitely somewhere I want to go, even knowing between you and Claire that it’s not really worth the hype. Such a shame all the trees are gone and there is no shade. I don’t do well with heat so that will certainly bother me. #FarawayFiles
I would go in the winter then. It will be less crowded and much cooler. Much of Greece saw snow this winter, including some of the islands! It looked gorgeous.
Hej from Copenhagen Tiffany! We’re happy to have your perspective this week for #FarawayFiles! I haven’t been to Santorini in over 20 years, but did love it as a backpacker in my 20’s. I completely understand your frustrations, as it was how I felt when we recently visited Dubrovnik and had to compete with the throngs and masses there too – it can definitely color an experience. Hopefully, Greece’s tourism policies will alleviate some of the crowding and make experiences more satisfying for all. Cheers from Denmark, Erin
Hi, Erin! Yes, I really hope the cities that are having a tourist influx will get some relief. Cruise ships seems to make the issue even worse. It isn’t just about the tourist experiences as well. I worry if the cities can physically hold up to all the foot traffic. Thanks for stopping by!
I’ve always wanted to go to Santorini. It’s actually so refreshing to read a review that shows the other side. If I ever plan to go I’ll be bearing your tips in mind. Thanks #FarawayFiles
I’m glad you think so! You’re welcome. Thanks for stopping by!
I’ve been to quite a few parts of Greece, and worked in a popular holiday resort on Kos but I never realised that Santorini had such an over-crowding problem. Good to bear your comments in mind for future travels! #Farawayfiles
I think it is the cruise ships and the narrow streets. Just something to be aware of. Thanks for stopping by
I must admit I giggled a bit when reading about your experience trying to see the sunset! I feel your pain and I appreciate an honest post like this. However, your photos are lovely! #farawayfiles
I had to laugh to. Santorini is supposed to be beautiful and I am standing in donkey crap trying to take a picture of a sunset with a thousand other people. Glad you liked it. Thanks!!
Its really refreshing to read a post where the author gives a warts and all version of the trip rather than saying everything was brilliant. Its twenty years since I went to Santorini and I too didn’t have a great time – lost my passport and all my money and survived on bread. Teenage travel experiences are made of such things! I’m older and wiser now but it seems Santorini has got extremely busy and crowded since then. Thanks for your honesty and for sharing with #faraway files.
It isn’t always beaches and sunsets right? I have had plenty of travel fails. Thanks for stopping by!
I was in Santorini for a week for a wedding and I will never forget when the cruise boats arrived Tiffany. Swarms of people over took the island and it was oppressive to say the least. My favourite moments there, besides my friends’ beautiful wedding, were some quite moments away from Oia. Glad you found some joy on the other Greek islands. We are heading there in September and I cant wait. Thanks for sharing on #farawayfiles
A week would be good though as you might be able to get away from the crowds. Enjoy Greece! I can’t wait to go back.
Great to read this again and delighted to have you with us on #FarawayFiles.
Thanks! I am enjoying reading everyone’s posts!
I love it when travel writers post honest posts. You’re certainly not alone in not having enjoyed Santorini for all the reasons you mentioned. Grant it I haven’t been since I was 16, but seems it’s notorious for being so crazy crowded and overbearing that way. Bravo to you and Clare for telling it like it is! #farawayfiles
I am glad that you liked it. I try to write honestly all the time, but know it is a tough balance. Thanks!
I’m with Clare (suitcases…) who decided to stay on another quieter island, more rustic and natural, but then take a day trip to Santorini. However, my best friend went in early May this year and stayed a week on either side and she had pro’s and cons to each side but overall she said the place is just so beautiful! Still, I’m not sure its at the top of my bucket list yet. We went to Thassos last year and thats definitely more my idea of proper Greece, over Santorini. You’ve just added to my already negative perceptions of theplace. #farawayflies
I would go again but in the off season or stay outside of Oia. Definitely think if you are going to Greece you should at least see it. But I don’t want everyone to think they will love it.
