Santorini vs Crete: Which Greek Island is Best?

crete or santorini
Photo by Konstantinos Papadopoulos on Unsplash

It is hard to make a decision on your next holiday when there are so many tantalising options, right? With so many Greek islands to choose from, you can feel a little spoilt for choice.

From larger islands full of activities that would take months to explore, to smaller islands with a slower pace of life: its hard to know which is right for you! Well, have no fear, we have taken two great options and pitted them against each other. Santorini vs Crete: which Greek island is better to visit?

Buckle up, for we are about to show you what you have in store if choosing one of these islands for your next holiday. How much will you spend, what is there to do? And where will you stay? All of this and so much more!

Santorini vs Crete: Accommodation

Santorini Hotel
View over the Caldera – Photo by Hello Lightbulb on Unsplash

The great thing about these islands is that there are accommodation options for every budget. But is it Santorini or Crete which is better in terms of hotels?

It is important to note that hotels in Santorini can sell out anywhere from 6 to 12 months in advance! So be quick if you want to stay somewhere decent. Accommodation can vary from hostels and apartment style suites to more luxury hotels throughout the island. The Adronis Boutique hotel in Oia is set into the rock, beautifully decorated in keeping with the simplistic island style. But don’t let the rustic feel fool you, it is pure luxury charm. The Cavo Tagoo will satisfy cravings for luxury and adventure with a room that has a private save pool set into the rock.

Mid-range options such as the Tataki and Anatoli hotels in Fira have all the modern amenities, including decent sized pool, hot-tubs and a beautiful rooms, many with decent views over the caldera!

in Crete, 5 star luxury is done incredibly well. The Blue Palace is well places to have epic views over the bay, complete with its own beach in front. The Mythos Palace Resort and Spa in Chania is a sweet spot to relax and take in the sun and sea, but also plan and book activities, with travel agents on hand to help you with excursions. And when the day is through, the spa is waiting.

For mid-rang luxury the Iberostar Creta Panorama & Mare is a beautiful setting in the midst of the town of Rethymno. With tasteful rooms, a large lagoon-like pool and great facilities for kids, it is perfect families. The Aphrodite Beach is great for couples, with a well sized pool, beautiful decor and stunning sunsets over the beach. Its location in Kissamoss is also perfect for exploring the local town.

Between Santorini and Crete, the latter greek island is better. With many more facilities for families, this is a great place to stay and explore, no matter your budget!

view over santorini
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Santorini vs Crete: Prices

In Santorini, average cost per room, per night is between 40-90 Euro. Luxury hotels can be anything up to 400. depending on where you are and the room you would want. Average costs per day per person are generally 110 Euro, which takes into account excursions and meals. The cost of a meal in a local restaurant can be as cheap as 15 euro per person, though a 3 course meal at a mid-range restaurant could be around 20 euro per person. even higher depending on where you go! The price of a local beer is generally around 3.50 euro, and a loaf of bread at the local shop is around 1.60 euro. A bottle of locally made wine is around 6 and 10 euro averagely.

As a larger island, Crete is slightly cheaper for shopping essentials, a loaf bread being around 1.20 euro. Local beer and a meal out is similarly priced to Santorini. A stay in a mid-range boutique hotel on average costs 50 to 90 euros per night, with more luxury hotels on average between 200-300 euro.

Whilst the Greek islands are apt to be slightly more expensive than the mainland, it is still a very affordable trip. Most couples can expect to pay around 7-800 per person per week during their stay. Even less if you shop in the local supermarkets!

A note on tipping: whilst it is so common as to be expected, it is not worked out by percentage. A good rule of thumb is to tip between 2 and 5 euro per for a meal, with tours being tipped at 5-10 euros. This will be the same wherever you are.

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Cretan Salad
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Santorini vs Crete: Food

One of the best things about the Mediterranean is the food. Always local, always fresh, and generally pretty good for you. even the desserts contain unrefined products and naturally occurring sugars. It figures really, the nation prides itself on traditional home-made fare. When it comes to food, the region has to have one of the lowest carbon footprints! But of Crete and Santorini, which is the best Greek island to visit for gastronomy?

Crete

It is said that the average consumption of olive oil (known as liquid gold) for a greek person in Crete is around 25 litres per year! Thats around 24 litres higher than the average American. The island is home to 1.5 million olive trees, and they eat more fruit and veggies on average than any other European country.

A delicious take on the traditional Greek salad, Cretan salad can also contain aubergine, peppers, egg or potato, topped with a soft goats cheese, not feta. Continuing the cheese theme, Kalitsounia is a traditional pie with sweet cheese inside. Similar to a custard Danish, and very delicious. For more exotic fare, try Chochlioi Boubouristi (Fried snails) pan fried with flour and oil. this is then drizzled with white wine before serving.

All to be topped-off with Raki, the famous local digestif! Comprised of the leftovers from the wine making process, it is distilled after sitting for six weeks. It status is similar to Greek Ouzo. Evíva! (Cheers!)

