If you’re reading this, you’re probably planning a trip to Greece. You’ve heard of some of the more popular islands like Santorini and Mykonos. You’ve also heard that Greece has more islands that are less crowded and less expensive, but just as beautiful. Maybe you’ve even narrowed it down to the Cyclades islands but don’t know which islands to visit. Let me help plan your perfect Cyclades island hopping trip.
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What are the Cyclades islands?
The Cyclades are a group of over 200 islands off the southeast coast of mainland Greece. Out of these, only 24 are inhabited. These include the well known islands of Santorini and Mykonos, and some you probably haven’t heard of like Ios and Syros.
The name for this group of islands is derived from the Greek word kyklos, meaning circle, because the islands form a circle around the sacred island of Delos. Learn more about Delos in my Instagram post below!
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The Cyclades islands are known for their beautiful white sandy beaches and whitewashed houses with blue accents. But there’s so much more to these islands than just what you see on a postcard!
If you don’t already have your trip booked, I’m sure I’m convincing you to visit. Check out these resources and tools to help book and plan your trip!
- Booking.com – offers accommodation and unique places
- Vrbo – world’s leading marketplace for vacation rentals
- Hostelworld – global hostel-focused online booking platform
- Wayaway – flight aggregator to find the best rates on airline tickets
- Rentalcars.com – the world’s largest car rental service
- Trainline – Europe’s leading train and bus app
- GetYourGuide – find top-rated tours and activities in your destination
How do I choose what islands to visit?
Choosing what islands to visit during your Cyclades island hopping trip depends on many factors. Here are the main things you should consider:
- Length of trip. You don’t want to be hopping around too much. In my opinion, the minimum you should stay on each island is 2 days. Alternatively, you can choose one island as your “home base” and do day trips by ferry to other islands.
- Budget. Some Cyclades islands are more expensive than others. Santorini and Mykonos are definitely the most expensive, so if you want to save some money consider spending time on the other islands.
- Traveler Type. When you think of yourself in Greece, do you imagine taking photos in Greece’s most instagrammable spots or exploring off the beaten path?
- Relaxation v. Activities. Do you want to spend most of your time relaxing on the beach eating and drinking? Or are you more interested in activities like exploring historical sites, going on hikes, and ATVing around the island? If you’re like me, you’re probably looking for a bit of both.
All in all, don’t stress. Whatever islands you choose, you will absolutely love Greece. But I’m here to give you some pointers on how to choose what islands are best for you, based on my personal experience spending a month in Greece. I’m including only information about islands I visited, since my blog is based around my personal travel experiences. I have not visited all of the inhabited Cyclades islands, but I’m sure I have been to at least a few of the ones you are considering! You can find a full list of Cyclades islands you can visit here.
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Cyclades Islands I Visited
Naxos is the island on which I spent the most time. It’s also the largest island in the Cyclades, so there’s a lot to explore. Naxos ranks high on my list for both beach and adventure. It’s really the best of both worlds! Plus, it’s less expensive and touristy than some of the other islands.
There are over 30 different beaches, the best being on the western shore. Some of the beaches are organized, meaning there’s chairs, restaurants, water sports, etc. and some are unorganized, meaning there’s basically just sand. (Also, some Cyclades islands have rock beaches, but in Naxos most of the beaches are sand).
In addition to the many beaches, a highlight of Naxos is the town center, also called Chora. It’s a quintessential Greek maze of whitewashed houses, boutiques, restaurants, bars, gift shops, and more. There’s also a handful of great restaurants on the water’s edge right near the port. Additionally, there are many historic sites to visit and observe such as the Temple of Apollo.
The best way to get around Naxos is by car, ATV, or bus. Our Airbnb was located in Chora but we booked a bus tour one day to take us to the north of the island where we visited the towns of Chalki and Apollonas. If you’re only staying for a few days and want to do a little bit of exploring, I’d recommend an ATV. However if you’re looking to just hangout on the beach and walk around Chora then your feet should be fine!
Paros is close to Naxos and also very similar. They are actually considered sister islands! We had a difficult time choosing between the two for where to spend the bulk of our time. We ended up going with Naxos, but also spent some time on Paros. It’s smaller than Naxos so there is less to see, but this may be better if you’re planning a shorter trip and don’t want to be overwhelmed with choosing what to do once you’re on an island.
Paros has two main towns, Parikia and Naoussa, so things are more spread out than they are on Naxos. Paros has a more lively bar and restaurant scene, which makes this a good island to visit for couples or friends! Another cool thing about Paros is that it’s the island with a direct route to the nearby island of Antiparos.
Delos is a small Greek island near Mykonos. It is the mythological birthplace of sun god Apollo and moon god Artemis. It was a major religious and cosmopolitan site during the 1st millennium BCE. Today, Delos is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its excavations, which began in 1873, are some of the most extensive in the Mediterranean. There are NO hotels or restaurants on the island, so don’t expect to stay overnight!
