Mykonos or Santorini: Which Island Is for You?

| © eye35.pix / Alamy Stock Photo
Judy Cogan

Are you looking for a glitzy party island or a romantic getaway with your other half? Mykonos and Santorini are among the most popular Greek islands for a reason. Read our breakdown to help you decide on your next holiday destination.

A simple search through Instagram will quickly prove that Mykonos and Santorini are two of the most extensively photographed islands on the planet. Both are beautiful in their own right – with their sun-bleached houses, azure blue church domes and magnificent beaches with crystal-clear waters. Each one offers a similar island experience with different advantages. Here’s what to expect.

1. Beaches

Natural Feature

Red beach. Santorini, Cycladic Islands, Greece. Beautiful summer landscape with one of the most famous beaches in the world.
© Iosif Lucian Bolca / Alamy Stock Photo
As Santorini is a volcanic island, you won’t find kilometre-long beaches with pristine white sand. The Red Beach is impressive, flanked by dramatic crimson cliffs, whilst in the north, there’s the peaceful White Beach: a little more isolated with underwater caves. However, the golden sands of Mykonos might be more up your street. The southern strip of beaches, such as Paradise and Super Paradise, are dotted with lively bars creating an all-day party vibe. The best spot for watersports is Kalafatis Beach. It’s blue-green waters are lashed by a dry north wind, making it a popular spot for windsurfers.

2. Nightlife

Bar, Restaurant, Contemporary

Greece, the Cyclades, Mykonos, Mykonos town, Chora, Jackie O. is at the moment the Inn bar in the Old Town,
© Rainer Hackenberg / mauritius images GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

Mykonos has attracted beautiful party people since the 1960s. The bars here are high-end and glitzy; a shot at dusk with a backdrop of whitewashed alleys and blooms of pink bougainvillea equals Instagram gold. Try Scorpios, a hip beach bar, or mix with ritzy drag queens and oiled bodybuilders at Jackie O. Meanwhile, in Santorini, a couple of bars in Fira (Thira) are worth visiting, but clubs are nonexistent. To put it simply, there is rarely something happening after midnight.

3. History

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Strike a balance between beach fun times and history-heavy sights in Mykonos by hopping on a cruise to the tiny island of Delos, an archaeological sanctuary that once thronged with 30,000 sun worshippers; the temple is dedicated to Apollo, the Greek god of light. Over in Santorini, the prehistoric settlement of Akrotiri is one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece and dates from the Bronze Age. It’s known as the Greek Pompeii by historians.

4. Romance


A shaded outdoor sea-view lounge space with white-cushioned banquettes and tree trunk furnishings at Bohème Mykonos
Courtesy of Bohème Mykonos / Expedia
The ever-lasting bohemian allure of Mykonos adds a certain magic to a romantic break. There are plenty of chic luxury hotels in which to hide away. Boheme in Mykonos Town, for example, will deliver on massages, private balconies and poolside cocktails. However, partygoers might quash any special moments. Santorini is a popular destination for honeymooners and weddings. The dreamy white blue-domed houses and deep blue Aegean Sea combine with picture-postcard sunsets. Both have plenty of potential for romance, but Santorini probably just pips it.

5. Families

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Beach at Perissa, Santorini, Cyclades, Greece
© City Image / Alamy Stock Photo

Santorini is family-friendly but in a more active exploring way than a hang-by-the-pool summer destination. That said, there are plenty of beach resorts on the southeast side of the island, in Perissa or Kamari, which cater for kids and adults. Mykonos is geared more to a sophisticated party set with boutique hotels and pricier restaurants and bars. The luxury hotels will suit families on a blow-the-budget trip who just want a pool and great service; however, it lends itself more to party animals.

6. Shopping

Bookstore, Shop, Store

Atlantis Books, Santorini
Courtesy of Atlantis Books
As Greece’s standout glamorous party island, Mykonos caters well for the wealthy set and their multiple outfit changes. From designer stores, like Louis Vuitton and Gucci, to teeny-tiny retail nooks in the thick of Chora, there are plenty of retail therapy opportunities amongst Mykonos’s labyrinthine streets. Many are open late, too. Santorini is more low-key with shopping focused on independent jewellery and craft shops. Luxury fashion boutiques in Oia and Atlantis Books are also well worth a look.

7. Price

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If you truly embrace the decadence of Mykonos and live the high life at hedonistic beach clubs and five-star hotels, you can expect a hefty price tag. Santorini is similar in that you can dial up the luxury factor if you like, but there is less emphasis on being flashy. In both cases, you can have a wonderful time on beautiful beaches, family-run restaurants and memorable boat trips without breaking the bank.

8. Scenery

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

Diners at an outdoor restaurant in Mykonos Island Old Town, Little Venice in the background, Greece
© Jan Wlodarczyk / Alamy Stock Photo

Where to start? Both islands are world-famous beauty spots. Take Mykonos, with its picturesque main town featuring white narrow paved streets, quaint windmills and pink blooms, plus a selection of gorgeous beaches. Santorini also has the classic Cyclades white-washed houses, plus blue-domed churches. However, its cliff-top villages elevate the views of the Aegean and sunsets above any other Greek island.

If you’re leaning towards Mykonos, we’ve compiled a list of the best hotels on the island for you, including some charming boutique stays, to help you with your accommodation search. You might also want to check out our recommendations of the best things to do on the island and the most beautiful beaches to visit here. Meanwhile, our handy listicle of the best restaurants will make sure you get to experience some mouthwatering Greek dishes during your holiday as well.

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