Santorini or Rhodes? Dramatic Vistas or Medieval History?

Santorini or Rhodes
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So, it’s come down to Santorini or Rhodes? Deciding between two of the most popular Greek islands won’t be easy. However, one sits smack dab in the heart of the famous Cyclades chain, and the other is closer to Turkey than to Athens, right on the cusp of Marmaris in the far east of the country. It can be tricky to see both in the same trip unless you have oodles of time. So, a choice must be made.

But, popular as they are, each island is pretty unique. Santorini is known for its breathtaking sunsets and wild vistas of volcanic stone and white-painted villages. Rhodes is more about enthralling medieval and ancient history, classic family holidaying, and party nights in Faliraki.

We’ll take a look at all those differences and more in this guide to Santorini or Rhodes. We’ll uncover which isle has the top sands for those looking to sunbathe their Greek holiday away. We’ll take a look at where’s got the wildest nightlife. And we’ll even showcase some of the most incredible hotels both islands can muster. Let’s go…

Santorini or Rhodes for beaches?

Rhodes snorkeling
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We’ll just go right ahead and say it – Santorini is NOT the island to travel to if you’re pining after Greek beaches. It’s just not got em’. Basically, Santorini is most famous for its uber-hardcore geology. That means soaring cliffs lurching straight out the Aegean Sea to over 330 feet. There aren’t really any of those postcard-worthy runs of golden sand that you see in the travel brochures, at least not until you venture to the less-popular eastern side of the island. There, you can find the pebbles of Kamari and Perissa – nice beaches, but not standouts in the Cyclades by any means. There’s also Red Beach. That’s a pretty stunning cove on the south side of Santorini, always busy, but dashed by scarlet-tinged rock formations and blessed with some excellent snorkeling.

Things are a whole load different on Rhodes. This island has two epic coastlines for beach hunters. The southeast is the most popular of the lot. That runs through famous sun, sand, and sea towns like Limnos and Gennadi. Between them are some pretty spectacular beaches, often bending north or south with the direction of the headlands, including Stegna and Limanaki Agios Pavlos. The northwest shoreline is much more rugged and wild, with remote and rocky beaches wedged between tors. You can go there to find rustic B&Bs overlooking bays where there’s rarely another person in sight. Overall, our pick of the top beaches in Rhodes includes:

  • Lindos Beach – The most famous beach on the island, Lindos is abuzz in the summer and draws sunbathers with its long sand stretches set below a whitewashed village center.
  • Prassonissi – A blustery isthmus beach on the far southwestern edge of Rhodes, this one’s great for the windsurfers.
  • Anthony Quinn Bay – An idyllic little cove just around the headland from Faliraki, Anthony Quinn Bay is a mecca for snorkelers but always gets busy.
  • Agathi Beach – Turquoise waters await under the scrub-topped headlands of Agathi Beach, located neatly under a castle six miles north of Lindos town.

Winner: Rhodes. Santorini isn’t the place to go for beach holidays in Greece.

Santorini or Rhodes for nightlife?

Santorini town
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Some destinations in Greece really stand out on the nightlife front. Invariably, they are the islands with the dedicated party resorts – think Malia in Crete and Kavos in Zante, for example. Rhodes is one of them. It’s offering to Bacchus comes in the form of Faliraki, a wild 18-30s town on the southwest shore, a quick 20-minute transfer from the airport. There’s a bumping strip there that includes bars like Bedrock (inspired by The Flintstones, no less) and the laser-lit cocktail joint of Bondi Bar. Most of the best clubs and bars string down Ermou, but there is also a few dotting the beachfront. Things don’t end there, either. There’s also a decent nightlife offering in Rhodes Town. The vibes begin a touch more chilled, starting with rakija in the tavernas and then graduating to the alt venues of Legends Rock Bar and the shot haven of Spirtokouto.

Santorini’s nightlife scene isn’t all quiet. However, it’s not a scratch on the hedonism of Rhodes, that’s for sure. Nights here almost always start with cold beers and mixed cocktails with a view over the caldera. The best bars for that are in Fira, Oia, or the small village of Imerovigli. Our favs include the dramatically perched Tropical Bar (Fira) and the Sun Spirit tavern (Oia). For romance – and if you have some cash to splash – choose the uber-chic 363 Champagne Lounge (Imerovigli). Later on, the likes of Enigma Club and Mango take over until the early hours, but most people will retire to their hotels for quieter, more romantic evenings.

Winner: Rhodes. Faliraki sends it into the nightlife stratosphere, while Santorini is more for romance.

Santorini or Rhodes for hotels?

Santorini cafe
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The good news is that you’re not likely to be short on hotels, no matter which of these Greek islands you choose to visit. Both are among the most popular island hopping and holiday stops in Europe, let alone just this part of the Med. In fact, Booking.com shows Rhodes has upwards of 2,370 individual properties, while Santorini offers just shy of 2,000. AKA: There’s plenty to pick from.

