Santorini: Where to Stay to Avoid the Crowds and Save Money

Do not go to Santorini, they say. It is too touristy, they say. The summer is so crowded, they say.

So, we ignored all those naysayers and went to Santorini at the end of August. And we managed to stay cool and avoid the crowds.  But how?  It is amazing how a little research in advance can help you find what you want.

Do Not Stay in Oia

Between Oia, Imerovigli and Fira, we found Oia to clearly be the busiest place. Crowds so thick in some spots that you would have to stop and wait for people to disperse. The bottlenecks were more often than not caused by people taking photos because there are many amazing photo ops in Oia. You just need to have the patience that this is the world of Instagram and Santorini is an Instagram-backdrop hotspot. Selfie-sticks abound in this chic village and there will always be someone around you doing the “back-towards-the-camera-with-a-coy-over-the-shoulder-glance-to-the-camera” pose. If this is not your scene, do not stay here. Go to Imerovigli.

A view of Imerovigli, Santorini in the early morning.
Imerovigli, Santorini can be seen on the left on the highest peak of the caldera.

Go to Imerovigli

Imerovigli is where Armando and I stayed. There are still whitewashed buildings hanging on the cliff side and you still get an amazing Santorini sunset. Perhaps even a better sunset than in Oia, where next to everyone seems to clamour to for the sunset viewing. The streets are packed with people in Oia who clap and cheer when the sun finally says goodnight for another day. Not the most romantic sounding atmosphere. We spent an afternoon in Oia and a local told us to avoid the sunset there. Why people flow there for the sunset, I do not know because even from my research, Imerovigli is actually the highest point on the island and supposedly has the best sunset view; a view that includes the white Oia village in the background. And there are only stragglers of people that line the Imerovigli streets when the sun goes down. It felt quiet and romantic and truly a hidden gem that the Oia crowd was missing out on.

A sunset view from Anita’s Villa in Santorini with Skaros Rock and Oia in the distance.The sunset view from Anita’s Villa’s rooftop patio includes Skaros Rock.

Cave-like Accommodations Without the Cave Price

If you do any research on accommodations in Santorini, you will come across beautiful cave hotels built into the cliffs of this volcanic island. They will show rooms with amazing views and private individual pools. The reality from my observations is that there is not a lot of privacy for many of the “private” pools because of the way the buildings are built side-by-side and on top of each other. Many people wandering the pathways will walk right by your “private” pool. Or someone dining at the restaurant next door may be able to peer right into your “private” terrace. These accommodations are expensive and even more so for a truly private spot. I know because I considered booking one for us. This was my bucket list trip after all, and I wanted to stay in a cave room with a view and my own private pool. But these places were expensive! And Armando and I are cheap in many ways or financially wise, as I prefer to describe us. We are used to travelling on points that Armando accumulates with all his work travels. Spending hundreds of dollars a night on a place I will be lying unconscious in for most of the time, was it worth it? My logical side clearly said no. But my spoiled childlike self kept saying to get it. So I searched and searched and then compromised a bit and finally found the perfect match.

Anita’s Villa

Whitewashed cave accommodation – check. Clean, friendly host and a view. Check. Check. Check!

Pool – check-ish. No private pool. In fact, no pool at the villa. But the host directed us to another hotel a short walk away where we had free access to the pool as long as we spent 10 Euros each while there. No problem, we can spend a few euros to have drinks by the pool! And the pool was quiet, a lovely surprise during high season. We were the only ones there for a good chunk of the afternoon. It was like our own private pool! It started to get busier later in the afternoon, likely after people returned from exploring for the day. And by busier, I mean maybe 5 extra people.

Enjoying the pool in Imerovigli, Santorini.
The pool we had to ourselves in Imerovigli, Santorini.

Anita’s Villa is actually a small hotel but I found it advertised on Airbnb. It’s advertised as “staying on the tallest cliff on the only inhabited caldera in the world”. Sounds pretty cool!  This is the Airbnb link to the specific suite we stayed in. And if you have never stayed in an Airbnb before but want to, here is a link from me for: $45 CAD off Airbnb from Tamara.

The rooms are basic but they are cave rooms that are nice and cool in the hot, summer heat; a necessity in August. It was the views though, that won me over! We had our own patio table outside our room but there was also a rooftop patio that all the guests had access to. Because it is such a small hotel (8 rooms total) we had the roof top to ourselves one night and the other, shared it with another couple. Overlooking the Aegean Sea, 1000 feet above sea level, you could see the entire caldera, Skaros Rock right below you and Oia in the distance. Truly breathtaking. And no crowds around. The one lounge bar that was right next door was near empty each night.  On the other side of us was a restaurant that was full each night, likely a hot spot to go for a romantic dinner because of the great view. But the crowds were quiet. It was a lovely, peaceful area. Our experience there was nothing like what people complained about Santorini. They clearly must not have experienced Santorini in Imerovigli.

Anita’s Villa is a great economical choice for Santorini. They also booked transfers for us to and from the airport – not the friendliest or most reliable of driver we had so, although convenient, make sure you give yourself plenty of time if you are catching a flight or ferry if you stay there and book the transfers through them. Also, make sure the driver knows where he is supposed to be taking you because we booked a transfer to the airport but he took us to the ferry terminal, which is not anywhere close to the airport! Luckily, Armando was watching our route on Google maps and saw the driver’s error and corrected him before he had gone too far off in the wrong direction. That could have been a disastrous chain effect…a missed turn by our driver ending up in a missed flight to Venice, Italy which resulted in me not “running into” Brad Pitt. But disaster was averted and yes, you will get a story about me and Brad in a future blog post.  🙂

Another bonus is that Anita’s Villa is right on the pathway of the Fira – Oia Hike. A MUST do in Santorini, and I will tell you why in my next post :).

Santorini – Accommodation “Must Haves”

So, if going to Santorini, I would definitely focus on finding a place with a view of the caldera. Having access to a pool is great if you can snag one but be aware that your “private pool” that you pay your child’s college tuition on my not be as private as you are expecting. In the hot summer, access to a pool is an amenity that may be worth it but know that there are other options than having to pay a premium to stay at a place with a pool, like the accommodations we found at Anita’s Villa. And note that this is not a paid sponsorship to endorse Anita’s Villa; we were just really satisfied with what we got for the price we paid compared to other options on the island. And we just loved the location. Accommodations should always be about the location.

So if you want to avoid the crowds, do not stay in Oia. We loved Imerovigli and it is argued that they have the best view of the Santorini sunset. After all, it is located on the tallest cliff on the only inhabited caldera in the world!

The view from the rooftop patio of Anita’s Villa in Imerovigli, Santorini. The view includes Skaros Rock and the town of Oia in the distance.
The rooftop view from Anita’s Villa in Imerovigli, Santorini includes Skaros Rock on the bottom left, the town of Oia on the right and the island of Thirasia in the distant left.

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