Yes, you can do Santorini on a budget!
Before I landed in Santorini I thought to myself, how can this island possibly look like all of the images I've seen online? The answer to put it quite simply is, Santorini really is just as gorgeous in person as it is in all those postcards, photos and movies you see.
Another thing Santorini lives up to is it's reputation of not being the most wallet-friendly place. But knowing this should not deter you from going, or make you push it farther down your bucket list! There are plenty of ways for you to visit one of the most picturesque islands and not coming home with a crying wallet.
Depending on where you are coming from there are two ways to get to the island - both of which you should book in advance to be a budget savvy traveler.
For flights, coming from outside of Europe, I suggest checking on some of the search engines I have come to know and love:
If you're in Europe definitely check with your budget friendly airlines such as RyanAir (because you can fly directly to the island). And if you are already in Greece (in Athens or on another island) you can hop on a ferry. There are also a couple flights a day on airlines like RyanAir (for example we flew from Athens to Mykonos for $30).
We wanted to have both a flight and ferry experience. So we flew from Athens to Mykonos (spent a couple days there), and then took a ferry over to Santorini. If you are going during the high season (which we did) make sure you book your ferry in advance as they can sell out. We used FerriesInGreece, and had no problems at all.
Things to note: The high speed ferry from Athens to Thira (and visa versa) is about 5 hours, and can end up being longer based on the wind situation.
Once you arrive in the port at Thira avoid all the men trying to get you into their taxis. As nice and as convenient as that may seem there are multiple buses standing by, and for around 2 EURO you can get up to the main town.
I know, you want to show up in Santorini and ride a 4-wheeler everywhere. So did my friend and I. If that is an experience you cannot miss, my advice would be to rent one for a few hours on afternoon and then return it.
The easiest, most inexpensive, and ultimately the safest way to get around the island (because once you see those 4-wheelers zipping down the main road getting passed by cars and buses you'll think twice), is the local bus (called the KTEL). The bus only costs you 1,80 EURO each way from Thira to Oia.
And let's be honest, who wants to ride on the back of a 4-wheeler on a windy road for 30 minutes every time you need to travel?
Thing to note: It does take about 30 minutes to get between Thira and Oia, so if you are trying to see the sunset allow plenty of time for travel and walking to your perfect vantage point.
WHERE TO STAY
There are definitely affordable hotels in Santorini, but more often than not an Airbnb or hostel are going to be your best, savvy options. When I went to Santorini we stayed in the cutest Airbnb apartment close to Thira. My host could not have been more friendly or accommodating and the apartment was the perfect size!
An important thing to note is Thira tends to be more inexpensive than Oia. Most of the photos you see of Santorini are taken in Oia but don't knock Thira until you experience it for yourself! It has a great nightlife, killer views, and a ton of streets and shops to get lost in. Plus fun fact: The photos that you always see of people riding donkeys were taken in Thira, not Oia. :)
Although I did not stay in a hostel I did hear great things about the Caveland Hostel in the town of Karterados. And yes based on the name you get to stay in caves (or grottos as they are also known by).
WHERE TO EAT
My biggest tips as far as eating and drinking is concerned is don't commit to the very first place you see, don't Google or Yelp anything in advance, and try to eat in more cafes rather than full sit down restaurants.
There is a reason people say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so find a awesome local joint and load up on the essentials. Even though I am not a breakfast person I did make sure to stuff my face every morning. This is make it so you're not starving in the middle of the day (which ultimately can cost even more money).
If you're like me, when you are traveling it can be easy to lose track of time and miss lunch altogether, so make sure you bring a snack and water (it will be HOT) to have during the day, this also helps cut costs as you won't need to stop into a restaurant for lunch.
Ultimately, walking around and checking out the menus for multiple places is going to be your best bet because you never know what you will discover, or what deal a restaurant has going on.
The one thing we did do because we had saved money on breakfast and lunch is we splurged on one dinner. This was because when you are in Santorini you have to have seafood, and if you want it fresh from the sea it will cost more. But trust me it's worth it!
Some of the places we ate that were my favorite were:
- SKIZA CAFE (for an unreal breakfast view of the caldera in Oia) - Oia 847 02, on the main street closest to the caldera edge (Nik. Nomikou)
- CHILLBOX (for a late night snack Thira) - 25is Martiou 303, Thira 847 00
- SUNSET TAVERN AMMOUDI (for some awesome seafood with a view in Oia) - it's the last restaurant on the south end of the bay, close to the path where you go cliff jumping
- LUKUMUM (for some awesome balls of fried deliciousness in Thira) - Danezi M Fira, Thira 847 00, just before you get to the main road through town (Agiou Thanasiou)
- FRANCO'S BAR (for a beautiful evening dinner in Thira) - off of the street Agiou Mina, which is the closest street to the edge of the caldera, Tropical Bar (which is super fun) is right down the road
I hope you enjoyed some of my tips for traveling to Santorini on a budget. By doing this you can save you money for all of the fun activities the island has to offer. Check out my post on fun things you have to try in Santorini here.