Many first-time visitors will ask the question, Mykonos vs Santorini? Which should I visit? These two Cycladic Islands are amongst the most popular, picturesque and idyllic in Greece, but which is right for you?
Greece invokes visions of lazy sunny afternoons, crystal clear waters and friendly locals. The beautiful European nation is blessed with 227 inhabited islands, and whilst all are fantastic, some are better known than others.
While Mykonos is generally better for beaches and partying, Santorini is seen as a better option for families and those who prefer hiking and history. However, there is a lot more to consider when choosing between the two islands!
Read on to find out if Santorini or Mykonos is the right Cycladic island for you!
Once a quiet island inhabited mainly by fishermen and farmers, Mykonos has grown to be one of the top tourist destinations in Greece.
The island was made famous by Aristotle Onassis and Jackie Kennedy-Onassis and their socialite friends during the 1960s. Mykonos is famed for its beauty, hedonistic nightlife, and pristine beaches.
Most visitors come to Mykonos on a high-speed ferry from Athens, which takes around three hours. There are slower boats which will take a little longer but are cheaper.
The island is also served by Mykonos International Airport which sees flights from all over Europe in the summer months. There are multiple flights from Athens every day.
Mykonos is not a big island. At 85 km sq., the island is home to about 10,000 people. This number swells dramatically to around 40,000 in the busy summer months.
The main town of Chora is easily accessible on foot. In fact, it’s a place where you don’t want a vehicle! The streets are a warren of alleyways and streets that are perfect for wandering and exploring on foot. The only motorised vehicles you will see are small scooters and quads that deliver supplies to businesses early in the morning.
If you’re heading further afield on the island, there is an excellent network of buses run by KTEL from the Fabrika bus station, just to the south of town. In the summer months, these very affordable buses, costing no more than €3 a ticket, run well into the night to the vast majority of Mykonos’ most famous sandy beaches.
Mykonos has a limited number of taxis – at the last count it was somewhere around €35, so planning in advance can be useful. Many hotels can help to organise shuttles given notice.
Unless you are heading to some of the farther-flung beaches, you can probably get by without your own transport. The island has very narrow roads, and in summer months, accidents are common. If you do rent a vehicle, a car will be much safer than a scooter or ATV. You can browse Rentalcars.com for options.
There’s no denying it, Mykonos is regularly mentioned as “the most expensive place in Greece.” It is even more expensive than the capital, Athens. It’s not uncommon to see headlines like: “Price of Gyro over €7 in Greece” – meaning the price in Mykonos.
But do not fear! Mykonos can also be quite affordable – you just have to go be a bit thrifty.
Food is generally quite expensive. The island has a glut of high-end dining options. Quality is often high, but the price tag might leave a sour taste in your mouth. You can bring costs down eating at local tavernas and enjoying quality Greek street food like gyro and souvlaki.
Take a public bus for €3, instead of a taxi for €30. Stay three nights in a comfortable and friendly pension for the price of one night at a luxury resort on one of the more exclusive beaches.
The beaches are a highlight of Mykonos, but two sunbeds with umbrellas can cost over €100 a day in high season!
However, Greek law dictates that even organised beaches have to leave a section of sand for people to put their towels down. Get there early, bring your own towels, buy a parasol from the mini market and enjoy the sunshine.
Mykonos certainly does a good job of being a luxury destination. As it becomes more popular with celebrities and sees more coverage in the tabloid newspapers, the prices will continue to go up. But it doesn’t have to be expensive.
Things to do in Mykonos
One thing you should ask yourself when deciding on Mykonos or Santorini is what is there to do? Luckily, Mykonos has a wealth of things to keep any visitor busy!
Chora, the central town of the island, is well worth a day of exploring. Start in the quiet bougainvillaea-filled streets in the morning before the visitors arrive. As the day goes on, you will find plenty of shops with friendly owners, gorgeous domed churches like the Paraportiani, and plenty of places for a tasty snack.
Food is a big deal in Mykonos. Many of the restaurants in Chora are world-class, and there is a focus on Mediterranean cuisine. Find excellent meat dishes at M-Eating, great seafood at Katerina’s, awesome Italian at D’Angelo and fine dining at Krana. However, some of the best fare can be found at the small tavernas dotted around this Greek island.
Rizes in Ano Mera is like stepping back in time to Mykonos of the ’60s, and Kiki’s Taverna at Agios Sostis is the stuff of legend. Giant portions of grilled meat and fish and a massive range of salads will fill your plate at this seaside taverna. There are no reservations, so show up at least an hour before you want to eat – grab a beer and enjoy the view whilst you wait.
Chora starts to buzz as evening closes in – the Mykonian sunset is world-famous and is best experienced from Little Venice or the windmills. Sunset cocktails turn to shots as the music gets louder and Chora comes alive with revellers.
