Santorini vs Athens: An Honest Comparison To Help You Choose!

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Last updated on March 17, 2023 by Wandering our World

If you’re planning a trip to Greece, choosing between the ancient city of Athens and the stunning island of Santorini can be a tough decision.

While both destinations offer a wealth of history, culture, and natural beauty, they each have their own unique charms that make them appealing to different types of travellers…

For example Athens, known as the cradle of Western civilization, is a city steeped in history and culture. From the iconic landmarks of the Acropolis to the bustling Plaka neighbourhood, Athens is a city that offers visitors a glimpse into the ancient past while also embracing modernity.

So you can stroll through the ancient ruins by day and party in the trendy bars and clubs by night, all without experiencing too much culture shock.

Meanwhile, Santorini, with its stunning caldera views, charming villages, and black-sand beaches, is the better destination for those seeking a romantic getaway or a relaxing beach vacation.

The gorgeous island region is a stunning escape from the mundane turmoils of everyday life, allowing visitors to glimpse the idyllic Greek island lifestyle. Don’t worry, though. It’s more than just lounging about and living life like a local. Santorini has plenty of activities to appeal to the avid traveller too.

But that’s just the beginning when it comes to how similar and different these two Greek destinations are!

Luckily, right here we’ll be using our knowledge to show which has the better scenery, activities, which is better for families, couples, and even more!

CONTENTS:

  1. Which Has The Better History & Culture?
  2. Which Has Better Beaches & Natural Scenery
  3. Which Is Better For Families?
  4. Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons?
  5. Which Is Cheaper?
  6. Where To Stay According To Your Budget
  7. When’s The Best Time To Visit?
  8. Which Is Easier To Get Around?
  9. Which Is The Better Choice?
An infographic pitting Santorini vs Athens and showing some of the key differences that will be discovered later in the article.

Which Has The Better History & Culture?

As with all Greek destinations, Santorini and Athens are an adventure in culture and history, no matter how you look.

While both areas are beautiful and bountiful in cultural and historical aspects, Athens, with its unique archaeological sites and vibrant culture, makes for a far more diverse and varied cultural and historical experience. Although Santorini still has plenty to offer, especially when it comes to food.

Below we look at the cultural and historical highlights in each, so you can see which one may suit you best!

Athens: Culture & History

Athens is the birthplace of modern democracy and played a crucial role in many defining moments throughout history.

Despite being one of the oldest cities in the region (and world), Athens was only declared the capital of Greece in the 1800s.

Plenty of myth runs deep in Athens, but the most regaling story is how it earned its name. After being presented with the gift of an Olive Tree by the goddess Athena, the city made her patronage. This mythical olive tree remains on Acropolis Hill next to Erechtheion, which tourists can visit.

Athens has become a host of many old ruins throughout its millennia, most notably those on Acropolis Hill, including the Parthenon.

But others like The Temple of Hephaestus, the Erechtheion and The Roman Forum of Athens are all worthy sites for a visit if you want to explore the rich mythology and history of the area.

As for the cultural experience, there’s nothing quite like it. As much as Athens has taken to a Western influence, their cuisine, festivals, and overall atmosphere will always remain inherently Greek!

So while you’re here, you should do as the Greeks do! And immerse yourself fully in the incredible Athenian culture.

Throughout the year, Athens hosts many modern and cultured festivals, including the must-see Athens Epidaurus Festival, which takes place in the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the theatre of Epidaurus. As well as patronage festivals to the old Greek Gods.

It’s worth your while to research here, as you’d want to plan your trip around at least one of their brilliant celebrations.

And when your stomach starts to growl, don’t hesitate to tuck into the rich and aromatic flavours of authentic Greek food. Street vendors are your friends and often serve the best secret recipes. Of course, we’d recommend Moussaká and Saganáki, but we’re obsessed with any shape of comfort food.

The Acropolis of Athens, Greece, with the Parthenon Temple on top of the hill during a summer sunset
iStock.com/SHansche

Santorini: History & Culture

On the other hand, Santorini offers tourists an unbelievable Greek island experience.

The island is said to have come into existence after Poseidon’s son, Euphemus, attempted to create a safe haven for his dreamed-up lover. Historically, the island has had human inhabitants since 3600 BC, with hints of Minoan societies similar to those on Crete.

Unfortunately, Santorini’s history is steeped in Greek tragedy, partly due to the active volcanos on its shores.

This works in favour of history fanatics though, who will take great pleasure in visiting archaeological sites like Akrotiri, Thera and Oia, which is the island’s first cultural heritage site.

Their future has been brighter, and the island has bounced back from a rocky history with flare and flamboyance that visitors should undoubtedly get stuck into.

Santorini’s key cultural aspect is the incredible island cuisine. Surprisingly, this small Cyclades archipelago is a thriving little agricultural hub and supplies its own Greek delicacies. You simply have to try the Spanakopita, Lamb and their world-famous wines, which pair perfectly with a panoramic ocean view.