Accommodation options on Rhodes run the gamut from basic family aparthotels with balconies overlooking the popular beaches of the southeast coast to uber-lux honeymoon hotels with sweeping views of more exclusive bays. There are also budget-friendly guesthouses up for grabs, mainly to host the revelers who flood Faliraki during the high season between May and September. Here are just a few of the places that we think you might want to consider if Rhodes turns out to be the isle for you…

When it comes to Santorini, brace yourselves. Some of the hotels here are among the finest in the whole world. Admittedly, they come with price tags to match. But who’s thinking of the moolah when you can have infinity pools high above the Aegean and rooms carved straight into the cliffs? Hotels are in high demand on this island and the quality is often exceptional, which is why Santorini is now one of the top options for honeymooners and celebs. Here are just a few examples…

  • Abelis Canava Luxury Suites ($$$) – The adobe walls of this lux hotel give way to cozy rooms and private plunge pools.
  • Aeon Suites – Adults Only ($$) – Perched on the hillsides behind one of Santorini’s best wineries, Aeon Suites are both opulent and traditional, with spacious outdoor areas and great views.
  • Phos The Boutique ($$$) – Wowza! You’ll be pampered here from the moment you arrive, in a truly curated hotel that has some of the top views on the south side of the caldera rim.

Winner: Santorini.

Santorini or Rhodes for ease of travel?

Santorini sea
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Before you can wonder at the burning sunsets of Santorini or delve into the Crusader castles of Rhodes town, you’re going to have to get over there. Thankfully, these are far from off-the-beaten-track spots. Both isles are very accessible and there are a number of ways that you can make the journey.

Let’s start with Rhodes. It’s home to the fourth-busiest airport in the whole of Greece (after Athens, Heraklion, and Thessaloniki). Loads of flight links come in there. Lots are seasonal only, especially those low-cost connections with airlines like easyJet and Ryanair, which are a super bargain for arriving from cities like London, Berlin, and Milan (sometimes tickets are less than $20 a piece without bags!). You can also pay extra for premium carriers – Air France, Aer Lingus, BA. They are more likely to run all year round, and so is Greece’s own Aegean Airlines. Getting to Rhodes by sea can be a true adventure. Island hoppers regularly choose overnight ferries from Athens, and there’s even a direct link from Santorini (whoever said that it had to be Santorini or Rhodes, ay?). Rhodes is also unique in that can be reached using ferries out of Turkey – there are options from Marmaris and Bodrum in the summer.

Santorini also comes with an airport. It’s the eighth busiest in the country this time, so there aren’t likely to be quite so many connections with various airlines. That said, you can still get bargain deals with the likes of Ryanair, who fly here from Rome, Naples, Krakow, London, and Manchester. And, because Santorini is such a popular spot in the Cyclades, loads of other fliers join in, too (Jet2.com, Eurowings, LOT, Lufthansa). The port in Santorini is located just beneath Fira town. Coming in there lets you see the sheer majesty of the caldera rim before disembarking. There are loads of ferry links throughout the region, most notably from Crete, Athens, and lots of other Cyclades isles, like Mykonos and Milos.

Winner: Rhodes, but only just. Santorini shouldn’t be hard to reach at all.

Santorini or Rhodes for things to do?

Rhodes history
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Santorini offers a chance to witness one of the most dramatic islands in the world, not just in Greece. Truth be told, the main thing to do here is to simply look at it. That’s nowhere near as boring as it might sound. Different perspectives over the famous caldera rim offer different vistas. They include the bluff rock of Skaros or the vermillion-tinged cliffs of Red Beach. Just be sure to move around and take in the different angles. There are good bars in the villages of Oia and Imerovigli for that. Or hit the hiking trail from Oia to Fira for a whole day’s worth of panoramas. Santorini is also famed for its boating trips. They will take you out to the smoke-belching volcanic islands in the middle of the crater, where the landscapes are more Indonesia than Ionia. On top of that, you’ve got award-winning wineries and pretty incredible ancient dig sites at Akrotiri and Thera.

Rhodes is a real chameleon of an island. If we had to narrow it down, there would be two things that it really excels in: History and partying. The first is all anchored on the wonderful old heart of Rhodes Town. That’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, topped with the formidable remains of the mighty Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, and ringed by huge bulwarks built from the 1300s onwards. It’s real Game of Thrones sort of stuff. When it comes to nightlife, there’s nothing for it but a trip down to Faliraki. It remains one of the true party meccas of the Greek islands, replete with karaoke and shot bars and more.

Winner: Draw. This one’s all about what you want from your holiday.

Conclusion

Rhodes might have won more individual sections in this decider between Santorini or Rhodes, but really all this comes down to personal choice. Santorini is somewhere that we think every traveler should see at least once in their lives. It’s sort of like the Taj Mahal of Greece, offering such eye-wateringly rugged landscapes you’ll need to pinch yourself to check you’re not dreaming. It also boasts perhaps the best hotels in the whole country.

Then you have Rhodes. We’d say it excels for party goers and history buffs. However, it also has sleepy beaches, amazing snorkeling spots, and a location close to the outer Dodecanese islands and Turkey. That means a fantastic climate and the chance to explore some lesser-known quarters of the Aegean Sea.

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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.