Greece is a beautiful country with amazing architecture, beautiful beaches and spectacular islands. We have always wanted to visit Athens and Santorini.
After Greece went through the financial instability in 2014-15, it has been more and more popular with tourists as an affordable honeymoon/holiday destination. As Greece is a key summer getaway for British Citizens, it gets really crowded during summer. Naturally all the flights, hotels, activities shoot up their prices to accommodate this crazy inflow of tourists. This is reflected in smaller islands like Santorini, Mykonos, Crete even more severely where the hotel prices are 5-10 times of what they are in winter. Sounds unbelievable? Well, we got a cave hotel in Santorini in just INR 4500 (€ 56) per night with an amazing view. When I had checked earlier, the same hotel was INR 25000 (€ 313) in August. We also spent a total of INR 6000 (€ 80) for both of us for our flight from Athens to Santorini (two-ways).
So we decided to visit Athens and Santorini in late January 2019. We believed it would be affordable and we will encounter much less tourists.
January is winter in Greece is cold, windy and rainy, especially in the islands. We knew this before visiting and had done our research on what we would do during winter in Santorini.
Here are some of the things we liked during our visit:
Everything is more affordable. Not only flight and hotel, but the local transport, cost of food – everything has different prices in Santorini depending on the season. We saved a lot of money in our entire trip just by visiting in the off season.
An entire island almost to ourselves!! Although we knew there would be less tourists, but we couldn’t have imagined that we would get the village of Oia almost entirely to ourselves. We stayed in Oia village which is one of the most beautiful and picturesque villages in Santorini. During our stay, there were hardly 15-20 tourists in the entire village. It was so calm and romantic. We were able to take millions of photos anywhere we wanted to, without anyone in our frame. We would just sit in our balcony and enjoy the caldera view for hours and time just flew by. We didn’t have to rush to take a perfect sunset shot or stand in a queue to take photos of the colorful blue doors there. It was as if we were in paradise.
Local transportation was not crowded at all. You can find public buses from Santorini Airport to Oia via Fira. Although the frequency is low during off season, but this is the cheapest way of reaching Oia from Airport (one bus ride used to cost us € 1.4 per person). I’ve heard that during peak season, people stand in a long queue at the airport for the public bus as taxis are extremely pricey (€ 35-40).
Now some of the things which caused us some inconvenience:
Weather can be extremely unpredictable. In January/Winter, it can start pouring any time in Santorini. And it can get very very windy, with cold winds blowing at a speed up to 20-40 kms/hrs. So you can’t be outside all the time or enjoy the sun as much as you would like to. Taking photos in high wind condition can be a bit of a challenge at times.
Since many hotel rooms are situated down the hill and have narrow steps, you have to be very careful while going up and down during or after it rains as the road becomes quite slippery. Even if you are coming during other seasons, do check with your hotel management how much walking and/or stairs is involved to reach your room. Although, there are donkeys available to carry people and their luggage, it gets quite uncomfortable (especially while going down a steep slope). If you have any elderly people with you, definitely check if you will have to climb stairs or if the hotel is easily reachable from the town center.
Most of the hotels and restaurants are closed or under renovation during winter. Santorini starts to fully open after March end or mid April depending upon tourist inflow. There are only a few local people who stay in Oia village, so the entire place feels deserted. There were literally 3 restaurants open when we visited (your hotel will tell you the names and timing of these restaurants when you arrive). There are supermarkets in Oia and Fira where you can buy all the necessary things like water, snacks etc.
There’s no nightlife during this time. You won’t find any bars or pubs which are open at night in Santorini or even Mykonos. It can feel like a bit lonely and dark as everything shuts down by 10 pm. But nothing to worry, it is a very safe place.
Can’t enjoy the beaches and do any beach activities. Santorini has some of the most wonderful beaches- like Red beach, Perissa, Kamari, Thira etc. But you won’t be able to lounge on the beaches or go for a sunset cruise in winter as there are high tides in the sea and the water is extremely cold. There are signs suggesting tourists not to go inside water at certain beaches.
We have described our experience in detail which might help you in deciding whether you want to visit Santorini during winter/ off season or not.
As for us, we will still prefer going back to Santorini in winter as we can enjoy the raw beauty of this island with 1/5th of the cost of a peak season travel.