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“The sunset in Oia is the most photographed image in all of Greece,” I overheard a tour guide stating confidently. While it seemed like a fact that would be difficult to confirm, the camera totting hoards swarming the streets alongside Heather and me pointed towards its accuracy.

“This is not how I remember Oia,” I tell Heather, as an overly aggressive fellow tourist almost elbows her lens out of her hand.

Oia, Santorini, Greece

Bookstore in Oia

Oia, Santorini, Greece

Yup, Oia is stunning, and it’s the most famous — and expensive — village to stay in on Santorini. Don’t let these photos fool you. Heather and I are patient photographers and willing to stubbornly stake out a spot until that perfect moment when it almost appears that you stumbled upon this charming slice of Santorini solo, but make no mistake, I felt almost claustrophobic at the crowds. It was nothing like our deliciously deserted — relatively, anyway — base in Imerovigli.

It should have been a hint when we had to sit on the floor of the over-capacity bus to get here.

Oia_04

Oia, Santorini

Still, it’s easy to see why the place is so packed. There’s simply no better example of the white-and-pastel-washed buildings clinging to the sides of cliffs, the bright blue domes against the equally cobalt Adriatic sea, the essence of all the images travelers conjure when they close their eyes and think Greece.

Oia, Santorini

Oia PhotographyPhoto courtesy of

Oia PhotographyPhoto courtesy of 

Slowly, we eked through the clogged cobblestone streets towards the Byzantine Castle Ruins, a key location for sunset spotting. Though it was still hours to go before the sun would make its final descent, there was a thick crowd of shutterbugs staking out the best seats. The views were hypnotizing and we made a game of picking out which charming cave house we would pick, should we ever win that lottery we never play.

I called the one with the pool.

Oia Photography

Oia Sunset

Oia Santorini

Greek Flag over Oia

Oia SunsetPhoto courtesy of 

Eventually, we abandoned our perch in exchange for more exploring. The “For Sale” sign in the second photo down made me giggle — maybe it was an omen that we should go buy a lotto ticket!

Oia Sunset

Oia Sunset

Oia Sunset

Eventually the throngs of people did start to weigh on us, and we wondered where we might find some respite. A glance at a map reminded me of the good things I’d read about Amoudi Bay, right below us at sea level. We set off without looking back.

Santorini, Greece

Amoudi Bay, Santorini

A few hundred steps later — we declined the donkey ride down, and dodged poo piles instead — we arrived. Elegant sail boats bobbed in the harbor, the small bay lined with half a dozen seafood restaurants and a dramatic displays of drying octopi. And we had plenty of room to breathe.

We took a seat and watched the sunset with wine and tzatziki balls in hand.

Amoudi Bay, Santorini

Amoudi Bay, SantoriniPhoto courtesy of 

Later, when the sky turned to black, we hitchhiked our way back up to the main road and hopped on another overcrowded bus back to Imerovigli. “That was absolutely stunning,” Heather said. “Let’s never go there again.” And dissolving into laughter, we vowed not to.

Amoudi Bay, Santorini

Amoudi Bay, SantoriniPhoto courtesy of 

My previous visit to Oia had been during a twelve hour stop in Santorini on a Mediterranean cruise. We’d hopped off the ship, shot straight up to Oia and been charmed silly before making our way back to Fira and onto a sunset cruise for the evening. Despite it being the same time of year, the fever pitch of high season, we’d had the place to ourselves. So from my extremely limited experience, I’ve concluded Oia is best visited during the day, when you’ll have a bit of breathing room to appreciate it. Oia is beyond beautiful, there’s no denying that. But if your visit falls over high season and you’re somewhat claustrophobic, you might prefer to watch the sunset from elsewhere.

If all else fails, hide out in Amoudi Bay.

Amoudi Bay, SantoriniPhoto courtesy of 

Have you been to Oia for sunset? Did you think it was worth the hype?

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48 Comments...
  • Jimmy Dau
    October 23 2014

    Don’t get me started on the crowds in Europe this year. Same sentiment at Angkor Wat as well with so many tourists who hop on and off the tourist buses to do their Tomb Raider poses and then go off again.

    p.s love that Octopus photo
    Jimmy Dau recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 23 2014

      I mean, I guess in the end I’m a tourist too which gives me even more mixed emotions about it. I can see why the crowds are there….. I just dislike being a part of them!

  • Justine
    October 23 2014

    Oia looks stunning but the crowds do sound a bit intense. I always make an effort to visit even the most touristy of places when I travel. But I can totally relate to Heather’s quote about appreciating Oia’s beauty but never wanting to return. One another note, the house with the pool looks like a dream. I totally would have picked that one too!!
    Justine recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 23 2014

      Yeah, I mean I think everyone has to see it once… but once was enough 🙂

  • Ashley
    October 23 2014

    Such stunning photos! If the crowds in Oia are at all comparable to the crowds at Angkor Wat at sunrise, I can understand why you vowed not to return!
    Ashley recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 23 2014

      I’ve been to Cambodia twice… and still never done Angkor at sunrise. Ha.

