If you’re an open-minded traveller who dislikes over tourism, can’t stand crowds, hates the heat, seeks an authentic experience where it’s easy to make friends with the locals, wants amazing photos free of people, and are also slightly greedy in wanting a whole Greek island pretty much to yourself, taking a trip to Santorini in Winter is certainly the right thing to do!
You may have heard that Santorini, like most other small Greek islands, closes down during the Winter months but this isn’t quite true, at least not any more. Back in 2015, Santorini made the decision to welcome visitors all year and the number of tourists visiting in Winter since then has been increasing each year.
This doesn’t mean that everything is open, far from it, but more and more hotels, restaurant’s, and cafes, are staying open with each year and of course, the supermarkets, pharmacies, and banks are open in the main settlements to cater to the 15,000 locals who live on this idyllic Greek island year round.
*All photos used in this post were taken at the end of November.
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Visiting Santorini in Winter: Everything you need to know
When Is Winter in Santorini and What’s the Weather Like?
Winter aka low season is from November-March, December-January being the coldest and wettest Winter months.
Compared with Northern Europe, Winters on Santorini are quite moderate – Temperatures don’t drop below freezing though it has been known to snow. The main winter weather you’ll face is the strong wind and the rain but this doesn’t mean that every day is bad. The weather changes fast with the sun likely to make an appearance at least once during your stay, surprising you with its strength as you strip off the sweater and feel the sun on your bare arms for a few hours in the afternoon. It’s unlikely that you’ll need your swimming gear (unless you’re a super human) but it’s worth packing 1 pair of shorts and a few t-shirts along with warmer tops, jeans, a raincoat, and warmer jacket for the evenings, maybe a scarf and hat too to protect against that chilly wind.
In November there are still tourists around and it’s possible to lay out on the beach during the first half of the month with temperatures still reaching up to 18c but the days become progressively cooler and cloudier with more chance of rainfall as the month progresses. By December the days are mixed, some cold and wet grey days, some bright and clear though temperatures are now only hitting highs of about 15c and there’s a noticeable drop in tourists.
January is usually the coldest and the wettest month with temperatures hitting highs of 14c and February is much the same though usually a little less wet. In March you there are signs of Spring with less rain and more sunshine with blossom starting to bloom and wild flowers popping up in the meadows, temperatures reaching up to 16c on average in March.
Getting to Santorini and Moving Around The Island in Winter
It’s not as easy to get to Santorini in Winter as it is in Summer and the weather can cause travel disruptions with ferries cancelled due to rough waters and planes delayed due to strong winds.
All flights to Santorini go via Athens during the Winter which can put the price up compared with taking a direct flight in Summer and can also mean long layovers at Athens airport. Ferries are also more limited; Services from Piraeus, Naxos, and Paros operate all year with the Blue Star ferry line but there are no ferry services to Mykonos or Crete in the Winter months nor any high-speed catamaran services.
Bus services on the island are more sporadic in Winter too, travelling perhaps once every 1-2 hours to the main towns and less often to the villages with the airport bus timed to coincide with arriving and departing flights. For this reason, it is better to hire a car when travelling around Santorini in Winter as you have more freedom and won’t become stranded anywhere. You should be able to negotiate a great price due to low demand and you certainly won’t have any problems parking unlike in the Summer months!
What’s There To See and Do in Santorini During The Winter?
See The Beaches as Nature Intended
Akrotiri red beach and the Perissa black-sand beach are both beautiful, even more so without the crowds of people sunbathing on them! The water sports and sun umbrellas will all be packed away and you won’t find any taverna owners touting for business nor any mini markets or souvenir shops open but if you’re the type of person who loves long beach walks in solitude, picking up pebbles and shells, taking lots of seascape photos, you’ll relish having the beaches to yourself bar the odd dog walker or painter.
Hiking in Santorini during Summer can be torturous unless you’re out of bed and on the trail at dawn in order to beat the heat. In Winter you don’t have to worry about getting heatstroke or carrying enough water with you, just watch the weather forecast to avoid the worst of the rain and wind. The hike up to explore the ruins of Ancient Thera is very enjoyable on a calm day (no one likes the wind driving the rain into their face as they walk!) and puts you on top of the world as you look out across the island imagining how this ancient civilization once lived up here with their temple, theatre, and marketplace. The 10km hike from Fira to Oia along the caldera path is also a great one to take though you’ll want to take a look at bus timetables before setting off to ensure you can get back again, unless you hike both ways.
