Due to its popularity with celebrities, VIPs and royalty alike, Santorini is an island often associated with all things luxury. As one of the most idyllic and stunning islands in the Cyclades, access to such beauty often comes at a price.
Despite the crowds that come for its glitz and whitewashed buildings with blue accents, Santorini boasts a vast range of fun activities that are either free or very budget friendly. Of course, deciding on the location is important — the towns of Fira, Imerovigli, Firostefani, and Akrotiri are considered Santorini's cultural and entertainment hotspots. Below is a list of some of the free (or almost free!) activities you can enjoy on this stunning island.
Hiking the trail from Fira to Oia
Spend the afternoon hiking from the second biggest town Fira to the capital city of Oia, located at the northernmost point of the island. The two-and-a-half-hour hike to Oia takes you up the cliffs, and the reward is magnificent views of the Caldera, the volcano, and the sea.
If you'd like to make a day of it in Oia, aim to leave before 10am and you'll arrive on time for lunch around 12:30pm. For those famous panoramic Oia sunsets, start your hike around 5:30pm in order to reach the city as the sun begins to sink into a fluorescent orange sky. Don't forget to grab some water and snacks from any of the small shops located in Firostefani and Imerovigli. Early risers should stock up on water the night before as stores won't open until the afternoon.
Spend the day at Ammoudi Bay
Located at the northwestern tip of Oia is the vibrant port of Ammoudi Bay. To get there, you'll descend the 278 steps of the blood-red Caldera cliff from the nearby Venetian castle to the port. Alternatively, motorists can drive down to the port via Venizelou street but be warned that there is no parking available. If you're feeling adventurous, walk further up the bay to find the designated space for jumping off the cliffs straight into the ocean.
If you arrive early in the morning, you might just catch the local fishermen coming in with their daily catch. A day of diving, swimming and sightseeing ending with a delicious meal of freshly caught seafood is the perfect way to enjoy the wonders of Santorini on a budget.
Visit the Akrotiri ruins
Located on the southern coast of Santorini, Akrotiri is a prehistoric settlement that was inhabited by the ancient Minoan civilization during the Bronze Age until their settlement was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in the 17th century.
Known locally as the "Pompeii of Greece", the excavation site features pottery and restored artifacts from the period, and the site is covered by a bioclimatic roof and suspended walkways to allow visitors to walk among the two- and three-story buildings to view the archeological remains. The excavation site is easily accessible by bus and car, and it's best to arrive early in order to avoid the large crowds that gather later in the day.
There are quite a few days every year when admission to the ruins is free. Always check the official site before planning your visit as they are subject to change. An adult ticket costs €12 on regular days and guided tours are available to book for an additional cost.
Rest and relaxation at Kamari beach
Kamari beach is one of the biggest beaches in Santorini, and its standout characteristic is its volcanic black pebbles rather than traditional golden sand. The beach is over 3 miles (5km) in length and is located at the foot of the Mesa Vouno mountain, which is also the historical site of Thera. It's a public beach and therefore completely free to access and enjoy.
As one of the most popular beaches on the island, Kamari has a host of amenities to keep you entertained. There is a diving center on-site that offers lessons and snorkeling gear, as well as windsurfing, water skiing and paddle boating. For those who prefer to enjoy their activities on land, there is also a football field and beach volleyball court available for use, as well as a promenade that houses a range of nightclubs, cafes, restaurants and bars. If you'd prefer a little comfort while you sunbathe, some of the restaurants offer the use of their sun loungers if you purchase food and/or drinks from their establishment.
A self-guided winery tour
Sommeliers in training should consider a self-guided winery tour to save money and explore Greece's growing wine scene. Not only is it a lot easier to arrange the tours for yourself, but you'll also be able to enjoy the experience at your own pace for a fraction of the price. For an affordable tasting option, the Santo Winery is one of the most popular wineries on the island, with tours available from just €12 per person for 20 minutes and two wine samples.
Visit the monastery of Profitis Ilias
The churches of Santorini are well-known for their beautiful architecture, but there are arguably none as grand as the monastery of Profitis Ilias (Prophet Elias) in Pyrgos, situated at the highest point of the island on Mount Profitis. Visitors can view a wealth of artifacts, religious texts and sculptures that date as far back as the 17th century. It's also a great place to stop and watch the sunset over the island, with panoramic views of the Caldera.
Strike a pose
It goes without saying that Santorini is one of the most beautiful and photogenic places on the planet. So much so, that couples flock here from all over the world to shoot their engagement, honeymoon and wedding photography along the cobbled streets of places like Oia and Fira. Whether you like to take photos alone with a tripod and remote, or have a friend snap pics of you framed by stunning scenery, you can have great fun capturing memories to share with loved ones back home.
Do a free walking tour
Is there a better way to discover locations off the beaten track than with a walking tour? With free tour companies such as the Santo Line tour, you'll be taken to not only Santorini's most popular locations but also hidden corners of the island that tourists often miss. It's a great way to learn more about the local neighborhoods and get a real feel for what it's like to live on the island.
Explore the town of Fira
Fira is the island’s second most populous city and is considered the entertainment capital of Santorini. It's also less densely populated than its neighbor Oia, which means you can take your time and explore the nearby restaurants, museums (such as the Museum of Prehistoric Thera), ice cream cafes, and bars. Later in the afternoon, you can catch the local cable car down to the port to enjoy the most incredible sunsets on the island.
Visit the Byzantine Castle ruins
The 15th century Byzantine Castle ruins is one of the most photographed buildings in Santorini. The castle was used as a fort during the Medieval period to help fend off pirates. The volcanic explosion of 1956 destroyed a major part of the castle, and just a fraction of it is preserved today. The sunsets are unforgettable here, so it's best to visit during the evening.
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