Mykonos and Santorini are without a doubt the most popular islands in Greece and probably some of the most popular islands in the world. Adorned with white washed domed houses, perfectly painted blue houses, stunning ocean views, and faded stone streets, these islands are the definition of picturesque.
Located in the Aegean sea, Mykonos and Santorini are part of the Cyclades, a group of small islands that all share the same architectural styles. I spent almost two months traveling through the Cyclades visiting a dozen different islands. I started my trip in Mykonos before making my way throughout the archipelago and ending at Santorini.
If you are looking to visit Greece and specifically the islands, you will surely think about visiting these two islands. If you can’t swing the time to visit both islands and have to decide, then you have one of the tougher travel decisions to make! This post will go in detail of all the different attributes with these two islands and my opinion on what is superior. Hopefully after reading this post, you will have what you need to decide!
Once you’ve decided, make sure to read my travel guides for the two islands!
Greece is my favorite country in Europe and I traveled extensively through the country. If you need inspiration for other parts of Greece, make sure to read my Ultimate Greece Travel Guide that details everything yo need to know about Greece and the places I’ve been to.
Visiting both islands
First things first, you should visit both islands if at all possible. If you have a week for the Greek islands, this will be ample time to explore both islands in my opinion. I think 3-4 days is ample time to explore an island. I think a minimum of five days is required to visit both islands unless you are okay with just droppign in, taking the iconic photos, and leaving.
If after reading this post you still cannot decide on which island to visit, don’t worry because many others are in the same boat. It’s literally an apples to oranges comparison and you really can’t go wrong with either option.
How to get from Mykonos to Santorini
Being the most popular islands in the Cyclades, there are regular ferry routes between Mykonos and Santorini. I wrote a long detailed guide about the Greek ferry systems and they are very efficiently run. Blue Star and Sea Jets will make multiple daily routes between the two islands.
From Mykonos, there are daily ferries that will run to Santorini while stopping in various other islands in the Cyclades. These ferries will normally take 3-4 hours and cost €50-€70 one way. There is no express ferry that I know of that runs between the two islands.
There are large international airports in both islands so you could fly into Mykonos from somewhere in Europe, and fly home from Santorini (without having to return to the same airport you arrived in).
Cost of visiting Mykonos or Santorini
Mykonos and Santorini are both expensive destinations to visit. Greek people mostly avoid these islands because of the crowds and the costs so you should expect to compete with international travelers on all fronts.
Both islands are equally as expensive in my opinion. Bars and restaurants in the main towns like the Mykonos Chora or Santorini’s Oia can be quite pricey. Cocktails can be easily €10 or more with entrees at a decent restaurant being €20+. Because of how touristy these places are, you can expect to also pay more for any excursions you had in mind like a sunset cruise or even renting scooters/quadbikes. If you are visiting Athens before these islands, you will immediately notice the difference!
However, you can mitigate these costs by simply dining outside of the main towns and avoiding the upscale looking places. I had an amazing meal outside of the Mykonos Chora at Limnios Taverna for 30% less than in the Chora. In Santorini, I left Oia and went to the town of Spyrgos which had far superior Greek restaurants at a much friendlier price.
Restaurant and Dining Options
One of my favorite parts of Greece is the food. I would even wager that Greece has the best cuisine in Europe. The most surprising thing however, is the consistency. There are so many Tavernas serving Greek food around the islands. Of course some are better than others but the quality is also up to a certain standard which is higher than what I’m used to.
For such touristy places like Mykonos and Santorini, there are still many many delicious options serving local Greek food. Even the complete tourist trap restaurants in the Chora are at least decent and rarely just straight up terrible.
Being as developed and tourist driven as these two islands are, there are also amazing non-Greek dining options to be had. However, after spending two months in Greece, Greek food was one thing that I never got tired of so this isn’t much of an issue for me.
Bars and nightlife
This is probably the easiest category to decide. Mykonos is known for its nightlife. People from around the world come here to party it up. You can find parties all day long from the beach bars during the day to the clubs at night.
There are world famous beach bars all around Mykonos like the Alemagou Beach Bar or the Super Paradise Beach bar that cater to all of your day drinking fantasies. At night, the Chora is full of energy and you are sure to find parties and the numerous clubs in and around the town.
Mykonos can become one of those sceney type of places where everyone is looking to impress. I visited in 2020 during Coronavirus so there was little to no nightlife but I could see how in normal times, this place would be packed full of semi-pro influencers and fist bumping party bros.
Santorini on the other hand is more chilled in that regard. It is more of a romantic getaway destination than a place to party. Oia doesn’t even have any bars or clubs. For that you’ll have to head to the main town of Fira.
In either place, prepare to drop a lot of cash especially in Mykonos. If you’re visiting in the summer, make sure to pre-book tables and such as it gets full quickly.
Romance and honeymoons
Santorini is a very popular honeymoon spot and it’s easy to see why. The views of the ocean from the countless luxury hotels are just stunning and perfect for the most romantic of experiences.
I’m personally not a fan of Santorini because of how packed it gets. However, I did walk through some of the most exclusive and luxurious hotels and if I stayed in one of these places, it would be a different story. There are also incredible luxury rentals that you can book in Santorini with cozycozy.com. Sure you will have to battle the crowds when you leave, but you could always just choose to spend most of your time in your own serene bubble.
The views and romantic photo opportunities in Santorini are simply endless. There are even professional photographers you can hire that know all the best spots around the island.
Mykonos can be charming especially the Chora but it doesn’t scream luxury and romance like Santorini does.
Crowds and people
Mykonos and Santorini are the most popular islands in Greece and up there with the most popular islands in the world. I think on a tourist per square km ratio, it is probably among the highest in the world. Pre-Coronavirus, there would be a dozen cruise ships a day during the high season months that would dock in the ports of these islands ands end thousands of people into the towns.
