Spending a few days on a quaint little island in the Aegean Sea during the summer. What could be better?! While this sounds overly expensive and not something a backpacker would actually consider, with a bit of research, backpacking Santorini can easily become a reality for travellers of all budgets. Read on to find out how to see Santorini on a budget.
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The first thing that comes to mind when people think of the Greek islands are beautiful sunsets and white washed buildings with blue roofs.
And while some hold fast to the rule that you should never spend money to visit the same place twice, Greece is a place I would go back to in a heartbeat, knowing that each time will be that much better.
So, let’s look at what makes Santorini such a fantastic island to travel to with this Santorini budget guide.
Getting to Santorini
I visited a few islands during my vacation to Greece, so I arrived from Crete via ferry, and departed to Mykonos on yet another ferry. The views as you arrive at the Santorini Athinios porton the western side of the island are just stunning.
If you’ve flown in, you’ll be arriving at Santorini International Airport (JTR) – also known as Thira Airport – which is on the eastern side of the island.
Regardless of how you get to Santorini, or Greece in general – yaay! You made it! 🙂
Getting Around Santorini
Now that you’ve stepped onto Santorini, you have a couple options to get to your hotel or hostel.
The cheapest are the public busses, which cover most of the island and run fairly frequently. All buses end up at the main bus station in Fira. If you need to transfer, this is where it will happen. Read here for route details.
Please be aware that bus schedules are sometimes unreliable and you cannot purchase bus tickets in advance. This means that buses may be over capacity during high season. So, while this is the cheapest option, be prepared that it may not be feasible if you have a lot of luggage.
I used only buses during my vacation in Santorini. I was there during high season, and had no issues or complaints.
Another option is to ask your hotel or hostel if they have a shuttle that can pick you up.
Or, if a tourist van is more your style you can prebook with a shuttle company, such as Santorini Transport.
As for taxi’s, there are a limited number on the island and they line up outside both the port and airport. Santorini taxis are grey and have a “taxi” sign on the roof. Be aware that taxis in Greece charge a fee for excess luggage as well as nighttime pickups.
Some people recommend renting a car, but I’m not sure I agree with this. It may be the most convenient option, but it’s also the most expensive. If you choose this option, know that your cost per day to travel in Santorini will be greatly increased.
Plus, parking will almost definitely be an issue. If you do rent a car, be aware that during peak season rules of the road change to accommodate the increased traffic.
And lastly, some people choose to rent 4-wheelers. If you are considering this, be aware that the roads in Santorini are quite narrow with a lot of hills, twists and turns. This option is probably not suitable for a novice driver. The upside to having a quad is that you can get to points on the island that a regular car cannot reach.
Note that Santorini does NOT have Uber or Lyft.
Where to Stay in Santorini
For such a small island, Santorini has a lot of towns. The most popular – and most expensive – are Fira, Oia, Firostafani and Imerovigli.
I can attest to the prices – I stayed at Anteliz Suites in Fira. While I paid a premium to stay here, I had an incredible cliffside view of the caldera, a wonderfully refreshing pool that I used every day to beat the heat, amazing customer service and breakfast every morning, so it was worth it.
If you enjoy shopping and/or nightlife, Fira is likely where you’ll focus your hotel search. During my visit I spent plenty of time wandering aimlessly through the town of Fira shopping and enjoying lunch on patios overlooking the caldera.
Oia is on the northern tip of the island and is where all the high end hotels and shopping are. I didn’t spend too much time here but the views are simply stunning.
Firostefani is great if you want to be close to the action of Fira, but not right in the middle of it. You can easily walk the footpath between the two towns. Many do this and enjoy the best of both worlds – the bustle of Fira during the day, followed by peaceful nights in Firostefani.
Imerovigli sits higher than Fira and Oia, so the views are better but it is noticeably quieter. There is no nightlife and only a few restaurants. But it is only a 30 minute walk along the footpath from Fira, so if you enjoy a walk after eating all that delicious Greek food for dinner, this may be a good option.
If you’re like me and want a more budget friendly trip, the best places to stay in Santorini on a budget will be at a hostel booked through HostelWorld, like Villa Kasteli near Perissa Beach, or Fira Backpackers Place.
Where to Watch the Sunset in Santorini
Of course a common question is, what are things to do in Santorini on a budget?
Santorini is not a big island, so it won’t be surprising when I say that you won’t need more than a few days to explore this entire Greek island.
I spent four days here and it was plenty of time to see and do everything I wanted.
The most popular thing to do while backpacking Santorini is to watch the sunset. You guys, it is just stunning. It is so peaceful watching the sunset over the Aegean Sea, and of course, photos do it no justice.
The most infamous spot for watching the sunset is the town of Oia. But really, anywhere along the west side of the island is beautiful. Know that if you are watching from Oia, crowds will start to gather as early as 4pm for the 6pm-ish sunset. So, if this is your goal, get there early to get that perfect spot and view.
