Coastline of Greek island with white buildings and bright yellow door
Brittany Smith

Greece Travel Guide: How to Explore the Best of Mykonos and Santorini

While we often travel off the beaten path, sometimes you need to step on storied grounds. You want to see the Eiffel Tower twinkling like a million frenzied lightning bugs at night and amble through Rome‘s ancient attractions, imagining gladiatorial combat. So, when planning a trip to Greece for the first time, you’re no doubt enchanted by Mykonos and Santorini. Let’s be clear: You should be. This Greece travel guide has first timers in mind, covering the very best of both.

Let’s start with Mykonos, a locale of total duality. It sits within the Cyclades island group, which forms a ring around the sacred island of Delos. The Aegean Sea laps against the volcanic island’s steep, craggy cliffsides, its waters clear yet intensely pigmented: sapphire blue tinged teal.

Greece Travel Guide: How to Explore the Best of Mykonos and Santorini

Mykonos is affectionately called the island of the winds, known as much for its Ibiza-rivaling, hard-charging nightlife as it is for its ancient windmill-strewn towns. You can cover its 40-square miles in a few days with no sense of urgency. To get here, fly into Athens, then take a quick connecting flight to Mykonos.

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Best time to go: Greece’s peak season is mid-June through August with May, September, and early October being the off-season. Mykonos practically shuts down after the first week in October with Santorini following suit shortly after.

Luxury white-washed hotel suite with pool and island view
Take a dip in your private cool-water plunge pool to beat the heat. Brittany Smith

Katikies Mykonos and Katikies Villas Mykonos materialize your island-getaway fantasies. The property is a 10-minute drive from the airport and about 10 to 15 minutes from Mykonos town, which you can get to via the property’s private transfer service. You can also book an external driver, as well as utilize local buses, taxis, scooters, and even ATVs. 

Katikies Mykonos is perched above the ever-popular Agios Ioannis Beach. The property has an almost amphitheater design, with 35 suites available across seven categories. Nearly all have a private veranda and either a private cool-water pool or jetted tub. Just note with this tiered layout, the verandas look out onto some incredible vistas, but also that of your neighbors’ sun loungers and pools, so just be mindful you can give or get an eyeful.

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For the upper tier of accommodations, book the Katikies Suite or The Master Suite both with private pool and sea view. On theme with Mykonos’ classic white-washed, minimalist architecture, the rooms sidestep maximalism to let the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape take center stage. The interior is classic and clean with hits of royal blue on pillows and headboards, and MALIN+GOETZ toiletries in the shower and bath.

While this is a five-star property, there’s no pretension or urgency, encouraging sandy retreats from the beach to your private pool and hours-long dinners accompanied by wine and cocktails. Because this property is tucked away, its atmosphere is more hushed and mellow.

White-washed hotel dining area in daytime
A classic palate fit for relaxation: Katikies Mykonos Lower Deck Lounge. Brittany Smith

Day 1 in Mykonos

Enjoy breakfast at the Lower Deck Lounge, gazing out at olive trees or reading a book. Indulge in caramelized tsoureki, a sweet treat akin to French toast with coffee-flavored whipped cream and apricot jam, or opt for lighter fare like kagianas (scrambled eggs with tomato, feta cheese, and oregano).

After, mosey to the Champagne Bar by Fleur de Miraval. The name might ring a bell: The French Champagne house is producing high-regarded bubbly in collaboration with Brad Pitt and the venerated Perrin and Péters families. Laze about on sun loungers framing the infinity pool, or book a treatment at the property’s spa. You can nab a multitude of suites named after mythological gods and goddesses that have a private steam room, shower, and twin massage beds, or simply pop in for a hot-stone massage.

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Come lunchtime, eat your way through the property’s fusion sushi and caviar menu. It boasts classics like tuna tataki and salmon sashimi, as well as Mykonian-influenced rolls like Greek Summer Uramaki with tomato, cucumber, capers, olives, and feta. Be sure to sample the Greek Thesauri caviar, as well as mainstays such as Beluga, Baerii, and Ossetra with toasted bread or lemon double sour cream.

Fresh seafood spread on table by beach
At Hippie Fish, the vibes are high and sandy feet are encouraged. Courtesy Image

Alternatively, walk over to Hippie Fish at Agios Ioannis Beach if you fancy a trendy seaside restaurant and beach club. You don’t even have to shake off your sun-baked stupor. The thatched-roof eatery is steps from the sunbeds, and you can even choose to eat on the beach. Hippie Fish prioritizes fresh, consciously caught ingredients, offering up seafood-studded paella, a grilled catch of the day, feta-stuffed calamari, and sushi. Don’t leave without a cocktail from its bar, Hip Mixology. Alemagou Beach Club is another top choice for travelers seeking a cabana-strewn beach with an authentic restaurant that offers sunset DJ sets.

