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Mykonos versus Santorini – Which Greek Island is best?

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Mykonos and Santorini are the most popular Greek islands, regularly featured on travel blogs and Instagram pages. They are also the most expensive Cycladic islands to visit. For this reason, most people can only visit one of the islands. I visited both islands and Milos island in September this year during Greece’s high season. 

Although Greece has never been a bucket list item for me, I was curious to see if Greece lived up to its reputation.

These two islands surpassed all my expectations, and it was more beautiful and amazing than I ever could imagine.

Oia, Santorini, Greece
Oia, Santorini

How many days should one spend on each island?

We spent four nights on each island in Greece, giving us ample time to explore the best of each island. 

If you’re planning a trip to Greece and are uncertain which island to visit, this article is for you!

I’ll give you my take on each island, so you can make an informed decision. Even though we watched many YouTube videos to prepare us for our upcoming trip, we still made many mistakes, which I hope you will avoid by reading this article.

To get to know the islands better in advance, a travel guide about the islands can also help.

Greece
Spectacular turquoise waters and rugged landscapes at Ammoudi bay

Where to stay in Santorini and Mykonos

In Santorini, we stayed at the Volcano view hotel and, in Mykonos, at Archipelagos Hotel.

Please also view our related Greece articles, links below.

I will go into more detail about each island, the best time to go, where to stay, renting a scooter (fabulous and a must to explore the islands) and the dreaded ferry trips (trust me, you need to familiarise yourself, well in advance, about the types of ferries available). 

I will also give you valuable tips on avoiding the overpriced transfers charged by hotels from the port to your hotel. I give you a heads-up about (hidden and unsubstantiated) hotel charges that are common practice in some Greek hotels. 

If you have always dreamed of visiting Milos, read my related article “Where to stay in Milos, Greece”.

This is an island not to be missed!

Sunset Santorini
Sunset views at Santorini from Volcano view hotel

Santorini or Mykonos? That's the question on everyone's lips

Mykonos and Santorini are both exotic islands but offer unique vibes and experiences. Interestingly, authentic Greeks mostly avoid these islands. The islands have become very touristy and expensive. Everything is expensive from hotels to restaurants, food, and activities. Remember, you are competing against International travellers with unlimited money and budgets.

During our trip, we used Coke, Greek salad, sunbed rentals and scooter rentals as a benchmark to compare prices between Mykonos and Santorini.

Fira, Santorini
Caldera views from Fira, the capital of Santorini

Best island for views, landscapes and quaint villages in Greece

My Verdict - The WINNER is Santorini

Santorini’s capital is Fira or Thera. The island is hilly with dramatic cliffs and most hotels have many staircases and the most impressive caldera views. There are several charming villages like Fira, Pyrgos, Megalochori, Emporio and the picturesque town of Oia. 

Santorini has a few Venetian castles and an active volcano with one of the largest craters in the world. 

Where is the best place to stay in Santorini?

Fira has a similar feel to Oia but feels much less crowded at any time of the day. This is the place to enjoy the best sunset caldera views. There are many restaurants on the cliffs overlooking the caldera. 

Fira is not only a shoppers’ paradise but also offers great views from all the many small cobblestone streets. The town has many iconic blue dome churches with spectacular backdrops to create the perfect photo opportunities. 

Views of Santorini from Volcano view hotel
Views of Santorini from Volcano view hotel

And Mykonos?

Mykonos is much flatter than Santorini, making it more assessable for people with mobility problems. The main town in Mykonos is called ‘Chora’, Hora or Mykonos Town, with seven windmills landmarked on a small hill. The windmills are for Mykonos, like the Eiffel Tower for Paris. 

This is where hundreds of Instagrammers assemble during golden hour to get the perfect IG shot. I almost want to caution you to forget those perfect shots, as thousands of people are lining up just before sunset at the windmills and Little Venice. 

Mykonos windmills
Windmills Mykonos with hundreds of scooters parked nearby
Mykonos, Greece
Views to Mykonos town from one of the windmills

Where is the most scenic part of Mykonos?

