Mykonos and Santorini are the most famous and most visited Greek islands. Although both are located in the Cycladic chain of islands in the Aegean Sea — a group that boasts over 20 islands — and they’re both beautiful in their own right, there are some key differences to bear in mind when it comes to visiting Mykonos Vs. Santorini.
Mykonos Vs. Santorini
1. Location And Distance
Both Greek islands are popular enough to warrant having an airport that receives year-round domestic flights from the Greek mainland, especially Athens, plus some charter flights in the summer season from several European destinations.
They’re also both reachable by ferry from the Athenian port of Piraeus, but Santorini is further, the journey taking between 5 and 8 hours depending on whether you take a slow or fast ferry, while Mykonos is 2.5 to 6 hours away, again, depending on the speed of the ferry.
Pro Tip: It’s worth noting that slow ferries are all part of the travel experience in Greece because they have many facilities such as restaurants and shopping onboard, plus you can walk around on deck outside whereas a fast ferry — sometimes a hydrofoil — means merely sitting down in an airline-style seat for the whole journey.
2. The Beaches
If it’s a beach holiday you’re after, Mykonos has to be your choice. This Greek island probably has the best beaches for both swimming and water sports lovers as well as partygoers. There are many golden sand beaches on the island that suit all preferences.
That said, Mykonos also has a reputation as a party island, so stay away from Paradise Beach — 4 miles south of the capital, Mykonos Town.
Instead, hire a car and head to the beach of Lia — 9 miles east of the capital — or Fokos — 8 miles northeast of the capital. Both are completely non-commercialized and have no sunbeds or facilities, just fantastic golden stretches of sand and crystal-clear sea.
It’s worth noting that both Santorini and Mykonos have beautiful beaches with beach bars where you can get a quiet drink and enjoy your beach time with your partner, friends, or family.
Pro Tip: Take your own water, food, and an umbrella as there’s no natural shade nor any concessions.
By contrast, Santorini does not have the white stretches of beaches one usually equates with Greece. As it’s a volcanic island, expect to find black and red sand and rocks, such as Red Beach with its red rocks. The beach’s small size means it gets very busy in season and is only accessible by walking down from the car park at the top; hence, many people decide to photograph the beach by taking one of the many boat trips from Akrotiri Port.
Pro Tip: If you do choose to frequent the Santorini beaches — and if you’re into snorkeling, you should because there are many fascinating underwater rock formations here — then bring aqua socks or waterproof sandals.
Red Beach is located near the Bronze Age archaeological settlement of Akrotiri, a place worth including in a day trip.
3. The Sites
Greece is covered in ancient sites to visit, the islands being no different. Mykonos has the wonderful UNESCO World Heritage island of Delos, 2 miles and 40 minutes by boat off the coast of Mykonos and one of the most important archaeological sites in the country. Mythology tells us that Delos was the birthplace of Artemis and Apollo, twins who the human Leto gave birth to.
It’s reputed that Zeus had an affair with Leto and the twins were the result. Zeus was a god, Leto a human, and gods were forbidden to mix with mortals. Zeus’s jealous wife Hera banished Leto from Earth, but Poseidon — God of the Sea — took pity on her and crashed his trident down, thus the island of Delos formed as a safe haven for Leto to give birth in peace. It’s an island dedicated to the ancient gods with many artifacts on show outside, plus a small museum.
Pro Tip: It’s not possible to stay on Delos, so a morning trip is better to avoid the heat of the day. There’s not a lot of shade and water and the canteen in the museum is expensive, so pack a small lunch or ask your hotel in Mykonos to. Take plenty of sunscreen and a hat.
Santorini’s claim to fame has to be its volcanic islands, in particular, the bay of Agios Nikolaos on the small black rock island of Nea Kamini is surrounded by therapeutic sulphuric yellow waters and hot springs. The oldest volcano is Paleo Kamini, which also has hot springs.
Pro Tip: Take a boat trip from Santorini to Nea Kamini and a 20-minute walk through lunar-like scenery will bring you to the volcano’s steaming crater. Go in the morning or late afternoon because it gets extremely hot.
4. The Romance
Sunsets are always beautiful, but hands down, Santorini is the place to visit if it’s romance you’re after.