If you don’t want a beach club experience, seek out Agios Sostis Beach, where locals go to evade the pomp and circumstance of fiery festival energy. Here, you’ll find Kiki’s Taverna, a rustic eatery where they cook without electricity. Word to the wise: Get here early. A line forms quickly, though chilled wine is passed around to patient patrons. After you nosh on grilled pork chop, marinated octopus, and a salad bar to end all salad bars, go to the beach to nap off your subsequent food coma.

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A more hushed beach escape can be found at Kapari Beach, a short walk from Katikies Mykonos and Agios Ioannis. It has all the seclusion of a private beach, especially if you go closer to the off-season. If it does happen to be busy, sprawl out on the smooth, flat rocks along the waterline. The water here is typically very still and clear, perfect for swimming. And if you really want respite from other humans, head to Loulos, a pebbled beach across Mykonos within Kalafati.

In the evening, head to Mykonos town to meander the cobblestone streets, admiring the flowering bougainvillea trees and shopping for linen wares before dinner.

Seaside tables for dining
Little Venice—as charming and as colorful as its Italian counterpart. AXP Photography/Unsplash

Day 2 in Mykonos

As we mentioned, this is the island of the winds. If you’re a water sports buff, you’ve got a menagerie of adventure. For wind surfing, go to Ftelia or Kórfos on the north end, Kalafátis to the south, or Platis Gialis on the west side; each has equipment rentals and courses for first-timers. For something less laborious, go jet skiing within the bay at Kalafátis or Eliá.

Meander Hora, the old town, making stops at the venerated windmills, erected in the early 16th century to produce wheat and barley (now out of commission), and Little Venice—inspired by Venice proper when the island was under Venetian rule. Stop at one of the waterfront cafes to sip a freddo espresso (espresso blended in a frother) and marvel at the white-washed buildings with cherry red and royal blue balconies, doors, and shutters.

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For lunch, hit up Taverna Tasos. In operation since 1962, it’s steeped in tradition and situated on prime real estate just steps from Paraga Beach. Like many of the most popular eateries in Mykonos, you can sunbake on a lounger, then go up to the deck for grilled shrimp and octopus; steamed mussels; and taramasalata, a dip made from fish roe. Start the meal off with ouzo, a classic, dry, anise-flavored aperitif made of unfermented juice pressed from grapes during winemaking. 

Infinity pool overlooking sea
Courtesy Image

Head back to Katikies Mykonos for a dip in the pool at the Upper Deck Lounge Pool. The infinity pool seemingly stretches out over the Aegean Sea and lends the most stupefying views of any spot at the property.

Come evening, make your way to Scorpios—in the south of Mykonos, on a peninsula fringed by Kavos and Paraga Beach—which could very well earn itself a bid as the next location for The White Lotus. It has the perfect alchemy: hypnotic atmosphere, sensational food and drink, and a buzzing clientele that hits full throttle come nightfall.

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Seaside open-air restaurant with wood furniture
Scorpios: a lesson in cool, casual elegance. Courtesy Image

Oozing bohemian minimalism with weather-worn stone, thatched roofs, and open-air terraces, the 6,000-square-meter property encapsulates an ethos of togetherness and presence: Feast on shared plates of ceviche, Mexican croquettes, and ouzo-stewed shrimp at the fusion restaurant, then cluster onto the low-slung couches along the cliffside to enjoy cocktails as the sun slinks below the sea.

In 2019, Scorpios joined the Soho House family, so Soho House members have priority entrance to Scorpios, as well as exclusive access to the property’s neighboring Soho Roc House hotel and members’ club.

White-stone restaurant with thatched roof
At Rizes Restaurant, it feels like you’re visiting family for a meal. Courtesy Image

If you have more time to spend in Mykonos, pay a visit to Fokos Taverna and Rizes Restaurant to get your fill of traditional Mykonian cuisine; bop into the Aegean Maritime Museum for a dose of history; and journey to the uninhabited island of Rineia (only accessible by boat) to frequent even more heavenly beaches.

Early the next morning, set up transfer to Mykonos port and take a ferry boat via SeaJets to Santorini.

Private pool overlooking sea
Honeymoon Suite at Katikies Santorini. Courtesy Image

Santorini looks like an island pulled from the imagination of a Disney sketch artist. Back in 16th century BC, a volcanic eruption obliterated the once-circular island. Santorini’s center sunk below the sea, creating a caldera (crater) to form with tall precipitous cliffs rising to the east. Commercial developers zeroed in on the island’s west side, Jenga-ing white-washed buildings all along the cliffs of the now-crescent-shaped island.

The two main towns are Oia and Fira, the island’s capital, which stretches north into villages lined with hotels, eateries and, yes, dazzling lookout points.

