Santorini has a reputation for being an expensive place to visit. It’s true, the beautiful volcanic marvel that is Santorini can produce some seriously eye-wateringly high bills. However, we are here to prove that you can do Santorini on a budget. So, if you are interested in travelling to Santorini on the cheap, read on for our top tips for backpacking Santorini on a budget.
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1.) When to Travel to Santorini if You’re on a Budget
Travel Off Season
Try to avoid summer. Prices skyrocket for everything! Plus, everything is crowded and the heat can be intense. You’ll spend a ton on accommodation and plenty of cold drinks which will hurt your pocket.
Now, I’m not saying you need to visit in January. Winter is chilly, cheap flights are very hard to come by and lots of businesses are shut. I’m sure you could have fun but it might be a struggle. Instead, aim for shoulder season. This means March/April or September/October. In terms of weathered September and October are a more settled time to visit and the sea surrounding Santorini should hold the warmth it has gained through the hot summer months. However, coming in Spring, you will get the best service as things reopen and people aren’t feeling jaded after a long tourist season, and the spring flowers are super!
If you can find a flight deal, it may even be worth checking out March or November. There will be some things closed on the island, and it will be colder BUT, days can still be balmy enough for short sleeves and there are bargains to be had.
2.) Where to Stay in Santorini on a Budget
The most expensive place to stay in Santorini is Oia. It has beautiful sunsets, the famous three blue dome church and all those hotels you’ve seen with infinity pool cave rooms. Even the cheap guesthouses are more expensive here. Sure it’s nice but it can be in really busy at sunset and you’ll save a bundle by staying elsewhere on Santorini.
Find a Place in Fira(ish)
Santorini’s capital, Fira is a bit cheaper. You can find a great quality room here, some with iconic s and caldera views. They will be about 1/3 cheaper than in Oia. There are also lots more small guesthouses that may not have the view but are fab value. All the buses on the island start and end at Fira bus station so it is a wonderful base for exploring every corner of Santorini. In Fira there are some lovely photo spots and the cruise port below ensures there are plenty of food and drink options in town. Plus, there are some gorgeous churches to visit.
Heading towards Oia, you’ll find the lovely cliffside villages of Firastefano and Imerovigli. Here, you will find plenty of precipitous hotels with hot tubs and plunge pools that cascade down the terraces of the town…but at half the price of those around the bay in Oia. The sunset is basically the same as it slips below the waves in west so you really aren’t missing out on that famous Santorini moment.
Bet on the Beach
This one seems counterintuitive. In most holiday destinations, the beach is the most popular and most expensive place to book a room. However, in Santorini, where the cliffs reign supreme, a budget bed by the beach is easy to come by. The largest hostels and cheap guest houses on the island are at Perissa and Kamari on the south east coast.
Staying on this side of the island does mean you’ll be travelling to reach the sights of Oia and Fira but there are buses from both Perissa and Kamari. In Perissa, you are just a stone’s throw from a black sand beauty where you can enjoy a beach day with no drama. In Kamari, the bars/restaurants nearby are plentiful and cheaper than those around the more high-end resorts. Best of all, both of these towns are within easy reach of Ancient Thera
Visiting Santorini means being ahead of the game, being organised and being slightly obsessive. This is not the kind of destination that offloads a slew of rooms nice and cheap at the last minute. Most properties only have a few rooms and so they are not block booked by travel agents. Our advice is to find a room that you like as early as possible with free cancellation. Then, it is good to keep checking to see if any flash sales or super sales pop up over time. You could snag a bargain but if not, you have something that is nice and within budget.
How About a Hostel?
There are a few hostels on Santorini, offering both private and dorm rooms. Most are clustered around the beaches coast but a 30 minute walk away from Fira is a brilliant option, Caveland. They have lovely cave rooms, a killer breakfast and they sometimes have Greek dinners for the guests.
Yes, you can camp on Santorini! Just 10 minutes from Fira’s main square is Santorini Camping. The campsite has a large pool (great if you want to actually swim rather than just plunge like in the fancy hotels) with a poolside bar. In terms of accommodation, for just €10 – €15 per person, you can pitch your own tent. For increasing fees, you can also rent bed tents (canvas tents with beds in), hostel style dorms and even private rooms with fridges and A/C. There’s even WiFi!
Bag a Breakfast
Eating a nice big breakfast could set you up for a good few hours, reducing the size of the lunch you need to eat. Try and find accommodation that includes breakfast, it will be much cheaper than eating out. Plus, if they have bread, cheese etc you could even prep a packed lunch to take out with you. This is especially easy if you are staying a property without a breakfast room, where breakfast is brought to your room. There are no prying eyes to watch you making your laughing cow and olive rolls!
