I wanna start by stating the obvious. If deciding whether to visit Mykonos or Santorini is your biggest problem right now, I’m so happy for you and I wanna know more about your life. If however, the reason you clicked on this blog post is that you’re thinking of visiting Greece as soon as this Coronovirus pandemic craze ends and you want to make an educated decision on the best destination that will better fulfill your needs and desires, I am here to make your day a whole lot better.
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By all means, there is no question that both destinations are extraordinary. If you’re looking for magical landscapes, striking beaches, top-notch aesthetics, and an original taste of what the Greek island life feels like, both destinations will have you covered.
There is, however, such thing as ‘the right choice’ to make in regard to which of the two islands you should pick, depending on the type of vacations you want to have, your budget, your traveling company, and your priorities.
Sunset in Santorini - credits: Georgios Tsichlis/Shutterstock.com
Mykonos, the queen of the Cyclades, along with the neighboring islets of Delos and Rhenia form an impressive island complex that gathers admirers from all around the globe.
Mykonos is a flat island, while its climate is balmy both during summer and winter. A trademark feature of the climate of Mykonos, however, which you’ll realize even if you spend just one day on the island, is the strong north winds, also known as ‘meltemia’, that in fact serve as a lifeline during the summer days when the sun is mercilessly bright and hot.
The magical landscape of Mykonos hides much more life and beauty than one might think at first glance. Indeed, the treasures of the island are hidden from the unsuspected eyes of the visitors into the depths of the bare hills.
Santorini -or Thira- is located in the southernmost part of the Cyclades and, while most people don’t know it, it is essentially a part of an island complex that includes the smaller islands of Thira, Thirasia, Aspronisi, Palea and Nea Kameni. The volcano of Santorini, one of its most impressive elements, is still active, along with the ones in the islands of Milos, Methana, and Nisyros, however, it is the only volcano in the world with its crater found in the sea.
The island itself is a creation of one of the eruptions of the famous volcano. Twelve huge eruptions, one every 20,000 years or so, have contributed to the creation of the impressive, while the presence of the volcano cannot help but be detected all across Santorini, as the volcanic ash is everywhere you set your eyes on.
Mykonos' windmills - credits: Aetherial Images/Shutterstock.com
One of the strongest selling points of Mykonos is its exquisite beaches; a point that gets immediately across on our guide to Mykonos’ beaches. In particular, the southern part of Mykonos hosts the most and the best beaches on the island that are all easily accessible by the road network, while they are connected to one another by boat.
While the small beach right by the port in Mykonos Town is cute and clean, if you head south, you’ll experience a whole new world of swimming opportunities unfold before your eyes. Closest to the town, you’ll find Megali Ammos. In the south of Korfos, Ornos Beach offers every luxury you’ll ever need, including a diving school for the more adventurous of you.
Just a quick note though: Ornos tends to get very windy, so please keep that in mind when deciding to visit it. The most famous, obnoxiously expensive, and trendiest beach on the island is Psarou. It is a striking organized beach that also offers watersports but is more commonly known for the big names it includes in its customers, with Hollywood stars often relaxing in the from row sun lounges.
Next on the line, come the much less talked about but just as beautiful beaches of Paraga, Kalamopodi, Plintri, Agrari, Elia, and right next to them the total antithesis: Paradise and Superparadise, two of the busiest beaches of the island, with their crazy parties having established them as the most important attraction for younger audiences. They are the ultimate VIPS meeting place, where eccentricity meets grandeur! There are a lot more beaches as you travel south, with the most notable ones being Panormos - Agios Sostis, Elia, Agios Ioannis, Lia, and Ftelia.
All of them offer sandy coasts, deep-blue waters, and a jolly time; they are all beautiful, crowded, and perfect for surfing! What more could you want?