I visited Mykonos in July right as they were reopening for tourism and found it to be quite enjoyable as far as crowds go. I visited Santorini in the end of August and it was a complete zoo. However, after talking to numerous people working in Santorini, apparently it was only 20% of what an August would normally look like without Coronavirus.
If you are visiting either island in the summer, expect to be shoulder to shoulder with people when you are in the main towns. Restaurant reservations are a must and patience even more so. Of course, you can avoid these problems simply by visiting during the off season or staying far away from the Chora.
Both islands are extremely busy so there is no clear winner here!
Sunsets in the Greek islands are famous. I absolutely love watching the sun set over the ocean and you will have opportunities in both places.
The natural winner here is Santorini simply because of its terrain. The entire island is elevated hundreds of meters above the ocean so you have clear views of the sun setting over the horizon. Santorini’s Oia town is famous worldwide for its sunset. However, the sunset is a bit overrated here in my opinion simply because of the sheer crowd size.
It’s a complete zoo during golden hour as thousands of people pack into the tiny streets and houses to grab a spot. However, the best part of Santorini are the catamaran cruises that run from its harbour. I would highly recommend doing this if you have a group of people as you sail around the island watching the sunset.
Mykonos is no slouch either. The Chora faces west so the sun sets directly in front of the town. In addition, the 180 degree sunset bar and the Cavo Tagoo are the ultimate places to get a sunset cocktail. Make sure to reserve your table in these places well in advance because it gets super busy as well. If you want to avoid the vibey cocktail bars, then the Armenistis lighthouse in the northwest corner of the island is your spot. It’s located high up so you have views of the surrounding islands while watching the sun set.
Views and natural beauty
The Cyclades islands are stunning as well but not quite as green as the Ionian islands. Mykonos is a mostly flat with a dry almost desert like landscape while Santorini is something completely different. Mykonos has its fair share of hills but it’s nothing special in my opinion. If you want out of this world views and natural scenery, Amorgos is my absolute favorite and far superior to Mykonos or Santorini.
Santorini was formed from a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago so the island is mostly just derived from volcanic ash. This is very unique in its own right and while I don’t find it to be particularly pretty, the views are unmatched.
All of the towns are built on the top of the caldera and offers breathtaking views because of the sheer drop into the ocean. There is nothing obstructing your view as you can watch the Mediterranean from above. The famous photos of Santorini always include the ocean in the background because of how the island is designed.
Which towns are prettier
Mykonos’ main town is the Chora which is where you will undoubtedly spend some time in while visiting. It is extremely charming because of just how perfectly manicured it is. The island spends a lot of money year round to keep freshen up the white paint and to ensure its charm remains unsullied.
Walking through the Chora in the morning before the crowds come in is beautiful. It’s easy to get lost in the beautiful small streets and all of a sudden you are in Little Venice with its iconic views of the houses over the sea with the windmills behind you. Mykonos is almost too perfect at times. It almost feels a little fake by how beautiful it is.
Santorini is no slouch either. The town of Oia is famous worldwide. The blue domes and the view of the Mediterranean are breathtaking. The picture possibilities here are endless. However, the town of Oia just felt a little fake. It didn’t have the same charm as Mykonos’ Chora because it felt like the town was built purely for tourists. The houses are almost all luxury hotels that while they look nice, do not exude the charm you’re looking for in the Cyclades.
Winner: Mykonos (but not by much)
Santorini is not known for its beaches because it is essentially the remnants of a volcanic eruption. Santorini is famous for its “black beach” and “red beach” which are just rock beaches from volcanic sediment. They attract a lot of people but are not my thing.
Mykonos is a more conventional Cycladic island so you will find much more typical beaches with nice soft sand and azure waters. However, Mykonos’ beaches often time are accompanied by huge beach bars where the bass is pumping. A lot of beaches don’t even have much open space for you to lay out in. You will have to pay for beach chairs.
I would not recommend either island as a beach destination because they are both mediocre. The beaches in Kefalonia are absolutely to die for but the ones in the Cyclades are just okay. However, if I had to pick between Mykonos or Santorini as it pertains to beaches, Mykonos wins.
Instagram and photo opportunities
Instagram and influencers really put these two islands on the worldwide map. Influencers posting in those iconic photos on the rooftop of a house in Santorini with the ocean in front has done wonders for their marketing.
Influencing aside, both islands are absolutely amazing for photo taking. The Chora in Mykonos has countless photo spots in its small streets and iconic views. However, I think Santorini has such more dramatic views that you can take a photo from anywhere in Oia facing the ocean and it will look amazing.
This is of course completely objective because a good photographer will bring out the wanderlust in any setting. I’m not an influencer by any means; I’m lacking the long blonde hair and flowing white dress so I gave up before I even tried. Nevertheless, I have a good sense of what will drive the wanderlust out in modern day travelers and I think those pictures are best taken in Santorini.
For the girls out there, all you need to do is stand on a building in Oia, wear a nice summer dress with a big hat, and your photos will be the envy of all your friends. Emphasis on the big hat though, it’s key. The bigger the better.
So which is better? Mykonos or Santorini
Well as you can see, there is no good answer here. Both islands are incredibly popular for a reason and both islands warrant a visit. If you only have a few days and want something more romantic and quiet, then Santorini could be a good option depending on where you say. If you want a bit more nightlife and a social scene, Mykonos could be your jam.
If you’re not keen for either of these things because of the huge crowd sizes in the tourist season, consider visiting other islands nearby like Naxos, Paros, Amorgos, Folegandros, Milos, or Sifnos. They are lesser known but offer just as much beauty if not more.
Either way, Greece is one of my favorite places in the world and you can’t go wrong with any option!
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