The Truth About Santorini (And Why It Isn’t Necessarily The Travel Destination You Think It Is)

In recent years Santorini has become one of the hottest and most Instagram-able destinations in Europe; its beautiful white and blue landscape has become a bucket-list destination for so many of us who’d love to peer out into the ocean and dream about having enough cash in the bank to stay there all year round. It’s become as famous for its clifftop pools as it has its wine, thanks to every celebrity and mega-influencer worth their weight flying in to enjoy the views – so you’d be forgiven for thinking this island is a luxury haven. But the truth is, that’s only a snapshot of what Santorini has to offer and it’s really not the blue and wise paradise so many of us assume.

When looking for a holiday destination earlier this year, I couldn’t resist looking into the cliffside resorts of the Greek island of Santorini; being as basic as I am, I was truly drawn in by the views and Instagram shots I’d seen popping up on my feed over the last year or two and fancied a bit of the action for myself. Aside from the fact some of the hotels and luxury resorts in Oia (the town at the tip of the island, known for its blue roofs and sunset views) were charging the best part of ten grand for a week’s stay, it really did look like a tropical destination I was about to fall in love with.

Rather than spending a fortune on a luxury pad for the week, we found a great deal on the southern most part of the island that offered beautifully Greek decor and sandy beaches. Perissa looked like a great alternative to Oia, and coming in at about £600 each for the week was a much more reasonable price than the aforementioned blue town. I was still expecting spectacular views, rows upon rows of blue topped houses and super luxurious hangouts to fill our days – but when we landed I was truly shocked and surprised at the sites that greeted me. For Santorini really isn’t the travel destination we’ve been lead to believe.

In a nutshell, those beautiful white houses with their gloriously bright blue rooftops mainly reside in one town at the very most northern tip of the island: Oia. This town is probably the size of Covent Garden market (tiny!) and is full to the brim with tourists (as you’d expect) trying to get that perfect shot for the ‘gram; the town has little to do other than eat and drink, so it’s no surprise that everyone floods to the rather claustrophobic castle turret to watch the sunset every evening. Although it’s very pretty, it’s super expensive and a nightmare to get around; we spent half a day there during our holiday and honestly found ourselves bored, waiting for the sun to go down so we could catch our coach home. Disappointed doesn’t even cover it.

Having studied the shots taken by some incredible influencers and instagrammers, I was keen to see the beautiful views and get those great snaps – but when I was stood in the exact same spot you could see their imagery has been edited beyond all recognition. From the donkey-poo-covered steps, to the scaffolding and hoards of people, it was almost as if they’d photoshopped themselves into another island entirely so they could skim over the reality. That’s not only unethical in my opinion, but doing a disservice to the destination itself; when you land with such high expectations that have been curated via a photoshop and lightroom subscription, you’re only sure to be disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, we had a great time in Santorini and I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone looking for a great European destination – it just wasn’t what we anticipated. We had an amazing week filled with all kinds of activities (quad biking, mountain climbing, volcano visiting, boat tripping, wine tasting…) and ate the most incredible food, as well as spending many a needed day chillaxing on the beach, but I was just super frustrated that what I’d seen online was really not what I got to see in reality. I also can’t help but wonder how many other destinations have been made to look glorious online, only for the reality to be completely different.

So many people have told me Santorini is ‘on their bucket list’ or a ‘dream destination’, and every one of them has been shocked when I’ve told them my experience and shown them my photos. Similarly, every person I speak to who has visited themselves has expressed their own disappointment or bafflement at how different it was to their anticipations – it’s not just me! I would definitely go back to the island and would recommend it as a destination for those wanting to chill out as much as for those who love to get active, so if you’re thinking about booking a trip these are my top tips to ensure a great stay without feeling you’ve been cut short…

1. Don’t spend a fortune staying in Oia. There are some great locations on the southern tip of the island that all benefit from being a short walk to the beach; although the beaches are black because of the volcano that sits next door, they’re far more preferable to being squished in a tiny town at the top of a cliff for the week.

2. Book out of season if you can. When looking for the most reasonable dates, our pretty budget hotel almost doubled in price only a matter of weeks later from our late-May trip; more so than other destinations, Santorini seems to spike in price June-September so avoid the tourist rush by visiting earlier or later in the year.

