The Cyclades Islands are the picture of Greece, with their white and blue architecture, sweeping mountains, and endless beaches. This group of Greek islands sits to the south of Athens and north of Crete, and they’re one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world – with good reason!
The ever-alluring Santorini and Mykonos, with their large summer crowds, stand in stark contrast to the smaller Cyclades like Folegandros and Serifos with their quiet shores and local atmospheres.
You can find it all on the Cyclades: hiking, beaches, insane parties, archaeological sites, churches, monasteries — I mean the list goes on and on.
Whether you’re hoping to visit small fishing villages or simply lie on sandy shores, you’ll find that the Cyclades Islands are the best place for any kind of island vacation!
- 1 What Islands Are in the Cyclades?
- 2 What are the Best Cyclades Islands to Visit?
- 3 How Do You Get to the Cyclades Islands?
- 4 Cyclades Islands Travel Tips
What Islands Are in the Cyclades?
The Cyclades are made up of dozens of islands, ranging in size from teeny tiny to reasonably large. These islands form a circle around Delos, which is meant to be the most sacred of them all. The name “cyclades” literally means circular or encircling islands!
The Cyclades Islands actually consist of 220 islands, big and small. The powerhouses of this island group, Santorini and Mykonos, draw in millions of tourists every year to party on their pristine shores. However, there are plenty of smaller islands in the Cyclades. These small beauties are usually free from huge tourist infrastructure, offering visitors a quieter, local, and more authentic experience.
No matter what type of island vacation you’re looking for, you’re sure to find it somewhere in the Cyclades. Whether you want to party until the sun comes up, lounge on some of the finest beaches in Europe, or visit ancient archaeological sites, the Cyclades have something to offer every type of traveler.
Here are some of the best islands in the Cyclades:
What are the Best Cyclades Islands to Visit?
With so many islands to choose from, you must be wondering which of the Cyclades is best. Keep reading to learn why these 15 picks are our top destinations in the islands!
Highlights: Red Beach, Fira, Oia, Caldera
Best Time to Visit: April to May, September to November
Santorini is the picture of the Cyclades Islands. Whitewashed houses, cerulean domes and detailing, and the Aegean Sea stretching as far as the eye can see. Nothing is more magical than a holiday in Santorini!
Besides being one of the world’s best Instagram spots, a visit to Santorini is an unforgettable volcanic island vacation spent dining seaside, jet skiing across open waters, and exploring small, cobblestoned villages.
For Mediterranean memories to last a lifetime, you can even take a sunset cruise to visit hot springs and sip on cocktails onboard!
Santorini is definitely the most popular Cycladic island, so you can expect huge tourist crowds in the summer months. While it’s warmest when the crowds are at their peak, Santorini is actually a great destination during shoulder months. That’s when you can avoid the hoards of people and secure accommodation for much cheaper.
For more on Santorini: What to Do in Santorini, Greece
Highlights: Party with international DJs, Little Venice, Platis Gialos Beach
Best Time to Visit: June to August (for parties), April, May, September, October (for quieter time)
Mykonos is the premier party destination in the Cyclades, drawing in people from all over the world to dance on the beach until the sun comes up. International DJs frequent stages at Mykonos beach clubs, playing lively sets to a beautiful island backdrop.
This Cycladic island is also home to show-stopping beaches with calm waves lapping at a golden shore. Charter a yacht or take a sailboat cruise to explore hidden coves around Mykonos and other treasures sitting just off the coast of the island.
Back on shore, spend a day in town, walking through narrow alleyways, or take a local cooking class to learn how to prepare traditional Greek specialties!
While a holiday in Mykonos is a guaranteed good time, it’s gonna cost ya, especially if you plan on visiting in June, July or August. Accommodation costs a pretty penny and so does most of the partying on the island.
Highlights: Chora, hiking, Apollo Temple (Portara), Agios Prokopio Beach
Best Time to Visit: April to October
While Santorini and Mykonos are the most popular islands in the Cyclades, Naxos is the largest and offers visitors a huge variety in terms of atmosphere, landscapes and scenery.
