Last updated on January 24, 2023 by Wandering our World

Trying to choose which Greek island to visit is never easy. There are so many wonderful options, and each island has its own unique charms and highlights. Crete and Santorini are two of the best, and both have such a lot to offer.

These two islands share some stunning scenery and beautiful beaches, and they both offer the calming, relaxing vibe that is so distinctive of the Greek islands.

But, despite having some things in common in terms of the culture and vibe, Crete and Santorini are also very different places.

To begin with, they differ hugely in size, with Crete being around 100 times bigger than Santorini. The additional size means that there’s lots more to do in Crete, and you may need to plan a longer vacation if you choose this island.

Crete is also known for its large mountain ranges and gorges, which can appeal to climbers and hikers. These islands also differ in terms of their geography.

As a volcanic island, Santorini has a lot of black pebble beaches and red sands, giving it a totally different look to the more Caribbean-style coastal areas of Crete. However Santorini is also the more luxurious island and may be perfect for couples, as we’ll explain more about below.

Clearly, there are quite a few things that set these islands apart from one another and the reality is your holiday will be quite different depending on which you choose. Which is why making the right decision is so important.

Fortunately, we’re here to help!

We know both islands well, so right here we’ll be taking a close look at Crete vs Santorini, examining how these islands compare in a range of key areas like beaches, things to do, nightlife, honeymoons and more.

By the time you’re finished, we’re sure you’ll know which one suits you best.

Let’s get started!

CONTENTS:

  1. A Quick Overview
  2. Which Is Easier To Get To?
  3. Which Is Better For Beaches? 
  4. Which Is Best For Activities?
  5. Which Is Better For Nightlife? 
  6. Which Is Best For A Honeymoon? 
  7. Which Is Better For A Family Trip? 
  8. Which Has The Best Hotels? 
  9. Which Is Cheaper?
  10. Which Is Easier To Get Around? 
An infographic pitting Crete vs Santorini and showing some of the key differences that will be discovered later in the article.

A Quick Overview Of Crete vs Santorini

Crete: A Quick Overview

Crete is the biggest of all the Greek islands, both in terms of size and population. It covers around 3,260 square miles (8,450 square kilometers) in total and has around 650 miles of coastline. It’s far larger than Santorini and requires much more time to fully explore.

It’s located almost 100 miles south from the Greek mainland in the Mediterranean Sea, giving it very pleasant weather, including warm and sunny summers and mild winters.

Since it’s further south than Santorini, it can have slightly higher temperatures, but the weather is very similar on both islands.

Crete has a large mountain range stretching from one side of the island to the other, making it a great place for explorers and adventurers, with many famous gorges to traverse and hiking trails to walk along, as well as several climbable mountains. 

This island is also famous for its history – archaeologists have found traces of human life here going back 130,000 years – and there are many interesting historical sites to visit, like Knossos, Petras, and Phaistos.

Catering to a highly diverse crowd of tourists, Crete also boasts fancy resorts and lively cities, such as Heraklion and Chania.

Aerial view of Chania with the amazing lighthouse, mosque, venetian shipyards, Crete, Greece.
iStock.com/gatsi

Santorini: A Quick Overview

Santorini, also known as Thira, is a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea. It’s part of an archipelago (also called Santorini), and it has the unique distinction of being the world’s only inhabited caldera (the depression formed after the eruption and collapse of a volcano).

Measuring up at just 35 square miles (90 square km), Santorini is significantly smaller than Crete and has a fraction of the larger island’s population.

Due to its small size, it’s easier to get around, and you can see a lot of the island in just a few days. However it can get very crowded during peak tourist seasons, and has certainly lost some of its authentic Greek charm over the years as its popularity rose.

Still, it’s famed for its majestic beauty and charm, deep blue seas and stunning sunsets. And, as a caldera, it boasts some fascinating geography, with volcanic craters, jagged cliffs, and rocky coastal areas where the natural formations and man-made beauty of towns like Oia and Fira intertwine to create some picturesque scenes.

The beauty of this place makes it a popular honeymoon destination, and Santorini has developed in recent years to become increasingly touristic. There are still many unspoiled areas here to appreciate, but the island is also home to some very luxurious hotels and resorts where visitors can really unwind and indulge.