The sunsets over the caldera are famous the world over, and many of the luxury hotels have capitalized on this with their locations offering 180-degree sunset views. This beautiful Greek island the place to come for honeymooners and couples seeking a sophisticated level of tourism with fine dining and winery tours followed by a sunset cruise.
Pro Tip: The best place in Santorini to view the sunset is from the clifftop village of Oia, but it gets busy so it’s a good idea to get there early. There are plenty of restaurants and viewing spots on offer if you get there early enough.
Mykonos isn’t without its romance. Its golden sandy beaches — whether an organized one with beds and facilities or a remote one — offer plenty of opportunities for relaxing and watching the sunset. Mykonos is better if you’re into designer shopping or rubbing shoulders with the “in” crowd as it attracts several famous jet setters.
Pro Tip: Agios Sostis beach, a 19-minute taxi ride from Mykonos Town, is a beautiful underdeveloped spot with a small beach and the blue-domed church of Saint Sostis. Here you’ll find Kiki’s Taverna, which is delicious in its simplicity with a huge selection of fresh salads and meat from the outside grill. It’s a perfect spot to eat and watch the sun set.
5. Scenery And Architecture
Santorini’s villages are perched atop the cliff-top, offering spectacular volcano and Aegean sea views. Many of the boutique hotels have designed their abodes to fit into the nature of the island in order to blend in well.
Santorini’s hidden gems like blue-domed churches and colorful houses, all with curves and arched architecture are a must-see.
Mykonos is more gentle on the eye with its golden beaches, plus Little Venice in Mykonos Town with its striking windmills is a great place to wander any time of the day or night.
Pro Tip: For more dramatic scenery, with black volcanic sands and sunsets, head to Santorini.
For winding alleyways and traditional villages, coupled with best beaches, Mykonos is the place to go.
6. The Off-Season Experience
As Santorini is more famous for its views and sunsets, there’s never really an off-season to visit. It gets exceedingly busy in the summer months of June, July, and August, but both Santorini and Mykonos have the best weather from May to October, so head there in the spring or fall to appreciate a quieter time and still see the year-round sights.
Mykonos is busy in the summer and more of a beach/shopping/jet setter island, so whilst there’s not a lot to do in the offseason, it’s much quieter in the spring and fall, so this would be a time to wander the streets of Mykonos town and get a flavor of the local lifestyle.
Mykonos Vs. Santorini Pro Tips
If you choose to visit both Greek islands, it’s suggested to fly into one, take a ferry between the two, and then fly out of the other. Allow for at least five days in Santorini to really appreciate the sites and a volcano visit.
Of course, which island you choose to spend the most time on should depend on your preference of things to do:
- Mykonos for shopping, beach clubs, quieter off-season, and if you don’t mind a lively nightlife, quieter bars can also be found — along with potentially bumping into the rich and famous.
- Santorini for natural beauty, sunsets, and romance, plus archaeological sites — although Mykonos also has the nearby island of Delos.
Due to their popularity, both islands are expensive, but it is possible to find some small, affordable family-run establishments that will welcome you with open arms.
Here is my further breakdown of which island to choose based on various needs.
Mykonos vs Santorini – For Families With Kids
For families with kids, Santorini is the better choice between these two Greek islands. The island’s beauty, coupled with a range of family-friendly accommodations, ensures a comfortable and memorable stay.
Beaches in Santorini, like the unique Red Beach and the shallow waters of Monolithos, are perfect for kids. The island’s ancient history comes alive at the Akrotiri Archaeological Site, offering an educational trip for the whole family.
The cable car ride in Fira is not just a means of transport but an adventure in itself, offering breathtaking views of the caldera.
Moreover, Santorini’s local wineries and farms often have family-oriented tours, combining education with entertainment. The island’s slower pace allows families to enjoy a relaxed vacation, with ample opportunities for bonding and adventure.
Mykonos vs Santorini – For Foodies
Mykonos wins as a gastronomic hotspot for foodies. The island’s culinary scene is a blend of traditional Greek flavors and modern gastronomic innovations.
Renowned for its fresh seafood, Mykonos offers a variety of dining options, from quaint seaside tavernas to upscale, gourmet restaurants. The Mykonian cuisine is characterized by its simplicity and the use of fresh, local ingredients.
