Santorini-The picture-perfect island in the Greek Cyclades is a bucket list destination for every Basic Bitch that ever lived, laughed, or loved. Santorini is the ultimate example of a popular vacation spot that would seem to be expensive. In reality, if you change your perspective from "tourist" to "traveler" you can make this iconic trip become reality for much less than you would expect.
There are many towns and villages on the Island of Santorini. The three most popular destinations (with the most accommodation options) are:
This is "the picture" you've seen. The white church with the blue roof on a cliff into the Mediterranean. Oia houses the most expensive accommodations and restaurants. If money is no thought, go ahead and book the $700USD/night properties. They look absolutely incredible. Don't ever leave.
You'll be surrounded by shops, tourists (local and cruise day-trips) and Chinese brides in their wedding dresses taking selfies, despite the fact their wedding was 5 months ago. Although you'll be in the "heart of the action" stop and think if that's actually what you're looking for in your trip. Oia is a small village that can be "done" in a day unless you are a massive shopaholic. Is that a good day trip for you from another town or where you want to "live".. that's up to you.
WTF is this place called? Either way - this is the town in the center of the island.
The most important thing to know about this town is that its the cruise port. It is a constant barrage of loud, obnoxious tourists crowding the small alleyways. This would be a tragedy if the alleyways weren't already lined with charmless stores hawking souvenirs that even the most optimistic of tourists wouldn't give to grandma when they return home.
We were surprised, after we visited, that so many travel blogs suggest staying here in this town because it is centrally located on the island. While that is geographically true, it is little reason to set up camp there. Fira is a little more affordable than Oia but definitely not worth the influx of 20,000 new neighbors every morning at 10am. Think that number is an exaggeration? 3-5 large cruise ships come into this port daily. Stay away.
Stay in Perissa. I don't know how else to say it. If you're in Santorini for more than 3 days stay in Perissa. You'll find great food, beaches and lower priced digs. We stayed at Margarenia Studios in Perissa at a discounted October rate. Amenities included pool, beautiful flowers everywhere, a friendly and helpful owner/manager, clean rooms with daily fresh linens, and a 10 minute walk to the beach. $27 USD/night twenty seven US Dollars a night. You'll need a method of transportation if you're staying in Perissa. (You'll probably want one wherever you are, but parking is not really a feasible option if you're staying in Oia and Fira.. and that will resort you to having to book site seeing tours instead of exploring the extremely easy-to-get-around island on your own time.)
GO IN LOW SEASON
Travel during the low/shoulder season to save some money. May and October you'll save the most, Early June and September you'll be safer with weather. In the low season you'll find less tourists, less crowded beaches, and less expensive rates on tours, accommodations, and rentals.
Of course, low season and low prices come with a few concessions. Weather was a huge concern in planning our early-October stay. Several google searches yielded voices of other concerned travelers. In our stay the first week of October, 2015, for example, the hotel pool wasn't warm enough to swim in during the day. However, the ocean was still very warm (Chicago standards...). Night time brings sweatshirt weather as the temp dips into the high 60's. No matter how many times you search "October weather averages Santorini" it's hard to tell what 68 degrees will feel like when you're in a different climate from your home. 68 at night in Santorini meant that Allison had on leggings, a sweatshirt and a puffy vest because the strong wind coming off the open ocean was enough that we weren't comfortable having a drink outside on our porch when the sun went down.
Despite the slightly colder temperatures, our pictures serve as proof that October is still plenty warm enough to enjoy Santorini to its full potential.
CLIFF JUMPING, AMOUDI BAY | $0 USD
Best activity we did in Santorini and possibly one of the most iconic for the island. Apparently made even more famous through YaYa sisters or something, Amoudi Bay offers your typically overpriced, tourist focused restaurants. If you make your way through them however, you'll find a path along the water that leads to the REAL Amoudi Bay.
After crawling over some rocks, you'll will find a slightly hidden beach. Brave a short swim out to the nearby island and be rewarded with one of the most epic and beautiful locations for cliff diving in the world.