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When staying in Santorini, Katikies has a few properties to choose among, each with its own unique personality. For the quintessential I’m-staying-in-a-postcard-experience, Katikies Santorini is as classic as it gets with similar minimalist decor to its sister Mykonos property, and a central location in Oia.

Rooftop pool with sun loungers overlooking Grecian island
Katikies Gardens has a pool view that’s hard to beat. Courtesy Image

Located in Fira, Katikies Garden provides a beguiling experience for guests as its 40 bespoke suites and grounds were once a Catholic monastery. The rooms all have a private garden (as in real grass) or veranda, with a luxe color palate of emerald green and blush pink. Many original details—like flooring—have prevailed from the monastery, lending a certain mystique to the property that feels transcendent and transportive, rather than cold or impersonal.

For those seeking something hip and design-forward, Chromata Santorini is a shoo-in. Descend the stone-carved steps to the adults-only cave hotel and enter all-white digs. It’s situated on the highest point in Imerovigli village (aka the “Balcony on the Aegean”), at the center of the island, and delivers 180-degree views on the rim of the caldera.

Cliffside white-washed dwellings at sunset
Santorini, a massage for the eyeballs. Brittany Smith

Day 3 in Santorini

If you’ve made Katikies Santorini your basecamp, have lunch at the Lounge or Upper Deck. It offers a tsibologima menu based off the Greek tradition of small bites—snacking dishes easily shared and eaten by hand (think crab croquettes, prawn tacos, and classic Greek spreads including fish roe, fava, and tzatziki).

Grecian building at nighttime and seaside cliff view
A sunset stroll through Oia doesn’t disappoint. Brittany Smith

Spend the evening hiking from Oia to Ammoudi Bay—an easy traipse that’s roughly one mile round-trip. If you go in the afternoon, you’ll bask in the golden-hour sun, pass 15th-century Agios Nikolaos Castle, and weave along to the cliffs above the fishing port of Ammoudi. You can also stroll down Nomikos Street in Oia for shopping as an alternative.

Zucchini and truffle tart made of phyllo pastry
Humble ingredients become edible works of art with gastronomical ingenuity. Courtesy Image

For dinner, head back to Katikies Santorini for a 12-course gastronomical masterpiece at Botrini’s. The Michelin-starred restaurant’s degustation menu comes with the option to add a Greek and international wine pairing curated by Master of Wine Yiannis Karakasis—one of only a few hundred in the world to hold such a distinction.

The tasting menu changes, but standouts from our experience included a wild mushroom macaron; a chickpea tartlet with sea shells, peas, and crème fraîche; a zucchini and truffle tart made of phyllo pastry; and milk-fed lamb with aubergine. The dining area frames a pool lit with small lights meant to resemble stars and, of course, is positioned to give you a front-row seat to all those illuminated white-washed dwellings stacked along the cliffside.

Breakfast spread of eggs benedict and nutella-covered waffle
Courtesy Image

Day 4 in Santorini

Break your fast on the Katikies Santorini Lower Deck with eggs Benedict or decadent pancakes, then get ready for a sea voyage. Katikies exclusively offers guests curated tours on one of three luxury motor yachts, the largest being 63-feet long with capacity for up to eight passengers. Make sure to set this up in advance of your trip (and note it’s subject to cancellation if winds are too strong).

You can opt between a four-hour day or sunset cruise (or even multi-day tours) with specific itineraries dictated by the property—or inspired by a destination you’d like to see within the caldera. For instance, you can cruise to Folegandros or Ios Island, or simply stop along spots to swim in the crystalline azure water. The crew will prepare lunch onboard, and even serve wine, Champagne, and cocktails on request. All voyages take off out of Vlychada Port.

Grecian white-washed buildings on cliff with church
Enchanting views along the yacht tour include churches tucked into the cliffside and Ammoudi Bay fishing port. Brittany Smith

Back on shore, head to Katikies Kirini for a sports massage or the signature Katikies Spa Symphony Ritual, which comprises exfoliation using fine Caribbean Sea sand, coconut oil, and fresh papaya mousse; a massage with avocado oil, pure coconut, or camphor and menthol oil; and a facial massage that ends with a face mask.

If you’d rather keep your buzz going, head to Santo Winery. Operating since 1911, the winery doesn’t have a bad seat in the house, with tables on the open patio (as well as a covered section), terraced seating along the cliffside, and indoors all offering top-of-the-caldera views.