The most popular place on the island, Oia (pronounced Ee-yah) can become a hellhole in the height of Summer due to the number of regular tourists combined with cruise ship passengers – It’s literally impossible to move down some streets and really spoils the moment in this beautiful picture-postcard place. In Winter you have no such problem and can take as many uninterrupted photos of the typical picture-postcard scenes as you wish. The white-washed buildings may not like quite as good without the magenta bougainvillea flowers blooming beside nor on cloudy days but not having people in your photos surely makes up for this!
Enjoy The Sunset Scenes
You’ve probably seen the iconic sunset scenes taken from the castle at Oia and overlooking the caldera at Fira – What you may not have seen is the elbow-jostling that goes on in order for people to secure a spot to watch the sunset! In Winter you have no such worries, perhaps a handful of tourists will head to Oia castle on a calm evening but there won’t be hundreds out with their phones and cameras spoiling the moment!
Visit History Museums & Archaeological sites
All of the main museums remain open during the Winter and on the first Sunday of the month (between November-March) you can get in free of charge! Visit Ancient Akrotiri and walk back in time as you see the houses that make up this Minoan Bronze Age settlement. Be sure to say yes when asked if you want a guide to show you around as you’ll learn so much more and don’t worry if it’s a wet day as the site is under cover. Next, you can visit the Museum of Prehistoric Thera in Fira, this is where most of the finds from Akrotiri are located, there’s also the Archaeological Museum and the Icons and Relics Collection at Pyrgos.
Visit the Wineries
There are more than 15 wineries on Santorini that are open to visitors, see how the vineyards are kept before tasting the wine and learning what gives it that slightly spicy taste – You’ll likely be the only person visiting so will have all the opportunity to ask questions with the owners and even make friends with them, getting recommendations on what else to see/do on your trip and the best places to eat! To learn more about the history of wine in Santorini and how the methods have changed over time, visit the Koutsogiannopoulos Wine Museum.
Enjoy a Greek Orthodox Christmas
Christmas is a time for family with locals either leaving the island to be with family elsewhere or arriving on the island to visit their family home. Christmas in Greece is not celebrated as heavily as Easter and is not as commercialised as in the U.S or the U.K but you’ll still find Greek hospitality in abundance and lots of traditions to enjoy. Be sure to try the Christmas cookies called melomakarona and, even if you’re not religious, go and see a church service – The incense, the chanting, and the atmosphere as a whole is really memorable for those not used to Orthodox Christianity.
Where to Stay in Santorini in winter
Fira (otherwise spelt Thira) is the main town on Santorini and is where you’ll find the most activity during Winter. It’s considered the best place to stay during the Winter with Oia and Firostefani alternative options if you actively seek solitude in beautiful surroundings and don’t mind having a very limited number of restaurants and shops open.
There is all sorts of accommodation to choose from whether you want a high-end spa hotel, a cozy boutique hotel or some simple self-catering accommodation. Below are some places that have great reviews and look amazing.
Winter Accommodation in Fira, Santorini
Alexander’s Great View -Located moments away from the heart of Fira, a short walk away from the archaeological museum as well as the bus station, Alexander’s Great View provides guests with comfortable rooms throughout the year.
De Sol Hotel & Spa – You might not be able to make use of the outdoor pool at this luxurious 5 star hotel in the Winter, but you will be able to enjoy pampering sessions at the spa and get tuck into delicious Mediterranean cuisine at the restaurant as you soak up the views over the caldera.
Winter Accommodation in Oia, Santorini
Canvas Suites – With its panoramic sea views, a stay at the whitewashed Canvas Suites is like a dream come true for many due to the picture-postcard beauty of this accommodation and the area it’s situated in.
Angel Cave Houses – More beautiful accommodation in idyllic surroundings available to enjoy all year round. The traditionally built Angel Cave Houses are perch on the cliff edge overlooking the Aegean sea and the caldera providing guests with stunning sunset views each and every night.
