Listed on almost every list of top travel destinations is Santorini, Greece, and for good reason! It is easily in the top 5 of the most romantic destinations in the world (so I’ve heard, since I haven’t been to all the romantic destinations yet), and with it’s classic whitewashed buildings and blue doors set up on cliffs overlooking the Aegean Sea it’s easy to see why! Santorini, often called Thira, is the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions recorded in history. The island was formed out of the lava from the eruption and the central part of the volcano sank into the sea. The eruption left behind a large caldera – a volcanic feature formed by the collapse of a volcano into itself, forming a large volcanic crater, or depression. This depression was then filled with water from the Aegean Sea, which now lends itself conveniently to cruise ships, ferries, fishing boats, and catamarans. One popular theory even depicts Santorini as the source for the legend of Atlantis. If you want, you can book a tour out to the volcano to hike and take a dip in the hot springs mud bath! Our final consensus of Santorini was that we loved our stay and we were so glad that we did it, but, if given the option, we would return to Naxos over Santorini if we had to choose (mostly due to the crowds).
Since Santorini is such a popular tourist destination, and is such a small island, it not only gets crowded very quickly, but it is also much more expensive than the other lesser-visited islands. This guide will list out our favorite budget-friendly activities that we loved during our 2 day stay in Santorini.
*Disclaimer: all images and opinions are my own, for which I did not receive compensation
1.) ATV – again, best advice I can give you is to rent an ATV! While they were a bit more expensive than the $20 one we rented in Naxos, it was still very affordable and definitely worth it. Side note – you really only need one ATV for 2 people, so that helps with the budget too. If you’re not even wanting to spend that I believe there is a bus option that is even cheaper, but less convenient and enjoyable. The ATV gave us the freedom to explore all over the island at our leisure and do what we wanted when we wanted to. With us being on the island for only 2.5 days, we didn’t want to be running on anyone else’s schedule and wanted to see as much as we could. We were able to easily tour the countryside, get from Fira to Oia, and visit 2 black beaches and Red Beach during our 2 day stay because of our ATV, which gave us a great sampling of most of what Santorini had to offer! If you decide to take advantage of the ATV option I would recommend talking to the hotel staff of wherever you are staying…our concierge told us where to find the best deal and set it all up for us, got us a discount since we went through the hotel who had a partnership with the ATV rental company, and even got us an extra half-day rental at no additional charge! When working on a budget, you gotta use your resources! We found that the Greeks are super friendly and always wanting to help.
2.) Amoudi Bay – this was hands down our favorite part of the entire trip, for both my husband and I. It’s also less-known than the other beaches and cities that are typically noted as top destinations in Santorini. Right below the city of Oia that sits atop the cliffs is Amoudi Bay, nestled right up on the water. We drove the ATV right on down the cliff to get there, but there is also a stair option for those who have more time and don’t mind the workout. The first section of Amoudi Bay houses a strip of waterfront taverns and restaurants serving fresh caught seafood. If you keep walking you’ll find fields of black rocks jutting out of the cliff base and the water. If you’re in the mood for a little adventurous rock scramble definitely try this out! It’s not overly difficult, but will require a bit of concentration. Once you round the bend pick a spot to post up (again, on a rock as there aren’t any sand beaches there) and claim your own private section of Amoudi Bay. We passed a few others during our climb, but just kept going until they were out of sight so we could have our own spot. At this point, jump off the rocks and take a dip, or swim over the nearby formation for a little rock climbing and cliff diving if you’re into that. It’s not that high, only about 15-20 feet up depending on where you jump from, but still fun! While you’re there, you HAVE to eat on your way back. Our favorite restaurant is Dimitris, which is right on the water and has amazing seafood. Portions are enough to split, we split a calamari appetizer and seafood linguine entree and it was AMAZING! To ready more about our Greek food adventures check the post out here.
Check out Dimitris here. All opinions are my own no compensation or discount was given to me because of this review.
