The Cyclades provides the quintessential Greek island experience. This archipelago represents everything that is so loved about summers spent in magical Greece.
Cycladic islands boast traditional stone villages with whitewashed walls and blue ceilings, white-sand beaches with secluded coves and translucent azure waters, and quaint tavernas. Few experiences are more memorable than hanging out in cozy local tavernas where locals and travellers drink tsipouro and dance together until the early hours of the morning.
There are more than 220 islands scattered across the Cyclades. However, only a fraction of those are inhabited.
Santorini and Mykonos are among the most popular Cycladic travel destinations. Yet the reality is that this Greek region has far more to offer than just these touristic hotspots.
- 1 The Cyclades
- 2 Getting to the Cyclades Islands in Greece
The Cyclades have a little something for every type of traveller. Some islands cater to those seeking luxury getaways. Others are perfectly suited for those seeking an outdoor adventure that is a little more rugged.
These little island paradises sit just a matter of hours away from Athens. This makes them a perfect extension to a trip to the Greek capital.
Each Cycladic island is seemingly more beautiful than the last. All of the islands are charming in their own way. However, a few spots to consider on your first trip to the area are detailed below.
The underrated island of Amorgos sits at the easternmost part of the Cyclades, floating towards the Dodecanese. The little horseshoe-shaped island is renowned across Greece for its natural beauty. Furthermore, the island’s capital of Chora is one of the most striking island capitals in all of Greece.
Chora is characterised by narrow cobbled passageways, beautiful old churches, and Venetian monuments. Heading farther afield, the quaint towns of Tholaria, Potamos, and Lagada provide a journey back in time. Amorgos is a hiker’s paradise, and many scenic trails twist and turn through the island.
Add Hozoviotissa Monastery to your radar while in Amorgos. This dramatic Orthodox Monastery is perched on top of a cliff and boasts phenomenal views across the island. It is well worth the uphill trek to get there.
The little island of Anafi holds a special place in Greek history and mythology. According to legends, the island revealed itself from beneath the angry waves at the command of the God Apollo.
Today, Anafi is a place of peace and tranquility. It is one of the last unspoiled islands in the Cyclades.
The main town (“Hora”) is the only settlement on Anafi island. It is home to just a few residents and is the perfect epitome of a sleepy, Greek island town.
The houses and buildings here shimmer in blue and white. Anafi is the perfect place for a little rest and relaxation and offers beautiful secluded beaches and coves without the crowds.
Head to the island’s southern coast to experience the unspoiled paradises close to Katsouni, Klisidi, and Agios Nikolaos. Quiet Anafi is a perfect place to spend a day or two during a Greek island-hopping adventure in the Cyclades.
You may notice that Anafi is very similar to Anafiotika in Athens. This is because former residents of Anafi constructed this Athenian neighbourhood to make it look like their home!
Andros is one of the closest islands to Athens. This it a perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Greek capital for a day or two.
In recent years, Andros island has begun to soar in popularity, and for good reason. Andros is stunning!
The most popular village on the island is Batsi – a former fishing village. Batsi’s ramshackle pastel-coloured houses cascade down the hilltops and overlook the waters.
The village is now predominantly a tourist destination. However, it has managed to retain its traditional charm. Old houses and businesses here have been transformed into traditional tavernas and ouzerias.
Chora village, the island’s capital, is filled with a mixture of Ottoman, Neoclassical, and Byzantine houses. Many beaches and hiking trails sit between the two settlements.
Achala beach is a local favourite. This is a hidden paradise that is only accessible via a dirt road track.
Antiparos sits in the very heart of the Cyclades. Though its sister island Paros has become a popular travel destination in recent years, Antiparos has stayed off the radar.
There is just one village on the island – Chora Antiparos. Its elegant streets are filled with boutique stores, upscale restaurants, and luxury hotels that ooze sophistication.
Antiparos is well known for its beautiful beaches and a blend of organised and secluded coastal spots can be found. If you are seeking well-serviced beaches lined with tavernas and ample facilities, head to Psaralyki beach, Kako Rema, or Agios Spiridonas. For more peace and seclusion, spend a day at Panagia beach.
