Congratulations, you’re finally embarking on that Greek vacation you’ve been looking forward to for so long. It’s easy to fall in love with these grand and mysterious locales you’ve dreamed about and now your feet will walk the gorgeous Greek paths and beaches you’ve read so much about.
But the bad news is, you have limited time constraints, or a budget pinch, and now you have to choose which fabulous Greek spots to hit and which ones you’ll have to come back and see on your next trip. Mykonos is such an island of splendor, but how can you pass up the iconic Santorini? In the best of all worlds you could see them both but if you’re limited to just one of these two fantastic Greek vacation spots, we’ll do our best to help you make the difficult choice by exploring the reasons that may help you choose just one.
This is the real life version of the film “Clash of the Titans” only instead of the ancient Greek gods bickering amongst themselves and toying with human affairs from up high on Mount Olympus, these are two very real and very popular islands vying for your visit and ultimately for your tourist dollars.
Logistically speaking, the two islands are much the same. Both are islands in the Cyclades, and are equally accessible. Also true of each island is their popularity among locals and tourists alike. These two “pearls of the Aegean” stand out among their neighboring islands as treasured destinations.
Right in the middle of the Cyclades, at the tail end of the island chain jutting out from Athens is Mykonos. 41 square miles of beautiful landscape, long pristine beaches, and is home to 12000 local residents though that number swells significantly during the summer season as villas fill up with wealthy Greeks enjoying their summer homes and thousands upon thousands of international tourists flock to the fabulous island for spring break and summer vacation.
Last year nearly 1.4 million passengers flew in through JMK, the Mykonos International Airport. During the off season the airport is a quiet and limited location. But during the peak summer season, it is an amazingly bustling place. 500,000 of the 1.4 million passengers were listed as domestic flights. Either by local Greeks visiting their island, or by island hopping tourists. Considering the seasonal nature of many airline operations into Mykonos, it is safe to say that summer is a popular time to visit the gorgeous island.
Only a 25 minute flight from Athens, Mykonos is approachable by way of high speed ferry as well. Two ferry lines run in and out from Athens daily and countless others bounce between the surrounding islands as well. The smaller ferries will shut down during the off season but the larger runs and the Athens ferries run even during the winter.
South of most of the Cyclades, Santorini is the last major island you will see in the Aegean Sea before you run into the behemoth that is Crete. Comparatively speaking, Santorini is slightly smaller than Mykonos. At 35 square miles, Santorini boasts a higher population at nearly 25,000 permanent residents, possibly due to the island’s iconic status as a world-renown tourist destination making it one of the few remaining locations that can support Greek shops and businesses.
Further away from Athens than Mykonos, Santorini is no less approachable as it too has a busy airstrip with JTR, Santorini Thira International Airport. Not quite doubling Mykonos’ numbers, Santorini’s airport brought in 2.3 million passengers last year, 1.2 million of which were on domestic flights leaving the other one million coming by way on international flights. With the same quiet off-seasonal schedule with most domestic carriers, it is possible Santorini sees more air traffic due to it being further south than Mykonos.
The ports are busy on Santorini as ferry boats and tour boats scurry about in the crystal blue waters. Athinios is the ferry port where you can take excursions to nearby island destinations, and Skala is the large port where large cruise ships dock and bring in more tourists to visit the dreamlike island of Santorini.
This synopsis of Mykonos can be summed up with the phrase “party island”. If you’re looking for a fantastic location for a vacation that includes beach parties, a wide variety of bars and clubs, lively music, and an active nightlife, Mykonos beckons you to come visit.
Highly active during the summer months, Mykonos is a party lover’s dream from June to September. The island swells with visitors that come to dance the night away. The party atmosphere isn’t just limited to the active nightlife, here on Mykonos, the party starts early with colorful beach parties. Sun, smiles, and sounds are bubbling over at every spot as world class DJs travel to showcase their skills at the popular non-stop celebrations. At the peak of the season it is possible, maybe even likely, that you begin you begin your bacchanal with a daytime ocean front party, move to a fine meal at a high end restaurant, and then return to the nightclubs or even back to the beach to dance until the wee hours of the morning, making your way back to your rooms as the sun comes up again.
If all night merrymaking isn’t quite your style, Mykonos offers plenty of spectacular beaches for a quieter experience. Family friendly beaches are available as well as quiet nude beaches, tucked away in quiet stretches distant from the loud party atmosphere of the rest of the island. Golden sands under azure skies meet blissfully together at the gently lapping Aegean Sea. The soft luxurious sand slips beneath the waves and slopes away from the land allowing for plenty of room for ocean play. Mykonos is built up around the beaches embracing the sea as an integral companion, equally deserving of adoration and exploration as the island itself. Many of the high end accommodations put to use this grand unification of land and sea with prominent hotel rooms and coveted dining reservations right down on the water line itself.