And speaking of food:
3.) How to Eat On a Budget in Santorini
Pack a Picnic
Eating from the supermarket is a classic money saving tip throughout the world. It is no different on Santorini….well, almost no different. Some grocery stores have excellent bakery counters featuring both sweet treats and traditional savoury pastries that are amazing to grab and go. They are cheap, filling and full of flavour.
Cook at Your Hostel
The best way to save money on any trip is to cook in a hostel. The basics (oil, salt etc) re usually provided or left by previous guests so you won’t have to buy everything. You can grab some dry pasta & some veggies or a frozen pizza to heat up from the supermarket. This can be even more affordable if there is a larger group of you.
Of course, you may feel like you are missing out on a foodie experience. Trying the local cuisine can be a very important part of travel…it is for me. Plus, I am a terrible cook so I only tend to opt for this option if we are in a very expensive country. I sacrificed other things to eat out in Santorini for one meal a day. Mind you, I wouldn’t be averse to popping leftovers in a Tupperware and reheating them in a hostel kitchen the next day!
Grab a Gyro
For a filling, hot meal, look no further than the gyro shops dotted across the island. Gyros are a chunky kebab made with a thick pitta bread stuffed with meat (usually pork or chicken), some salad veggies and chips, liberally slathered with sauce if requested. The addition of the chips really makes this feel like a whole meal. If the idea of the turning meat spits turns your stomach then opt for a souvlaki. This is similar to a gyro but the meat is cooked in chunks on a skewer and you would have to ask nicely for chips inside.
In Oia, PitoGyros is a great bet. It’s located just next to the bus station and feel likes a carpingly classy joint for a kebab shop. There are a couple of half tables outside on the cobbled lane and the food feels very fresh.
The queue outside Yogi Gyro In Fira tells you everything you need to know about how good the gyros are. For less than €5, you can stuff yourself silly on a pitta…that is stuffed silly. It has more of a slightly greasy fast food feel but when the wraps are this tasty, we will perch on any of the metal stools quite happily.
Avoid the View
Cliffside restaurants, sweeping views across the island and prime sunset spots will all hike your dinner bill considerably. Don’t use dinner as your sunset activity. Instead, grab food before or after. Forgo sitting overlooking the sea and head inland a little. It could easily save you 30-50%. You could always grab a takeaway and find a free spot to sit and take in the view.
4.) How to Get Around Santorini on a Budget
Take the Bus
Unlike many other places, there is no Uber in Santorini and the taxis are seriously expensive. There are only around 25 taxis on the island so not only are they extortionate, but hard to find too. Instead, your best bet is the bus. Whilst not the most amazing public transport system in the world, it is great to know that you can get around by public transport. The bus is around €5 return between Fira and Oia and takes 25 minutes or so. Coming from London, where we think the world is ending if the bus is any more than seven minutes away, the bus schedule can feel a little sparse with some buses only going once an hour. However, sitting in the sun for a little while and grabbing a drink while you wait doesn’t feel too painful.
Check the bus schedule here: https://santorinibus.com/
Why Not Walk?
If you have the time, you could try walking between locations. The hike between Fira and Oia is a beautiful walk along the coast but it does take 2.5-3 hours. There are stretches of it, however, that connect Fira to Firostefani and Imerovigli which won’t take so long.
Exploring on Four Wheels
If you want to explore Santorini on your own terms, but not under your own steam, then you might look at hiring a vehicle.
ATVs are incredibly popular in Santorini and ATV rentals are considerably cheaper than actual cars in high season. You are looking at around €25 for 24 hours. A euro an hour…not too shabby.
Off-season, you can get some great car hire deals. We have even seen as low as €13 a day in January. However, when the high season hits you could be charged €80 – €90 a day! That is when you really need to look at other options.
5.) What to do in Santorini on a Budget
Take a Hike
Hiking is free, allows to escape the crowds and gives you some wonderful views. It is worth remembering that water is hard to come by on these walks so bring plenty with you. You will also need some proper shoes (trainers are fine but no flip flops). There is also very little shade on both walks so a hat or something to cover up is a must.
Fira to Oia
The most popular hike on the island is the walk between Fira to Oia. As mentioned, it is a 3 hour stroll or less if you walk with some purpose. The route is easy to follow without a map as it winds its way along the coast, through villages, past fancy resorts and into the scrubby areas between. If you time your walk well, you can arrive in Oia in time to find your sunset spot, or stay at the church on the last hill before the town and enjoy it from there.
