You’ve seen the pictures of the iconic bright blue domes, white buildings, cobblestone streets and cobalt blue water of Santorini. The reality is, just like ads with models, it’s mostly photoshopped. This shouldn’t surprise you as most photos today are photoshopped leaving some travellers disappointed upon arrival.
Top Three: Original Photos / Bottom: Photoshopped Photo
And if the only thing to be in the know was the disillusion of blue domes, then we would tell you to book your flight as soon as possible. Unfortunately it is not.
The island of Santorini has 2 million visitors annually and that does not count cruise ship visitors. Although it seems like a small island (it’s only 76 square kilometres or 29 square miles), Santorini is a rather large island from a walkability standpoint. Therefore, we don’t recommend trying to walk from one town to the next. Especially in the summer when temperatures are high. There are four towns that most travellers visit. Oia, Imerovigli, Fira, and Akrotiri. Fira (also called Thera or Thira) is the main town of Santorini Island, located on the top of a cliff of a caldera. Walking from Oia to Akrotiri (from one end to the other) would take you 4.5 hours. If you were to drive from Oia to Imerovigli or Fira, it would take you roughly 20 minutes. You get the point.
Now that we have covered off on the size of the island let’s discuss the cost of being on Santorini. Santorini is a tourist island and due to its increasing number of annual visitors it turned into an expensive island. It has adopted a luxury feel and is marketed as such the world around. Therefore, you should plan to loosen your purse strings if you plan to come here during the high season. You can save some money by booking flights and accommodations as early as possible. Accommodations book up fast and should be booked months, if not a year, in advance. Accommodations are not cheap and during high season they usually begin at $250 a night and increase from there, depending on location and room type. Oia is typically the most expensive and you might pay a little less in Imerovigli. This equates to at least $1,500 in accommodations for 6 nights. Thinking of all those Instagram posts of rooms with spas or pools or honeymoon suits then that number goes up considerably to at least $3,000-$4,000 for the week. We recommend staying in Imerovigli with our top choice being Remezzo Suites (the food is to die for) and second Pegasus Suites & Spa. Now remember, you haven’t even eaten yet.
FOOD AND DRINK COST
In our experience food in Greece tends to be very affordable except on highly marketed tourist islands. And this is one area where it can be hard to trust reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor. We realised that if someone is travelling and experiencing a new culture for the first time, and are on vacation, then EVERYTHING is wonderful. Which means reviews and ratings get skewed. If Santorini is your first experience of tasting authentic Greek food, then you could have a hard time deciphering how authentic it really is. You also can’t gauge if they are gouging you on the price because you are a tourist. On one trip to Santorini, we ate at a highly rated restaurant that required a deposit and the food was completely awful, and the pricing was not worth the experience. During the high season you should budget at least $150 per person per day for food and drinks. You can find some affordable places that offer quality food, but they are not everywhere, and you must look for them. To do this avoid restaurants on cliffs overlooking the caldera and ones promoting a sunset view. Go over a few streets and eat at a locally owned Taverna or eat gyros or falafel from a street vendor. One place we think is worth eating at is Ammoudi Fish Tavern. It sits right on the water in Ammoudi Bay. The seafood is caught fresh that day, cooked perfectly and is an enjoyable dining experience that doesn’t break the bank.
Now let’s talk about beaches on Santorini. There are some but you must remember that Santorini is a caldera which means more rock than beach. The beaches on the southeast coast are the most popular. Perissa and Perivolo are black sand beaches that can be reached in 25 minutes by car from Fira or the Cruise Port. Kamari beach is also popular and is separated from Perissa beach by Mesa Vouno Mountain and is roughly 20 minutes from Fira or the Cruise Port. The most sought-after beach is Red Beach in the southern part of the island in Akrotiri village. Also, a 20-minute drive from Fira or the Cruise Port. With this beach you need to work for it and hike down a footpath to reach the red sand. However, this beach is only semi-organized with just a few umbrellas and no services or bar. Whereas the others mentioned are organised beaches with umbrellas and bars. There are some beaches on the east side of the island, but it can get very windy there during July and August which is great for wind or kite surfing but not a day at the beach.