Just down the hill from the windmills is the most picturesque part of Chora, called ‘Little Venice’. This part of Mykonos’ architecture resembles Venice, Italy. Here you will find the narrow-twisted street and white stucco buildings with shutters and doors painted in bright colours. 

The main street is Mantogianni which is lined with boutiques, bars and taverns. This is where you will find your best Instgrammable shots.

Unfortunately, in Mykonos, but mostly around the windmills area, you will see thousands of scooters everywhere. This is because Taxis and Uber transport are very expensive and difficult to access. It is rumoured that there are only 30 taxis on the island.

Mykonos, Greece
Views to Mykonos town from one of the windmills

Ano Mera, Mykonos

Ano Mera is the best-kept secret of Mykonos, and it is home to a 16th-century monastery Panagia Tourliani. The monastery charges a small fee for entry. You can read more about the monastery in the Mykonos article.

The quaint town has a few bakeries, tavernas and cafes around a square with narrow cobbled streets. Visit this village to experience authentic Greece hospitality.

Ano Mera, Greece
Ano Mera is a great place for shopping
Ano Mera, Mykonos
Ano Mera, Mykonos with bakeries, tavernas and cafes around a square with narrow cobble streets

Best island for parties and nightlife in Greece

My Verdict - The WINNER is Mykonos

Best nightlife in Greece

Mykonos has a reputation for being the party island and the Greek Ibiza! Therefore, it is often seen as the party location for singles. Although my days of parties and nightlife is long over, it was interesting to see the crowds enjoying the active nightlife in Mykonos.

Fira, the capital of Santorini, has many fabulous bars with spectacular views and dance clubs. Santorini Dave is more of an expert in this department. Here is a map of Fira’s best bars and clubs.   

You can also read more about Santorini’s buzzing nightlife by reading this recent article by Pavlos of Santorini Secrets.

Sunset Mykonos, Greece
Mykonos sunset views from Little Venice where a great party life can be enjoyed

Fewer crowds and less touristy villages in Greece

My Verdict - The WINNER is Santorini

I read on a Greece blog an author describing golden hour in Mykonos as “a complete zoo”. I laughed out loud as this description was spot on. I also found the windmills overlooking Little Venice extremely crowded, and I have never seen so many scooters and ATVs together in one spot. When the government proclaimed Chora an architectural landmark, they prohibited motorised traffic on all their streets. On the one hand, this is a good thing as you can enjoy walking around town on foot at your leisure.

Is Santorini less touristy and crowded than Mykonos?

Santorini, although also touristy felt less touristy (if this is possible) and we experienced fewer crowds in most of the villages (besides Oia). Fira like Oia have many cruise liner passengers during the day but because the location is bigger in Fira than Oia it feels less crowded. The streets in Oia are also much narrower than in Fira  which is probably another reason why Oia feels more crowded.

Little Venice, Mykonos Greece
Little Venice, Mykonos

Most romantic setting in Greece

My Verdict - The WINNER is Santorini

Greece is famous for its fabulous sunsets. However, in Santorini and Mykonos, this becomes the most crowded time of the day You don’t want to get in the way of serious Instagrammers. 

Is Santorini more romantic than Mykonos?

Yes, Santorini has by far the most romantic spots. 

No wonder it is often the top choice for honeymooners. Trust me when I say it is even more beautiful than it looks on an Instagram (even photo-shopped ones) photo or YouTube videos. 

Nothing beats enjoying a cocktail at a cliffhanger restaurant while watching the sun set against spectacular caldera views.

Sunset views of the Caldera from the Volcano view hotel, Santorini
Sunset views of the Caldera from the Volcano view hotel, Santorini

Best beaches in Greece

My Verdict - The WINNER is Mykonos

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Santorini has volcanic sand and pebble beaches, mostly black, some red and a few whites. The white beaches are only accessible by boat. Santorini has no soft sandy beaches (like Mauritius or Maldives); you must wear water shoes on most beaches because the pebbles hurt your feet. Also, the ocean gets quite deep within a few steps.

 

Santorini
Black beach at Summar beach bar, Santorini
Santorini Red Beach
Akrotiri, Santorini, Red beach

Are sunbed rentals cheaper in Santorini or Mykonos?