Houses in Santorini
iStock.com/Maglara

Which Is Easier To Get To?

Crete and Santorini aren’t too far apart, but it might be a little easier for you to get to one of these islands over the other, which might impact your decision of which one to visit.

Crete has two international airports – Nikos Kazantzakis in Heraklion and Daskalogiannis in Chania – and they’re both quite easy to access, with multiple direct links with cities all over Europe.

Thanks to this, you can fly direct to Crete from places like the UK, France, Spain, Scandinavia, eastern Europe, and so on.

It’s also possible to take a ferry ride over to Crete directly from Athens – the fastest route takes about six and a half hours – or you can even take a ferry here from other Greek islands, including Mykonos and Santorini itself – the ride only takes two hours if you get a ticket on board a high-speed vessel.

Young redhead girl in black bikini and with hat on Balos beach, west Crete, Greece. Summertime season vacation, July
iStock.com/MassonStock

Santorini also has its own airport, known as Santorini International Airport. It’s located just a few miles away from the city of Thira, and various budget airlines offer flights here from all around Europe. 

You can fly straight to Santorini from the UK, as well as Germany, France, Ireland, and many other countries. Santorini also has direct connections with Dubai, Doha, and Abu Dhabi, which can be useful for those traveling from the east.

Overall, getting to either one of these islands shouldn’t be too difficult. There are plenty of flights, especially during the summer, although the presence of two airports and more flight routes to Crete might just about make it a little more accessible for most people.

White wash staircases on Santorini Island, Greece. The view toward Caldera sea with cruise ship awaiting.
iStock.com/iamjiere

Which Is Better For Beaches? 

Beaches are one of the biggest draws of the Greek islands. This part of the world has some of the most sublime and stunning coastal areas of all, with many of the islands being famed for their soft white sands and crystal clear waters.

Naturally, Crete has many more beaches than Santorini – Crete’s coastline is 650 miles long, after all, while Santorini has around 69 miles of coast in total. So, in terms of quantity, Crete is the clear winner, but what about quality?

Well, the beaches on these two islands do have some very big differences.

For instance, due to its volcanic geography, Santorini actually has a number of black sand and pebble beaches, and many of its beaches are quite small, boasting impressive views of the surrounding cliffs and deep blue waters.

The beaches of Crete, meanwhile, are generally more traditional, with the classic golden sands and clear waters that a lot of people picture when thinking of the Greek islands.

But there’s still a lot of diversity in Crete, from the pink sands of Elafonissi to the calm lagoon waters of Balos.

Beauty of Nature. Beautiful Elafonissi Beach with Pink Sand on Crete Island, Greece
iStock.com/JNemchinova

Crete: The Beaches

Crete has coastal areas looking out onto the Mediterranean, the Aegean, and the Libyan Sea. So, depending on which part of Crete you visit, you can get a totally different beach experience, and there are literally dozens of beautiful beaches here, spread out all over the island.

This means that you might have to drive or hop on a bus to visit some of Crete’s best-rated beaches, but places like Balos and Elafonissi are definitely worth the trip.

The former feels like it has been plucked straight from the Caribbean, with calming blue waters and soft powder; while the latter stands out for its cedar forest and distinctive pink sand.

A lot of the beaches in Crete are big, well-developed, and nicely located near hotels, towns, and amenities.

Falassarna, for example, is situated over on the western coast, only a short drive from the town of Kissamos. It’s a very family-friendly spot with plenty of space to cater to the large crowds that gather here in summer.

There are also beaches of incredible natural beauty dotted around Crete. Vai Beach, for instance, is surrounded by the biggest palm forest in the whole of Europe – there are approximately 5,000 trees there, and it’s an ideal setting for family photos.

Then there’s Preveli Beach, to the south, which marks the point where the Kissano Faraggi River meets the sea. It’s a super spot to sunbathe or relax, and there’s even a famous heart-shaped “Lover’s Stone” there that couples might like to seek out.

Stunning views of Kalyves bay and beach. Beautiful Crete island, Creece
iStock.com/Freeartist

Santorini: The Beaches

Santorini may be small, but it still has a nice selection of beaches and some intriguing diversity.