For a shorter hike from Fira, take the same path but at Imerovigli, divert down past Agios Georgios Church. From here, you can climb the 300 steps to the top of Skaros Rock. This ancient fortress (now mostly just rock) gives beautiful views of the caldera and Imerovigli village. Of course, you could add this to your Fira to Oia hike but it will probably add an hour or so (and a whole lot more steps!).
Up to Ancient Thira
There is also a wonderful walk up to Ancient Thira that you can take from Perissa. It is a steep one hour hike up the hill before it flattens out a little. Some people like to take the less steep switchback road from Kamari but it isn’t so pretty and you will be sharing the road with the cars. From the top of the hill, it is another kilometre or so to the site itself.
Take a Dive
Down, below the hustle and bustle of Oia Castle is the little cove of Amoudi Bay (also spelt Ammoudi Bay). Take the 300ish stairs down and you will be transported to another world, one that feels a lot more…well…Greek. The area is lined with fish restaurants and tavernas but they are not very budget-friendly and that isn’t why we are here. This is also one of Santorini’s best swimming spots. Follow the path past the last restaurants and keep walking for 5-10 minutes until you reach Armonia Bay. Here you can slip into the pretty Aegean Sea or take a flying jump from the cliff jump. Just note that the beach is quite rocky and these can be sharp so bring some water shoes if you have them.
Just remember to bring a drink down with you to avoid the expensive prices and to ensure you have something for the trek back up all those stairs!
One more thing: PLEASE don’t take the donkeys that are waiting on the path. Some are kept in terrible conditions and the only way to eradicate the practice is not to participate.
Take a Dip
If you don’t fancy tackling the steps at Amoudi Bay or just prefer a freshwater swim, head to Lioyerma Lounge pool. This isn’t free, there is a minimum spend of around €10 per person but considering that gets you access to the pool and a drink or two, it seems like pretty good value for a relaxing day. You can add another €5 or so for use of a sunbed or chair, or you can just flop down on your own towel. It is a great spot to watch the sunset as it won’t be crazily crowded and has a reasonably clear view.
Catch a Film at Kamari Open Air Cinema
Remember when it was affordable to go to the cinema? Well, it still is in Santorini! Every night in summer a big screen plays a film for just €8 in Kamari. Films are in English with Greek subtitles and seating is in an almost amphitheatre style with canvas director chairs. There is a bar that sells cocktails for around €7 with wine cheaper than that and soft drinks even cheaper again. You could have a full night of entertainment with a couple of drinks for less than €20….you would pay this just for the film in London! Check out the listings here.
Have a Beach Day
Some of the cheapest days you can have whilst backpacking are at the beach. Lay your towel down for free and relax. Now, the beaches on Santorini are not those powder white sweeps of Caribbean dreams or even the yellow kind that roast your feet as you run for sea in little hippity hops. On Santorini, you will be laying out on volcanic black sand mixed with little rocks. This is even hotter so bring water shoes or be prepared to leave your flip-flops at the water’s edge. You can get a sunbed for around €10 but some tavernas or cafes will let you have one for free if you buy something. Get a couple of coke zeros (other soft drink brands are available) and you will have a nice, comfy day.
Perissa is the longer of the two beaches so it will feel a bit less crowded. Kamari has a little more in the way of activities and you could combine a day here with a movie in the evening. To travel between Perissa and Kamari in summer, you can hop on an inexpensive taxi boat and catch a glimpse of White Beach too.
The Red Beach is on the southwest of the island and at the moment (late 2022) it is shut to tourists. Hopefully, they will be able to stabilise the cliffs and you can return to this naturally stunning red beach again.
Save Money on the Sights
Did you know that Santorini has its very own Pompeii!? OK, so it is much, MUCH smaller but the preserved ancient of Akrotiri is still very impressive. In normal times, entrance to the site costs €12, however, if you visit on any of the dates below, entrance is free:
- 6th March
- 18th April
- 18th May
- The last weekend of September
- Any national holiday
- 28th October
- The 1st Sunday of the month 1st November – 31st March.
You will also find the entrance to Ancient Thera free on these days so you’ll be saving a bundle over the day on sightseeing if you go to both.
Practice Your Photography
For many people, Santorini has become inexorably linked to Instagram. Every inspirational feed will contain several shots from this exceedingly photogenic island. Well, the good news is that photography is a totally free activity. Grab your phone (or big fancy camera) and look for a gorgeous angle. We had fun snapping away during our trip. Some of the famous spots below can have full-on queues during summer but in March, we didn’t have to wait for our turn at all.
