Pull off a Trip to Santorini With Friends Without Breaking the Bank
Santorini's the honeymooners' paradise. It's beautiful in every way: sparkling pools, luxury hotels, Cycladic architectural delight, and an amazing Mediterranean cuisine. Every couple I know who's been there on their honeymoon has raved about how great their experience was.
Well, I wasn't (and neither was I close to being) engaged when the opportunity to go to Santorini popped up. I was planning for my trip to Italy (Venice and Milan) when I stumbled upon a cheap Easyjet flight to Santorini. It only cost me a measly 36 euros from Milan to Santorini! I called up some of my closest buddies and decided to go for it. And boy, was Santorini gorgeous! It also turned out to be a cheaper trip than normal because we split up the costs. It's a win-win situation!
Santorini, or Thira, is part of the Cycladic Islands in Greece. Its minimally beautiful architecture, cobalt blue roofs, and deep blue seas make it the perfect backdrop for an unforgettable trip. Fira and Oia are the more popular parts of the island where tourists flock to experience the island.
If you feel like Santorini is just for honeymooners and for people who have the time and resources to splurge, think again! I did it with a couple of best buds and spent only around 150 euros for 3 days and 2 nights (accommodations and food), excluding flights.
Unlike some cities where you practically have to pay to see and experience things, I found myself spending nothing on entrance fees to enjoy the stunning beauty of this island... except for food and drinks that come with great views from a restaurant or café, of course. But restaurant or no restaurant, you'll be blown away by the beauty of this place.
WHEN TO GO
Sunny walks and sightseeing: I'd recommend going between April and September, although I'm sure you'll get to enjoy Santorini any time of year.
Beach and sunbathing: I'd say between June and August's the best time. When we went in May, the water temperature was bearable because it was warm and sunny, but still quite cold. The seasons change every year though, so allow for some leeway.
Nightlife. June to early September is when the Greek islands are at their peak for partying.
Cheap flights. Flights tend to be more expensive between June and September when the climate's warm and dry. If you're on a budget, I suggest going on shoulder season in May-June or September-October. The shoulder season includes those transition months before and after summer when it's warm and dry, while the water might be a bit too cold for a swim. It's also the time when crowds are smaller without the place feeling like a ghost town. I think it's the sweet spot for budget travellers.
Alternatively, you can go in winter months (November to February) when the fares are lowest, although less frequent. As I said, you can easily enjoy Santorini any time of the year! However, most hotels may be closed in winter, so it's best to look up this information ahead of time.
Here are some activities that you can use to design your own Santorini itinerary with friends. I included things that we were able to do on a 3-day 2-night trip on a 150-euro budget.
1. Take an easy walk along Oia's caldera.
We arrived in Santorini on the first week of May, and the weather couldn't be better. We took a taxi from the Thira airport to Oia (cost us around 30 euros divided by three people), deposited our bags in our Airbnb place, and went out for an easy stroll. We just followed the meandering cobblestone paths along the caldera and let Oia work its magic.
You should also do the same walk at night, as Oia is beautiful just the same. Its white buildings contrast well with the sexy black of the night adorned with blue luxury pools and twinkling lights.
2. Hike Fira to Oia. (Fira-Firostefani-Imerovigli-Oia)
This is by far one of the most beautiful walks I've done in my life. Route 9 traverses the whole island with spectacular views of the caldera. It takes approximately 3 hours, but allow some leeway for picture taking and water breaks. This route will take you through cobbled roads and dirt roads, with a small part that requires walking on a path with cars. You'll start in Fira, pass through the towns of Firostefani and Imerovigli, and then head to Oia.
We purposefully started the hike around 3pm, since we wanted to do the last leg while seeing the sun set. This is tricky because you'll need to know when the sun will set that day and to be very conscious of the time you spend on the trail, but the mix of hiking, nature, views of Oia, and sunset makes it all worthwhile.
I recommend wearing appropriate footwear for this hike, though. Steer clear of sandals and flip-flops, as some parts can be steep and/or full of loose rocks. I'd recommend a pair of breathable trainers with adequate ankle support. My friend wore his menorquinas and regretted it almost immediately. Also make sure to put on sunscreen, as it can get blazing hot in the mid-afternoon.
The trail starts near the cable car station and the Archaeological Museum in Fira. Even without a map, we were able to find our way by asking around (one of my favorite ways of interacting with locals!) and following signs. I'd say that the path is marked for the most part, but you'll have to be extra attentive as you get further down the trail as some signs can get confusing. If you're doing the hike between April and October, you're most likely to be accompanied by other tourists. There's also a part where you'll have to walk on a road with vehicular traffic (coming out of Imerovigli to Oia), so proceed with caution.
