Sensational Santorini: How to avoid the Summer Crowds!

We love Santorini, with its picturesque whitewashed homes and beautiful blue domes. But there is just one problem. So does everybody else!

Santorini in the summer is like being part of a massive parade. Our friend Peter said that with Santorini, a picture is worth a thousand words, so here is 1000 words worth. 

Photo courtesy of Earth Trekkers
YIKES!!!!!!!  It seems that there is no way to get off  the "giant cruise ship" that is Santorini...or is there?

We just returned from a second trip to the famed crescent island, and managed to find seclusion in the midst of the tourist insanity. Here is a summary of my tips for a perfect, away from the crowds Santorini adventure, so read on!

Eight Things to do in Santorini to avoid the crowds
1. Travel to Santorini in April/May, or after Mid-September
2. Avoid cruise ships (sorry cruise ships!) and organized tours
3. Stay outside of Oia or Fira, or at least on the edges of the two main villages
4. Travel off the beaten path
5. Visit the eastern shore beaches
6. Hike around Thira 
7. Do a day of wine tasting
8. Take a boat ride to the volcano or around the island
PLUS BONUS: where to watch the sun set!!

Eight Tips for avoiding the crowds!

1. Travel to Santorini in April/May or After Mid-September
The "official" tourist season in Santorini is June-September, so anything before or after those dates will be optimal.  If you travel the week before Easter, it will just be you and the locals (and no cruise ships!). You will get to see donkey's carrying paint cans up and down the narrow streets (Santorini repaints itself crisp white and blue every year!)...
just ran across these guys as we were walking the empty streets!

...and you will locals decorating the cross in front of the church, ready to raise it during the big Easter celebration. Many of the restaurants will be open, no reservations necessary! 

Or, visit during the winter-- 25 restaurants stayed open in Winter 2018, and according to the Mayor of Fira, the island is gearing itself up to be more of a twelve month destination. For the time being at least, if you travel in winter, the island will be yours alone! 
Local greeter!
2. Avoid Cruise ships and organized tours!

I know some of you enjoy a good cruise, and I do think Santorini would be a nice stop on the way to just about anywhere, but when you see 4 or 5 gigantic cruise ships lined up in the harbor, each holding three thousand or more passengers, you know that this island of 12,000 is taxed. 

passengers arriving on the incoming ferry, while we were waiting to go to Milos
In 2018, the Port of Thira launched a berth allocation system in order to regulate the number of incoming cruise ships and limit the number of passengers to 8,000/day. This system is set to be fully place by 2020, but until then, as many as 15,000 passengers disembark from cruise ships every summer day. In addition, about 2,000 passengers arrive on the municipal ferries from Crete and other islands. It's a lot for this small island to handle.
We are part of the mad crush, waiting for the ferry to Milos
Right now, overnight stays in the harbor are limited, so the average cruise passenger disembarks for seven hours on the island, generally for a daytime adventure in Fira, or an evening sunset bus trip to Oia. 
Sunset seekers in the streets and on the castle in Oia. Photo credit: A taste of Travel

So, my advice is to hit the town of Fira in early morning/late afternoon, when there are less ship passengers. If you plan to walk down to the Old Port of Fira, try NOT to be at the bottom when a cruise ship has come in, or you will end up waiting in line for more than an hour to get back up on the tram (Walking and donkey riding are other options).

And try to avoid the streets of Oia in late afternoon or at sunset.

3. Stay outside of Oia or Fira (at least on the outskirts). 
To clarify Fira vs Thira ---Thira is the island of Santorini and Fira is the Town and Port.
Fira is a bustling village, known for its shops, restaurants and nightlife. It's as close as you can get to a small city on this island .

Contrast that to Oia, the more elegant sister of Fira, known for being incredibly busy during the day, but ultra quiet at night (after the sunset). 

No matter which of these two villages you choose, there is a reason that the famed Santorini photos are of homes stacked on on top of another. It's because they are. 

And that means your privacy is limited. And, to make matters worse, tourists in their quest for the perfect instagram photo, will go up and down your street, and take photos from your roof or from your deck, if it means getting "that" shot. One solution is to book a spot which is more private. Easier said than done.

One great option is to stay in the outskirts of the two main villages.  I'm always on the quest for beautiful private spots, and I've stayed at two that I would highly recommend. 

Tzekos Villas is on the southern edge of Fira (but right near the town square).  But at the southern cliffs of the village, you can find some privacy while being close to the action. Tzekos Villas is a lovely boutique hotel with breakfast and swimming pool, Many with private hot tub and sun decks. Incredible caldera and sunset views.

view from our room

Apanema Villa  is a very private villa on the outskirts of Oia, in the Perivolas district of Oia (southern edge). Apanema Villa is near restaurants and the grocery and the Fira footpath. Has hot tub and exquisite views, and is part of Otium Villas, managed by Nick and Anna, incredible hosts. We would stay here again and again. I apologize that I don't have as many photos of this beautiful and secluded spot, but check out the site below:

Or, sleep in the clifftop village of Imerovigli, and take day trips to Oia and Thira:

Imerovigli is conveniently located between the two main villages of Thira (1 mile away) and Oia (5 miles away), and is less developed. This area also has a lot of new luxury type development going on, which means you will have a beautiful, yet probably more secluded stay. There are fewer restaurants here in this village, but the ones that are here are very good.  Here are a couple choices:

Ovac restaurant:
Athenian House:
Avocado restaurant for breakfast:

Santorini has so much to offer, so why not take a chance and stay at a quaint village that is not Oia or Thira or Imerovigli? 

