Delve into the charms of the Cyclades with this guide to the island group’s must-visit spots. 

Where can you go in Europe to escape the hustle and bustle yet experience incredible food, nightlife, and sightseeing? You guessed it. The Cyclades Islands.

But unless you plan on spending a big chunk of time island hopping through Greece (great idea), you will need to narrow down on which one, or ones, you plan to visit. Lucky for you, that’s exactly what this guide will help you do. 

From the sunset views and luxury hotels in Santorini to hidden beaches and stylish hideaways on Paros, I’ll fill you in on what to do and where to stay.

Ready to learn more? Read my guide to the must-visit Cyclades Islands below.

Milos

Best For: Extraterrestrial Landscapes and Great Beaches

Long overlooked as a vacation destination, Milos – an island of 5,000 residents is starting to show up on the radars of holidaymakers worldwide. And why wouldn’t it? It’s home to otherworldly coastlines, crystal blue waters, and some of the best restaurants I’ve found in Greece (really). 

The laid-back island has plenty of charming villages and cute boutique hotels near the main port in Adamas and underrated Pollonia. Alternatively, explore the quieter coves and historic monastery on the more isolated west side.

Bring your swimsuit, hiking boots, and camera – Milos is that paradise that those in the know are adding to their bucket list.

Don’t Miss

  • Sarakiniko Beach – Dramatic moon-like volcanic mountains meander their way into the bluest waters ever at this popular “beach”. Sarakiniko Beach doesn’t have sand, but catch some rays on one of the rocky sun decks on the island’s north side.
  • Sulphur Mines (Thiorichia Beach) – Milos has a long history of mining, which you can see first-hand here. The abandoned buildings and rusty machinery were eerily photogenic, especially with the rainbow-coloured hillside and clear blue waters around them.
  • Kleftiko – Hire a catamaran tour and venture off to the famous pirate coves in southwest Milos. You can spend an afternoon snorkelling and swimming through the picture-perfect waters at the stunning Kleftiko Beach.

Where to Stay: White Pebble Suites

Getting There 

You can take a ferry from Mykonos or Santorini in 2.5 to 3 hours. Alternatively, fly from Athens to Milos Airport.

Paros

Best For: Charming Historic Villages

Do I have a favourite Cyclades Island? Not necessarily. But Paros is right up there.

The charming Venetian Fortress on the seaside, marble-laden architecture in the village of Naoussa, and incredible restaurants are just a few reasons why it’s about to become your new favourite spot. 

Paros is a beach destination for travellers who want more than to lie on the sandy shores. Sure, spots like Kolymbithres Beach offer idyllic stretches of coastline to lounge on. But even there, you can marvel at unique geology or find tide pool surprises like sea cucumbers and coral.

If you want to explore adorable villages full of history and still teeming with life between beach-hopping, this is your island. It’s also a great option for party people who want something a bit less touristy.

Don’t Miss

  • Naoussa – White-washed architecture with flowers and vines climbing up the walls of bars and restaurants like Axinos Seafood Restaurant paints a picture of why Naousa is a favourite for many visitors.
  • Venetian Castle – Also in Naoussa, this 15th-century fortress protected Pharos from pirates for centuries. Only parts of the stone walls remain, but peering out into the Aegean Sea through the castle is amazing.
  • Monastery of Panagia Ekatontapiliani – In the capital of Parikia lies the imposing stone walls of the Monastery of Panagia Ekatontapiliani that date back to 4AD. It has an interesting story, like the “Church With 100 Doors,” and also features a Byzantine Museum.

Where to Stay: Paros Bay

Getting There: Take a ferry in from Santorini in as little as 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Naxos

Best For: All the Fun Without the Crowds

You may or may not have heard of Naxos. If you haven’t, that’s kind of part of the charm. 

Naxos is the largest of the 220 Cyclades Islands but somehow gets slept on by travellers year after year. I’m here to tell you why you should wake up to the fact that it’s one of Greece’s best-kept secrets.

Naxos is home to luxury hotels, relaxing beaches, and epic hiking trails like this challenging trek to see statues of yesteryear.