The island is not named according to Google maps, so lets just agree to call it Diemer's Island. The Ekklisia Agios Nikolaos church is located on it already, but its barely more than a door, some bells, and a stone walkway (EXTREMELY uncomfortable for bare feet).
Past the little church is a diving platform. Make sure to clear the rocks and ancient iron chain to the left of the diving platform-aim straight out or to the right of the platform and you should be fine!
VISIT AKROTIRI LIGHTHOUSE | $0 USD
View of the sea from the lighthouse is amazing, but, continue walking southwest past the entrance for this property towards the tip of the peninsula and you'll be rewarded with a landscape looking back towards the lighthouse and the island that you can take your perfect selfie on. Also a great place for sunset, but bring a flashlight to navigate the rocks on your way out.
DRIVE TO THE TOP OF PROFITIS ILIAS | $0 USD
Preferably on your first day, make the short and memorable drive to the top of this mountain. Centrally located on the island, the panorama you take in will give you a birds eye view of the entirety of Santorini. Also a great place to take in a sunset- bring a bottle of wine or snacks with you. Plenty of great (unofficial) places to post up and picnic.
"Vacation Day" at Perissa Beach | $0 USD
Perissa Beach. Beautiful LONG stretch of sand dotted with restaurants hosting beach chairs and shops sporting (not-so-hot) deals on suits, sunnies and $3 bracelets you can take home to your little sister.
Great beach and plenty of places to rent chairs and umbrellas during high season. Get these same chairs and umbrellas for free during the low season. (The farther you walk away from the church and center of town the more likely you'll find a free chair at a restaruant that just wants you to buy a $2 beer.) Steep drop off in the water that makes swimming pretty nice in the crystal clear water. Did I mention the black volcanic sand? That's the thing to "see" here.
HIKE TO ANCIENT THIRA | $2 USD
Starting at the base of the mountain in Perissa, there is a scenic hike that takes about an hour to ancient Thira. On the way make sure to stop by Ekklisia Panagia Katefiani, a small church about 200 meters up built into the cliff side. At the top of the hike, discover as we did, that you could have simply drove up paved road from Kamari.
Regardless if you hike or drive, visit ancient Thira for 2 Euro. If you go on Monday however, ancient Thira is closed, which explains why there the picture shown is simply us hiking...not the ruins.
VOLCANO & HOT SPRINGS TOUR | $18 USD +UP
Very popular tour package in Santorini. Having done it, we're not quite sure why. Hesitant to put this tour on the list of things to do, but Allison and I agreed on this fact- If we hadn't done the tour, we would have felt like we missed out. You don't know what you don't know.
Our tour left out of the port of Fira. That meant we had to fight all the cruise passengers that also needed to get to the bottom of the mountain. We didn't account for the much needed (but not advertised) 30 minutes to make that happen and missed our scheduled time. The dormant-for-hundreds-of-years volcano is an island of black ash rock in the ocean. That's cool, but you're not taking selfies in front of lava flows if that's what you're expecting.
There is a glimmer of hope in going to the hot springs afterward, only to realize the hot springs are only hot in name. In truth, the brown water is only slightly warmer than the ambient ocean water. Didn't matter though as the horn on our cattle-rangling ferry boat called us back only as we had just arrived. For perspective, the most memorable thing about the hot springs visit was seeing some goats on rock. Also, a German Shepard came out into the water to bark at us. I also have a stain on my suit from the mud to remember this by. Maybe don't do this tour unless you're really bored [or are staying on Santorini Island for a week or more] or you have massive FOMO, but, get over it. Nothing missed here.
Local buses- Didn't use. Inconvenient & sparse schedules. Just rent a scooter.
Taxi- Prearranged rates between most places on the island. Make sure you agree to that rate before you hop in a cab. Drivers were passionate about their jobs and willing to risk their lives and yours to make sure you got to your location as fast as possible.
Scooter or 4x4: Rent a scooter.
We rented a two person scooter from Mikes Scooters for $10 USD/Day. That's only a few bucks more than taking the bus everywhere – except we didn't have to wait around for 30 minutes in the hot sun and could explore the hidden beaches and mountain tops the buses do not travel to.
