There is no doubt that Santorini is the most special and magical island of the Cyclades, with its beautiful white towns built on the side of the dark cliffs and the view of the blue water of the Aegean sea. But for that reason, it is also one of the most popular and most visited islands. With up to 10’000 visitors daily from the cruise ships alone that stop in Santorini, the island can get pretty busy.
But don’t worry there are still ways to enjoy the island without the crowds and you will find all our tips in this ultimate off the beaten path Santorini travel guide.
Best time to visit Santorini
The first important part of our off the beaten path Santorini guide is choosing the right time to visit. The season runs from May to October; the months of July/August are the high season and the busiest months.
So if you want to beat the crowds, we recommend visiting Santorini in the shoulder months (May/June or September/October). We have been there twice, and the first time was at the End of October at the very end of the season. It was much less busy than our second visit in September. Even though we think September is a great month to visit the Cyclades weather-wise. End of October, you get great prices but expect to have cooler nights and bring warmer clothes too.
How to get to Santorini
Santorini can either be reached by ferry or airplane. The Island has an international airport, which means depending on where you are coming from you can fly there directly or with a stop at Athens Airport.
If you are Island hopping between the Cyclades, you can easily do so with the local ferries. We used the website and app of ferryhopper and found it very convenient. We recommend pre-booking your ferry tickets in advance, especially in the high season.
10 Best things to do in Santorini
Explore the lesser-known towns of Santorini
This picturesque mountain town used to be the capital city of the island. In the older days, people came here from all sides of the island to trade. Today you can wander through the beautiful narrow streets and find lots of souvenirs and cute cafes. Don’t miss the castle at the top and the stunning view.
This little town is still a secret in Santorini. Don’t expect a lot going on there. It’s quiet but lovely, with some pretty blue domes and the cutest corners for photos. This town gave us all the Mamma Mia vibes.
Another traditional and quiet town with lovely souvenir shops and cute cafes to explore in the narrow lanes. We came here for a morning coffee, which was beautiful and quiet, but most shops are usually closed in the morning. So if you want to experience the towns of Santorini more alive, then make sure you go for lunch or dinner.
Hike Skaros Rock in Imerovigli for Sunset
One of our favorite things to do in Santorini, which is fantastic to beat the crowds, is hiking Skaros Rock for sunset. The hike starts in the lovely town of Imerovigli, where you can have dinner after the walk. The views are breathtaking, and not many visitors do the hike. Don’t miss the beautiful, small chapel below the Rock. As you can’t see it at first, most people don’t know it’s there.
Enjoy Santorini’s unique Beaches
The most unique beach in Santorini is Red Beach. It’s popular but well worth a visit as the colors of the red rocks and sand in contrast with the blue water of the Aegean are stunning. It’s a little hike from the parking to the beach, so we recommend coming in the morning when it’s not as busy and hot yet.
The longest beach in Santorini is called Perissa beach and what makes it unique is its black sand. Santorini is a volcanic island, and that’s where the black color comes from. There are many restaurants and beach beds along the beach. It’s a great place to go for breakfast or Lunch combined with a swim.
Our Secret Tip: Eros Beach
This beach is our secret tip as not many visitors know it and go there. It used to be empty but now has a beach bar called Theros Wave bar, where you can rent a beach bed for the day or have lunch. The beach is stunning as it has white cliffs and dark sand. Looks a bit like on another planet.
Explore Oia’s beautiful streets at sunrise
Oia gets pretty busy during the day as many cruise ship visitors come to the town. But a great way to explore the picturesque streets and enjoy the views is by going up early to explore the city at sunrise. Especially if you like taking photos, you will love this morning light. But be aware that in the high season you still won’t be the only one. Photo shootings in the morning are very popular, and you might find lines to wait for a photo in the most famous spots. But don’t worry there are always beautiful spots to find without people.
