Cyclades Islands Guide: Each in a Nutshell

If you have never visited any of the Cyclades islands, you may experience hesitation in choosing the first one. How could you know where to go and what to do without reading long descriptions for each island separately? And can you go wrong with your choice if you have to select one out of 24 islands you have never been to?

The following short guides will give you an idea of what to expect on each of the Cyclades along with the best things to see and do. Enjoy reading!

Santorini

Caldera views, romantic sunsets and volcanic beaches

Visiting Santorini is a once-in-a-life experience, despite the fact it is very touristy. You need to go this thrilling sensation of walking on the caldera rim, watching those cubical houses perched on the steep rocks and seeing the colorful volcanic beaches. To enjoy Santorini at its most, pay it a visit in early/late season or combine with a less popular island of the group.

In Santorini you can have both expensive and budget stay, as even 2 days are enough to see the main sights of the island.

Who is Santorini best for?
Honeymooners, couples, solo travelers, groups of friends.

What is Santorini best known for?
The caldera houses, the sunset of Oia, the Vinsanto wine.

Which are the best things to see and do in Santorini?
The caldera villages of Fira, Firostefani, Oia and Imerovigli, Ancient Thira, Red beach, the villages of Pyrgos and Embourios, the prehistoric settlement of Akrotiri, boat trip to the volcano of Nea Kameni and Thirasia island.

Which are the local dishes of Santorini?
Fava dip, tomatokeftedes (tomato fritters), melitzanes Santorinis (white aubergines with cheese).

Mykonos

Fancy hotels, wild nightlife and beach parties

One of the windmills

Small but glossy Mykonos tends to be the special place of celebrities, fashion bloggers and travelers who highly estimate discreet luxury experience. Its golden sandy beaches are known for the lustrous beach bars, beach parties and refined dining. The tiny alleys of Mykonos Town intersect in multiple points like a maze full of small boutiques, gift shops and cafes, leading to the Little Venice neighborhood and the celebrated windmills.

Of course, all this fame and interest in Mykonos has resulted in steady increase of prices, making it probably the most expensive Greek island. Going on a budget is possible but compared to the other islands of the group, your choice would be limited.

Who is Mykonos best for?
Party goers, young couples, groups of friends, solo travelers, beach lovers.

What is Mykonos best known for?
The windmills, the nightlife, the sandy beaches and beach parties.

Which are the best things to see and do in Mykonos?
Mykonos Town with the windmills, Little Venice and the church of Paraportiani, trip to the historical island of Delos.

Which are the local dishes of Mykonos?
Kremmidopita (onion and cheese pie), louza (local air-dried meat with herbs), kopanisti (soft cheese with spices), mostra (a version of the Cretan dakos).

Naxos

Venetian castles, sandy beaches and gorgeous food

Blue sea and yellow sand

The largest of the Cyclades is surprisingly one of the more authentic ones, oriented to families and couples. With a great variety of sandy beaches, pretty villages for a walk and historical sites, Naxos is always a good choice. The island is proud with the cultivation of kitron - small lemon-like fruit from which the Naxians produce liqueur and spoon sweet.

Who is Naxos best for?
Families with kids of any age, couples, beach lovers, foodies, hikers, kitesurfers.

What is Naxos best known for?
The Venetian castle, Portara (the gate of Apollo), the large sandy beaches, the good cuisine.

Which are the best things to see and do in Naxos?
Naxos Town with the castle, the labyrinth and Portara, the villages of Apeiranthos, Chalkio and Koronos, the statue of Apollonas, trip to the Lesser Cyclades.

Which are the local dishes of Naxos?
Kalogeros (aubergine and meat dish), Naxian potatoes, rosto (baked pork meat with red wine), melachrino (walnut pie), local cheese (graviera, arseniko and xynomyzithra), kitron liqueur, papilona spoon sweet (cross fertilization between bergamot and orange).

Paros

The lustrous little sibling of Naxos

In some respects Paros resembles Naxos - traditional villages, sandy beaches and Venetian legacy. But it has its own glamorous identity, reflected in the two largest village, Parikia and Naoussa, and in the restaurants and bars. The tiny inhabited island of Antiparos is just off the shore of Paros and you can reach in just 10 minutes by taxi boat or by the local ferry which serves this route only.

Who is Paros best for?
Couples, families with kids of any age, groups of friends, solo travelers, kitesurfers.

What is Paros best known for?
The scenic old port of Naoussa, the island of Antiparos.

Which are the best things to see and do in Paros?
Naoussa with its old port and fortress, the capital Parikia with its labyrinth of alleys, the villages of Lefkes and Kostos, the church of Agios Antonios, trip to the island of Antiparos.

