Santorini in the off season

Your quick guide to Santorini in the off-season

I say “quick,” and yet here I am 1800 words later.

After spending a month on Santorini Island, it’s safe to say I saw a fair bit of the place. You can actually cover most everything within three days, no matter if it’s peak season or low season.

Just the same, why rush through it? The real thrill of Santorini for me was slowing down. I remember my arrival to Santorini like it were yesterday: an ear-popping taxi ride to the top of the caldera, church steeples sprawled out in ownership of the island, and those whitewashed homes you see in all the movies (ahem, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants).

Caldera Hike

It’s goddamned breathtaking.

Low Season VS High Season

High season doesn’t begin until about June. I arrived in February.

Santorini is one of the islands that relies almost solely on tourism. This is pretty evident when you’re winding your way through Fira’s streets and passing just about every closed-up shop and restaurant. Nights are quiet and transit is unreliable.

BUT: people do still live here. You can access all the major sights, and you’re not jostling crowds of people for the most epic sunset views.

Hell, I’m not even sure my trip would have been so lovely if it weren’t for the off-season. It was crazy easy to meet people, and almost everybody who came through the hostel I stayed at instantly became my buddy. One of my more memorable experiences was watching the sunset with two girls, Maya and Julie, and then collecting a random Spanish girl to join us for dinner. Insta-friendship over the beauty of being solo female travelers in the off-season.

Things to Keep in Mind

I don’t know about you all, but as a Canadian I always assume that anything appearing as a tiny blip on a map means that I can walk the distance in an hour.

No. It’s all lies.

Santorini is SMALL by Greek island standards, but it’s sprawled out. Public transit in the winter blows, and buses tend to stop running around 3 PM on Sundays. Keep this in mind when you’re downing your tuna salad at a restaurant in Perissa at 2:59PM.

Caldera's edge

It can also get cold, stormy, and windy. Pack accordingly. I did not.

Hike to Oia

Although Fira is the main town on the island, Oia is THE postcard image and the place where all the romantics hang out. The hike from Fira town along the caldera is probably one of the greatest hikes I’ve ever done. It’ll take you up hills and down around churches and through little gardens. There’s a ton of loose rock and gravel, however, so hiking shoes are ideal.

Caldera hike

The hike takes about 2 hours one way. Make it coincide with the sunset, and you’ll be rolling around the grassy fields in ecstasy.

Atlantis Bookstore

Dubbed one of the “best bookstores in the world” by Lonely Planet (whatever that means), stepping foot in Atlantis Bookstore for me was like shaking hands with my maker. There are cats, and books, and a million and one things to look at and OH MY GOD IT’S WONDERFUL.

Atlantis Bookstore

Not cheap, either. But I bought Sailing the Wine Dark Seas and the cashier stamped it with a special Atlantis stamp, so it’s the best souvenir ever. They also have their own bookbinding service.

Atlantis Bookstore

Also: you’ll notice you’re essentially stepping foot in the worker’s home. There’s a bed in the corner, and bunk beds around the top of the shelves. Because people work and LIVE in the bookstore. Oh my. Oh me! I have to do a full post on this.

Note: Hours are sporadic and adjusted according to the worker’s desires. Just show up and bang loudly on the front door.

Fira

Fira is the main hub, and a cobblestoned town of donkeys and doorways, and I love it. It’s where all the restaurants and pubs and clubs are. Hence, it’s quite quiet in the winter. I have nothing more to offer you. Just go and eat stuff.

Kamari Beach & Perissa Beach

To be completely honest, the beaches in Santorini aren’t what you come to see. At least, none of the easily reachable beaches. People kept talking about the “black sand beaches” but they’re just rough and pebbly like most of the beaches back home in Canada. I guess the selling point here are the beaches’ volcanic origins, but still. I prefer the white sandy stuff that burns your heels and eats up the sun.

BUT: the shoreline is filled with restaurants, bars, and cafes. I can imagine this place is a whole different scene during the summer. Party central.

Additional: The Red Beach near Akrotiri is pretty wonderful.

Red Beach

Ancient Thira

Ancient Thira sits atop a mountain separating both Perissa and Kamari beaches, and the Greeks occupied it as early as the 9th century BC. The ruins here are a scattered collection of Roman baths, Byzantine walls, and Hellenistic shops. The sprawl is impressive.

Ancient Thira

Admission is 2EUR, and a guide is useful (if available). It kinda blows my mind that you can pay such a small price to peruse these ancient streets, with no one around. You can basically reach out and touch the old columns with Greek inscriptions on them and no one’s gonna yell or slap your wrist.