Winter Accommodation in Firostefani, Santorini
Ira Hotel & Spa – Within walking distance of Fira, this luxurious hotel has views to take your breath away whether you look out across the whitewashed houses or out to sea. Enjoy the sunset over the caldera from your private terrace each evening.
Infinity Suites & Dana Villas – An extraordinary hotel to take your breath away with the choice of suites or villas. Enjoy the heated plunge pools or the hot tub whilst soaking up the view across the caldera from the cliffside location.
Where and What To Eat in Santorini in winter
Greek salads might be the thing you hanker after in the Summer but in Winter be sure to tuck into the hearty stews, roasted lamb cooked on the spit, and pasta dishes. The touristy tavernas serving up burgers, omelettes, pizza, and club sandwiches close down for Winter leaving you to enjoy home cooked meals in traditional tavernas, usually with a wood fire burning, or in a more modern environment. Alternatively, you can devour the Greek fast food; gyros (shredded meat served up in a pitta bread with chips and salad) or souvlaki (lumps of pork or chicken on sticks).
Restaurants Open in Fira All Year
Tsipouradiko – This hidden gem serves up a wide range of home cooked Greek dishes from seafood to souvlaki and has a sit-down restaurant as well as take away service. Don’t be put off by the simple exterior, the locals know the best places and flock here!
Sabores – This cave restaurant is a true delight to eat at with exceptional service and beautiful décor. Visit on a day when they have live Greek music, otherwise enjoy the romantic setting with a loved one. On fine days you can sit outside and enjoy the view across the caldera.
Restaurants Open in Oia All Year
Melitini – This tiny restaurant gets fully booked even in Winter so arrive early or book a table if you want to eat later with the locals or want to ensure you get the terrace view for sunset (weather permitting). Try a variety of Greek dishes from their reasonably prized meze menu (the Greek version of tapas).
Lotza – Enjoy a very warm welcome from the owners of Lotza and enjoy a hearty meal of traditional home cooking. It’s not as cheap as some other restaurants but the food is certainly worth the price and the sea view beautiful.
Restaurants Open in Firostefani All Year
Kokkalo Fagopoteion – When you seek something a little more edgy and modern than the traditional cosy family-run taverna, head here. With its huge window overlooking the caldera it’s an ideal spot to enjoy dinner at sunset whether you’re with friends or a loved one.
Da Vinci – Serving up large portions of Italian and other Mediterranean dishes, as well as having an impressively long cocktail list, Da Vinci makes a refreshing place to eat whether for lunch or dinner and has a great view too.
The Pros and Cons of Visiting Santorini in Winter
If you’re still undecided if a Winter visit is right for you, consider these things:
Cost: Prices drop heavily, especially with accommodation and on the 1st Sunday of each month you can get free access to the state-run museums. However, due to flights only going via Athens this can make getting to Santorini more expensive in the first place.
Scenery: You’ll be able to admire the views without getting 1,001 tourists in your photos and wander down the picturesque alleyways completely alone but some of the views will be obstructed by scaffolding due to Winter building work. Also remember that the picture-postcard scenes you’ve admired were all taken in Summer with the blue sky against the whitewashed buildings and the bougainvillea in bloom though that’s not to say that the cloudy skies don’t make an interesting alternative!
Activities: If you seek beach time (sunbathing and swimming), nightlife in the form of lively clubs and bars, and always seek something to keep you entertained, don’t visit in the Winter as it’s up to you to make your own fun. However, if you’re more than happy hiking, exploring backstreets, driving from place to place, or simply curling up with a good book and enjoying some ‘me time’ Santorini can be a haven. It is possible to explore Santorini without hiring a car but it’s a little more difficult in Winter due to the limited bus timetable, be prepared to hitch-hike (it’s safe!) if you get stranded.
Weather: Are you prepared to take a chance on the weather? You might get a whole week of wet and windy weather or you might get just 1 day of rain with the other days bright and warm – There’s really no telling, pack for all eventualities and cross your fingers making the most of whatever you do get!
For more information regarding Santorini you can check my posts:
- How to get from Athens to Santorini
- How to get from Mykonos to Santorini
- What to do in Santorini
- Things to do in Oia, Santorini
- Things to do in Fira, Santorini
- The best beaches in Santorini
- The best tours in Santorini
- How to spend 3 days in Santorini