The Greek island of Santorini is a playground of the rich and famous. How could a place so beautiful not be?
My Instagram feed is constantly flooded with photos from the island, full of infinity pools and restaurants where all I can afford a glass of water. But don’t let the luxury fool you – Santorini is accessible to budget travellers and backpackers as well.
When I last visited I was still a university student struggling to pay her bills. But girl, did I have a wonderful time! Santorini left an imprint on my heart but hardly made a mark on my bank account.
There are plenty of hostels, affordable street food and free things to do in Santorini. To get around the island you can either rent a quad bike, scooter or car for €20-40/day or take the public bus. While rarely on time the buses are air-conditioned, comfortable and all tickets cost €1.60-2.20! Not convinced yet? Here are my favourite budget adventures…
1. Climb up Profitis Ilias
“Who is this Profitis and why should I get so intimate with him?” I can hear you ask. Don’t worry, Profitis Ilias is not a hunky Greek playboy… although would you really complain if he was?
Profitis Ilias is the tallest mountain on Santorini, separating the villages of Perissa and Kamari and offering beautiful views of the island.
I recommend you wake up early and start in Kamari. On your way up stop at the spring Zoodochos Pigi. Its name means ‘life-giving spring ‘and it’s the only site with fresh water on the entire island. After resting and snapping a few photos, continue climbing – don’t worry, you’re almost there!
On the summit, you will find Ancient Thera (€2), a well-preserved excavation site of an antique city which was abandoned in the 8th century AC. Afterwards, climb down the other site of the mountain and you will reach the village of Perissa, where you can jump straight into the sea or wind down with a delicious lunch.
This is a three-hour trek, so – just this once – leave your heels at home.
2. Visit Akrotiri
While you’re in Santorini, don’t pass up the opportunity to visit Akrotiri, an ancient city which was buried underneath volcanic ashes during the explosion of 17th BC and, much like Pompeii, has been spectacularly well preserved by the lava. The entrance fee is €5 (€3 for students), which completely blew my mind – I would have happily paid triple.
Archaeologists have only excavated a part of the village so far, but the complex is surprisingly large and closed off in a weather-resistant shelter – yay to no sunstroke!
Akrotiri is easily accessible by bus from Fira or by car. It is located right next to the infamous Red Beach, which can make for a fantastic detour before or after. Just don’t plan on staying there too long if you’re not a fan of crowds.
3. Watch the sunset
The fairytale island is world famous for one thing in particular – its beautiful sunsets! Whether you’re a die-hard romantic or the type of person that watches zombie movies without flinching (or both, I suppose), you might tear up a little bit when you see the sky breathe fire.
Oia, the blue-and-white village we all know from postcards, is hands down the most popular. But if you’d like to gaze at the gorgeous orange skies without being deafened by the thunder of camera shutters, you might want to look elsewhere.
I’ve put together a guide to the best sunset spots in Santorini, so check it out – it features a romantic lighthouse and my secret restaurant tip!
4. Walk around Oia
Oia may be the place all the celebs and millionaires flock to, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stop by and look. It may look like a Disney film set but it’s real and there is no entrance fee.
This is the place to enjoy stunning views of the caldera and perhaps do a bit of people watching. You never know who you’re going to run into!
5. Make furry friends
The island of Santorini is full of stray animals. You could just go around admiring all these cute furry creatures, but I have something even better.
The Santorini Animal Welfare Association (SAWA) has been protecting the animals on the island since 1993. You could donate financially but here’s an even better idea… how about adopting a stray animal from Santorini? Naturally this isn’t a decision to be taken lightly but if you’re looking for a furry pooch to join your family, this could be a great option.
If not consider assisting an adoption by escorting one of these adorable strays abroad. SAWA has links in Germany, Switzerland and Denmark so if you’re flying back to one of these countries you can help immensely, at no extra cost to you.
Just one thing before we move on – please, please, please do not ride the donkeys.
6. Get your bikini on
Even if you didn’t come to Santorini to lie on a beach, you should do it at least once. I stayed in Kamari which has lovely beaches of its own, but if you hire a car – for as little as €20/day – you can reach some of the lesser known ones.
My favourites are Vlychada and Eros Beach, both secluded and romantic. If you’re looking to party Perivolos is the place for you.
7. Perfect your photography
Do not leave your camera at home if you’re visiting Santorini. This is the place for improving your photography, whether you’re a pro or can barely locate the camera app on your phone. The entire island is pretty much a living and breathing postcard.
8. Catch a movie in Cine Kamari
Cine Kamari is an open-air cinema near the village of Kamari. It shows contemporary Hollywood films with Greek subtitles for €8. As if that wasn’t enough, the place features other popular forms of entertainment – a fully-stocked bar and ice cream.
Watching a newly-released film with one of their strawberry daiquiris in hand will make you feel like a rom-com leading lady.
Doors open at 8.50pm and you should get there on time to find the perfect spot – the place gets quite busy at times. Bring a cuddly sweater, because the evenings are chilly.
9. Visit Museum of Prehistoric Thera
If you’re yearning for something a little more highbrow, the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, located in present-day capital of Fira, is an absolute treasure. For €3 (free if you’re a student) you can admire intricate wall paintings and pottery from the ancient city of Akrotiri mentioned above.
Naturally, there’s a lot more to Fira than a single museum! Once you finish admiring its vast collection of vases with nipples – seriously, they have dozens – you can head over to the promenade for spectacular views of the caldera or some window shopping.
10. Eat and drink till you pass out
With street food or a glass of ouzo priced at around €1-3, Santorini has all it takes to fulfill all your wildest bacchanalian fantasies without breaking the bank.
Not sure what to order? The most popular treats are gyros and souvlaki. Gyros is much like a kebab, with the addition of thick-cut fries and dollops of tzatziki. Souvlaki are simple meat-and-veg skewers. For more ideas, have a read through my delicious guide to Santorini food – there are lots of veggie options as well.
Have I convinced you with this list of things to do in Santorini on a budget? Or are you still scared it would wreak havoc on your wallet?