The Cyclades islands of Santorini and Mykonos are two of the most famous Greek islands, making them popular choices for travelers seeking an idyllic Aegean getaway. Both offer direct flights or ferries from Athens, stunning views, and scenic beaches. So, how do you choose between the two if you’re short on time?
Depending on your interests, one could be the perfect fit, while the other is perhaps not quite what you’re after. Whether it’s the nightlife and sandy beaches in Mykonos or the dramatic sunsets and ancient history in Santorini, we’ll dive deep into the pros and cons of each island.
Hopefully, you’ll then be able to answer the question: is Mykonos or Santorini better for you? Nonetheless, if you’re still unable to decide, don’t fret! At the end of this article, we’ll review the best way to visit both Santorini and Mykonos, including ferry details and recommended itineraries.
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The beaches are better in Mykonos than in Santorini.
When comparing the beaches in Mykonos vs. Santorini, you’ll find that the beaches in Santorini have more unique landscapes. Don’t miss Red Beach near Akrotiri, famous for its crimson-hued sand. Plus, thanks to the island’s deep history of volcanic activity, there are various black sand beaches!
The most popular ones are located along Santorini’s southeast coast: Kamari Beach, Perissa Beach, and Perivolos Beach. Nonetheless, you’ll find that the beaches on Santorini generally don’t have the greatest sand. In fact, they tend to be made up of volcanic pebbles.
As you can imagine, this type of sand borders on uncomfortable compared to your typical golden sand beaches. Moreover, the dark pebbles heat up in the sun, making water shoes a must-pack item.
Santorini’s beaches also tend to be less accessible. For example, you can only reach White Beach by boat. Red Beach involves a short hike along the caldera. However, this beach is now classified as unsafe due to landslides. Considering these factors, Mykonos is the better choice for a family beach vacation.
Platis Gialos is our top pick on this Greek island! Located just over three miles (5 km) from Mykonos Town, this beautiful beach features crystal clear water perfect for swimming and lots of options for beach bars and restaurants. Other top Mykonos beaches to visit on your trip include Ornos Beach, Psarou Beach, and Paraga Beach.
Note that neither Santorini nor Mykonos is thought to have the most beautiful beaches in the Cyclades. Better options include the neighboring islands of Naxos, Paros, Ios, and Milos.
Santorini is more popular for honeymoons and romantic getaways.
When you think of an iconic Greek honeymoon destination, surely Santorini wins. With magnificent sunset views over the caldera and some of the most luxurious five-star hotels, it’s really no wonder why this island is considered one of the most romantic places in Greece.
From sunset cruises to wine-tasting tours, there are plenty of activities to keep couples entertained here. For example, we suggest this Santorini sunset luxury catamaran cruise, which includes delicious Greek barbecue and unlimited soft drinks, beer, and local wine.
If you’d like to learn more about the island’s wine production, take this small group Santorini wine tasting and tour. Another romantic idea is to book a photographer to take pictures of you with the iconic whitewashed buildings. This way, you can create unforgettable memories together that you can take home as souvenirs!
We feel this island–and especially the village of Oia–is best appreciated if you can splurge on Santorini hotels with private pools. Our top suggestions are boutique hotels like Canaves Oia Suites & Spa, Grace Hotel (Imerovigli), and Athina Luxury Suites (Fira).
Mykonos can certainly be romantic as well, with a little more effort. For example, you could make a dinner reservation in Little Venice! Some of our favorite locales with a view of the windmills include Kastro’s Restaurant, Katerina’s Restaurant & Cocktail Bar, and Nice n Easy. Another idea is to take a catamaran tour at sunset!
The nightlife and partying are better in Mykonos.
Often compared to the Spanish island of Ibiza, Mykonos is famous around the world thanks to its fun party scene and reputation as gay-friendly. Numerous beach clubs are spread out across the island, as well as a row of nightclubs in the main town. With this in mind, you can easily find places to party here both during the day and at night!
Plus, meeting people here is easy, making Mykonos one of the best Greek islands for solo travel. Regarding Mykonos beach clubs, Super Paradise Beach is home to two of the most famous: Jackie O’s and Super Paradise Beach Club.
Meanwhile, Super Paradise Beach Club is famous for its nightly DJ sets and its restaurant featuring yummy Mediterranean cuisine. However, our favorite beach club on the island has to be Scorpios Mykonos (Paraga Beach), famous for its bohemian ambiance and sunset ritual.
Other top contenders include Cavo Paradiso (Paradise Beach), a major nightclub that hosts international DJs, and Alemagou (Ftelia Beach), an upscale boho club where you can lounge during the day and dance the night away after sunset.