If you really want to get away and experience something that best borders on local life, look no further than Agrotiri. Apart from having some of the best caldera views on the island and magnificent sunsets, it has quiet beaches, tiny churches and is home to the Akrotiri Castle and Akrotiri Excavations. It is also close to the Lighthouse, and you can also hike way down to the isolated chapel in Balos Cove. Just be careful driving in town--the roads are so narrow, you may need to back down, like we did!

Pyrgos Kallistis
One of the most charming and secluded is Pyrgos Kallistis, or simply Pyrgos. This village is near the highest spot on the island, has lovely narrow streets, an ancient Venetian castle, and the Monastery of Profitis Ilias. It feels undiscovered and more local. It also has an amazing sunset and views of the caldera.

The small village of Megalochori offers a vibrant, locals-filled town square, picturesque churches, narrow streets, steep staircases, a bell tower, and beautiful views. Here, you are in the heart of the wine region. There are vineyards everywhere and wineries abound!

4. Travel off of the beaten path
Where ever we go, we like to immediately get away from touristy areas, and start exploring. On Santorini, if you rent a car, it is super easy to get away from the tourist spots, because tourists tend to stay in Oia and Thira. We have used Vazeos twice and have been very happy with them:

So, take a car tour of the island! Grab a map  (see below) and why not follow this route?

a: Start early in the morning and head south of Fira to Akrotiri, and take in the lovely scenery and quaint churches along the way.

b. Visit the excavations at Akrotiri (try to get there before the tour busses, as this place does get busy when there are tour groups). You can park in the parking lot just before the site. Allow 1 hour. It's pretty amazing. 

c. Visit the Red Beach. Once you arrive and park, note that the red beach is up a path to the right, past the charming church and around the corner. It is quite lovely. Why not enjoy the beach if you have time!

d. Optional: Drive to the Lighthouse at the end of the road.

Image result for santorini lighthouse

e. Optional: Wander around Akrotiri (see above description)

f. Optional: Wander around in search of the elusive white beach (you can't actually get there except by boat, but you can see it from the cliffs and it makes for a great 4 wheel drive experience through rutted roads!)
g. Drive to the southern beach villages and set out your towel under a straw beach umbrella. The most famous southern beaches are the black sand beaches of Perivolos and Perissa, which are like one long, long connected beach. Perivolos is a bit quieter, but we like Perissa Beach, all the way to the very end where the rocks jut up from the water and where the beach ends.  If you drive down the road closest to the beach, you can take a look at all the seaside restaurants and umbrella sites, and choose your favorite. Horseback rides along the beach are available in summer, as are boat rides from the shore. In fact, there is a boat taxi that takes you around the rocks from Perissa Beach, over to Kamari Beach. How fun!

h. Now head up to Profitis Illias Monastery for a panoramic view of the whole island. 

i. Detour to Pyrgos for a look at a charming locals village (see above description).

j. Book dinner at Santo Winery (book online well in advance) for dinner and the sunset!
Photo Courtesy of Santo Winery
romantic shot courtesy of @flo.dall
5. Visit the Eastern Shore Beaches:
Although I think that Perissa and Perivolos beaches are among the best for sand and swimming, there are many many beaches on the Eastern coast.  Some of the more well known are Kamari (most upscale), Monolithos (a sport side and a family side, great sunrises), Exo Gialos Beach (locals beach, closest beach to Fira, has a small port and a taverna, not crowded), Koloumbo Beach (off the the beaten path, no facilities at the beach, far end is a nudist beach) 

Related image

6. Hike around Thira!

a. Fira to Oia Trail: This six mile trail along the cliffs of the caldera provides stunning views and a great workout. If you are in moderate shape, take the hike from Fira to Oia. Or, if you want a true workout, hike it from Oia to Fira (which is what we did). Oia to Fira is five miles uphill to Imerovigli, then one mile downhill to Fira. Wear tennis shoes, sunscreen, bring water and plan for a 3 hour hike.

b. Hike to Skaros Rock in Imerovigli
This is a beautiful and non touristy hike that starts from Grace Santorini Hotel, and takes about an hour. Wear tennis shoes with good traction and take water. The trail takes you down to an adorable (surprise!) blue and white church, which is worth the detour. Then it is a straight up climb to the top, including a pretty steep rocky last part. The views are amazing. Did you know that there used to be a fortress and castle here in medieval times?

c. Hike down to Ammoudi Bay, lunch, secret swim, then hike up again!

