Santorini Travel Guide: Ballin' on a Budget
With its striking white and blue houses, cliffside villages, and picturesque caldera, Santorini is a dream destination for many.
Santorini is as notorious for its prices as it is for its beauty, but I thought it only lived up to one of those reputations. Sure, you can spend $1,000/night for a caldera-view suite in Oia with a private hot tub and butler, but you can also have a pretty luxurious time without breaking the bank.
Here are my tips for a budget-friendly stay on Greece’s most iconic island.
The Best Time to Visit Santorini
The sunsets in Santorini are hard to beat.
Santorini is beautiful any time you go, but if your schedule is flexible you can optimize your trip dates to get the best deals.
Visiting in shoulder season (April, May, September, October) helps you avoid the prices and crowds of the high season while still enjoying beautiful weather. If you go in the off-season you can get good deals, but you run the risk of businesses being closed and tours not operating.
Affordable Lodging in Santorini
The cost of your visit to Santorini is hugely dependent on where you stay. Oia is by far the most expensive village, both for food and accommodation – it’s known for being the honeymooner's village.
The beach towns on the south part of the island have a lot to offer at the fraction of the price. We stayed at Smaragdi Hotel, which has rooms with private outdoor hot tubs (for as low as 57 Euros/night when we visited) and is right next to the beautiful black-sand beach of Perivolos. The pool area was beautiful and the staff went above and beyond to make our stay perfect, such as arranging our rental car and boat tour – they even had a bottle of wine waiting in our room upon arrival. It felt like home by the end of our trip. I highly recommend staying there.
If Smaragdi doesn’t look like a good fit for you, there are plenty of other hotels in that price range around the beach towns of Perivolos, Perissa, and Kamari.
The point is, Santorini hotels come in all varieties and there are lodging options for every budget. If you’d like some help sorting through them, book a travel consultation with me (or just shoot me an email).
Tip: Look for lodging options that offer free airport/port shuttles to save a little extra! Transfers can be expensive.
Budget-Friendly Activities in Santorini
Drive around the entire island (it doesn’t take too long), taking time to explore all the different little villages; the beauty really is in the details. My favorite was Pyrgos, Fira is known for nightlife, and Oia is the most famous.
Watch the Sunset from Oia Castle, or Anywhere on the West Coast
Get to Oia Castle early to secure a good spot for the show. I’m talking two hours before sunset. Bring a snack and a bottle of wine, and settle in for the wait while the ruins fill up.
It really is stunningly beautiful, but it’s also world famous, so if crowds aren’t your thing then you might be better off finding another spot along the coast – Santorini’s sunsets are beautiful from everywhere. Either way, bring snacks and wine.
Hike from Fira to Oia
For some outdoor activity and sweeping views of Santorini’s coast, you can do the 10 Km hike from Fira to Oia. Grab some snacks at the grocery store and wear good shoes. The hike takes about three hours and is best done in the morning or evening to avoid the heat of the day. If you go in the morning, it’s a good chance to explore Oia in a different light and with fewer crowds (it’s famous for its sunset, so that’s when it’s most busy).
Go on a Boat Tour
A boat tour around Santorini and its volcanoes is essential to any visit, and of course, there is a range of prices.
It’s always a good idea to shop around with locals, but we were pleased with the options our hotel suggested. We could go for luxury and spend the day on a catamaran, which included some food, or we could go on a slightly bigger boat with more people and pack our own lunch for much less. For 35 euros each we got a 6-hour tour that included transportation to and from our hotel.
First, we hiked up a volcano while our guide explained the geology and history of the area.
We could feel the heat coming off of the rocks, and the view from the top was nothing short of epic.
Feeling on top of the world on one of Santorini's volcanoes.
Next, we docked near some rust-colored caldera hot springs, which required jumping off the boat and swimming about 20 meters. The contrast of the red water and mud against the blue water, white villages, and cliffs in the distance was just breathtaking.
The boat dropped us off at another small, scenic island for lunch. We ate the sandwiches we packed, but the restaurants there looked pretty good as well. We had a beer at one while admiring the view, and then got another beer at a restaurant on the opposite end.