Free yourself from the cage of a car-feel the sun, taste the salt in the air, and guarantee that you'll find easy parking. You know better than I if you have any business on two wheels. If you choose a scooter or motorcycle, wear a helmet and shoes like a responsible adult. Also: That Mercedes Taxi behind you does actually want to run you over. Pull over occasionally to let traffic past you if you're causing a backup.
*Tip: YOU NEED AN INTERNATIONAL LICENSE TO GET A GOOD DEAL. SOME RENTAL PLACES REFUSE TO RENT TO THOSE WITHOUT PROPER ENDORSEMENT OR LICENSE. (In USA you can get them at AAA locations even if you are not a member.)
Car Rental & 4x4: If you must there are plenty of car rental places, 4x4 rentals (a very popular option for travelers without a motorcycle license) and the Chinese tourists must have a lock on the Smart Car rentals. We never saw a location to rent a Smart Car, but every third car on the road was a Chinese tourist in a Smart Car.
Can't say enough about how much your travel budget will shrink if you eat like you do at home. Buy groceries where the locals do, cook what is local and inexpensive, and leave the dining-out three-meals-a-day to people who only want to travel once a year.
The caveat to this however is eating street food. Find the right restaurant and you can eat prepared food for less than it costs to buy an equivalent meals worth of groceries.
Santa Irini Bakery (Perissa) - Friendly owners and employees, inexpensive food, and open 24 hours- all reasons why you'll never see a Taco Bell pop up in Perissa. Santa Irini bakery throws cheese, meat, and fresh cooked bread together into 7 different arrangements that are all incredible and each cost 2 Euro. They also have sugar crusted donuts that will bring you to your knees. 2 Euros
Pitogyros (Oia) - Pitogyros, not Pitagyros (that knock off place down the street). Pitogyros makes, what else, gyros. Whats the big deal? This is the best food I've had to eat since the trip started. Pitogyros slathers tzatziki sauce on a lightly toasted pita, then adds a generous helping of pork gyro meat, onions and freshly cooked french fries. Top it off with some fresh off the vine tomato slices, slap the whole thing on the ass and send it out the door. All for the low cost of 2.50 Euro.
Santo Grill (Perissa Beach)- Everything I said about Pitogyros, just turn the 11 down to about 8. Beef gyros were still really good but nothing to found a new religion over. 2.20 Euro
*Tip: A "Greek" Gyro in the USA consists of lamb meet cooked on a skewer. Lamb meet cooked this style is actually Turkish Kebab (they eat Lamb in Turkey, and the name, Kebab, refers to how it is cooked.; it's not the American Kebab on a stick). Greeks eat either beef or chicken gyros. Those will be your choices so don't ask for Lamb, they don't have it.
*Tip: Stay away from sit down places in Fira and Oia. You're going to be paying $20-$30 USD/person for truly mediocre food. After all, restaurants in these towns don't have incentive to serve great food- they are catering to Cruise tourists who likely will eat at their establishment just one time. Better to just buy a few drinks to “pay the rent” while you enjoy the million dollar view that most of these restaurants offer up. Really want that view? Check out Santo Wines, listed below under "Drink".
BEER- Pils Hella- Drink like a local. Pils Hella is likely the equivalent of drinking Busch Light in Greece. Tasted great when paired with a gyro. Tasted great on the beach. Tasted great all the time. €0,54 Euro in grocery store.
WINE- Local Santorini wines are available everywhere. If you want to keep it classy, fill your own 1.5L plastic bottle with local white wine (no brand) at the Super Discount Market (Perissa). Sleep off the hangover at the beach the next day. 2.50 Euro for the bottle.
*Tip: It's not a "budget" location but definitely make time to visit Santo Wines (pictured) to sit down to their wine sampler that comes with cheese, olives and spreads. Take in the best view on the island during sunset but if you're there during high season make sure you call ahead (not sure if they take reservations...we were fine walking in in October but this place is built to be swamped, you can tell). Plan accordingly.
Enjoy your time on the island. There is so much to do and see beyond Oia, beyond the beach and even beyond what was listed here. You would not be bored with 7 days, and with these money-saving tips, your smart choices will give you a few extra days for the same cost.