Located on the very edge of Oia, on the far western side is Ammoudi Bay, a beautiful spot to enjoy a meal, and enjoy a secret swim. To get here, hike down from near the Oia "castle" 300 steps. The steps are actually like 3 steps long each, so it is farther down (and up) than it seems. Now, there are donkeys that will take you back up if you wish (or you can take a cab from behind the Taverna Katina).

Ammoudi Bay is known for its fish tavernas, and there are three main ones to choose from: Taverna Katina (limited menu and expensive but you get to choose your own fish),

 Dimitris Ammoudi Tavern (you can watch your fish being fried on their outdoor grill)

 and Sunset in Ammoudi restaurant (which has a lovely and extensive menu). 

After your meal, continue through the restaurants and follow a path that goes out the other side, and around the rocky outcropping, to a small rock wall (mostly deteriorated), and emerald green swimming area. You can swim to the island directly across, and if you go around the other side, you are rewarded with a charming chapel (with mosaic stone floor and bell you can ring), and a (scary!) dive into the bay! Be cautious of the rocks below--jeff says dive at either 10am or 2pm on the clock dial, and make sure to have a running start! My tip is to swim past the 2 white painted steps, go around the bend and come up from the smooth rocks. It is a fun, in the know swim adventure and a highlight for us!

Ok, now that you've had your meal and swim, time to hike back up the 300 steps! aaaahhh! (or take a donkey!)

7. Do a day of wine tasting  
Did you know that Santorini has a burgeoning wine business? There are 18 wineries on the island, and is the most well-known wine region in Greece. The native grape Assyrtiko is the most popular, and produces a high acid wine with citrus tones. You can take a private, semi-private or wine tour  by bus, but please note that the wine tours book early. You can also go on your own, just make sure you check the websites for any needed appointments. Some popular tours are Santos, Venetsanos, Estate Argyros, Domaine Sigales and Boutari.
Image result for santorini wineries

8. Take a boat ride to the volcano or around the island! 
There are two main types of boat rides--those that focus on Sunsets and those that take you to some of the less visited sites around Santorini. We really like Spiridakos Catamaran Cruises, which operates out of both Oia and Fira. 
Image result for spiridakos sailing cruises

Check in with Peter of Spiridakos Sailing, who gets my vote for the kindest, most helpful man on the island. Some of the spots that he can take you are the hot springs, Indian Rocks and the private bays and swimming areas on the Volcano islands, the elusive White Beach, lighthouse and various hidden spots along the caldera.

Now that we have explored some of the less touristy parts of Santorini.... Here is the big question...Where DO you go to see the sun set, without tourists?
Most everyone has heard that the sunset in Oia is legendary, and that is true. But there are ways to see a Santorini sunset without the crowds. If you are determined to watch the sunset in Oia, instead of following the herd to the castle or "the blue domes", book a restaurant that has a sunset view. 

Here are some good sunset view restaurants in Oia that we have tried:
elegant, attention to detail at Fanari Restaurant
Oia Gefsis corner table upstairs, contemporary 
Kastro (or red bicycle) has a sunset view, and the best view of the Castle
Where else can you see the sunset? 
Well, that depends upon what time of year it is. Therefore, it is a good idea to find out where the sun will set during your visit. In May-July, the sun sets due north, but by October, the sunset has moved to the west.  

Sunset in Fira: What's great about this is that you get the Caldera in the photo.
Sunset from cliffs of Fira near our hotel
Sunset at the Lighthouse: What's great about this is that the lighthouse is lovely,  and there aren't many people. This is the Locals' vote for best spot.

Sunset on a boat: Your boat operator will make sure you get a great photo spot, timed just right. And a sunset with other boats in the background is always nice!

photo courtesy Travel Greece Travel Europe
Sunset from Imerovigli: Just about anywhere from this high crest village is beautiful.
Sunset from on or above Skaros Rock: Definitely worth the hike up!

Related image
Photo courtesy of Solitary Wanderer
So, yes, it is possible to have a non-touristy Santorini experience! And when you do, you will feel rewarded by sleepy villages, wonderful views and gorgeous rugged terrain. I hope that you enjoyed this guide to some off-the-tourist-trail spots. Just from writing this, I feel compelled to go right back and explore more of Santorini's secret and little known areas! 

Does this off-the-beaten-path guide make you want to visit Santorini??

Bye from Sensational Santorini!


  1. Splendid, I am never going anywhere in Europe without you and your wondrous advice.

  2. Spectacular! How much beauty can you take in, in one lifetime!

  3. Hi! This is certainly an informative post! Greece is indeed a hidden gem of the World! Furthermore, I must say you have great writing style & your blog is an interesting piece! With your blog, I believe my travel to Greece will be lot more organised now! Thanks for taking out time to share such engaging post! I appreciate your efforts! Also, I cannot wait to get my Greece visa! Keep sharing!

    1. hi Emily, you have just made my day! i'm so glad you enjoyed my blog about Santorini, and I hope you will write and tell me how your vacation goes!!!! btw, since you are still in the planning process, you might find my other two Greek blogs helpful.... here are the links (my personal fav is Milos at the moment! :)

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