If you had to choose between Santorini and Mykonos, which Greek island would you pick and why? In this Mykonos vs Santorini guide we compare the two.
Santorini or Mykonos?
But if you could only pick one of these Cycladic islands, which one would it be?
This is a question I'm often asked, and it's not an easy one to answer.Mykonos and Santorini are really totally different in nature.
So, the island that suits you best will depend very much on your personality and reasons for travel in the first place.
In this guide, I'll compare these two well-known Greek islands so you have a better idea of what Mykonos and Santorini have to offer.
Mykonos vs Santorini Quick Comparison
Most people visit the Greek islands in high season, i.e. the summer months. Here are my suggestions on how to choose between the two.
Best island for views, landscapes and villages – Choose Santorini
Best for parties and nightlife – Go to Mykonos
Honeymoon /romantic destination – Go to Santorini, but take into account that there will be crowds
Best for beaches – Definitely go to Mykonos
Gourmet food and wine – Both islands have high-end restaurants, but Santorini has over a dozen wineries and several restaurants with caldera views.
Ancient history and culture – I loved Ancient Delos, so I'd vote Mykonos for this one, even though it's a separate island!
Best for sailing tours – Both islands have a lot to offer.
Best for budget travel – Tough one, but it's easier to visit Santorini on a budget.
Better for off-season travel – Go to Santorini, as the landscape is unique and there are more activities. In fact, Santorini is much better outside peak season, as it's less busy and the lower temperatures make it much easier to get around.
If you get the chance, visit both! It's just a 2.5 hour ferry ride from Santorini to Mykonos island!
Let's have a look at comparing the two islands in more detail.
Would you suggest Mykonos or Santorini for overall ambiance?
This is very personal, as people are after different things on their vacation.
In a nutshell, Mykonos island Greece is famous for its wild partying, beautiful sandy beaches and celebrity spotting.
Santorini on the other hand, is world-known for the volcanic landscapes, pretty town of Oia, and sunset views towards the caldera.
If parties, nightlife and busy beach clubs are what you are after, you should definitely choose Mykonos. It's not that Santorini doesn't have beach bars or pubs, but they are more low-key.
If you are after unique landscapes and romantic views to the Aegean, Santorini is a better choice.
With that said, it also depends what time of year you visit. Santorini has a much longer season, which stretches out from March to November. During this whole period, it is generally quite crowded, and you may find it's less relaxed than you hoped for.
High season in Mykonos is in June, July and August. If you are travelling in April or October, you will see Mykonos without the crowds, and with less nightlife. In 2020, we saw a very authentic side of the island, and really loved our kayaking trip away from the crowds.
Conclusion: Personal preference. Mine is that Santorini wins this category.
Santorini vs Mykonos for Sightseeing, landscapes and villages
When it comes to sightseeing and landscapes, Santorini has a distinct advantage. You can find beaches and wild countryside on many Greek islands, but only a handful have an active volcano!
Here's a look at things to do in Mykonos and Santorini.
What to do in Santorini
Visitors who are interested in unique landscapes will love Santorini island. The wild cliffs and the stunning views to the volcano are one of a kind, especially during sunset.
Fira, Oia, Firostefani and Imerovigli are the best areas to stay on the caldera-facing side of the island. There are literally hundreds of cliff-top hotels and villas, with semi-private balconies, plunge pools and impressive views to the Aegean Sea.
The two main towns, Fira and Oia, are rather overbuilt and touristy. Still, they are pretty and interesting to explore. There is a large selection of expensive restaurants and bars where you can see the famous sunset from.
Here are my favourite ways to explore the otherworldly landscapes and the caldera:
- The hike from Fira to Oia, an easy 10-km (6.2-mile) hike along the side of the cliff
The sailing trip to the volcano. There are many trips at several times of the day.
For an extra touch of romance, you can also enjoy the views from your private terrace in one of Santorini's top rated hotels.
The inland villages, such as Pyrgos, Megalochori and Emporio, have kept more of their original character. You will love walking around and exploring the quaint alleyways and dozens of blue-domed churches. In addition, many of the cafes and restaurants are very reasonably priced.
Note – Santorini has steps, lots of steps, and many of them are steep. People with limited mobility will probably find it challenging.
Sightseeing in Mykonos
Like on most of the Cyclades islands, the landscape in Mykonos is rocky, dry and arid. There are few trees, many bushes and several sandy beaches.
The main attraction on the island is the sprawling Old Town also known as Chora. Its a seemingly never-ending maze of white-washed alleyways and narrow little streets. You can see the tiny area of Little Venice, the iconic windmills, and plenty of high-end shops.
Besides Mykonos town, there are no other picturesque villages on the island. The only other proper town, Ano Mera, is often described as an authentic Cycladic village with great restaurants. In my experience, it was far from that, and the tavernas on the main square were nothing to write home about.