This island has everything from stunning beaches to villages built into the side of mountains so you don’t have to choose between relaxation and culture.
The main city, Chora, is a pleasant place to wander around, with a maze of alleys making up the Old Market and the giant Portara that welcomes visitors to the island.
If you feel like being active, Naxos is one of the best places to learn to windsurf or take a kitesurfing lesson as the conditions are near perfect. It’s also an ideal area to cruise around on a catamaran for a day out on the water.
For a breath of fresh air, follow one of the many hiking trails weaving up the side of mountains or make your way down to the coast to sit on the sandy shores. The food is good, accommodation is abundant, and Naxos really stands out as the Cycladic island to visit if you’re looking for a little bit of everything.
Highlights: Hip party scene, Chora, Mylopotas Beach, Homer’s Tomb
Best Time to Visit: June to September
Another party destination in the Cyclades, Ios is often thought of as Mykonos’ “little sister.” Like Mykonos, you’ll find crowds of young people in Ios, drinking and dancing to their heart’s content.
Instead of fancy clubs, Ios has a more laid-back party atmosphere. You’ll find cool bars lining the shores of the beach and a hip town center where there’s always something going on. If you’re looking for a good time without completely draining your bank account, Ios is an ideal destination.
In between partying and sleeping, spend your days lounging on the plentiful beaches, sipping a fruity drink and preparing for the night that’s to come.
If you’re thinking “hmm, Ios sounds an awful lot like spring break…” you’d be 100% correct. And the best part? Rather than a week, it lasts for the entire summer!
Highlights: Naoussa, Lefkes, Kolymbithres Beach, ferry to Antiparos
Best Time to Visit: May to October
Got some time and thinking about visiting a handful of Greek islands in the Cyclades? If so, Paros makes the perfect home base. This charming island has an abundance of ferry connections, allowing visitors to easily hop over to Mykonos, Santorini, and Ios.
Besides being one of the best places to island-hop from, Paros is full of quaint fishing and mountain villages with an untouched Greek atmosphere. Head to Naoussa to wander around the small shops and restaurants or hike up to Lefkes where you can take in unmatched views out over the sea.
The waters around Paros are exceptionally clear, excellent for a snorkeling excursion or a full-day cruise on a sailboat. You can even take a scuba diving course where you’ll get to explore marine life off the coast of the island – how amazing is that?
While you can easily get to the other islands in the Cyclades, the quickest trip from here is to Antiparos, a little island located just in front of Paros. Once there, enjoy the relatively empty beaches and pay a visit to the Cave of Antiparos to check out some of the oldest stalagmites in Europe!
Highlights: Sarakiniko Beach, Adamas, Kleftiko Beach, Catacombs of Milos
Best Time to Visit: June to September
Milos is a volcanic island in the Cyclades group, well-known for its wild rock formations that create a moon-like atmosphere. Instead of sandy beaches, the coastline is filled with smooth rocks overlooking the water, creating perfect platforms for sunbathing or cliff jumping.
The most famous beach in Milos is Sarakiniko, which draws in both locals and tourists alike to enjoy basking on the white rocks. Other lovely beaches along the coast worth visiting are Provatas, Papafragas, and Kiriaki.
However, the best way to truly experience all that the coast of Milos has to offer is to take a full-day sailing cruise, where you’ll get to stop at secluded caves and coves only reachable by sea.
Besides the beaches, Milos has a lovely port area called Adamas where you can find a good deal of accommodation, restaurants, and bars. There are also several fishermen’s villages sitting above the water with pastel-colored houses built into the side of cliffs!
Highlights: Terrace of the Lions, House of Dionysus, Mt. Kynthos
Best Time to Visit: March to May, September to November
A UNESCO Heritage Site just off the coast of Mykonos, Delos is the archaeological center of the Cyclades. Thought to be the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, this Greek island is filled with temples and sanctuaries paying homage to the Gods.
