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Greek Islands: Crete or Santorini?

Hey I’ve been planning the Greek portion of my European trip and I find myself having 3 extra days in Greece. I haven’t included any islands because it was so brief with only 4 nights. My plan was to see Athens and Delphi but now that I have closer to a week, I like the idea of adding an island to round out my first Greek visit.

I would prefer an island with an airport which is why I said Crete or Santorini. With only 3 nights and 2 full days, what island seems to make the most sense? Crete reminds me of mythology and santorini reminds me of those gorgeous cliffs.

I could potentially go to Hydra for a few nights, though the logistics seem annoying because I can neither fly to or out of that island.

Posted by
1804 posts

Santorini because you need a week to appreciate Crete. Three nights is all you need for Santorini.

Posted by
3479 posts

We spent 4 nights in Santorini and felt 3 nights would suffice. We took an excellent island bus tour one day and would highly recommend it. We enjoyed staying in Firostefani away from the crowd in Oia. We did take a bus there in the am & that was great. Firostefani has the same stunning Caldera view as Oia. We walked to Fira another great area for restaurants…. We flew back from Santorini to Athens the night before our departure.

Posted by
2951 posts

Crete is huge and it takes a minimum of a week with a rental car just to barely scratch the surface. Santorini would be a better "fit" considering your limited time frame.

Posted by
1117 posts

Santorini, absolutely. In addition to what has already been said, with your limited time frame, you want the maximum of "spectacular".

We spent 4 nights in Santorini and felt 3 nights would suffice.

We spent two weeks in Santorini and enjoyed every minute. :-)

Posted by
4698 posts

We spent three nights in Santorini and that was two night too many. Yes, it is spectacular to see the houses with blue roof tumbling down the cliffside, but, unless you love shopping and unless you have a pool, there are no beaches and really nothing else to do. Eat, shop and battle with the Instagram influencers in their rented billowing dresses. I really don't need to go back. Now Naxos, which is a short ferry ride away - I will go back to again and again.

Posted by
454 posts

You do not have enough time for Crete, even if you rent a car. Our three night stay in Santorini was perfect. We loved the island, and were happy that we chose to stay in Firostefani rather than Oia. Wine tasting and lunch at Venetsanos was terrific so was our catamaran tour/lunch. Things may have changed recently, but we flew to Naxos. I would recommend checking that out as one of your options. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay there as well.

Posted by
1117 posts

unless you love shopping and unless you have a pool, there are no
beaches and really nothing else to do

Everybody has a right to their own tastes and preferences, but I do beg to differ. The beaches may not be your iconic white beaches with the instagram-perfect palm tree, but Santorini certainly does have beaches.

And there is so much to do! Santorini has two very notable archaeological sites. It has, or rather: it consists of a volcanic crater, and you can take boat tours to the volcanic islands in the center of the caldera. You can hike along the crater rim. You can do a wine tasting.

If there are two things I wouldn't particularly look for on Santorini, it would be shopping and pools. It's difficult as is for Santorini to supply tourists with the amounts of drinking water they require.

Having said that, I would go to Santorini for the spectacular, not for a prolonged vacation or for relaxing.

Posted by
3479 posts

I would agree with Emily’s take on Naxos. We spent a week on St. George Beach, toured the island, & enjoyed the wonderful cuisine. We would definitely return. IMHO Naxos merits at least 4 nights. We would definitely return!

Posted by
8014 posts

Personally, I would choose Naxos or Paros. Santorini has the big caldera view and ancient Akrotiri which is a must see. Three nights fits Santorini well.

Posted by
135 posts

Ok awesome you guys thanks! :)

I just looked it up and saw Naxos and Paros both have airports, so great suggestion Suki :)

I chose Santorini as an option because it had an airport and looks beautiful, but I’m certainly open to other island suggestions. My goal is the have an authentic “Greek island” experience, so maybe there are better options to consider?

Posted by
1799 posts

Santorini is beautiful but yes, along the caldera it is very Disneyesque. Away from caldera, it is not. Still we very much enjoyed our visit there.

We went to Naxos as well as Santorini and there is no doubt that Naxos is a more authentic Greek experience.

There are flights as noted, but not as many as Santorini.

Posted by
1117 posts

"Disneyland", to me, implies that something is inauthentic and fake. It's o.k. not to like Santorini, but the caldera is neither inauthentic nor fake. Akrotiri and Ancient Thera are in no way disneyesque, they are the real thing, and they are simply amazing archaeological sites. The blue dome churches you have seen on every Greece poster haven't been set up there as a stage backdrop, they are real churches that were there way before the first tourist ever set foot on the island.

