You are probably trying to figure out which greek island is better for you to visit, right? As a Greek, I have visited pretty much all of the islands in my country so this is my comparison guide for Crete vs Santorini this year. What are their differences and similarities and which one is better depending on your situation or even the time of the year you are planning to visit? I can only tell you this though: they are 2 completely different greek islands and you re going to have completely different holidays on each one of them.
BEST HOTEL IN SANTORINI: San Antonio
BEST HOTEL IN CRETE: Domes Noruz
BEST HOTELS ON BOTH ISLANDS
- Crete: **there are no cave hotels in Crete**
- Santorini: Divine Cave
- Detailed Comparison, differences and similarities
- Best For Attractions & Sightseeing
- Best For Beaches
- Most Romantic
- Best For Nightlife
- Best For Families
- Best For Wineries
- Best For Shopping
- Best For Foodies
- Best For Seniors
- Alternative greek islands
As you know, Greece has no shortage of amazing islands to visit. Did you know that there are actually more than 2,000 greek islands? Only about 200 of them are inhabited, which narrows it down a bit, but still… I know how hard it can be to pick one to visit for your next holidays.
Crete and Santorini are two of the most famous Greek islands but they are so different like comparing apples to oranges to be honest.
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But what happens If you really have to pick one?
Which one should it be?
Crete or Santorini
Both islands are amazing and I am sure you will have a great time in either one of them. But let me get this straight to you:
If there is only one greek island you can visit in your life, make it Santorini. You won’t regret it, and as I say to all of my friends “Santorini is literally the picture of Greece you may have in your head”. HOWEVER, Santorini can feel like a tourist trap these days and it can get extremely crowded in the summer months of June, July, August and September, so if you are looking for some of the nicest beaches in Europe, possibly the best food in Greece, literally tens of interesting Museums and a place that could feel like home for a family that you can visit many times then go to Crete.
You really need to understand that the size of these 2 islands is what makes the big difference between them because Crete will never feel crowded or packed (yes, it will feel busier in the summer months but never packed like Santorini), as it’s too big. It’s literally the size of Hawaii’s big island and one of the largest islands in Europe. Santorini is super tiny.
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Get Your Guide has the best and largest variety of Tours in Athens and the greek islands (Santorini, Mykonos, Crete etc)
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Expedia has all the available flights to and from the greek islands
If I could sum up the island comparison in one table, then it would be this:
|Crete is the largest greek island and the 12th largest island in Europe.
|Santorini is roughly 100 times smaller than Crete…
|Easier to Get To
|Crete has 3 international Airports and there are international flights even in the winter so it’s generally easier to get to; the ferries take anything form 5-10 hours from Athens (Peiraus port)
|Santorini has only one international airport but it’s a bit closer to Athens by ferry (5 hours)
|Crete never gets really crowded but the large towns such as Chania, Rethymno, Heraklion and Agios Nikolaos would definitely feel busier in the summer (May to September)
|Santorini is the busiest and most crowded greek island and it will always feel crowded and packed no matter the time of the year unfortunately, these days…
|More attractions and sights
|Crete is one of the most history and culturally rich places in Europe with lots of Museums and Archaeological sites all over the island; the Heraklion Archaeological Museum is one of the most important in Greece
|Santorini has plenty of attractions for an island of its size and things like the volcano views, the sunsets, Oia village, Akrotiri ruins and the Red Beach cannot be found elsewhere in Greece.
|The Crete beaches are some of the best in the world with golden sand and crystal clear waters. Crete literally has thousands of beaches
|Santorini beaches are not that great (by greek standards…) and they are mostly covered with black and red pebbles but you can certainly have some fun days in them (like a hike to the Red Beach)
|Crete has some of the best resorts and all-inclusive hotels in Greece and thousands other smaller family run hotels all over the island, so you definitely get more options.
|Santorini hotels have more impressive views and have a more boutique feeling overall. They are also more expensive as they are high in demand and they are limited in number obviously.
|Crete has some very cute towns such as Chania and Rethymno but they are pretty big towns compared to Santorini’s little towns, so cannot really be that romantic.
|Santorini is one of the most romantic destinations in the world with its stunning views and sunset tours.
|Crete with its big towns such as Chania, Rehtymno and Heraklion has some of the best nightlife in Greece with many options to choose from.
|Santorini has some decent nightlife too but you will find mostly lounge bars and a few small clubs with a more relaxing vibe overall. There are also a few clubs that play mostly greek pop music that can also be fun.
|Best Beach Clubs
|Crete has incredible beach clubs in almost every beach on the island
|Santorini also has some good beach bars and clubs with a less premium feeling but with excellent services
|Crete has a long list of super cute wineries you can visit for wine tasting sessions but they are located all over the island.
