So you are heading to Greece, and you are thinking to go to one of the two most famous Greek islands – Mykonos or Santorini. If you are pushed for time, and you can only pick one of them, our mini-guide will help you choose the best option.
Keep in mind that in July and August, sun bathes both islands in a magnificent way. That is the reason most of the photos you see online (for both islands) look like postcards!
Sightseeing – landscapes
You’ve probably seen all those pictures of white-washed houses and churches with blue domes. These exist on both islands, and they are even prettier in real life.
Santorini is world-famous for its stunning views of the volcano, and the romantic sunsets. Apart from the main town of Fira, you can enjoy the sunset from the smaller village of Firostefani, or the world-famous town of Oia.
When you take the boat to go across to the volcano, look up towards Santorini – you will see many white-washed houses perked up on the cliff. Simply amazing!
Mykonos on the other hand is also very scenic. With its many windmills, picturesque streets, lovely white churches and pretty villas, it’s a feast for your eyes. Walk around the Chora (main town) and the Old Harbor, or just drive around the island, and you will definitely love it.
Verdict: Choosing between “Mykonos or Santorini” is really difficult when it comes to landscapes and views, as both islands are very pretty. You can make a choice according to other things you like doing during your holidays.
There are plenty of activities to choose from in both Santorini and Mykonos.
Archaeology: In Santorini you can visit the archaeological site of Ancient Akrotiri, a bronze age Minoan settlement that was buried under volcanic ashes for several centuries. If you opt for Mykonos, don’t miss a day trip to the nearby island of Delos, a UNESCO heritage site. Apart from the sites, there are archaeology museums on both islands – just make sure you check opening times, as they change often.
Wineries: Other than the sunsets, Santorini is very famous for its wines. Check out grape varieties like Assyrtiko, Nikteri and Vinsanto. You can also take a guided or self-guided winery tour – just make sure you have a designated driver. More recently, Santorini craft beer has also found its place on the map. Mykonos also has wineries and a brewery, but they are nowhere near as famous.
Nightlife / partying: If partying is your thing, Mykonos is definitely the place to go. It has a solid reputation for being a party island – and for good reason. With its many world-famous clubs and a crowd to match, you can spend a few days dancing and socializing like there’s no tomorrow. That is not to say that Santorini hasn’t got its fair share of clubs and bars. But if nightlife is a factor that will determine whether you will go to Mykonos or Santorini, we suggest going to Mykonos.
Outdoors: Though arguably other Greek islands might be a better choice for outdoors people, there’s plenty to do on both Mykonos and Santorini. Both islands offer the usual water activities – kayak, SUP, snorkeling etc. Apart from that, Santorini offers a stunning 10km (6 miles) hike from Fira to Oia, which you might want to avoid this in summer as it can get really hot. Mykonos on the other hand has several hiking paths to choose from, but they are not well sign-posted.
Beaches: You might have read on various websites about the amazing beaches in Santorini, like the Red Beach, Perissa and Perivolos. While those are not too bad, they are not up to the standards of the beaches in Mykonos. Whether you like popular, crowded beaches like Super Paradise, Psarrou, Ornos, Elia and Paraga, or you prefer less busy places like Fokos, Agios Sostis, Loulos, Kapari or Merhias, Mykonos is a winner hands down.
Both Mykonos and Santorini attract thousands of tourists every year, and there are plenty of options for accommodation. Many of those hotels and villas are on the high-end / luxury category, with unparalleled views and fantastic service. People from all over the world choose to visit Santorini for their honeymoon – there are not that many places in the world where you can have your own private balcony with a view to a volcano. As for Mykonos, there are lots of luxury villas to choose from.
If you are planning to visit Mykonos or Santorini in high season, make sure you book very early to avoid disappointment. Both islands are extremely popular, and booking six or more months in advance is recommended.
Both islands have several award-winning restaurants, like Bill & Coo, Matsuhisa and Kensho in Mykonos, or Santorini’s Santoro, Koukoumavlos and Selini. That is not to say that more basic restaurants do not exist – quite the contrary. And in any case, it’s difficult to go wrong with Greek food!
Mykonos or Santorini? It totally depends on what you are after, and what time of the year you are planning to visit. To use popular stereotypes, Mykonos is “a party island”, while Santorini is “an island to watch the sunset from”. But as you have seen, there is a lot more to do in both islands.
So, whether you are going to Mykonos or to Santorini, get ready for a blast!
As you have realized, both islands can get very busy in summer, and you might find prices a little too high and nice photos impossible to get. If you are a budget-conscious traveler, or you prefer less busy places, we recommend visiting those islands off-season (October – March).
If you are lucky with the weather, you could still take a swim, and enjoy the magnificent landscapes without the summer crowds.