I can definitely see your point. I have always dreamed on visiting Oia but wished I had dicovered it before the rest of the world did! ha. I have seen so many pictures of the massive crowds all huddled watching the sunset. Like.. I get it. but I don’t know how well I would cope with that! especially in the Greek heat! Interesting to read this since most posts are singing the praises of how amazing Santorini is. #farawayfiles
Me too! I don’t like crowds, so I was really irritated. Thankfully, the heat has died down by sunset. Thanks for stopping by!
It certainly looks beautiful, so I can understand why people want to go there.
It’s beautiful and I was one of those people too!
I love truthful travel blogs, particularly when everyone else raves about a place that you just don’t get. I felt the same way about Copenhagen…why does everyone else love it when I don’t?
I am so glad! I always try to present the truth. Oh, I haven’t been there yet. Now I am curious!!
Hello! The only part of Greece I’ve visited was Kos (in late October so in the quiet season) and I fell in love with it!
I’ve seen all the stunning pictures of Santorini and it was definitely on my very long list of places I would like to go to one day. You’ve certainly given a honest and refreshing perspective which is brilliant to read ❤
Hi! You are the second person to say they went to Kos. I am curious now. What did you like about it? Thanks for stopping by!
Hmm. Well, we went for a week and I really feel that we got to see so much of the place, it’s a very small island. We hired a car for just one day and managed to see and explore villages, towns, mountains and beaches – we saw the amazing sunset from the end of a track facing west…and we were the only people there! There were opportunities for boat trips and suchlike which were brilliant. Plus Turkey is just a stone’s throw across the sea. And the Greek people I found wonderful and friendly too.
Now I think a lot of this boiled down to it being out of season, the island was very quiet and some businesses had closed for the winter but I liked that, it made it feel more relaxed and very much like you were privileged to spend time in such a beautiful place. You should go! In October ?
I really think going in the off-season is a good idea. Thanks for all the info! Very helpful.
Crowds are really tough to deal with and when it gets unbearable people can get really cranky and annoying. I really appreciate honest posts like this one. Thanks for sharing Tiffany!
Especially when it is hot! Thank you!
I couldn’t agree more!
I’ve been meaning to read this for ages now! Thank you for sharing the ‘real’ side to it! I’m desperate to visit Santorini but now knowing about the crowds etc I’ll definitely make sure it’s off season when we go! Definitely going to refer back to your post when we do get round to booking!
Hi Heather! You are welcome. I hope it helps. Let me know if I can help once you decide to go!!
Thanks for this honest article. I’ve been seeing so many people posting about Santorini that I decided to create a starter trip on it for Tripidee. I was getting frustrated by the research that didn’t yield much – just pretty spots. I will definitely add a note to our travelers about peak tourist times so they can travel more informed. Good idea on the travel insurance too!
You’re welcome! Yes, going in the off season would be so much better.
This was really enjoyable to read. Having read this there seem to be some wonderful places to visit.Had a quick look at your blog and love it already. Have subscribed. Looks like you’ve spent time in many of the places listed in this post.
We really like reading such honest posts. It is true that when a place is super-crowded then you miss all the fun. During the sunset you can’t avoid the arriving horde, unless you are lucky enough to have a boat and watch it from the sea…
Oia is the ideal place to feel the aura of the caldera and understand the mystery of this place. However, there are other places where you could also watch the sunset like the village of Imerovigli where you catch the sunset at a higher point than in Oia, specifically at 300 meters above sea level, and enjoy a more expansive view. The sun sets directly front and center, behind the small island of Thirassia. An alternative option is the lighthouse at Akrotiri, on the other side of the island. This place is for those who want to escape the crowds. Another great place would be a vineyard, where you can taste the famous wine of Santorini.
We suggest that you visit Santorini off-season (as you very well advised), more specifically in June or early October, especially if you are on a budget. In June you’ll also have the chance to enjoy the beach as well. When visiting the Greek Islands it is best to spend at least 4 days (on each) if you want to feel relaxed and blend in with the locals.
We sincerely hope that you will give Santorini a second chance in the near future. You could even combine it with a bit of island hopping around the Cyclades 🙂 Thank you for sharing!
