One of the most frequent questions asked about the Greek Islands, especially for first-timers, is whether to go to Santorini or Mykonos. Or both!
There is a lot of information out there so it can be quite overwhelming and difficult to make a decision, so we’ve tried here to tackle the Santorini vs Mykonos debate.
For locals and long-time visitors the truth is these are probably the two islands they least want to visit. Both suffer from over-tourism and are the two most expensive destinations in Greece.
In saying that they are pretty unique and there is a lot to see and do on both. Santorini, of course, is famous for its views and sunsets whilst Mykonos has some of the most famous beach clubs on the planet.
The main differences between the two islands are the geology, activities and the types of traveller they attract. I’ve tried to keep this simple by using a quick comparison chart and explaining some of the beaches on each island, as they really are so very different.
If you are looking for alternatives to both islands ( especially due to price) then I would suggest Milos or Folegandros instead of Santorini and Paros or Naxos instead of Mykonos. They have similar elements to their famous neighbours without the price tags nor the heaving crowds.
If you live close by and can pop over the Greece for a few days by all means visit these two islands but if you are coming from the other side of the world, especially for the first time, please do yourself a favour and pick at least one other island or mainland town to ensure you have a much more authentic Greece vacation!
Further reading: Itineraries for Greece
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Where is Santorini and Mykonos?
These iconic islands are situated in the Aegean Sea in a group of islands called the Cyclades. These are located south of Athens and the Greek Mainland.
Santorni vs Mykonos: a summary
- has an international airport
- 5 hours by Ferry from Athens
- 91 sqkms
- 15,500 residents
- Accommodation: Cave style villas and hotels (many very exclusive) traditional hotels
- accommodation cost US$200 – $8000pn
- Popular with: Honeymooners, couples, pretty much everyone
- beaches are pretty average
- capped at 8000 daily cruise ship visitors – usually 3 a day
- 17 towns and villages
- renowned for: spectacular views and sunsets, Instagrammers, wine, the Volcano caldera, and hot springs, cave hotels and tavernas, Blue Domes and churches
- Archaeological site: Akrotiri
- famous animals: Donkeys
- some moderate windy days
- has an international airport
- 3 hours by Ferry from Athens
- 105 sqkms
- 11,100 residents
- Accommodation: Villas and hotels ( many very exclusive) & traditional rooms and hotels
- accommodation cost :US$80 – $5000pn
- Popular with: Partygoers, LGBTI , celebrities, under 30’s
- some very good beaches
- 2 – 7 cruise ships per day, no daily cap as yet
- 10 towns and villages
- renowned for: beach parties, international DJs, celebrity spotting, nightclubs, Little Venice, Windmills, watersports
- Archaeological site: Delos
- famous animals: Petros the Pelican
- can be extremely windy in summer
Santorini-vs-Mykonos for Beaches : Mykonos
Given that Santorini is literally built on a volcano the beaches are all made up of highly volcanic rocks, pebbles, and sand. It means that the beaches on Santorini are some of the most unusual, and colourful, in the world.
The colours of the sand and the pebbles vary depending on the mineral composition on that beach.
Many beaches in the vicinity of a Volcano will have black or grey sand due to the high level of basalt from the lava flow when the volcano last erupted.
This makes them quite rare and the pebbles quite valuable. In many places in the world, such as Hawaii it is illegal to remove black pebbles from the beach.
In Santorini, the most famous black beach is called Perivolos which is situated in the south-east of the island. Adjacent to it, and very similar, are Agios Georgios and Perissa.
The most famous beach on Santorini is appropriately called Red Beach and is located under the village of Akrotiri in the south of the island.
It is surrounded by towering red cliffs which also shelter it from the wind although this can make it very hot. It is a fascinating beach to visit and great to snorkel as the colours of the rock formations in the sea are quite dazzling!
That said the beach is often closed due to landslides so check before you go!
A small beach that is hard to get to with a great beach bar. It has dark grey sand and pebbles and is generally not too busy.
Located on the Eastern side of the island, not far from the airport, is Kamari Beach. It doesn’t get the Caldera of sunset views as its Western counterparts but it does have a wide sandy beach that is one of the best for families. It is also one of the island’s most crowded and organised beaches.
Super Paradise Beach
The sister of Paradise Beach, this famous Mykonos beach is known for its non-stop calendar of events and parties.
It’s a place to let your hair down and if you’re looking for a wild time, you’ll love it. It’s also well-known as Mykonos’ most LGBTQ+ friendly beach.
Probably the best beach on the island and found just five kilometres from Mykonos town. It is easily accessible by local bus or car for those staying near Mykonos Town.
With a wide white sandy beach that’s popular with everyone from young families to the well-heeled party crowd, it’s one of the all-around best beaches on the island.
There are plenty of amenities nearby including restaurants, shops and bars.
Elias Beach is easy to access via bus from Mykonos Town is Elias which is about 11 away. It is the longest sandy beach in Mykonos, so it does get quite busy. There is ample space for everyone and it is not quite as hectic as some other options.
There are a variety of activities on offer at Elias Beach, including windsurfing, kayaking, and snorkeling.
Mykonos can get very windy especially between June and September when the Meltemi wind blows.
While many people head to the more secluded beaches to escape the winds, the other option is to make the most of it and head to Kalafatis Beach for a spot of windsurfing, kitesurfing and other watersports.
Located in south-east Mykonos, Kalafatis is a mecca for windsurfers, catering for everyone from total beginners to experienced surfers.
Santorini-vs-Mykonos for Romance : Santorini
Having a Santorini Honeymoon or celebrating a special anniversary is a truly unforgettable experience on this amazing island and destination weddings on Santorini are popular too. Even if you don’t have a special occasion to celebrate it is a wonderful place for couples and families alike with some very unique and memorable accommodation choices too.
Santorini-vs-Mykonos for partying: Mykonos
It’s beach clubs and parties are decadent, hedonistic and attract celebrities, beautiful people and party animals from all over the world. Places like Nammos Beach Club and Super Paradise Beach Club have red carpet in the sand and International Guest Dj’s playing the coolest sets until the sun comes up.
Santorini on the other hand is more conducive to small bars and clubs and the more lively section is mostly confined to the inner part of Fira. In places like Oia, you are ikely to find a piano bar, taverna or small speakeasy with a much more relaxed vibe.
Santorini-vs-Mykonos for food and wine: Santorini
Santorini does have some very high end restaurants but they do come with impeccable service and unbeatable views making them quite viable.
Santorini is also home to some world-class wineries making arguably some of the best wine in Greece, if not Europe, due to their special white grapes such as Athiri, Aidini and Assyrtiko, and red grapes such as Mandelaria.
Cooking classes can be found on both islands but the ones on Santorini often come with those incredible views and are often run by the wineries.
Santorini-vs-Mykonos for history: both
They are both in fact home to some of the most important archeological sites in Greece, in particular:
Santorini – Akrotiri
The Akrotiri Peninsula in the south of Santorini has the remains of a village dating back to Minoan times ( 16th century BC). It was destroyed in the volcanic eruption of 1600BC and been continually excavated since 1967. It is thought to be the inspiration for Plato’s ‘Atlantis’.
Mkyonos – Delos Island
Just 20 minutes from Mykonos by boat is the sacred islands of Delos, once thought to be the birthplace of Apollo, Son of Zeus, and one of the most important religious sites in Greece along with Delphi. It was also a major trading port during ancient times and the remains of the city can be easily explored today.
Further reading: Visit Delos
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