Santorini is one of the most popular islands in the world. When you see photographs of Greece, you’ll likely come across an image of the island. This photogenic island has kept travelers intrigued for years and will for years to come.
So how do you enjoy one of the most beautiful places on earth and not be overrun by crowds? Keep reading for answers.
Is Santorini Always Crowded?
Millions of people visit the island of Santorini each year. It’s particularly crowded from June through September. But don’t let that dissuade you. There are ways to get off the beaten path on the island whenever you visit.
Visiting during the off-season from mid-October through May is a great way to experience the island more like a resident with few tourists. But the winter can bring cold temperatures and a lot of wind, which makes it less appealing. You’ll also find fewer restaurants and shops open during the off-season.
Where to Stay in Santorini?
The best place to find a hotel or villa is on the island’s east side, which is less crowded. Kamari and Perissa have luxury and budget-friendly options within walking distance of beaches. Kamari is typically more active than Perissa, where you’ll get more of a local village vibe.
Staying on the east side will help you experience more of Santorini and get some rest too. The island’s most popular and crowded villages, Oia and Fira, are on the west side. Cruise ship guests also spend the day in one or both of these villages, making them particularly crowded between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.
Pyrgos, a traditional village in the middle of the island, is another option. It’s quiet with fewer crowds. Sitting on a hilltop, you’ll get epic views from here as you navigate your way through the alleys to tavernas, shops, and art galleries.
Ground transportation will be necessary to get to the east side and Pyrgos. You can rent a vehicle, take the bus, or hire a driver or taxi.
Car rental companies are incredibly convenient to work with and will even deliver a vehicle to your hotel, port, or airport. Most hotels extend their hospitality to helping you book a driver or car rental. And many hotels also have shuttle services to and from the port and airport.
You don’t have to stay in a 1,000 EUR per night hotel in Oia to enjoy Santorini. Tim and Fin do an excellent job showing the difference between pricey and budget-friendly accommodations in this video:
How Do You Avoid the Crowds While Sightseeing Around Santorini?
It’s possible to avoid the crowds in Santorini. And you can do so while still visiting its popular attractions. The famous villages, wine tasting, and sunsets are the top must-sees in Santorini. Let’s look at how to navigate them in the most authentic ways with fewer people.
Visit Oia in the Morning
Oia is the village on Santorini with those famous blue domes. It’s one of the most incredible Instagram shots of all time. But to experience Oia and enjoy it with some elbow room, you’ll want to arrive by 8:00 a.m.
Head straight to the blue domes upon arrival. At this time of day, you’ll have fewer people in the photo versus mid-morning when the spot is overflowing with travelers. The lighting is also best in the early morning, with the sun coming up behind you.
Wander through the village’s narrow streets for the rest of the morning. Shop and walk down the less traveled streets to enjoy the unique architecture.
Consider leaving late morning, as the cruise ship guests will start to arrive, and the temperatures can get very high with the sun beating down. If you are a cruise ship guest, see Oia upon your arrival and rent a motor vehicle to explore other parts of the island for the rest of your time on Santorini.
Watch the Sunset
Hundreds flock to Oia in the evening for the sunset. While I highly recommend experiencing the sunset from Oia at least once, there are other amazing spots (and some may argue better places) around the island to capture the evening’s main event. When the sun sets in Oia, getting a good photo or having a romantic moment can be challenging due to the number of people standing around.
One of my favorite ways to take in the sunset from Santorini is with a panoramic view of the caldera, the depression that’s filled with the sea where a volcano erupted over 3,500 years ago. Go to the opposite side of the caldera from Oia to get this view – near the Akrotiri Lighthouse. You can stop along the side of the road to watch the sun go down, and there are usually very few people around.
Travel Tip: My favorite restaurant near the Akrotiri Lighthouse is Aelolos Tavern. It has views of the caldera, serves excellent seafood and Greek cuisine, and is the perfect spot to relax and dine after sunset.
Go Wine Tasting
Santorini is known for Assyrtiko, a white grape that takes over the majority of vineyards on the island. It maintains high levels of alcohol and acidity. When you visit a winery, they’ll tell you all about how the unique way grapes are grown on the island and the history of the vineyards. It’s fascinating!
Some of the best wineries in Santorini are off the beaten path. You can do a Google Maps search to find all the wineries and do a self-guided tour. Or there are wine tour companies on the island. I recommend asking your hotel for the best one, as they sometimes offer discounts.
How Do You Find Your Way Around Santorini?
The roads on the island can be busy, but don’t let that stop you from renting a vehicle to get off the beaten path. Simply take it slow and enjoy the view.
If renting a car isn’t your thing, you can take the bus or hire a taxi. However, very few taxis are on the island, so I recommend arranging through your hotel and scheduling at least 48 hours in advance.
Go Off the Beaten Path on Santorini
Santorini is known as an overcrowded touristy destination, but it’s worth it. If you look beyond the crowded main villages, there’s so much to discover on the island. Hire a car and go off the beaten path to explore. And, as I always say, asking residents about their favorite restaurants and beaches will likely lead you to some of your most memorable places.
Is Santorini in your travel plans? Leave a comment below to share what you’re most looking forward to or any questions about going off the beaten path.