Before moving to Greece, we decided to spend some time in Athens to see how we liked it. Additionally to its own beauty, Athens is pretty close to more than 2000 islands. Who hasn’t dreamed of going to a Greek Island? They occupy a special place in our collective imaginary. However, most of these islands are packed during summer. The worst stories come from Santorini, where tourists cue for hours just to take a picture or two. Since it was late December, we kept wondering how’s Santorini in winter!? We are thrilled to report that it’s amazing! Actually, we believe winter is the best time to visit Santorini.
Fortune Favors the Bold
There is a saying in my native language (Serbian) that goes something along the lines of ’Even good fortune has to like you’. In English there is a similar one that goes ‘Fortune favors the bold’. I don’t know if the two of us are bold or not, what I know is that luck smiled at us during our Greek adventure. First we found an incredible apartment in Athens’ Paleo Faliro which we got through the wonderful House Swap platform (our home in Barcelona is that cool). Our Athens penthouse was just two minutes from the beach and offered unobstructed sea views! Then our lovely landlord Anastasia offered us her cave house in Santorini’s Oia for a symbolic price!
Our cave house in Santorini
As soon as we arrived in Oia, we couldn’t believe our luck! Our cave house was absolutely stunning, with a completely private terrace overlooking the sea. It was the last house in Oia. We were just below the famous picture of the blue Church, surrounded by rocks and the sea. Had we’ve been naked, no one would have noticed! The interior of the house is basically a tunnel carved inside the rocks that comfortably fitted a kitchen, a huge room, and a bathroom at the end. The apartment was so deep it needed a humidity extractor to function normally. Can you believe that?
Where to stay in Santorini
Though Fira is gorgeous, Oia is even nicer (the entire island is surreal!). Hence, we absolutely recommend sleeping in Oia during your trip to Santorini. There are numerous cave houses in Oia, but not all of them open all year round. You have to book a hotel with everything: directs views of the caldera, a balcony, and even a private bathtub. Three of the best lodgings in Oia are the VIP Suites, the Residence Suites, and the Genesis Cave Houses. All three are in the middle of town close to the caldera. If you are carrying too much luggage or simply want to avoid the stairs, the Angel Cave Houses offer equally breathtaking views, but you don’t have to go down. Finally, if you want to be in the middle of the action, stay in Fira in the Asteras Villas.
You can also Contact Anastasia to book her cave house.
Places to eat
In all honesty we were not worried at all about things to do in Santorini in winter. However, we weren’t sure we would find restaurants open. As it turned out, over a dozen restaurants in Fira and about 5 in Oia open in winter. Both of us are not restaurant queens, informal eateries are more our thing. We ate at a great pizza place near the bus stop, and at an authentic bakery/shop on the main pedestrian drag with couple of chairs overlooking the sea. Additionally there are a couple of supermarkets that offer pretty much everything. On the other hand, Fira has a long street next to the bus stop populated with shops and restaurants (25is Martiou).
Places to Visit in Santorini
The most beautiful place in Santorini and the one that appears on every postcard is the lovely town of Oia. Every little house and church seems to come out of a fairy tale. When walking about its narrow streets, your mind flies and travels in time. Oia’s main sight is the ruins of a 15th century Byzantine Castle. Likewise, most people come here for the breathtaking views of Oia and the old windmills. We strongly recommend being in Oia late in the afternoon to enjoy killer sunsets. You’ll never forget them! To Eitan’s delight, there is a wonderful bookstore (Atlantis) in Oia. It’s on the road that goes to the fortress. Unfortunately, most churches are closed.
Fira is much larger than Oia and feels more like a real town. In Fira, there are a couple of interesting churches and museums that open even in winter. The Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral is easily recognizable for its grand size and white color. The Catholic Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist is the opposite: small, hidden, and quite colorful. Among several interesting museums, the Museum of Prehistoric Thira is the best. They display artifacts found in nearby Akrotiri. Take a walk along the caldera. On your way towards Oia, you’ll stumble upon the ruins of the medieval fortress of Skaros, also known as Skaros Rock. Once again, the most amazing views will reward your effort.
Other Fascinating Places in Santorini
Oia and Fira are not the only places to visit in Santorini. In fact, there are several other charming villages with whitewashed houses and churches with colorful domes. Among the nicest ones, you’ll find Pyrgos, south of Fira. It is famous for its castle ruins, beautiful churches, and the views of the entire island. If you have time, visit nearby Megalo Chori, also packed with charming houses and little churches. For archeology lovers, stopping in Akrotiri is mandatory. A volcano erupted in the 16th century BC covering an ancient town from the Bronze Age with ashes, thus saving it from destruction. Finally, go ahead and take a walk on some of Santorini’s famous volcanic beaches, such as Perissa’s black beach and Akrotiri’s red beach.
Things to do in Santorini in Winter
Explore Oia without crowds
Rather than socializing with fellow travelers we prefer getting to know locals. A lovely lady runs the abovementioned pizza house so we chatted about Santorini and life while eating. Though high season does bring much more income to Santorini, it is in winter when locals relax. Likewise, most construction happens in winter; there was a lot of activity going on in Oia. Cute donkeys carry most of the heavy materials. We couldn’t help but cringe at the poor little things carrying stones! Most workers are from Albania and we managed to talk to a few about their life in Greece (they really like it). One of our favorite things to do in Santorini in winter is cuddling the stray cats that roam all over Oia.