The focal point of this small town is Panagia Tourliani monastery. If you haven't been to other monasteries in Greece, you will probably find it impressive.
Another interesting place to visit in Mykonos island is the Armenistis Lighthouse. The sunset views over the Aegean are wild and beautiful.
Conclusion: Santorini wins this category.
Should I go to Mykonos or Santorini for archaeological sites and museums?
Ancient sites and museums might not be the first thing that comes to mind in Mykonos or Santorini Greece. However, history lovers and culture buffs will be happy in both islands.
Sites and museums in Santorini
Santorini is home to one of the most important ancient settlements in Greece, Ancient Akrotiri. This area, located at the south of Santorini island, has been inhabited since about 4,500 BC.
After a massive volcano explosion in the 16th century BC, the site was buried under lava and volcanic materials. It was discovered in the late 19th century, and has been one of the top attractions in Santorini for several years.
Apart from Akrotiri, you can also visit the site of Ancient Thera, up on the mountain close to Kamari.
There are also several museums, if you are interested in ancient and contemporary culture:
- Museum of Prehistoric Thera in Fira
- Archaeological Museum of Thera in Fira
- Gyzi Cultural Centre in Fira
- Argyros museum in Messaria
- Maritime Museum in Oia
- Lignos Ethnographic museum in Kontochori
- Tomato Industrial Museum in Vlychada
- Icons & Relics Collection in Pyrgos
- Museum of Minerals & Fossils in Perissa
Ancient history in Mykonos
This long list of places to visit in Santorini is definitely hard to beat. However, Mykonos is most people's starting point in order to visit the UNESCO site of Ancient Delos.
In my opinion, Delos island is one of the most impressive ancient sites in Greece. During the Roman Era, this small island was a massive commercial hub. People from all around the known world lived and worked here.
The stunning site is only a short ferry ride from Mykonos. In my opinion, this half-day activity is quite unique, even if you are not particularly interested in ancient history.
In Mykonos Town, you can also visit the Archaeological Museum of Mykonos, the Folklore Museum and the Aegean Maritime Museum.
Conclusion: Mykonos wins this category solely because nearby Delos is so amazing!
Is Mykonos or Santorini better for the beaches?
When it comes to beaches, Mykonos wins hands down. With over 30 amazing beaches to choose from, it has some of the best sandy beaches on the Cyclades. I've written a guide you might want to read for more details: Best beaches in Mykonos.
During peak season, many of them, like Psarou and Super Paradise, are lined with sunbeds and umbrellas. Others, like Agios Sostis or Fokos, are largely under-the-radar and a lot quieter.
Most of the beaches in Santorini are covered in gray-black sand. They might be picturesque, but otherwise they are far less appealing than on most other islands in Greece. Plus, the dark pebbly sand gets super hot, so you'll definitely need shoes to walk to the sea.
I don't find the Santorini beaches to be my cup of tea, but some people rave about them. Even the famous Red Beach of Santorini isn't that special to swim on – though it definitely looks pretty in the pictures.
Both islands offer plenty of options in terms of water sports, but in my opinion Mykonos is better. For example, beaches like Ftelia, Kalafatis or Korfos are ideal for windsurfing and kite-surfing.
Scuba diving and snorkelling are also available on both islands, and the deep-blue water around Mykonos is absolutely crystal-clear. We also tried kayaking in Mykonos and had a blast.
When it comes to sailing trips, there are dozens of options on both Mykonos and Santorini. Popular options are the day trip to Delos and Rhenia, another small island nearby, or the south beaches sunset cruise.
If you are taking a Greece vacation to visit beautiful beaches, the better option is Mykonos compared to Santorini.
Conclusion: It's no competition. Mykonos wins this by a mile!
Food and wine in Santorini vs Mykonos
Both islands have an abundance of high-end restaurants, where reservations are necessary. In Santorini, many of them overlook the caldera, so having a dinner is much more than a culinary experience. In Mykonos, you will find some top-rated gourmet restaurants right on the beaches.
Santorini island offers a chance to visit some of the best wineries in Greece. Venetsanos, Sigalas, Gavalas and Santo Wines are just few of the famous wineries on the island. You can visit one or two of them on your own, though I recommend taking a wine tour where everything is organised in advance.
Even if you don't take a winery tour, make sure you try the famous vinsanto wine. This is a naturally sweet wine that is made out of sun-dried grapes. It is somehow similar to port, but it's got its own distinct flavour.
By comparison, Myconian wines are much less famous. Mykonos Vioma is a small organic farm and winery, with a farm-to-table approach. You can book your visit on their website.
And what about people who are looking for authentic, no-frills Greek food? Both islands offer options for budget meals. However, you will generally find that food prices are higher than in any other Greek destination.
