The Cyclades, south of Greece, are considered some of the most beautiful islands in the world. Mountains, white cubistic villages and black and golden sand beaches combine to make the islands picture postcard-perfect. The Cyclades, so named because of the archipelago’s islands are set up in a circle around Delos, also played important roles in Greek mythology. They are a good play to just relax on a beach, go hiking in the mountains or tour prehistoric ruins. Since the entire world have discovered the Cyclades Islands, they tend to be very crowded with visitors, especially in high summer. But most people feel the islands’ attractions are worth putting up with the crowds.
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Anafi is a quiet, unspoiled island located near Santorini. Due to its small size and few inhabitants, Anafi remains a pure island, untouched by mass tourism unlike most of the other islands in the Cyclades. It has only one village and numerous crystal beaches. A visit to Anafi provides all the privacy and relaxation some tourists might be looking for. In high season, there are daily connections from Santorini and at least one every two days in low and mid season.
Although it is located very close to the popular island of Milos, Kimolos island maintains its pure nature and a calm ambiance. The boats dock at Psathi, from where it’s 1.5 km (1 mile) to the pretty capital of Chorio, The only village on the island, Chorio offers a step back in time with its paved narrow streets and abandoned stone houses, though little by little the old buildings are being restored, and new ones are appearing.
Kythnos is mostly an agricultural island with green valleys and many unspoilt beaches. The island has two main settlements, the village of Messaria, known locally as Chora, and the village of Dryopida, also known as Chorio. Both villages are notable for their winding and often stepped streets, too narrow for vehicular traffic. The villages are very picturesque but in different architectural styles. Chora has the more-typical flat roofs of the Cyclades, while Dryopida’s rooftops are slanted and tiled.
Serifos is a small island where tourism is just beginning to really develop. Its main attractions are some excellent beaches, and the unspoiled hilltop capital of Hora with its whitewashed buildings. Though small, Hora has most of the services a traveler requires, including hotels and restaurants and at least one bank and grocery store. Smaller villages are scattered around the rest of the island.
Inhabited since early times, Sifnos’ main claim to fame in the ancient world was for its gold and silver mines, some remains of which still exist. Nowadays Sifnos is known as a typical Cycladic island, with traditional white-washed architecture, pretty beaches, seaside taverns and low hills. The most popular beaches are located on the southern side of Sifnos and have crystal water, soft sand and many tourist facilities. Kastro is the most picturesque village in Sifnos, with narrow paved streets, stone houses and great sea views.
Located between Naxos and Amorgos, Koufonisia is a small group of two islets: Pano Koufonisi and Kato Koufonisi. The two islands are separated by a narrow 200 meter (650 feet) wide strait. Pano Koufonissi is the only one that is inhabited and has all the tourist facilities. Kato Koufonisia has some beautiful beaches and a lovely church. Koufonisia is a great place to go walking and cycling or to enjoy one of its many fantastic beaches.
Folegandros is a small island on the southern edge of the Cyclades with the Sea of Crete to its south. The landscape on the island is varied, and includes tall cliffs and a large cave. The capital of the island, Chora, is built on the edge of a 200 meter (650 feet) high cliff. Boats dock at the little harbour of Karavostasis, on the east coast. There are several good beaches, but many of them can only be reached on foot.
The easternmost island of the Cyclades group, Amorgos is just 30 km (19 miles) in length but reaches over 800 meters (2600 feet) at its highest point. It is one of the most impressive islands in the archipelago, boasting good beaches, beautiful caves, ideal spots for diving, scenic bays and ancient footpaths leading through its steep rocky terrain. Its beauty inspired the filmmaker Luc Besson to shoot scenes of the 1988 movie “The Big Blue” in the beach of Agia Anna. Amorgos has two ports, Aegiali and Katapola while the enchanting town of Hora lies amid a rocky landscape high above Katapola.
One of the smallest islands of the Cyclades and relatively rural outside of the capital Ermoupolis, Syros is a beautiful island off the normal tourist track. Despite its size it has the highest population in the Cyclades since Ermoupolis is the legal and administrative center of the archipelago. It’s a great place to experience authentic Greek island culture.
Andros is the second largest and most northern of the islands in the Cyclades archipelago. The capital, Hora, is a photographer’s dream, with Aegean waters splashing on to the colorful houses that line the shore. The city is a base for famous Greek ship owners and captains. Outside the city, travelers will find sandy beaches, rocky coastlines, hiking trails up the mountains and a Frankish castle left over from the 13th century. Several island towns date back to prehistoric times, with ruins still visible. Olive oil lovers might want to take in the Olive Museum at Ano Pitrofos.