3. Hire a quad bike and explore the island yourself. These are super cheap (around €25 per day) and allow you to drive all over the island without forking out for taxis or tours; we took our bike up to Ancient Thira to discover the Greek ruins, off to Santorini’s biggest winery and along the coastline to check out what else the beachside restaurants had to offer. They offer fun and freedom, so it’s no surprise everyone is on them.

4. Jump on a boat. One of the best ways to see Santorini is by booking a boat trip for the day – and it’s super affordable too. We paid €35 each for a boat that took us to visit the volcano and climb it with a guided tour, stopped off to allow us to swim in the hot springs, popped over to a neighbouring island for lunch and then dropped us off in Oia to spend an afternoon and evening exploring the town. A total bargain and totally worth a day of your time. 

5. Eat, drink and enjoy. Santorini has some of the most incredible seafood I’ve ever tasted, as well as producing the best salads I’ve ever come across; it’s cheap to eat and drink (especially wine which is less than a Diet Coke in some instances!) to make the most of the local cuisine and don’t be afraid to try something new every day.

6. Make the most of the beach butler service. One of the things I loved the most about Santorini was the fact the beaches are maintained and managed by corresponding restaurants, offering drinks delivered to your sun lounger at no extra cost. There was no stress about securing a sunbed or where to park ourselves for the day, just an opportunity to pick where we fancied and let the cocktails be brought to us.

7. Go with realistic expectations. On the whole, Santorini is a very dry and very desolate island that’s been hugely impacted by the Greek economy – pretty much everywhere you go there are half finished houses and skeletons of complexes designed but incomplete, because they simply ran out of money. The blue topped houses reside in one very small part of the island, so don’t expect to land in the middle of paradise or to get the shots you want without having to work for them.

Our holiday was a great one and we came back feeling utterly refreshed, I was just expecting to experience a more amazing views and blue-topped houses than what was delivered. Santorini is a great place to spend a week in the sun, it’s just not what you may expect…

Have you been to Santorini? What did you think vs what you anticipated?
Is Santorini on your bucket-list of hot destinations to visit?

(I’ve included a few pictures of our week on the island, with the beautiful Greek decor being in our hotel complex. The houses on the cliffside are Oia – note, no blue roof in site! – and the remainder were taken at the top of Ancient Thira overlooking the coast. It should give you a snapshot of what to expect, but I’m not the best at taking travel shots..!) 


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  1. Sally Lui
    July 4, 2018 / 7:22 am

    LOVE how honest you are regarding your experiences, as always!

    • Hayley Hall
      July 4, 2018 / 7:57 am

      Haha brutally honest always 🙂

  2. Hayley
    July 4, 2018 / 8:22 am

    I love honest views like this! I found a similar thing with Mykonos actually. To be fair to it, the streets in the main town are very pretty and perfect for Instagram, but the rest of the island was disappointing and also super windy.

    • Hayley Hall
      July 5, 2018 / 8:40 am

      I really want to go there – and I've heard it's super pretty. And yes, so windy! That's island life though isn't it 😉

  3. LoveAnna
    July 4, 2018 / 9:07 am

    I'm glad of this honest post. I have wanted to visit Santorini for years, before it became Instagram's darling, simply for the ancient ruins and to see Thurs. It's nice to see that side is still relatively unpopular with tourists!!

    • Hayley Hall
      July 5, 2018 / 8:41 am

      Up on the hill where the ruins were was really quiet! A few bus tours and ramblers, but not that many people at all – I was surprised as that was top of our list to visit.

  4. abi
    July 4, 2018 / 9:16 am

    I've stayed in perissa before and it's defintiely a lot more relaxing than Oia. I wouldnt recommend staying in Oia in Santorini unless it was a weekend break because it's too busy, crowded and expensive!Fab post and photos! <3Abigail Alice x

    • Hayley Hall
      July 5, 2018 / 8:41 am

      I really liked Perissa – for that exact reason!

  5. Steph Marston
    July 4, 2018 / 9:44 am

    So appreciate you sharing this honesty, as so much of the appeal of Santorini is the thought of the beautiful vistas and gram shots! Sounds like you had a great holiday and loved the sound of the quad bikes, hot springs and winery! Steph x

  6. Elena Doynova
    July 4, 2018 / 10:43 am

    So glad someone told it as it is – most of these pictures we see were taken at an ungodly hour before tourists arrive, made with good luck on one's shoulder (hey look, no one's coming, shoot quickly!), or… The photographer simply told everyone to get out of the way. The island is beautiful, but it's not white and blue (as many other Greek towns are, I bet!), it's a rather rocky experience. 🙂

    • Hayley Hall
      July 5, 2018 / 8:42 am

      It really is rocky! Don't get me wrong, some bits were beautiful and it's a really interesting island, just not what I was expecting from seeing so many people visit.