Ancient Thira 2

I hiked up here with my friends Ami and Inbal, from Kamari. It was a bitch of a hike, but the views were worth it. You’ll climb up, up, up, around a small church and past a cave with the island’s only spring. SUFFER THROUGH IT.

Ancient Akrotiri

Akrotiri is EXCITING AS HELL. I’ll do a full post on it later, because it’s incredibly underrated and fascinating. My friends and I lucked out — our hostel owner Kostas is a travel guide and he opted to take us here.

Ancient Akrotiri

Basically, Akrotiri is the Pompeii of Greece. (Ew. What a comparison. Travel writer “no-no.”) It’s a Minoan Bronze Age town that was destroyed by the volcanic eruption in 1627 BC. Covered in ash and deserted by its citizens, excavations have found some insanely key archaeological pieces here to putting together the Minoan puzzle. Did the volcano wipe out the Minoans? Very likely. Many experts also think it’s the inspiration for the lost city of Atlantis.

It’s eerie walking through here. Beds are upturned on top of one another, as if the occupants would come back for them. Jars and jugs lay scattered. The ash formed a sort of cast for some of the furniture, leaving behind beautifully sculpted tables and even a keepsake box with a gold ibex.

Akrotiri even had a sewage system. Santorini Island itself didn’t have such technology until the mid-1900s. These people were bloody brilliant.

The Museum of Prehistoric Thera

“Thera” was the original name of Santorini Island, and this museum houses most of the artifacts collected from Akrotiri. Admission is 3EUR and it is cool as HELL. I’m not kidding. Perfectly preserved pieces of wall murals and frescoes are on display here, and even 7000-year-old fossilized olive leaves from some of the island’s earliest eruptions.

Akrotiri ancient site

Other interesting tidbits: Nippled jugs (for the perpetually immature), the world’s first microwave (portable oven), and pieces of jewelry.

Sometimes I find such displays chilling. Don’t you ever sit back and think, will my shitty $3 necklace from Forever 21 make it inside a museum someday? Who knows.

Volcano Tours

For 20EUR, you can hop on a sailboat and head over to the monster that wiped out a whole civilization and dramatically changed the landscape of Santorini forever. You really get a sense of the earth’s power here, while looking back on the island. If you look at a map, Santorini is shaped like a croissant with a dot in the middle – the volcano. When it erupted, the middle of the island collapsed and filled in with water, causing the dramatic caldera shape.

Geo-freaks, wipe the drool from your chin.

Hot springs, Santorini

There’s not much to the tour, but it’s pretty cool to walk around such a stark landscape. The bubbly sulfuric smell is hard to ignore. When will this baby explode again? Who knows. The 1627 eruption was one of the largest in history. Best not to think about it.

You’ll also get to stop by some hot springs. Note: it’s not all that hot in February.

EAT!

Lucky for you, the dining scene never dies on Santorini. My all-time favourite spot was a place called Tsipouradiko, located on the main road to Fira. I ate here at least ten times, and usually brought a few friends with me. The friendly waiter poked fun at me for showing up so much.

Everything at Tsipouradiko is worth trying. Grilled octopus. Cheese dishes. Lamb. Fava beans. Order some of the tispouro, a potent brandy, and you’ll be handed some complimentary meze. (Water that stuff down, by the way. Don’t be a hero.) Really, I could not recommend this place enough. Dessert is free, too!

For quick and cheap eats, the Cretan bakery in Karterados has sandwiches, baklava, and halva – my favourite sweet thing in the world.

Perissa’s Tranquilo beach bar was also a great visit. Inbal and I split a giant plate of tuna salad, while I had a beer. It totaled about 9EUR. But it’s the vibe that really made the place: slightly Rastafarian, lit up with oranges and reds, and with an extremely friendly staff. If Inbal and I weren’t about to miss the bloody bus, we’d have stayed longer.

Otherwise, you could live off 2EUR souvlaki or kebabs from any of the small shops in Karterados and Fira. Extra garlic and paprika, please.

Nightlife

Buy a 2EUR plastic bottle of wine at the corner store. Night made. There’s not much else to do in February on Santorini.

Also: wine tasting. I didn’t get to do this. But wineries like Santos offer tours and tastings.