On the other hand, if you’re dreaming of blu-green waters and long, golden beaches, then you should cross Santorini out of your list from the get-go. In Santorini, the impressive volcanο dominates the landscape and subsequently, the volcanic ash is a prominent element of the beaches that results in a magical and very unique scenery you won’t have the opportunity to admire in any other part of the world. You’ll find three main colors prevailing on Santorini’s beaches: black, white, and red!
On most beaches on the island, the sand you’ll find sport a one-of-a-kind black color, that can of course be attributed to the volcano. The beaches of Perissa, Perivolos, Kamari, and Monolithos, bare significant similarities, with the first two being undoubtedly the most famous on the island. Perivolos, in particular, is being favored by the younger crowds due to its beach bars, comfortable sunbeds, loud music, and flamboyant parties. On the other hand, the beaches of Kamari and Monolithos are more kid-friendly and are therefore best-liked by families looking to experience the quieter and more relaxing side of Santorini.
Departing from the black beaches, the red beach, a personal favorite, is truly a sight to behold! The scenery will take your breath away: a huge red rock and orange sand full of sunbeds will leave you speechless. It is arguably one of the places in Santorini you can’t leave without visiting, however, you should keep in mind the red beach is not as easily accessible and requires a bit of walking, so make sure to bring on your walking shoes with you!
Last but not least, the white beach is the one that resembles the most the beaches you can find on the other islands of the Cyclades, so if you’re after the typical Cycladic beauty and have been yearning to swim in the sparkling blue waters of the Aegean Sea, this one is for you. Unfortunately, this beach is accessible only by sea, however, it is definitely worth the effort, as it is considered one of the most wonderful places on the island.
If you want to know more about Santorini’s beaches and get insight into each one of them, read our guide to Santorini’s beaches and everything will become clear.
Tavern in Santorini - credits: Ikpro/Shutterstock.com
We can’t talk about Greek islands and leave their cuisine out of the equation.
Mykonos offers a variety of mouthwatering local products to its lucky visitors. The animal husbandry of the island provides it with the delicious and well-known ‘kopanisti’, a type of soft spicy cheese, and ‘xynotyras’, a type of hard, sharp cheese, in limited quantities.
What Mykonos is most known for, however, is its excellent sausages, ‘louzes’, that are the ultimate companion to a glass of cold ouzo, and are praised by both Greek and international chefs. In the dessert department, a special mention should go out to ‘amygdalota’, a traditional kind of almond cookies covered in powdered sugar with exquisite aroma and taste, as well as ‘soumada’, a non-alcoholic almond-flavored soft drink.
Our Mykonos food guide will help you explore the traditional flavors of the island, while also presenting you with the best restaurants on the island where you can enjoy local dishes within a mesmerizing ambiance.
Santorini is also famous for its traditional dishes. When visiting the island, you should definitely make a point to try the fava beans, and the tomato meatballs, even locals keep waxing lyrical about. Thankfully, you’ll have the opportunity to taste the best of Santorini’s offerings on the island as you’ll be able to choose between very expensive restaurants to small cheap taverns, depending on your preferred budget.
Of course, we can’t omit to talk about the unique local products of Santorini? White eggplant, tomatoes, fava beans, capers, and cheese, make up the fresh and delicious ingredients used for the traditional delicacies that sweep all foodies off of their feet! The island is also considered one of the most organized wine producers in the country.
The volcanic soil of the island favors the vinification of wines with a special and intoxicating aroma. Try the main varieties, such as Assyrtiko, Athiri, Aidani, Mandilaria, and Mavrotragano, in one of the countless wineries of the island and you’ll take a trip to flavorville in no time!
Things to do
Little Venice in Mykonos - credits: Pawel Kazmierczak/Shutterstock.com
Due to both islands’ popularity, there is an abundance of things to do and see on each destination. Mykonos Town is one of the most beautiful in the Cyclades, and it is bound to captivate you from the moment you step foot in it. Whitewashed cobbled streets, white houses with blue-colored doors and windows make up for a fairytale scene, perfect for a relaxing and carefree walk.