It’s also a historian’s paradise, with historic landmarks galore (some even think the Temple of Demeter inspired the Parthenon of Athens).

Don’t Miss

  • Temple of Apollo – Portara (Temple of Apollo) is a nearly 60-metre landmark dating back to the 6th Century BC. The monument to the God of the Sun and Light frames Delos, the birthplace of Apollo.
  • Alyko Beach –  You’ll find a lot of amazing beaches on Naxos. Alyko might be my favourite. Go for hidden coves, sandy beaches, and amazing street art covering hotel ruins. 
  • Chora – The capital city of Naxos offers a tonne to do. Check out the Archaeological Museum of Naxos and grab some local seafood at Sarris Tavern before finishing the day with cocktails and sunset views at 520 Cocktail Bar and Restaurant.

Where to Stay: Nissaki Beach Hotel 

Getting There: Most travellers take a ferry into the Naxos capital of Chora from Athens. It takes around 4 hours and can cost as little as £90, round trip. 

Syros

Best For: Hidden Slice of Paradise 

If you haven’t figured it out yet, there are a few hidden gems in Greece. The Cycladic Islands are home to many, and Syros might be the crown jewel.

It’s actually home to the capital of The Cyclades (Ermoupolis) and has a ton to see and do. It’s also one of the most popular islands for travellers in the know, somehow dodging the crowds you’ll find on some of the other islands.

It’s a cosmopolitan island with incredible Venetian and Cycladic architecture, storied art galleries, and one of the best concert halls in Greece at The Apollon.

In short, Syros is an island for historians, art buffs, and vacationers who want all the perks of sandy beaches and sunset views without crowds of tourists to compete with.

Don’t Miss

  • Apollon Theatre – This mid-19th-century theatre features stunning interior design, with red seats and matching walls in the gallery. If it looks eerily familiar to Teatro alla Scala in Milan, you’re not mistaken.
  • Anos Syros – The neighbourhood is a microcosm of everything I love about Syros. Stroll through the cobbled alleys and marvel at the traditional Cycladic homes and courtyard gardens before having a meal with a view at Apanochoritissa.
  • Church of Agios Nikolaos – It’s hard to miss the beautiful blue cupola and white marble bell towers atop the early 19th-century cathedral sitting above the harbour of Ermoupolis. Walk inside and out to see beautiful details like the crystal chandeliers and iconostasis designed by George Vitalis.

Where to Stay: Aristide Hotel

Getting There: You can catch a ride from Athens to Syros on a ferry in under 3 hours. 

Mykonos

Best For: Fun in the Sun 

Mykonos Town

Party people flock to Mykonos as it’s often dubbed the “Ibiza of Greece,” and there are a ton of great beach clubs to back that reputation. 

But to be honest, there are plenty of reasons to visit Mykonos besides dancing until the verrrryyy early  hours (though this is fun too). Dreamy hotels, beautiful beaches, and as many good restaurants as any Cyclades Island make Mykonos a winner wherever you go. 

It’s also the perfect island for couples. Sunsets at Oniro Bar or a walk hand-in-hand around the Old Harbour are about as romantic as it gets.

Don’t Miss

  • Alemagou Beach Club Mykonos – This is the beach club you want to go to, trust me. Located on one of Mykonos’ best-kept secrets (Ftelia Beach), it boasts incredible ocean views from the thatched-roof cabanas on the golden sands.
  • Kastro’s Restaurant in the impossibly cute Little Venice serves up amazing seafood with (you guessed it) first-rate views of the Aegean Sea. Go around sunset.
  • Mykonos Windmills – Walk to the south of Old Town (Chora) and check out the historic windmills, which locals used to process wheat. You can get some great shots of them above the rocky shores.

Where to Stay: Alissachni Mykonos

Getting There: Fly directly to Mykonos International Airport (JMK) or take a 3-hour ferry from Rafina or Piraeus Ports in Athens. 