I ended up at a restaurant named Kyria Niki one night, with a new friend Ruth and her daughter. We had eaten there earlier (delicious) and then saw that a live band would be starting up. We came back around 10 PM and people kept jumping in with the traditional Zembekiko dance, where one person dances around the floor and others kneel before them, clapping. The waiter brings out champagne, and voila! Magic. It was a lot of fun to watch.

Where to stay – CAVELAND!

I loved my stay at Caveland. I booked a private room through Airbnb for about 600CAD, and it came with a small kitchenette and my own bathroom. I had a ghost who liked cutting my electricity and dropping earthworms into my toilet, but we learned to get along quite well.

Caveland courtyard

What to say about Caveland? Definitely the most unique hostel I’ve ever stayed in. Each room has its own personality, with handcrafted chandeliers and wall hangings, and little pieces of flair. My room had a wooden piece of a boat in it. The place is riddled with passageways and doors leading to god knows where. I met some lovely people during my time there, including some dear friends like Milly, Dan, and Inbal. The owners Kostas and Veronika are some of the nicest people I’ve ever encountered. Veronika also puts off yoga classes twice a week, and I saw quick improvement in my form while she instructed me.

And oh yes, my room was inside a cave. Cue writerly joke here. This place used to be a winery, and is one of the oldest buildings on the island.

My cave at Caveland

Caveland is located in Karterados, about a 20-minute (or less) walk to Fira, with a bus stop at the top of the hill. I saw a review complaining about it being actually a “25 minute walk” instead of 20. Come on. Really? It was always a pleasant stroll, and being away from the busy centre was a treat. I cannot recommend Caveland enough.

Santorini in the off season? Totally worth it. Let me know if you’ve done it.

If you like it you should put a pin on it

Yep, you can travel in the off-season!

  • March 19 2014

    Okay, this post ruled. Santorini sounds SO AWESOME, mostly because of the people living in the bookstore bit but the rest sounded good too. And off-season would definitely be when I’d visit…I don’t like being smushed around in tourist time. I am looking forward to many more Santorini posts!!

    • March 24 2014

      Thank ya, Rika! Agreed. Still eager to go back and see how different it is in the summer, though. Caveland has a kickass pool, too. But it wasn’t open when I was there. :(

  • March 19 2014

    I definitely want to go and stay in the cave hostel right now please! I had never thought of Santorini as somewhere I’d like to go but you’ve definitely sold it to me.
    Love the bookstore – how did you leave and not just take up residence in one of those bunks? ;)
    x

    • March 24 2014

      Dude, it was SO HARD. Hahaha. I asked the guy if I could apply for a position. Apparently I can.

  • March 19 2014

    That’s so cool you spent a month there – I always think it’s funny when people write ‘guides’ after they’ve ran around a place for a couple days, this is definitely more helpful.

    • March 24 2014

      Hey, thank ya! Hahaha, I agree. I’m still no expert, not by any means, but I think I took care of most of it.

  • March 19 2014
    Mike

    I know you were fighting it, but mom always tells me to pack a sweater. ;)

  • March 19 2014
    Lauren @BonVoyageLauren

    Wow! I need to get myself to Greece. I loved how you mentioned Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I can’t help but think of that too anytime someone mentions Greece. KOSTAS!

    Anyway, I’m really looking forward to your separate posts on Atlantis Bookstore and Akrotiri! Did you feel that a month was a good amount of time?

    Happy travels :)

    • March 24 2014

      KOSTAS! Oh god. Can’t help but love that movie. Haha.

      A month was actually a little too long for me — three weeks would have been great. I got a little restless by the third week!

  • March 19 2014
    Trusted Traveller

    Mmm the Greek kebabs, how I miss them. I found a place in Fira town that had the best I have ever had. Wish I knew what it was called.

  • March 20 2014

    Although, like you said, you could have done Santorini in 3 days, it’s great to be in a place long enough that you get to take in everything. I love going somewhere and going to small museums and taking in some sights that are sometimes even overlooked by locals! It seems like you took advantage and saw everything there was to see. Awesome. So jealous!

    • March 24 2014

      Ditto! I hate rushing through anywhere, and a month was great. Although three months would have been better, to be honest. I started getting restless, haha.

  • March 31 2014
    Heather

    We spent five days on Santorini and pretty much did nothing but lay by our hotel’s pool, drinking Greek wine and gazing out at the caldera. I’d love to go back and explore more of the island. (To our credit, the ancient ruins weren’t open otherwise we definitely would have checked them out.)

  • April 18 2014

    Santorini is so beautiful… Sigh…

    Staying in a cave sounds pretty cool (although I’ll take my room without the ghost) so thanks for the tip!

