TRAVELLED April 2019 — Words & images by lauren coutts
Sharing my favourite sights, foods and experiences from two of the beautiful Greek islands, Santorini and Milos. These modest budget tips will assure you don’t dig yourself into a year-long debt of instant ramen noodle dinners (while still feeling like Rihanna while you bask in your villa’s hot-tub).
It all started in November 2018… One lunch hour I found a deal I couldn’t pass up: £90 round trip to Santorini from London Gatwick, over Easter weekend too! I immediately messaged a few of my friends telling them I had booked and encouraged them to as well. Five odd months later, four of us were jetted off to Greece. Santorini and Greece in general have always been a dream saved for a financial time more lavish than I am currently set in. After a successful seven dreamy days in Greece, I was inspired to share my knowledge and tips I learned along the way.
The iconic Greek island, Santorini, is easily a brutal tourist trap that will suck you of your money and patience. Here are my top recommendations to get the most out of your time (and money) on the island:
Hike from Thira to Oia (or vice versa)
The hike so nice, we did it twice! Unlike most hikes that I’m used to in Canada (that consist of a journey uphill with views paying off at the end) this hike features a stunning environment throughout the entire 10km. It takes around 3-4 hours depending on how many photo stops you take.
The island is small enough that at times you can see the sea from both side. This hike is key to do in off-peak travel season as the peak summer temps would fry you. There is a bus that runs from Thira to Oia that we used to get back to our desired destination before/after the hike—but remember to be mindful of the loose schedules that they often run on.
Book Off-Season for the Best Accommodations
The whole trip was booked off of finding an incredible flight deal, and the four of us intended to be very thoughtful in where we put our funds. I found a wonderful villa for us right in the caldera of Oia. It was £183 a night, which worked out to about £45 each a night, which for what we got was incredible! We had two double beds, a small kitchen, a living room and lovely patio with our own private and spacious hot-tub (not as hot as you’d think since it isn’t heated. Instead it uses the sun to warm up and sometimes the outdoor temperature usually has you urning for a cold plunge).
Our villa was the last at the end of a string of places, meaning we didn’t have anyone walking through the patio as we were in the hot tub (more common than you’d think). Being right in the caldera was truly a luxury none of us thought would be within budget, and we found many mornings we could move slowly and enjoy the sunshine and just taking in the views.
Upon checking the rates for the same place we stayed in peak season (July/August), the rate of £183 per night rose to £582 per night for the exact same property. If you’d like to learn more about the place or would like to book yourself the link is here—we stayed in the Grand Cave Villa.
Gyros, baby! Don’t waste any time sitting down for a lunch spot in Santorini, so many places are overpriced for what you get. For a filling, delicious and cheap eat, go for the gyro. One pita wrap will set you back about €2.50 (£2.15 GBP or $3.75 CAD). Our favourites were Luckys in Thira, and Pitogyros in Oia. Gelato is also very cheap and incredible, Lolita’s being our favourite in Oia.
Local Wine / Wine Tours
If you’re at all interested in wine tastings, Santorini has an epic history of wine due to its unique climate and volcanic soil. Indigenous white grape varieties are very popular, as well as a unique very sweet dessert wine called Vinsanto (Vin = Wine, Santo = Santorini). Prior to doing the tour, one of the places we went to for dinner in Thira gave out complimentary Vinsanto after the meal!
Although there are many tours out there, I love using Airbnb experiences because I feel it’s always a more intimate and authentic excursion. Due to the off season, we were lucky enough to be the only ones on our tour that day, and I would highly recommend this one. We got to visit the one brewery they have on the island and three of the wineries. Snacks were included as were tours of the production/process as well as plenty of information. We even had spare time prior to the last winery which we were headed to for sunset, so they drove us to Red Beach to check out which was a lovely perk of being a small private group.
If you’re interested in booking this, follow the link here for full availability and pricing. Even if you don’t do a tour, be sure to try out some of the local wines at the restaurants as it is something lovely and unique to Santorini.