For those looking to party in Mykonos Town, there are all sorts of clubs and bars near Little Venice. For example, visitor favorites include Scarpa Bar, Queen of Mykonos, Negrita, and Skandinavian Bar.
While Mykonos is known for a more wild type of partying, Santorini is probably best for those who enjoy sipping on wine with a view. For example, PK Cocktail Bar and Franco’s Bar are lovely places to grab a cocktail and watch the sunset over the caldera in Fira.
There’s one main traditional town in Mykonos, while Santorini is home to various picturesque villages.
When you think of the most beautiful Greek Islands, you probably picture whitewashed homes with blue shutters surrounded by amazing views and natural beauty. Well, in Mykonos, you can pretty much only find one of these traditional villages: Mykonos Town (also called “Chora”).
Little Venice and Mykonos’ old town are home to trendy restaurants, boutiques, and souvenir shops. Although this area is undoubtedly picturesque, it can be a bummer that the island doesn’t have more of these villages to explore.
Sometimes people will recommend visiting the second-largest village in Mykonos: Ano Mera. Nonetheless, in our opinion, it’s not entirely built up enough to be worth the trip.
By comparison, Santorini features various traditional Cycladic towns, including Oia, Fira, Imerovigli, Firostefani, Megalochori, Emporio, and more. However, the main two are Oia and Fira (also called “Thera”).
Oia is arguably the most renowned and photographed village on the island. It’s located on the northwestern edge of Santorini alongside a cliff, offering visitors spectacular views of the caldera. Fira is actually bigger than Oia, and it’s where you’ll find a majority of luxury hotels on the island.
Some of the best things to do in this town are watching the sunset from a local bar, shopping for souvenirs, and visiting the Museum of Prehistoric Thera. If you have the time and energy, you can also choose to walk the path connecting Fira to Oia!
Santorini offers more day trips, but Mykonos is near Delos.
Santorini has more options for day trips than Mykonos. For example, some of the most popular spots to visit from Santorini include the neighboring islands of Ios and Thirassia. Another top option is to take a daytime or sunset cruise and admire the views of the beautiful caldera (flooded volcanic crater).
However, our favorite day trips from Santorini have to be the nearby volcanic islands: Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni. In fact, you can even swim in volcanic hot springs on Palea Kameni! Just remember to wear a dark-colored bathing suit, because the red tint of the water will stain your clothes.
Even with all of these options, it’s important to factor in that Delos Island is the top Mykonos day trip. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most important archaeological sites in the entire country of Greece. Therefore, if you’re a history buff, being able to visit this small island that is the mythological birthplace of Apollo and Artemis could be a deciding factor.
Delos is located about two nautical miles from Mykonos. So, the ferry ride only takes around 30 minutes! If you’d prefer to take a guided tour, we recommend the following: Delos Guided Tour with Skip-the-Line Tickets. On your visit, make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and plenty of sunscreen.
Mykonos and Santorini are both expensive but can be done cheaper.
Both Mykonos and Santorini rank among the most expensive islands in Greece. However, based on our experience, either island can be made budget-friendly based on the accommodations, food, and activities you choose.
In the case of Mykonos, the beaches are the main attraction. So, we recommend renting a car or a scooter and spending most of your time there. You can even buy groceries and pack lunch or snacks!
If you want to save money on food in Mykonos Town, we suggest walking away from the harbor and further into the village. You can find some more affordable local joints this way! For example, you can grab gyros at Saki’s Grill House or Local Mykonos.
Although you can find ways to make your visit more budget-friendly, it’s important to be honest about your trip goals. Bear in mind that if you’re planning to shop and party in Mykonos, you’ll find this experience to be pricier than Santorini.
There are also options to make your trip more budget-friendly in Santorini. Instead of staying in the traditional villages of Oia or Fira, you can save lots of money on accommodations by staying on the island’s south side near the black sand beaches. Plan to get around Santorini by using the public bus system or renting a scooter!
Regarding activities, stick to free things to do in Santorini, like the 6.5-mile (10.5 km) hiking trail from Fira to Oia. Other cheap attractions include visiting the black sand beaches, watching the sunset, or climbing to the top of Skaros Rock.
Santorini has better sunsets.
One of the most popular activities on Santorini island is undoubtedly to watch the sunset. Oia Castle is perhaps the most legendary view of the sunset here, with postcard-worthy whitewashed houses and a stunning panorama over the Aegean Sea. However, if Oia is too crowded for your taste, Skaros Rock, located just outside of Imerovigli, is a more off-the-beaten-track option.
If you’re visiting the beaches along Santorini’s southern coast, we recommend planning to catch the sunset from Akrotiri Lighthouse. Meanwhile, if you’d prefer a more relaxed experience, make a reservation at Santo Winery or Venetsanos Winery. This way, you can sample local wines with an incredible view of the sunset over the caldera.