Santorini’s sunbed rentals are much cheaper than in Mykonos. For example, we rented sunbeds for the day at Summar beach bar for as little as 40 euros for two people. 

At Kamari beach, many beach bars and restaurants allow you to use their sunbeds for free if you order food from their restaurant’s menu. Our favourite beaches in Santorini were Kamari, Perissa (here we enjoyed 41 Santorini beach club the most) and Perivolos.

41 Fourty one Santorini beach bar and restaurant

Does Mykonos have nicer beaches than Santorini?

Mykonos has more than 20 amazing soft, golden sandy beaches with crystal clear waters. Many beach clubs are famous for extravagant beach parties. At Mykonos, the ocean can be shallower, with beaches that allow you to walk in for a while before it gets deeper.

Sunbed rentals in Mykonos cost 50 euros (Thalassa Kalafatis) and 160 euros (Principote, Panormos beach) for two people. 

Principote beach club charges an additional 10 euros for scooter parking on top of the 160 euros.  

Thalassa Kalafatis beach, Mykons
Thalassa Kalafatis beach, Mykonos

Restaurant and dining options in Greece

My Verdict - The WINNER is Mykonos

My biggest motivation for visiting Greece is my love of Greek food. We loved sampling the food from several small family-owned tavernas around the island. But be aware! Mykonos and Santorini have many tourist trap restaurants, but even they serve good food most of the time, just very expensive.

 

Taverna Sunset, at Little Venice Mykonos
Taverna Sunset, at Little Venice Mykonos

Where are the best restaurants to eat in Mykonos?

The day we arrived in Mykonos, we accidentally discovered Sakis Grill house, which serves authentic souvlakis and gyros. The restaurant looks plain from the outside, giving you the impression of a takeaway restaurant. However, here we enjoyed the BEST Greek food at the most affordable prices on the entire island! We paid 6 euros for a Gyro and 2.50 euros for pork or chicken souvlaki.

We had our best romantic dinner in Mykonos, which was a seafood spaghetti for two at 65 euros, at Taverna Sunset in Little Venice, right on the water’s edge. The setting was out of this world and the manager and staff’s hospitality was warm and inviting. If you ever visit Mykonos, this is the place to enjoy an unforgettable meal.

We also discovered the best traditional Greek restaurant in Ano Mera called Odos Araxame. Here we had some of our best meals during our entire trip. Interestingly, Gordon Ramsay also visited this restaurant and loved it. There is a handwritten note from him near the entrance of the modest kitchen. Pictures speak a thousand words, and I’ll let you judge for yourself by viewing some of the delicious meals we enjoyed there. Visit our Instagram page for stories and videos.

Odos Araxame restaurant, Ano Mera, Mykonos
Odos Araxame restaurant, Ano Mera, Mykonos

Where are the best restaurants to eat in Santorini?

Near red beach, there is also a lovely restaurant called Cave Stolidas. Here we enjoyed the tastiest calamari ever on the water’s edge.

In Fira, Santorini, we enjoyed fabulous Greek food and the excellent service of Parea restaurant. They are situated in the heart of Fira town. Although the restaurant doesn’t have a caldera or ocean view,  they serve mouth-watering food at affordable prices (we had lunch and dinner here on separate occasions). For example, on one occasion I had the traditional Greek moussaka for 12 euros, and my husband the lamb kleftiko for 17.90 euros. They charged 3.30 for a coke zero and 8.90 for a Greek salad. 

Fanari restaurant (also in Fira a few meters from Parea) has the most spectacular sunset views. Unfortunately, the staff were impolite, the food mediocre, and the service poor. Every time we tried to get our waiter’s attention, he would give us a look’ to show we were disturbing him. When I tried to take a photo of the lower level (where the donkeys were standing and no one was seated at the time), a very rude manager approached me and told me it was not allowed.

