Whitewashed houses glittering in the sun, blue-domed churches, scenic fishing harbors, breathtaking sea views and old windmills - have you seen such photos? Indisputably all travel agencies and lustrous magazines choose namely these landscapes to advertise Greek islands and the reason is more than obvious. The white magic of the otherwise simple buildings and the contrasting blue instantly grab people`s attention and they start dreaming about a peaceful holiday on one of those sunbeds overlooking the sea or walk in the maze of alleys which look like as if someone just painted them. This is not the face of all Greek islands, however, but it belongs to the Cyclades - the most popular Greek island group. The Cyclades, or Kyklades as the Greeks call them, is a cluster of more than 20 inhabited islands (and up to 200 miniature), forming a circle around the sacred Delos island.
And here comes the question - which one to select? How to make up your mind and choose only one or few of them as they all look alike? Actually, they are not alike and each of them has something to offer.
Couples and honeymooners
There are no two opinions about the favorite Greek destination for honeymooners - Santorini. The whole atmosphere of this volcanic island is so romantic that the caldera hotels have specialized in wedding organizations and offer various honeymoon suites. Couples in love of any age also find it a dream place for their holiday. Mykonos is the second preference, with rich nightlife, gorgeous beaches and lustrous hotels. If you choose Mykonos, you should be prepared that it is more expensive than the rest of the group due to its fame among celebrities. It is also a gay-friendly destination.
Couples who seek less bustle but still look for romance and dramatic sunsets should check Folegandros and Milos.
Families with kids
What do families with kids look for? Sandy beaches, shallow water, choice of restaurants and public facilities. Not to forget about hospitals, doctors and regular ferry/flight connections. All these things can be found on Naxos and Paros, combined with beautiful capital towns and villages you can explore together with the kids. Teenagers will not get bored, too. By all means you are not restricted to these two islands because most of the Cyclades islands are kids friendly - you can also try Syros, Sifnos and Milos which are less touristic but yet they also offer all of the above.
Party people and solo travelers
Since groups of friends usually look for parties and entertainment options, their choice falls on the more touristic islands like Santorini and Mykonos (nightlife and activities) or Paros and Naxos (for plenty of places to see and things to do, including boat cruises). Ios is another option for party people, although small it is considered a mini copy of Mykonos with till-morning parties and night clubs.
Solo travelers can find soul mates on any of the above, especially on Ios.
You can always find nice tavernas and delicious food anywhere but Sifnos is considered the place where gourmets can enjoy Greek cuisine at its best. It is a long tradition for the island residents to cook their meals in clay pots and it gives specific taste to the final result. Naxos is also a renown island for excellent food and specialties, being the largest of the Cyclades and the most fertile of the group it grows its own vegetables, fruits, olives as well as two local products you can find only there - the sweet potato of Naxos and the small lemon-like fruit citron.
Milos is another choice of yours where typical Greek cuisine products find their place in unique recipes. There is also the only place where you can taste volcanic food - dishes cooked under a hot volcanic stone at Paleochori beach.
If beach time is the main and most important thing about your holiday, you are on the right place! Places, actually. Numerous gorgeous sandy beaches can be found on Naxos, Paros, Mykonos, Syros, Andros and Tinos. But if you want beaches with blue water to blow your mind, you must visit Koufonisia - these two islets are a paradise for beach lovers with very shallow and turquoise color beyond description.
Speaking about colors, Santorini and Milos are homes to some of the most colorful beaches you can ever see - red, black, white and more.
Mass tourism escapers
We all agree Santorini and Mykonos are worth the visit but the incessant tourist flow is not much pleasant to everyone. Fortunately, the strong preference for some islands has let the other ones to provide calmer holiday experience in the same traditional white-blue style. Their authentic spirit even makes them more vivid and cozy. Such islands are Amorgos, Serifos, Folegandros, Kythnos, Kea, Andros and Tinos. The last three of them are much appreciated by hikers as well.
Off the beaten path seekers
A place off the beaten path means "in a remote or lesser-known area" so this automatically excludes popular islands, big islands or islands you have usually heard of. A Cycladic island intact by tourism sounds like something unreal but yet there are a few of them where life is as slow-paced as a few decades ago. Examples of such are Anafi, Sikinos, Kimolos and Thirasia and probably their names are completely unknown to you. Anafi is the remotest island of the group and if you go there, be prepared you cannot go back any time you want as ferries run a few times per week.
The Small Cyclades, a group of 4 inhabited islets between Naxos and Amorgos, may also be considered a getaway destination if it wasn`t for the daily boat cruises transferring loads of tourists from Naxos and Paros in the summer. In the late afternoon and evening however, when all tourists from the bats are gone, the islets get quiet and empty. Probably Donoussa is the most quiet of them being the remotest as well.
We have not forgotten about this peculiar group of holiday makers. In July and August the Cyclades islands are exposed to the strong north wind the Greeks call "meltemi". When temperatures rise too much, the meltemi may be a real bless and cool you down a little bit, but in some days it may blow sand in your eyes and make you search for a more sheltered beach. Surfers however are very happy to practice their favorite sport along with their holiday. Renown spots for kite surfers are located on Naxos (Mikri Vigla), Paros (Pounta) and Mykonos (Korfos). Wind surf lessons are available on Tinos (Kolimpithra beach) and Paros (Chrissi Akti beach).
And if you cannot decide which of these islands is the best choice for you, try island hopping. One popular and one smaller island nearby is a good combination even if you have a week and need to comply with flight and ferry schedules. Another option is to stay on one of the bigger islands and do daily trips/cruises to its neighbors. Just keep in mind that not all islands of the Cyclades group are directly connected to each other and ferries run on different routes - for example there is no direct ferry line connecting Sifnos with Amorgos. For one-day trips you can also use the hydrofoils carrying passengers only - they are fast and on some islands you can make a round trip for a day.