A little history about winemaking in Greece: Because the island is susceptible to incredibly strong winds, grapevines are pruned into wreaths or nests with grape bunches nestled inside like eggs. You’ll see this ingenious, ancient trellis system (aka kouloura) along the sides of roads. Leaves then grow above the branches to create a sort of umbrella over the grapes so they don’t burn in intense sunlight; they need warmth but not exposure. This also helps keep humidity in because it’s close to the ground where it’s cooler. The grapes are irrigated from rainfall in the winter, as well as humidity from the sea during the summer. Greece’s volcanic terroir lends an optimal environment for acidic wines. For instance, pumice absorbs water and provides salinity to grape varietals. Another local favorite is Domaine Sigalas Winery should you want something less touristy.

Chrome art installation on ceiling in photo right with man pouring olive oil in small dish to left
Therasia plays with convention and modernity, mixing aesthetics and cuisines with mastery. Courtesy Image

Now that you’ve worked up an appetite, it’s only right you do the tasting menu at Therasia at Katikies Kirini. The interior is modern yet funky, with off-kilter lamps fixed to walls and chrome ceiling art—though we’ll always recommend eating outside for the views. Chef Ettore Botrini brings a Tuscan element to his fine-dining dishes. Highlights include smoked prawn with tomato and feta; crudo with citrus gastrique; beef fillet with thyme, potato terrine, truffle; and lemon cream with cold passionata as a riff on limoncello.

If you choose to do something more casual for dinner, consider catching a movie after at the Open Air Cinema in Kamari, roughly a 12-minute drive from Fira and 25 minutes from Oia. Doors open at 8:30p.m. with the movie starting promptly at 9:30p.m.

Day 5 in Santorini

Use your morning to explore. You can be ambitious and hike Fira to Oia, or just choose snack-size hikes along the route. Imergovigli to Skaros Rock is like a walking history tour. During the 13th century, Skaros Rock was once the medieval capital of Santorini. It was fortified by the Byzantine Empire to protect its inhabitants from pirates. However, volcanic eruptions in the 17th century and earthquakes in the 18th century obliterated most of the village, so the rock is more or less all that’s left of the fortress.

Another option is to visit Pyrgos town for authentic tavernas, then hike or drive 5K to Prophet Elias Monastery, a fortress erected in 1711. We also recommend a guided tour of Akrotiti Archeological Site, considered “Greek Pompeii” because the site was abandoned by earthquakes, then covered in ash following volcanic eruptions. The excavations and wall paintings are well-preserved and offer a great glimpse into the Bronze Age settlement.

Grecian fishing port with octopus drying in sun
Not just for show, octopuses are hung to bake in the sun before getting grilled up at Sunset Taverna. Brittany Smith

Come lunchtime, make your way to Ammoudi Sunset Taverna, a seaside tavern that sits at the underbelly of Oia’s brick-red cliffs and the old port of Ammoudi bay, where fishermen would unload the day’s catch from their caïques, traditional wood fishing boats. Nothing about this spot is ostentatious; it’s everything you’d want from a Santorinian meal. Octopus is hung for at least a day to get sunbaked and tenderized, then grilled with minimal spices to let its purest flavor come through. Sample seafood meze the likes of steamed mussels in local white wine, fried calamari, and whole fish cooked in charcoal.

While in Ammoudi Bay, consider going swimming and cliff jumping at Ammoudi Beach—less beach, more craggy volcanic rock. You’ll follow a crumbly pathway along the base of the cliff, beneath the Venetian Castle, with some scrambling across boulders required. There’s a sizable concrete platform sandwiched between the rocks where swimmers can lounge on (be sure to pack a towel and sturdy sandals with straps), but to get to the cliff-jumping platform, you’ll need to swim from shore and heave yourself up to get to the Isle of St. Nicholas.

Underground wine cellar
A wine tasting at Selene is like stepping back in time. Courtesy Image

Later in the evening, go to Selene Wine Caves at Katikies Garden, where thematic wine tastings and pairings are done. Taste assyrtiko, a local white wine varietal; skin-contact brousko wine; vinsanto, a naturally sweet white wine from sun-dried grapes; and more, all from local wineries like Santo Wines, Estate Argyros, Gaia Wines, Artemis Karamolegos, and Selene.

After, head upstairs to Selene Restaurant. You can order a la carte from its menu or go the tasting route with Full Moon, Harvest Moon, and Mnēmes menus on offer. We recommend Full Moon. The restaurant’s anhydrous tomato tart is a masterpiece; anhydrous means no water is added, just the moisture from the tomatoes is used. Flavors and presentation mirror Santorinian history with dishes like Gazing From Skaros Rock (marinated “skaros” fish, fig, and fennel) and Landscapes of Pumice (smoked eel, crunchy waffle, “fava,” capers, and pollen).

The experience blurs time, lending a contemporary take on Greek traditions. It’s also a fitting end to your time in Santorini—sipping local wine from an underground cellar, which was once used to export wine to the Vatican. We may be a ways from anything close to teleportation, but this is as good as any time machine…

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