Hike from Oia to Fira
The best thing about visiting Santorini in winter is the lack of flocks of tourists. Well, there are a few, mostly Chinese. Another fantastic thing is that you can explore the island’s stunning landscape on foot and be part of everyday life. It was love at first sight! We strolled for hours around both Oia and Fira and even walked between the two. Santorini’s volcanic landscape is quite unique and we had the fortune of enjoying them in total silence. You can walk between the two towns in less than 3 hours. It is not especially challenging, and the views are for sure worth it. Along the way, you’ll pass by the small Psilos Stavros Church, the abovementioned Skaros Rock, and the nice village of Imerovigli.
Moving Around Santorini
Don’t worry if you are not into trekking, regular buses connect Fira to most towns in Santorini in less than half an hour. Therefore, if you are staying in Oia, you have to take two buses to reach Pyrgos or Akrotiri. Take note that local bus stations are not real stations, but rather parking lots with a timetable board. The one in Fira is right next to the main square, across the museum of Prehistoric Thira. In Santorini buses operate every half an hour in summer, and approximately every ninety minutes in winter. They are comfortable and follow a strict schedule, although schedules change every season. So please check timetables once on the island.
Santorini Excursions – Thirassia
Apart from its beautiful towns Santorini is popular for its volcanic beaches. While packed in summer, they are practically empty in winter since it can get a bit cold. Another brilliant place is Thirassia Island, across the sea. The island features plenty of old churches and monasteries, and again a wonderful landscape and stunning views. It is easy to get there by taking a ferry from Oia’s Ammoudi’s port. Take note that there is only one ferry early in the morning in winter. We are not early birds, and we love doing nothing, so we stayed in Oia to soak up its atmosphere.
Santorini Weather in Winter
The weather in Santorini goes from hot and dry in summer, to relatively cold and rainy in winter. But don’t worry! Though the weather can be more unpredictable in winter, it is never really cold. Well, at least not for European standards. We’ve been to Santorini in late December, and though it was cloudy and raining from time to time, the sun kept shining, and it was not cold. In fact, one day we walked from Oia to Fira without our winter jackets. While in summer the temperature often reaches 30 degrees Celsius, in winter it can go as low as 10. Most cave houses are well isolated, so no heating is needed.
The iconic white Cycladic architecture is a result of landscape and climate. The typical house is painted in white to properly absorb the sun. Houses in Santorini have cubical roofs, and in Mykonos flat. In Santorini the so called ‘cave-houses’ were partially built into the rock, to preserve warmth in winter and coolness in summer. In Mykonos most houses have blue colored balconies. Both islands are home to beautiful historical churches and round windmills. Just like houses, the churches are mostly white, but there are some painted in yellow. Church domes in Mykonos are white, in Santorini they are blue. All towns are densely built with typical irregular streets and narrow alleys.
How to Get to Santorini
There are flights to Santorini from Athens, Thessaloniki, and the rest of Greece and Europe. Tones of flights operate in high season, but only flights from Santorini to Athens in winter. Though this means you’ll have to change flights in Athens, tickets are incredibly cheap. Plus, who doesn’t want to spend a couple of days in Athens? Santorini’s airport is 6 kilometers southeast of Fira. Take note that there is a public bus to and from the airport. You can also arrive by boat from Athens’ port of Piraeus. In winter, Blue Star Ferries operates one boat a day, and the journey lasts 7,5 hours. Take note that boats arrive at the new port of Athinios, south of Fira. Buses and taxis connect the port with the rest of the island.
Check out this post on how to get to Santorini from Athens.
Best Time to Visit Santorini
Since buses in Santorini start working late and finish early in winter, we took a taxi to and from the airport. We discussed with one of our drivers when was the best time to visit Santorini. He raved about fall (autumn): fewer people than in summer, great weather and most places are open. Nevertheless, Santorini in December was absolutely magical. We don’t care about stupid shops, we don’t like organized excursions and we are not that crazy about socializing with fellow tourists. Even more, to us the whole point of traveling is to get to know the authentic side of every place we visit. And in Santorini this is only possible in winter.
Check out this post for best time to visit Greece as a whole.
Are you still wondering when to visit Santorini?
We have to be honest. Though we love the sea and the beach, we have a hard time traveling around the Mediterranean in summer. It’s simply too hot and overcrowded. Therefore, we don’t have as much fun as we have in winter. Granted, you can’t go into the sea in winter, but you can spend hours on your own admiring the sea. Grab a book and sit on any bench in Santorini, and you will be able to enjoy unforgettable views. Try seeing something under 35 degrees while surrounded by thousands of people! That’s why we’ve been going to traditionally summer destinations in winter over the past few years. We’ve had such a great time in Mallorca, Malta, Sicily, Azores, and the French Riviera in winter.
Why Visit Santorini in Winter
- Almost no tourists
- Locals are more relaxed
- Pleasant weather for hiking
- Lower prices
- Weather can be unpredictable
- Many hotels and restaurants are closed
- No swimming in the sea
- Less flights and boats