Ten Things To Know: Santorini
Our 10T2K quick guide series is our way of delivering simple–yet important–advice and information on places we have been to only once or twice. The goal is to share 10 things we learned from our travels to these locations in order for you to make the most out of your own adventures should you visit one day.
Truth be told, Greece was never very high on our travel destination list, as it’s just not really our vibe due to lack of mountains. Then in 2019, our best friend Chlo told us that she wanted to celebrate her 40th birthday in Santorini… how posh and swanky of her. But we shrugged our shoulders and said “why the hell not?”. We had never let someone else select a travel destination for us, so we gave way to a very different type of adventure.
It became evident that we were going a vacation opposed to traveling…
We would be lying if we said the Greek Cyclades aren’t every photographer’s dream for a number of reasons. Of course we had seen a plethora of perfect photographs of the small Greek island of Santorini. How could you not? It’s a beautiful travel “it” spot at the moment. It’s hard to *not* see the Greek island on Instagram or Pinterest right now, which are the two places most people look for travel destinations.
This immediately created some reservations, as this dramatically deviates from our more adventurous & off the map travel style. We knew we were headed some place with more people than we are used to.
As the trip approached, we naturally started to research photography locations. And to nobody’s surprise, we read about extreme overcrowding issues on the once laid back Santorini. People had a lot of complaining to do. That term “over-hyped” kept popping up everywhere.
Instead of panicking while reading other travelers’ blogs about how “over-hyped” Santorini is, we paid attention to common trends. There are certain places and situations on the island that can absolutely make a person feel “tricked” by Instagram, thus we made note of them. All we had to do was strategically steer clear of certain popular areas at certain popular times.
Sure, seeing very specific places at very specific times is part of why we travel, but it’s more important to not let perfect be the enemy of good when on the road. So we ditched the notion of “chasing bangers” this trip in an effort to be more in the moment. We had to let go of some shots we had our hearts set on and go against the grain in order to make the most of our short time in Greece. And we are so grateful that we did, as we successfully avoided people for the entire trip.
We might not have walked away with countless quintessential Santorini shots, but that’s more than ok, as we honestly don’t always travel to shoot. Instead, we made sure we enjoyed every second by doing things a little differently. We created our own unique experience, different from the typical one you see on social media. Our time in Santorini was truly nothing short of phenomenal due to not having to deal with the crowds.
We concluded that the hype, in fact, IS real. Here are ten things to know in order to make the most of your time in Santorini and walk away with magical memories.
1-Take a Hike
Surely when you think of Santorini, hiking doesn’t come to the forefront of your mind. Why would it? It’s a microscopic crescent shaped Greek island. We assumed that we were going to be laying around all week, not doing anything too adventurous outdoors. Well much to our very pleasant surprise, there is some serious–and sketchy–elevation to be gained all over the island. From Skaros Rock, to the Fira-to-Oia hike, to the stairs at the ports; Santorini is chock full of unique hikes for the more adventurous traveler. And not one of them is for the faint of heart.
We chose to hike/climb Skaros Rock to catch the sunrise from behind Imerovigli. The hike entailed an uphill climb to get to the highest part of the island, where there is access down the stairs that take you out. The heart pounding stairs then lead you up and around to the rock itself, where you need to climb/scramble up the back to get on the top of it. While it was slightly sketchy getting up, the views were some of the best we’ve ever seen on our travels. We hung out for an hour, just taking it all in until the sun started to get too hot.
2-Don’t Rent a Car
Bet you never thought you would see these words coming from us. We never thought we would travel to a place where you really don’t need a car! But Santorini is one of those places where it would actually be more inconvenient to have one due to the island not being built for them. There are very few roads and even less parking. We saw other people mention wasting up to an hour looking for somewhere to park their rental car. No thanks. Everywhere on Santorini is quite literally in walking distance, even the towns. If something is not a close enough walk for whatever reason, getting a boat, taxi, or bus ride is incredibly easy, as cars actually aren’t the norm on the island given it’s size.
3-Get Up Early
You knew this one was coming, but we are super serious this time. The most obvious reason is to get the whole place to yourself. If you have never had a foreign town to yourself, you are truly missing out. Having the streets of Oia to ourselves each morning at 6:30am was nothing short of magical, as there was literally no one anywhere (aside from the same local guy running with his dog each morning, whom we both named Alex). The not yet hot sun reflecting off the white marble streets as it creeped over the horizon is a memory we will never forget. In addition to alone time, Santorini is simply too hot to wait in lines to take photos at popular spots. Normally, hanging out for 30 minutes to wait for a shot is no problem. But both space and shade are limited in Santorini.
What’s interesting about the sunrise, is that it’s not the sunrise itself that is so perfect about the entire thing, but rather how long it takes for the sunlight to actually touch the towns. Since the sun comes up behind the caldera (the side without the cliffs, towns, or views), it doesn’t hit the white buildings aggressively in the early morning like it does during the rest of the day. Instead, there is a soft pink defused glow on everything for nearly 45 minutes in the mornings until the sun makes its way up high enough to see the towns built down the caldera. For the rest of the day, the sun hits the bright white clay architecture and blinds you. Not to mention blows your photos out. Santorini right at dawn was easily one of the most magical things we’ve seen in all our travels. In fact, the sunrise hype beats the sunset hype in our opinion!
4-Watch the Sunset, Just Not In Oia
The Santorini sunset hype is REAL, it’s the most famous in the world for a reason. The hype is SO real, that everyone flocks to the tiny town of Oia each night to watch it, and stands nuts to butts. This is one of the times where you can really see and feel how many people visit the island, as this is the number one thing everyone wants to experience in Santorini. Which is why we stayed away from Oia in the evenings. Instead, we walked out of Oia town each night.