There are plenty of old town bars like Skandinavian Bar and Jackie O’s to keep you busy well into the night. Many of the beaches will be partying all night long. Paradise Beach will see revellers dancing until morning at world-famous club Cavo Paradiso.
If it’s the sun on your skin that makes your holiday perfect, look no further than the beaches of Mykonos’ southern coast. If you’re trying to decide between beaches on Mykonos or Santorini for families – don’t worry, Mykonos has family-friendly beaches, and beaches that are definitely adult-only.
Ornos and Kalafatis beaches are family-friendly, whilst Paradise and Super Paradise are more adult themed. Nudity is common on many of Mykonos’ beaches. There is a handy water taxi that links all the beaches and runs hourly along the south coast, offering incredible views of the rugged landscape.
Getting out on a boat is a great part of being in Greece but using one to get to a tourist attraction is a double whammy. Located 30 minutes off the coast of Mykonos, visitors with an interest in history can visit the island of Delos.
The whole island is an uninhabited archaeological site. Once one of the biggest ports in the Aegean, Delos now sees visitors keen to explore its dusty streets, ruined temples and well-kept mosaics and theatres.
Where to Stay on Mykonos
Panormos Village – This lovely hotel located on the North Coast of Mykonos is a great option for those looking for a mid-range option on the island. They have a range of wonderful rooms on offer, have breakfast included each morning and there is even a swimming pool for guests to enjoy. Click here to check availability
ELA Boutique Hotel & Spa – Located near Elia Beach, this boutique hotel is the perfect choice for those looking for a plush option in Santorini. They offer standard rooms and apartments, there is a large terrace and breakfast included daily. Click here to check availability
Alissachni Mykonos – Situated in the town of Psarou, this hotel is perfect for those looking for a luxurious escape on Mykonos. They offer incredible suites and some room options include private hot tubs or pools. There is also a lovely breakfast served daily. Click here to check availability
MyCocoon Hostel – If you’re travelling on a tight budget in Mykonos (or are after a lively social atmosphere. then this hostel is a great option. They have both dormitories and private rooms available and there is also a swimming pool and bar for guests to socialise in. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options in Mykonos!
About 3600 years ago Santorini was a huge circular volcano called Strogili, meaning “the round one”. But when the volcano that made up the centre of the island exploded sending the vast majority of the island crashing into sea, or flying into the air, the island became uninhabitable for centuries.
Famous for its epic cliffs, hillside towns and beautiful black sand beaches – Santorini is a shining jewel in the Aegean Sea.
Santorini (also known as Thira) is located at the southern end of the Cycladic Island chain which also includes Greek islands like Naxos, Paros, Santorini and Milos. Many visitors will arrive via ferry from neighbouring islands, like Mykonos, or Crete. If you come directly from Athens expect it to take around 4.5 hours on a high-speed ferry, or up to eight hours on a slow boat.
Santorini International Airport is well connected to Athens and its European neighbours. The airport located on the south of the island is well connected to the rest of the Island.
Just like Mykonos, Santorini isn’t too big. It has a population of about 16,000, and a land area of about 90 km sq.
Santorini is actually an archipelago of 5 islands – Thira, Thirassia, Nea Kameni, Palea Kameni and Aspronisi. The first, Thira is the main, inhabited island. Thirassia is a smaller island with less visitors, and a more traditional way of life. Nea Kameni & Palea Kameni are the two volcanos, and Aspronisi is an uninhabited island of white pumice.
But the big difference between Mykonos and Santorini is where the prize real estate is. On Mykonos, it’s the old town and the beaches, but on Santorini it’s all about the caldera. The caldera is the cliffs left by the ancient volcanic eruption. And many of the most famous spots on the island can be found dotted along the caldera.
Taxis are more abundant on Santorini, but there still aren’t as many as you would expect – wait times can be quite high, especially in the evenings.
Again, KTEL runs a good, affordable public bus network on this island. The main station is in Fira, the island’s capital. Prices are cheap, and they are relatively reliable.
Santorini has plenty of spots you might want to visit that public transport will not take you to – for this you will want to rent your own vehicle (browse Rentalcars.com for options).
As before, a car will be safer than a scooter or ATV, but the roads are generally much wider and safer than in Mykonos. Do be wary of cliffside roads and try not to get too distracted by the amazing views!
Whilst not as pricey as its competitor, Santorini can be an expensive island. Yes, there is a section that does cater to luxury, but there are far more family-friendly and affordable options on Santorini.
The black sand beaches of Kamari, Perivolos and Perissa have plenty of budget-friendly accommodation options with great tavernas and amenities that are suitable for families.
Anything that is located on the caldera will be more expensive because it has views for days.