Visit Ammoudi Bay and go for a refreshing swim
We loved going for a swim at Ammoudi bay. It’s the closest place to refresh when you are standing in Oia as there are no beaches in this part of the island. You can walk down to the bay when you follow the stairs down at Old Castle Oia. Please do not support the donkey riding up and down the stairs as sadly the animals are treated badly. Another option is driving down to the bay when you have a rental scooter or car.
Many visitors come here for lunch as there are a few popular seafood restaurants along the bay. But when you walk further, you will find the beautiful Armonia Bay where you can jump from the rocks into crystal clear water to refresh. We think this place is such a vibe and you can’t miss it when in Santorini.
Watch the Sunset at Old Castle Oia
Yes we admit Old Castle in Oia gets very crowded at sunset, but it’s a must anyway! Santorini sunsets are special, and it’s quite the vibe here, with so many people gathering to experience it. So if there is one thing you do of the popular experiences in Santorini then make it a sunset at Old Castle Oia.
Best places to eat in Santorini
We had some fantastic food in Santorini, and here are our favorite places to eat on the island:
Karma Greek Restaurant, Oia
Paradox Thai Food, Oia
It May sounds like a weird recommendation. We are usually all about eating the local cuisine when visiting a place, but the food at Paradox is so good that it’s worth going. Great vegan options and lovely outside seating.
Lotza Greek Tavern, Oia
One of the oldest taverns in Oia and the loveliest place to have dinner. We were here for our first time in Santorini and went back after seven years, and it was just as impressive. Excellent traditional food and sunset view. You can’t make a reservation but expect to wait for 15-30 to get a table here. You can have a drink while waiting.
Ooh Boy Cafe, Thira
Our favorite cafe for breakfast in Santorini. Delicious smoothie bowls and avo toast with scrambled tofu, but not to forget the incredible caldera view is worth it alone to come here.
Tranquillo Vegetarian Restaurant, Perissa Beach
This place has the best vibes. Very friendly staff, right at the beach and super delicious food. Fully vegetarian and great vegan options available.
Five Senses Fine Dining, Imerovigli
A reservation is a must here! Unfortunately we didn’t know that and didn’t get a table when we went. But the location looks breathtaking and even if it’s a pricey dinner it’s worth the experience. We heard the food is very good and there is a vegan menu option available.
Where to stay off the beaten path Santorini
Choosing the right place to stay is another essential part of experiencing off the beaten path Santorini. Most visitors stay in either Oia or Thira, which are the most popular towns on the island. We stayed at Maryloujohn Villas in Oia and loved the location. It was the most budget-friendly option we found there.
Imerovigli is a great place to stay if you still want the vibe of Oia’s cave houses and blue domes. It’s getting more popular but is still a more quiet and smaller town.
Budget for traveling in Santorini
Santorini is not the cheapest Island of the Cyclades and can be quite expensive depending on where you stay. Of course, the costs can vary depending on the accommodation, for example. The following budget helps you to plan your trip to Santorini.
- Price per night for accommodation: In Oia, prices start at 200.00 Euro per night / in other towns you can find hotels/Airbnb starting at 80.00 Euro per night
- Cost for two meals per day for two people: 80.00 Euro per day
- Cost of scooter rental per day: 35 Euro
- Ferry Ticket to get to Santorini: around 50 Euro per person (depending on which Island you come from)
How to get around
To beat the crowds and explore Santorini off the beaten path, the best way to get around is by renting a car or ATV/Scooter. The freedom that comes with having your own vehicle is priceless, and we highly recommend it to see more of the Island and not just the most popular spots.
We rented our scooter at VIP Car Rental in Santorini and had an excellent experience with them. We recommend checking what rental company is closest to your accommodation and Discover Cars to get the best prices.
We had many questions about whether Santorini is even worth the hype and if it’s not overpriced and overcrowded. Our answer is yes, it is! Of course, it is popular, but the island has its own charm and magic and is definitely worth a visit. All these tips in this guide help to experience off the beaten path Santorini which can make your experience a lot nicer. We recommend spending around 3 nights in Santorini and combining it with island hopping to some of the other Cyclades Islands like Naxos, Paros, or Milos.