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View of Fira from the Fira to Oia hike along Santorini Caldera (Photo: Kyle Valenta)

Mykonos vs. Santorini

View of Fira from the Fira to Oia hike along Santorini Caldera (Photo: Kyle Valenta)
Executive Editor, U.S.
Chris Gray Faust
Senior SEO Editor
Kyle Valenta

Published
Feb 5, 2024

Read time
6 min read

Mykonos and Santorini need no introduction. These Greek islands have been on travel bucket lists for decades and are common ports on many Mediterranean cruises.

But what exactly makes Santorini and Mykonos so popular? Take your pick of reasons: fresh seafood and terrace restaurants with sea views; white-washed buildings and striking volcanic landscapes; blue church domes against an equally cerulean Aegean Sea; and shopping without compare in the Greek Isles.

As noted, Mykonos and Santorini are generally included in Eastern Mediterranean cruises or Greek Island cruises — and you'll likely stop at both islands. But if your itinerary stops at only one, or you're considering a lazy day on your ship while in port, here is our breakdown of Santorini versus Mykonos.

If you're looking to check out prices or book a cruise, see below:

Mykonos Cruise Itineraries

Santorini Cruise Itineraries

Eastern Mediterranean Cruises

Eastern Mediterranean Cruise Deals

Similarities Between Santorini and Mykonos: Stunning Towns, Fresh Seafood and Crowds

Narrow streets in Mykonos Old Town (Photo: Kyle Valenta)

Both Santorini and Mykonos are impossibly pretty — a fact that's immediately clear as you pull into the waters off either island. You'll immediately spot the typical whitewashed clusters of buildings blazing in the Greek sun found in the Cyclades Islands.

On the islands, you'll find an almost overwhelming amount of bars, cafes and restaurants to choose from, many with astonishing sea views. Fresh seafood is the name of the game almost anywhere, though you'll find plenty of other Mediterranean staples as well as international options.

When it comes to scenery, take your pick. Santorini has caldera views for days and iconic clifftop towns, while Mykonos' Old Town is literally postcard-ready at any moment. A number of small churches with their blue domes also puncture the skylines and landscapes of both islands' main towns.

Be warned, though: Santorini and Mykonos are hyper-popular destinations, especially as peak season reaches its apex in June, July and August. As many as five or six cruise ships can call at each island per day in the summer season, and those atmospheric narrow alleyways in Fira and Mykonos Old Town get packed. If you're crowd-averse, our tips for managing the crowds in busy ports can help you enjoy yourself more.

It's also worth noting that you'll tender to shore in both Santorini and Mykonos. While some cruise ships will dock in Mykonos, most tender you ashore, and in Santorini all cruise ships tender passengers to shore. To help prepare you for this experience, check out our guide to tender ports, while Santorini requires all cruise ships to tender.

As an alternative to the towns, both islands offer plenty of water sports and catamaran excursions. Note that if you're looking to visit a beach on Santorini or Mykonos, you'll need a car, bus or shore excursion to get there from where ships dock and anchor. You can also consult our list of the best beaches in the Mediterranean to help plan your beach-hopping cruise in the Greek Islands.

Differences Between Mykonos and Santorini: Prices, Beaches and Buzz

View of Oia on Santorini from town center (Photo: Kyle Valenta)

Set high on cliffs overlooking a volcanic caldera, Santorini's villages win for Aegean Sea views and has two main towns that draw tourists of all stripes. Fira is the main town, up the cliffside dock from where cruise lines tender their passengers.

Be warned, the line for Santorini's lone cable car up the cliffside can be massive (waits well over an hour are the norm in high season). Alternatively, you can pay to ride a donkey up the switchback stone path (or hike it yourself). Once you're at the top, expect more hills and steps throughout town. This makes Santorini significantly less accessible than Mykonos, whose Old Town and port are at sea level.

Once you've reached the top of the cliff, Fira buzzes with tourist shops, cafes and restaurants. If you head north along the Santorini Caldera, you'll reach the town of Oia. This is where you'll find the blue-domed churches that you've seen in so many photos and plenty of shops in town sell art that captures the landscapes and vibe of Santorini. If you're in port long enough, the Fira to Oia hike along the caldera is stunning, with plenty of beautiful views and surprising sights along the way.

Mykonos is decidedly more upscale, drawing a set that loves social media photo shoots in fancy outfits in seemingly any corner of Old Town. While you'll find plenty of tourist-friendly shops here, high-end clothing and home goods are the name of the game, and you should be prepared to shell out a lot more than you would on Santorini.

Even so, Mykonos Old Town is a stunner. Quaint windmills dot the shore just west of a cluster of amazing sunset-view cafes. You'll also find local bakeries, crafts, and other holes in the wall all over.

While Santorini can be a bit sleepy when it comes to entertainment, Mykonos blazes to life. There are numerous bars and nightclubs in Old Town, and even daytime parties at spots like JackieO' Mykonos Beach Club. The island is also something of a gay hotspot.

Don't worry if you're not a party animal, though; the ancient ruins of Delos are just a shore excursion away. Additionally, you'll find better beaches on Mykonos than Santorini, which has only one black-sand option (Perissa/Perivolos) and a couple stone beaches.

To help you plan, we've put together a list of the most important tips you need to know before you cruise the Greek Islands.

Mykonos vs. Santorini: Which Is Right for You?

Mykonos Old Town seafront (Photo: Kyle Valenta)

For town scenery, Oia on Santorini and Mykonos Old Town are both tops, though you'll want to see if you can catch the sunset from Oia before you commit to trying to capture the legendary caldera view. Even so, Santorini's stunning caldera is visible from nearly anywhere, and Mykonos has nothing like the beautiful Fira to Oia caldera hike.

Santorini is also great an art collector and want a special piece from your Greek island adventure. If beaches and nightlife really aren't your thing, and you don't like dropping hundreds of dollars on a caftan, Santorini is also a better bet.

However, Santorini is a bad choice if you have mobility issues.

Choose Mykonos if you love energetic tavernas, clubs and cafes; you're a beach bum; you like luxury shopping; or you're a history lover who can't imagine going to Greece without seeing Delos, where Apollo and Artemis were born.

Updated February 05, 2024
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