  • Sonja at Breadcrumbs Guide
    October 23 2014

    Bummer it was so packed when you were there! At least you got some gorgeous photos. Do you think it really was the time of day that made it so crazy, or has it become a bigger tourist destination since your last visit? I wonder if early morning would be a good time to go to miss the cruise ship crowds as well as the sunset crowds.
    Sonja at Breadcrumbs Guide recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 23 2014

      Hm, I didn’t even consider that, but I guess a lot can happen in three years! I do think though that Oia fills up for sunset as that is the most famous time to visit. When I visited on a cruise, we were docking for 12 hours, but I guess a lot of ships are only there for 4 or so, which might destroy my theory…

  • becky hutner
    October 23 2014

    STUNNING photos from you & Heather. I’m with Heather on beautiful-but-crowded spots — see them once, then get the hell back to saner pastures. I feel that way about Hoi An, Vietnam.
    becky hutner recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 23 2014

      I haven’t been to Hoi An yet, though it calls to me! And this is a reason I normally prefer to visit somewhere in shoulder season. You kind of get the best of both worlds.

  • Kiara Gallop
    October 23 2014

    I went to Santorini – and to Oia – back in 2002, and it was wonderfully deserted – even at sunset. Oh how tourism changes things…
    Kiara Gallop recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 23 2014

      Wow! I’m surprised to hear that, I guess I always thought of Santorini as a tourism power house 🙂 Was that in July/August as well?

  • Kristen Noelle
    October 23 2014

    How great is it to have a travel companion like Heather? You guys always have such fabulous times and between the both of you…photography magic!

    I couldn’t appreciate the Trevi Fountain or Spanish Steps as much in Rome because of how packed they were. I tried not to get annoyed seeing as to how I was a tourist my d*mn self, lol.

    THAT POOL HOUSE! *swoons*
    Kristen Noelle recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 23 2014

      Ha, I have the same mixed emotions! I’m like, UGH, how dare these crowds of people be here trying to enjoy… the exact same thing I’m trying to enjoy! It’s a tough one 🙂

  • Shaun's Cracked Compass
    October 23 2014

    Everyone wants the same picture that’s on the postcards they get for $2. *shrug*

    I totally would have hid in Amoudi Bay. Looks pretty nice and I wouldn’t resist having a bite.

    That photo of the sun by your head is amazing. Very artistic.
    Shaun’s Cracked Compass recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 23 2014

      Amoudi Bay is awesome, a little hard to get to which keeps it a bit more secluded. You have to walk down a billion poopy steps to get there, and then either hitchhike, hike, or take a donkey ride back up!

  • Tracey @ A Taste of Trace
    October 23 2014

    Again with the pictures – absolutely stunning! A shame that it was so crowded, but it looks like you found a gorgeous retreat in Amoudi Bay.
    Tracey @ A Taste of Trace recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 23 2014

      We did indeed. And I saw a new part of Santorini, so it was a win all around 🙂

  • Rekha Devarapalli
    October 23 2014

    Picture no.7 is so serene and beautiful…seems so typical of Santorini minus the crowds!
    Rekha Devarapalli recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 23 2014

      Heather is so talented… I didn’t even see that shadow 🙂 That is one of the many reasons I love traveling together!

  • Gally
    October 23 2014

    I’ve been to Santorini in 2011 at the beginning of the high season. It was probably not as crowded but oh boy, it was crowded enough!
    More than the people that I could somehow forget, I was stunned by the Korean guy in front of me who saw the sunset exclusively from his viewfinder :/
    I’m still wondering how this is enjoying…?

    • Meihoukai
      October 23 2014

      Well, as a passionate photographer myself I often see things pretty exclusively through my lens 🙂 I know that vexes a lot of people but to me it is just a different way of seeing. I can’t imagine traveling without my camera… it helps me see all the beauty.

      • Gally
        October 24 2014

        I love taking photos myself as well but sometimes I enjoy not taking any and just appreciate beauty with my own eyes.
        I’m not judging photographers at all, but just to that point, it seemed that he was there just to take pictures to show them back home but not enjoying actually being there!
        But, yeah, please, keep enjoying beauty through your lens and share them with us! 🙂

        • Meihoukai
          October 26 2014

          Yeah, I know what you mean — for some people it is an art and for some… well I don’t know what the heck they are doing 🙂

  • Such a shame that it has turned into a circus. I was there in high season in 2006 and there were a lot of people there for the sunset but it wasn’t too crazy. Candice of Candice does the World was there for a couple of months in winter and it sounds like travelling there in the off season is the way to go to avoid the crowds
    Katie @ The World on my Necklace recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 23 2014

      Although then I’d miss the hot sticky heat 🙂 I would definitely consider coming in September, though!

  • 2 tickets to Wonderland
    October 24 2014

    We were in Oia this summer and the first day we decided to catch a sunset in the village. It was literally packed with people. They were sitting on every rooftop and stairs available. The next day we headed towards Amoudi bay with scooter, but stopped in the middle of Amoudi bay and Oia. We found a perfect spot to watch a suset in one side and Oia bathing in the seting sun on the ather. It’s amazing how despite of so much tourists it’s still possible to find a spot for yourslef 🙂
    2 tickets to Wonderland recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 26 2014

      Yes! With patience, anything can happen 🙂 Glad you found the sweet spot!