3.) Oia – this is an obvious one if you’ve done any research into Greece. Almost every sunset with white-washed, blue-domed buildings you’ve seen photos of was probably shot at Oia. While Fira is the capitol (and very similar and still crowded), Oia is the crown jewel of Santorini. Since we were staying right outside Fira, we took the ATV up to Oia one morning to do the tourist thing and were not disappointed. The sights are breathtaking! Clean white buildings, royal blue domes and doors, and beautiful flowers overlooking a perfect view of the caldera and Aegean Sea. Side note – being that everything is white, you better have good sunglasses otherwise you won’t see anything since the sun reflects off them all pretty harshly. Most people go to Oia for sunset, however, in our opinion (which we adopted from the locals), the sunset is just as gorgeous from Fira, and I’m sure many other places in Santorini. Oia DOES get extremely crowded however. It’s often the first stop that tourists coming off the cruises make a beeline for….sometimes there can be 3-5 cruise liners anchored a day, which means up to 80,000 visitors a day, making the Santorini port one of the busiest in the world. We aren’t much for crowds, and Oia turned out to be super expensive, so we opted to do a morning trip and spent a few hours walking around, taking in the sights, and snapping photos before we moved on to Amoudi Bay. Be sure to check out the Castle of Oia, which was a Byzantine castle back in the day. Today it’s ruins offer a magnificent view. If you’re looking to spend money, Oia has LOTS of shopping, and I’m sure it has great food too, we just didn’t partake in either of those activities at Oia. To be honest with you, Oia was amazing to see, but now that we’ve done it we probably wouldn’t return…nothing wrong with it, crowds, cities, and shopping just isn’t our thing. But if you’re in Santorini, Oia is definitely something you have to do once!
4.) Black Beaches – because Santorini was formed from a volcanic explosion, many of it’s beaches are made up of dark volcanic sand, rocks, and pebbles. We visited two of these famous black beaches during our stay….Kamari and Perissa. Both were very similar, beautiful clear blue water that met the hot sand just like any other beach, the sand was just black. (Note – you absolutely will need flip flops or some kind of shoes to avoid scalding your feet!). Both beaches offered plenty of lounge chairs, palm tree umbrellas, and restaurant options. Typically if you buy drinks at one of the beachside restaurants you can use a lounge chair and umbrella for free all day – a GREAT deal at any time but especially at Happy Hour! You definitely need to check out at least one black beach during your stay in order to get the full Santorini experience!
5.) Red Beach – again, because of the volcanic origins of the island, Santorini has several unique features. One of which, are the red beaches! We ATV’d to the one titled “Red Beach”, but I believe there are several others on the island as well. While we didn’t have time to stay, it was definitely a sight to see – and one you can’t miss! This was probably the most unique beach I’ve ever seen in my life!
6.) EAT – again, just like in Naxos, eating is an experience in Santorini as well, mostly because of the views. Whether you’re eating lunch down in Amoudi Bay right on the water, catching a sunset dinner in Fira or Oia overlooking the caldera, or grabbing a gyro on the street there is always some kind of view! It does get very crowded for sunset wherever you are, so if you plan on sitting and eating during sunset you should plan ahead and get there early. Also, the food in Greece is AMAZING (read more here), although you will pay more for it in Santorini that you do in Naxos.
7.) Fira – similar to Oia, Fira is the capital city. We spent a lot of time in Fira since our hotel was right outside of Fira and it was just a short 10 minute walk along coblestone paths to get into the center of town. Just like Oia, it is a bustling white and blue city full of food, shopping, and views of the caldera. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds of Oia but still want the experience this is a great alternative! Don’t get me wrong, still crowded, but maybe just a bit less 🙂 For info on where we stayed in Fira click here.
Being that we were only in Santorini for 2.5 days, we weren’t able to fit EVERYTHING in. Other attractions that we would have liked to try are below:
- White beach – if you’re a beach bum, this one is probably right up your alley. We just didn’t have much time and wanted to make sure we at least got to see the unique black and red ones first
- Akrotiri – basically the Greek version of Italy’s Pompeii. Akrotiri was a Minoan settlement that was destroyed by the volcanic eruption and buried in volcanic ash which preserved many artifacts. We drove by and inquired about tickets, which I believe were around $15, but we were on a time crunch and didn’t want to spend $30 to only stay for such a short period of time.
- Hiking Trail Fira to Oia – again, unfortunately we ran out of time, but this hike is a trail that runs from Fira to Oia and apparently offers some of the best views on the island. The kicker is that (as I’ve read), it can take up to 4 hours, and we just didn’t have that time.