Ios Or Mykonos? Which Cycladic Island Should I Visit?

Ios or Mykonos
Photo by pamiexclusivtravel/Pixabay
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So, you’re thinking Ios or Mykonos for this year’s trip to Greece. We’re jealous. Both of these isles are pretty fantastic to say the least. We’re talking classic Cyclades stuff – whitewashed port towns with blue-painted Orthodox churches, gold-sand beaches that run between packs of sunbeds, seas that shimmer so blue they almost shout “please come snorkel in me”. You get the idea.

But which one’s better? Neither really. They are just slightly different. Both happen to be famed for their no-holds-barred nightlife, but then Mykonos has more built-up coastlines, while Ios offers secluded coves and beaches to those willing to leave behind the buzzing Chora. One is probably going to be pricier than the other, but you will get to sample some of the chicest cocktail bars and best fine dining this side of Athens. Swings. Roundabouts.

This guide to Ios or Mykonos will run through a number of the key things that every traveler is going to consider when they come to decide where they want to go in Greece. It will compare the top beaches and the most happening nightlife and a whole load more to help you pick where’s best for you this season.

Ios or Mykonos for nightlife?

Ios sunset
Photo by Raimond Klavins/Unsplash

Here’s a tricky one. Both Ios and Mykonos are hallowed ground for hedonists. They’re both famed all over the Mediterranean as places to let loose in the summer. We can tell you right now that you won’t be disappointed on either if you’re coming to Greece to dance, drink, and feel merry.

The nightlife on Mykonos is centered on a strip of resorts that ring around the south-western edge of the island. The most famous among them are Paradise Beach and Super Paradise Beach, which host the likes of boho-cool Jackie O’ Beach Club and the legendary Cavo Paradiso (two of Greece’s top venues). DJs spin there but they also spin in the intimate pubs and dance bars of Mykonos Town, which is probably the most off-the-hook partying on the island. Places there include the sunset bars of Little Venice and the rollicking Skandinavian Bar. Mykonos also happens to be the best LGBTQ+ nightlife spot in Greece.

Ios is a little similar to Mykonos in terms of nightlife style in that there are plenty of chic, sleek sunset bars offering cocktails. However, there’s also a clear touch of the 18-30s party vibe. That comes courtesy of venues like Disco 69, the R&B haven of Coo Bar, and backpacker fav Slammer (home to a particularly curious house shot!). They will stay open ALL night long between June and August. Virtually all of them are located in the island capital of Chora, leaving the rest of Ios pretty quiet on the nightlife front.

Winner: Draw. These are two behemoth nightlife destinations.

Ios or Mykonos for beaches?

A beach in Ios
Photo by Matthew Waring/Unsplash

Don’t worry – you won’t be short on beaches on either island. You get classic Cycladic bays on both. That means oodles of sparkling yellow sand, a backing of rugged scrub hills, and the occasional charming beach town with whitewashed tavernas on the shore.

Mykonos probably trumps the competition when it comes to built-up and organized beaches. Only one – Mylopotas Beach – really fits that bill on Ios. But there’s almost not enough room to list them all here when it comes to Mykonos. They run from Ornos with its duo of sands hemmed in by deluxe cottages, through A-lister Psarou Beach, the jet-setter haven, to Paradise Beach with its cool clubs. You will never be short on sunbeds and cocktails served on the sand if you choose any of the above.

What we’d say Mykonos can’t do as well as Ios is deserted beaches. Most people on Ios spend their whole trip on the west coast, either in the aforementioned Mylopotas or close to the Chora nightlife spots. That’s just a minute fraction of what the island has up its sleeve when it comes to spectacular coastline, though. Go east and there’s Agia Theodoti, an untouched run of daffodil-tinged powder with high hills around it. Go south to find Magganari, where snorkeling coves and softly lapping waves converge on family B&Bs.

Winner: We’re going to plump for Ios here, but only because we’ve got a thing for more deserted beaches.

Ios or Mykonos for ease of travel?

Mykonos' Little Venice
Photo by designermikele/Pixabay

Mykonos is widely seen as one of the gateways to the central Aegean. Folk planning a cross-Cyclades island tour or a multi-island vacation often look this way simply because it’s got one of the best-served airports in the region. Cue the Mykonos International Airport (JMK). Serving up to 1.4 million passengers in any normal year, it’s in the top 10 busiest airports in the country.

The bulk of the flights are low-cost arrivals from the continent, including options with Wizz Air to Rome, Ryanair to Vienna, and easyJet to London. Most run seasonally (March to October) but still make scooting down from big aviation hubs and other capitals something of a cinch. Mykonos also hosts ferry arrivals from right across the Cyclades and beyond, including boats from Athens, Crete, and Santorini.

