The Cyclades islands are a stunning Greek island group in the Aegean sea, southeast of the mainland. They are without hesitation, one of the most beautiful areas in Greece.
It is for this reason that many Greek island hopping itineraries tend to focus on visiting the Cyclades. This archipelago represents the very best of Greek cuisine, architecture, and culture.
The Cyclades islands are known for their blue and white houses that are so quintessentially Greek. There are more than 220 islands and islets here.
However, only 24 of these are inhabited. The name “Cyclades” means the circle islands.
Why? Because the islands form a circle around the sacred island of Delos in the heart of the Cyclades archipelago.
In the Cyclades islands, you will find everything that you are looking for in an island getaway. There are white-sand beaches with secluded coves and translucent azure waters, quaint tavernas, spectacular hiking trails, and fascinating ruins.
The Cyclades islands are one of six Greek island groups. Santorini and Mykonos are among the most popular travel destinations in this region. Yet the reality is that this Greek region has far more to offer than just these touristic hotspots.
The Cyclades Islands
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 of the Cyclades islands is seemingly more beautiful than the last. All of the islands are charming in their own way.
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.
Like most Greek islands, Amorgos’ capital is known as the “Chora”. This 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 islands.
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 is 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 one of Greece’s 18 UNESCO world heritage sites 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, 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.
There are also some excellent hiking trails on Ios if walking is your thing. In particular, check out the route to the Koumpara peninsula or visit Palaiokastro where you can see what remains of an old church and a Venetian castle.
If you consider yourself a true Grecophile or you have a strong interest in Greek history and literature, you may be interested to visit the final resting place of the writer Homer here. Homer is of course, the writer of the Odyssey and the Iliad.
The island of Folegandros is a small rocky landmass that awaits on the Southern edge of the Cyclades islands. This is a nice place to travel off the beaten path.
Folegandros is a good choice if you are seeking to escape the crowds and package holiday tourists. 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.
Like most Greek islands, Folegandros has a very charming and traditional main town. Folegandros town has been constructed in traditional Cycladic-style.
The centre is a maze of cobbled streets and alleyways with gorgeous blue and white buildings draped in bougainvillea. No motorised vehicles are permitted here so as to protect Folegandros town from pollution and damage.
Kastro, meaning “fortress”, is Chora’s oldest quarter. It dates back to the 13th century and is one of the oldest settlements in the Cyclades islands.
The small white buildings here have been built squashed together to form a tight exterior wall. This is because once upon a time, pirate invasions were a real threat on Greek islands and these walled houses served as Folegandros’ defense.
Some of the houses here are thousands of years old and are still inhabited to this day. Others have been converted into guesthouses.
There are dozens of quaint Orthodox churches scattered throughout the landscape of Folegandros. Arguably the most famous is the Church of Panagia.
It sits on top of a craggy cliff high above the Chora, watching over the town protectively. You can follow the winding donkey trail to the top in order to admire one of the most majestic sunsets in the Cyclades.
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.
People do not often consider Greece as a hiking destination. However, some of the hiking trails in Greece are among the best in Europe.
The charming town of Ioulis is the island’s capital and a perfect place to base yourself for a day or two. You may want to consider visiting Kea in the Spring or Autumn if you enjoy spending time in nature and you don’t want to suffer beneath the intense Greek summer sun.
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 islands, 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. However, 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 and white.
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.
Perhaps the most iconic sight here is Sarakiniko beach. The area has become somewhat Instagram famous in recent years so even if you haven’t explicitly heard of Sarakiniko, you have probably seen it on social media somewhere.
The beach consists of white, peculiar rocks that appear almost ethereal and other-worldly. Waves driven by north winds shaped the greyish-white volcanic rock into amazing shapes to the extent that they almost resemble a moonscape.
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 amphitheater.
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. Despite the island’s recent “Instagram fame”, Milos is not to be overlooked. Travel here in the shoulder season if you want to escape the crowds.
Mykonos is one of the most glamorous of the Cyclades islands. The hotels, restaurants, and stores here are as chic as the clientele that they attract.
The island has something of a reputation as being the ultimate party island for the jet set. While Mykonos is certainly the place to see and be seen in the Cyclades if you have money, there is far more to little Mykonos than just nightclubs and champagne-fuelled parties on yachts.
Like the equally popular island of Santorini, Mykonos gets extremely busy during its high season of July and August. Prices of accommodation, flights, local excursions, and basically everything else can be as much as 60% higher if you travel during this time of year.
That may not be an issue for you if you are headed to Mykonos and the Cyclades islands to mingle with the party crowd. However, if you prefer something a bit more peaceful and laid back, and you are more interested in culture and nature, you may be better off travelling here out of season.
The little whitewashed windmills of the Chora (old town) are perhaps the most recognisable landmark in Mykonos. They were used for centuries to refine grain, using the high winds that blow across the island.
Dozens of traditional windmills once stood here but today only 7 remain. Most of them have been converted into eclectic residential homes.
Kato Myloi are perhaps the most famous of the Mykonos windmills. They can be found atop a hill from where they boast incredible views over the sea. This is a fantastic place to watch the sunset.