Chora, also known by “Mykonos Town”, is a growing cosmopolitan city that is clinging to its small island charm with strict building codes and enforcement. These regulations were put into place due to the booming tourism industry giving rise to new shops, international renown, and the inevitable catering to travelers. Fearing the loss of their idyllic charm, these codes are enforced to preserve the fantastic elements of the Greek island capital and protect it from losing its soul as it becomes an international destination. Little Venice is the western district of Chora and is decorated with colorful and immaculately kept houses lining the sea shore. Above the bright stretch of Little Venice is the hills where the Mykonos windmills are perched. Once active grain mills, these iconic reminders of a simpler time stand watch over Mykonos and offer a splendid location for watching the sunsets. If you came to the island to do some shopping you have come to the right place. Everything is available from small kiosks of local artisans selling their wares to high end international boutique shops on the level of New York, Paris, or Milan. The reputation of “the place to be” has carried Mykonos into the position of being trendy and “hot” without losing its warm island character.
Once September comes to a close, there is less to see and do on Mykonos. The parties wind down, the beaches see fewer visitors, and some of the shops close up for the winter. Ferry boat and air traffic slow down with fewer available routes; the island of Mykonos, the party pearl of the Aegean prepares to hibernate for the winter. Each year the season spreads a little more and more into the surrounding months as savvy travelers attempt to make their trip at the fringe edges of the season, trying to make the scene without being overwhelmed by it. And every year the island accommodates this overflow crowd by extending their hospitality until soon there won’t be an “off season” to speak of.
Santorini is the island we think of when we dream of the quintessential Greek island. Popular doesn’t even begin to describe Santorini, the island continually ranks in the top portion of any travel list and honeymoon destinations the world over and is easily one of the most photographed locations on the globe. With unforgettable views, grand celebrations of Greek culture, and more than its fare share of fantastic vineyards, Santorini earns its prominence among Greek islands and among world wide vacation destinations.
Holiday life on Santorini is dignified and regal. Each turn around every corner brings you in contact with the Greek culture and treats you to spectacular views that you will never be able to put into words. The island is the caldera rim of an ancient volcano that largely submerged after a catastrophic eruption estimated back to 1628 BCE. As such, much of the island’s iconic buildings are built into the cliffs, clinging to the volcanic rock and climbing the hills almost as if escaping from the sea below. White washed walls and deep blue dome roofs decorate the interior rim of the island as living space and commercial stores jockey for room on the highly sought after cliff face. You walk these steep stairwells through the day and you may wonder what all the fuss is about, until night falls. At sunset, all of Santorini takes a pause and catches their breath at the flaming skies of orange and red. Cast as the perfect backdrop for proposals, weddings, and honeymoons, the daily event of something so simple as a setting sun is a cherished event each and every day in Santorini and once you experience it for yourself, you will no longer wonder why.
The beaches of Santorini reflect the volcanic nature of the island. The shores are more rocky and pebbly than the traditional Greek island beaches. This unique feature makes the beaches of Santorini a fascinating draw among travelers who may want to experience something different from the fine grain sand they can get on any beach in Greece. Deep, rich colors of red and black pebbles make up the shoreline and gives the sun bathers and swimmers fantastic views and contrasts instead of the natural golden sands. Although the swimmers should be aware, due to the composition of the island, the waters just off shore get deep in a relatively short distance. While many of the islands have plenty of wading room before you get to deep waters, the Santorini beaches are steep and you may find yourself swimming rather than wading faster than you expected.
While the nights are quiet in Santorini, the days are filled with fun and enriching activities all over the island. There is a museum or cultural center on nearly every street and the shopping and dining options are endless. Small independent craftsmen ply their trades, you can take tours of the caldera, hikes in the countryside, exploring the small villages, and discovering the castle fortresses. More than a dozen wineries take advantage of the rich volcanic soil to cultivate fine wine-making grapes and each winery welcomes visitors for a tour, and tasting… there is more to do on Santorini than meets the eye although you will find more than enough scenery that pleases your eye. Every vista is a canvas, every view a masterpiece. Known for its spectacular scenery and breathtaking sunsets, the smaller nightlife on this island is an equal trade off for the glimpse of paradise as the sun sets on Santorini.
Separated by a mere 90 miles, the popular destination islands of Mykonos and Santorini have plenty in common but maintain a rigid disparity when it comes to the types of travelers they attract. Both islands are Greek paradises in and of themselves. If one didn’t exist, you’d get more than enough satisfaction from the other. Both are easily reached with international airports offering a wide array of domestic flights during the peak summer season. Both islands are teeming with fine restaurants and luxurious hotels waiting to impress you with Greek hospitality. And both islands are touristy and expensive. If you were to visit just about any other Greek islands, you’d notice the differences in price. But the world returns to Mykonos and Santorini time and again for the same reasons; these two islands truly are pearls in the Aegean Sea.
Mykonos feels smaller than Santorini as there is much less to do. Outside of partying, shopping, and “making the scene”, Mykonos lacks any real substance compared to the culture-rich Santorini. If you’re wanting to party a little while on vacation, Santorini pretty much rolls up the sidewalks after midnight while Mykonos never sleeps. The tourism season reflects this in Santorini operating full ferries and flights from April into November while Mykonos’ season is shortened by two months on eaither side of the season only going into full operation between June and September. There just isn’t much to do once the summer fades from Mykonos, meanwhile the views and cultural exchanges on Santorini know no season.
The contrast is easily summed up in the observation that Santorini has two nightclubs and 16 wineries. Mykonos has 15 nightclubs and two wineries. Make of that what you will, but it cleanly describes each island. If you’re a jet-setter and ready to party all night long, Mykonos is your destination. If you want to explore a unique island with unbelievable views, you belong in Santorini.