  7. Danielle Alexa
    July 4, 2018 / 7:49 pm

    All I can remember about my time in Santorini is that we walked up and down hills so much that I came back with bloody throbbing calves!Danielle xx

    • Hayley Hall
      July 5, 2018 / 8:42 am

      Hahaha! After three days of walking up mountains, volcanos and cliffs I needed a day on the beach!

  8. Unknown
    July 4, 2018 / 9:18 pm

    Ive been to Santorini and also stayed in Perissa. We took public transport to Oia etc and it was cheap and very good. The money we saved by not staying in a hotel in Oia we used for a sunset dinner cruise on a gorgeous catamaran which is memorable only 12 of us waited on hand and foot by a captain and his crew. We also did an executive tour of the wineries brilliant. So stay on the southetn part of the island with beaches and tavernas and visit Oia and the Caldera

    • Hayley Hall
      July 5, 2018 / 8:43 am

      That sounds lovely! And I so agree with you – stay south and take day trips north. There's so much more to offer than Oia as a town.

  9. Vivian Yuen
    July 5, 2018 / 5:01 am

    I've always been a little bit apprehensive about Santorini because it's portrayed on IG as the epitome of travel perfection! Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts~~ Vivian | LIVE IN LOVEIG | @viviyunn_~

  10. Mary Desola Adeniyi
    July 5, 2018 / 5:17 am

    That's the problem with Instagram, it only captures the beautiful parts. Perfect bits. There's nothing wrong with beautiful pictures, I love it but it's nice to have reality as well. Thanks for the honest post.

  11. Thil
    July 5, 2018 / 5:22 am

    You are so wrong to say that. You did not research enough. If you did you would have known blue white built up areas are limited fira and oia. Not just oia. Fira is just as beautiful. Also there are many small villages with blue domes. Did you expected the whole island to be blue and white ? Also there were blue white churches all around the island with fantastic views.Some were located on cliff tops. Again with magestic just did not do your research, just looked Santorini and went to most touristic places hence you could not take good pictures due to crowd.

    • Hayley Hall
      July 5, 2018 / 8:39 am

      I did plenty of research thank you, and saw the entire island – like I said, we spent one afternoon in Oia and the entire rest of the week exploring the rest of the island and small villages. My issue is that Instagram is representing it as one thing and it's so over photoshopped it's not the reality; you can see from my photos there aren't even many blue topped houses, because in the photos they're not real! And considering I've spoken to so many people who had the same experience / thoughts it's not 'wrong of me'. You're entitled to your opinion, as I am mine.

    • Catherine Summers
      July 5, 2018 / 11:18 am

      I've been to Santorini (and loved it btw) – when I was younger I went to Kefalonia. I thought ALL of Greece was the blue and white churches and houses on the side of a cliff edge: turns out I'd been looking at the classic pictures of Santorini thinking that was every Greek island ever. So even in the days before social media and the internet you could be duped into thinking a place looks a certain way (we only had travel guides to go by in those days). It's pretty harsh to tell someone they did not research enough – no one has to research at ALL if they don't want to. I want to go to Italy and visit Florence, Venice and Tuscany – I don't need to do more research to know I still want to go!

    • Hayley Hall
      July 5, 2018 / 3:46 pm

      Thanks Katherine – we saw a lot online when researching hotels and it's easy to get confused or mislead when you only have a few pictures to go on!

  12. Ευαγγελία
    July 5, 2018 / 6:06 am

    Great article! I'm Greek and everything you say is true. I wish that people visit other islands too. Myconos and Santorini are just popular not the prettiest islands we have. I would suggest Peloponese, and the western islands of Ionion sea too.

    • Hayley Hall
      July 5, 2018 / 8:44 am

      I'll check that out, thank you! I've also been told that Samos is amazing?