I stayed in Fira during my trip to Santorini, so I watched from my hotel balcony and was never disappointed:
Hiking in Santorini
Another popular thing to do while backpacking Santorini is to hike from Fira to Oia. It’s about a ten kilometre hike and there are great views along the way.
Depending what time of year you are on the island, you may want to head out on this hike early in the morning as it will get very hot as the day progresses. There are a couple stops along the way to buy water and snacks, but they are few and far in between so it is advisable to carry some with you.
This hike can be done with a guide or on your own and you’ll be rewarded with a view of the island from a different perspective.
Wear comfortable shoes and don’t forget your camera!
Another popular hike to do in Santorini is to the highest point of the island – the monastery of Profitis Ilias. Starting at the centre square in the village of Pyrgos, follow the cobbled path up to the monastery for a 360 degree view of the picturesque Greek island.
The hike is only about five kilometres long and while you can do this on your own, be aware that Santorini’s hiking paths aren’t always well marked, and sometimes not at all.
Beaches in Santorini
If hiking isn’t your thing, perhaps beaches are. After all, you did come to an island right? Luckily, Santorini has a few of those as well.
Don’t expect the powder white sand typically seen on an island beach though.
Remember, Santorini was once part of an active volcano and the islands around it are arranged in a circle because the middle of them is the flooded Santorini caldera (the crater of the massive Santorini volcano). Not to worry, it hasn’t been active since the 1950’s.
This means that the beaches consist of dark rock, not powder white sand. The upside to this is that the water will be crystal clear because there is no fine dust being kicked around by waves.
Also keep in mind that because the beaches are so dark, some almost black…they will be scorching hot on your feet. Do NOT forget flip flops or you’ll be awkwardly dancing and yelping your way across the beach while everyone stares at you.
Yes, I did this.
Perissa Beach is where the backpacker crowd hangs out.
Perivolos Beach is next to Perissa, and the only difference you’ll notice between the two is how quiet Perivolos is.
Kamari Beach and Monolithos have more of a family friendly vibe to them, so if that’s your jam, these are the beaches you’ll want to visit.
Red Beach looks entirely different than the previous three because the sand here is, well…red. No surprise there. Aside from the beach though, there’s not much here. If your thing is strictly scenery, this is your place.
For details on each beach, read Santorini Dave’s blog post here.
What to Eat in Santorini
After all that hiking and beach time, no doubt you are eager to check out the food scene in Santorini. Like any Greek island, Santorini does not disappoint.
Really, does any Greek food disappoint? No.
I’m not even a foodie, and I was never disappointed, so that is saying something.
If you don’t want a hefty bill after every meal, try to limit the time you spend in restaurants facing the caldera. Sure, the food and service may be great but you are paying a premium just for that beautiful view.
Instead, try more budget friendly options, like a gyro. A gyro (pronounced “yee-roh” not “ji-ro”) is chicken or pork in a pita with tomato, onion and tzatziki. I’m not a fan of the rotisserie meat used so I always ask for a chicken souvlaki in a pita.
In Greece, they put french fries right into the gyro. I’ve never seen that in any Greek restaurants in other countries and was pleasantly surprised at how good this was.
If you are in the mood for some greens, try a traditional Greek salad. Notice there is no lettuce in that salad you ordered in Greece? Why? A “traditional” village salad consists only of tomato, onion, feta and cucumber and doesn’t have any lettuce at all.
And, that saganaki dish that you order in other countries? You know – the one where they set the fried cheese on fire when it gets to your table? Turns out, this is also a tourist thing. It’s done for show in Greek restaurants outside of Greece, but not typically in Greece itself.
If coffee is your thing – it is most definitely mine! – try a frappe. A frappe is basically iced coffee. It’s cold, sweet and the caffeine gives you a nice kick. Order one sweet with milk, find a spot in the shade and people watch. This was a daily occurrence for me every day when travelling through Greece.
If sweets are your thing, of course you’ll head to the nearest bakery for baclava and loukoumades. Obviously, you’ll want to eat all the Greek honey because it’s obscenely good so desserts soaked in it are not to be passed up. I think it might actually be a crime if you do.
My point with all these random tidbits is this – the Greeks are a very proud bunch and will never turn down an opportunity to teach travellers about their culture. The wait staff in every restaurant I went to taught me something new.
Like the art of sipping raki after a meal in Crete. But that’s another story.
Whatever you decide on – moussaka, dolmades, tiropita or spanakopita – the food on this beautiful island will satisfy even the finickiest eater.
If you take only one thing from this guide to traveling Santorini on a budget, take this – Greece is an amazing country with a fantastic culture and amazing food. Go. Enjoy. Throw some dishes around. Revel in the beauty that is Greece! Opa!