11 Important Things to Know Before Going to Santorini

In my opinion, Santorini (officially: Thira) is one of those destinations that became famous for a reason: I mean I’ll probably never forget that amazing Caldera view! However, as with any highly touristy location, proper planning is key to ensure you have an even more enjoyable trip.

That’s why I’ve compiled this list of things to know before traveling to Santorini. While the scenery alone is enough for you to have a nice vacation, being prepared can help you get the most out of your time there amidst the large visitor numbers.

oia santorini greece
Me enjoying the amazing views in Oia

01. Santorini is expensive, especially Oia

While Greece is generally seen as a fairly affordable country, things are not the same in the case of islands like Mykonos or Santorini. I mean, fame does come at a price, right?

Just taking a look at the prices of accommodation in Oia – which is the most popular village on the island and it’s the place from where you can see the famed sunset, will make your wallet shudder.

Of course, if you simply want to visit Oia and not stay at one of the cave hotels overlooking the Caldera (which I’ll have to admit, look pretty incredible), then you can choose one of the cheaper villages on the other side of the island as your base. Like Perissa or Kamari.

Even staying in the capital (Fira) or other locations with breathtaking Caldera views (like Imerovigli) will come at a cheaper price tag than Oia. However don’t expect anything to be dirt cheap, as that’s simply not Santorini’s thing.

02. Oia is pronounced “eea”

Many people are guilty of this little mistake, but Oia is actually pronounced “eea”.

While locals are probably used to people saying it wrong and no one will hold it against you, it’s still better to be prepared and not feel a bit foolish knowing you pronounced it wrong your whole vacation there.

Santorini Caldera

03. A Caldera view is worth the money

While the sea views are quite nice from about anywhere in Santorini, nothing beats a Caldera view. But what is a caldera you might wonder..

Santorini is a volcanic island, as you probably already know and about 3600 years ago, it was the site of one of the largest eruptions in known history, the Minoan eruption.

As the magma chambers emptied, the rocks and soil above (which also formed the cone of the volcano) lost their support and collapsed, forming a large cauldron-like depression, which is now filled with water. That’s the Caldera.

While accommodations with Caldera views are significantly more expensive, in my opinion are worth the effort. And you can also score some decent prices if you search long enough.

For example, I stayed in a cheaper room in Oia and while the room was not much, the view we got from our balcony was everything.

Santorini island view from the ferry

04. Santorini is not a beach destination

Greece is a great destination overall for a beach vacation, but Santorini, despite being one of the most famous Greek islands, is actually better suited for sightseeing in my opinion.

While it has some unique beaches due to its volcanic nature (it has black sand and red sand), few are easily accessible as the relief is mostly rugged. Not to mention that those that you can reach are usually expensive and crowded.

Basically, you visit Santorini for the views, to explore the iconic white villages, and to sit in a cave pool overlooking the Caldera with a glass of wine in your hand (if your wallet gives you the green light).

Spending one or a few days relaxing on a black beach is just an added bonus. And speaking of black beaches, make sure you bring slippers or aqua shoes. That sand gets HOT!

I made the mistake of not bringing mine when I visited Perissa Beach and I literally had to run in the water to escape the pain of stepping on that hot sand. And it was already September too, so not peak summer.

Sunset in Santorini

05. Manage your expectations for the sunset

I don’t know if I just had really high expectations or if I’ve just seen a lot of amazing sunsets, but I wasn’t that impressed with the famous sunset in Oia. I mean it was quite beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but was it worth the long wait in the heat amid a large group of people? I’m still not sure.

I saw tourists that were completely mesmerized by it, some after waiting for it in the sun for way more than I did (you kinda have to if you want a good viewing spot on the ruins of Oia Castle), so maybe it was just a “me problem”.

I’m still glad I saw it, but at the same time, I can’t help but feel that I loved the sunset in nearby Ios more.

However, while I think it’s important for me to share my honest experience, it remains MY experience and yours could be different. So I would still encourage you to go see it, just don’t expect it to be a life-changing travel moment I guess :).

Oia, Santorini at night

06. Staying at least a night in Oia is still worth it

I know I just said that Oia is the most expensive location on the island and that the famous sunset was a bit underwhelming for me, but I still adored Oia!

Not only are the Caldera views worth it, but the village also looks incredible after dark, when the whole coast lights up. And since most of the tourists are day trippers, staying overnight will allow you to experience a less busy, cozier Oia.

07. The cave pools and jacuzzi are often somewhat cold

If you are sensitive to cold like me or if you visit out of season, you will find the cave pools and jacuzzi kind of chilly.

Due to their shape, many don’t get a full day of sunshine even in summer and usually, they are not heated. So it’s a thing to bear in mind, especially when traveling in early spring or late fall.

08. Fira – Oia trail

Did you know that you can walk from Fira to Oia on a trail overlooking the amazing Caldera? This hike is one of the best things to do in Oia on a budget and can be completed in about 3 – 4 hours depending on your fitness level and how many times you stop for pics.

Do take note that the trail is moderately difficult so make sure you wear appropriate shoes and clothes, wear SPF (even during the shoulder seasons), and take plenty of water with you.

best things to do in Oia, Santorini on a budget
Can you spot the flying dress photoshoot?

09. You can’t walk on any rooftop or alley

I feel like Santorini, and Oia in particular is marketed as that place in Greece where you can walk on any and every roof. And.. it’s not true! In fact, even the number of alleys that you can access is limited, because most go to hotels and private homes (which is a bummer, I know!).

As you explore the village you’ll see several signs saying “Private property”, “Keep out”, “Don’t step on” or even the more impactful “It’s your holiday.. but it’s our home”.

I know it’s tempting to get a better view of the Caldera or take an amazing photo, but please respect the locals and their homes. Basically, the rule is: if it doesn’t look like a public terrace, stairs, or a curb, then it’s probably not ok to step on it.

And I’ll specifically mention churches here because they seem to attract a lot of attention from tourists: it’s kind of disrespectful when people climb on top of them because they symbolize a lot more than just a building.

Lastly, I’m sure you’ve all seen those flying dress pictures online and if you’ve booked a photo session with a local photographer and he/she takes you to certain locations where you’re allowed or they’ve gotten permission to climb on the roof (hopefully their morals are in the right place too), then that’s fine.

But just don’t think based on those pics, that that’s the norm in Santorini.

people gathered to see the sunset in Santorini
People watching the sunset in Oia (beginning of September)

10. Expect crowds

I don’t think I’ll shock anyone with this one, but Santorini is busy most of the time. And the fact that it’s a fairly small island with tiny villages certainly doesn’t help.

While the peak is achieved during the summer months, visiting in the shoulder seasons doesn’t guarantee a crowds-free vacation.

As I already said, Santorini is not a typical beach destination, so people travel there in both fall and spring for sightseeing and to avoid the heat or the high-season crowds.

This means the island doesn’t suddenly become empty as September hits. In fact, Santorini gets a few visitors even during wintertime.

cheap hotels with private pools in santorini

11. Spring and autumn are the best times to visit Santorini

This one also goes hand in hand with the fact that Santorini is better suited for sightseeing because, during the shoulder seasons (spring and fall), the weather is perfect for exploring. And while the island will still be busy, you’ll still avoid the bigger summer crowds.

Wrap up

I feel like I’ve outlined several things that can be viewed as negative, but honestly, I absolutely loved Santorini (especially Oia) and I can’t wait to return. So be aware of these things, use the helpful tips to better plan your trip and have a blast!

Happy travels~

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