Many of the beaches in Santorini are made up of red and black sand or even pebbles, a far cry from the golden or white sands seen on Crete and many other islands.

Arguably the most famous beach of all is Red Beach. So-called due to its red rocks and sands, this beach almost looks like a Martian landscape. It’s a true sight to behold and one of the must-see spots for any visit to Santorini.

For something a little more organized and comfortable, you might prefer a trip to Kamari or Perissa. These beaches are nicely-maintained, with multiple sun loungers and umbrellas scattered around, and they tend to draw in a lot of tourists for the warm summer months.

Travelers might also like to check out Perivolos, which is the biggest black sand beach in all of Santorini and one of the best places for long strolls along the shoreline. While Armeni Beach is a cute little spot made up of black and red pebbles where you can simply sit and admire the view or watch local fishermen in their boats.

In general, a lot of the beaches in Santorini are quite small. The pebbles and dark sands can be lovely to look at, but aren’t quite as comfortable as the softer sands of Crete. So, when it comes to beaches, Crete takes the win due to its diversity and comfort.

Thira Fira Perissa Oia Ammoudi Thirassia  Greece island cyclades
iStock.com/GianlucaFF

Which Is Best For Activities?

When you’re not basking on the beach or bathing in the warm waters that surround these spectacular islands, you might like to spend some time seeing what else they have to offer.

Here’s how the activities compare across Crete and Santorini.

Crete: The Activities

Crete is a veritable hub of history and culture, with a lot of things for travelers to see, do, and enjoy, starting off with trips to the main towns like Chania, Rethymno, and Heraklion. 

Each of these places has its own landmarks and attractions, from the Archaeological Museum and Koules Fortress of Heraklion to the Maritime Museum and Old Venetian Port of Chania, along with the Arkadi Monastery and Fortezza Castle of Rethymno.

With so many historical sites, museums, and other landmarks, you won’t run out of things to do here, and Crete has more than enough to keep you busy for several weeks.

Even just roaming the towns and admiring the unique mix of Ottoman, Greek, and Venetian influences can be a joyful way to spend a day.

Those with a passion for history might like to visit the ancient archaeological sites of Knossos or Phaistos, for instance.

While those who enjoy long walks and wilderness adventures can take hikes along the island’s many trails or trek through iconic gorges, like Samaria, which is in the photo below.

There’s also lots of interesting wildlife around Crete, including several species that are endemic to this island – like the popular kri-kri goats – and plenty more activities for travelers of all ages, from food tours to watersports and even boat rides to other nearby islands.

Samaria Gorge. Crete, Greece
iStock.com/Aleh Varanishcha

Santorini: The Activities

Over on Santorini, it’s a bit of a different story. Many people come to this island primarily to relax, with a lot of travelers spending the majority of their time lounging by the pool, sunbathing on the beach, or enjoying the amenities of their chosen resort.

Adventurers and explorers might find this island a little lacking in terms of activities, but there are still some fun things to do.

The island has several wineries that you might like to visit or take a tour of – it’s one of Greece’s premier destinations for wine tourism – along with boat rides to the small neighboring islands.

You can also take cooking classes with friendly locals, or enjoy a dinner cruise as the sun goes down.

Or, for something a little more adventurous, head to the ancient site of Akrotiri. This city was famously destroyed in a volcanic eruption, but a lot of original artifacts and even frescoes have been preserved and uncovered – it’s almost like Santorini’s own version of Pompeii.

You can also visit some of Santorini’s charming coastal towns, with their classic white and blue buildings and winding streets. The island’s capital, Fira, is the largest urban area, with a lively feel and some good shops, while Oia is undoubtedly the best place to watch the sunset.

Overall, if you’re looking for an action-packed holiday filled with cultural activities, hiking, watersports, and more, Crete is most definitely the better place to visit. It has many more things to do and a wider range of activities to suit people of all ages and tastes.

A woman in a white dress stands by the swimming pool and enjoys the view over the illuminated village of Oia, Santorini island, Greece, during summer sunset time
iStock.com/SHansche

Which Is Better For Nightlife? 