  13. louloulouisey
    July 5, 2018 / 8:12 am

    I have always wanted to go here too, as like yourself carried away with the picturesque images on facebook. I am so glad you shared this and I am saddened that these images have been so over edited and photoshopped. As a blogger myself it just makes you even more determined to stay honest and authentic! Thank you so much for being so honest and sharing this! xx

    • Hayley Hall
      July 5, 2018 / 8:44 am

      Thanks for your support Lou! It frustrates me that places are photoshopped to look so different, when you can see the beauty in everything anyway.

  14. Liz
    July 5, 2018 / 10:26 am

    I felt exactly the same about Santorini. I've seen mainland Greece and much preferred it. We visited Lefkas a few years ago and that was very very similar to Santorini (just without an Oia) and was so much cheaper! I had similar opinions on Mykonos too – the raved-about Mykonos town was tiny and (in my opinion) grubby, and apart from that it's all party beaches (not my scene, the pile of Moet bottles my height told me!). Some lovely places but just not the picturesque idea you get from bloggers. Greece is lovely – but to be loved for what it is, not what people want it to be.

    • Hayley Hall
      July 5, 2018 / 10:39 am

      Everyone I speak to has said the same – unless you're staying in a super luxe hotel and have a private pool, it's sure to be disappointing. I loved the island, but I feel like influencers are overhyping it. And what a glorious sign off – I agree, love it for what it is and not what you want it to be.

  15. Catherine Summers
    July 5, 2018 / 11:31 am

    Hayley this is very, very accurate about Santorini – my husband and I went in September/October 2015 and I think that was just before everybody went CRAZY for it on Instagram. You're absolutely right that Oia is heaving with tourists: we went to see the sunset early October and couldn't move for people. But then that's the same at the Taj Mahal, seeing the Mona Lisa, the Las Vegas sign… thinking you'll get a tourist-free picture at any of those places is just unrealistic.But that doesn't take away from the fact the Santorini is BREATHTAKING, and there is so much more than just seeing the sunset at Oia. We stayed in Imerovigli which was a 3-4 hour mountainous walk from Oia (if you stop lots for photos and the like) which we did twice. We went up the top of the mountain. We went to the Akrotiri ruins. We went to the lighthouse. We went down the cable car. We took a boat out to Thirasia. We walked everywhere and found all the white steps and quiet white and blue churches you could ask for. It's the only place we've ever been that we want to go to again, and I'm so glad you enjoyed it for what it really is. Fabulous, honest post!Catherine xP.S. The only bucket place we've been that you can enjoy with no tourists around is the Grand Canyon. It's SO vast with so many places to stop and look that you often find yourself in a spot all by yourself, and we went in July. No tourists to spoil your photos there!! ?

    • Hayley Hall
      July 5, 2018 / 3:48 pm

      Thank you Catherine! I really loved it and we were able to do so many other things (so much walking my legs nearly fell off) so the island is definitely more than that one spot. I'll take your tip on the Grand Canyon too 😉

  16. Shana
    July 5, 2018 / 5:46 pm

    I absolutely appreciate you being very honest after going there. It is definitely still a place I want to travel, but you gave a realistic view of what it exactly is and how not to break the bank. Thanks so much for the information.

  17. Cake (Sheila R)
    July 14, 2018 / 12:03 pm

    Thanks for this, wanting to go back to Greece after many years and this has made me think about doing a lot more research. Love our realistic review

  18. Lady BlahBlah
    July 15, 2018 / 3:20 am

    Thanks for your honest review, Santorini has been on my list for years but have to admit my "bubble" had been burst some time ago by people returning from there and admitting it wasn't all it's cracked up to be. Loved all of your outfits in your photos and pics of your hotel look beautiful – would you mind disclosing where you stayed? Plus where you got your lovely dresses from? Thanks!

    • Hayley Hall
      July 16, 2018 / 8:59 am

      We stayed in a place called Kouros Village and all the outfits are on instagram and tagged over there 🙂

  19. katerina m
    July 22, 2018 / 8:27 pm

    I'm Greek and not really very fond of Santorini. I've been there once and for me it is enough. And the biggest fail of the island is that you cannot swim. You cannot swim with all those rocks in the sea. You have to wear plastic shoes in the sea because it can get slippery. Or choose to stay by the pool (which is so stupid when you are on a Greek island)… We have 2000 islands with better beaches. Also, I agry with you about Oia. The sunset is much better when you watch it from other parts of the island, like Fira, from the volcano side.

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