Delos island is a Cycladic isle like no other. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and an island with origins rooted in magic and mystery.
According to Greek mythology, the God Apollo and the Goddess Artemis were both born on the island of Delos. The island was rendered sacred, and no mortal was to be permitted to be born or die here.
Today, the island is comprised entirely of sunbleached ruins and old colonnaded promenades. It can be visited on a day trip from Naxos. However, even today, nobody lives on the island and an air of mystery surrounds it.
Donoussa is one of four islands that belong to the mini Cyclades archipelago (along with Schinoussa, Irakia, and Koufonisia). The little island is only 14 square kilometers – making it perfect for adventures on foot or by bicycle.
Archeological findings on the island indicate that Donoussa has been inhabited for thousands of centuries. More recently, locals from nearby Amorgos moved to the island where they created the village of Stavros.
Legend has it that the Greek God Dionysus lived on this island. As such, the island took its name from him and was named “Donoussa”.
Swimming and hiking are the main highlights of Donoussa. Of course, there are also ample places to tuck into sumptuous local food at the restaurants and tavernas of Stavros.
There are also some stunning Orthodox churches on the island that have built-in typical Cycladic style with sky blue domes. Look out for the Church of Agia Sofia, the Church of Holy Cross, and the Church of the Virgin Mary.
Ios (aka Io in Greek) is an island set in the heart of the Aegean sea. For years, Ios has been overshadowed by its more popular neighbours: Mykonos and Santorini.
However, Ios has just as much to offer. Word is finally starting to come out about it.
Ios’ reputation as a party island, unfortunately, precedes it. Cheap, plentiful, and raucous nightlife in the Chora has made Ios a hotspot for young college students in search of clubs and parties.
The reality is that Ios is much more than that, and its alternative side is worth exploring. After all, the nature here is gorgeous.
The southern part of the island is awash with wild, secluded natural beaches that sit against a dramatic backdrop of cliffs. Tripiti beach, Mylopotas beach, and Pepper beach are among the island’s highest-rated.
The island of Folegandros is a small rocky landmass that awaits on the Southern edge of the Cyclades. Those seeking to escape the crowds and package holiday tourists that hog the Greek islands during the summer months will find some much-needed respite on this little island.
The island is home to just 700 people. It was named after King Midos’ son Folegandros. While Folegandros has escaped the eyes of international tourists and mainstream tourism, it is a popular weekend break destination for Athenians.
The little island of Iraklia is nothing more than a tiny speck on the map that sits between Ios and Naxos. It is home to less than 100 people and is about as off the beaten track as it gets in the Cyclades Islands.
There are several gorgeous beaches dotted throughout Iraklia. The majority of these can be reached via pedestrian hiking trails or by boat.
Two charming villages can be found in Iraklia: Panayia and Ayios Georgios. Luscious green vegetation, dense woods, and natural springs make Iraklia a perfect destination for those that like to get back to nature.
Kea (Tzia in Greek) floats in the Cycladic archipelago just two hours away from Athens. Despite its proximity to the mainland, little Kea feels a million miles away from the chaos of modern living.
Kea is a nature lover’s paradise. It boasts more hiking trails than any other Greek island. The charming town of Ioulis is the island’s capital and a perfect place to base yourself for a day or two.
Hiking trails twist and turn throughout the entirety of Kea, offering ample options for outdoor exploration. A popular route to consider is the 1.5-hour trek to the ancient city of Karthea.
Karthea sits on the southeastern part of the island. The route leads you past secluded coves, abandoned churches, and jaw-dropping scenery. Upon arrival at the ancient site, you are greeted by the sun-bleached ruins of ancient temples, and the old cobbled streets of millennia-old settlements.
The island of Kimolos makes a nice alternative travel destination in the Cyclades, away from the crowds. Despite being located beside popular Milos, Kimolos remains relatively unknown.