    Now following you on Twitter so I can read more travel nuggets :)

  • February 08 2015
    Chloe

    Hi Candace, I realie this post is rather old but I have a quick question for you! A friend of mine is in santorini for a few days and I’m debating going to join her – the problem is it’s early February and all the reviews I’ve read online says the weather is awful and most things are closed! I would be going for about 5 days next week. The forecast looks rather gloomy and I’m worried, like the reviews say, that there will be very little to do and that the sight will be grey and gloomy! Please let me know as soon as you can your thoughts – I haven’t been able to speak with anyone who has been there in February. Thanks so much in advance, and great posts!

    • February 08 2015

      It’s still worth the visit, Chloe! In fact I kinda loved that about Santorini in February…it was MUCH different than when I went back again in May, haha. Things are still open, just not a lot of the tourist shops. You’ll still find plenty of restaurants and stuff. (TSIPOURADIKO!) And you can still see the beaches (it may be too chilly to go swimming), Oia, Fira, Akrotiri, etc. The weather when I was there really fluctuated a lot…it wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t super warm. It rained sometimes but it was sunny a fair bit too. Plus this time of year is probably the only time of year where you don’t have to share your view of Oia with a million other people. :) Haha. Stay at Caveland if you wanna meet some cool people! I had a private room and it was fab.

      • February 09 2015
        Chloe

        Thanks so much for your reply! It’s so great to have your advice! I really appreciate it. I hope you keep travelling and writing posts like this – so personal and way more informative than any random website!! Many thanks again and all the best with your travels.

        • February 09 2015

          Aww that’s so kind, thank you!! Let me know how Santorini fares for you. I miss that place!

  • March 09 2015
    Olivia

    Hi Candice,
    I know this post was written a long time ago but I am in santorini right now and I was hoping you could help me with something. I was looking for the kyria niki restaurant but couldn’t seem to find it. Do you remember where it is? Thanks for the post this is great information! No one writes anything about the off season

    • March 09 2015

      Yes! It’s in Karterados, just before you get to Fira. There’s a stretch of restaurants/cafes there on the main road, you can’t miss it. It’s a green building, if I recall correctly.

  • February 26 2016

    Hey Candy,

    Wow, wow, wow! I LOVED this quick and handy guide. Short descriptions, yet useful without with unnecessary jib-jab!

    The idea of the 2 hours hike to Oia is very good, so I’ll make sure to bring my hiking shoes this time :)
    Matt recently posted…Losing my Shared-Taxi at the Togo-Benin border

    • February 26 2016
      Candice

      Yay, I hope you love it!!

  • March 01 2016
    Kim

    Love this post! How did you find the walk from Fira to Karterados? Especially at night?

    • March 02 2016
      Candice

      It takes about 25 minutes, but it’s completely safe! It’s just that at some places on the road, there’s no sidewalk. So keep an eye out for traffic

  • May 10 2016
    fiona

    Hi Candy,

    My friend and I are planning to visit Santorini on August. Do you suggest for us to book for guided tours? I mean, we are used to making our own itinerary when travelling so I just want to really know if the must-see places in Santorini are like within walking distance or at least close to each other.

    Thank you,

    • May 16 2016
      Candice

      I didn’t do any guided tours in Santorini, so it’s hard to say! Well, I did a boat trip to the volcano, which was only 20 EUR. I know a few people did one of the wine tours and LOVED it. Otherwise it’s super early to get between towns, thanks to the bus.

  • July 31 2016

    It must be a really good experience to be going off-season, especially that Santorini can be unpleasantly crowded sometimes. The hike from Fira to Oia is wonderful, but we took 8 hours in total ’cause we just loved the views so much we stopped a lot + we decided to combine it with the hike to Skaros Rock in one day. We also loved the Red Beach, the Black Beach and the volcano tours, so I’d say you get the essentials covered. Great list! =)
    Andrew Darwitan recently posted…Greece Day 5: Scenic Hiking in Santorini, from Fira to Oia [28-Photo Highlights]

    • August 02 2016
      Candice

      That’s the best way to do it, slowly!! I miss that hike!

  • October 24 2016
    Jennifer

    Candice
    My husband, 16 year old daughter and 18 year old son (who has been studying in Thessaloniki this term) want to try Santorini in December. Do you think Caveland would be good or do you know of another place that may be better?

    • October 25 2016
      Candice

      I don’t believe Cave-land is open in December, unfortunately! So many of the businesses there are seasonal. I think they reopen in January. But you’re sure to find something in Fira or Oia.