It is hard to find a blog that doesn’t say Santorini is one of the best places to see a sunset. In all honesty we have never seen a stunning sunset on Santorini regardless of time of year. We would be amiss if we didn’t mention we are from Arizona where we have some of the most majestic sunrises and sunsets. So, we might be a bit skewed as to what a beautiful sunset looks like. Yes, we have seen some orange, red and yellow before the sun sets. But then the cloud covers the sun before it dips into the ocean. Leaving us with no majestic colors lighting up the sky. However, having seen the pictures (non photoshopped) we believe there can be some beautiful sunsets in Santorini. There are a few spots recommended to try and see the Santorini Sunset. Those are: at the Oia Castle to the west (this spot gets extremely crowded early); right by the three blue domes (see photoshopped picture above); and in the southern part of Fira at the short promenade along the cliff edge near the Cathedral. Santorini during high season is very busy and it can be hard to move around with the crowds. We recommend you getting to any of these spots early to capture the moment.
Other Greek Islands to Explore and Unwind
We like to travel to places where we can really get to know the locals and engage with them. For us we don’t get that experience on tourist filled islands especially in the high season. And we don’t blame them because we understand that many working in hospitality on these islands are seasonal workers and figure they will never see us again. In addition, with 2 million visitors filtering through who has time to really engage with you? We have found other Greek islands provide an authentic local’s experience. They also have more affordable accommodations, food, drinks, culture, and amazing beaches both organised and not. To us these are the real Greek islands.
Here are five Greek islands we do recommend you visit:
- Paros – Located in the heart of the Aegean Sea, Paros is a stunning gem of the Cyclades Islands in Greece. Known for its pristine sandy beaches, charming traditional villages, and rich history, Paros has become a popular destination for travelers seeking a unique blend of relaxation, culture, and natural beauty. The beauty of it is that it is not as visited as Santorini and Mykonos. You can explore the picturesque villages, relax on pristine beaches, discover ancient history, enjoy the outdoors, and indulge in local cuisine and culture.
- Crete – Crete, the largest island in Greece, is a destination that offers a unique blend of rich history, stunning landscapes, and warm hospitality. Known for its diverse culture, ancient ruins, and beautiful beaches, every traveler from young to old can find something to enjoy. Explore the Ancient Ruins, hike the Samaria Gorge, relax on beautiful beaches, explore charming towns, and meet the locals, and delight in the culture and food.
- Kos – Without a doubt Kos is one of the hidden gems of the south-eastern Mediterranean. Nestled in the turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea, Kos is a breath-taking island that promises visitors an idyllic escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. What makes this island such a special destination for travelers seeking a mix of relaxation and exploration? It allows you to really feel the Greek culture and get to know the locals. Like other Greek islands mentioned, it too is steeped in history, chock full of culture and tradition, and not lacking in outdoor activities.
- Syros – Located in the heart of the Aegean Sea, the island of Syros is a hidden gem among the Cyclades Islands of Greece. Its enchanting beauty is often overshadowed by the neighboring islands of Santorini and Mykonos. Syros boasts a unique charm and beauty that captivates visitors with its rich history, picturesque landscapes, and vibrant culture. And unlike its neighbors this is not a high traffic tourist destination which also means no cruise ships dock here. Even more so than Kos you really get in tune with the culture, locals, and vibe of Greek life. It boasts a vibrant main town, uncrowded stunning beaches, captivating art and architecture, a unique local music called Rebetiko, fantastic food and chefs, and budget friendly high standard accommodations.
- Rhodes – Located in the Aegean Sea, the island of Rhodes captivates many travelers. Whether you’re interested in exploring ancient ruins, lounging on pristine sandy shores, or immersing yourself in local traditions, Rhodes has it all. Visit the Old Town of Rhodes, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is steeped with history. Visit one of its 40 beaches including many beautifully blue bays that you float in and soak up the sun. Explore the local towns each offering different history and culture. And don’t forget to make your tastebuds happy by eating the local cuisine.
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