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Cyclades Islands: Exploring the mythical Aegean

Cyclades Islands: Exploring the mythical Aegean
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Glistening like a string of pearls scattered across the azure Aegean Sea, the islands of Cyclades, Greece, are a divine paradise for intrepid travelers seeking an escape into a world of sun-soaked enchantment, rich history, and unmatched natural beauty.

This archipelago, comprising 220 islands (of which only 24 are inhabited), draws travelers with its blend of whitewashed villages, crystal-clear waters, ancient ruins, and a warm, welcoming culture that resonates with its storied past.

I’ve long wanted to take a trip to explore some of the most emblematic islands in the Cyclades. But until that day comes, I’ve gathered some information about these islands to share with you.

My pick of the Cyclades Islands

What to see and do in the Cyclades Islands

Mykonos: The Glamorous Party Haven

Cyclades Islands: Mykonos
© Johnny Africa / Unsplash

Your adventure through the Greek islands begins on Mykonos. This legendary island beckons with its cosmopolitan ambiance and a reputation as the Greek party mecca. Known for its vibrant nightlife, Mykonos offers a dazzling array of clubs and beach bars where the celebrations continue until the break of dawn. But there’s much more to this island than its party scene.

As you set foot on Mykonos, you’ll immediately be captivated by the labyrinthine streets of Mykonos Town (Chora), a picturesque maze of cobblestone alleys adorned with bougainvilleas and whitewashed buildings. The iconic windmills that overlook the town are a perfect spot to witness the enchanting Cycladic sunset as the sun dips beneath the horizon in a blaze of fiery hues.

For those craving tranquility, the serene beaches of Mykonos offer a welcome respite. With its luxurious beach clubs, Psarou Beach and Elia Beach, embraced by dramatic cliffs, cater to those seeking a pampered beach experience. Meanwhile, Paraga Beach is ideal for sun-seekers looking to unwind in a laid-back atmosphere.

🛏️ WHERE TO STAY: As expected, the island offers beautiful accommodations, from boutique hotels and luxury resorts in Mykonos Town to more secluded villas overlooking the sea.

📸 WHAT TO DO: Apart from indulging in the vibrant nightlife, explore the island’s cultural heritage at the Archaeological Museum of Mykonos and enjoy a day trip to the island of Delos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

🍴WHAT TO EAT: Relish the freshest catch of the day at local tavernas or savor traditional Greek dishes like moussaka and souvlaki.

Santorini: The Jewel of the Aegean

Santorini, Greece
© Yang Yang / Unsplash

A short ferry ride away from Mykonos lies Santorini, the crown jewel of the Cyclades and a destination that exudes romance and mystique. As the ferry approached the island, marvel at the imposing cliffs above the caldera, creating a stunning backdrop for the dazzling whitewashed buildings.

Stepping onto Santorini, you will be stepping into a Greek postcard. The dramatic caldera views and the iconic blue-domed churches of Oia create an otherworldly landscape that seems almost surreal. The sky transforms into various colors at sunrise and sunset, casting a beautiful glow over the island.

Oia, known for its awe-inspiring sunsets, is a must-visit destination. Stroll through the narrow alleys, lined with charming boutiques, art galleries, and quaint cafes. For a more relaxed ambiance, head to the black sand beaches of Kamari or Perissa, where you can enjoy the sun and swim in the calm waters.

🛏️ WHERE TO STAY: To truly immerse yourself in the splendor of Santorini, opt for a hotel perched on the caldera cliffs, offering mesmerizing views of the Aegean Sea.

📸 WHAT TO DO: Discover the ancient ruins of Akrotiri, visit the Museum of Prehistoric Thira, and embark on a sailing excursion to the volcanic islets in the caldera’s center.

🍴WHAT TO EAT: Sample the island’s cherry tomatoes, fava, and unique white eggplants, and toast to your unforgettable journey with a glass of the renowned Santorini wine.

Paros: The Hidden Gem

Paros island, Greece
© Annie Spratt / Unsplash

Leaving behind the glamour of Mykonos and the romance of Santorini, the next stop is Paros. This island perfectly blends tradition, tranquility, and captivating landscapes. Though less touristy than its famous neighbors, Paros enchants visitors with its quaint villages, golden beaches, and genuine Greek ambiance.

Parikia, the island’s capital, welcomes travelers with its charming old town featuring narrow alleys and historic churches. A stroll along the waterfront reveals fishing boats bouncing gently in the harbor and traditional tavernas serving delectable seafood.

Naoussa is a beautiful fishing village on the northern coast boasting a captivating Venetian harbor. The village’s whitewashed houses adorned with vibrant bougainvilleas create an enchanting setting perfect for leisurely exploration.

For beach lovers, Paros doesn’t disappoint. Golden Beach (Chrisi Akti) is famed for its sandy shores and crystal-clear waters, making it a favorite among water sports enthusiasts. Alternatively, Kolymbithres Beach, characterized by unique rock formations, invites travelers to embrace the island’s natural wonders.