Mykonos also has its fair share of beautiful places to watch the sunset. For example, we recommend making a dinner reservation at a restaurant in Little Venice along the water. Both Kastro’s Restaurant and Katerina’s Restaurant are great options! Or, if you’d rather grab a cocktail, head to Negrita Bar.
For the best view of the sunset in Mykonos, you won’t want to miss 180º Sunset Bar. Although pricey, it’s totally worth the splurge for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you choose to make a reservation, there is a minimum spend. Or, for more budget-friendly travelers, plan to arrive right when they open and grab a seat in the non-reserved areas.
Mykonos has fewer stairs and hills.
Both Mykonos and Santorini pose particular challenges for travelers with limited mobility. For example, both popular islands feature cobblestone streets, hills, and cruise ship crowds. However, while exploring Mykonos Town, you may notice that it’s relatively flat, especially compared with Oia or Fira on Santorini.
In general, Santorini is not the most disabled-friendly destination. Unfortunately, many of its traditional villages are located on steep terrain and feature narrow cobblestone streets. Plus, thanks to the island’s geographical location along the caldera, Fira and Oia are built on top of cliffs.
Some of the beach areas along the island’s southern side are flatter; however, the main attractions in Santorini are on the north side. With this in mind, Mykonos may be a better fit for seniors or people with disabilities.
Santorini is slightly more family-friendly.
For a family vacation to Greece, we’d actually choose the neighboring islands of Naxos or Paros! Overall, you’ll notice that both Santorini and Mykonos cater to more of an adult population.
For example, some of the top things to do in Santorini are visit wineries and dine at upscale restaurants. On the other hand, Mykonos is world famous for its beach clubs and summer party atmosphere.
However, there’s a slower pace in Santorini, while Mykonos is rowdier and filled with more of a party-going crowd. Of course, we’d argue that both destinations can be family-friendly with the proper research.
Nonetheless, Santorini offers more activities to keep the kids entertained. For example, kids will get a kick out of Open Air Cinema Kamari, an outdoor theater that shows current popular films in English throughout the summer.
Other things to do in Santorini with the whole family include the Lost Atlantis Experience, visiting the black sand beaches, or taking a horseback riding excursion. Another fun idea is to book a boat tour to the volcanic hot springs on Palea Kameni!
For a family beach vacation in Greece, Mykonos will be the better option. After all, most of the beaches in Santorini are very pebbly, meaning they won’t be enjoyable without water shoes! Additionally, the kids won’t be able to play or make sandcastles here in the sand.
Some of the top family activities in Mykonos include exploring Mykonos Town, watching the sunset in Little Venice, and checking out the windmills. Of course, beaches like Platis Gialos Beach, Agios Ioannis Beach, and Agios Stefanos Beach are another big draw.
Water sports are slightly better in Mykonos.
Both Santorini and Mykonos offer plenty of options for watersports. For example, on both islands, you can find beaches with windsurfing, kitesurfing, jet-skiing, kayaking, snorkeling, and scuba diving. However, we would argue that Mykonos has a slight advantage in this category.
Mykonos is a much better choice for snorkeling. You can find opportunities to snorkel even at popular beaches, such as Paradise Beach, Paraga Beach, Lia Beach, Frangias Beach, and Platis Gialos Beach. By comparison, Santorini isn’t as suitable for shore snorkeling, requiring excursions to reach some of the best snorkeling spots along the caldera.
Regarding scuba diving, Santorini and Mykonos have exciting places to explore (including wreck diving!). In Mykonos, one of the most frequented dive sites is the Anna II shipwreck, a cargo ship that sits at a depth of around 82 feet (25 m). Other diving locations include the Peloponisos Shipwreck and Lia Beach.
In Santorini, the trendiest spot is a short boat ride away on the nearby island of Nea Kameni. You can actually find three wrecks here: the Santa Maria ship, at 59 feet (18 m) below the surface, a WWII boat at 42.7 feet (13 m), and the Tugboat at 98.4 feet (30 m) deep (the only deep wreck near Santorini). For beginner divers, Kamari Beach is another good option.
If you’d like to try windsurfing or kitesurfing on Mykonos, we recommend Korfos Beach, Kalafatis Beach, or Ftelia Beach. After all, the island’s nickname is “The Island of the Winds”! Meanwhile, in Santorini, Nemely Windsurf and SUP Center on Avis Beach is the top place to go windsurfing. For kitesurfing, you won’t want to miss Santorini Kite on Monolithos Beach.
The tourism season is slightly longer in Santorini.