Read Next

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Santorini

Best For: Epic Sunset Views

Santorini

Santorini is one of the most famous destinations in Greece. Head high up on a hill around sunset, and there won’t be a doubt in your mind about why this is the case. 

It’s crazy romantic, fun, and somehow retains much of the natural beauty that drew locals here as far back as 3600 BC. You can enjoy these views from too many luxury hotels to count, often at a surprisingly good price in the off season.

While this vacation destination is no secret, there are some ways to get away from the crowds. You can enjoy sunset views, cocktails, and dinner from some surprisingly chill villages like Pyrgos Kallistis. 

Don’t Miss

  • Oia – You’ve seen the sunset views over the domed rooftops of the white-washed hillside homes… This is Oia. Hike up to Oia Castle for epic views.
  • Penelope’s Ouzeri Pyrgos Santorini – Located in Pyrgos Kallistis, Penelope is a true hidden gem of a restaurant and arguably the best on the island. Don’t believe me? Head there for the lamb meatballs and tomato fritters, the latter of which is a Santorinian specialty.  
  • Perissa Beach – Secure a lounger under a thatched umbrella and vibe out on a sunny day. The volcanic sands and clear blue water make this a local favourite.

Where to Stay: Sun Rocks Boutique Hotel

Getting There: Santorini has an international airport (Santorini (Thira) International Airport), and plenty of ferries arrive from nearly any Cyclades Island on the regular.

Sifnos

Best For: Coastal Hikes

Sifnos is a beautiful island offering a peaceful Cyclades getaway. It’s known for its history and architecture, and I think the locals are as friendly as anywhere in Greece. 

But there’s another reason to come to Sifnos, and that’s for hiking. The coastal trails offer some of the most fascinating views I’ve ever seen. Whether you hike out to see the Church of the Seven Martyrs or choose a more remote trail like this 3.5-mile out & back, you’ll catch some spectacular shots when you hike through Sifnos.

Don’t worry. There are excellent options for beachgoers, too. 

From the pristine Platys Gialos to the lesser-known Chrissopigi Beach, you can soak up the sun in Sifnos.

Don’t Miss

  • Stroll Through Kastro – The ancient capital of Sifnos is the most picture-perfect village in Sifnos, and maybe anywhere in the Cyclades. Bring your camera through the white-washed houses and stone streets. Also, visit the Archeological Museum of Sifnos to learn more about the historic town. 
  • Church of the Seven Martyrs – This Greek Orthodox church is perched at the edge of the island on a rocky cliff, and photos of the white facade and blue dome are worth the hike from Kastro.
  • Platys Gialos – It’s one of the best-known beaches in Sifnos, and it’s no wonder why. Taking in the views of the clear blue waters and cliffside homes from this sunny cove is nothing short of perfect.

Where to Stay: NOS Hotel & Villas

Getting There: You can reach Sifnos from Athens by ferry in around 3 hours.

Serifos

Best For: Unspoiled Beaches

Hora on a hill, Serifos
Aerial drone bird’s eye view of iconic Monument of the Sailor in Andros island chora, Cyclades, Greece

Ever heard of Serifos? I’m not blaming you if you haven’t. Many tourists aren’t familiar with the smallish island south of Athens, and that’s a huge part of its charm.

You’ll find secluded stretches of sand, beautiful hiking trails, and clear blue waters as far as the eye can see. The architecture is classically Cycladian, with rectangular white-washed houses dotting the volcanic hillsides above the shores. 

Keep your eye open for churches. There are well over 100 on the island. Many boast gorgeous views of the Aegean Sea from above.

Don’t Miss

  • Ganema Beach – This isn’t the sandiest beach in the Cyclades, but it’s one of the most beautiful. Walk out from the pebbled shores into the clear blue sea for generally calm waters that are great for swimming.
  • Church of Agios Konstantinos  – Take a bus up the hill to Chora and hike up to the Castle of Chora (a 15th-century Village). There are many famous churches, but the Church of Agios Konstantinos offers the most insane views of the island from the very top of the cliff. Trust me, this is worth the effort.