There is a tourism industry that does have its kitschy or unpleasant sides, but it is quite easy to avoid the worst of that. Simply don't choose your hotel in Fira within the walking radius of the cruiseship tourists, or in Oia near the main sunset views.

Posted by
1799 posts

Anna,

That is fair. I did enjoy Santorini, especially away from touristed areas. The hike between Oia and Fira was simply the most beautiful I have ever done.

To me the fake part was not even the crowds but the way accommodations in particular were designed to appeal to high end tourists. It gave the island a bit of a Club Med vibe.

Posted by
4698 posts

I would like to clarify that Santorini is gorgeous and deserves one day. If you are in the area, you must see it.

Posted by
3479 posts

If you do decide to visit Santorini & are interested in a guided bus tour we took a similar itinerary shown in the website below. Our Hotel gave us the information. It was the highlight of our time in Santorini. The only change we made was to skip the evening in Oia to avoid the crowd. We took a bus the following am to Oia. We didn’t feel we missed the evening view because we had the same Caldera view from quiet Firostefani. https://www.greeka.com/cyclades/santorini/tours/s5-santorini-day-bus-tour/
Edited to add: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/greece/firostefani-vs-oia

Posted by
787 posts

I went to Herakion and Chania in Crete, for 3 days and 2 nights. I would have been as happy if I had skipped Crete and seen Olympia in Western Greece. Santorini looked quite appealing. I didn't make time for Santorini. I would have been as happy if I had skipped Crete and seen Santorini. It is not necessarily necessary to spend 6 days on Crete to be happy with going to Crete. It is not necessarily necessary to see Crete comprehensively. But I could have found enough in Crete to occupy myself for at least 6 days, between museums and hiking or various sites. Santorini could occupy you for 2 to 4 days. That's where to go. Everybody else is right.

Posted by
1022 posts

Here is why people are suggesting Naxos for an authentic Greek experience. Naxos is similar to Crete in many ways, great beaches, beautiful main town topped by a Venetian era Kastro, mountain villages a smattering of antiquities and the locals are happy that you have chosen their island.
Here is what it is like
Naxos town https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157632094558042
Trip around Naxos https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157634605629689
Naxos sunsets https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157700728046481
Naxos 2017 https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157663620712358

Posted by
212 posts

I'd do Crete. Yes you need more time...but I could days around Chania and go to the Blue Lagoon. Plus Crete is the best food in Greece

Posted by
8014 posts

Now that you say you want an” authentic Greek experience” do not go to Santorini! We felt like we had left Greece while there. Go to Paros, Naxos or with more time, Crete.

Posted by
2746 posts

I don’t know for sure, I have not been to Crete! Currently planning it for June.

However I don’t agree with the idea that you automatically need a lot of time because it’s a big island. I’m going off my Sicily experience. To see multiple parts of a large island like Sicily or Crete, yes you need a couple weeks. But large islands have cities and regions, so if you want to pick one and see some of it in 3 days…great. One could not see Sicily in 3 days but one could have a lively visit to Palermo OR Siracusa OR…in that time. I presume the same for Crete. Fly to Chania and see it and a day trip to one of the beach areas. Or fly to Heraklion and the same. As I said, I have not been to Crete, but if one of those smaller sections near an airport in Crete appeals to you I see no reason why you can’t. As long as you don’t try to see 3 regions in 3 days and are ok limiting to one airport city and a day trip!

Posted by
5630 posts

That is like comparing Texas to Rhode Island.
Crete is huge and deserves a week to see, perhaps more.

I visited both Santorini and one port in Crete (took tour to Knossos). Santorini is special and can be done in a day or two.

With the time you have, I would do Santorini.

Posted by
9 posts

Both are amazing!

If you choose Crete- there is the Knossos Palace and the Archaeological Museum.
Yes, there is also mythology and the Zeus caves (though these have been closed).

In Santorini, you can see the cliffs but there is also Akrotiri (the Pompeii of Greece), though this civilization was around at the same time as the Minoans and Knossos (1600 BC rather than 79AD of Pompeii). So you could get the best of both worlds in Santorini if needing to choose.

Posted by
1117 posts

That is like comparing Texas to Rhode Island.

Very nice comparison. :-) Exploring Texas in two days might be a bit of a challenge too. :D