I don't have a personal opinion on any of the top-end restaurants, but I visited a few local tavernas in both islands. While the food wasn't bad, I have definitely enjoyed Greek food a lot more in other places I've been in Greece. Living here, I'm spoilt!
Conclusion: Santorini wins this category because of the many wineries you can visit.
Accommodation prices in Mykonos vs Santorini
If you're planning trips to Mykonos and Santorini, you'll need to work out what sort of hotel you want to stay in.
In terms of accommodation prices, both islands are among the most expensive destinations in Greece. There is an abundance of stylish hotels and private villas, for people who are after absolute luxury.
Generally speaking though, it's easier to find budget hotels in Santorini, even in peak season. This comes as a surprise to some people.
Like mentioned above, hotels on the caldera side of the island are very popular. Despite their high prices, they can get booked months in advance.
However, it's possible to spend a few days in Santorini without extreme accommodation costs. You can stay on Perissa or Perivolos, the black sand beaches on the east side of the island. There are plenty of budget-friendly, self-catering rooms to let that most visitors should find affordable.
Mykonos on the other hand, is quite expensive when it comes to accommodation. This is not only the case for five-star hotels. The hundreds of boutique hotels, villas and even simple rooms on the island are definitely not on the cheap side.
With that said, a large party of people travelling together would be much better off sharing a private villa rather than booking individual hotel rooms. You can also visit in late September or October, when the prices have dropped. Here's an article on where to stay in Mykonos.
Conclusion: Santorini has more options for varied accommodation prices.
Is Mykonos or Santorini better if I want an authentic Greek island?
This is the million dollar question, and in my opinion the answer is neither. The two Cycladic islands have been popular for several decades. They both rely heavily on the tourism industry. None of them would fit my definition of “Essential Greece”.
If the main thing you are looking for in your Greek vacation is authenticity, it's best to visit lesser known destinations. These are the main groups of islands in Greece:
- Cyclades islands, including Paros, Milos, Naxos, Folegandros and Koufonisia
- Ionian islands, including Kefalonia and Lefkada
- Dodecanese, including Rhodes
- Sporades, including Skiathos
- Argosaronic islands, including the car-free Hydra
- The Northeastern Aegean islands, including Lesvos
- Evia, an island close to Athens
- Crete, Greece's largest island
Conclusion: Santorini is slightly more authentic compared to Mykonos due to the small villages.
Which Greek islands are the most authentic?
If you have several days in Greece, you can take a direct flight to Athens, Mykonos or Santorini, and go on an island-hopping trip. You can check ferry connections and book your ferry tickets at Ferryhopper.
There is an almost indefinite number of island combinations that you can include in your travel plans. A very popular itinerary includes Athens-Santorini-Mykonos. If you want to include a couple more islands, you could try Athens-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos or Athens-Santorini-Naxos-Milos.
There are frequent ferries between Athens and the islands, which you can take from either Piraeus or Rafina ports. Popular companies include Blue Star Ferries, SeaJets and Fast Ferries. For an incredibly in-depth guide to the Greek ferries, click here.
Based on my experience travelling around the Greek islands, I could recommend Milos for beaches, Tinos for villages, Naxos for beaches, landscapes and variety, and Andros for beaches and culture.
Take a look at my guide to Greek islands near Mykonos.
FAQ About Visiting Mykonos and Santorini
Here are some commonly asked questions which might help you decide between choosing Mykonos or the island of Santorini for your vacation.
Can you take a day trip to Mykonos from Santorini?
There are several ferries a day between the two islands. Choose the earliest, fastest ferry, and you will have a few hours of sightseeing on Mykonos before taking the last ferry back to Santorini. It's a bit rushed though!
Where is Mykonos Greece?
The popular and famously cosmopolitan island of Mykonos is a part of the Cyclades island chain of Greece. It's positioned, between Tinos, Syros, Paros and Naxos, and is between 2 and 5 hours away from Athens by ferry depending on which ferry is used.
How to get to Santorini from Mykonos?
The best way to travel from Santorini to Mykonos is to take a ferry. The journey time is around 2.5 hrs and during the high / summer season there are 4 ferries per day.
How big is Mykonos?
The area of the island is 85.5 square kilometres (33.0 sq mi). At the last census, there were just over ten thousand inhabitants. You can use public transport or hire vehicles to get around the island when visiting Mykonos.
Is Mykonos better than Santorini?
It really depends what you are looking for, as both islands have something different to offer from one another. Santorini is more romantic destination, whilst Mykonos has better beaches and a world-class party scene.
You might also be interested in these other travel guides:
- Mykonos to Santorini ferries
- Mykonos or Crete: Which Greek island is better and why
- How to get from Athens to Santorini
- How to get from Athens to Mykonos
- Mykonos to Milos by ferry
- How to get from Santorini to Folegandros
- How to get from Santorini to Milos
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