While we’re on the topic of social distancing… let’s talk about how to stay out of the crowds in Oia, Santorini, one of the most crowded places I’ve ever been to! With all the day trippers coming in from Fira (on the other side of the island) and off cruise ships to check an Oia sunset off their bucket lists, staying on this end of Santorini can feel a little intense. Oia is small, which means that the narrow pedestrian streets fill up quickly. Step out to grab a bite in the middle of the day, or – you brave soul – around sunset time, and you’ll be jostled along in a steady stream of tourists. When you do venture out to watch the sunset, you’ll be competing for space with thousands of other photo-hungry visitors who also want to enjoy the view without a stranger’s head in their romantic pictures.
If you’re daydreaming about a trip and have some flexibility in when you can take a vacation, I would imagine that shoulder season would be the ideal time to go. If, like me, you have to travel during high season, you can absolutely have a good experience!
We managed to stay in Oia in August AND love our time on Santorini. I did find the crowds stressful, but we found ways to either avoid or embrace them. Here are some suggestions for staying out of the stampede in Oia:
Shell out for accommodation
Ok so you probably won’t like this first one, but if you’re able to save enough to visit Santorini in the first place, consider saving a little extra for this upgrade to your experience (we booked quite early so that we could pay for it early). Our place had such incredible rooftop and balcony views that I honestly wouldn’t have minded if we didn’t leave the hotel. I think that was a first!
You’ll be entertained from sunrise to sunset: watch the photographers and influencers start streaming in before the sun is even up (you’ll want to yell at lots of them for being disrespecful); check out the Cycladian cats, lounging in the sun; lazily count boats passing the Caldera; watch the sky change in the evening. We didn’t have a full sunset view, but it didn’t really matter – we got the gist of it! Our place came with fresh bread and spreads every morning. That meant free balcony breakfasts, and we were also able to pick up some meats and cheeses nearby and turn it into lunch too. Local wine from the shop next door added yet another layer of luxury. It was super central, so we were still able to step into the thick of things and walk to shops, restaurants, and the bus station. If you’re trying to decided between considerably cheaper accommodation set back from the cliffside or a pricier place with a Caldera view, this is a rare occasion where I’d encourage spending a little more, even if just for a night. This was our amazing Airbnb in Oia.
Get off the main drag
If you’re starting to feel suffocated by the crowds, turn off the main pedestrian street! We found many of the alleyways to be considerably quieter than the main walkway, which is loaded with shops and leads to sea views. Don’t miss Oia Vineyart, a leafy outdoor cafe/restaurant with a homey vibe where you can do local wine and cheese tastings, as well as try tasty dips and charcuterie. They also host music and art events! We found plenty of other relatively quiet restaurants down this way. If you’re craving gelato, venture over to Lolita’s Gelato by the bus station.
Visit Amoudi Bay
Amoudi Bay is nestled in the cliffs below Oia. I’m not sure if it was the 300 hundred steps or the August heat or the combination, but for some reason it was much quieter down there. There was still a crowd at the swimming area (not much space on the jagged rocks by the the water to actually hang out), but you’ll have your pick of seaside, fresh seafood places for lunch.
Spend a Day in Fira
Fira is closer to Santorini’s main port (you still need to take a bus or taxi to reach it), and many people choose to stay here. It’s much bigger and more spread out than Oia, with more options for a range of budgets. There’s more going on in the way of restaurants, shops, and nightlife. Although it’s busier than Oia, the crowds are less concentrated so for us it strangely felt like a nice place to catch our breath. We spent some time there after a half day volcano and hot springs tour, and it we found lots of options for cheap meals like gyros, morning coffees and baked goods, and shopping spots. It’s also central for buses to other parts of the island, like beaches and wineries, and has some churches and museums to explore. I personally was glad that we chose to stay in Oia – despite the daytime crowds it felt more romantic and quiet, and it’s hard to beat those idyllic views – but you could also stay in Fira and visit Oia for the day, or spend a night or two.
At Least Once: Embrace the Crowds at Sunset
Sunset is a huge draw in Oia, and you can have fun with it! If you’re serious about your photos (and your comfort), arrive early – we got there at least an hour and a half before the sun was due to set. Be prepared! We brought dinner (charcuterie from Oia Vineyart + leftover bread from our hotel), Radlers from the corner store, and cards to pass the time! We staked out our spot by the castle ruins, and even though it got packed, we held down our “front row” seats. It really is worth seeing, with Santorini’s windmills and whitewashed buildings in the foreground, and the sun sinking into the Mediterranean. Despite the mild pushing and few unfriendly words exchanged, you really do get sucked into the awestruck energy with everyone applauding Mama Nature.
Make a Reservation at a Restaurant With a View
Another $$$ suggestion but Santorini is $$$ so might as well spend a few more €€€ right?! Reserve a table at a restaurant that offers a sunset view; you get the romance without the elbows in your face. If you have a specific night in mind, make sure to reserve early since those seat are coveted!
No matter how many photos you’ve seen of the blue domes of Oia, it really is worth seeing this whitewashed, coastal town for yourself. It’s the quintessential Greece of many of our imaginations, and it’s no wonder it draws such massive crowds. Go in knowing that, embrace the jostling, seek out quieter spaces when you need them, and you’ll love it. Just remember to think about the impact of overtourism on small communities, and BE RESPECTFUL.