Watch the Sunset… Just Not at Dinner
Santorini and the islands are known for their beautiful sunsets and many restaurants are perfectly placed to watch them. However, we found many of the restaurants with a view came with a much higher price tag and lacked in both service and quality of food. If you want to watch the sunset, there’s plenty of spots in the caldera that offer a stunning view, free of charge. The Greek tend to dine late regardless, most places we found stay open until midnight or 1am—so there’s no battle for time.
Two restaurants we can recommend to try off the beaten path would be Karma and Roka. Both are in Oia, but tucked a couple minutes walk further into the town and away from the caldera view.
Discounted Luxury Access – Andromeda Villas
If you decide to stay cheap on the accommodations and are yearning for a pool, or need a bit of change of scenery, this is the place for you. I came across Andromeda Villas when researching a place to spend our last day as we had a full day in Santorini before our midnight flight.
Andomeda Villas is tucked a 30-min walk from Thira and into the caldera steps. It had a wonderful pool, canopies bar and restaurant, all available for public use if you purchase food or drink from the amenities. I don’t believe this knowledge is made very public, and the pool was very quiet when we arrived aside from a couple of the villas’ residence. I can’t guarantee the place would be as quiet if you were to visit in peak travel window, but in off season it was a near-private oasis for us. We enjoyed some drinks and greek salads and the staff was so welcoming even as visitors—I cannot recommend this place enough!
Between checkout and flight/ferry times, you might find yourself with some hours to kill and a lot of luggage you don’t want to lug with you (especially not across cobble stones, trust me). I found a locker service right near the bus station in Thira that was relatively affordable and had great flexible opening hours.
Now that I’m through with recommendations on what to do, there’s a few things I’d recommend you skip, don’ts if you will..
Hire an ATV or a Car
If you’re staying right in Thira or Oia, there’s plenty to see and explore that’s available on foot, and there’s affordable buses that run between the two towns. We felt really satisfied by how much of the island we were able to cover and see, and we didn’t feel we missed out in not having motorised wheels. If you stayed longer than us, you might want a car to get to the more unconventional spots of the island, but we reserved that kind of hunting for Milos.
Fall for the tourist trap restaurants
As mentioned above in my must-dos, the view often doesn’t mean “wow factor” in the cuisine of the restaurants along the caldera. Save your wallet and avoid them all together.
Visit in July/August
Not only will you save money on visiting earlier in the year, but temperature and crowd will be less intense than it would in July and August. I’m not a great person in big crowds/small streets and cannot fathom the tiny passages of the calderas heaving with tourists. The weather for us at the end of April was perfect for all the hikes/sightseeing while still getting some lovely sun bathing hours in. May to early June andSeptember to early October would also be an ideal travel windows to visit in.
Waste Your Time on the Hot Springs/Volcano Tour
In reviews of boat tours that I passed by, I found many people underwhelmed from visiting the nearby volcano and hot springs (not to mention bathing suits stained from the sulphur of the hot springs!). When our ferry passed by the two on our trip to and from Santorini to Milos, both looked underwhelming and not something worth investing in.
Book an Airbnb Outside of Oia/Thira Without Realising it
Many of the Airbnbs available in Santorini, especially if you’re hunting on affordability, won’t be the caldera view/picturesque Greek villa you expect, or even super close to the town! I made sure we were right in the thick of it all through extensive research, but that’s the experience I knew we all wanted. Just be mindful if you do choose to go off the beaten path that you might want to hire a car or consider your transportation to and from the places you want to see and visit.
The calderas are filling with cobblestone walkways and stairs, I can’t imagine traversing in heels and keeping both my ankles intact. Comfy shoes are ideal for the trip, even when going for dinners or to the bar, and especially if you decide to do the hike.
Forget to Pack Sunscreen
They know what the people need, so the price of sunscreen on the islands is majorly marked up. Stock up before you go!