The church of Panagia Paraportiani, the City Hall and the Castle located on a hill above the port stand out in the settlement, and are some of the best and most popular sights of the island.
The pedestrian streets of Mykonos, with the most commercial being the world-renowned street of Matogianni, are full of life while there are countless shops with branded clothes and ornate jewelry as well as busy cafes, bars, and restaurants for all hours of the day! Downtown, you can -and should- also visit three remarkable museums: the Archaeological Museum, the Folklore Collection of Mykonos, and the Maritime Museum of the Aegean; all captivating in their own unique way.
There is one district of Mykonos however, which cannot be compared to any other destination not only on the island but any other place in the Cyclades in general. Indeed, Little Venice is one of the most picturesque and famous corners of the island. It is a district that has been established since the 18th century to house the mansions of rich merchants and captains, which explains the reason why it literally built in the sea. The majestic architecture with the colorful loggias and wooden balconies, resemble the homonymous Italian city and give the district an unmistakable glamour, visitors seem to can’t get enough of!
Arriving in Little Venice, you can’t help but see the trademark of the island, its imposing windmills, that stands out as the ideal backdrop to your photographs. Other notable places you should visit on the island are the second traditional settlement of Mykonos, Ano Mera, which develops in a large area in the hinterland around the historic monastery of Panagia Tourliani, and Ftelia, where a significant Neolithic settlement and a Mycenaean tomb of the 14th-13th century lies.
Just as gorgeous, Santorini is considered to be the most romantic destination in Greece. After all, the view one can enjoy from the whitewashed buildings that stand tall at the very edge of the caldera, looking out to the endless blue of the Aegean cannot be compared to anything in the world. Picturesque villages, cobbled alleys, and the typical Cycladic architecture come together to create an island that will enchant you and will make you promise to come back as soon as you can.
As a result, in recent years, the island has been established as a destination chosen by couples for either their wedding or their honeymoon. If you’re in that group of people, you can rest safe in the knowledge that we’ve thought about you and have tried to make the planning of your honeymoon in Santorini as easy as humanly possible!
A couple in love in Santorini - credits: Santorines/Shutterstock.com
Here is where the two islands display the biggest differences from one another. Mykonos is known across the world for its incredible parties and all-around lively -if not wild- nightlife. On the contrary, Santorini, despite also having a vibrant nightlife and parties to support it, tends to be a lot tamer and best-suited for couples who are looking to have a romantic getaway.
That doesn’t mean that if you choose to visit it with friends, you’ll get bored. From the moment the sun sets, the island shows a different side, one that is a little more playful, a little more fun. In Fira, the place where the heart of Santorini by night beats, you will go out for the night and have a good time no matter what.
From beach bars and regular bars for a relaxing drink to nightclubs for dancing, you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for regardless of what that is! We’re talking about Greece after all, come on!
The living cost
I’ll be honest and blunt: Mykonos and Santorini are the 2 most popular and subsequently more most expensive islands in Greece. They’re expensive in regard to the accommodation, food, and everything in between and there is no hiding from it. Of course in both, if you try hard enough, you’ll find budget-friendly alternatives to pretty much everything, and yes, visiting both islands during the off-season months will benefit your wallet tremendously, even then, however, they tend to be more expensive than most Greek destinations.
Having this in mind, you should also realize that there is no significant difference in price between both. Although Mykonos has gained the reputation of being the most costly, accommodation, restaurants, and experiences in Santorini sport similar prices to the ones in Mykonos.
All in all, the living cost of both Santorini and Mykonos is high, but it is so worth it, you won’t even mind! Promise!
Now that you have all the information you could possibly need, you can pick one of the two destinations with confidence. As a rule of thumb, if you’re looking for a romantic getaway and extraordinary landscapes, go for Santorini. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for wild parties and the typical Cycladic beauty, then Mykonos is the island for you; either way, you’ll have the time of your life and we couldn’t be happier!