After that, we sailed toward Oia, which was incredible to see from the water. People who wanted to get off and watch the sunset in Oia did, and the rest of us enjoyed the views of the west coast as we made our way back to the port where we started.
It was an absolutely perfect day and I’m convinced our experience wasn’t much different than the people who splurged on the catamaran.
Santorini isn’t the best Greek island if laying on a beach is your priority, but it definitely has some interesting ones. Due to its volcanoes, Santorini has black, white, and rust-colored beaches. Our hotel was right next Perivolos, a black beach which looked amazing at sunset.
Santorini wines are distinctive due to the volcanic properties of the island; the region is known to produce some of the best whites in the world, which makes it the perfect place to go on a winery tour.
Whether you book a tour with a guide or drive around to the vineyards on your own, you’re sure to experience some incredible wines and learn a lot about the culture of Santorini.
Channel Indiana Jones
Santorini is home to Akrotiri archeological site, also known as the Pompeii of the Aegean Sea. We didn’t make it there on this trip, but we heard great things, and at only 12 Euros it’s a budget-friendly way to spend a morning.
Head to the island's highest point for sweeping views of Santorini’s caldera.
Set your map for the Monastery of the Prophet Elijah (Profitis Ilias) and prepare for some fantastic views. You can also visit the monastery if you go when it’s open to the public.
Views for days.
One-Day Itinerary for Santorini
This is exactly what we did in Santorini on a full day of exploring on our own.
Drank coffee in our private outdoor hot tub
Ate breakfast on the balcony
Drove to the highest point on the island to check out the view. We hiked along a trail for a few minutes until we could see the entire island.
Stopped in Pyrgos, the nearest village to the monastery, to do some wandering. We had a beer at the most charming restaurant ever (which you can read about in the “What to Eat in Santorini” section)
Drove to Amoudi Bay, stopping to look at epic views and anything else that caught our interest along the way
Ate a fresh seafood dinner in Amoudi Bay. Walked around the trail to see sweeping views of the sea and cliffs
Drove up to Oia to get our spot for the sunset at Oia castle, stopping at a market to get some cold beers to drink while we waited
Watched one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen, laughed at the number of tourists trying to get a good selfie
Explored Oia at dusk
Drove back to our hotel and got some damn good souvlaki
Enjoyed a nightcap in the hot tub
What to Eat in Santorini
Of course this is the longest section of the post.
You probably don’t need a blog post to tell you that gyros and souvlaki are the best dining out options for budget travelers in Greece. They’re cheap, local, fast, and so damn delicious. But there is a range of non-souvlaki restaurants in Santorini that are budget-friendly as well.
As with accommodation, eating out in Oia is more expensive than dining in other parts of the island. Everywhere we ate was supremely delicious, and I’m a big fan of the “wander around until a place speaks to me” method, which served us quite well in Greece. Because Greek food. Just make sure that you check the prices, and take your time comparing menus.
The black-sand beach by our hotel (Perivolos) is lined with inviting restaurants. We walked the length of the street and finally settled on one the hotel suggested called Aegean Safran. We ended up with a private patio by the sand because no one else was sitting outside.
The food, wine, service, and ambiance was spectacular, and the meal was a reasonable price even though we balled out a little (we even got 5% off our meal because we were staying at Smaragdi Hotel).
We shared a bottle of incredible Santorinian white wine and got the grilled vegetables marinated with olive oil and Santorinian vinegar, and the white truffle oil fava (a Santorinian traditional dish made from fava beans), grilled asparagus, and prosciutto Serrano as appetizers. We also shared an impressive seafood risotto.
For the best seafood in Santorini, head to Amoudi Bay.
Just down the road from Oia, it’s the perfect place to eat dinner before catching the sunset from the Oia Castle. All of the restaurants by the water look nice and share the same striking view of the bay, but we chose Sunset Tavern and thoroughly enjoyed our meal of tuna tartare with avocado and orzotto with marinated shrimps with saffron and truffle oil.
