Santorini does not need an introduction. Greece’s most famous island gets a lot of hype, and honestly, rightfully so. I truly had my doubts before I visited Santorini. I even considered skipping the island entirely. In my mind, it was just going to be honeymooners, infinity pools, tourist crowds, and over-inflated prices. Yes, it has those things, but it also has so much more. Santorini proved to be much more than I ever expected, to the point that I think it has gone from overrated to over-hated. Sure, it is quite touristy, but there are plenty of spots for those who still want to go off the beaten path.
Grab your backpack, a bottle of ouzo, and let’s go chase some sunsets.
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How To Get To Santorini
Being a hugely popular destination, one will have no problem getting to Santorini. The two ways to get to Santorini are by flight or by ferry. Believe it or not, flying in can be cheaper than taking a ferry, especially if you’re traveling light. If you book your flight far enough in advance, you can get a great deal on a flight to Santorini. I took a ferry from Paros, and that cost 45 euros for the two hour journey. Leaving Santorini was even more expensive, costing nearly 70 euros for the ride to Crete. I don’t usually like flying, but it’s worth looking into if you want to save money. It’s weird saying that, but it is true.
There are a lot of websites where you can look through ferry schedules and prices. I use viva.gr to look through all of them. Once I find the cheapest or most sensible option, I will try to book direct with whatever ferry company it is. You don’t really need to book the ferries far in advance, but booking at least a day prior will guarantee you have a spot on board. With Santorini being a hugely popular destination, there is the tiny chance that your ferry might be fully booked in the high season. I was okay with just showing up at the port in some islands, but getting to and from Santorini, definitely try to book at least one day before.
Where To Stay in Santorini on a Backpacker’s Budget
Most tourists coming to Santorini will stay in the towns of Fira or Oia. You’ve surely seen the iconic pictures of the all white resorts and infinity pools lining the stunning cliffside of the island. Because of that, most people assume that that’s all Santorini is. However, Santorini is pretty big and spread out. There are dozens of small towns spread out all over the island where the cost of living is nowhere near the inflated prices of Fira and Oia. It is nice to treat yourself every now and then, but if you’re a solo traveler looking to stretch your money, you likely won’t end up at one of those luxury resorts. Maybe one day if y’all help my blog blow up, but for now, I include myself in that broke backpacker demographic.
As for me, I stayed in the town of Karterados. This was a smaller, more local village only about 20-25 minutes walking distance away from Fira. I don’t mind walking so the mile-long journey to Fira from Karterados didn’t really bother me. If you want to save your energy for adventuring, you can also take a bus. By bus, it’ll take only a few minutes getting to and from Fira. Most times, the guy collecting payment wouldn’t even have gotten to my seat by the time I had to get off.
In Karterados, I stayed at the beautiful Caveland Hostel. It is one of the nicest hostels I’ve ever stayed at. Despite being a little pricier, you absolutely get what you pay for. A big free breakfast is included every morning, to go along with the great facilities. They have good Wi-Fi, spacious air conditioned rooms, beautiful common areas, and of course, a big swimming pool for those sizzling Santorini days. After nearly two weeks of nonstop partying in Mykonos and Paros, having a quieter, cushier hostel was a pleasant change. It was the exact environment I needed to do some work, read by the pool, and catch up on sleep.
They also had three dogs, Clara, Mini, and Zoya who just made the hostel that much brighter. Leaving those three little puppies behind was probably the hardest part of leaving Caveland. It is one of the most picturesque hostels I’ve ever stayed at, especially the canopy of pink flowers that you have to walk through to get to and from your rooms. It’ll make you feel like royalty every single time. There are quite a few hostels to choose from in Santorini, but Caveland is undeniably in a league of its own.
How To Get Around Santorini
As a backpacker, especially if you’re traveling solo, renting a car or an ATV might be a bit pricy. There is a bus that goes around the island’s main destinations, and if you’re on a budget, that’s the way to go. Since I was staying in the village of Karterados, I often took the bus to Fira if I didn’t feel like walking 30 minutes in the midday heat. It cost less than 2 euros for the bus ride. If you take the ferry, I also recommend taking the local bus from the port since it’ll save you a bit of money. There are also local buses going to and from the airport for cheap. Taxis and transfers will charge you quite a bit, and I was quite content to wait in the air conditioned bus for as long as it needed before taking off for Fira town.
