Santorini is one of the most popular destinations in Europe and over 2 million people visit the volcanic Greek island annually (excluding cruise ships). This is a guide about low-season on the island- what to expect and do when visiting Santorini in winter.
Spending winter in Santorini is a smart choice if you’re looking for fewer crowds and some of the best sunsets and even though it may not be especially warm then, it is definitely a fantastic trip, nevertheless!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Visiting Santorini in Winter
- About Santorini
- What to Expect During Winter in Santorini
- How to Get to Santorini
- How to Get Around During Winter
- Things to Do in Santorini in Winter
- Photograph Oia Without the Crowds
- Visit the Ruins of Akrotiri
- Enjoy Vothonos Village
- Discover Santorini Wine
- Explore Fira
- Wander through Pyrgos
- Breathe in the Santorini Sunset
- Hike the Island
- Check Out the Deserted Beaches
- Lose Yourself in Ancient Thera
- Enjoy the Views from Skaros Rock
- Taste Santorini’s Unique Cuisine
- Where to Stay in Santorini
- Travel Insurance for Santorini
Visiting Santorini in Winter
Santorini is probably one of the most famous Greek Islands (okay… it is probably the most famous). The idyllic island rises out of the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranian with beautiful white and blue houses that crawl up the volcanic hillside.
During the summer months, Santorini heaves with tourists, as more and more people arrive on the island each day. As the summer days start to dwindle and the tourists head home, the island falls into partial hibernation.
However, the off-season still has so much to offer and there are still plenty of things to do in Santorini in winter. You just need to plan your Santorini itinerary accordingly!
Sitting in the Aegean sea, Santorini, officially known as Thira, is one of the most popular of the 227 inhabited Greek islands.
The island attracts visitors from all over the world as people clamber to enjoy its stunning beaches, charming towns, and romantic backdrops. It was formed due to thousands of years of volcanic activity under the sea, although the most significant eruption was the Minoan eruption of 1,600 BCE.
The colossal eruption is known to be one of the world’s most significant volcanic eruptions and it helped shape the island and possibly caused Atlantis’ demise. Before the eruption, the island was home to the advanced Minoan civilization who traded across the region and had built up a sophisticated town in Akrotiri.
Sadly, the volcanic activity was most likely 100 times more powerful than the eruption that destroyed Pompeii and instantly ended the Minoan civilization. Over the centuries that followed, the island suffered a turbulent history with various powers fighting to control the island up until the end of WW2.
Another natural disaster hit the island in the 1950s when an earthquake shook Santorini and destroyed around half of the island’s buildings and damaged many more.
Thankfully today, the island has recovered, and the dormant volcano lying beneath the surrounding waters has been mostly inactive, and tourism to the island has exploded over the years.
What to Expect During Winter in Santorini
While most tourists visit Santorini during the summer months when the hot sun beams down on the beaches, and the island comes to life, it is still an incredibly beautiful place to visit in winter.
During the quieter winter months, much of the island shuts up shop, preferring to wait out the winter until the sun brings back the tourists.
However, despite the slowing down of life, there are still plenty of things to do. This guide will take you through everything you need to know about traveling to Santorini during winter and the best things to do in Santorini during the offseason.
Is Santorini Crowded in Winter?
I hate crowds, especially in summer since I struggle with claustrophobia and the heat tends to exacerbate this feeling.
The beauty of visiting Santorini in the winter is that the crowds are far less painful and the daily cruise ships no longer arrive transforming the narrow winding streets into a serene place.
Walking around the towns and villages becomes a quiet affair- no longer does a 5-minute walk take 20 minutes and the constant fear of being in someone Instagram shoot fades away.
As the island starts to relax, a different side of Santorini appears, allowing travelers to enjoy and see a more traditional way of life that is often masked by mass tourism.
Is Everything Closed during Winter?
No, not everything. While it is true that when the high season draws to an end, many business choose to take the offseason off until the crowds return, there are still plenty of places open during the quieter months.
