Last summer when we went to Santorini I felt like I read a million blogs and watched so many YouTube videos to try plan and prepare for our trip. Santorini is one of the hottest travel locations in the world (thank you Instagram) and I wanted to make sure that I knew everything before I went. But once we got to the island I quickly realized that there was a whole lot that those bloggers and YouTubers failed to mention documenting their travels to this picturesque island. So without further ado, here are 10 things I wish we knew before traveling to Santorini.
1. Avoid the High Season
Yes, while reading up on Santorini I did hear that it does get very crowed in the peak travel times. But, I don’t think that this was stressed enough exactly how crowded this place gets. We were in Santorini in early August and it was insanely crowded! I’m not sure if I have ever seen a place quite that crowded. I remember one point while walking through Oia we were at the spots with the famous blue dome churches and people were pushing and shoving to get the perfect picture.
When planning this trip to Santorini I heard that the high seasons where busy but that off season times were completely dead and many places would close down in the winter months. So, I talked to one of the waiters at our hotel’s restaurant about tourism in Santorini and he told us that now Santorini is busy all year round. Yes, it does slow down a bit in the winter months. But, that shouldn’t affect your travels at all. Hotels, restaurants and basically all of the tourist activities are now going strong year-round. So if you are dying to go to Santorini and stay in Oia near all the iconic structures, I highly recommend going during an off season.
2. Don’t stay in the Busy Towns
If you do travel to Santorini during the peak seasons (which weather-wise was perfect!), I recommend staying further away from the famous towns of Oia and Thera. When our travel agent showed us a hotel in Kamari, I was a little worried since of all the things I had read and watched I hadn’t really heard of that area of Santorini. But let me tell you, the Kamari area is a gem! Kamari has a black beach lot tons of restaurants, hotels and shops! It was such a fun area to stroll around and relax on the beach and it felt much less crowded than Oia or Thera. We stayed at the Kings Suites at Kamari Beach and had such a wonderful stay. We had a gorgeous suite that was just steps away from the beach and a great hotel restaurant (that we ate almost every meal at).
3. Factor in Travel Time
If you do travel in the peak season and stay in Kamari beach, do factor in travel time when going to Oia or Thera. Google Maps shows that it is about a 30 minute car ride. If you take the buses that they have on the island I would factor that to be more of a 45-60 minute trip (depending on how many people are on the bus and how many stops it makes). The bus was a great way to get around the island and very affordable! Be sure that you do have Euros on hand when riding though so you can pay as they only accept cash.
4. Take a Sunset Cruise
When researching about Santorini you will come across 1 million articles and blog posts about watching the sunset at Oia. We were so excited our first night there going to Oia and finding a place to watch the sunset. However (see point #1) the streets and viewing areas were so incredibly crowded it was hard to find a spot. We saw a restaurant that had a sign outside saying if you at dinner there you could watch the sunset on their rooftop bar. Sounded perfect. We had dinner, drinks and dessert there then headed up to the rooftop bar. Only to be told once we got up there we was not enough room there and we had to leave. I was so upset. We had splurged so much there thinking it was our romantic night to watch the sunset and we ended up riding on the bus back to Kamari during the sunset. So, what we planned instead was a sunset cruise for our last night. They offer tons of different sunset cruises in Santorini and I 100% recommend doing this instead of rushing around the streets of Oia to watch the sunset. We were on a Catamaran with about 15 other people. We had a giant dinner and unlimited drinks and we got to stop and swim in hot spots all around the island. It was one of the most memorable nights ever and we ended up having the most incredible views of the sunset.
5. Be Weary of the “Instagram Shot”
Santorini is incredibly popular on Instagram. But, all of those ‘too goo to be true’ shots you see on Instagram are often way too good to be true. We saw many people sneaking onto private properties to get the perfect shot for the ‘gram. I personally think that is incredibly disrespectful. If you see a sign that says “Private Property” or “Do Not Enter” just don’t go. It’s not worth it. Santorini it full of gorgeous places to get beautiful pictures. Just lower your expectation of getting a crazy picture sitting on top of a blue dome.
6. Plan Your Flights Accordingly
Our last day in Greece we were supposed to fly out of Santorini have a couple hour layover in Athens then board our flight back to Houston (with an overnight layover in Amsterdam). However, what we did not know is that Santorini often times has strong winds and will shut down their airport and ports until travel is safe. The airport was shut down for almost three hours. By the time we finally got to Athens and picked up our luggage from baggage claim, our flight to Amsterdam had already finished boarding. We were flying KLM to Amsterdam (and back to Houston) and we ran to their counter and explained our situation. Because we had flown on a different airline back to Athens from Santorini there wasn’t much KLM could do for us then. We ended up having to stay the night in Athens and go to the ticketing counter at 3 AM and beg for a flight to Amsterdam so we could make our flight back to Houston. After a lot of tears on my part it worked! Bless those KLM ladies!
Apparently this wind issue on Santorini happens often. So, when you are traveling home I would plan to stay the night in Athens or have a very long layover in Athens. This goes for ferry travel as well since they also shut down the ports.
7. Bring Walking Shoes
I feel like every influencer on Instagram wears crazy heels or scrappy sandals in their Santorini pictures. But I do not recommend bringing those types of shoes to Santorini. There is a lot of walking to do on this trip and the pavement is very slippery so I would bring comfortable shoes! Santorini is also very hilly so expect to get a workout in walking around!
I also recommend bringing water shoes. The beach at Kamari has coarse sand that was a bit uncomfortable.
8. Stock Up in Athens
There is a good chance you may be staying in Athens before you travel to Santorini. If you do, I suggest stocking up on some snacks. We noticed that snacks were cheaper in Athens than Santorini! (And I love to have lots of snacks with us!)
9. Don’t Forget Other Greek Islands!
Santorini has so much hype around it, don’t forget that there are so many other gorgeous Greek Islands to explore! I will forever to grateful for Nathan planning our last minute trip to Hydra. It was so much fun to explore and I can’t wait to go back again to Greece one day and explore other islands (like Rhodes and Crete!!).
All About Our Day in Hydra- Click here
10. Don’t Skip Santorini
Lastly, I will have to admit and all the other bloggers out there are not exaggerating. Santorini is one of the most picturesque places I have ever seen and may in fact be Heaven on Earth. Just because it is crowded and facing some over-tourism, don’t skip it! It was so worth it to see in person and when looking at the photos I took I sometimes am still in disbelief that I took that photo and I got to see that gorgeous place in person. From the blue dome churches, white-washed walls and crystal blue waters, there is something about this island that is pure magic.