And if you’re looking for a way to truly immerse yourself in Santorini culture, be sure to plan your visit to The Ifestia Festival in August, which is a celebration of the volcanoes that helped shape Santorini as it is today, with music, dancing, food and plenty of festivities to keep you occupied!

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 Has Better Beaches & Natural Scenery

Athens and Santorini are ideal destinations for a beach and nature getaway, offering tourists some of the most beautiful scenery on the European coastline.

Athens: Beaches & Natural Scenery

This city is known more for its sightseeing, but it also has some stunning beaches and a few natural wonders worth the road-less-travelled.

If you’re in the mood for the sun and sand treatment, the Southeastern shoreline from Glyfada to Cape Sounion will have everything you need. The Athens coastline is known for picturesque white sand beaches and shallow crystalline waters.

Depending on the beach you choose to visit, there is also a bounty of fun activities for you, for the kids (or childlike friends), and the best part is most don’t cost a penny!

So when you’re searching for the best Athenian beaches, here are some of our recommendations:

  • Vouliagmeni is a stone’s throw from the city centre and a popular spot for tourists and locals. The clear waters provide the perfect place to sunbathe or try your hand at snorkelling. If you want something more adventurous, there’s plenty of space to kitesurf, windsurf and speed along on a jet ski.

  • Suino Beach is known for stunning views at sunrise and sunset, with the Temple of Poseidon presiding on the hill above the shore.

  • Vouliagmeni Lake is not your typical beach but rather a lake on the outskirts of the bustling city. Combining two of Athen’s lesser-known tourism aspects, nature and sunbathing!

On top of that, Mount Olympus is well worth visiting and is among Athens’ key natural tourism sites as it was the supposed stronghold for the Gods of Greek mythology.

So who wouldn’t want to hike to the summit for just the glimmer of a chance to shake hands with the mighty Zeus? Hold our things! We’re on our way!

Boat anchored in Mikrolimano marina. Evening scenery with Piraeus in the background.
iStock.com/milangonda

Santorini: Beaches & Natural Scenery

Santorini is all sand, sun and natural beauty, so if you’re looking for a more beach-focused holiday this is the destination for you.

This stunning member of the Cyclades island group combines the best features of Greece, from breathtaking beaches to natural wonders.

Like many volcanic islands, the beaches are simply phenomenal, and even if you’d prefer to forgo the teeny-weeny polka dot bikini, they’re a natural phenomenon worth seeing.

Most notable is Santorini’s Red Beach, forged from volcanic eruptions: this beach was named after the awe-inspiring reds of the cliffs and sand.

It’s a quieter place, with a mixture of rocky cliff faces and supple sands creating a slight stretch that sunbathers and beach lovers take full advantage of in warmer months.

Kamari Beach also has its own distinguishable feature. Black sand! Also, thanks to, you guessed it, Santorini’s volcanic activity.

This is a much more densely populated beach, with plenty of activities for beach-goers, including water sports, sunbathing, volleyball and just plain lounging.

But Santorini is far more than just its beaches, as beautiful as they are, and we highly encourage tourists to indulge in some of the unforgettable natural tourism.

Santorini is home to an active volcano, and for adventurers at heart, there’s nothing more thrilling than exploring the boundary of Earth’s power.

The volcano has been dormant since the 1950s, but scientists know there’s still activity bubbling beneath the surface. But if you’re worried, it’s perfectly safe to hike! And hiking tours are readily available to take you there!

And thanks to this lovely volcano, you can also find an abundance of hot springs across the caldera.

The hot springs of Santorini are known for their mineral and healing properties, which tourists are welcome to experience for a small fee.

We don’t know about you, but the thought of exploring volcanic beaches, hot springs and volcanoes steals our heart. Athens is great for a more traditional tourism experience. But Santorini takes the win as far as natural wonders and beaches are concerned.

Boats in Santorini
iStock.com/Robert Breitpaul

Which Is Better For Families?

Family vacations are often the hardest to plan, especially when you have small children with oodles of energy and fussy habits.

However, we understand the stress and assure you that Santorini and Athens have answers to all your parental concerns.

Athens: For Families

It’s easy to see why Athens makes for such a popular family holiday, after all it has a booming tourism industry and countless sightseeing opportunities.

The city provides a great all-rounder destinations for families of all ilk.

The endless accommodation options mean you can find the perfect fit for you, and the best part is that most hotels and resorts are within walking distance of Athens’ most popular activities, so there’s always a quick getaway if needed.

While young kids might not appreciate the stunning architecture and breathtaking historical sites, they may enjoy a mythology tour to learn where all their favourite characters from Disney’s Hercules came from.