In the larger towns, such as the capital of Fira, you will find that many restaurants and hotels are open. However, during the winter months in Santorini, the beachside businesses tend to be closed as are the outdoor pools.
For those seeking to experience the famous nightlife of Santorini, winter will leave you a little disappointed as many of the bars and clubs shut during the winter lul.
What is the Weather Like in the Offseason?
The weather during the offseason is known to be a little unpredictable with temperatures reaching around 77°F (25°C) and dropping as low as 34°F (1°C).
Santorini in December and January are known to be the wetter months, and snow occasionally falls, but there is still plenty of sunshine during this period.
The cooler temperature makes exploring the island by foot a much more pleasant experience than the middle of summer, although winter winds can cause the weather to change quickly.
While the Mediterranean is known as a warm body of water, during the winter, the sea temperatures plummet, making it unsuitable for swimming.
How to Get to Santorini
Santorini is one of the few Greek islands serviced by an airport large enough to accommodate international air travel.
There are flights to Santorini via Athens airport during the offseason, or Ryanair offers budget flights to the island year-round from several European hubs.
It is also possible to take the ferry to Santorini, departing from Piraeus port on Athens’s edge. Depending on the type of ferry available, the journey between Athens and Santorini can take between 5-10 hours.
As demand for ferries during the offseason is low, they run on a significantly reduced schedule, but there should be at least one ferry crossing a day. Check Direct Ferries for information about when ships are sailing and to book.
How to Get Around During Winter
Getting around Santorini can be relatively tricky in summer, let alone during the winter when buses rarely run.
The best option is to rent a car when you arrive at the airport. Having a car on the island will give you far more flexibility and allow you to easily explore the entire island.
During the winter, the road will be far less busy, and journeys between various sites will be smooth and easy.
Alternatively, if you are planning on just traveling to your hotel and exploring the island by foot, I highly recommend booking a Welcome Pickup transfer. I often use Welcome Pickups in Greece as the service is always perfect, with clean and comfortable cars.
The driver will pick you up from the airport or ferry terminal and take you to your hotel. While booking the transfer, you can also add extras like tickets to museums or even have your driver pick you up a Greek SIM card.
You can also have a driver come to pick you up from your hotel on your planned departure date and take you to your departure point.
Book an airport transfer here:Welcome Pickups airport transfer to your hotel
If you are traveling on a budget, a small bus network connects the island although there is no bus route that connects one side of the island with the other.
Navigating the island by bus will require a fair bit of planning and luck (especially in winter) as you will need to most likely transfer through Fira Bus Station to reach your destination.
Buses run on a severely reduced service in the winter, and you may find that traveling between two points can take most of the day.
There is a regular bus service from the airport to Fira that runs six times a day. You will need to have cash with you to pay for the bus as the drivers do not accept credit cards.
There are also a limited number of taxis on the island that can be flagged down or found outside the airport’s main terminal. These are generally on a first-come, first-served basis and can occasionally be hard to come by.
Luckily there are still plenty to see and do in winter, and the following are my top suggestions are the 12 best things to do in Santorini during winter.
Things to Do in Santorini in Winter
Photograph Oia Without the Crowds
Oia is the most photographed place in Greece, and it’s easy to understand why since the village is beyond beautiful. The whitewashed buildings accented with blue climb up the steep slope of the volcano’s caldera.
Within the village, narrow and winding cobbled streets open up to gorgeous views over the rooftops and out over the Mediterranean.
Oia is the sunniest part of the island, and on average, the sun shines for longer there than anywhere else on Santorini, making it perfect for photography.
During the high season, the crowds throng through the tiny village, as hopeful photographers aspire to get those picture-perfect shots for their Instagram feeds.
The masses can make moving around the village near impossible, and waiting to get the perfect picture for yourself can take hours. The tourists mostly disappear during the off-season, but the stunning views remain, and photographing Oia becomes far easier.
As the sun sets, the buildings draw in the sky’s colors if something does happen, and Oia changes from its quintessential white to a range of beautiful purples and oranges as the sun dips below the horizon.