Chorio is the island’s main village and at its heart is the picturesque neighbourhood of Kastro. This centuries-old district was once surrounded by defensive castle walls and occupied by Nobles.
Today, it contains little cobbled streets, narrow alleyways, and beautiful Cycladic houses. The village’s Folk & Maritime Museum is set inside a magnificent old Venetian castle. It tells the history of the island over the centuries.
Chorio village stays true to its traditional Greek roots. However, most visitors to the island stay in nearby Psathi village which boasts ample tavernas and hotels.
The best beaches on Kimolos are Prasi and Agios Georgios. Both spots make the perfect place to relax and swim in the crystal clear waters.
Koufonisia is a beautiful place in the heart of the Aegean that actually consists of two separate small islets. They are Kato Koufonisi and Pano Koufonisi.
The two islets are separated by a narrow strait of water, and it is easy to pass between the two. Pano Koufonisi is the hub of activity, filled with incredible coffee shops, restaurants, and hotels. Meanwhile, Kato Koufonisi is uninhabited.
Pristine beaches and translucent waters are a highlight of Koufonisia’s islets. Virtually every stretch of coastline here is breathtaking. However, among the local favourite beaches are Nero, Detis, Loutro, Foinikas, Italida, Pori, and Panagia.
Hiring a boat here is a great way to reach caves and coves that are otherwise inaccessible. A license is not required, but if you don’t feel confident in navigating the waters yourself, you can hire a skipper for the day too.
It doesn’t get much more off the beaten track than Kythnos. The name of the island is derived from the ancient Greek word “Keftho” which means “hidden”.
True to Cycladic island form, the capital of the island is called the “Chora”. Kythnos Chora is a labyrinth-like network of narrow streets and passageways that twist and turn to open out into bustling piazzas. Here, locals sit beneath the Mediterranean sun drinking strong Elliniko coffee and playing backgammon.
One unique attraction of Kythnos is its hot springs. At the town of Loutra, travellers can find dozens of natural thermal springs.
Once upon a time, these baths were frequented by Greek Royalty. Today, they provide a relaxing experience in a beautiful setting that is fit for a King or Queen!
The volcanic island of Milos sits at the southernmost part of the Cyclades. Thanks to its volcanic activity, Milos is characterised by colourful cliffs and surreal rock formations that shimmer beneath the sun in shades of red.
The island is home to more than 40 soft sandy beaches, as well as some incredibly unique landscapes. In Milos, you can find hidden lakes and caves miles beneath the sea.
Milos was occupied by both the ancient Greeks and the Romans. There are numerous Roman ruins here that are well worth exploring.
Notably, the eerie Roman catacombs in Tripiti are well worth your time. So too is the ancient amphitheatre. The island’s fishing villages of Adamas and Klyma, with their pastel-coloured houses and traditional eateries, capture the hearts of thousands of tourists every year.
Naxos is arguably one of the best islands in the Cyclades for those who want more adventure and history during their vacation. Countless hiking trails weave throughout the landscapes, offering plenty of opportunities to get back to nature. Most notably, Naxos is home to Mount Zeas – the tallest mountain in the Cyclades.
The island is steeped in history, and the crumbling remnants of many ancient temples still stand watch across Naxos. The giant Portara doorway in Naxos town, the temple of Demeter Sangri, and the Temple of Dionysus are all worth adding to your Naxos sightseeing agenda.
The azure waters that encircle Naxos hide as much beauty beneath their depths as they do on the surface. Naxos is a Diver’s paradise.
The colourful coral reefs, as well as the remnants of old torpedo bombers and wartime seaplanes, can be explored beneath the surface. You will find various diving companies and tour operators scattered across the island.
Paros is one of the most popular stopping points on a Greek island adventure after Santorini and Mykonos. Although the island is gaining a reputation for its nightlife, it is much more than that.
Highlights of Visiting Paros
The villages of Naoussa, Lefkes, and Parikia are places of interesting contrasts. Here, traditional island life meets contemporary modern living. In Naxos, you will find eclectic themed cocktail bars that sit beside quaint ouzerias and tavernas frequented by old-timers.