For quieter kids who enjoy more engaging activities, Athens has plenty of museums, some focusing more on the city’s unique history and others that are mind-blowing and awesome! Personally, we’d turn into little children ourselves if we visited Athen’s Museum of Illusion!

And if you’re looking for safe, thrilling fun, other than a hike up Mount Olympus, maybe take a cruise around the shore, or visit one of Athen’s water parks for a day of sun and play!

Woman Gazes at The Erechtheion or Temple of Athena Polias, Acropolis, Athens, Greece.
iStock.com/Feverpitched

Santorini: For Families

Santorini is a quieter destination but is still great for families that thrive on adventure and exploration.

It may not have all the modern frills of Athens, but there are still plenty of exciting things to see and do across the island.

The accommodation options are many and you have the added benefit of picking a location as quiet or busy as you’d like.

The little villages outside of the main town of Fira are no strangers to guests, so if staying there you can rest easy that your kids won’t feel too overwhelmed by crowds.

Plus while travel around the island mainly includes public transport (unless you rent a car), everything you need is on your doorstep anyway.

Santorini is known for its gorgeous scenery and beaches, so be prepared to build lots of sandcastles, and when that gets boring, take the little ones on a boat ride around the area!

There are a few waterparks and museums on the island for a cloudy day too, that can keep the little ones occupied longer. Although there is less option than in bigger, busier Athens.

But again, as we mentioned, Santorini is better for adventurous families, and the main attractions are focused on island exploration, hiking and nature!

However overall, families might find Athens the better choice of the two. There’s so much more to do for families of all kinds there, and it’s usually all within easy reach of your accommodation.

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

Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons?

This is an easy one, and if you haven’t already made your conclusion from the above comparisons, we’re here to reiterate some points.

When looking for the ideal destination for romantic getaways, you look at spots with privacy and plenty of opportunity for intimate moments together.

Athens and Santorini can offer these experiences, but one stands out as a clear winner (at least as far as our love language goes) – and that’s Santorini.

Of course Athens offers a beautiful urban adventure to couples who don’t mind crowds. And there’s plenty of romance to be found in the city. After all, just imagine a candlelit dinner with spectacular views of the Parthenon.

The city is filled with stunning gardens and parks, where lovers can stroll beneath green trees and watch the bustle of the city pass by.

Athens is also known for its spectacular sunsets, and luckily for couples in love, there are plenty of stunning vistas to take perch, enjoy a quiet picnic and watch the sun dip below the horizon.

But Santorini offers an idyllic and rustic romantic destination for couples who want to spend more time focusing on each other rather than the world around them.

It’s so easy to fall in love in Santorini: the picturesque scenery, crystal clear waters, and the quaint villages that romance stories are built on.

We can’t deny it’s an island born from passion. After all, the mythology states it was Epheseus’ love that ushered it into this world, and you can’t get more romantic than that!

The villages are beautiful and small, with so many private nooks to explore with your partner’s hand in yours. Dive into local cuisine, dance with the buskers on the streets and slip away to private villas where you can enjoy late mornings and sea views.

Our vote is simple, Santorini is an undistracted place filled with wonder and all the things that romance is bred from.

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 Cheaper?

Budgeting and money are always concerning factors when booking a holiday away. But don’t worry. We’ve been there and know the struggle well.

Simply put, Athens is an attractive destination to budget travellers, thanks to its abundance of free activities, cheap accommodation and ease of travel.

This city is one of Greece’s leading tourist destinations, with plenty of historic architecture, cultural events, a bubbly nightlife scene, and so much more at the fingertips of any visitor.

Luckily for penny pinchers and those travelling with a shoestring budget, Athens might just be the perfect destination for you.

Hotels can be forgone for a cosy Airbnb. You can see the must-see sights without paying a dime, and finding your way around is as easy as putting your feet on the sidewalk.

It’s no wonder Athens attracts a plucky crowd of youthful backpackers throughout the year!

Santorini, however, sits further in the lap of luxury, and while it’s not impossible to visit on a shoestring budget, it just doesn’t offer the same financial freedom as Athens.

Budgeting in Santorini is a bit more suited to luxury tourism than much else. The hotels, resorts and villas attract looser wallets, but if you know where to look, you can still find some reasonable Airbnb or hostel.

Unfortunately, not as many of the activities in Santorini are free, as main attractions like visiting the volcano will require a boat fare at the very least.

And because it’s an island that caters to people with higher budgets, it has led to a steady increase in prices, making simple costs like food slightly more pricey than Athens.

Overall, Athens is a better choice if you’re looking for a holiday that won’t break the bank but will still make Nancy from the office insatiably jealous.

Charming street cafe on the stairs in Plaka district in Athens, Greece
iStock.com/zoom-zoom

Where To Stay According To Your Budget

Athens

Budget: Set in the heart of Athens in the neighborhood of Plaka, known for its quaint restaurants and coffee shops, is where you’ll find Sweet Home Hotel (see photos and rates).