The local bus is great for hitting most of the main attractions without having to shell out a lot of money for a vehicle of your own. Here’s the current bus schedule for Santorini. I used the local bus for my first couple of days in Santorini and had no issues. It’s almost always on time and gets ya where you need to go for cheap.
However, I can’t deny that renting an ATV or moped will transform your Santorini experience. It gives you a ton of freedom to explore the island, including many spots that are well off the beaten path. Including all insurance and everything, it cost 70 euros to rent an ATV for two days between two people. So 17.50 euros per day per person, but it was definitely worth it. Even if you just rent one for a day and max out your adventures on it, I’d say it’s worth it. Having the freedom and the ability to hunt down hidden gems all over the island absolutely transformed my opinion on Santorini. It made me realize there was so much more to this island than just Fira, Oia, and the other main tourist hubs.
If you do rent a moped, ATV, or car, make sure to have travel insurance handy. I use SafetyWing which is a combination of travel and health insurance with some incredibly low rates.
The Best Things To Do in Santorini on a Budget
Santorini can get really expensive but most of the best stuff I did on the island was free. If you have an ATV or your own form of transportation, you can simply cruise around the island and check out the many points of interest. We basically just looked on Google Maps for anything that seemed interesting and then zoomed our way over. There are so many stunning spots all over Santorini. It really is one of the most picturesque islands I’ve ever been to, including plenty of villages and stretches of coastline that most tourists will never make it to.
Hike Along the Caldera from Fira to Oia
This was my favorite thing I did in Santorini, despite the sweltering heat and seemingly endless trail. From Fira, you’ll be hiking about 8 miles to get to Oia, although it definitely feels a lot longer. It took me a little over two hours, although I was going at a pretty quick pace. The terrain can be tricky and uneven at times, so the hike isn’t for everyone. You don’t have to do the whole thing either. The first stretch from Fira is absolutely stunning, and you can just turn back whenever you want. After all, there’s a bus that goes from Oia to Fira frequently. I just hadn’t hiked in a while so felt like doing some semblance of physical activity after weeks of drinking and beach hopping.
Okay, so obviously it does cost money to rent a quad bike, but I think it’s worth it. If you can split it with another person, it’ll only cost about 15 euros per person to have the freedom to go all over the island.
Visit the Beautiful Red Beach
The Red Beach is one of the most popular and iconic beaches in Santorini. I mean, it’s pretty self-explanatory. The beach is freakin’ red. It’s in the region of Akrotiri, and you can knock out a visit to the ancient site of Akrotiri with a visit to the Red Beach all in one go. The beach itself is pretty crowded because it really isn’t all that big. It is beautiful and otherworldly, but if you’re looking for a proper beach day, your best bet is to look elsewhere. Red Beach is one of those places that you absolutely have to see, but it isn’t where you’d go for a relaxing beach day.
Laze Away on the Black Sand Beaches (Perissa Beach and Perivolos Beach)
Red Beach not cool enough for ya? On the southeastern side of the island, you’ll find black volcanic sand beaches. Seriously, Santorini is pretty freakin’ cool. If you want a beautiful, otherworldly setting for a relaxing beach day and a refreshing swim, then Perissa and Perivolos Beaches are your best bet. There are also a few bumpin’ beach bars in this area if you feel like getting day drunk. And let’s face it. You probably do.
Walk Around the Village of Pyrgo and Its Castles
A friend and I rode our quad here for sunrise one day and it was absolute serenity. We walked up the hill, climbed to the abandoned castle, and just sat and watched as the sun rose and the world slowly woke up. It was probably the most peace I’d had in weeks, and it definitely stuck with me. We followed the sunrise with a stroll through the cute village of Pyrgo and its winding labyrinth of alleyways and stairs. Picture perfect scenery with not another soul around. It was my first time realizing that there was so much more to Santorini than just Fira and Oia. I definitely recommend catching sunrise from the top of the castle.
Catch A Fiery Sunset at Fira
Touristy as it may be, Fira is still a stunning spot for sunsets. Find a bar or restaurant with a terrace, sip on a cocktail, and take on all of the breathtaking views. My first sunset in Santorini was from PK Cocktail Bar, where the drinks were more affordable than expected and the views were nothing short of gorgeous. It’s when I decided that Santorini will be an island for indulgence and treating myself. It’s hard not to feel like a boujee lil bitch while you’re in Santorini. Might as well own it.