  • Janice Stringer
    October 24 2014

    Hi Meihoukai,
    Looks divine but feels claustrophobic with the crowds. How different something looks to how it feels, always interests me. It’s why I became a Counsellor! 🙂
    Janice Stringer recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 26 2014

      Interesting insight as always, Janice! That’s what I love about blogging too, telling the story behind the photos.

  • Emily
    October 24 2014

    When I was in Santorini a decade ago we didn’t even make it up to Oia! Perhaps that is scandalous, but I still enjoyed my time there. I am sure ‘next time’ we will brave the crowds, but will likely cut out before we go postal.
    Emily recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 26 2014

      As long as you had a good time, it sounds like you did everything right 🙂 Oia will always be there.

  • Mishfish13
    October 24 2014

    Haha, I lucked out because I didn’t head over during in-season. Unfortunately, it was during the time of off-season when they were getting in gear for the summer, also a time when they painted all the roofs white in order to amp up the blue! So I got none of the blue domes that are so characteristic to this island, although I did have more alone time.
    Mishfish13 recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 26 2014

      Aw, shame! It must have been interesting to see them painting though, no? At least you caught an interesting slice of life on Santorini 🙂

  • Amanda @ Farsickness
    October 24 2014

    Oh, Oia. I just…I love a good sunset. Probably more than normal people. I was so excited to go here and photograph this famous sunset in this beautiful village. And then I got there. I didn’t even see the sunset. I just could not deal with the crowds. I loved wandering around the village, but as sunset time got nearer I just headed away from the chaos and sat on the donkey path where I could kind of see the colorful haze. Should’ve gone all the way down for wine 🙂
    Amanda @ Farsickness recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 26 2014

      I can’t remember which, but I read another travel blog where the author said, “When I get sick of sunsets I know it’s time to go home.” I couldn’t agree more! Thankfully I still love them…

  • Marcello
    October 24 2014

    Can’t believe I didn’t make it to Greek Islands when I went to Europe for 3 months! The photos look beautiful. Would love to stay in a pool villa at the top of the cliff!
    Marcello recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 26 2014

      Well, there certainly is a lot to see in three months 🙂 Good excuse to go back!

  • Amanda
    October 24 2014

    Yes, I can definitely agree with you! Being in Oia for sunset is just madness. But, during the afternoon it’s much less crowded! Still plenty of tourists, sure, but you can find a seat on a bus and get shots without too many people in them without staking out a spot for a long time. You can also go in shoulder season – still great weather, but much smaller crowds!

    Regardless, though, Santorini lived up to my Greek Islands expectations and then some. I LOVED it. I’ll definitely be back.
    Amanda recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 26 2014

      I am with you. I think Santorini deserves ALL the hype. I’ve simply never been anywhere else like it. Glad to hear my hunch confirmed — I think Oia would be much more pleasant during the day!

  • Chris
    October 25 2014

    I love the juxtaposition of these stunning images and the reality!

    Looks stunning, but I’ve often wondered if we’d ever bother with Santorini (it immediately conjures images of Ibiza, Kuta & Cancun).

    Love the photos from the both of you nonetheless! 🙂
    Chris recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 26 2014

      Well, in terms of it being a well known tourist destination it might fit in that group, but Ibiza, Kuta and Cancun are WAY more party focused than Santorini, which has more of a laid back honeymooner vibe 🙂

  • Uma
    October 25 2014

    Holy crap, that’s a lot of tourists … I’ll have to go there during shoulder season instead!

    • Meihoukai
      October 26 2014

      That’s probably a good alternative too… though I love that August heat 🙂

  • Kiara Gallop
    October 26 2014

    In answer to your question Meihoukai (sorry, bit late in responding – it’s been a mad week!), I think we visited in June, so possibly just outside high season – it was 12 years ago. We hired a car and drove around the whole island, stopping in Oia for sunset. It’s a shame it’s so overrun with tourists now, but like you I’m a patient photographer, so I probably still would’ve held out for that perfect shot, in spite of the crowds 🙂
    Kiara Gallop recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 28 2014

      Ah, yes, I bet Santorini was a bit more breathable twelve years ago 🙂 I think it’s probably still just as beautiful today though!

  • Bindiya
    April 26 2015

    I know it’s been a while since this post but it was simply hollering at me for a comment especially since we just got back from a brief Greek holiday 🙂

    I completely agree with you about major attractions being ruined by buzzing tourists. Hypocritical maybe but O! how it does ruin that perfect photograph. 🙂

    What really made me smile was the picture with the “For Sale” sign. I could have sworn I saw that exact same sign when we were there last week! 😀 Now if only I could find someone to go halfsies on a summer home in Oia 😉

    • Meihoukai
      April 27 2015

      Ha! I’m surprised they haven’t found a taker yet 🙂 Oh, this makes me miss Santorini!