Specialties like kopanisti (a spicy cheese spread), fresh louza (a type of cured meat), and the traditional Mykonian pie are a must-try.
The dining experience is enhanced by the island’s vibrant atmosphere, with many restaurants offering stunning sea views and outdoor settings. Mykonos Town, particularly, is a hub for culinary explorers, boasting a wide array of eateries that cater to all preferences and palates. This makes Mykonos the ultimate destination for those looking to enjoy the rich and varied Greek cuisine.
Mykonos vs Santorini – For Wine Lovers
Santorini is a paradise for wine lovers. The island’s unique volcanic soil gives birth to distinct wine varieties, particularly the Assyrtiko, a crisp, dry white wine that has gained international acclaim.
Santorini’s wineries, many of which are centuries-old, offer tours and tastings, providing insights into the traditional wine-making process unique to the island.
The Wine Museum in Koutsoyannopoulos offers an underground experience, showcasing the history of wine-making in Santorini.
Visits to local vineyards are not just about wine tasting; they are a cultural experience, often accompanied by breathtaking views of the island’s landscapes.
The wine tours often include food pairings, with local cheeses and delicacies enhancing the tasting experience. For those who cherish the finer aspects of wine, the complexity and history of Santorini’s wines make it an unmatched destination.
Mykonos vs Santorini – For Shopping
Mykonos is the go-to destination for vacation shoppers. The island’s stylish boutiques, chic galleries, and unique local shops offer a shopping experience that ranges from luxury to bohemian.
Mykonos Town, with its charming narrow streets, is lined with stores selling designer clothing, handcrafted jewelry, and high-end fashion accessories. The island is also known for its vibrant art scene, with numerous galleries showcasing contemporary art and traditional Greek crafts.
The shopping experience in Mykonos is not limited to luxury; there are plenty of shops offering souvenirs, local handicrafts, and typical Greek products that make for perfect mementos or gifts for your loved ones back home.
The cosmopolitan atmosphere, combined with a diverse range of shopping options, makes Mykonos a superior choice for those who love to blend their travel with the joy of shopping.
Mykonos vs Santorini – For Partying
For partygoers, Mykonos is the undisputed king in the Greek archipelago. Known as the party capital of Greece, Mykonos boasts a vibrant nightlife that caters to all preferences.
The island is home to some of the most famous beach clubs in the world, attracting top DJs and international celebrities. The nightlife is not just about Mykonos beach clubs; there are numerous beach bars and lounges that offer a more laid-back party atmosphere, ideal for enjoying cocktails while watching the sunset.
The party scene in Mykonos typically starts late and lasts until the early hours of the morning. The island’s inclusive and welcoming vibe makes it a perfect destination for those looking to immerse themselves in a dynamic and exhilarating party time.
More Budget-Friendly Greek Island – Mykonos or Santorini?
When it comes to budget-friendliness, Santorini is slightly cheaper than Mykonos. While both islands are known for their luxury offerings, Santorini provides a wider range of affordable accommodation options, especially outside the peak tourist season.
The island also offers numerous cost-effective dining choices, from local tavernas serving traditional Greek dishes to casual eateries. The natural beauty of Santorini, including its famous sunsets and stunning landscapes, can be enjoyed without a hefty price tag.
Additionally, public transportation in Santorini is more developed and cheaper compared to Mykonos, making it easier and more affordable to explore the island. For travelers seeking a balance between experiencing iconic Greek beauty and staying within the budget, Santorini is the more practical choice.
Mykonos vs Santorini – To Avoid the Crowds
Again, Santorini is the winner when it comes to escaping the crowds. Santorini, especially during the off-peak season (early spring or late autumn), offers a tranquil retreat that some of you may prefer over the bustling Mykonos.
Santorini’s famous spots like Oia and Fira are less crowded, allowing for a more leisurely and intimate experience. The off-peak period also provides an opportunity to explore the island’s beauty, from its picturesque villages to its renowned sunsets.
The cooler weather during the off-season makes it ideal for outdoor activities like hiking and exploring the volcanic landscapes. For travelers seeking to enjoy the essence of Santorini without any hustle, visiting during the quieter months is the key.
Mykonos vs Santorini – For Year-Round Activities
Mykonos offers a variety of activities year-round, making it an ideal destination regardless of the season compared to Santorini. While famous for its summer party scene, this Greek island is equally charming in the off-season.
