Travel Tips  June 20, 2017

The Secret Side of Oía You Need to See

by Larkin Clark

Despite being the farthest stop from Athens on the Blue Star Ferry (a five to eight-hour ride), Santorini is still considered one of the biggest tourist draws in the world. Until this year, it welcomed up to 10,000 tourists a day, a number largely comprised of cruise ship passengers who arrive in troves around 9 a.m. and depart only after the last wisps of Oía’s famous sunset have faded away. This year, Greece finally put a cap on the number of tourists and cruise ships that are allowed to disembark on the island each day, but at 8,000 people, that cap still allows for a lot of shoulder bumping and selfie sticks all up in your face.

However, if you’re staying on the island for more than a day, there is one thing you can – and should – do that’s completely uninterrupted by tourism: Catch the sunrise.


After two days basking in the Santorini sun, my friend Ana, with whom I visited the island, had an early ferry back to Athens. We woke up just before dawn to say goodbye, and instead of bedding back under the covers, I grabbed my camera and wandered out into the streets.

It was peaceful and quiet, the way I imagine Oía must have been before cruise ship tourism took hold. During the day, it’s often hard to spot the island’s locals due to the crowds, but on this particular morning, I saw many: shop owners putting out their menu displays, the housekeepers and maintenance teams tending to hotels before guests woke up; the painters keeping the town’s famous cave houses looking clean and bright; bakers running fresh pastries to local hotels and restaurants.

The sunrise itself wasn’t anything spectacular, but I still felt as if I had stumbled into an alternate, secret universe as I walked the open streets, took the first pick of spanakopita, and captured quotidian vignettes I would have missed otherwise. It was like seeing a beautiful woman for the first time without her makeup on, only to find she’s even more stunning than you already thought she was.

The lesson? If you want to experience Oía’s real magic, all you have to do is set your alarm a little earlier.


Words and photography: Larkin Clark

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  • Can’t wait to see this all for myself!

    • Larkin Clark

      You will love it! Just make sure you get out to some other islands, too (there are TONS to choose from).

  • Christopher Clark

    I was in Santorini about 11 years ago, and I don’t think it had reached its peak of 8-10K tourists a day. You could still wander the streets in the day, not be terribly crowded, and still spot locals hanging out. I did find a place to perch and watch the sunset in Oia, which was spectacular, but I did not see the dawn. I’ll have to do that if I ever return. I lost my photos from that trip, but seeing yours brought the feeling back instantly, thanks for posting 🙂 I miss this gorgeous storybook place.

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