Visit the Ruins of Akrotiri
For many years, the small village of Akrotiri was regarded as a typical little Greek village, with the only buildings of note being a Venetian Castle that was destroyed by the 1956 earthquake and a charming lighthouse that teeters on the edge of a cliff.
However, in the 1960s, a discovery just outside of the village changed everything. Archeologists discovered under the village and in the surrounding area one of the best-preserved Minoan cities in the Aegean. It was buried under tons of ash and volcanic debris, much like a Greek version of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
The volcanic eruption took place around 1600 BC and is most likely to have been one of the most significant volcanic eruptions in the last 5,000 years and it wiped out the Minoan civilization.
Book Your Akrotiri tour here: 1.5-Hour Private Tour in Akrotiri Prehistoric City
As tons of volcanic debris and ash fell on the city, it preserved the ruins immaculately. Archeologists have managed to find some of the most important historical finds in the region.
Due to the intense heat, many artifacts and frescos within the buildings have been beautifully preserved. So far, archeologists have only excavated a small section of the city, and a building has been constructed over it to help keep it intact.
How to Visit Akrotiri
The best way to visit the ruins is via a guided tour. Your informative guide will teach you all about the fascinating history of the city and the Minoan civilization.
There are limited tours during the offseason; however, there is a fantastic private tour that will take you around the ruins and can accommodate up to 15 people. Click here for rates and availability for the tour.
Enjoy Vothonos Village
Explore a different side of life in Santorini with a trip to Vothonos Village. Located a short drive from Fira, the small village sits in a beautiful gorge.
It is known for its unique architecture where houses have been carved into the rock to form small cave-like dwellings. Take time to wander the streets and enjoy the quietness of Greek village life.
Keep an eye out for an abandoned school carved into the rock where there are still remnants of school life. The village’s main attraction is the wine museum that is situated underground and it takes you through the history of wine production on Santorini.
Discover Santorini Wine
I don’t profess to have a vast knowledge of wine and to be honest, I had no idea that Santorini was Greece’s premier wine-growing region.
Grapes have been grown on Santorini’s volcanic slopes for thousands of years, despite the fact the soil is generally of low quality. Santorini’s wine grew in notoriety during the Venetian empire when barrels of wine were traded throughout Europe and neighboring areas.
The wine was so valuable to the island that when the Ottoman Empire took control of Santorini, they continued to sell wine despite alcohol consumption being illegal throughout the empire.
The volcanic soil is porous and can absorb moisture from the humid air, helping the grapevines grow and stay nourished. Each of the vines grows flat to the ground in a particular system that keeps them cool and traps water; the same method is standard throughout volcanic wine regions such as Lanzarote.
Book a Santorini wine tour here: Wine tour of Santorini with Oia sunset views
Santorini produces a range of wines, including white wines, similar to those found in Italy. The best way to get to grips with Santorini’s wines is by going on an organized wine tour where you can learn all about various styles’ production and tastes.
During the winter months, tours are limited and can be more costly than the summer months unless you are traveling with a large group.
If you are looking to visit several vineyards and try a large selection of wines, I recommend booking the wine tour with sunset view in Oia tour. This tour is perfect for those traveling in a larger group during winter, as only private tours are available.
I recommend heading to the Santorini Wine Museum for those traveling on a budget and wishing just to learn about wine on Santorini and try a few wines. Click here to book your visit to the wine museum.
The island’s capital is Fira and it is a charming town perched on top of the volcanic cliffs. While much of the island shuts down during winter, Fira keeps on moving.
The town is relatively small but there is plenty to do, with museums, art galleries, and beautiful churches hidden amongst the streets. It is worth checking out both the Archaeological and Prehistoric Museums in Fira where you will find some ancient artifacts found on the island.
Throughout winter, museums and historic sites are free to enter on Sundays. In the evenings, head out to one of Fira’s brilliant restaurants where you can enjoy a range of delicious dishes.
For those searching for a bit of nightlife, Fira is your best bet with a few local bars and nightclubs staying open throughout the offseason.