Another factor that may help you compare Santorini vs. Mykonos is their respective tourism seasons. As we mentioned previously, tourists tend to flock to Mykonos island in the summer months so they can visit the beautiful beaches. With this in mind, the best time to visit Mykonos is between late May and early October.
Since this island is best known for its golden sand beaches and beach clubs, there’s not much else to do during the low season or shoulder seasons. For this reason, you’ll generally want to avoid visiting Mykonos outside of the warmer months.
On the other hand, tourist season in Santorini kicks off around Greek Orthodox Easter (April) and runs until late October or early November. In most cases, you’ll want to avoid this Greek island from mid-November to mid-March, as restaurants, hotels, and other businesses often close for the season.
However, you’ll notice that Santorini has a slightly longer tourist season than Mykonos, giving you more options regarding trip timing. The high seasons for both islands fall between June and September, with shoulder seasons in April to early May and late October to early November.
Since Santorini suffers from overtourism, we highly suggest aiming to visit during one of its shoulder seasons. Although you may not be able to hit the beaches in Santorini in early spring or late fall, this island certainly offers more off-season activities.
In fact, the most popular attractions here are open year-round. For example, you can watch the sunset over Oia, visit a winery, hike from Fira to Oia, or check out the Akrotiri Archaeological Site no matter the time of year.
Can’t choose? Visit both Mykonos and Santorini!
If you have one week, both of these famous islands are worth visiting. We recommend spending three nights/four days in Mykonos and four nights/five days in Santorini. Or, if you have less time, we suggest a minimum of two days in Santorini or Mykonos.
With less than a week in Greece, we typically like to focus on Athens and just one island. We do NOT recommend taking a day trip from Mykonos to Santorini or vice-versa. One day isn’t enough time!
Taking the ferry: Santorini or Mykonos first?
We suggest traveling to Mykonos first for those who prefer to take a ferry from Athens to the islands. The high-speed Athens to Mykonos ferry takes just under three hours.
By comparison, the fastest ferry from Athens to Santorini takes four hours and 30 minutes. Therefore, you can save an hour or so by visiting Mykonos first–just make sure to book your ferry tickets in advance on Ferry Hopper!
You’ll notice that the most popular companies are Seajets, Fast Ferries, and Blue Star Ferries. Standard ferry prices usually are around 38€, while high-speed ferries start at around 70€ (per person).
After your ferry ride ends, you’ll likely arrive at the Mykonos New Port. In general, Old Port is only used for smaller or private ferries. You’ll be about a 15-minute drive from the New Port to Mykonos Town. With this in mind, we suggest taking the Sea Bus, the public bus, or booking a private transfer with your hotel.
After finishing your time on Mykonos, there are two options to head to Santorini: fly or take another ferry. Since tourism to these islands is seasonal, this particular ferry route is typically active from April to October. During the high season, four ferries per day offer this crossing.
It takes about 2-3 hours to travel between the two islands on a ferry, depending on the vessel available (PowerJet, Super Jet, etc.) and the weather conditions. The quickest ferries make just one or two stops–for example, in Naxos and Ios.
Your ferry to Santorini will arrive at the Athinios Port, which is about a 40-minute drive to Oia or 20 minutes from Fira. The best option to reach your hotel from the ferry port is to arrange a private transfer with your hotel.
Flying into Santorini or Mykonos
It’s essential to remember that there are no non-stop flights from the United States to either of these islands. So, you’ll likely have a short layover at the Athens airport before you can get to Mykonos or Santorini.
Flights from Athens to Mykonos take about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, flying from Athens to Santorini is approximately 55 minutes. As you can see, flying between Athens and either Mykonos or Santorini is significantly faster than taking the ferry.
The Mykonos International Airport (JMK) is a short 10-minute drive from Mykonos Town. By comparison, the Santorini (Thira) International Airport (JTR) is a 25-minute drive from Oia or just 10 minutes from Fira.
After visiting the first island on your itinerary, you can consider flying again to reach your second island of choice! Just remember that there are no direct flights between Mykonos and Santorini. So, you’ll have to fly back into Athens to connect.
The quickest flights between Mykonos and Santorini take just over two hours (including the connection). However, you also need to consider the time to check luggage and go through security.
Considering everything, this option can be faster sometimes than taking the ferry. After all, Greek ferries are infamous for running late. Plus, we find flying to be a lot more comfortable than taking the ferry.
If you have extra time after seeing Santorini and Mykonos, you may want to consider visiting a third island. One of our best travel tips is island hopping to Crete, Paros, or Naxos. All you have to do is make sure you get back to Athens–whether you fly or take a ferry–so you can catch your flight home.
Need more tips? Check out these Greece travel guides!
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This article was first published in January 2023 and has since been updated.