  • January 26 2017
    Beth

    Hi! I’m taking my daughter and her 4 friends to Santorini the last week of March. They are between the ages of 17 -18 and this is a Spring break vacation for us. We usually do Florida or Mexico, but I wanted a bit more adventure this time around.

    I can’t wait to hike and take in the sights with the girls, which they are excited about, but they are at the age where night life and dancing interest them, too. What is your experience with the night life and clubs in Oia and Fira?
    We rented a private villa just outside of Oia. Do you recommend renting a car or mopeds to get around?

    Thanks,
    Beth

    • February 06 2017
      Candice

      Hi Beth, hope I’m not too late in getting back to you! You’re going to love Santorini. :) It’s THE BEST.

      You can get a moped for quite cheap and it is worthwhile for getting around — the island is BIG. But the bus system is also fine if you want to save on money. If you want clubbing during that time of year, Fira is your best bet. I don’t think things really pick up until April-ish but things may have changed since I visited.

  • January 26 2017
    Beth

    Hi! I’m taking my daughter and her 4 friends to Santorini the last week of March. They are between the ages of 17 -18 and this is a Spring break vacation for us. We usually do Florida or Mexico, but I wanted a bit more adventure this time around.

    I can’t wait to hike and take in the sights with the girls, which they are excited about, but they are at the age where night life and dancing interest them, too. What is your experience with the night life and clubs in Oia and Fira?
    We rented a private villa just outside of Oia. Do you recommend renting a car or mopeds to get around?

    Thanks,
    Beth

  • February 07 2017
    Lillian

    I’m soooo glad I found your website! I’m going with a girlfriend to Greece mid February and EVERYONE we talked to thinks we are nuts for going to the islands since the weather won’t be nice and it will be empty….ssssssssssounds good to me!! I can’t wait to enjoy the beautiful Santorini without the sweaty crowds! Thanks for all the info, love your writing!

    • February 14 2017
      Candice

      YOU WILL LOVE IT! I look back on my time in Santorini mid-February as one of the best experiences of my travels abroad. Have a blast!

  • February 15 2017
    Felipe

    Hi! I’m going to santorini at the begining of April, do you think is going to be hoter or colder? and… I want to visit the whole island, Do you recomend me to rent an ATV? :D

    and finally… if I arrive at midnight to the airport, what is the cheapest choice to go to Fira?

    Thanks for the writing :)

    • February 15 2017
      Candice

      It’ll be a lot warmer at the beginning of April, and busier, but probably still not swimming weather! (Could be though…I went back in mid-April and spent some time in my hostel pool.) ATV or scooter is a good way to get around, but remember that the island is BIG! And ATVs can be quite slow haha.

      There is a bus that services the entire island but I’m not sure if it runs at midnight. You might have no choice but to opt for a taxi. Find someone to split it with!

  • February 28 2017
    Katie

    OMG thank you so much for this. I’ve booked my trip to Santorini the second to last week in March, and after reading tons of forums on Tripadvisor, I started freaking out that everything would be closed, etc. You totally just calmed my nerves and made me super optimistic!!

    I’m wondering — which boat tour/company did you use (if you remember)? Doing a boat tour to the volcano sounds fantastic, but I’m just having a hard time figuring what’s available, etc.

    Thank you!!!

    • March 14 2017
      Candice

      Hey, sorry for my delayed response! You’ll love it there! I can’t remember what the tour company was but you’ll find it super easily. They operate out of Fira.

  • March 09 2017
    Rose

    Hi! old oldster of 60 yrs young here and going solo in Santorini in mid October. I’m having a difficult time deciding on hotels because I do like to stay central in Fira but the Caveland hostel also meets my needs of meeting people. My concern is that my energy level often drops and I have some hip issues so that half hour walk into and out of Fira might be a bit much by the end of the day. Can you tell me how frequently and how close is the bus stop is to the hostel?

  • May 23 2017
    Shameen

    Hi Candice,

    So great to read the information you have on your post. We are interested in visiting Santorini or Mykonos over the New Year. I would like to know if it will be worth the trip as I have ready that all the places will be closed and no ferries will be available.

    • June 09 2017
      Candice

      The ferries never stop running, but it will be quiet!

  • May 24 2017

    Hi Candice,

    Please can you give me info on the weather in late December to beginning of January in Santorini or Mykonos, perhaps it will not be a good idea to visit either of these places as all information I received is that the stores are closed and ferries do not run during this time of the year.

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