Ios is nowhere near that easy to reach. We still wouldn’t say it’s hard, though. The main challenge is down to the fact that there’s no commercial airport on the island. You’ll need to choose a nearby arrival point and then transfer to a boat to get there by air – Santorini is a common choice, but so is Mykonos (see above).

For getting in by boat, expect lots of ferry choices. They will link up isles all over the Aegean, including Crete and Santorini. It’s usually important to book ahead if you want to go in the summer. In the absence of low-cost flights to Ios, ferries can sell out fast.

Winner: Mykonos – it has its very own international airport.

Ios or Mykonos for hotels?

A hotel on Ios
Photo by Matthew Waring/Unsplash

There are hundreds of properties available on both Ios and Mykonos. They run the gamut from uber-elegant sea-view cottages to backpacker hostels. Mykonos, though, does lean towards the upscale end of the spectrum. It’s not considered the celeb retreat of the Greek islands for nothing. That means you’ll find loads of spa resorts and pool-ready boutique hotels that channel the bohemian-chic style. The crème-de-la-crème of the hotels on Mykonos are generally located near the main resort towns of the southwest shore. Some of our favorite places to stay here are:

  • Kensho Psarou ($$$) – You could be forgiven for thinking that you’d landed in Bali when you enter this stunning resort, which offers a spa, a fine-dining bistro, and suites with their own infinity pools.
  • Kivotos Mykonos ($$$) – The glass-sided pools in this exquisite Greek boutique hotel are something truly special. Talk about views while you swim!
  • The Elaia House Mykonos ($$) – A romantic and charming Greek cottage with stylish interiors that’s perfect for a couple.

Ios probably offers more in the way of backpacker accommodation than its Cycladic brother. But there’s still a distinct whiff of style in many of the hotels, especially if you stick to the wave-lapped walks of Mylopotas and Paralia Gialos, close to the Chora center. You can venture further south to towns like Magganari to discover family hotels, though, and there are also some seriously charming stays in the backcountry, surrounded by dusty hills and ancient history sites. Our picks for stays on Ios would be:

  • Far Out Hotel & Spa ($$) – Not OTT but still stylish, Far Out Hotel & Spa strikes a good balance between coolness and serenity.
  • Dionysos Seaside Resort Ios ($$$) – The place to kick back and be looked after on Ios, this is a proper five-star resort.
  • Rita’s Rooms ($-$$) – Budget travelers can’t go wrong with Rita’s Rooms. They might be basic, but they have a pool and a location close to the main nightlife hub of Chora.

Winner: Probably Mykonos, but remember that you will pay for the luxury!

Ios or Mykonos for price?

A yacht in Mykonos harbor
Photo by Eleatell/Pixabay

We’d estimate that shoestring travelers could get by on a budget of something in the region of €75 ($89) per day in Ios. That includes everything, from your morning breakfasts to your meals out to your ouzo shots in Disco 69 and Slammer Bar.

Well…it includes everything bar accommodation. That’s likely to be the biggest expense, but thankfully Ios does host a few bargain stays in the form of Palm (a budget resort in Chora) and Purple Pig Stars Camping & Bungalows (close to Mylopotas). Go for one of those and you’re probably looking at something around the €100 ($120) per day mark. Remember that’s being conservative, you can also spend way more than that by forking out for the better hotels, while Ios’s nightlife is notorious for sapping away at the travel budget. You’ve been warned.

Then comes Mykonos. Holy moly. This is not a playground for backpackers, that’s for sure. In fact, we’d say Mykonos has the unenviable title of the single most expensive Greek island out there. Only Santorini beats it when it comes to accommodation prices, which can soar to a whopping €200 ($240) per night in the main season between July and August.

Then you get the food and the drink. Beers rarely cost less than €7 ($8.31) in the bars of Little Venice, and that’s during happy hour, while cocktails are usually well over €10 ($11.90) a pop. Dining out will set you back a lot more than in Ios, with an estimated cost of about €90 ($106) for two people. We’ll say it again: This is not a playground for backpackers!

Winner: Ios. It might not be the cheapest place in Greece but it’s certainly cheaper than Mykonos, which might well be the most expensive!

Ios or Mykonos: The verdict

There are actually a whole load of similarities between these two popular members of the Cyclades chain. They both rock with nightlife throughout the whole summer season – Mykonos in its chic cocktail lounges and LGBTQ+ bars, Ios in its 18-30s clubs.

Either will satisfy the party cravings, rest assured about that. Both also have wonderful beaches, though we like the secluded sands of Ios’s east coast over Mykonos in general. We think you’ll probably find Ios easier on the wallet, but harder to get to (there’s no airport). Mykonos has the chicer hotels, but they come with a price tag to match.

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Joe has been a freelance travel writer for over nine years. His writing and roaming have taken him from the colonial towns of Mexico to the chowks of Mumbai to the Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not putting together the next epic blog on the best Greek islands or ski fields in France, you can usually find him surfing or hiking – his two top hobbies.