Mykonos vs. Santorini: 13 Differences Between These Great Greek Islands

Steve Cummings

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If you are looking to take a Greek island vacation sometime soon, the chances are you've been looking at Mykonos and Santorini. These are two of the most popular of the more than 200 inhabited islands. Although these feature prominently on many lists and guides and are part of the iconic Cycladic chain of Greek islands in the stunning Aegean Sea, you should be aware of many key differences between these two islands before booking your vacation.

The following piece will examine Mykonos vs. Santorini to help you decide which one to visit. 

1. Distance and Location

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First and foremost, let's start with their location and the distance to the islands from the mainland. The great thing about them both being trendy is that they benefit from airports with domestic flights to and from Greece year-round, along with several chartered flights during summer to and from a few key European cities and destinations. 

As you can imagine, they are both relatively easy to reach by ferry from Piraeus. Is Santorini or Mykonos closer to Athens, though? Santorini is a little further out than Mykonos, which means the journey can take around 5 to 8 hours, depending on whether you opt for the more expensive fast ferry or the more affordable slow ferry. On the other hand, Mykonos is only 2.5 to 6 hours by boat. 

So, when deciding between Mykonos or Santorini, factor in the additional travel arrangements you may need to make and how long it will take to get to either place from the mainland. If this is not an issue, then either option is great. 

2. Romance 

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There is a belief that most Greek islands have an intense romantic atmosphere. However, while the climate, clear skies, and even clearer, transparent waters, plus all those beautiful beaches and delicious food, can make for a romantic setting, Mykonos is a much more party-type island. It is less about the tranquil holiday type you may expect if you want love to bloom. 

Santorini is the better option for a more romantic getaway for the two of us. You can experience some of the most breathtaking sunsets you will ever see, and many excellent hotels offer spectacular 180-degree views. This is why many choose the latter when it comes to having a honeymoon in Mykonos or Santorini.  

It doesn't necessarily mean you can't go on a romantic holiday to Mykonos. Still, it is more likely to appeal to younger people and couples who like partying and clubbing rather than sitting in sleepy little villages watching the sunset with a glass of fine, white wine. 

3. Beaches

Santorini, Greece
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Is Santorini or Mykonos better? Santorini and Mykonos have their fair share of immaculate beaches that often feature bars where you can get snacks and a nice drink. However, if you are genuinely looking for an unforgettable beach holiday, and it's an essential part of your trip, Mykonos wins hands down. The problem with Mykonos is that because it is known as the partygoers-preferred Greek island, you may have to look to the less popular and less frequented islands for a more relaxing time if that interests you. 

Ideally, it would be best if you avoided Paradise Beach unless you want to drink and dance the day and night away. Lia Beach and Fokos are better options. They are non-commercial and have no facilities or sunbeds, making them less attractive to those looking to get loose, accessible, and loud. 

4. Architecture and Scenery

Santorini, Greece
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Another thing you need to consider when considering Mykonos vs. Santorini and the difference between these two beautiful islands is the scenery and architecture. They are very similar, given that they are both Greek. But several things make them unique. Mykonos is much more subtle and gentle, with many golden sandy beaches, Little Venice situated within Mykonos Town, and nothing too dramatic. 

Most of the villages in Santorini are located on top of the cliff, providing dramatic vistas of the Aegean Sea and the local volcano. You will also find that many of the independent boutique hotels and other forms of accommodation there have been designed to fit nicely with the rest of the island. 

Santorini has many hidden gems, like colorful houses and churches with intriguing blue domes. Much of the architecture there is arched and curved. 

5. The Landmarks and Sites

Europe cruise travel summer vacation luxury tourist destination Asian woman relaxing in Oia, Santorini, Greece. Popular european sightseeing landmark. Banner panorama.
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Greece is where you are guaranteed to find intriguing and exciting ancient and historic sites. However, you need to consider the experience you will likely have and sites you can explore when looking at Mykonos or Santorini. Perhaps the most significant and most crucial thing Santorini has to offer is the volcanic islands, such as the stunning Agios Nikolaos Bay perched on the tiny black rock Nea Kameni Island, which is in the middle of calming and healing hot springs and sulphonic yellow waters. Paleo Kameni is the oldest of the local volcanos and is home to hot springs. 

Mykonos is where you need to go if you want to visit Delos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is 40 minutes from the main island and perhaps one of the most important sites of archeological finds in Greece. According to the myth, Delos was where Apollo and Artemis, the twins birthed by the mortal Leto, were born. The story is about her affair with Zeus and her being banished from Earth by Zeus's very jealous wife, Hera. However, Poseidon, the mythical god of the sea, showed her pity and struck his trident down to create Delos, a safe place for Leto to stay and give birth to her twins. 

6. Off-Season Visits

Sifnos, Greece
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Which is best Mykonos or Santorini, for off-season visits? Given Mykonos is a trendy island for partygoers and those looking to do a lot of beach activities and shopping during the summer, its off-season is much quieter. Although there is little to do on the island in the more peaceful times of spring and fall, it gives you a much freer rein without as many tourists.