The port is situated at the cliff’s bottom and can be reached by cable car or a winding path that is carved through the cliff, providing amazing panoramic views over the caldera.
Wander through Pyrgos
Santorini is full of charming little villages, but few match Pyrgos, the island’s highest settlement and original capital.
Pyrgos is reasonably small but is the perfect place to make a stop as you explore Santorini. Life slows down in Pyrgos, especially during winter when many of the residents head to the mainland. At this time, the quaint streets that wind between the buildings offer a more traditional Greek feeling.
Villages have spent a lot of effort ensuring the village remains well preserved and its cultural heritage. Sitting just above the village is the ruins of a medieval castle that offers stunning panoramic views out over the island.
Pyrgos makes the perfect stop to break up a journey around the island and only takes a few hours to explore fully.
Breathe in the Santorini Sunset
Santorini is famous for its incredible sunsets and during the summer months, tourists flock to the towns and villages on the western coast to marvel at the astonishing beauty.
Fortunately, during the winter months, this incredible natural display continues. Oia is the most famous place on the island to watch the sunset, but Fira’s views are equally as beautiful, and it is worth trying to witness the sunset from different locations.
Hike the Island
The cooler temperatures of winter are perfect for experiencing the extraordinary hiking opportunities that Santorini has to offer.
One of the most popular hikes on the island is the hike between Fira and Oia. At just over 6 miles (10km) long, the walk is perfect for all ability levels, and there are plenty of places to stop along the way to break up the trek.
Along the way, you will hike along the cliff tops with stunning views over the caldera and out into the Aegean sea. You will also pass two historical villages, Firostefani and Imerovigli.
Dotted along the route are several beautiful religious buildings that are a great way to break up the journey and shelter from any nasty weather that may have blown in.
I recommend packing a lunch and bringing some water with you as places are less likely to be open in the villages during winter. Santorini is unexpectedly one of the best places to visit in Greece for hikers.
Check Out the Deserted Beaches
While the weather in the winter may not be conducive to spending the day at the beach, they are still worth visiting.
In the high season, the beaches are littered with sunbathers topping up their tans and people looking to enjoy the Aegean’s warm waters.
Given Santorini’s volcanic composition, there are two types of sandy beaches- red and black. The red sand beach is next to Akrotiri village and requires a little bit of athleticism to reach as you need to work your way down to sea level.
Several black sand beaches are dotted throughout the island, but the most famous is Perivolos Beach along the southeastern edge of the island.
While I don’t recommend swimming in the winter, the beaches themselves are picturesque, and there is something relaxing about walking barefoot along the beach that cannot be beaten. Visiting beaches is still one of the best things to do in Santorini in winter, even if swimming is not a great option.
Lose Yourself in Ancient Thera
On top of Mesa Vouno mountain are the ruins of Ancient Thera. The city was built in the 9th century BC after the volcanic eruption had wiped out the Minoan civilization.
It was relatively unimportant for much of its existence, although it grew in wealth during the Roman occupation.
Sadly, the city was abandoned in the 8th century AD, when a small volcanic eruption led to the city’s desertion, and much of it was subsequently destroyed.
Exploring the ruins gives a fascinating insight into life during these times, and it is easy to see the influences of the various civilizations that called the island home. As you explore the city’s remnants, there are temples, large residences, and even a theatre that would have attracted people from neighboring islands.
The site is open to the public throughout winter, apart from on Tuesdays when it is closed.
Enjoy the Views from Skaros Rock
Just outside the village of Imerovigli is Skaros Rock, a rocky headland that juts out into the Aegean and was once home to a medieval castle and community.
The walk out to Skaros Rock is pleasant and can be done in about an hour, although it’s important to note the return journey is rather steep.
Along the route, you can find the remnants of the castle that once stood there, but was destroyed by numerous earthquakes throughout the 19th century.
There is a small chapel hidden away on the sea-facing side of the headland. The picturesque chapel has whitewashed walls and blue detailing that beautifully contrasts with the red volcanic rock of the island.