This wonderfully decorated, friendly hotel is a great budget choice in Greece’s capital, and some of the rooms even have balconies with Acropolis views!

Luxury: There’s many five-star hotels in Athens, but in our mind Electra Metropolis (see photos and rates) is the best. Why? Well the service is world class, the location unbeatable, the rooftop pool is gorgeous, and the panoramic views towards the Acropolis are breathtaking.

But that’s not all – it’s also around half the price of other five-star hotels in the city.

Skyline of Athenth with Moanstiraki square and Acropolis hill, Athens Greece
iStock.com/neirfy

Santorini:

Budget: 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.

Luxury: 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.

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

When’s The Best Time To Visit?

Picking the right time for your vacation is crucial, like choosing the right flavour of ice cream. Just like you wouldn’t want to indulge in a hot fudge sundae during a snowstorm, you wouldn’t want to plan your beach getaway during rainy season.

Luckily, Santorini and Athens have temperate climates throughout the year, and no matter when you choose to go, you’ll still be able to enjoy some relaxing time off with your friends or family.

But it goes without saying there’s still a better time of year to choose. Depending on the type of traveller you are, you might prefer to pick off-season dates to save on your budget, or you’d like a sunnier season to take full advantage of the gorgeous beaches.

Athens bustles with activity throughout the year. But no matter the season you choose, you’ll still be able to enjoy the perfect Greek getaway there!

Luckily because of Athens’ thriving tourism industry, they rarely see a quiet period throughout the year. But, much like Santorini, Athens has seasons that suit some travel preferences better.

Summers often see people flocking to the ancient city of Athens for some much-needed R&R, like most holiday destinations. Unfortunately, this does mean that prices for flights and accommodations increase. While Athens is not exorbitant on the wallet, budget travellers should take note of this.

The ideal times for a vacation to this Greek city are Spring (March to May) and Autumn (September to November). The weather is still sunny without being overbearingly hot, and penny pinchers can save a buck on peak prices!

Santorini is beautiful throughout the year, with quiet Winters, a sunny and temperate Spring and Autumn, and bustling Summers.

Peak season is throughout the summer period, as expected, and sees a higher influx of tourism during July and August. The unfortunate downfall of booking during their peak season is that flights and accommodation prices skyrocket, but this offers no hindrance for luxury travellers.

For budget travellers and visitors who prefer the quieter island life, March through June and September to October are often good in Santorini. There is usually still beautiful beach conditions, and all the tourist attractions are still open.

Colorful panoramia of Oia town in Santorini, Greece
iStock.com/zoom-zoom

Which Is Easier To Get Around?

One often scary part of any venture to foreign lands is the how and what of getting around. Obviously, if you’re an avid explorer, you want as much freedom of movement as possible to spend more time running through your itinerary of must-visit tourist traps!

Athens is a busy, popular city, making it easily accessible through public transport and the good ol’ fashioned method of walking.

Many of the main attractions that worm their way onto our list of must-see sites are within a short distance of all accommodations in Athens, and those that aren’t are a simple taxi ride away!

Athens is a metropolis full of easy-to-use public transport mechanisms, including buses, trams and subways that’ll get you from A to B in a jiffy. But for those who prefer private luxuries, the airport offers plenty of rental opportunities if it’s within your budget.

Santorini is far more spread out than Athens but no less easy to navigate.

Luckily, the island is relatively small and boasts no shortage of transport methods to get you around. in peak tourism season there’s a comprehensive bus network that runs past Santorini’s must-see sites, and taxis are plentiful around the island.

For something a bit more on par with the island experience, you can also charter a boat to take you from A to B, and it’s surprisingly not as pricey as you think!

Obviously, a car rental is the best option for those wanting more freedom, and those are readily available at local vendors and some accommodations.

However in general Athens is slightly easier to navigate, especially if you’re looking to explore by foot!

Beautiful view on the
Erechtheion of Athenian Acropolis, the architectural masterpiece of Ancient Greece. Touristic place to visit.
iStock.com/Iryna Chubarova

Santorini vs Athens: Which Is The Better Choice?

At the end of the day, as always, each traveller has personal preferences that help them navigate to their next best holiday destination.

But as far as we’re concerned, if Santorini and Athens were in a boxing match, Santorini would have been knocked out in the first round.

Athens is, after all, Greece’s capital city and the central hub for all tourism activity throughout the nation.

Of course, it’s an unfair advantage, but top it all off with Athens’ stunning historical sites, abundance of activities, thrilling nightlife and young and vivacious attitude, we can’t see why you would disagree!

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  • Wandering our World

    Hi and welcome to Wandering our World! This article was written by one of the Wandering our World team - a team of travel enthusiasts who live around the globe.