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..!)
SIGN UP TO MY MONTHLY NEWSLETTER HEREEXCLUSIVE NEWS, GIVEAWAYS & INFO ON WHAT YOU’VE MISSED!
Features PR samples unless otherwise stated. To read my full disclaimer, click here.