6.) How to Save Money on Drinks
There is nothing that screams, “Holiday” so much as a creamy piña colada on the beach or a bitter-sweet glass of cold Aperol Spritz at sunset. However, to save money in Santorini, you need to forget that these drinks exist…most of the time.
Hunt Out Happy Hour
How do the bars without sunset views tempt in the punters? Well, they offer some decent happy hours. Keep your eyes peeled as you wander the streets of Santorini for flyers, chalk signs and posters advertising the deals. The best places offer 241 cocktails, meaning a pre-dinner drink (or two) is a fun plan. Some places offer €1 shots which could get messy….but you can’t argue that it is good value!
Indulge Your Inner Wine Snob
If you are backpacking Santorini but still fancy a sundowner or a drink with dinner then stick to wine or beer. A small carafe (2/3 glasses) of local white wine can be as little as €6 whereas one cocktail could be twice as much. Santorini produces some beautiful wine so you won’t be missing out on a tasty tipple. If you can agree on one wine between you and your travel buddy in a bar or restaurant, it is much cheaper to order a bottle than by the glass. You could be looking at around €12 for three glasses of wine each…depending on your pour.
Want more wine?
Visit the Wineries
Santorini has an amazing wine scene. The viticulture can’t be found anywhere else and those who produce these unique wines are so excited to share their knowledge and techniques with you.
Santo Wines is the largest of the wineries on Santorini and you will see their wines on every menu. It is free to visit the terrace but they do charge for tours and wine tastings. Skip the tour and just come to drink some tasty wine here. The tastings are pretty good value at less than €10 for six wines and this comes with some nibbles. You can go right up to 16 pours with lots of food and a coffee for €36. This full flight can be shared but the smaller options are per person. It is a great spot to watch the sunset too but you’ll need to book well in advance for a good table.
You can get the bus by hopping off in Pyrgos and walking for around 10 minutes. You could even ask the driver to drop you at the winery if you are coming from Fira as it is en route.
Megalochori village is home to Gavelas Winery (as well as two other small producers, Venetsanos & Boutari). At Gavelas, the wine tasting isn’t quite such good value with a full 6 wine flight being €25 and the nibbles not quite so plentiful. However, the experience feels a little less corporate and the staff will spend time explaining the wine and how wine is made on Santorini.
Megalochori village is on the bus route from Fira to Perissa so it is easily reached by public transport.
Who says you can’t sort out your own beverages? Supermarkets sell wine, beer, premixed cocktails and more. Grab a bottle of something tasty and find your perfect sunset spot on a wall in Oia, a perch at Akrotiri lighthouse or a hillside anywhere you can hike to. Plus, you are your own waiter so no need to tip. Wine goes for around €8 a bottle, beer for €1.30-2 and ouzo (if you are feeling brave) will be less than €10. Rum, vodka and whiskey will be rather pricy so I’d avoid as a general rule.
7.) General Tips for Saving Money When you are Backpacking Santorini
Opt for Euros
If you are paying for something and the vendor asks if you would like to pay in your currency (GBP, USD etc) or Euros, ALWAYS opt for Euros. Your bank will give you the best rate of the day whereas the shop/restaurant will usually give a pretty terrible one. Over a few transactions, this can really add up.
Taking tours can be a very expensive way to see Santorini when it is so easy to travel around independently. There is plenty of information about everywhere you want to visit either at the site, on a blog or with a trusty guidebook. It also allows you to see things at your own pace and avoid the cruise ship crowds as they go around in big hoards.
Sun Cream Splurge!
Sun cream or sunblock is very expensive on Santorini so if you can, bring some from home. It just isn’t worth the €20! If you are arriving by air and only have hand luggage, just get 100ml in and hope for the best.
Backpacks for the Win
Backpacking Santorini isn’t just about seeing the island on a budget, it is also about the bag you pack. Fira, Firastefao, Imerovigli and Oia and all full of steep hills and steps. You will find your journey to your accommodation so, SO much easier with something on your back than with wheels.
Final Thoughts on Backpacking Santorini on a Budget
Santorini is undoubtedly one of “those” locations. Instagrammers, honeymooners and luxury tourists abound so you might feel a little like you are missing out on that aspect of the island. However, we really don’t think you are missing out on all that much. Backpacking Santorini is the best kind of fun challenge. With a little forethought and a sturdy pair of shoes, you can have a great time backpacking Santorini on a budget.