On a trip to Delos, spend your day exploring places like the Temple of Delians, the Sacred Lake, and the Sanctuaries devoted to Apollo and Dionysus. There’s also a stunning archaeological museum where you can learn more about the history and mythology of the island.
Delos makes a great day trip, especially from Mykonos, and since you can’t spend the night, you can spend a complete afternoon sightseeing and make it back in time for the night’s party. The best way to experience it all is through a guided tour – this one even includes transportation from shore to shore!
In the summer months, you’ll find Delos completely filled with tourists, but the shoulder months make a nice time to visit, especially if you’re hoping to enjoy the temples from the 8th century B.C. without crowds.
Highlights: Chora, Kalamos Rock, Monastery of Kalamiotissa, Kleisidi Beach
Best Time to Visit: May to October
A haven from the tourist crowds in the other Cyclades Islands, Anafi is the perfect place to escape for a little bit. Since the tourism industry hasn’t yet boomed on this island, Anafi still has an endearingly local atmosphere and offers a charming look into traditional Greek island life.
While this isn’t one of the most popular islands in Greece, if you’re hoping to get off the beaten path of the Cyclades, a visit to Anafi is a must.
The main town on the island, Chora, sits atop a hill and is where you can find restaurants, shops, and rooms for rent. It’s a glorious place: perched high, overlooking the sea, filled with whitewashed houses, narrow alleys and flowers in full bloom. What could be more magical?
There are a few nice beaches along Anafi’s coastline that are worth going to. On the island, you’ll also find the Monastery of Kalamiotissa, sitting on top of the massive Kalamos rock.
There isn’t too much to do here besides relax, making it the perfect destination for a quiet Greek island holiday.
Highlights: Church of Panagia, Vorina Beach, hiking
Best Time to Visit: March to June, September to December
Folegandros is another island in the Cyclades that is free from the massive tourist crowd. It’s a quiet place to visit, full of natural local charm.
Similar to Anafi, Folegandros’ main village is called Chora, and it sits high on a rocky crag above the expansive sea. The village is full of stunning white homes, small town squares, and the blue detailing that’s so common on Greek islands.
Just above Chora is a church that offers panoramic views to anyone who makes the hike up the hill!
Folegandros has an expansive, albeit rocky coastline with pebbly beaches all over the island. They aren’t the nicest beaches in the Cyclades Islands, but they’re free from tourists so you’ll have them all to yourself! Just keep in mind that the most beautiful beaches on the island can only be reached by foot or boat.
Highlights: Chora, Church of Evangelistria, Dovecotes, Sanctuary of Poseidon
Best Time to Visit: May to October
Would you believe me if I told you that Tinos, one of the best islands in the Cyclades, is also one of the major pilgrimage destinations for the Greek Orthodox people? In fact, thousands of people reach the shores of this island every year to say their prayers at the monastery or church on the island.
Just because Tinos is a holy mecca doesn’t mean that it’s all religious. In fact, there’s plenty to do on the island that has nothing to do with religion at all.
For example, spend an afternoon strolling around Chora, the main city on the island, shopping at the boutiques and dining on terraces. Or make your way to Volax, a charming little village surrounded by otherworldly, rounded grey rocks.
There’s also a lovely port area sitting right on the sea, long stretches of sandy beaches and, of course, plenty of monasteries and churches to visit when you feel like sightseeing. There are fewer tourists here than on other Cycladic islands but there’s still a good number in summer months.
Tinos makes a great day trip from Mykonos as you can spend a lovely afternoon exploring the local craftsmen, churches, and small villages!
Highlights: Hiking, Gavrio, Batsi, Piso Giala Beach
Best Time to Visit: May to October
Andros should be the top pick if you’re headed to the Cyclades for some good old-fashioned outdoors time. Filled with beaches and trails, you can do everything from swimming to hiking in Andros.
There are more than 18 hiking trails throughout the island, all ranging in difficulty from very easy to pretty difficult. Most of the hikes start at Apikia, a traditional village nestled in the hills. In the opposite direction, down near the sea, there are sandy stretches between Gavrio and Batsi where you’ll find secluded coves that you’ll have all to yourself!