The purpose of visiting Delos is to explore the archeological remains. You can book a day trip to Delos from many of the surrounding Cyclades islands. We did a boat trip from Naxos to Mykonos, and on route to Mykonos the boat stopped at Delos for an hour or two! I definitely recommend tacking it on to a visit to another nearby island.
Let me be straight up with y’all – I am not a fan of Mykonos. We were there only for a few hours as part of a day trip from Naxos, and that was definitely enough. The main site to see is the windmills which are basically surrounded by a parking lot. Not very scenic! The food and drinks were also extraordinarily expensive as compared to the other islands, and it was a lot more crowded. Because of this I wasn’t able to get many good photos.
The streets of the main town were pretty similar to the other islands, therefore there was nothing about them that stood out. As you probably know, Mykonos is the “party island,” and while we didn’t stay for the party, I could definitely tell the vibe was quite boozy. Unless you’re looking to party your way through Greece, you can skip Mykonos.
Ios is my absolute favorite Cyclades island. It’s known as Mykonos’ “little sister” because it’s close to Mykonos and is known for having good nightlife. Everything about our stay in Ios was perfect – from our accommodation, to the beaches, activities, food, and more. We stayed at the family-owned hotel, Olga’s Pension, which was close to the port. We loved the aesthetic of the hotel and everyone who worked there was super friendly.
To get to the main town from the port you have to walk uphill, so be prepared with some comfortable shoes. Also, make sure you walk up to the St. Nikolaos chapel to watch the sunset. I mean, you really can’t beat this…
In addition to stunning beaches and fun watersports (we did a speedboat tour), Ios also has a lot of free historical sites to check out. If you have an ATV you can knock them all out in a few hours, and much of the drive is on a hill overlooking the town and sea. The sights I enjoyed seeing most are Skarkos (an archaeological site of a Bronze age settlement), the Tomb of Homer, and the Odysseas Elytis Theater.
Milos is more towards the bottom of my list. This wasn’t really because of the island itself, but more because we found the other islands more inviting. Looking back, a lot of my favorite activities we did in Greece were actually in Milos! We didn’t spend much time on the beach but took a half-day boat trip and saw some beautiful beaches and caves.
Milos is great for adventurers, and if you visit you definitely want to reserve an ATV or car. We stayed in the capital, Plaka, in an Airbnb that is converted from a greenhouse. Plaka is about a 10 minute drive from the port and is situated on a rock overlooking the sea. If you think Milos is the right fit for you, here are things places you need to visit:
- Klima: cute, color fishing village that makes for the perfect photo spot
- Tsigrado Beach: secluded beach you can only access by climbing down a rope and ladder (don’t forget you need to climb back up)
- Old Sulfur Mines (Theorychia): sulfur mining is part of Greece’s industrial history and these well-preserved mines were built in the 1930s
- Sarakiniko Beach: beach that looks like the surface of the moon because it’s covered with ash-white volcanic rocks
[RELATED: A VISIT TO THE OLD SULFUR MINES IN MILOS]
If you visit one island in Greece it should be Santorini. Yes, Santorini is “touristy,” but for a good reason! It’s literally incredible and perfect for any type of traveler. It has something for everyone: beach, volcano hikes, horseback riding, wine tasting, historical sites, etc. It’s easier to get to than the other islands because you can fly from many countries directly to Santorini.
We spent a few days in Santorini, both in Kamari (east coast) and Thera (west coast). When you think of Santorini, you probably picture Oia, which is the most classically Greek looking town on the island. Thankfully Santorini is somewhat small, so as long as you have an ATV or car you will have no trouble seeing a lot in a short amount of time.
I want to give you some Taylor Travelgram Tips to help you make the most of your Cyclades island hopping experience.
- Travel at the start or end of the summer (late April/early May or late August/early September). These times of year are a little less crowded and the temperatures are more moderate.
- Always rent an ATV if you are staying on an island for more than one day, and make sure you reserve online in advance. Just look up “ATV rentals in Santorini.” Also, don’t forget to wear your helmet!
- Have cash on hand to pay for beach chairs. Many beaches in the Cyclades are organized, which means if you want to sit on the chairs you almost always have to pay the restaurant those chairs are in front of. Sometimes you can just order food and drinks to cover the cost.
- Make sure to pack a coverup and light sweater because the beaches can get windy sometimes. For more Greece packing essentials, checkout my Amazon storefront!
Now, it’s your time to go Cyclades island hopping. Have fun!
GetYourGuide is a travel booking platform that unlocks unforgettable travel experiences for travelers. It’s for those who want to see new things and go beyond traditional tourist destinations. GetYourGuide helps travelers find joy in the authentic, extraordinary depth and spirit behind a pin on a map and helps travelers feel like true explorers!