During the summer of 2018, Layton and I cruised around the Northern Mediterranean. When we booked the itinerary of 20+ cities, Santorini was the ONE I was excited for the most. Over the past ten years, I saw so many incredible photos of Santorini, and countless people told me it was their favorite place in the world. I stepped foot on the island thinking I was about to experience heaven on Earth when in reality, it was hell 99% of the time. (Okay, maybe not exactly ‘hell’ but it was not enjoyable).
I’ll caveat my experience with the following: we were only there for one day. However, we rented a car and drove the entire island (something most people who stay for a week or more don’t do). We checked out what people say is the “best the island has to offer.” However, if those places were the best, I’m glad we came by cruise ship. I sincerely believe it would have been a waste of time if we spent more than those 12 hours on Santorini.
I realize this is a VERY unpopular opinion, but here are the reasons why I think Santorini is overrated and why you should NOT visit.
The ‘Archeological Sites’ Are Unimpressive
I know people might not think of Santorini for their archeological sites but when you Google ‘things to do in Santorini’ it’s always one of the top 10 activities.
A lot of archeologists and historians believe Santorini is the location of the infamous Atlantis. You would expect somewhere with that reputation to have cool archeological sites, but Santorini does not.
Ancient Thira and Akrotiri are it. Some say they are the most important prehistoric settlements of the Aegean. I seriously doubt it.
Ancient Thira looks like a pile of rocks. Akrotiri was obliterated in the second millennium BC, when the volcano, Thera, erupted. Similar to Pompeii, but much much much smaller, Akrotiri is in decent shape – meaning you can see crumbling houses and a few frescos. The citizens of Akrotiri saw the eruption coming and evacuated in a timely and orderly manner. This means there aren’t any human or valuable remains.
Overall, nothing archeological in Santorini compares to what you would see in Athens, Olympia, and Rhodes. Read all about my experience exploring the Greek island of Rhodes here: ‘What To See in Medieval Rhodes.’
There Are Few Beaches And They Are Terrible
Taking a dip in the beautiful Mediterranean water is on every Santorini visitor’s list, but it may be hard to find a great spot to do so.
We checked out the Red Beach, Perissa Black Sand Beach, and Kamari. These three are considered the “best” beaches on the island. Sadly, all three beaches were mediocre and crowded. I mean, if there are only a few beaches on the island, of course, they’re going to be busy.
Red Beach has red volcanic rocks as the beach, which is pretty but uncomfortable to walk or lay on. It is also one of the stops for tour groups, which means you can expect swarms of people coming and going every few minutes or so. This wouldn’t have been a huge problem if the beach was big enough to find some solitude; however, Red Beach is small with limited space.
Oh, and you also have to hike down rocky terrain just to get to the beach itself. Not comfortable when wearing sandals and not worth the effort.
Perissa is easier to get to but is covered in harsh black pebbles. These pebbles get super hot as the sun rises and seriously burn the hell out of your feet. I recommend wearing your shoes at all times. The beach itself is very big and long; however, if you find a place to lay your towel on the ground, the heat from the pebbles will burn your bum. The best option is to snag yourself a beach chair, but the seating is limited.
The only good thing about Perissa is that famous DJ’s occasionally come here to play, so there is a significant party atmosphere.
Last is Kamari. It is next to the airport and well organized for tourists (aka easy to get to). Obviously, this means it is by far the most crowded of all the beaches. Kamari has the nicest ‘sand’, but doesn’t offer much of a view. We stayed here for 5 minutes, ate a sandwich and left. So disappointing.
None of these beaches even held a candle to half of the other beaches we saw during our cruise. If you want to see a truly incredible Greek island beach, check out Myrtos Beach in Kefalonia.
The Cities Are Swarming With Tourists
The Insta-worthy white and blue painted town and cliffside views are cool. However, EVERYONE knows this. It is probably the reason most people visit Santorini in the first place. So expect the major cities such as Oia, Imerovigli, and Pyrgos Kallistis to be busy. And by busy, I mean brushing sweaty shoulders with your fellow tourist. Some wider streets offer a little bit more space (thank goodness!), but then you turn a corner and find yourself shuffling between narrow streets.
Along with the insanely busy streets, here are a few other things I’d rather not deal with. The shops hawk their “authentic” Greek goods to everyone walking by. Photographically challenged tourists block the way and take selfies around every corner. The streets are like mazes, so you continuously worry if the direction you’re going is correct. And the heat!!!! Just imagine you are walking along a narrow street, the sun is beating down on you, there’s no breeze, there’s no shade, and the reflection from the white, cliffside houses burns your eyes. That was the situation the entire time we explored Oia, Santorini.
Wandering around the Santorini towns was not what I would call a fun experience.
(It may not seem that busy here but this was taken when there was a break in the crowds along a wider street.)
Popular Instagram Photos Locations Are Actually Blocked Off
Let’s say you understand to skip the beaches, archeological sites, or anywhere on the island except for your cliffside city of choice. Let’s also say you know you will have to fight the crowds to get that picture you saw on Instagram of the blue domes and white houses.
What you don’t know is that it is now illegal to get many of these famous pictures.
You see, the city is full of privately owned pieces of real estate. These owners don’t like it when you climb over their fences and onto their roofs, especially when it is on top of a church. When it was just a random model or two, it wasn’t a big deal. Now that it’s a few hundred tourists, the locals try to prevent people from trespassing and causing further property damage.
The only way to get any sort of iconic Instagram shots is if you stay at one of the most famous private cliffside villas or you ignore the local’s ‘Do Not Enter’/’Private Property’ signs and trespass. I’m not sure what happens if you get caught. Probably someone will just yell at you, but why be disrespectful and risk it?
The Rest Of The Island Is Ugly
Sure, the cities on the cliffs of Santorini overlooking the volcano and the Mediterranean Sea are beautiful. They offer amazing views, great food, fun bars, and expensive lodgings.
Now, I hate to say this, but the rest of the island is hideous. It looks like the New Mexico desert (not the White Sands, the crappy brush covered desert) with a few random trees in smaller towns. Full discloser, these towns are nothing like Oia – the postcard of Santorini. As you can see from the photo below, they are nothing special and not visually appealing.
My advice: Don’t rent a car. Don’t drive around the island. The roads are packed, and the views are terrible. Save your time and keep drinking at your cliffside villa.
You should only visit Santorini if. . . .
You wish to do absolutely nothing for a few days while staying at a private, high-end cliffside villa. Not only will you have great views but you will get to enjoy them in privacy. You will also have the opportunity to walk around the cities in the evening and at night when most of the tourists from cruise ships leave the island.
You want to take photos of the infamous white and blue churches, cliffside windmills, and colorful bougainvillea trees.
I don’t think either reason would be worth the amount of money it costs to visit and stay on the island. Instead, why not explore one of the other 200 inhabited and 6,000 uninhabited Greek islands that aren’t overrun with tourists?
Santorini is the perfect example of a place that, through social media and highly edited photos, has become one of the most famous and sought after travel destination in the world without actually providing anything other than a background for a photo.
If you’ve been to Santorini, what is your opinion of the island? Let me know in the comment below!