Don’t miss the church of 100 doors (Panagia Ekatontapiliani). This is one of the most important churches in all of Greece. As far as beaches go, it’s Kolymbithres and the secluded coast of Glyfa, that steal the show.
Serifos may well be one of the best islands in the Cyclades as far as natural beauty is concerned. The bustling tourist hotspots of Santorini and Mykonos sit just 50 and 75 miles away from Serifos respectively.
Highlights of Serifos
Despite being overshadowed in the past, Serifos is fast becoming a popular getaway destination for Athenians. Serifos just has a certain je ne sais quoi – a laid back ambiance that its neighbour islands lack.
Most activities on Serifos revolve around enjoying and appreciating its wild landscapes. The beaches here are calm and unspoiled.
Ganema, Agios Sostis, and Kalo Ambeli are all beautiful little spots. They are not serviced and involve following a “hidden” dirt trail to access.
You can also hike to the Monopati of Serifos. This is a wonderful spot where you can enjoy incredible panoramas of the island as you overlook the main town (Chora).
Dreamy Sifnos, and its capital Apollonia, provide a true representation of a Mediterranean paradise. The landscapes here are phenomenal. In Sifnos, whitewashed Cycladic villages sit against a backdrop of craggy, dramatic mountains, fragrant olive groves, and fields of oleander and aromatic herbs.
Kastro is the old capital of Sifnos. It has been constructed in true Cycladic style.
The villages of Artemonas, Vathy, Faros, and Exabela are also well worth exploring. Each village is home to idyllic beaches, picturesque bays, and sweeping views across the Cyclades.
Tourists linger in the Southern part of the island. However, the north remains largely underdeveloped.
The locals keep the beaches, churches and villages here to themselves and they are every bit as deserving of your time as the southern part of the island. The best way to explore Sifnos is to rent a car and venture off the beaten track.
The island of Syros is seldom mentioned when people discuss islands in the Cyclades. The port here is a popular transport hub for taking connecting ferries between the various Greek islands. However aside from its transport links, Syros is mostly overlooked!
Syros is small. Yet it is home to one of the largest populations in the Cyclades. The main town – Ermoupoli, has some of the grandest architecture in the region.
The tiny Cycladic island of Tinos sits in the Northern part of the Cyclades. What Tinos lacks in size, it more than makes up for in character and charm. There are more than fourty idyllic villages scattered among the hills and cliffs of Tinos.
Hiking trails that interweave between the various villages lead travellers to abandoned churches and monasteries, secluded coves, and quaint settlements. When you want to relax, head to the beaches of Agios Sostis, Agios Romanos, and Agios Ioannis Porto.
Getting to the Cyclades Islands in Greece
Depending on where you are travelling from, it may make more sense to fly into the Cyclades or to take a ferry from Piraeus. Only a handful of islands have international airports here. Namely, Santorini, Mykonos, and Paros.
Reaching the Cyclades by Plane
Several Cycladic islands also have domestic airports. This can make it convenient for travelling to the region from elsewhere within Greece (Crete, Thessaloniki, Athens, etc).
Reaching the Cyclades by Ferry
Every inhabited island in the Cyclades has a ferry port. Many of the uninhabited islands here can then be reached by renting a boat in the area.
If you plan on visiting several islands on one trip, you ought to draft out your route in advance. This is because boats do not run between every island.
You will have to plan your trip in a certain way. Ferryhopper is an excellent ferry planning website that you can use to organise your travels in the Cyclades. You can review timetables, prices, and routes here.
It is advisable to book all transport tickets (ferry and plane tickets) in advance. Particularly if you are travelling during the peak summer months. These can be booked online or in person at the port ticket offices.
Have any further questions about visiting islands in the Cyclades or planning a big fat Greek adventure in general? I’ve been living in Greece for the past three years and I’m happy to answer any questions that you may have.
Feel free to drop me a comment below. Geia sou! Melissa xo