Santorini has been one of my dream vacation destinations for years now, so I had my expectations set sky-high for our trip there. I went with my boyfriend after parting with my family in Italy and we were so excited to get there. So umm... Without sounding like a complete whiner, I was unfortunately underwhelmed by our experience. Don't get me wrong, the island is absolutely beautiful and photos can't do it justice. It's pretty magical being in the whitewashed towns just barely clinging to the crumbling cliffsides. The landscape is absolutely surreal... the island is literally a massive red rock rising from the sea, created by a volcanic eruption a bazillion (approx.) years ago. We kept looking around in amazement wondering how the heck they even decided, "hey, let's build some white houses in the side of the cliff OF A VOLCANO!" Of course, this is an amazing sight to see, so Santorini has become a worldwide destination for honeymooners and also anyone else with a pulse. I'm not sure if this revolving door of tourists has led to the inhabitants becoming hardened jerks, knowing that their hospitality (or lack thereof) will not affect vacationers from visiting, but I sadly found that the a lot of people on Santorini were not the friendliest. Obviously this did not apply to everyone and we DID have encounters with some absolutely lovely people at some restaurants and hotels. Will give recommendations on these spots below. However, this leads me to my next issue (I PROMISE THERE ARE SOME REDEEMING FACTORS COMING UP!): the ASTRONOMICAL prices of everything. I know, I know, Santorini is not the place to visit if you're on a budget (unless you want to stay somewhere not central, use the bus system to get around, and seek out inexpensive meals). I am by no means a cheapskate, but we felt like we were getting ripped off at every turn. For example: a taxi from the airport to the port was quoted 30 euros by our taxi driver. First of all, it's only a 10 minute drive. On top of that, we asked another couple who was also heading to the port if they wanted to share a taxi with us, and the driver says "IF YOU SHARE IT IS 25 EUROS PER COUPLE, TOTAL 50 EUROS." I'm sorry but that is notttt how taxis work sir. We are all going to the same dang destination. Meals, hotels, and excursions are all also off the charts expensive. Finally, Oia (the main town), while absolutely stunning, is too crowded to be able to enjoy yourself. The streets are narrow, winding, steep… and completely clogged with people. If you value personal space and sanity, you will likely not enjoy yourself. Imerovigli/Thira have a very similar look to Oia, and they are located near the middle of the island (Oia is on the north part). These two towns are much quieter and more pleasant to walk around. A lot of the most amazing hotels are in Imerovigli, and both Imerovigli and Thira have their share of great restaurants. Much more enjoyable!
OK, now that I have explained why Santorini is THE WORST PLACE EVER IN THE WORLD (it's not.), I will say that there were several places/experiences that made our time worthwhile. See below:
Santo Maris Oia: My heart swells when I think about this hotel. No, it is not on the cliffside, but trust me, unless you either want passerbys peering onto your patio all day or want to spend $2500+ a night for a little privacy, you do not want to stay directly in Oia. Santo Maris is just off to the side of Oia main town, connected to it by a footpath that gets you into Oia in less than 5 minutes. The staff at Santo Maris are absolutely lovely. The resort grounds themselves are extremely spacious with 5 pools, a few bars, plus one restaurant that was very good. The suites are large, beautifully designed, and decorated in the most chic boho style you could imagine. We sprung for a suite with its own plunge pool, and it was absolute heaven. We seriously lucked out with our room as it was on the very edge of the property so we had complete privacy as well as panoramic views of the sea and insane views of the sunset. The wisest thing I did when we stayed here was take advantage of the proximity to Oia and head there at 8AM by myself one morning. The streets were blissfully quiet. Literally the only other people around were shopkeepers opening up, couples in their wedding dresses & tuxedos taking wedding photos, and some bloggers prancing around on rooftops with their photographers (lol, wish that were me. Darn Elliot just had to go to the gym.) I walked around and took tons of photos, admired the views and the town, and was able to seriously enjoy myself. By 11AM, Oia is too packed with people to even move around.
La Maltese: This is not a recommendation for the hotel (which we stayed in and did not enjoy), or the restaurant, or even really the bar haha (super overpriced)… this is a recommendation for the view from their rooftop bar/restaurant. La Maltese is one of the highest up spots on the cliff in Imerovigli, so this lends to some amazing views. I would suggest going for sunset if possible, and I suppose just suck up the cost of a cocktail and take in the views. Actually, our breakfasts here every morning were pretty fantastic, so that is certainly something I could recommend doing at La Maltese (double check to see if its available if you are not staying there). If you do go in the evening, be warned as this hotel closes down for private events very often. The 3 nights we were there, they were closed for 2 of them. Super annoying as we could not even enjoy the main area when it was booked out.
Anogi: One of my best memories from Santorini is having dinner at Anogi in Imerovigli. It is super authentic and affordable, and the food is delicious & traditional Greek. The staff were so wonderful and kind. We ordered wayyyy too much food and wine and spent a few hours eating and drinking. Cannot recommend this place enough.
Onar: Upscale restaurant in Imerovigli with a large outdoor space and beautiful views. The food is inventive and so good. The prices are a bit on the high side but we found it was well worth it as the portions were larger than we expected and the quality was there! The service was great as well.
Skaros Rock Hike: Easily accessible from any hotel in Imerovigli and well worth doing! The big rock in the background of lots photos of Santorini is Skaros Rock. There is a path you can follow all the way down through the streets in Imerovigli. Go past a church and the hike starts! It is not long or particularly difficult, unless you want to go to the very top of the rock which I probs don’t recommend unless you’re an avid rock climber. Instead, keep going on the main path to the very end. You’ll notice it continues downward towards a tiny church, called Ekklisia Theoskepasti. I think a lot of people miss hiking down to the church because you literally don’t know it’s down there until you start the downwards portion! It was amazing and I was so happy we kept going and found the church. I couldn’t believe that they had built one in such a remote cliffside location. The roof of the church is easy to climb on to fulfill all of your blue-and-white church rooftop photo dreams! Or am I the only one who really wanted to do that while on Santorini…
OK. Some final pieces of advice... we did not go to the red or black sand beaches while on Santorini. We had been on Ios prior to arriving, and the beaches there were incredible. Santorini is definitely not a beach island and I have heard that the beaches are not worthwhile. Santorini is better for shelling out some big bucks on a hotel and enjoying the pool and outdoor spaces there. That being said, make sure you have complete confidence in what you are booking. Read tons of reviews and pay attention to complaints. We unfortunately found that the other hotel we stayed in, La Maltese, did not look much like the photos and had inaccurate room descriptions. This was very disappointing as the place had a lot of good reviews, but upon digging deeper we noticed a few people had the same complaints as we did.
So, in conclusion... Based on our own experience, am I glad we went? Yes. Would I rush to go back? I don’t think so. Hope I'm not coming off as unappreciative… Just trying to keep it real! Honesty is key right? Not everything in blog land is magical sunlight, skipping blissfully through the streets, snapping picture-perfect moments! Although sometimes the stars align and you do get that ;)