Can Santorini be done on a Budget?
The simple answer is yes. From places to stay, to getting around, to eating great food, and even enjoying quality entertainment. Santorini really doesn’t have to be expensive at all. In fact we enjoyed 9 days as a couple for a combined total of $817.53 - including the Ferry ride to get there! But first, it is helpful to know a little more about the geography and economy of Santorini to understand how this is even possible.
It’s easy to see why Greece and Santorini in particular has captured the hearts of many travelers. Santorini has been used to shoot films like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003).
The Geography of Santorini
Santorini isn’t just luxury resorts. It is the remnant of an ancient massive volcano that exploded thousands of years ago. What remains is a caldera filled with water with a ridge that is crescent shaped. This is where everything exists today. The towns that people visit are located on cliffside villages that are up to 980 feet above sea level. But, not all of it is the resorts that you see on television and Instagram. For that, you’ll have to stay on the northern side of Thira or the most well-known city of Oia on the northern part of the crescent.
The Economy - A Haircut Experience
Many of the Greek people living on the island work 12-hour days, 7 days a week – but only for the summer tourist season. My barber came to Santorini from Athens. He says the summer season is from early March until late November, but he’s not sure that he’ll be coming back next year because it is a lot of work and he’s hoping his brother can help him get over to London next year instead. When I asked him for recommendations on what to do on Santorini he told me that he doesn’t really have time to go out, so he really doesn’t know. This was in late October.
I was glad that he spoke English, though - because I don’t speak Greek. Then he told me that all Greeks are required to take courses in English while going through school because it is the language of business around the world. He ended up charging me 20 euros for the haircut - and I gave him a tip on top of that - but with the long line of local Greeks that were there before me, it’s hard to imagine that they get charged the same rate.
Traveling Around Santorini
It’s apparent that when you arrive that the economy thrives on tourism. We arrived on a ferry from Mykonos and were greeted by dozens of car rental companies who recommended that we should rent a car for only 20 euros per day. That wasn’t our plan, so we passed on a dozen requests before making it to a person who offered a taxi service instead. This was also 20 euros and we took that, but it turns out that taking the local bus – which looks like a coach bus and was right there at the port – would have been much cheaper.
Getting from Thira to Oia, or vice versa, by these coach buses runs only 1.80 euro. Additionally, it ran us the same amount to go from Katerados, on the south end of Thira, to the Airport. You just have to have the Euros ahead of time. While at the airport, we noticed that the arrival gate is also full of car rental salespeople waiting to greet people when they arrive.
Eating on Santorini
While we were in Santorini, we looked for affordable places to eat. We went to Thira many times and ended up at Yogi Gyros almost every time. They had a great selection of Greek food, including several different types of Gyros and Greek Salad that were delicious, as well as a completely vegetarian section that served things like Tomato Balls and Falafels.
For great cheap Greek food in Oia, try Pitogyro. We enjoyed it and it didn’t break the bank.
Thira is street after street of shops and restaurants, but there are also many different places with amazing views where you can take pictures; However, if you want a fancy resort-style picture with a pool you may have to stay in those hotels or resorts as many do not let you enter the areas if you aren’t staying there. Additionally, while you see pictures of people sitting on rooftops, many spots specifically say not to. We did find some great spots in Oia where the pictures were even more amazing, and we didn’t have to book a room to get a picture.
However, I should note that some of the walkway areas are still blocked off, and for good reason. Oia turns into a stampede around sunset as it’s the most famous spot to get sunset photos and everyone on the island comes there to get them. Be careful!
Best Free Thing to do on Santorini
Our biggest recommendation is to walk from Thira to Oia along the trail (or vice versa). You will experience the natural beauty of Santorini while you walk past the wellness resorts and honeymoon villas into the natural land of the island. Experiencing Santorini, the caldera of that ancient volcano, is more vivid and real as you walk around the crescent. Plus, the pictures are amazing as well.
Our walk took roughly 5 hours, but this is because we walked slowly and took many pictures and videos. The trail itself is always very visible and usually paved. Where it isn’t paved, the gravel path is easy to navigate. On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is basically a flat path and 10 is a Swiss mountain pass, I would give this one a 2.5 - so, if you absolutely don’t have any real physique and walking up a few flights of stairs or down the road for a few hours is too much for you, you should probably avoid doing it. Otherwise, we believe it is the best free thing to do while on the island of Santorini because it not only keeps you outside for a number of hours - which is good for your health - but the constant changing scenery, all of which is just “WOW!”, is something that many people miss because they are worried about the walk.
If you are not particularly up for walks, especially when you are dressed up for your stunning Santorini photos, consider that this walk is easy enough to do while dressed up - ok, wear appropriate shoes - and if you do it, you’ll have photo shoot locations without crowds, unique, and possibly better than the ones you can get in the towns.
Other Amazing Free & Cheap things to do in Santorini:
Enjoy a Day at Vlychada & Eros Beaches
Easily accessible by car or bus. Vlychada has amazingly natural carved cliffs. It is a long beach with shallow waters and volcanic sand. Additionally, it is not usually crowded - but has sunbeds, straw umbrellas and a canteen. Eros is a continuation Vlychada beach with white-brown cliffs and an exotic beach bar-restaurant with relaxing Greek music that is built from stone and wood.
Watch a Greek Sunset in Oia
Quite possibly the #1 thing all tourists like to do in Santorini - but be careful and EARLY as the crowds are massive and the streets are narrow!
Here are a couple amazing things to do that aren’t free:
Helping the Local Economy
Additionally, if you really want to help out the locals, try to book a bed and breakfast on booking.com or Airbnb instead of a regular hotel. This way, you get to experience a little more of the “Real Santorini” while also helping out a local family or person. We stayed at a bed and breakfast ourselves, and it saved quite a bit of money compared with the hotels. It might have been a few minutes extra to walk to town, but the place was very large, had a balcony on the living room, another balcony on the bedroom, and even a small kitchen for cooking food if we didn’t want to eat out every night.
Plus, our hosts provided service that was above and beyond what we expected and took care of us in every way that we needed. Overall, we believe it was a great trade - cheaper for us and better for them. Interested in where we stayed? It was the Lefteris House near Thira which consistently receives ratings such as 9.5/10 or 4.9/5 at the price of a 2-star hotel! Cha-ching! Check it out on booking.com.
Best Luxury Hotel, Location, and Value: Volcano View Hotel & Villas (from $177 per night)
Best Location VRBO: Studio walking distance to Fira (as low as $122 per night)
Best Experience & Location Hotel: Alexander's Great View (around $80 USD per night)
Best Value & Beach View: Mandilaria Studios (as low as $38 USD per night)
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Jenny & Bradley of EatWanderExplore