Winter in Mykonos is mild, allowing for outdoor activities like hiking and exploring the island’s historic sites, such as the iconic windmills and the archaeological site of Delos.
The off-peak season also offers a more authentic glimpse into the local way of life, with fewer tourists and a calmer atmosphere. The island’s culinary scene remains vibrant throughout the year, providing constant enjoyment in the Mykonian cuisine.
For those seeking a destination that offers diverse experiences regardless of when they visit, Mykonos stands out.
Mykonos vs Santorini – For Seniors or People With Disabilities
Santorini is more accommodating for seniors or people with disabilities. The island has been making strides in improving accessibility, with many hotels and facilities now offering the necessary amenities for visitors with disabilities and seniors alike.
The layout of some parts of the island, such as Fira with its cable car service, provides easier mobility compared to the steep and narrow streets typical of many other Cycladic islands.
Additionally, Santorini’s more relaxed pace and numerous scenic spots accessible by car or public transport make it a suitable choice for those who may not be able to navigate challenging terrains easily or handle crowds.
For a stress-free and enjoyable experience, Santorini’s accessibility and beauty make it a preferred choice.
More Gay-Friendly Island, Mykonos, or Santorini?
Mykonos is widely recognized as the more gay-friendly Greek island between the two. Known for its inclusive and open-minded atmosphere, Mykonos has long been a popular destination for LGBTQ+ travelers.
The island boasts a range of gay-friendly beaches, bars, and clubs, creating a welcoming and vibrant environment. Mykonos’ reputation as a haven for the LGBTQ+ community is boosted by its annual events and parties that specifically cater to LGBTQ+ visitors.
The island’s ethos of acceptance and celebration of diversity makes it a safe and enjoyable destination for gay travelers, ensuring a travel experience where everyone can feel free to be themselves and enjoy the summer.
What Is Mykonos Best For?
Mykonos is best for partying and vibrant nightlife. Along the southern shore, plenty of beach clubs offer endless seaside entertainment. However, while the bustling party hub steals most of the limelight, the island’s southwest thrives with a burgeoning food culture.
To the east, pristine, unspoiled Mykonos beaches provide peaceful escapes from the constant bustle. Nestled between these attractions, you will find quaint, authentic tavernas with traditional charm, inviting visitors to savor the essence of local food and Greek culture.
Is Santorini Touristy?
The island is undeniably touristy and tends to get quite crowded despite being one of the more pricey islands in the Aegean. However, its breathtaking sunsets are a major romantic draw.
You can explore its rich history, from the intriguing Minoan ruins of Akrotiri to the unique volcanic hot springs, all of which offer an unforgettable natural experience. Santorini is an ideal getaway for those who prefer a mix of historical heritage, natural wonders, and the peaceful beauty of secluded beaches.
Is Santorini Cheaper Than Mykonos?
No, Santorini is slightly more expensive than Mykonos. A trip to Mykonos for two people costs about $2,200 per week. Santorini is about $2,500+. Again, this is for a one-week stay for two.
Apart from being the top picks for visitors to Greece, these islands also rank among the priciest in the entire Greek archipelago. However, there is a slight difference in cost between the two, resulting in Mykonos being the slightly more budget-friendly option.
Should I Spend More Time in Santorini or Mykonos?
While Mykonos has beautiful landscapes, scenic walks, and iconic windmills, Santorini takes the lead with a wider range of attractions and activities and is worth spending more time when visiting. HAving said that, both Santorini and Mykonos are worth at least a week’s stay.
Santorini offers a variety of tours, sightseeing outings, and outdoor activities, from visiting archaeological sites to day trips exploring traditional villages across the island. Wine lovers can enjoy winery tours, while nature buffs can go on boat tours around the volcanic attractions.
What Is the Best Time to Visit Mykonos?
The best time of the year to visit Mykonos is between June and September when it’s sunny, hot, and the water is perfect for swimming. Water temperature heats throughout the summer months and is warmest in August and early September.
If you are on a budget but want to visit Mykonos (or maybe also visit Santorini in one go), the months of May and October will give you the lowest prices for services, dining, and accommodation. In the off-season, you may pay up to half the price compared to the high season.