Which are the local dishes of Paros?
Sun-dried octopus, fried cheese with honey and sesame seeds, lichnarakia (small sweet cheese pies).

Antiparos

Small but celebrated

Turquoise blue water

Though both are two separate islands, Antiparos somehow feels like part of Paros, and the journey between them takes less than 10 minutes ride on the local ferry. Antiparos has only one village which gets very busy in the summer and a clusters of hotels around some beaches, but most of the island is non-developed. Rumor has it that the celebrities who own villas for secret escapes on the island are increasing by number.

Who is Antiparos best for?
Couples, solo travelers, groups of friends.

What is Antiparos best known for?
The blue water beaches and the cave of Agios Ioannis.

Which are the best things to see and do in Antiparos?
The village of Antiparos with the neighborhood of Kastro, the cave of Agios Ioannis, boat trip to the sea caves around the island.

Syros

The astounding capital of the Cyclades

Many are confused to find out that the capital of the Cyclades chain is neither Santorini, the most famous, nor Naxos, the largest. The unexpected answer is Syros - small but quite imposing and densely populated island. Syros is unusual even in terms of architecture and differs from the quintessential Cycladic style. Its principal village, called Ermoupoli, is one of the most scenic places in the Cyclades, with neoclassical buildings, refine boutique hotels and a busy promenade. In the shadows of nearby Mykonos and Paros, Syros is still under the radar destination.

Who is Syros best for?
Couples, families with kids of any age, honeymooners, groups of friends, hikers.

What is Syros best known for?
The capital village of Ermoupoli and the neoclassical architecture.

Which are the best things to see and do in Syros?
Ermoupoli with the seafront, Miaouli square and Vaporia district, the old neigborhood of Ano Syros, the cave church of Agios Stefanos.

Which are the local dishes of Syros?
San Michali cheese, halvadopita (nougat pie) and loukoumia, capers salad, stuffed squid, aetopita (fish and vegetables pie).

Milos

Lunar landscapes, colorful beaches and boat garages

The island of colors - this is how they call Milos. The island is a dormant volcano and its coastline is very diverse, with beaches and rocks in weird colors. Until recently Milos was under-the-radar destination but when photos of Sarakiniko beach and the quaint little harbors with boat garages flooded the web, travel agents and online magazines directed their eyes to the island.

Who is Milos best for?
Couples, families with kids, groups of friends, beach lovers.

What is Milos best known for?
The white beach of Sarakiniko, Kleftiko rocks, the statue of Venus de Milo.

Which are the best things to see and do in Milos?
The capital village of Plaka, Sarakiniko beach, the fishing villages of Klima, Mandrakia and Firopotamos with their colorful boat garages, the catacombs of Milos, the abandoned mines of Thiorichia, volcanic food at Paleochori beach, boat trip to Kleftiko and Sykia cave, day trip to Kimolos island.

Which are the local dishes of Milos?
Karpouzopita (watermelon pie), pitarakia Milou (small moon-shaped cheese pies), koufeto (pumpkin and almond spoon sweet), capers salad.

Ios

Lazy beach days, crazy party nights

Do not let the sleepy appearance of this island trick you - during the day it may seem laid-back and tranquil but in the summer nights its principal village comes alive with the numerous cozy bars. Despite this fact and the famed bar crawl, Ios is not only for party people, it is blessed with golden sandy beaches (like Manganari and Mylopotas), beautiful Chora in the typical for the Cyclades white-blue elements and panoramic sea views.

Who is Ios best for?
Party goers, solo travelers, groups of friends, couples.

What is Ios best known for?
The beach parties, the bar crawl, the churches with sea views.

Which are the best things to see and do in Ios?
Ios Chora with the three churches atop and its windmills, Manganari beach, the archeological site of Skarkos.

Which are the local dishes of Ios?
Tsimetia (stuffed zucchini flowers), rikomelo (erika plant honey), local xinotiri (soft goat cheese), local capers.

Sifnos

Foodies paradise in authentic Cycladic atmosphere

Sifnos stays a bit aside from the tourist bustle but those who have been there are more likely to return. The island has unpretentious Cycladic feel and look, balancing between tranquility and decent choice of places to stay, spots to visit and beaches to check out. And the food - oh the food! - is something you will definitely remember since Sifnos has long culinary traditions and region-specific recipes. Ceramics is also wide-spread and you can buy such items from the numerous craft shops run by local families.

Who is Sifnos best for?
Couples, foodies, families with kids, hikers.

What is Sifnos best known for?
The church of the Seven Martyrs, the pottery, the good cuisine.

Which are the best things to see and do in Sifnos?
The fortified settlement of Kastro, the church of the Seven Martyrs, the authentic villages of Apollonia and Artemonas, the Chrisopigi Monastery, the church of Panagia Poulati.

