Santorini - that iconic Greek island which invades social media feeds across the world. Yet the tranquil posts of pristine white windmills, blue domed churches, neatly perched on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean constitutes a fraction of the experience in reality. Instead, Santorini can be likened to a pop-up backdrop for an influencer’s Instagram feed.
We all know the famous phrase “doing it for the gram” whereby people attend locations and events for the likes, comments and followers which will hopefully ensue. Well Santorini is the ultimate “do it for the gram” holiday destination. It was this modern mentality which admittedly guided me there.
As I entered what I thought would be a kingdom, it became abundantly clear that Santorini holds up a mirror to the social media pandemic in which a historic island rests its value on its own Instagram backdrop that inspires people to jet across the world in the pursuit for likes.
Santorini is undeniably beautiful. But contrary to the Instagram images that captured my imagination over the years, that very beauty is deeply concentrated in the hub of one small town: Oia. The remainder of the island sadly resembles the weeds in the back of your garden you’ve never got round do de-weeding – undesirable, frayed, and which detracts from the overall aesthetic Santorini is desperate to present. Oia has hogged the fertiliser of influencer commerce leaving it to flourish whilst the surroundings wither away.
"What I envisaged to be a waltz through a magical Greek kingdom quickly left me feeling like a suffocating Alice trapped in an influencer’s maze."
When I arrived in Oia town, I was finally greeted with a burst of the Instagram buzz accumulated through years of scrolling. But whilst the beauty did at least exist in Oia, the experience itself did not align with the aesthetic. What I envisaged to be a waltz through a magical Greek kingdom quickly left me feeling like a suffocating Alice trapped in an influencer’s maze.
With swarms of tourists, I was greeted by an amateur photoshoot at every turn and bulging queues at every Instagrammable sunset point. Whether you choose to partake in this stream of Gen Z activity or not, you’ll find yourself standing in street corners waiting for the over-dressed influencer and her photographer to end their long-anticipated photoshoot.
Once the instagrammer eventually allows you to inch five metres ahead, you’ll find you’ve walked straight into a danger zone where the risk of being knocked out by a selfie-stick makes it impossible to get an enjoyable glimpse of the view. The narrow cobbled streets of Oia, as beautiful as they appear, feel more like maze paths intended to make it impossible to pass once you’ve realised you’ve simply had enough.
Overwhelmed by the sheer volume of mobile phones and photoshoots in sight, I finally took a breather at a local restaurant to recover. But upon scanning the restaurant floor, I observed visitors glued to phones with one hand on the fork, the other scrolling away. I cashed in for my water and quickly escaped the overpriced restaurant, before re-embarking on the cobbled street maze to find an exit out of the town.
After enduring a twenty-minute quest to the exit, I was relieved to be rescued by a heroic taxi driver who took me back to my hotel. I was able to admire two more minutes worth of beauty from the taxi window, before I re-entered the weeded remains of the island.
"It doesn’t provide anything other than a backdrop for your Instagram photo."
My experience in Santorini had me reflect on a number of broader generational problems. First, instagram vs reality as a concept should be taken seriously. Social media is not an accurate reflection of real-life so it’s wise to do real research beforehand. Second, our over-reliance on social media, has 84 per cent of Gen Z’ers saying they’ll choose a location based on how Instagram presents it. Personally, I have learnt from my mistakes. Finally, we live in a world where likes, rather than culture, is what drives many holiday choices.
In a world of highly edited photos and likeable content, it therefore comes as no surprise that Santorini is one of the most highly sought out destinations. But from my perspective, it doesn’t provide anything other than a backdrop for your Instagram photo.
So if you’re wondering whether to make Santorini your first vacation out of lockdown, I would suggest removing it from your bucket list (unless, of course, your intention is to do it for the gram).