|Santorini is the winery capital of Greece with more than 16 wineries on the island that have been producing wine for more than 200 years
|Couples, solo trips, first-timers in Greece
|Couples, solo trips, first timers in Greece
|Crete is not that expensive overall and you can have great budget holidays if you want, as there thousands of accommodation options
|Santorini is super expensive in accommodation and restaurants but you can make it more affordable (read my tips here)
|Best thing you can do:
|Enjoy the sandy beaches (like Balos, Elafonisi, Falassarna etc) , visit Knossos Palace, visit the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, wander in the cute towns of Chania and Rethymno , visit the only natural Palm Tree Forest in Europe and Hike the Samaria Gorge.
|Enjoy the dramatic views, the wineries and the sunset volcano cruises.
|Best for off-season visit (or winter November to April)
|Crete is fully open throughout the year as its economy is not relying on tourism only, and there are more than 600K locals living on the island permanently, so it’s great to visit in the winter but you won’t be able to enjoy the beach life if that’s a priority.
|Santorini is also great to visit off-season and in the winter as there are still many things to do and see apart from the beaches (such as wineries, the volcano, Akrotiri etc) but nothing on the beaches.
|Best tip you can give me:
|Rent a car
|Rent a car
|Best island for first-time in Greece:
|Crete is massive and it won’t really feel like being on an island to be honest.
|Santorini is ideal if it is your first time in Greece and the combination of a live volcano in a sea lagoon with dramatic views and sunsets is a natural marvel you have to see once in your lifetime.
|Best for Families:
|Crete is perfect for families with kids of any age as it has great watersports parks and so many things to see and do, along with some of the best family resorts in Greece.
|Santorini can also be very interesting for a family with kids but I always felt that smaller kids won’t appreciate the island that much and the hotels on Santorini are generally smaller with steep steps and not that many family facilities.
|Best For Honeymoon:
|Crete has some impressive honeymoon hotels such as Domes Noruz but in general it’s considered less romantic.
|Santorini is one of the best destinations in the world for a honeymoon with some of the most romantic hotels in Greece.
So, let’s see which island is better in every case, shall we?
Best Island for Attractions, Museums & Sightseeing: Crete
If you are looking for a destination with many things to do and places to discover, then Crete is clearly a better choice than Santorini. Crete is a massive island with lots of Museums, beautiful seaside and mountain villages that expose the island’s diversity in a marvellous way.
- Crete is really diverse with lots of things to do while Santorini has more limited options.
- Crete is such a big island that offers pretty much everything such as waterparks, Museums, Wineries, farms, lakes, hiking on mountains and protected national parks and many more.
- In Santorini you can do wine tasting in one of the 16 wineries of the island which is an impressive number for the size of Santorini.
- Crete has the following Museums: Archaeological Museum of Chania, Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, Knossos Palace, Natural History Museum, Ancient Greek Technology Museum, Olive Oil Museum and many many more
- Santorini has more than 10 amazing museums or archaeological sites (including Akrotiri Prehistoric Site, a Tomato Industrial Museum, Museum of Prehistoric Thera, Archaeological Museum, Folklore Museum, Santozeum, Gyzi Mansion, Wine Museum, Art Space Gallery, Maritime Museum, Ancient Thera Site and a Museum of Fossils at Perissa)
- Santorini has some amazing traditional cycladic villages like Fira, Pyrgos, Megalochori, Emporio and of course the incredible Oia town (which can easily be the only reason to visit Santorini anyways…).
- Crete has 2 of the cutest towns in Greece which is Chania and Rethymno
- Santorini has an active volcano with one of the largest craters in the world, where you can actually take a tour on (!). You don’t get to see that everyday and it is the characteristic that makes Santorini’s landscape so dramatic and impressive.
- Crete has one of the most unique deserted islands that used to be a leper colony, called Spinalonga
Best Island for Beaches: Crete
If you are a beach person and you imagine your holidays to be spent on the beach with your toes in the sand, then Crete is just the place for you. Let’s be honest here. Santorini is awesome but it’s not famous for having nice beaches. Crete on the other hand has some of the most tropical golden sand beaches in Europe. The only problem with Crete’s beaches though is that you need a car to explore them in the best way possible.
- Santorini has only volcanic pebble beaches (there is a red, black and white beach). These are very impressive to be honest but you won’t find any fine sand beaches in Santorini due to the volcanic stones that are scattered all over the island.
- Crete has more than 100 amazing sandy beaches with crystal-clear turquoise waters. You can find a gay-friendly beach, a cosmopolitan beach, beaches for nudism, beaches for partying, beaches for families and even quiet and relaxing beaches where you’ll basically be alone. Some of the best beaches of the island are also in front of some of the best hotels so if beach life is your priority make sure you stay in one of these hotels.
- Santorini’s sea waters can be quite deep. It is the kind of sea, where you take one step, two steps.. and you are in! No time to think about it.
- Crete sea waters can be quite shallow and are perfect for kids or seniors in most of the beaches. It’s the type of beaches I like personally, where you can walk and walk and you get to a point where you will be wondering “when is this sea water getting deeper?” but there are so many different beaches al over the island with pebbles, with golden sand, with rocks or just think sand.