Santorini does not have an off-season period, as it is famous for its stunning views and breathtaking sunsets throughout the year. Summer is when it is busiest, though. As the weather in both these islands is best between May and October, you can visit Santorini for a slightly quieter experience while enjoying gorgeous weather in fall or even spring. 

7. For Families and Kids

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When trying to decide which is best, Mykonos or Santorini for families, there is a lot you need to think about. As noted, Mykonos is incredibly popular as a party island, making it less suitable for families traveling with children. On the other hand, Santorini is perfect because it offers beautiful scenery and views and excellent family-oriented accommodations. 

The island's beaches are also more family-friendly, like the fascinating Red Beach and the nice shallow waters in Monolithos. You can also take your kids to the Akrotiri Archaeological Site to learn more about the island's intriguing ancient history. 

Then there's the Fira cable car ride, which doubles as an exciting adventure and a means-to-an-end form of transportation. From the top, you can enjoy beautiful views of the caldera, the sea, and the volcano. 

You will also find that the local farms and wineries in Santorini offer family-friendly tours that combine learning with fun. 

8. For the Best Food

Greek Yogurt
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Anywhere in Greece is great for tasty food. However, if you are looking to choose one or the other, Mykonos or Santorini, then Mykonos wins. The island has a vibrant and exciting culinary scene that blends traditional Greek food flavors with modern and innovative gastronomy. 

Mykonos is particularly renowned for its incredibly fresh seafood, and there are various dining experiences to be had, from high-end gourmet establishments to more subtle seaside eateries. 

9. Best For Shopping

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There is no contest for picking the best Greek island to shop between Santorini and Mykonos. It's Mykonos because the island offers a stunning selection of local independents, chic galleries, and stylish boutiques that will make it easy to find something that matches your interests, preferences, and styles. Many ask, “Is Mykonos or Santorini more expensive?”

Head to Mykonos Town for a maze of narrow streets and alleys packed with incredible stores selling everything from upmarket fashion accessories to handcrafted jewelry, one-offs, and designer clothes. If you are an art lover, you will enjoy the many galleries offering modern art exhibits and more traditional Grecian crafts. 

Even if you are not looking to spend a lot, there are many Greek product stores and places to buy souvenirs and gifts. 

10. For the Frugal Traveler

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Given what we said above, in answer to “Is Mykonos or Santorini more expensive?”Santorini is a little cheaper overall than Mykonos. Both islands have a reputation for luxury, but Santorini has a more varied choice of competitively priced and affordable accommodation. You can also dine for less in many tavernas and more casual establishments on Santorini. 

Then there are the sunsets, scenery, and architecture. Santorini also has a more robust and developed public transportation system, making it more cost-effective and easier to travel around. 

11. Partying 

Girls Partying
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Perhaps you are interested in whether Mykonos or Santorini is better for parties. As established throughout this piece, Mykonos is the go-to Greek island for partying. The island has an astonishing nightlife scene, and there is something for everyone to enjoy. Many of the world's most famous and popular beach clubs are found on Mykonos, and they regularly attract international celebrities and the cream of the crop of DJs. 

What if you don't want to dance the night away in an indulgent beach setting? There are many beach bars and more relaxed lounges where you can sink a few stunning cocktails while enjoying the sun going down with friends. 

Most parties on Mykonos, wherever you choose to go, start late in the evening and continue to the early hours of the morning. 

12. For a Quiet and Tranquil Time

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After discussing the many benefits of heading to Mykonos for a party atmosphere, it makes sense when choosing Mykonos vs. Santorini that Santorini is the best of the two islands if you want a more laid back and tranquil time. For the quietest and most peaceful time on the island, try late fall or early spring. Fira and Oia are two towns on Santorini that are less popular than many more prominent spots and are perfect for a more intimate experience. 

13. For Wine Lovers

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You can find a lot of great wine on both islands, but thanks to Santorini's unique soil and volcanic setting, you can experience some genuinely distinctive wine varieties there. One in particular that you should try, if you haven't done so before, is Assyrtiko, a dry, white wine with a crisp flavor that has received a lot of praise and attention from international wine experts. 

Many of the island's wineries have been creating spectacular wines for centuries. They offer tours and tasting sessions, providing intriguing insights into the more traditional processes for making their delicious wines. 

If you want to learn more about the history of Santorini wine-making, you should visit the Wine Museum. It is located underground and highlights key facts, figures, and events in wine-making on the island. 

Final Thoughts

When you need to choose between Mykonos or Santorini, it can be quite a decision. After all, these Greek islands have many similar traits and are widely known throughout the world as two of the best islands not just in Greece but in Europe and even the world. 

However, by taking the time to dig a little deeper and look at the differences between these two sublime vacation destinations, we have learned a lot about the kind of experience you could have if you visit one or the other. Generally speaking, Santorini is the better of the two if you are not young or not looking to party hard during summer. In contrast, if partying, dancing, sunbathing, and drinking are all you are interested in, Mykonos is the best option. 

Please tell us in the comments section below if we missed any critical differences between these two beautiful islands. We want to make our guides as detailed and helpful as possible for newbies and regular visitors to Mykonos and Santorini.

Related: 14 Amazing Greek Islands to Consider for Your First Time In Greece

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