In Oia, the most beautiful and northernmost town on the island, you will find houses carved into the volcanic rock of the caldera with stunning views that have been converted to luxury hotels. As you can imagine, these can charge much more than the beachfront pensions, but if you are trying to decide between Mykonos and Santorini for a honeymoon, it’s well worth considering.
Many of the small towns have local tavernas where food is reasonably priced, and the ambience is traditional.
Tourist restaurants at the beaches will cost more, and the quality may be varied, but you will find a more relaxed vibe. Sunbeds will often be free with your meal, or even just with drinks!
Restaurants on the caldera will charge higher prices, and upwards of €18 for a main will not be unusual. Food quality is often high, and you’re paying a premium for the scenery – but what a view!
If you’re ordering beers or cocktails at the beaches, you can find reasonable prices and deals. Costs in Fira, being the capital will be higher – and anywhere with views on the caldera will be at a premium.
Things to do in Santorini
Fira, the capital, is full of touristy shops, selling everything from volcanic soaps to t-shirts emblazoned with donkeys (the island’s traditional form of transport). There are plenty of cafes and restaurants to park yourself at, grab a frappe and gaze down at the beautiful views.
Visitors who want to make the best of the stunning panorama should lace up their hiking shoes and hike from Fira to Oia (10 km). Taking two hours, plus however long you stop for photos (which will be a LOT), the hike will take in the villages of Imerovigli & Firostefani before taking you into Oia.
There are plenty of hills, so bring shoes with grip, and you should take plenty of water. The best time to start is early in the day, before the midday heat.
Visiting Oia in the day is nice, a peaceful experience with lots of unique shops, but visiting at sunset is a must. Be warned in advance, crowds can pack this place out to get photos with white and blue domed churches before witnessing the amazing sunset.
Secure your place well in advance. Lots of people watch from the Venetian Castle, but it can be worth trying to get a dinner reservation with a view as well.
As you travel along the caldera, your gaze will often be drawn to the two volcanoes – these can both be visited on an affordable tour. Nea Kameni is still an active volcano, and you can hike to the top!
Guides will tell you all about the history of the eruption and will be able to point you in the direction of thermal vents. Palea Kameni has hot springs filled with volcanic mud, and swimming to them from a boat trip is a welcome addition after hiking up the dusty volcano.
If you want to learn about the unique history of wine on the volcanic island of Santorini, Santo Wines is well worth a visit. Perched on the caldera, they offer tasting flights of white wine all the way through to the sweet, rich dessert wine, Vinsanto.
Finally, if you want to understand more about the island’s history, the pre-eruption archaeological site Akrotiri is an incredible place to visit.
It holds the remains of a city well over 3,500 years old, you will see how people lived in multi-story houses, with toilets, and running water – before the eruption smothered Akrotiri in ash. It’s best visited with a guide, but all visitors can appreciate the wonder of walking through streets that are three and a half millennia old.
Where to Stay on Santorini
Kalimera Hotel – This lovely family-run hotel is a great option in Santorini. Located close to a number of wonderful beaches, they have a range of basic and comfortable rooms on offer that can suit both couples and families. Breakfast is included each morning and there is a swimming pool at the hotel. Click here to check availability
Seaside Breeze – This upscale hotel is a fantastic option for those looking for something a bit more luxe while in Santorini. They have both standard rooms and larger suites available – all with their own balcony. There is also a terrace, pool and breakfast daily for guests to enjoy. Click here to check availability
Remezzo Villas – For those looking for luxury in Santorini, these beautiful suites with stunning sea views are a wonderful option. There is breakfast available daily for guests and also an incredible swimming pool and outdoor terrace. Click here to check availability
Caveland Hostel – This hostel, located in a small village in Santorini, is set in an old winery. They have both dorms and private rooms available, a swimming pool to enjoy and it is a great choice for budget and solo travellers to the island. Click here to check availability.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options in Santorini!
Mykonos or Santorini: The Verdict
As you can see, both islands have plenty to do, with interesting history and incredible sunsets. But which is right for you?
For families, Santorini offers a great variety of activities to suit kids of all ages.
When trying to decide between Santorini or Mykonos for couples, either island has a lot to offer, but it depends on what kind of a couple you are. That’s why it can be hard to also choose between Mykonos or Santorini for a honeymoon as they are both incredibly romantic islands with a lot to offer visitors.
If you like beaches, partying and exploring the winding streets of an old town, then Mykonos is probably the island for you.
However, if you like walking, history and relaxing views, then Santorini is more likely to tick the boxes for you.
The only way to know which is truly for you, is to visit both islands!
Deciding between Santorini and Mykonos can seem like an impossible task when you think about all these beautiful islands have to offer. However, each has its own unique charm and can appeal to visitors in their own ways.
Are you trying to decide between visiting Mykonos or Santorini? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!