The first part of the trail takes you along Fira, which is the busiest part of the hike. You'll see lots of cafés, restaurants, and vendors selling souvenirs here. You'll soon find yourself in the town of Firostefani, a quiet village with decent hotels, cafés, and restaurants. You'll have to navigate through meandering, and sometimes steep, cobblestone paths before you hit the dirt road with an open view.
After leaving Firostefani, you'll soon find yourself in Imerovigli. This may not be as popular as Oia and Fira, but it offers the best and unobstructed sunset views. Some tourists prefer to stay and find a place here, although they may be a bit on the pricey side. One of the more popular landmarks here is the Skaros Rock, a little detour hike that you can do from the main hiking trail. It can get crowded in the late afternoon as tourists take their spots for the perfect sunset shot.
It's best to bring at least a liter of water and some light snacks like nuts, oatmeal bars, and bananas. Cafés and stores are scarce on the trail, but you can at least look forward to an ice cream treat in a snack bar in Imerovigli.
We then continued on the dirt road that eventually led up to a path that we had to share with cars and buses. The view of the caldera disappears and you'll get a glimpse of the other side of the island.
Walking further down the trail, you'll see more and more hotels and white buildings -- a sign that you're getting closer to Oia. We arrived in this part around 630pm, and we could see the sun setting in the horizon as we followed the path. There were also some large boulders of rocks along the way that people climbed to get a better view of the sunset. The views were breathtaking!
3. Watch the sunset.
Santorini's claim to fame is having one of the most stunning sunset views in the world. And really, if I were to come to Santorini just for that, I definitely would!
There are many different spots to watch the sunset in Santorini. The photo you see below is taken after climbing the roof of our Airbnb place: no crowds, drink in hand, and a killer sunset view.
Alternatively, there are many other hotels and Airbnb's where you can enjoy the sunset right in the comfort of your room or terrace. Although a bit on the pricey side, some tourists opt to stay in the village of Imerovigli to get the best views. I recommend Anthonas Apartments, which offers good value for money (around 100 euros in shoulder months for 2 people). It can go up to 200 euros in high season, so plan accordingly. My tip is to keep your accommodations cheap by staying in Fira and head to Skaros Rock in Imerovigli for full-on unobstructed views.
There are also restaurants and cafés where you can enjoy the sunset while having a snack, sipping coffee, or enjoying a glass of beer or wine. I recommend heading over to Vitrin Creperie & Cafe that's situated in Oia's narrow cobblestone paths. It's one of those places where you can enjoy the sunset with a drink in hand without going to a fancy restaurant or hotel. It's a bit small though and can fill up real quick, but it won't hurt to give it a try!
4. Geek out in Atlantis Books.
Rated as one of the most beautiful and must-see book shops in the world, Atlantis books is heaven on earth. The've got rare finds, a vast collection of local and foreign authors, and a hip space painted all over with literary wisdom. This library teeming with character is the brainchild of Craig Walzer and Oliver Wise, who came up with the idea on a trip they made in 2002.
If you're ever in Santorini, you shouldn't miss it!
5. Go on a Mediterranean food trip.
Santorini is not the cheapest place to eat out, but it's definitely okay to treat yourself to a lovely restaurant meal or two. As a group travelling on a budget we were on the lookout for the cheapest deal out there. We were lucky to stumble on two restaurants within the 10-15 euro range: Lotza Restaurant and Meteor Café.
We had lunch at Lotza Restaurant on our first day and tried the chicken souvlaki and the Lotza kebab for 13,50 each. They were delish and definitely good value for money. On our second day, we passed by the Meteor Café and got lured in by its cute facade and its dining area with amazing views of the caldera. We had another kebab with chips and spicy feta cheese for 10 euros.
A trip to Santorini isn't complete without trying out their famed gyros and souvlakis on pita bread. These street foods are delicious and filling... just what you need after a day of sightseeing. On our last day in Santorini, we grabbed a quick and very affordable lunch at Nick the Grill on Fira Market. You can also go to the famous Lucky's Souvlakis about 50 meters away to sample their gyros and souvlakis.
6. Head over to Ammoudi Bay and Armeni Beach.
There are several spots to enjoy the crystal clear Aegean waters, but I definitely recommend going to Ammoudi and Armeni. You have to go down some 300 steps along the donkey trail to get to the path leading up to the bay.
After going down the steps, you'll find yourself in the beautiful Ammoudi Bay, which is basically a docking area for inter-island ferries and boats. It sure can be a great stop to enjoy the breathtaking views while having lunch or dinner al fresco in any of the fish and seafood taverns around the area.
Walk past the restaurants and head up to the dirt road leading to Armeni Beach. You'll have to walk on uneven surfaces and some narrow paths, so be extra careful and put on footwear with good traction.