Besides spending time breathing fresh island air, Andros has plenty to keep even the fussiest of travelers occupied. There’s an expansive port area called Gavrio where you’ll find lots of places to eat and cute stores for shopping. There’s also a large resort area, Batsi, with a stunning beachfront.
You can find something for everyone on Andros, and it’s a great place to break away from the massive summer crowds on the larger Cyclades Islands.
Highlights: Ermoupoli, Ano Syros, Apollon Theater
Best Time to Visit: May to September
Welcome to the capital of the Cyclades Islands, Syros, which is also one of the most populated landmasses in the area. While it’s not too big in size, Syros is the administrative center of the Cyclades and has loads of people who summer here and live on the island year-round.
The main city in Syros, Ermoupoli, is reminiscent of those on mainland Europe, with neoclassical architecture, a large city hall, and bustling squares. There’s also the Municipal Theatre which looks just like La Scala in Milan!
Besides the large city center, Syros has more local areas like Ano Syros, a village with great lookout points from churches and monasteries.
You’ll find plenty of beaches along the Syros coast, but during summer months you can bet they’ll be filled to the brim with tourists. It’s certainly one of the busier islands but it’s worth a visit if you want to experience a cosmopolitan feel in the Cyclades!
Highlights: Hiking, Apollonia, Artemonas, Kastro, Faros
Best Time to Visit: Year-round
If you’re anything like me, most of your vacation is spent eating. And when it comes to this kind of vacation in the Cyclades, run, don’t walk to Sifnos where you’ll find the best food out of any of the Cycladic islands!
Besides the unbelievable Greek cuisine (typically enjoyed overlooking the water at sunset – I mean, you’re on vacation, right?), Sifnos is full of hiking, perfect for burning those calories after indulging until your pants don’t fit anymore.
There are more than 100 kilometers of hiking trails throughout the island, winding up hillsides and traversing down into villages. It’s the perfect way to see more of Sifnos, especially off the beaten path. The hikes can be super short or last an entire day, depending on what you’re looking for, but one thing is guaranteed: unparalleled scenery.
Besides the trails, there are plenty of places to explore in Sifnos.
Check out Apollonia, the capital of the island which is full of shops and places to eat, and Artemonas, a traditional village full of Venetian style houses. For a trip back in time, make your way to Kastro, a medieval village. And don’t miss Faros which has a monastery sitting out in the sea.
Highlights: Windmills, Livadi, Livadakia Beach, Panagia Village
Best Time to Visit: April to November
For splendid natural beauty and some peace and quiet during your island vacation, Serifos is the place to be. It’s not too touristy which means you’ll become one of the Greeks during a stay here, giving you an authentic island experience.
Serifos is definitely on the quieter side, with rolling mountains and hills making up most of the island. Many of the villages are built up high and offer stunning views out over the rest of the island and the sea beyond.
On a visit here, enjoy a quiet walk through the port of Livadi or a stroll along the Livadakia Beach. Also, make your way to the Panagia village which overlooks expansive plains.
The beaches are bare and golden, the villages are peaceful and whitewashed, and a trip here will be everything you’re dreaming of if you want to experience the Greek islands sans tourists.
Highlights: Venitian Castle, Shipwreck Olympia, sea caves, Katapola
Best Time to Visit: April to November
Last but not least on the list of best Cyclades Islands, we have Amorgos which is perfect for those looking to spend time outside. The entire island is littered with walking and hiking trails, leading to monasteries, chapels, and villages tucked away in the hills.
You can spend an entire day hiking, making your way through village after village, or just take a quick stroll to a point of interest.
When you’re ready to refuel after a long day on your feet, the capital of the island, Chora, is a gorgeous village with lots of traditional places to eat. Just above the village are ancient windmills, perfect for visiting after a hearty meal in town.
If you only feel like spending an afternoon here, Amorgos makes a great day trip from Naxos or expedition from Paros where you can enjoy the natural beauty and villages before returning back to the larger island.