Where to Stay: NŌSTOS Serifos 

Getting There: Take a ferry from Piraeus (just outside Athens city centre) to Livadi. It usually takes between 2-3 hours to arrive. 

Iraklia 

Best For: Epic Hikes

What if I told you that one of the smallest islands in the Cyclades has some of the best hikes in Greece? True story. 

Iraklia is a 17 square kilometre treasure trove of coastal trails, secret beaches, and pirate castles (for real). There’s also some seriously great food and drink. 

Hotel options are a bit more limited, but you can still find ultra-luxe accommodations like at my favourite spot below.

Don’t Miss

  • Cave of Agios Ioannis – Head to the southwestern part of the island to find the historic Cave of Agios Ioannis. You can hike there on a 2.8-mile out-and-back trail, which rewards you with a picturesque display of stalactites and stalagmites.
  • Akathi Restaurant – A true gem of a restaurant, this local favourite dishes up traditional dishes like goat braised in red wine. It’s small but has an adorable patio with some of the best views on the island.
  • Castle of Heraklia – Perched high above Livadi Beach, this abandoned stone castle dates back as far as 4th-century BC. The origin is a bit unclear, and adding to the mystery are rumours that it was an old pirate hangout.

Where to Stay: Speires Suites

Getting There: You can reach Iraklia by taking a ferry or booking a guided tour from Naxos.

Folegandros 

Best For: Scenic Photos

Chora, Folegandros at sunset

When you pull up to the main port of Karavostasi, Folegandros might not seem a lot different to other Cycladic islands. You’ll see white-washed cubic houses dotting the shores of crystal-clear blue waters. A bit unsurprising, albeit total paradise.  

But exploring this small island east of Milos opens up a world of discoveries. Bring. Your. Camera.

Towering volcanic mountains, gorgeous beaches, and one of the most picture-perfect villages anywhere in Greece are all reasons savvy travellers are beginning to put Folegandros on their radar.

Don’t Miss

  • Church of Panagia – This 11th-century Greek Orthodox church offers stunning views both from the top of the hill and on your way up. Perhaps as famous as the church itself, the winding white-walled pathway leading up from Chora is absolutely jaw-dropping.
  • Paralia Livadaki – On the island’s northwestern side, Paralia Livadaki is likely the most beautiful beach in Folegandros. You can hike in or take a boat to the crystal clear waters of the hidden cove.  
  • Papalagi Seafood – Perched high on a cliff over the Aegean Sea, Papalagi matches the impressive patio view with some of the freshest seafood on the island.

Where to Stay: Aria Boutique Hotel

Getting There: Take a ferry from Athens, which takes around 4-6 hours, depending on the boat. Alternatively, you can book a speed boat trip from Sifnos. 

Tinos

Best For: History and Culture

Traditional alley in Tinos

Located just 20 minutes away from Mykonos, Tinos is a popular day trip from its neighbouring Cyclades Island. But consider doing what many travellers miss out on and get to know the island a bit better over a few days. 

You’ll find excellent beaches like Paralia Agia Thalassa, beautiful Cycladic architecture, and great restaurants and bars (without the crowds).

The small island is also where many legendary marble sculptors, including Yannoulis Chalepas, were born.

Don’t Miss

  • Holy Church of the Virgin Mary Evangelistria at Tinos – Also known as Panagia Megalochari, the 19th-century Panagia Megalochari building is a beautiful church above the Chora. Look for the long red carpet leading up to the cathedral, where some crawl up to the church to show their faith.
  • Museum of Marble Craft – This is a really cool place to discover why Tinos has a reputation for art, with a collection of marble artwork and the tools used to make them over the years.
  • Archaeological Site Kionia Tinos – Walk around and explore the site of this ancient temple for Poseidon and Amphitrite near Τσαμπιά παραλία Beach.

Where to Stay: Tinos Resort

Getting There: You can take a ferry directly from Athens in about 4.5 hours. From Mykonos, you can reach Tinos in as little as 15 minutes. 

