Santorini is the most popular destination in Greece and one of the most iconic in the world. The famous caldera, cave houses and hotels, and sunset views are highly sought after, but that also means it can be very busy and often expensive. So one of the questions that comes up the most, especially in my private Facebook group, is: Is Santorini worth it?
PLANNING A TRIP TO GREECE?
Whether you’ve been before or it’s your first time it can be hard to process all the information out there. Be sure to check out our complete Planning Guide as well as our FREE 13-page downloadable itinerary.
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When to visit Santorini
The best times to visit Santorini are April-June and September-October. The weather is mild and the crowds are lower than in high summer ( July & August).
The high season is late June to early September, and prices will reflect that as will the crowds, the number of cruise ships and accommodation availability.
Easter is a wonderful time to visit Santorini as it becomes very festive with church services, parades, parties, and magical lanterns lit up all over the island, especially in the town of Pyrgos.
How to get to Santorini
You can travel from Athens to Santorini by ferry or by plane. There is a small international airport that has several flights to Athens a day as well as regular flights in summer from other European destinations like Rome and England. Check flight schedules HERE.
There are also many ferries each day, year round. Most service either the Western or Eastern Cyclades Islands and on to Athens whilst some connect with Crete. Book ferry tickets HERE.
Need transport for Santorini?
Book Ferry tickets HERE
Book Hire Car HERE
Book Airport Shuttle Bus HERE
Book Private Airport Pickup HERE
Santorini is a bucket list destination for most people and for good reason.
Despite the cruise ships and the crowds, it remains one of those places that not only meets your expectations but probably exceeds it. The views truly are the stuff of legends and it is little wonder it is so popular with honeymooners.
Many people who visit, especially in summer, are disappointed by the crowds and some say they don’t think it is worth it.
We analyzed 1000 comments in the Facebook Group about Santorini and found that 82% of visitors were glad they visited. Interestingly over 80% of the people who did not like it visited on cruise ships, and over 90% went to only Oia and/or Fira, the two busiest towns on the island. In other words, the people who do not like it because of the crowds, are the people in the crowds.
There are 20 towns and villages in Santorini and a lot more to see and do than people think. It is not hard to escape the crowds and Santorini can also be enjoyed on a budget. We even have a podcast episode about all the many things to do on the island.
The Pros of visiting Santorini
- the unique beauty of Santorini and some of the most photographed vistas in Europe. The island is completely unique, and there is nowhere like it on the planet.
- beautiful, unique cave hotels and houses
- award-winning wines and wineries—many say the best in Greece. Wine making techniques are unique and the native Assyrtiko creates wine only found on Santorini
- one of the most important archaeological sites in the country
- authentic towns and villages including several that are rarely visited by tourists
- unique volcanic beaches
- magical sunset Cruises on the Caldera
- snorkeling and diving on shipwrecks and in lava tubes
- walk on the plug of an active volcano and swim in its hot springs
- attend the Greek Wedding Show – arguably the best interactive dinner show in Greece
- many women love doing Flying Dress shoots, a concept that originated on Santorini
- horseback riding on the beach
- lots of great shopping at every price point
- Tomato fritters – Santorini’s speciality
Cons of visiting Santorini
- Despite there being 20 towns and villages most visitors flock to just two – Oia and Fira, which means they are very crowded, especially during the day
- Too many cruise ships visit in Summer and put significant pressure on the island
- there is no cruise ship terminal so passengers are tendered in and there can be long queues for the cable car
- during peak periods prices for accommodation and restaurants can be steep, especially on the Caldera side
- there are a lot of steps and many are uneven and can be littered with Donkey poo
- donkeys and mules are still being used by tourists to climb the 600 steps from the port to the top
- Instagrammers and flying dress shoots can ruin other people’s enjoyment of the views and vistas
- transport can be tricky in summer with long queues for the buses and limited parking for cars
Sunset crowds in Oia
Tips for making the most of Santorini:
- Don’t visit on a cruise ship. Honestly, this is not the best way to see the Greek Islands – you are herded around with upwards of 18,000 other passengers and you usually miss the joys of being on the islands at night, when they really come alive. Also there is no Cruise Ships terminal on Santorini so all passengers are tendered in and have to get to the top of the Caldera, where the towns are, by walking the 600 steps or the cable car, which can have wait times of around two hours each way in Summer.
- Check sites like Cruisedig which lists the ships due in to any port and how many passengers they carry. If possible plan your visit when the lowest possible number are scheduled.
- Don’t go to Oia. This is the most photographed village in Greece and is at the very northern tip of the island, so very congested. You can find blue church domes and bells and great sunset visits in plenty of other locations. The fascination with this one village has always been a bit baffling and is a prime example of herd mentality.
- Or, stay in Oia! This may sound strange given the last point but we have found it is a great way to avoid the crowds. Head out exploring mid-morning then the cruise ship passengers start converging, and when you return late in the day they have all gone. Or, if you decide to stay around town, you’ll have your hotel or villa to escape to as your personal refuge.
- Stay in Imerovigli which is between Fira and Oia. Close enough to walk to Fira but far enough away from the craziness.
- Stay on the Eastern side, especially if you are budget conscious. Perissa and Kamari are nice beachside towns that are far less expensive than the Caldera side. They also get amazing sunrises!
- For a truly authentic experience stay in a town like Pyrgos, Meglachori or Emporiou, where the locals live. Cheaper, quieter and quite lovely.
- Book a private driver. Have someone like Nikos at Santo Luxury Escapes pick you up and show you around for the day. He can take care of the traffic, parking and, as a born and bred local he is a wealth of knowledge. Use the code ‘GTS23‘ for 10% off.
- Don’t overschedule your calendar. The happiest visitors usually have lots of downtime to explore the local villages, do some shopping, gaze at the mesmerizing Santorini sunsets over a few cocktails and rest and recuperate, especially if visiting Santorini with kids.
- Visit off-season. While a lot of things do close between November and April they are mostly beach/boat focused things, activities that require clear weather (like the Greek Wedding Show) and souvenir shops and restaurants popular with peak-season tourists. There are over 15,000 locals however that live on the island, and there are plenty of supermarkets, shops and tavernas that stay open year round for them and off-season visitors too.
Where to stay on Santorini to avoid the crowds
As mentioned staying at least overnight ( and preferably three or four nights) is the best way to truly appreciate this unique island.
This ensures you can enjoy the famous sunsets, see the island when it is least crowded, explore and discover more of the many things to do and see and take in the evening ambience which is when, like a lot of islands, it really comes alive.
In Oia splurge on a Villa like at Armenaki or a Hotel like one in the Canaves group, and indulge in your own private escape. Your luggage, transfers and excursions will all be taken care of, and you’ll be blissfully seperated from the crowds.
Or stay elsewhere on the island like Tholos Resort Imerovigli, Dolphin Suites in Megalokhori or Skyfall Suites (Adults Only) in Pyrgos. Families and groups love Sunhaus in Perissa and Bellonias Villas in Kamari.