Some of the Greek islands are famed for their lively nightlife scenes, like Mykonos, for example. Santorini and Crete aren’t exactly known as the hottest party islands in Europe, but they both still have their own nightlife pubs and clubs where young people and party lovers can hang out and have fun.

Crete has several nightlife neighborhoods. Malia is probably the best-known spot, with its own ‘Strip’ of clubs, bars, and restaurants, perfect for people who want to stay out late and enjoy the evening with their friends.

You can also find some decent bars and clubs in the Chania area, so there are several places to party on this island.

Santorini, meanwhile, isn’t exactly known for its nightlife, but there are still things to do after the sun sets. Several cocktail bars open up after dark in and around Fira, and you can find some good beach bars around the Perissa area, too.

There are also a few clubs in Fira, most of which stay open until the early hours.

DJ spinning decks at a bar
iStock.com/DisobeyArt

Which Is Best For A Honeymoon? 

Countless couples jet off to the Greek islands to celebrate their honeymoons each and every year, and you might like to consider spending time with your special someone on either Santorini or Crete. But which one is best?

Well, Santorini is generally considered the more romantic destination of the two. It has a lot of appeal for couples who want to spend their time relaxing, sunbathing, watching the sun go down, and enjoying tasty meals in fabulous restaurants.

With its distinctive scenery and cute coastal towns, Santorini is also regarded as a photographer’s paradise, so you and your partner should be able to take plenty of beautiful photos to hang up around the home when you get back or to share with your friends and family.

However, Crete can still be a super honeymoon spot and is particularly appealing for older couples or those who enjoy getting out and making the most of each day with trips and activities.

It’s not quite as luxurious or romantic, but can still be a magical place to spend time with your partner.

Recommended: The Best Greek Islands For Couples

A elegant couple in summer clothes sits by the pool and enjoys the view to the mediterranean sea in Greece during their summer holidays
iStock.com/SHansche

Which Is Better For A Family Trip? 

Santorini might be the top spot for couples, but if you’re heading away on vacation as a family, Crete is probably the better choice for you.

A very family-friendly destination, Crete has lots of well-maintained, sandy beaches where kids can safely run around, play games, and swim in the sea.

There are also lots of family hotels with kid-oriented amenities, while a lot of the hotels on Santorini are aimed more towards couples.

Not only that, but, as explained earlier on, Crete also has a lot more things to do. There are historic ruins to explore, gorges to walk through, hiking trails, museums, caves, a huge water park, and more. This should be more than enough to keep kids of any age entertained.

Over on Santorini, there’s less to do and kids might get bored with simply spending time on the beach or at the hotel all day long.

However, if you’re traveling with older kids, they might appreciate the relaxing vibes of Santorini and its Instagrammable hotspots.

Tourists photographing a sailboat boat in Paleochora, Crete, Greece.
iStock.com/Jure

Which Has The Best Hotels? 

It’s also important to think about where you’re going to stay during your visit to either one of these islands. And while they both have some super hotels, the range of accommodation options varies quite significantly between Crete and Santorini.

On Santorini, you’ll find a lot of luxurious, boutique hotels that are primarily designed for couples and stand out for their distinctive beauty and high prices – it’s even possible to find some hotels built right into the cliffs, with private pools and cave-like spaces.

The hotels on this island generally have an exclusive, deluxe feel, and many travelers choose to spend a lot of time in and around the hotel to appreciate its amenities.

You’ll also need to book in advance if you plan a trip to Santorini, as many of the top hotels can sell out up to a year in advance.

Over on Crete, there’s much more diversity to the accommodation. Yes, you can find 5-star, luxury hotels here, but you can also find much cheaper options, as well as family-friendly resorts and even all-inclusive hotels serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner – this sort of thing is almost impossible to find on Santorini.

Hotels are typically cheaper on Crete and there are far more of them, so you won’t have to worry too much about places being sold out, even if you’re planning a last-minute getaway.

There are even some very budget-friendly hotels in Crete, ideal for backpackers hopping around Europe.

But ultimately choosing a place to stay will depend heavily on your personal preferences. That’s why we have a few recommendations below to try and help out:

Gate to the sea view & Beach living - Santorini island style
iStock.com

Crete: Our Recommendations

In Crete, Anemos Luxury Grand Resort (see photos and rates) is a great family friendly option right by the beach with a beautiful pool and world-class service.