A small, two-hour ferry ride away from Santorini is the island Milos—it’s a must-see for beaches and beautiful landscapes. Read on below for my full list of recommendations:
This restaurant is at the top of my list—and for good reason. We visited it on the first night in Milos and came back every night following, each of us excited to try something while reordering our favourites (the cheese pies being one of them).
It is a family-run restaurant and the menus tell the poetic story of its humble beginnings to where it is now. Seating is all situated in a lovely garden with romantic patio lights as the sun goes down. The menus are all hand written and translated from Greek into several languages. The portions are large, fresh and every ingredient feels considered. The staff are all so welcoming and friendly, always helpful and patient in our decisions. Due to the fact that we were visiting over orthodox Easter, we were gifted a small Easter cookie after each meal there. If visiting in peak-season expect a wait to get in, but in visiting off-peak we had the luxury of walking right in.
Must tries if you visit: cheese pies, the tzatskiki (truly life-changing here), the fresh fig green salad, greek salad, meatballs and fresh pasta.
If you’re wanting a truly out-of-this world site seeing experience, Sarahnikios is the spot for you. Pictures truly did not do this place justice to its beauty. This location was actually one of our main motivators in choosing Milos as our second destination in our trip. The turquoise, blue waters paired with the moon-like rock facade that stretches on for ages will leave you in pure awe. This place is truly a must-see if you visit the island of Milos.
Moto-Safari / Electric Bikes
Having a car, ATV or some mode of transport is essential for this island. Though there are buses, many of the top spots to visit are only accessible by personal transport, and would be far too time-consuming and exhausting to do it all by walking—especially in hotter weather.
If you are coming from outside the EU please note you need an IDL (International Drivers License) in order to rent a vehicle, even ATV/Scooters in some cases. None of us came prepared for this, so we were quite limited in what we had options for. Thankfully we found Moto-Safari, a rental place that offered not only bikes, but electric bikes! These truly made our trip. Only 40 euros for two days, these got us around and up many of the winding, steep hills Milos had to offer. I’m quite sure they’re the only rental place that offers bikes, let alone electric-powered, ones on the island.
Nightlife — Akri
Milos isn’t the hot-spot mecca of Greece for nightlife, so don’t expect a Lindsay-Lohan-level party on this island. However, our waiter at O! Hamos! suggested we check out Akri, a small bar right in the centre of the town (just a stone’s throw from our Airbnb) and it did not disappoint! Great music, a small dance floor and strong drinks.
Aggeliki — Gelato + Pastries Galore
Right near the harbour was a lovely gelato and dessert spot we frequented each day in Milos, filled full with a variety of gelato flavours, pastries and different dessert delicacies. The staff was very friendly and prices weren’t over the top.
Beaches, Beaches, Beaches!
There’s endless lists of wonderful beaches that trail the coastline of Milos, but the ones we visited I can highly recommend are: Mytakas, Papafragas, Plathiena and Firopotamos.
Many times our trips to the beaches we ended up being the only ones there—another perk to travelling off season. The red and orange-streaked rocks that line the aquamarine water is truly nothing like anything I’d seen before. And it was even warm enough to dip in the water in April.
Again, note that almost all the beaches we visited were accessed via our bikes, not easy to visit via transit.
Everyone tends to eat much later in the evening for dinner
Take home pumices stones—they’re everywhere!
No tapwater—must buy bottled water
Greek time is not always prompt (ferries/buses etc) so be expected to wait
Wine and alcohol is cheaper at restaurants than in stores
Not all places take card, make sure to take some euros
Travel in a group—this makes the cost of splitting things like shared dinners, cab rides, etc much easier and affordable. I would recommend a group of four.
Greek salad (seems obvious but it’s the real deal here)
Pitarakia Milou—traditional Greek cheese pies (these taste like deep fried perogies)
Vinsanto (dessert wine only made in Santorini)
Seafood (the squid + octopus is wonderful)
Olives of all sorts
Fava beans done greek style