Skaros Rock can also be done as part of the Fira to Oia hike, providing you feel like you will have enough energy to complete both walks in one.
Taste Santorini’s Unique Cuisine
For many years, Santorini was cut off from the rest of Greece and left to fend for itself with limited boat service to the mainland. This isolation has led to the island having a fantastic culinary scene and being home to rare and sought-after ingredients.
Like everywhere in Greece, many of the restaurants serve up an impressive array of seafood, and there is, in my opinion, nothing better than a grilled octopus from a Greek Taverna.
However, the island’s fruit and vegetables are beyond amazing, and it is one of the few places in the world able to grow white aubergine and katsouni, a special kind of cucumber.
You will find capers growing wild and free throughout the island, forming an essential part of the island’s cuisine. The cherry tomatoes that hail from Santorini are so unique that they are a protected species and can not be grown elsewhere.
Book Santorini food tour here: 5-hour Santorini local food tour
The island’s traditional dishes went unchanged for centuries until electricity and tourism came to the island in the 1960s. Thankfully, the islanders have kept to their traditions, and you will find many items on restaurant menus that hold on to the traditional ingredients of the island.
Keep an eye out for recipes that include Fava beans, a staple of the Santorini diet for over 3000 years. Eating is definitely one of the best things to do in Santorini during winter! Okay… and summer.
If you want to find out more about Santorini’s food, I highly recommend taking a food tour of the island. The Santorini local taste food tour is a fantastic 5 hour trip around the island, where you will get to try local ingredients and products and learn all about how they are grown and produced.
The tour will end at a charming taverna where you will have the opportunity to try the most popular local dishes.
Where to Stay in Santorini
One of the best advantages of traveling to Santorini in the winter is that the hotel prices are incredibly affordable compared to the high season, perfect for those looking to visit on a budget.
While many hotels are open during the off-season, some of the more secluded resorts will shut during this period. The best option is to base yourself in Fira, where far more options will be available for all budgets.
Fira also acts as the perfect launchpad for exploring the island since all buses connect through the town. There are also far more bars and restaurants open in Fira during the winter period compared to the areas that rely heavily on summer tourism.
Here are a few of our winter Santorini accommodation tips:
Luxury: On the Cliff Suites – Built into the cliffside, this luxury guest house offers stunning rooms that are only outdone by the views that look out over the caldera. In the evenings, relax on your terrace with a glass of wine or enjoy your private hot tub as the sunset over the island. Click here for rates and availability.
Mid Range: Tataki Hotel – Tataki Hotel offers a luxury stay for an affordable price. Each room is well throughout and offers beautiful views out over Fira. Each room has a balcony where you can relax with a drink as the sun sets, with some also including a private hot tub. Click here for rates and availability.
Budget: Antonia Hotel – Antonia Hotel is a charming little hotel in the heart of Fira. The hotel rooms are cozy and well designed, each coming with its own balcony or terrace. All the main sites of Fira are a short walk away. Click here for rates and availability.
Airbnb: Casa Santantonio – Casa Santantonio is a stunning apartment in Fira’s heart that offers a more secluded feel. The beautiful apartment has everything you could wish for, including a spacious outdoor area with stunning views and a hot tub.
The hosts can arrange for a private chef to come to your apartment and cook a beautiful romantic dinner that can be enjoyed on the terrace. Click here for rates and availability.
Travel Insurance for Santorini
Insurance, in my opinion, is something you should never leave home without. You never know what could go wrong and things do occasionally go very wrong.
I use Safetywing to protect myself against the unknown. Their comprehensive insurance plans will protect you against any unfortunate accidents, which means if something does happen, your holiday will not end up costing far more than you thought.
Santorini is generally a safe place to visit, and most people experience no issues, but I believe it’s better to have some insurance to give you peace of mind just in case.
We hope that this Santorini winter guide gave you all the information to encourage you to book an off-season trip to the popular Greek Island. If you’re visiting Athens in winter, it is not a far journey and is only a plane or ferry ride away!
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