Antiparos is a small island in the southern Aegean that is reachable by a short ferry ride from the nearby island of Paros. The waterfront section of the main city, also known as Antiparos, is pretty touristy so travelers looking for a more authentic experience are recommend to walk through it to the quiet village that lies beyond. The city itself was built around a 15th century Venetian castle, The oldest prehistoric village in the Cyclades can be found in nearby Saliagos. Spelunkers will find the oldest stalagmites in Europe in a cave near Aylos Ionnis Hill. Though there are more beautiful Cycladic islands, Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Pierce Brosnan and several other famous people appreciate Antiparos enough to have a villa on the island.
Delos, an island in the central Cyclades, is one of the most important mythological, historical and archeological centers in Greece. It is the home of twins Apollo and Artemis in Greek mythology. Plus, early inhabitants can be traced back to the third century BC. The island’s top sights include the Sacred Harbor, now a dry lake; the Terrace of the Lions, dedicated to Apollo by Naxos in 600 BC, and the House of Dionysius, a luxury private home built in the second century. Less than two dozen people live here. The island is accessibly by daily ferry from Mykonos, except Monday, because the archaeological site is closed that day.
Milos lies between Greece and Crete, and is known as a colorful island because of its volcanic beginnings. It is, however, most famous as being the place where the statue of Venus was found; the statue is now on display at the Louvre in Paris. This horseshoe-shaped island may only have about 5,000 residents, but it does have more than 70 beaches. Ocean waters range from blue to violet, set off by white and pink rocks, also contributing to the colors of the island. April and May are considered the best times to visit because of the blooming vegetation.
Ios is a hilly island with cliffs descending to the sea. During the summer months, it’s known as a party island where revelers dance the nights away in clubs in Chora, the main town and port city, where white-washed houses climb the hillside. But it also has picture postcard views of stunning scenery. Visitors rank its golden sand beaches as the top tourist attraction, but the tomb of Homer, who wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey, also is a popular draw. Skarkos is a good place to see excavated prehistoric ruins.
Tinos, the name for both the island and its main city, might be described as ecumenical, as it is important to the Greek Orthodox and Catholic religions. Greek pilgrims come here twice annually to pray at the church of Panagia Megalochari or Blessed Virgin Mary. The island also has 40 traditional villages, wonderful beaches and is home to many famous Greek artists, especially marble sculptors who live mostly around Pyrgos. Timos has three ports serving speed boats and ferries; villages on the island are linked by bus. The island has about 80 windmills as well as picturesque villages climbing the mountainsides.
Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades islands, figures prominently in Greek mythology (it’s the childhood home of Zeus) and also was invaded in the Crusades during the Middle Ages. Some locals still wear traditional clothing on this island that is both mountains and green valleys. The capital is Naxos City, also known as Chora, which is close to several beaches, including some that allow nude sunbathing. Walking through the old area of Chora ranks high on travelers’ must-do lists Another favorite is the Portara, an archway that remains of a Greek temple to Apollo; sunset is the best time to visit the temple.
Paros is one of the most picturesque of the Greek isles with its charming old towns of cobblestone streets, whitewashed buildings and vibrant vines of bougainvilleas. Because of its many convenient ferry connections, Paros makes a great base if you want to visit other islands in the Cyclades. If you are looking for an attractive nightlife scene, you will be spoiled for choice on this Cycladic island as it offers many places that feature a wide range of restaurants, bars and nightclubs. The beaches on Paros are plentiful as well, ranging from the quiet and remote to the more crowded where windsurfing competitions are frequently hosted.
One of the smallest of the Cyclades islands, Mykonos features two primary towns, Mykonos Town and Ano Mera. Embellished with charming whitewashed buildings and winding lanes, Mykonos Town pulses with lively shopping boutiques, restaurants, cafes, art galleries and stylish bars. Sites not to miss here include the 16th century windmills, the stunning Byzantine church, Panagia Paraportiani, and the romantic seaside district of Little Venice. Like most of the Greek islands, Mykonos boasts beautiful beaches. Tourists will find tavernas, restaurants, beach umbrellas and deck chairs on most of the beaches here.
Read more: Top Mykonos Attractions
Santorini is perhaps the most well-known of the Cyclades and definitely one of the most picturesque. Formed by volcanic action, Santorini is well-loved for its cliff-hanging villages and legendary sunsets. While Santorini consists of numerous villages, the most famous are Fira and Oia, which cling to cliff sides overlooking the turquoise sea. Hundreds of zigzagging steps ascend and wind through these villages of cobblestone lanes and whitewashed houses with blue-domed roofs. Archeological excavations show the island to have the best Minoan ruins outside of Crete. Black sand beaches and traditional villages also draw tourists.
Read more: Santorini Attractions