Volcano and Hot Spring Tour (Nea Kammeni and Palaia Kammeni)
For 20 euros, you can catch a boat from the old port in Fira to the volcanic island in the middle of the caldera. It is definitely one of the cheaper activities you can do, although I didn’t particularly love it. It probably didn’t help that I was hungover and it was sweltering hot when we were hiking around the island. It also takes you to some “volcanic hot springs” that weren’t actually all that hot. That was fine though, because diving into the cold ocean was pretty much everything I needed anyway.
Visit the Archaeological Sites of Santorini
Santorini actually has quite a bit of history to the island. Legend has it that it might even be what was once the lost city of Atlantis, due to the volcanic eruption thousands of years ago that split up the once-whole island into the many different parts it is now. Okay, but most people probably wouldn’t consider that history. Santorini itself has many archaeological sites, like Akrotiri and Ancient Thera. At these sites, you’ll find remnants of many different civilizations, including the Ancient Greeks of course, but the Romans also set up shop here all those years ago. If you’re into history, it’s not hard to find archaeological sites throughout Santorini.
Food and Nightlife on a Budget in Santorini
This is where Santorini can get really expensive. Food, it is very possible to do cheaply if you stick around the local neighborhoods and avoid the touristy areas. However, if you’re looking to party, there’s no doubt that the best parties are in the tourist districts. Fira is the main nightlife hub in Santorini, and where you’ll find most of the poppin’ clubs on the island. Koo Club and Enigma are popular clubs if you want to dance. Murphy’s is great for kicking the night off if you just want to sit and drink for a little while. There’s a whole segment of Fira city that is basically just dedicated to nightlife. You’ll find bars, clubs, and late night eats.
There are a ton of restaurants, tavernas, and bars all over Santorini. I like good food, but I’m not the type to eat out for every single meal, so you’ll just have to trust your judgment or Google reviews. The one place I can vouch heavily for is Argo Restaurant, where I had the feta-stuffed squid. It was honestly the best thing I ate in Greece, and the views were spectacular. It was a big ass squid, and for only 15 euros, it was worth every cent. I never even knew you could put feta inside squid, but it changed my life.
If you’re looking to eat on a budget, you’ll want to keep away from the main touristy bits. Since I was staying in Karterados, I was able to eat at more local prices. You’ll likely be spending a minimum of 10 euros per meal in Santorini, but there’s always the 2.70 euro gyros and pitas. Even in Fira and Oia, it seems like that’s the standard price for a nice, overflowing pita and chips.
If you’re looking to drink on a budget, I got one word for you: Ouzo. Most people hate it, but when I’m browsing the kiosk, I always end up with a bottle of ouzo. I mean, it’s easier to drink straight and is always 1/3rd of the price of all the other liquors. Sure, it’s not most people’s favorites, but to save a bunch of money on drinks? I’ll stomach ouzo any day. Also, you can find 1.5 Liter bottles of wine for like 3 euros. Drinks at bars and clubs will be expensive. Pregame at your local kiosk today.
So… Is Santorini Worth Visiting?
Yes. Santorini was one of those places that I made the mistake of writing off. I got to my hostel where I had booked four nights, and actually told them to cancel one of those nights. Based on the crowds coming off the ferry, at the bus station, and on the bus, I was already convinced that I would not like Santorini. I’d stick around for a few days, get my Instagram shots and some dreamy Tik Tok videos, and then bounce. By the end of my three days, all I wanted to do was stay in Santorini a little longer.
I love to hate on touristy resort destinations, but I truly cannot disrespect Santorini. It is breathtakingly beautiful. Sure, there are crowds at the best sunset spots, but it’s a big(-ish) island. You’ll find plenty of room to breathe, adventure, and soak in all of the views your heart could desire. If you go to Santorini to do touristy stuff, you’ll run into hundreds of other tourists. If you venture off the beaten path a little bit, you’ll find that there is a lot more to Santorini than what you see on Instagram.
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If this post helped you out, show some love and support for the blog and help keep my adventures going by buying me a beer! My adventures are entirely self-funded, so any show of support is greatly appreciated, and allows me to keep writing helpful travel guides and creating travel content to help you all travel the world on a budget.