The cliffside trail along the water works for a little post-dinner stroll and a different view of the bay, or jump off of the cliffs if you’re brave enough!
Our favorite meal by far was at Ouzeri Penelope’s in the idyllic town of Pyrgos. Penelope’s is the perfect example of what can be achieved by aimlessly strolling as your method of finding a place to eat; a small, traditional restaurant in the most gorgeous spot, run entirely by one Greek woman named, you guessed it, Penelope. It was the kind of place that makes you feel like you’re in your grandmother’s kitchen.
We stumbled upon Penelope’s while roaming around Pyrgos and decided to stop for a drink because of the lovely environment. Pyrgos was my favorite village; it has the blue and white beauty of Oia without the crowds, and at one of the highest points on the island the view is amazing.
We saw Penelope working hard to take the orders, prepare the food, clear the plates, and process payment on her own, and knew we had to come back for dinner.
Outdoor Seating at Penelope's.
During our first stop, we tried a beer that is filtered through rocks from the Santorini volcanoes. She also brought us bites of her tomato balls, a Santorinian specialty, and we were hooked.
The next night we came back and were the only two people sitting at the restaurant. We ordered a carafe of house wine, and let her decide what we should have for dinner. As suspected, everything was amazing.
It was the best food we had on our trip, and I don’t think anything on the menu cost more than 12 euros. We hugged her goodbye and as we walked back down the streets of Pyrgos I felt regretful that we had to leave this beautiful island the next day.
Getting Around the Island
TL;DR Get a smart car. There are a few options for getting around the island; take the bus, rent a quad, rent a car, or take taxis. The bus is cheap and fairly easy, but it doesn’t run as consistently as you might want and it limits your options to areas with bus stops.
Having your own vehicle is widely regarded as the best way to see the island. Renting a quad is usually the cheapest option, but it’s not ideal for everyone.
Riding a quad around in the sunshine looked like a lot of fun, but once it got dark I was sooo thankful for the walls of our car. Taxis are expensive in Santorini but might be a good option if you only need to take them a couple of times. A smart car is not only cheaper to rent than a traditional car, but it’s way easier to park on the small and often crowded streets of Santorini’s villages. We paid about 40 Euros/day for ours. It’s also more fuel efficient, which is cost-effective AND better for the environment. Win win win.
Avoid paying for GPS by downloading offline maps while you’re still on WiFi (directions here). If you’ll be in Greece for a while it’s a good idea to buy a local sim card for your phone. If you’re jumping around countries, consider an international data service like Flexiroam. Flexiroam is a microchip that attaches to your existing SIM card and connects to local networks to provide you with data in foreign countries as soon as you land.
Our hotel offered a free shuttle to the hotel, but not on the way out. We were able to return our car directly to the port for no extra charge which allowed us to be on our own schedule and save money on a transfer.
How to Get to Santorini
There are two ways to get to Santorini: take a ferry or catch a flight.
There are several ferry companies that are all essentially the same. We took Blue Star Ferries on the way there and Hellenic Seaways on the way back, and we enjoyed both. We booked on a site called Ferry Hopper and it found the best route for us amongst the different companies. You can save money (and eat a little healthier maybe) by packing your own snacks and drinks, but they do have a decent selection on-board and the prices are better than you’d expect.
We enjoyed a few afternoon beers on the deck as we watched the Greek coast slip by. It’s worth paying the extra 5 Euros for “business class” if your goal is to sleep or you want a home base, but there are a lot of areas to relax if you want to save that fiver for souvlaki.
It’s possible to find flights from Athens to Santorini for as low as 50 euros one-way on Aegean Airlines, but when you factor in the time at the airport flying is only slightly faster than the ferry, and I found the ferry much more enjoyable than any flight I’ve ever been on.
If you fly to Santorini you can take the bus from the airport for about 2 euros to your accommodation, but shuttles from the port are more expensive. To save some money, book a hotel that includes a shuttle or a rental car that you can pick up and/or return to the port or airport.
Inspired to travel? Book a consultation with me to discuss how I can help you achieve your travel goals!
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