Yes, my plan is to one day come in the off-season at some point. I will definitely give it another chance. I love Greece too much not too. Thank you for your wonderful comment.
I would have to agree that many places in the med are far more enjoyable in the off season. Want heat try Turkey in summer 🙂 Good to hear another side of visiting this island. We try and avoid the more touristy places and no doubt the reason why this island isn’t on the to-do list.
I would go back but only in the way off-season, like December. I need to see more of Turkey. I have only been to Istanbul.
I’ve visited Santorini last April and really enjoy it. It was part of my honeymoon and the island has this romantic feel and the view is amazing, but was off season, the weather just right sometimes chilly at afternoon but there weren’t too much people, and the food was amazing, i’m pretty sure thats why i love santorini, and can’t wait to get back. A friend of mine just came back from a greek cruise and said she didn’t like Santorini as much, it was too crowded, and really heat. So maybe is all about the season, april was beautiful,
I think so as well. The off season is definitely the time to go. I am so glad you enjoyed it! And congrats on your marriage.
Hi, me and my girlfriend are in Santorini now, and we are like “how come everywhere on the internet says this place is amazing… we think it sucks.” You pointed out many of the main reasons.
It’s the worst in August as well. I hope you make the best of it! If you have time or flexibility try to go to another island for a day trip. Ios is close by.
I know I am late to this article, but I will comment anyway.
I went during October, it was still somewhat crowded, but not overwhelming. My experience was that it is the best place I have visited, pure paradise. You should try again in the offseason, I bet you have different outlook.
Yes, the off season seems to be the better time to visits. Thanks for visiting!
Very late response but i am so so so glad that I keep finding articles like this! Ive been looking around and people also think Mykonos isin’t worth it also. I know i cant dodge Santorini because my partner seriously wants to go, but its good to know that there are quieter parts on the island where we can go and enjoy sunsets, uninterrupted walks and meals… Thank you! We’re also considering Corfu – i think it will be touristy, but not to this degree.
Hi! I welcome comments anytime. I’m so glad you found it useful. If your partner wants to see it then you should go. It is worth seeing if it’s on a bucket list. At least you know now. Mykonos is so expensive it isn’t worth it. Depending on the time of year Corfu can be busy but it won’t be like Santorini. Hope you enjoy it.
I am Greek, lived and worked in Santorini for two years and the one thing I have to say is that it made me hate tourists. Most people that visit the island don’t care at all about it, they respect nothing and they only want to take their selfies and leave. They leave their trash everywhere and they have absolutely no manners whatsoever. Santorini its an expensive island for everyone, be it locals, Greeks or tourists. Believe it or not I payed for food exactly what a tourist would pay. If you have searched you would know it’s expensive, but people that visit of course don’t care that much as to search about it, so they come and complain. If it’s out of your budget then do everyone a favour and go somewhere else. Trashy tourists at their finest.
[…] I wrote my post, Why I Didn’t Love Santorini, many people ask what islands they should visit instead. So I am giving you my five alternatives to […]
Well well well. An interesting blog about the supermodel of Greek islands.
I’ve lived here 5 years now and I can relate to alot of why you were disappointed.
Hopefully you can return one day and see the alternative more authentic side of Santorini. It’s a shame you didn’t visit or stay in Pyrgos, the island’s prettiest inland village. And yes it has some trees too! In fact my favourite spot is Pyrgos village square. There you can sit under the shade of the pine trees at one of the authentic bars…it’s perfect. Chances are you’ll be sharing the place with Greeks as well as visitors.
Now that is a great nickname for Santorini! Supermodel.
I now live in Greece and keep thinking now is the time to visit when there is no one here. Thanks for the great tips!!
Thanks for the helpful post! I’m planning a trip with elders for September or October and I would imagine 6 years on, it’s even more crowded now than it was then. My mother in law went to Santorini 12 years ago and wants to go back, but I did suspect it might be unbearably popular now. It’s hard to find reviews of an entire place (rather than a just a site within the larger place) so this overview is helpful. I’d hoped September might be more chill, but it sounds like no. Oh well, there are plenty of islands in the sea 🙂
Could you go in late September or early October? It won’t be as bad then.