Fanari Restaurant sunset views, Fira Santorini
Fanari Restaurant sunset views, Fira Santorini

Some of the best meals we enjoyed in Greece

Lunch at Amoudi beach, Oia, Santorini
Souvlaki from Sakis Grill House, Mykonos
Gyros at Sakis Gril house, Mykonos
Fried calamri at Odos Araxame, in Ano Mera
Greek salad at Odos Araxame
Fried anchovies which is a very popular dish in Greece at Odos Araxame
Traditional Greek Mousaka from Parea restaurant
Lamb Kleftiko at Parea restaurant

SANTORINI

Santorini sunset
Caldera views from Volcano view hotel Santorini

The best and worst of Santorini

  • I loved Santorini for its incredible caldera sunset views.
  • Santorini has rare natural beauty. National Geographic described this beauty as a giant postcard.
  • Unique and wild volcanic terrain with many rugged terraces and cliffs.
  • The staircases (although tiring) provide spectacular views and charm to the village.
  • Fira (also known as Thira or Thera) is the best place to enjoy dinner at one of the many cliff-hugging restaurants or bars.
  • It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience to watch the sunset from one of these spots.
  • Oia is the most picturesque village in Santorini, with some of the most famous sunset spots in the world (also the most crowded). The crowds can sometimes be unbearable (during the day when cruise liners arrive), so much so that I would not recommend staying here.
  • Never-ending stairs. We climbed 97 stairs every morning and night (sometimes more than twice daily) from our room to the reception, but that’s part of the charm of Santorini, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It is, however, something to consider for someone without ease of mobility.
  • No white sandy beaches. This was a bit disappointing. But I suppose the black beaches are part of the volcanic charm of Santorini.
  • It was very windy during our stay in Santorini. These winds are known as Meltemi, which can blow the entire summer. Some days, it was welcoming due to the extreme heat, but winds also cause big waves (and seasickness) and ferries to be cancelled.
  • Many restaurants don’t allow you to sit at a table with a nice view unless you are willing to eat a full meal (no matter what time of the day you arrive), but more about this in an article to follow.

MYKONOS

Little Venice, Mykonos
Little Venice, Mykonos

The best and worst of Mykonos

  • Fewer stairs, thus more suitable for people with mobility difficulties.
  • Picturesque shopping alleys in Mykonos Town.
  • Many beautiful bougainvillaea.
  • Little Venice is breathtakingly beautiful, particularly during sunset.
  • We enjoyed some of our best lunches and diners in Mykonos
  • Extremely expensive. Some beach resorts charge up to 160 euros per day for two people for sunbeds.
  • The streets are swarming with tourists. Far more crowded than Santorini (except for Oia) in towns and on beaches.
  • Same at Santorini; many restaurants don’t allow you to sit at a table with a nice view unless you are willing to eat a full meal (no matter what time you arrive).

Why Santorini is better than Mykonos

Views from Volcano View hotel, Santorini
Views from Volcano View hotel, Santorini

Conclusion

Considering all the above, I would choose Santorini every time. Even though Santorini is not known for its beaches, it has the most amazing views and sunsets! It’s the place that will leave a lasting impression on you not only considering the views, scenery, and hotels but because of its natural and authentic beauty that cannot be replicated.

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‘Till next time

Your travel buddy, Bernie

Article Last Updated: 0705/2023

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About the Author

As a freelance travel journalist and seasoned business professional, Bernie van der Linde has made it her mission to explore the world's most unique and luxurious destinations. With a PhD in business studies from the University of South Africa, Bernie has channeled her passion for travel, web design, and writing into founding the travel blog Travel Buddies Lifestyle. Here, she shares her adventures alongside her best friend and travel business partner, Petra, who seamlessly translate and compile articles relevant to their German and European audience.

Bernie's love for exploring new places has taken her to some of the world's most exotic locations. Whether gazing out at the glittering skyline of Dubai or enjoying the tranquillity of a private beach in Mauritius, Bernie is always looking for unique experiences that will inspire and entice her readers to travel.

Through her thoughtful writing and unparalleled passion for travel, Bernie van der Linde has made a name for herself in the world of travel writing. Her knack for uncovering hidden gems and sharing her experiences with her readers has made her a trusted source of inspiration for those looking to explore the world in style.

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