🛏️ WHERE TO STAY: Paros offers beautiful guesthouses but also luxury resorts and charming family-run hotels.

📸 WHAT TO DO: Visit the Panagia Ekatontapiliani (Church of 100 Doors), an ancient Byzantine church, and take a boat tour to the nearby uninhabited island of Antiparos.

🍴WHAT TO EAT: Delight in local delicacies like revithada (chickpea stew), octopus dishes, and the island’s famed cheese, mizithra.

Naxos: The Timeless Wonder

Naxos island, Cyclades
© Chris Barbalis / Unsplash

Continuing your odyssey through the Cyclades, visit an island that blends history, myth, and natural splendor into an unforgettable tapestry: Naxos. As the largest of the Cyclades, Naxos sets apart by posing a unique character.

Stepping ashore in Naxos Town (Chora), you’re immediately drawn to the island’s imposing landmark — the Portara. This massive marble gate stands as a remnant of an ancient temple. It has nothing to do with it, but, I don’t know why, it reminds me of the ruins of Tharros in Sardinia.

Strolling through the charming alleys of the town, discover quaint shops selling local crafts and traditional products and inviting tavernas where the aromas of Greek cuisine fill the air.

Venturing beyond Naxos Town, immerse yourself in a diverse landscape adorned with lush valleys, ancient ruins, and serene beaches. Agios Prokopios and Plaka, with their powdery white sands and azure waters, are perfect for beach fans seeking tranquility. For a more adventurous experience, hike up Mount Zas, the highest peak in the Cyclades, which holds a special place in Greek mythology as the birthplace of Zeus.

🛏️ WHERE TO STAY: Go for a dream villa or a charming guesthouse in the heart of the island’s villages.

📸 WHAT TO DO: Explore the ancient ruins of the Temple of Apollo and the Venetian Castle in Naxos Town, and embark on a culinary journey to discover the island’s distinctive cheeses, such as the beloved graviera and kefalotyri.

🍴WHAT TO EAT: Naxian cuisine also boasts a variety of mouthwatering dishes, including potato-based recipes like patatokeftedes (potato cakes) and arbaroriza (potato and leek stew).

Milos: The Secluded Paradise

Milos island, Greece
© Derek Sutton / Unsplash

Your next destination is Milos, a lesser-known gem among the Cyclades islands that captivates visitors with its secluded coves, lunar landscapes, and fascinating geological formations.

Approaching Milos, marvel at the sight of Sarakiniko Beach — a lunar-like landscape crafted by nature’s artistic hand. The contrast of pure white volcanic rocks against the deep blue sea creates a mesmerizing scene that seems almost surreal.

The island’s charming villages, such as Plaka and Adamas, offer glimpses of traditional Cycladic architecture and a glimpse into the island’s rich history. At Klima, you’ll encounter the iconic colorful “syrmata” — fishermen’s houses built at the water’s edge, a testament to Milos’ maritime heritage.

Beach enthusiasts will be delighted by the island’s diverse coastline. From the sandy shores of Pollonia to the red-hued sands of Paliochori and the turquoise waters of Firiplaka, Milos caters to all beachgoers and visitors who want to soak in the island’s natural beauty.

🛏️ WHERE TO STAY: Milos provides a selection of accommodations, from cozy guesthouses to boutique hotels, many of which offer breathtaking views of the Aegean Sea.

📸 WHAT TO DO: Discover the catacombs of Milos, visit the ancient theater, and take a boat tour to explore the island’s hidden sea caves, such as Kleftiko.

🍴WHAT TO EAT: Seafood reigns supreme in Milos, with delicious dishes like grilled octopus and seafood pasta taking center stage.

Syros: The Elegantly Cultural Island

Syros, island from the Cyclades
© Stelios Xenakis na Unsplash

Your Cycladic adventure wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Syros — a gem that seamlessly combines traditional allure with a vibrant cultural scene.

As you dock in the island’s capital, Ermoupoli, you’ll be taken aback by the grandeur of neoclassical architecture adorning the waterfront, a testament to Syros’ former role as a thriving industrial and commercial hub.

Ermoupoli’s enchanting ambiance invites exploration. The narrow alleys and hidden squares of Ano Syros, the upper part of the town, delight with their charm, offering panoramic views of the Aegean Sea. The Apollon Theater, a miniature replica of Milan’s La Scala, beckons culture enthusiasts with its splendid concerts and ornate design.

For a relaxing day, venture to Galissas Beach, where golden sands and crystal-clear waters embrace sunbathers and swimmers. Alternatively, explore the tranquil village of Finikas, with its picturesque marina and seaside tavernas serving delectable local delicacies.

🛏️ WHERE TO STAY: Syros boasts a variety of accommodations, from charming hotels in Ermoupoli to cozy guest houses in quaint villages.