Ios

Best For: Beach Parties and Nightlife

Panoramic view of the old city at sunset in Ios

There’s another popular Greek Island where you can dance the night away. Not Mykonos, nor Santorini, but Ios. Even though Ios has been a party island for decades, it’s still a great place for younger travellers to let loose and have fun. 

But if you’re on the other side of 40, don’t worry. The beaches and sunset views are as grand as any you’ll find in Greece.

Don’t Miss

  • Mylopotas Beach – This is the beach on Ios. Go there to people-watch, party down, or just enjoy the crystal clear blue waters for an afternoon.
  • Free Beach Bar — Laid back beach club on Mylopotas with a swimming pool, sandy beaches, and loungers under rustic thatch roofs.
  • Koubara Seafood Restaurant – this cool seafood restaurant is located near the beautiful Paralia Koumpara. It’s a lovely outdoor setting overlooking the west side of the island (this means epic sunset views). Expect simple but delicious seafood dishes overlooking the Aegean Sea.

Where to Stay: Liostasi Hotel

Getting There: A ferry from Athens takes up to 6 hours, but you can cut it down to under an hour if you’re visiting from Santorini. 

Andros

Best For: Nature lovers

Aerial view of the Monument of the Sailor, Andros

Andros is a beautiful Greek Island that has tons for travellers to do. Whether you’re here to lie on one of the many beautiful beaches or explore the castles and museums dotting the idyllic villages, Andros is an island with something to offer for nearly anyone.

But perhaps the main draw to this quiet island is nature. Andros is home to well over half of the flora and fauna types you’ll find in the Cyclades, including more than a dozen kinds of wild orchids.

Even if you miss the blooms in April and May, you’ll want to go for the near-perfect mix of activities on land and in the sea.

Don’t Miss

  • Hike From Chora to Livadia – This moderate loop trail is an ideal choice for hikers who want to see a bit of the countryside in Andros. If you go in April and May, you can expect to see beautiful wildflower blooms in the valley.
  • Cyclades Olive Museum – Located in an 18th-century stone building, this museum offers a cool look at an important industry in the Cyclades Islands by explaining the process of making olive oil in a site where it was made for years.
  • Agios Petros beach – This is the sandy beach you hoped to find when visiting the Cyclades. The large stretch of perfect golden sands sits on the island’s northwestern side. You can also grab a cocktail from one of the beach bars nearby. 

Where to Stay: Anemomiloi Andros Boutique Hotel

Getting There: You can ferry from Rafina and Lavrio in Athens in under 2 hours.

Practical Tips for Planning Your Cyclades Trip

How to Choose The Best Island for You 

Choosing the best island for you comes down to several factors. First, you need to ask yourself what your priorities are. 

If you come to the Cyclades to party, then Mykonos and Santorini never fail. The 2 islands offer some of the best nightlife, luxury hotels, and fun that you’ll find anywhere in Greece. 

But you can enjoy much more laid-back settings on many other islands.  Consider if you want a large (Naxos) or tiny (Iraklia) island. Do you want budget-friendly accommodations or a luxury hotel? Lastly, how far are you willing to travel to reach your destination?

Getting To The Cyclades 

Many of the islands don’t have international airports. This leaves you with a couple of options. You can either fly from Athens to a local airport or take a ferry in.

I thought the easiest way to find ferries was using Ferry Hopper. It’s a great way to choose between one of the major ferry companies, like Hellenic Seaways or Blue Star Ferries, and see who’s offering the best rates.

Book your ticket as far ahead as you can. Prices get sky-high in the summer. 

If you choose to fly, look at Skyscanner for the best rates from airlines like Aegean or Lufthansa. 

Getting Around the Islands 

Once you decide which island you’re going to, you’ll want to consider how to get around when you’re there. Public transportation is possible on islands like Naxos or Milos (and even smaller islands like Syros), but it never hurts to have a car. 

If you intend to visit more than one Greek Island, you’ll want to decide how to book your rental cars. You can hire a car in Athens, book an open-deck ferry, and take your car with you.

But honestly save that as a last resort. In most cases, you’ll save a ton of money by hiring a car on each island, especially when you plan ahead.

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