Instead of doing the touristy thing by standing with the flock in Oia from the castle, the streets, the post office, or the cafes… we watched the sunset from up above Oia, from Imerovigli, and from the sea. All of the sunset photos you see sprinkled throughout this blog are from all of these mentioned places.
5-See Santorini By Sea
Instead of buying too much “stuff” in Santorini, purchase experiences. We did an evening sailing trip and it was nothing short of amazing to see the island by water. You get to truly see the size of the cliffs to scale, making Santorini even more impressive than it is from the towns. Additionally, seeing that sunset on the water, with boats as the only obstruction was probably our favorite sunset we watched. There was something about the wind, the boat rocking, and being eye level with the sun slipping away that made us feel some feels.
6-Don’t Climb on Private Roofs or Churches
This is a big one that you think would go without saying. You would think most people would have the common sense to understand that they can’t climb onto a private roof for a picture, no matter how many cool dome roof pictures they have seen on Instagram. You also would think that literally everyone on the planet would respect the KEEP OFF sign on the church roof tops. Nope. People climb right up, all day long. To get THAT shot, giving us so much second hand tourist embarrassment throughout our time on Santorini.
We learned that Greek people don’t like tourists climbing all over their churches and homes (imagine that!), but they don’t say anything, as they fear it will hurt tourism. So they turn their heads the other way and let people disrespect their holy places and their homes, hopefully it will keep people pouring onto Santorini.
When you see a picture of someone sitting or standing on a white dome, they are doing it at their hotel or Airbnb. Not every hotel and not every Airbnb have quintessential white domes. Not all white domes are created photogenically equal. This was definitely one of those things that no one tells you before you go and we found out once we arrived. SO many of the best photo spots we found were taken on the private property of a hotel or Airbnb, tucked away somewhere. We got lucky that our first hotel had some domes with decent views that we were allowed to climb up as guests, but our second hotel had zero domes to shoot on (which was more than ok, they are super slippery).
7-Don’t Get On the ATVs
Not renting a car makes the desire to rent an ATV very tempting, as it’s a quick and easy way to dart across the island. You have probably seen the quintessential ATV shot on a cliff, overlooking the caldera (most likely a girl in a pink helmet). What they don’t tell you about the ATVs, is that they are seldom serviced… so tourists accidentally drive them off cliffs. The locals immediately told us to stay off the ATVs, no matter how tempting they look, as the faulty steering paired with the poor driving in general on the roads is a recipe for disaster.
8-Watch Out For Cruise Ships
We quickly learned that Santorini feels tightest when the cruise ships drop a couple thousand people off for the day who are island hopping through Greece. Imagine that? Since we knew this going into the trip, we knew to stay out of the cities on the days ships pulled in. Knowing this little bit of obvious info was HUGE in our success at feeling like we had the island to ourselves a lot of the time. If we saw a ship, we stayed out of town after 9am until the ship(s) left.
Nothing about Santorini is equipped for the amount of people that visit it, as you can clearly see above by the walkway through the towns (picture taken at 6:30am). Every single walkway is narrow and there truly isn’t enough room for everyone when a ship arrives for the day. Luckily ships only came every 2-3 days, so on the days ship were at ports, we relaxed by the pool and got caught up on photo editing until it was time to shoot again at sunset. The alternative was going out for a hike midday instead of sunset/sunrise, but we refrained due to the intensity of the sun and exposure on the island.
9-Don’t Underestimate the Sun
All those infinity pool pictures come at a very toasty cost, so bring your sunscreen. Given Greece’s proximity to the equator, 85 degrees in Santorini hits different than 85 degrees elsewhere. Sure, there is a nice island sea breeze, but you can’t always feel it depending where you are. Additionally, the hotels are built to block the wind. The other important thing to think about, is that there is no shade on Santorini. No place to hide from the sun or even get a break.
Bring a big hat (I brought two), bring a sun umbrella (Chlo brought one), and put sunscreen on way more frequently that you would think you need to. Santorini towns are all white for a very good reason. While this helps deal with the heat while indoors, it kills your eyes while outdoors and can actually cause you to burn faster. It’s the equivalent of being on snow on a sunny day, reflecting upward at you as well. Be prepared for the intensity of it is all we are saying here.
10-Shell Out For Accommodations
Given the extremity of the sun, Santorini isn’t exactly a place where you are off adventuring in the middle of the day, all day long. In fact, most people are just lounging during the day. In most travel situations/destinations, the room is just for sleeping and doesn’t really matter all that much. We found that was not the case in Santorini, as most people hang out in their accommodations during the middle of the day in an effort to avoid the sun (and cruise ship people ha!). The more you spend on your room/lodging, the more comfortable–and less bored–you will be in/at it. We can’t even begin to tell you how great it was to have a pool the whole week, making laying around way easier than it usually is for us.
The ONLY reason we paid for a fancy hotel was due to it being a milestone birthday for Chlo (seen above on her 40th). We did zero research ahead of time on the accommodation situation in Santorini, we simply got lucky. Like we mentioned, if you want the quintessential white dome picture overlooking the caldera, you are going to need to get that at a hotel or Airbnb. We had no idea this was the case prior to arriving and quickly learned that people get certain shots by staying at a very specific hotel OR by trespassing. Our first hotel had some pretty sweet domes to shoot on, lucky for us!
We stayed at the following two places, both discovered while using Booking.com to compare hotels, locations, and prices.
Thank you for reading, and please check out our other 10T2K blogs if you are here because you are trying to choose your next destination!