After around 10-15 minutes, you'll reach this part with the characteristic rock boulder and an area where the people cluster up to go down the stairs and take a dip. The water can get deep but there are also shallow parts that non-swimmers can easily enjoy. As someone who doesn't know how to properly swim, I was able to float and dog-paddle from the bay to the rock boulder and back without problems. So can you!
You can stop for drinks and a hearty meal on Ammoudi Bay on the way back, as you'll be needing the energy to hike back up the 300 steps to Oia town proper.
7. Chill out with Greek beer from the local store.
We were not big drinkers ourselves, but it sure didn't hurt to enjoy some time over beer and chatter. So off we went to the nearest local store to grab some Mythos Hellenic beer and Rekorderlig Swedish cider. It cost us less than 11 euros for 4 cans of beer and two bags of chips. It wasn't a bad way to wrap up our last night in Santorini.
HOW TO GET THERE
There are a number of low-cost airlines you can book that fly from major European cities to Santorini's (Thira) Airport.
Easyjet - flies from London Gatwick and Milan Malpensa
Vueling - flies from Madrid
Norwegian Airlines - flies from Copenhagen and Stockholm
Ryanair - flies from Athens
Transavia - flies from Amsterdam Schiphol
Alternatively, you can also explore flying from major cities to Athens, stay a little while, and take a ferry from its main port Piraeus to Santorini's main port Athinios. Its a win-win situation because exploring this Greek capital that's brimming with history and culture can be a great way to make the most out of your trip to Greece.
Taking the ferry can be a great option for those who have the time to spare and would like to enjoy wonderful views of the sea and the islands. For me, it was the closest thing I could get to my dream cruise trip!
There are regular ferries to and from Athens' main port Piraeus, and the trip usually lasts around 8 hours. You'll have plenty of seats and room to move around. You also have a cafeteria that serve meals and snacks. When you're feeling bored, head over to the open area to get some fresh air and enjoy the views.
My go-to platform to search and book for ferries is Let's Ferry. There are tens of routes to and from the Cycladic Islands, so it's nice to have them all in one place.
WHERE TO STAY
It's a common notion that accommodations in Santorini are bloody expensive. While it's true that it's relatively more expensive than most cities in, let's say, Germany and Spain, I'd say that you don't necessarily have to spend a fortune if you're up for staying in bed and breakfast and hostels.
Tourists most often book their accommodations in Fira, Imerovigli, or Oia. We went for the latter and booked our stay at Marcos Rooms. We paid around 70 euros for a shared room with three beds, perfect for our gang of three.
It's a nice and cozy home, with the owner Panos's parents being very warm and accommodating. We were served a hefty breakfast that came free with the booking. Although the bathroom could be better, we really enjoyed our stay and we consider it good value for money. We were also able to watch the sunset from the privacy of its own terrace.
If you book through this link, you can get 35 euros off your stay, while I get 20 off on mine. High five!
Alternatively, you can also book a hostel through Booking.com. I've booked most of my travels with Booking, and I love how they give the free cancellation option for some rooms. This is great if you find a good deal, would like to lock it in, and still be on the lookout for better ones. I always do it this way and it works every time.
I recommend staying in Galatia Villas in Fira (rated 8.6) if you want a convenient and affordable option (they even have a pool that's open in summer!), and Anthonas Apartments (rated 9.5) and Merovigliosso (rated 9.0) in Imerovigli for stunning views of the sea and the sunset.
BREAKDOWN OF EXPENSES
Taxi 10 EUR (30 EUR/3 persons)
Lunch 13,50 EUR (Kebab meal at Lotza Restaurant)
Refreshments 2,80 EUR
Light dinner 7,50 (Crepe at Vitrin Creperie & Café)
Lunch 10,00 (Gyros and Spicy Feta Cheese at Meteor Café)
Water 1,50 EUR
Ice cream 2,80 EUR (in Imerovigli)
Beer + chips 3,50 (10,50 EUR/3 persons)
Bracelet 4,00 EUR
Dinner 10,00 (Paradox Thai Restaurant)
Bus Oia-Fira 1,30 EUR
Bus Fira-Port 2,20 (to New Port Athinios)
Gyros Wrap 6,00 (Nick on the Grill Fira)
Donation 1,00 (Atlantis books)
Tip Airbnb 3,50 EUR
Airbnb 52,66 EUR (26,33 X 2 nights)
POCKET MONEY TOTAL: 132, 26 EUR
AIRFARE Milan - Santorini: 36,00 EUR (via Easyjet)
FERRY Santorini-Athens: 37,50 EUR (via Blue Star Ferry)
AIRFARE Athens-Barcelona: 64,99 EUR (via Vueling)
TOTAL EXPENSES TO AND FROM SPAIN: 234,75 EUR
There you go! Hope you enjoy your trip to Santorini! Feel free to ask questions and give suggestions in the comment section below.
Talk soon, Icy
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