They also have a certified childcare service and a kid’s club and play area, which means parents can easily get a well deserved break!

Another worth looking into is Agapi Beach Resort (see photos and rates) which is an all-inclusive resort set that has almost everything you can think of – spa sessions, a private beach, several pools, tennis, and even cooking classes are all included.

If you’re looking for complete relaxation and everything to be taken care off, this is a great option!

Tropical sandy beach with turquoise water, in Elafonisi, Crete, Greece
iStock.com/gatsi

Santorini: Our Recommendations

Santorini is all about luxury and romance, and what sums that up more than your own suite complete with private pool and gorgeous sea views.

That’s exactly what you’ll get at Aqua Luxury Suites (see photos and rates), where the service is world class as are the views. It doesn’t come cheap, but for a couple this place is hard to beat.

Luxury at a budget price point is hard to find in Santorini, but Astro Palace Hotel (see photos and rates) in Fira with it’s pretty outdoor pool. stunning views and modern furnishings is as close as you can get.

This five-star hotel is surprisingly cheap considering its location and the fact it’s on Santorini.

View through an open window with shutters of the whitewashed village of Oia rising above the blue Aegean Sea and the caldera on the island of Santorini, Greece.
iStock.com/Kirk Fisher

Which Is Cheaper? 

The cost of your trip will ultimately depend on where you stay and how much you spend on things like food, activities, and souvenirs.

However, average costs for a typical trip are definitely higher in Santorini compared to Crete.

The small size of Santorini means that there are fewer hotels and shops, as well as less competition in general, allowing the businesses here to drive their prices up.

Because of this, you can expect to pay more per night for your accommodation, as well as spending more on food, activities, and everyday essentials.

Over on Crete, there are far more hotels and businesses that have to compete with one another, bringing the average costs down.

Thanks to this, it’s much easier to find budget-friendly places to stay and eat, and even something as simple as a loaf of bread will usually cost less in Crete than it does on Santorini.

At the same time, the large size of Crete means that you might need to spend extra money on renting a car and getting around, which can add quite a lot to the total cost of your trip, so this is something to keep in mind for budget-conscious travelers.

The illuminated alley Antoni Gampa with green plants and balconies in the old town of Chania, Crete, Greece,
iStock.com/Stigalenas

Which Is Easier To Get Around? 

Since Crete is simply so vast, most visitors who want to explore the island will need to rent a car. This gives you the freedom to explore, but it will add to the total cost of your trip, so that’s something that you need to take into account.

You could also choose to rely on public transport, and Crete has a reliable bus network connecting its main towns and touristic sites, as well as taxis.

But, because of the size of the island, getting from one side to the other can take half a day, so you’ll want to visit for at least a week, if not longer, to get the full Cretan experience.

Thanks to its small size, Santorini is significantly easier to traverse, even without your own car. There’s a great bus network that operates throughout the tourist season to help travelers get around cheaply and conveniently, along with a good amount of taxis.

With that said, Santorini’s hilly landscapes can make it a little tricky to traverse on foot or by bike, so a lot of travelers rely primarily on the buses and spend most of their time in the area around their hotels.

That’s why it’s recommended to stay near one of the main towns like Oia or Fira, giving you plenty to do, right on your doorstep.

Small motorboat at clear water bay of Loutro town on Crete island, Greece
iStock.com/Vladimirs_Gorelovs

Santorini vs Crete: Which Is The Better Choice?

Overall, the right island for you will depend on several factors, including your budget, tastes, and who you’re traveling with.

But Santorini is the dream destination for couples looking for romance and relaxation, while Crete has more to offer for families and outdoor adventures.

Because of its extra diversity, large size, and long list of attractions, Crete is probably the better of these two islands for most travelers.

There’s just so much to do in Crete, and the unique culture and history of this place makes it almost feel like a whole separate country.

Still, Santorini is a lovely place for some simple R & R. It’s a visually stunning island, replete with luxurious accommodation and tranquil beaches, perfect for those who want to sit back, relax, and feel totally at peace.