Santorini wine
Photo by Daniel Vogel on Unsplash

Santorini

A smaller island, you would be forgiven for thinking the food would be less diverse. Not so! Santorini’s inhabitants are dedicated to what they do with a fiery zest! Which is coincidentally what tends to go into their creations.

Domatokeftethes (Tomato fritters), takes tomatoes, courgettes, onion parsley and mint, mixes with flour to make a batter and deep fried in… olive oil! A delightful dish, delicious with creamy tzatziki and Koftas: a creation of ground lamb that appears to be crossed between a kebab and a sausage.

And we cannot talk about food without mentioning Mouasakka. Traditionally made using ground lamb and mixed spices, topped with yogurt, cheese and often aubergines before being baked in the oven. This simple combination creates complex flavours on the palate once cooked.

And this can all be washed down with Santorini wines! Winemaking is a serious business here, as grapes harvested are partially dried in the sun before being juiced. This process that gives the wines their sweetness, as the liquid is reduced. The wines of Santorini were made popular across Europe by the Venetians in the medieval period.

Indeed, Italy and Greece share a kinship in their approach to dining. Fresh whole foods and incredible wines are a must. Island hopping in Greece followed by a tour of Italy’s best spots would be a dream trip!

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As both islands share a love-affair with olive oil, you will find shops with shelves stuffed with bottles of all different sizes. A traditional gift to bring back for the family!

Red beach santorini
The red beach of Santorini – Photo by Ronak Mokashi on Unsplash

Santorini vs Crete: Beaches

One of the best thing about islands is: 360° coastlines and beaches galore! So both islands are bound to have something to enjoy, and of course that glorious azure blue sea. But is Santorini or Crete Greek island which is better for beaches?

Santorini

This island just pips the prize for the most interesting beaches. The red sand beach, just 12 km away from Fira, will stun you with its (you guessed it) majestic red sands, a startling contrast to the clear blue Aegean sea. There are also the black sands of Perissa beach! A beautiful, if very touristy, beach just a short hop from the site of Ancient Thera. these beaches generally stand amidst larger rock formations due to the volcanic makeup of the island. this being said, it means that the sand on the beaches takes on this grainy, volcanic feel. Sadly, no white powdery sand here. But, there is beauty in the surroundings!

Vlychada beach stands against a backdrop of pumice rock, whittled by winds and sea into a host of interesting formations. As a quieter beach with a couple of well-placed bars serving food and drinks, it is well placed for those wanting to escape the crowds. And if you fancy a skinny dip, there is a nudist area at the far end! Something for everyone indeed. And for something really wonderful head to the beach at Agios Nikolaos. After a steep ascension of 250 steps, scored from the red cliffs, you will find sandy beaches peppered with large volcanic boulders and quaint tavernas dotting the coastline. Take a dip in those fantastic blues of the ocean, swimming over to the chapel perched on the edge of a floating outcrop. If you seek things out of the ordinary, this place is for you!

Falassarna beach in crete
View of Falassarna Beach – Photo by elxeneize

Crete

Here we find those beaches doused in powdery white sand. If you are wanting those picture postcard moments, this is the best option for you. There are so many fantastic beaches, we have to narrow it down to just a handful here.

The Elafonisi beach is a true gem due to the pinkish hue of its white powdery sand. It looks out over the small isle of Elafonisi on the southwest of Crete. Shallow waters and soft sand make it a perfect family destination, but it does get busy in high season (between July and mid September).

Conversely, Falassarna’s beach is great for those looking to escape the crowds. Winds can be higher here, so less family-friendly but great for windsurfers and couples! Especially with sea-views going on forever, and sunsets apt to make your jaw drop. Stay for the evening and eat at one of the tavernas dotted on the hillside. For adventurers, Kommos beach is the one for you. Nestled next to the quaint fishing village of Matala, its sandy beaches and honey-coloured rock formations will have you entertained all day.

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With so many beautiful white sandy beaches, and lots of them to explore, Crete has something for everyone. in the battle of Crete vs Santorini, the better island to visit is certainly the largest.

rock climber in greece
Photo by Photobac

Santorini vs Crete: Attractions

Many tourists come to Greece each year to check out the historic sites. One reason for its popularity is the mythological stories that permeate the culture on both islands.

Crete is supposedly the birthplace of the Greek God Zeus, whilst Santorini, according to Mythology, formed when Euphemus (son of Poseidon and Aphrodite) threw a lump of earth into the sea, thus forming the island.

Geologists maintain Santorini formed after a Volcanic eruption, but it is these stories that bring these islands to life, giving a mystical air!

Crete

As the largest island of the two, Crete has many day trips. The West Crete full-day tour is a wonderful mix of culture, architecture and natural beauty. Taking in one of the larger cities of Heraklion, stopping by the Heraklion archaeological museum on your way to Chania, Rethymno and Lake Kournas is a great way to spend the day.