Amorgos also has two ports, beaches filled with the finest sand, and even a famous shipwreck on the south coast of the island!
How Do You Get to the Cyclades Islands?
Generally, there are two ways to get to the Cyclades Islands: by plane and by ferry.
Traveling to the Cyclades Islands By Air
The Cyclades Islands have two international airports; one in Santorini and one in Mykonos.
The airport in Santorini (JTR) has direct flights from loads of large European cities like Paris, Amsterdam, London, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Rome and more. You can also fly directly to Santorini from Thessaloniki and Athens.
There are no direct flights to Santorini from the U.S., Canada or Asia, but you’ll find a good number of connecting flights, especially from London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt.
Similar to Santorini, the Mykonos airport (JMK) has direct flights from many large European cities but none from the Americas or Asia.
You’ll also find airports in Naxos, Paros, Milos and Syros servicing Greece, so you’ll be able to find flights to these islands from Athens or Thessaloniki.
Flying to the Cyclades Islands, especially if you’re not in Greece already, is the fastest way to reach paradise, but it’s costly.
Traveling to the Cyclades Islands By Ferry
Taking the ferry is the more common way to get to the Cyclades Islands. And if you wish to visit any of the islands that don’t have an airport, ending up on a boat is inevitable.
The main ports with ferries running to the islands flank Athens on either coast. They’re called Piraeus and Rafina, both with services to-and-from the Cyclades. You’ll find dozens of companies in operation, especially during summer months, making it important to compare prices to that you can get the best deal.
Speaking of summer months, this is the time of year when you’ll find the most connections between the islands. You’ll be able to get to where you’d like to go with relative ease, but prepare for packed boats – get your tickets in advance!
Winter brings the low season starting in November and ferry service is drastically cut, giving travelers limited boat options.
It may seem obvious, but the price of tickets depends on the length of the journey. The most expensive ones will get you directly to your destination with no stops while the cheaper tickets include many stops (taking up to 10 hours!) before reaching your point of disembarkment.
Each ferry company has a booth at the port where you can check schedules, prices, and purchase tickets, but you can also check online and book in advance.
Just keep in mind that if you book a ticket online, you may need to exchange it for a hard copy at the ticket office before boarding the boat!
Cyclades Islands Travel Tips
Ready to start planning your trip to the Cyclades Islands? Check out our top tips when it comes to making your way to this paradise-like group of islands in the Aegean Sea!
Packing for the Cyclades Islands
When it comes to packing for the Cyclades Islands in the summer, the ancient Greeks had it just right with their togas. No, I’m not suggesting you pack bed sheets to wear around the islands, but rather channel their style with flowy, loose clothing.
Summer in the Cyclades Islands is hot, hot, hot, so break out the linen, dri-fit, and of course, bikinis.
If you’re headed to the Cyclades during shoulder season, bring a few extra layers because the nights can get chilly, and if the water’s cold, you’ll be happy to have something to wrap up in after a quick dip in the sea.
It’s also a good idea to pack a raincoat, especially if you’re making your way to the Cyclades during the winter months (late November to March) as it’s known to drizzle on and off.
Rent a Car
A top tip when it comes to traveling in the Cyclades Islands is to rent a car! Renting a car on the different islands gives you the opportunity to explore more remote parts, making your way up and down the coastline finding secluded beaches and little coves for basking in.
Plus, since there isn’t much transportation on the islands, renting a car really is the best way to explore.
Click here to compare car rental prices. You’ll be surprised at how affordable it is!
Get Travel Insurance
One last tip when it comes to a holiday in the Cyclades Islands is to be covered in case of emergency.
Make sure you get travel insurance before hitting the road. Trust us, it’s one of those things you don’t want to leave home without. We recommend either World Nomads or Safety Wing, depending on the type of traveler you are.
Planning a trip to Greece? These articles can help!
- Your Ultimate Guide to the Best Time to Visit Greece
- Best Places to Visit in Greece | What You Must See in Greece!
- The Best Greek Islands to Visit (Add Them to Your Greece Itinerary!)
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