Most Romantic Island: Santorini
This one is easy I think. If you are looking for a romantic destination, well…stop looking. You found it. It’s Santorini. Crete can be a great destination for c couple but being 100% honest here, it’s nothing compared to Santorini.
- Santorini is considered one of the most romantic destinations in the world and one of the top destinations for honeymooners. For a lot of good reasons: sunsets, views, food, cute villages…what else do you need?
- Crete, being so big has its super cute and romantic locations such as the Old Town of Chania for example, along with hundreds of romantic restaurants all over the island but overall Santorini is considered more romantic.
Best Island for Partying & Nightlife: Crete
If you are really looking for the best nightlife during your holidays then look no further than Crete. Yes, Santorini has some decent nightclubs and bars because they are…on Santorini but proper nightlife really exists in Chania, Heraklion and Rehtymno. I am not including Malia or Limin Hersonissou because these are places that attract 18 year olds on their summer break offering cheap alcohol, which I suspect is not what you are looking for when you hear the word “nightlife”.
Best island for wine lovers: Santorini
If you are looking to combine your holidays with wine tasting or any other thing wine-related, come to Santorini. Santorini is one of the best wine destinations in Europe and home to the oldest vineyard you will find on the continent. But that doesn’t mean Crete has no wineries because it’s a really rich place in terms of wine production with some of the best wines in Greece.
- Santorini is considered the most unique (and underrated I have to say…) wine destination in the world
- Santorini has more than 16 Wineries and Wine Tours you can take. The wine tasting experience usually includes amazing views, amazingly refreshing local wine and greek meze/nibbles.
- Crete has tens of wineries too, but they are less impressive overall and it is more difficult to visit in general as you would need a car to reach them.
- Santorini’s wineries are top world venues for weddings because of their romantic settings and the stunning views
- Santorini has 1 of the 10 wine museums in the world (this one)
- The most famous local wine of Santorini is “Assyrtiko” variety which has received hundreds of awards all over the world. You can also taste the sweet port-like wine of Santorini called “Vinsanto”
Best island for foodies: Crete
That’s a tough one to be honest because Santorini has such an amazing restaurants scene but I believe that Crete is on a completely different level with its local produce and real gems of restaurants such as the stunning Thalassino Ageri in Chania. The great thing about Crete is that so rich in terms on what people are growing on the island that is impossible to find anything that you don’t like on the island. Last but not least, Crete is considered to be have one of the best olive oils in Europe.
Best island for families with kids: Crete
In my honest opinion, Crete is the best place for family holidays in Greece. There is no shortage of incredible family hotels with stunning children friendly water parks and slides, hundreds of all-inclusive hotels that cater to even the most demanding family all over the island and some of the most interesting historical sites in Europe, make Crete an ideal destination for a family with kids of any age. Let’s also not forget that Crete has some of the best family villas in the country which can be ideal for a large or even smaller family and can even become cheaper than a hotel.
Best island for shopping: Crete
Santorini does have some interesting Art Galleries and boutiques to shop around (that are extremely expensive) but Crete has such a diverse shopping market in almost every town. Heraklion being the largest town of the island is probably the shopping capital of the Crete, but Chania’s and Rethymno’s old markets are little gems that can make you wander around for hours.
Best island for seniors or people with disabilities: Crete
Santorini’s difficult terrain and thousand stairs villages are not the best for people with disabilities or seniors… Crete is not flat on the other hand but you will only be staying in one small area of Crete and you will probably be transferred by car anywhere (if you are a senior) so you won’t find any major difficulty on walking in Chania or Rethymno.
Which one is finally the best island: Crete or Santorini?
In my opinion, this is not a valid comparison overall as it’s like comparing apples to oranges, because both islands are extremely different in what they offer. I am sure you would enjoy both and the great thing is that you can actually get on a daycruise from Crete to Santorini. My advise though is that if you are visiting Crete, please stay more than 5 days and focus only on one area (western Crete and Chania is the best area to start in my opinion). Don;t try to explore the whole island at once because you will be driving tens of kilometres every day and it can be tiring.
Now if I had to choose just one island between the two I would probably go to Santorini for a quick trip (especially if it’s my first time in Greece) and then I would spend more days overall in Crete, for a more relaxing vacation.
Besides Crete and Santorini?
The great thing about Greece is that there is no shortage of amazing island to choose from and if I ahd to pick somewhere else then I would probably choose Paros or Naxos islands. They are both ideal for families with amazing beaches and they are larger than Santorini but definitely smaller than Crete, in case youa re looking for a smaller sized island.
I hope this comparison helped you out. As I said previously on this article, if it’s really your first time in Greece you should visit Santorini for a few days but I would rather spend more time on Crete. The other thing about Crete is that unless you stay locked in your all-inclusive hotel (which something I hate personally) you would probably need a car. Yes, there are some very good bus services on the island but a car will always allow you to explore the island in a much better and more flexible way.