Tours are a great way to take in more of the island without hiring a car. You could even take off in a full-day Jeep tour, exploring the more rural areas of Mykonos!

But if a solo adventure is more your thing, this can be done at your own pace. The city of Chania is much admired for its stunning Venetian harbour, narrow streets and beautiful restaurants. It is places like this where the rich melding of Venetian, Greek and Ottoman architecture is truly highlighted. The city of Knossos, said to be Europe’s oldest city, is also worth a visit!

Aside from these more sedate pursuits, outdoor activities are abundant. Rock climbing and abseiling is available from Calypso beach in south of Plakias, as well as quad-biking and archery around the island. And of course, Scuba diving! Take to the water at the interestingly titled Pirates Fjord to observe the native wildlife hiding amidst the rocks.

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wine tour santorini
Photo by Pressmaster

Santorini

As one of the smaller Greek islands, Santorini has slower pace of life. Vineyard tours and wine tasting, sailing trips of the surrounding islands, and lunch or dinner cruises will colour your days. If you are after something a little more exciting, visit the Volcano and hot-springs! Take in islets only accessible via boat-ride, hike up the Volcano of Nea Kameni, and end the trip relaxing in the hot springs of Palea Kameni.

Tourists can also spend whole days walking the streets to sample the delicious local food and wines native to the island. Or getting a flavour of traditional cuisine in a cookery class. There is plenty of ancient history here too. The Akrotiri archaeological site will more than amaze with the remains of the Venetian castle and Bronze-age settlements. The settlement is said to have been dated back to around the 5000 BC, making it the oldest on the island.

15 km from Akrotiri, is the town of Fira. Here, beautiful pure white facades amazing views of the famous Caldera cliffs await. Plenty to keep you occupied, and plenty of space to relax when exhausted from a days activities!

Santorini Caldera
Photo by Michaela on Unsplash

Santorini vs Crete: Accessibility

Getting to the islands is not too difficult, but there are a few ways to arrive! And once you are there, is it accessible to the differently abled?

Lets explore the options:

Getting There

To get to Crete, many flights route through Athens before connecting to either Heraklion or Chana. But there are also direct flights to the island of Kos, connecting with a flight to Heraklion. These options are very affordable, but it’s worth checking both options before you buy.

Once in Athens, you could also take a ferry from the port of Piareus to Heraklion. Taking a high speed ferry gives the option of taking a hire-car from the mainland. Ferries from here often operate overnight, but you can book either seats or a private cabin.

Santorini is similarly placed with indirect flights via Athens. But flights from Milan, Venice or Rome in Italy are also possible. Ferries to and from Thira make island hopping super easy. Ferries from the port of Pireaus to Thira will take anywhere between 5 and 9 hours. A Santorini ferry ticket will cost you around 20 to 40 euro, depending on where you come from.

Accessibility in Greece
Photo by Hans Moerman on Unsplash

Disabled Access

When it comes to the debate between Santorini or Crete: which Greek island is better, we need to talk about wheelchair access.

Since collaborating with the National Confederation of Disabled People, the town of Rethymo in Crete has become somewhat of a haven for wheelchair users. Most, if not all, stunning beaches are wheelchair accessible. The town itself is also fairly flat, which is uncommon on these islands.

This is caveat. Not all Cretan cities are as forward thinking. Many old streets are narrow, as are access doors and steps for many shops, bars and restaurants. Hotels can be similarly placed. But, hope comes in the form of Eria Travel! An agency dedicated to building holidays in Crete for those with disabilities. Their extensive knowledge of the island will mean people of all abilities will have the trip of a lifetime!

Unfortunately, Sanotrini not as accessible. Steep hills, cobbled streets and many steps throughout towns, make it difficult for wheelchair users to navigate. Taxi’s are available to book, though these are limited to the flatter areas of the island. Peaks seasons (July to September) are also very crowded, with cruise ships docking in the port 4 days per week. Whilst there are some accessible hotels, the most being in Fira and Kamari, the island itself is difficult to navigate.

view over crete
Photo by Stefan Kunze on Unsplash

Santorini or Crete: Where is better?

So, the ballots are in. Santorini vs Crete, which Greek island is better?

With so many more options for hotels, amazing sandy white beaches, and better all-round accessibility, there is one clear winner: Crete! Santorini is great for couples, and has the volcanic-rock factor to make it a super interesting place. This much is true. But with Cretes capability to cater for kids and adults alike, and with so much space to explore, it truly does have something for everyone. Ultimate relaxation, high-octane fun, natural beauty, or historical highlights, you can find it all here! And all with those glorious tavernas and local restaurants serving beautiful Greek dishes, all day long. If you enjoyed reading this article, share it with your friends on social media.

Sorry Santorini, you are still beautiful! Better luck next time.

And while we are on the subject, lets face it—islands are where it’s at! So why don’t we continue our island hopping, and fill out your calendar for 2021, one holiday at a time!

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