Mykonos vs Santorini: Which Greek Island to Visit?

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by Lizzie Fitzgerald

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First-time visitors to the Greek islands – especially those who are short on time – are often faced with the great Mykonos vs Santorini conundrum if they don’t have time to visit both. These two Cycladic Islands are amongst the most popular, picturesque and idyllic in Greece, but which is right for you?

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!

If you’re stuck wondering which of these gorgeous islands is the right choice for you, this guide will cover the pros and cons so you’re armed with all the information needed ahead of your trip to Greece!


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.

Mykonos windmills and sea
Beautiful Mykonos


Most visitors go 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. You can book ferries here.

The island is also served by Mykonos International Airport which sees flights from all over Europe in the summer months. There are also 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 Mykonos 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 for options.

Little Venice at Sunset
Sunset in Mykonos


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” – referring to the prices 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 beach clubs 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 and beautiful beaches at no extra cost.

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.

Super Paradise Beach
Super Paradise Beach

Things to do in Mykonos

One thing you should ask yourself when deciding whether to visit Santorini vs Mykonos 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.

Paraportiani church
Paraportiani church

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 – Located on the north coast of Mykonos, this hotel is perfect for mid-range visitors to the island. They have a number of rooms to choose from along with breakfast and a great swimming pool to enjoy.

Alissachni Mykonos – Another great luxury hotel option, this hotel located in Psarou is a great choice while in Mykonos. They have a number of great rooms to choose from (some with private pools) and a great breakfast daily.

MyCocoon Hostel – This hostel is a great choice for those looking to visit Mykonos on a tight budget. They have both dorms and private rooms to choose from along with an on-site bar and a swimming pool to enjoy.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options in Mykonos!

Mykonos' Famous Windmills
Mykonos’ Famous Windmills


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 fewer 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 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!

Sunset in Oia
Sunset in Oia on Santorini


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. 

Kamari Beach in Santorini

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!

Nea Kameni
Nea Kameni in Santorini

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. You can also enjoy the volcanic sands at Red Beach.

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 – Located close to some of Santorini’s best beaches, this is a great mid-range option on the island. Family-run and operated, they have a number of great rooms to choose from along with a delightful swimming pool and breakfast each morning.

Seaside Breeze – Those looking for luxury will love this upmarket hotel in Santorini. They have a range of beautiful rooms available (all have their own balcony) along with a shared terrace, swimming pool and a wonderful breakfast each morning.

Remezzo Villas – Another great luxe option for those looking to stay in Santorini, these suites boast sea views and an excellent location. There is also breakfast on offer each morning along with a perfect swimming pool to splash around in.

Caveland Hostel – Budget and solo visitors to Santorini will love this little hostel. Located in a small village in an old winery, they have private rooms and dorm beds available, on on-site swimming pool and good common areas.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options in Santorini!

Beautiful Oia town on Santorini island, Greece
Iconic Santorini

Santorini vs Mykonos: 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 which Cycladic island to visit? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Lizzie is a writer for The World Was Here First. She loves travelling and discovering new places but also often finds herself returning to her favourite destinations. She has a particular affinity for Greece where she has visited countless islands and destinations on the mainland.

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