The Cyclades is an island group in the south Aegean sea. Its most famous representatives are Santorini and Mykonos but you will easily recognize other islands of this group for the typical landscape - picturesque villages in white and blue, narrow paved alleys between the cubical houses and small chapels at the background of the sea.
Other popular destinations of the Cyclades are Milos, Paros, Naxos, Ios and Folegandros.
General information about the Cyclades
The Cyclades are the most popular archipelago of Greece. The total number of islands in the group is 220 of which only 24 are inhabited and each has something distinctive, although they may look identical at first. The best time to visit the Cyclades is from April to October but the sea water is warm enough for swimming from middle June to September.
In alphabetical order, the inhabited islands of the group are: Amorgos, Anafi, Andros, Antiparos, Donoussa, Folegandros, Ios, Iraklia, Kea, Kimolos, Koufonisia, Kythnos, Milos, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Santorini, Schinoussa, Serifos, Sifnos, Sikinos, Syros, Thirasia and Tinos. The size of the islands is not related to their popularity. For example, Andros is much larger than Paros but the latter attracts more tourists.
Compared to other places of Greece, there is one thing that stands out in the Cyclades - the barren and rocky scenery. Although some islands of the group have low vegetation and even cultivate vegetables, there are neither green hills nor thick forests. Wind is also common in the summer, especially at the northern islands of Tinos and Mykonos.
Most villages in the Cyclades are old, with tiny alleys, stairs and arches between the houses, especially those built on elevations. The central areas of these villages are car-free and public parking lots are provided so you can leave your vehicle and continue on foot. The main roads of all the islands are also narrow, with many turns, and some beaches are accessible via dirt roads in decent conditions. Traditionally, the main village/capital of a Cycladic island is called Chora and you will often see and hear this word.
How to choose which Cycladic island to visit?
The Cyclades are identical and different at the same time. Although the white villages and blue-domed churches are common for the group, each island has its own vibe and once you visit a few of them, you will be tempted to see the rest as well.
Santorini is a world famous place with its caldera and considered the best destination for honeymooners and young couples. Folegandros and Milos are not less romantic, too, with spectacular sea views and beautiful sunsets. Mykonos and Ios have the fame of party islands with great nightlife and cool beaches but Paros and Naxos are better choices if you are looking for a family holiday in a place with variety of sandy beaches.
Smaller or less popular islands like Serifos, Sikinos, Kimolos, Anafi and Kythnos are still a bit away from mass tourism but you should consider the fact that accommodation options may be limited in number.
As it comes to food, travelers can enjoy traditional Greek cuisine everywhere in the Cyclades but some of the islands like Sifnos, Tinos, Naxos and Amorgos have specific local dishes and recipes which take gastronomy to another level.
And if you want to diversify the sparkling white landscape with something more colorful, check out Syros, Andros and Kea - their architecture is mixed, including buildings in neoclassical style and various pastel colors. Ermoupoli, the capital of Syros, is one of the most impressive ports of Greece.
Which are the best beaches of the Cyclades islands?
Along with the quintessential beaches with soft sand and blue water, in the Cyclades you can also see some of the most surrealistic beaches of Greece, like the Red Beach of Santorini and the lunar-like Sarakiniko of Milos. It is recommended to explore in advance any islands you would like to visit because they are quite diverse in terms of coastline.
There is not much greenery around the beaches of the Cyclades in general, except for small tamarisk trees, and bringing your own shade is a must if you plan to visit remote places for swimming and sunbathing (it can get really, really hot in the summer afternoons). Larger and popular beaches are usually maintained by cafes or tavernas where you can rent sunbeds and parasols, if you wish, but this is not always the case with small islands and isolated beaches.
How to get to the Cyclades islands?
The Cyclades can be reached by airplane or by ferryboat.
There are three big ports near Athens which serve conventional and speed ferries from and to the Cyclades: Piraues, Rafina and Lavrio. From the port of Piraues you can board on a ferry to each of the islands, while Rafina and Lavrio are used mainly for the northern Cyclades. Island hopping is possible and easy, especially between islands which are close to each other.
Islands with airports are Santorini, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Syros and Milos.