📸 WHAT TO DO: Explore the Archaeological Museum of Syros, admire the Church of Saint Nicholas, and attend a theatrical performance at the Apollon Theater.

🍴WHAT TO EAT: Syros is known for its exceptional loukoumi (Turkish delight) and traditional sweets, such as halvadopita and loukoumi with rose water.

Practical Tips to Visit the Cyclades

To make the most of your Cyclades adventure, here are some essential tips:

Best Times to Visit the Cyclades Islands

The Cyclades’ peak tourist season runs from June to August, when the islands are at their liveliest. However, going during the shoulder seasons of April to May and September to October provides a more tranquil experience with pleasant weather and fewer crowds. Winters are mild, making them suitable for exploring historical sites and enjoying a more authentic, local experience.

Getting there

BY AIR: The Cyclades are accessible by air, with most international travelers arriving at Athens International Airport (ATH). From there, you can take a domestic flight to one of the island airports, such as Santorini (Thira) Airport (JTR), Mykonos Airport (JMK), Naxos Island National Airport (JNX), or Paros National Airport (PAS). Several airlines offer regular flights to these destinations, making it convenient for travelers.

BY FERRY: Another popular way to reach the Cyclades is by ferry. The main ferry port in Athens is Piraeus Port, which offers numerous ferry connections to the Cyclades islands. The duration of the ferry trip varies depending on the destination but typically ranges from 2 to 6 hours.

Ferry companies like Blue Star Ferries, Hellenic Seaways, and SeaJets operate regular services between the Cyclades islands, providing various routes. It’s advisable to check the ferry schedules and book your tickets in advance, especially during peak seasons or if you want to go at a specific time.

There are also smaller, local ferries that connect the islands within the Cyclades archipelago. These boats offer more flexibility in island hopping and exploring multiple destinations during your trip.

BY HIGH-SPEED CATAMARAN: If you prefer a faster option, high-speed catamarans are available for specific routes within the Cyclades. These modern vessels offer shorter travel times than traditional ferries, making them a convenient choice for those with limited time or who prefer a quicker journey.

Note: Ferry schedules can be subject to change, especially during adverse weather conditions. It’s recommended that you check for any updates or schedule modifications before your departure and be prepared for possible delays.

Exploring the Cyclades Islands 

Once you’ve arrived at your chosen island, various transportation options exist to explore the local destinations. Renting a car or scooter is a popular choice, as it allows you to explore at your own pace. Public buses and taxis are also available on most islands, providing convenient transportation between towns and attractions.

Respect local customs

When visiting the Cyclades islands, respecting the local customs and traditions is essential to ensure a positive and culturally sensitive experience. Here are some aspects to keep in mind:

  • Dress Code: The Cyclades islands, like many parts of Greece, have a conservative dress code, especially when visiting religious sites. Dress modestly and avoid wearing revealing clothing such as shorts, short skirts, or low-cut tops when entering churches or monasteries.
  • Greetings and Etiquette: Greeks value hospitality and warm greetings. When meeting locals, greet them with a friendly “kalimera” (good morning), “kalispera” (good evening), or “yasou” (hello). Shake hands when introduced to someone new, and maintain eye contact as a sign of respect. It’s also customary to say “efharisto” (thank you) for any favors or assistance you receive.
  • Table Manners: Greek cuisine is known for its communal dining culture. Sharing dishes with others at the table is common when dining at local tavernas or restaurants. It’s polite to wait for the host or elder to start eating before you begin and avoid placing your elbows on the table. Try to pace yourself during meals, as Greeks enjoy long, leisurely dining experiences.
  • Environmental Awareness: The Cyclades islands are blessed with stunning natural beauty, and respecting and preserving the environment is crucial. Dispose of trash responsibly and make use of designated recycling bins. Avoid damaging or removing natural resources like shells, rocks, or plants. Additionally, be mindful of water usage, as some islands may experience water scarcity during peak tourist seasons.
  • Noise Levels: While the Cyclades islands are known for their vibrant nightlife, noise levels must be considered, especially during late hours. Many locals live close to popular tourist areas, and excessive noise can disrupt their daily lives. Be mindful of volume when enjoying music or socializing in public spaces.
Exploring the Cyclades Islands
© Dimitris Kiriakakis / Unsplash

In the embrace of the Cyclades, you’ll find yourself transported to a place where time seems to stand still and the beauty of nature and culture merged seamlessly.

Whether you seek vibrant nightlife, romantic getaways, authentic encounters, or a rejuvenating escape, the Cyclades Islands are the perfect destination.

Exploring the Cyclades Islands
Explore the beauty of the Cyclades Islands in Greece. From whitewashed villages to crystal-clear waters, discover this idyllic archipelago.
Header photo

© Heidi Kaden / Unsplash


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Marlene Marques

Marlene is the creator of Marlene On The Move. A journalist by profession, she created the blog to share her adventures around the world. It is not unusual for her to set off to discover new countries and cultures with a surfboard as luggage.

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