If there is one area in Mykonos that you absolutely must visit for dinner and drinks, is Little Venice. Here, you will find colourful stilted houses that stand slightly above the sea.
Today, they have been converted into cocktail bars and eateries serving cuisine from around the world. Once upon a time though, this is the area where pirates would come and hang out!
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 here.
They offer plenty of opportunities to get back to nature. Most notably, Naxos is home to Mount Zeas – the tallest mountain in the Cyclades islands.
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 hopping adventure. It is essentially the third most popular destination in the Cyclades islands 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.
Santorini is one of the Cyclades islands that needs no introduction. This gorgeous little island is the only inhabited caldera in the world.
It is the main place that people dream of visiting when they first come to Greece.
Santorini is also one of the most popular Greek islands and travelling here during the summer months can often mean contending with crowds of tourists.
Some places are popular for a reason and Santorini is no different. This is, without hesitation. one of the most stunning islands in the Mediterranean.
Santorini sunsets are rumoured to be among the most beautiful in the world. So catching one is a must while you are here.
There are various vantage points around the island from where you can catch a spectacular sunset. Evening cruises with dinner and drinks sail around the island and offer a nice sunset point from the sea.
For an experience that is even more special, you can even hire your own boat. Everything from a small motorboat, to a luxury catamaran complete with a skipper, is available for rent.
Ammoudi Bay is a nice place to watch the sunset (as well as a good spot to grab a seafood lunch or dinner). So too, is the little clifftop village of Imerovigli.
Hiking the old donkey trail from Fira to Oia (or vice versa) is almost a rite of passage for first-time visitors to Santorini. There are also more than 20 wineries scattered throughout the island.
The volcanic soils of Santorini provide the perfect conditions for growing grapes. The grape Assyrtiko is one of the most popular varieties found here. Some grapes are native/exclusive to Santorini.
It is possible to participate in an organised Santorini wine tour or to contact the vineyards and wineries that interest you yourself. You can enjoy a tour and a tasting where exquisite wines are paired with charcuterie boards that showcase the very best of local produce.
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! This little island is known as the ‘Lady of the Cyclades’ and the ‘Nymph of the Aegean Sea’.
It is the perfect emodiment of a sleepy Greek island idyll. 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.
Ano Syros (Upper Syros) is a gorgeous Venetian settlement that dates back to the 13th century. Take the time to get lost here with no real agenda.
Meandering through the streets and passageways, tucking into a nice gelato, and taking photos of village life is part of the fun of being here. Schedule time to visit the hilltop Roman Catholic cathedral of Agios Giorgios.
The views from up here over the town and across the sea are second to none, particularly when sunset approaches. The church’s interiors are just as spectacular as its exterior – with grand whitewashed columns and vibrant frescoes.
The island capital, Ermoupoli was named after the Greek God Hermes, messenger of the Gods. There are some beautiful examples of neoclassical architecture here.
Grand buildings such as the Apollon Municipal Theatre, the 19th century church of Agios Nikolaos and the Syros town hall, one of the largest in Greece, are testament to the island’s administrative importance. This was once the commercial and financial hub of the Cyclades islands.
If you should choose to spend a night in Ermoupoli, consider doing so in the chic Vaporia district. You will find some spectacular and well-preserved neoclassical mansions here, many of which have been converted into luxury hotels and boutique stores.
As you may expect from a stunning island in the Cyclades, there are several excellent beaches on Syros. Galissas is a particularly nice place to visit.
The peaceful beach is situated in a secluded cove in the west of the island, surrounded by hills and a cliff. If you want something even more remote and quiet, you can walk from Galissas to the offbeat Armeos beach.
The tiny Cycladic island of Tinos sits in the Northern part of the Cyclades islands. What Tinos lacks in size, it more than makes up for in character and charm. There are more than forty 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 Islands by Plane
Several Cycladic islands also have domestic airports while there are two international airports here. This can make it convenient for travelling to the region from elsewhere within Greece (Crete, Thessaloniki, Athens, etc).
Santorini and Mykonos respectively are home to international airports. The islands of Kythira, Milos, Naxos, Paros, and Syros have domestic airports.
There is a view to turn Paros into an international airport in the coming years but the specific details and dates are still to be defined. Use Skyscanner to search for the most convenient flights to the Cyclades islands.
Aegean Air, Olympic Air and Ryaniar are among the most popular airlines that service domestic flight routes within Greece.If you purchase your flight tickets several months in advance of travel, you can secure some very good deals, particularly if you are travelling during the shoulder season.
If you can be somewhat flexible with your travel dates, even better. You may be suprised to see how much flight prices vary between one day to the next.
Reaching the Cyclades Islands 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. Ferryscanner 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. Try to avoid purchasing tickets on the intended day of travel if you can avoid it, particularly if you are travelling during the summer.
Ferries and ports can get extremely crowded in Greece during the summer months. You need to arrive at the port at least an hour before your ferry is scheduled to depart and allow more time if you need to purchase tickets.
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 4.5 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