It’s pretty cool turning a “once in a lifetime” destination into an annual pilgrimage. For me, Santorini has become exactly that. I struggle not to stuff my face with lovely Greek food and sit aimlessly atop its magnificent volcanic cliffs, at least once a year.
I adore the rugged layout, the laid back hospitality and the boundless beauty of this Cycladic island. Even in a country replete with beautiful islands, this one really is truly special. That doesn’t mean I love the island’s most famous city: Oia.
As unpopular as it may be, I generally spend as little time in Oia as possible. Rather than just being a whiny internet blogger, I figured I’d explain why, in hopes of helping others to discover how much more this island offers.
Oia Is The DisneyWorld Of Santorini
And yes, I hate DisneyWorld too. Travel for me is about finding the world’s most beautiful spots and connecting with cultures in ways which aren’t mass produced or easily replicated.
Oia is stunningly beautiful and 100% worth a 30 minute stroll through, but there’s very little that’s authentically wonderful about this place. A never ending stream of loved up and money stuffed tourists has turned it into a sausage factory of constant offers.
Like Anthony Bourdain once said “ask your hotel concierge where to eat, then go anywhere else”. That’s pretty much how I feel about Oia. It’s 3X prices compared to other parts of the island and generally 1/3 the quality to match.
This is a place where people stand outside with menus and samples trying to draw people in. The places I frequently eat in Santorini are more focused on shooing people away, than desperately herding them in.
My Take: See Oia And Spend Time Elsewhere
If it’s your first time, or even a return visit to the island, there’s nothing wrong with spending time in Oia. If it’s your first time — it’s really essential. The blue and white domed roofs set along the impossibly steep volcanic cliffs are like nowhere else in the world. You’d be worse off for missing it.
See it — yes — but then leave. Go to Imerovigli, go to Pirgos, go to Firostefani and to Vlichada. These are places where you’ll experience the other postcards of Santorini, but also places where actual locals might eat and relax. In fact, they often do.
It’s so nice to relax on red or black sand beaches, miles from the hordes in Oia. It’s also lovely to sit at tables where there’s more Greek being spoken around you than English, or any other language. That often also means prices that are more palatable too.
In Pirgos, you can’t miss Kantouni. In Ekso Gonia, you can’t miss Metaxi Mas. There are plenty of other gems, but you’d need to read our 48 hour guide to get that kinda inside scoop.
When it comes to “where to stay”, I’d say my feelings are the same. I think Imerovigli is more beautiful and even more dramatic than Oia. It’s even got the same blue domes and other features for postcard perfect photos. For a different side of stunning, Pirgos and Prophet Elias mountain offer some of the highest elevations on the island.
The only difference, is many of the best places are still expensive, but not nearly as expensive as Oia, and often with more amenity and personality too. That’s not to say there aren’t incredible hotels in Oia — there are — it’s just that views are often tainted by hordes of shameless influencers walking on your balcony to tick that checkbox.
It may be unpopular, but nothing can shake me of my Oia opinions. If you want to create memories beyond a singular photo for “the gram'”, I can’t recommend hitting up other areas of the island (and nearby neighboring islands) more.
This island of Santorini is an incredible place. Seriously, I kinda know. My life is travel and I’ve been just about everywhere, yet I come back here. Just not for Oia, though.
We’ve been to Santorini every year for the last three years (including overlap with you at least the last 2), and I endorse this article in every way.
Love this post Gil. Now adding Santorini back to my list of places I need to get back too quickly – and (having stayed in Oia before a few years ago), explore the rest of the island. Best JD
I went once, hired a car and the best restaurant I found on the Island was Metaxi Mas. Far away from Oia but with amazing scenery and sunset to match.
I do not necessarily totally agree. Oia is great once the cruise/bus and sunset crowds depart. I enjoy staying there because my hotel on the cliff is my oasis from the crowds. I enjoy seafood in Amoudi too. I do agree Mataxy Mas is my fave restaurant and I really avoid Fira for the traffic both automotive and on foot. I also lament the fact that I did not go this year as the Island was probably seeing fewer visitors which probably meant a much better visitor experience. That we differ in opinion is one of the true beauties of travel!
I def agree with you. However, why keep going back to Santorini when theres a myriad of other amazing greek islands to see?
Because it’s easy to get to other islands from Santorini, and I would rate the natural drama and beauty of the land higher than most others?
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