Which are the local dishes of Sifnos?
Revithokeftedes (chickpea fritters), mastelo (baked lamb meat), melopita (honey pie), amygdalota Sifnou (local almond sweets).

Serifos

Impressive Chora, serene beaches

View of Upper Chora

When you approach Serifos port by ferry, you will get hypnotized by the view of its Chora with the cubical white buildings "sprinkled" on a high hill. It is equally impressive to enjoy the view contrariwise from the top of the village, gazing at the sea. Serifos is small but charming island where you can spend a few days exploring its only village (Chora) and quiet sandy beaches. In some terms it reminds of Ios but without the beach parties and the night clubs.

Who is Serifos best for?
Couples, families with small kids, hikers.

What is Serifos best known for?
Chora village, the abandoned mines at Megalo Livadi.

Which are the best things to see and do in Serifos?
Serifos Chora with the church of Agios Konstantinos, Pano Piatsa and the windmills, the abandoned mines at Megalo Livadi, the church of Panagia Skopiani.

Which are the local dishes of Serifos?
Marathotiganites (fennel fritters), revithada (baked chickpeas with herbs), pastaki Serifou (dessert with biscuits and chocolate cream).

Amorgos

The big blue of the Aegean sea

by Amphithoe / CC BY-ND 2.0

Amorgos is the place where Luc Besson`s legendary movie The Big Blue was filmed. When you get there and see the heart-stopping views, you will easily understand why this island was chosen. Amorgos, however, has stayed relatively unaffected by the movie fame and attracts much less tourists than its neighbors. The island has one of the most picturesque and enchanting Chora villages of Greece, quaint rocky beaches and a few sandy strips around the two ports.

Who is Amorgos best for?
Couples in search for tranquil holidays, hikers.

What is Amorgos known known for?
Panagia Hozoviotissa monastery, Agia Anna beach.

Which are the best things to see and do in Amorgos?
The picturesque Amorgos Chora, the monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa, Agia Anna beach, the shipwreck Olympia, the sea caves around Mouros beach, the villages of Langada and Tholaria, Agios Pavlos beach.

Which are the local dishes of Amorgos?
Patatato (baked dish with meat, potatoes and tomatoes), favokeftedes (fava fritters), hortopitakia (small pies with green leaves).

Tinos

Pilgrims and dovecotes

Being the closest island to Mykonos, Tinos is often neglected on account of its neighbor. Some know it for the church of Panagia Evangelistria, honored by pilgrims and one of the major shrines in Greece. But the island has much more to offer with its traditional villages where time seems to have stopped, with its small quiet beaches and the delicious local cuisine.

Who is Tinos best for?
Families with small kids, couples who look for tranquil holidays, hikers, foodies.

What is Tinos best known for?
Panagia Evangelistria church and the dovecotes scattered all over the island.

Which are the best thins to see and do in Tinos?
Tinos Chora, the villages of Pyrgos, Kardiani and Isternia, the Ursulines Monastery, the church of Panagia Evangelistria, the sculpture of Aeolos near Ormos Panormou.

Which are the local dishes of Tinos?
Artichoke pie, agkinaroryzo (artichoke with rice), castellano cheese (with mastic flavor), kariki cheese, salsitsi (local sausage), tsimpita (tiny sweet cheese pies), lemon flower jam.

Andros

Green landscapes and out-of-the-Cyclades look

Andros is one of the Cyclades group which hardly resembles the rest. Its mountainous relief is covered with green forests and its architecture reminds more of the North Aegean islands than of the cubical white-blue style, Andros is also the closest island to Rafina port on mainland Greece, on the daily ferry route to Tinos, Mykonos and Naxos.

Who is Andros best for?
Hikers, families with kids, middle-age couples.

What is Andros best known for?
Grias to Pidima beach, the church of Panagia Thalassini.

Which are the best things to see and do in Andros?
Andros Town with the Venetian ruins, the church of Agia Thalassini and the lighthouse, the village of Batsi, the ancient town of Paleopoli, Grias to Pidima beach, the monastery of Panachrantos.

Which are the local dishes of Andros?
Fourtalia (rich omelette with local sausage, potatoes and vegetables), green walnut spoon sweet, lemon flower spoon sweet.

Kimolos

True Cycladic experience away from the bustle

Travelers usually discover the small island of Kimolos only when they visit neighbor Milos. In the summer Kimolos is a popular one-day trip for the holidaymakers who come from Milos in the morning and go back in the afternoon. But the island definitely deserves more because despite its small area, it has one of the most scenic villages in the Aegean, called Chorio Kimolou. Add quiet sandy beaches, hiking trails and local hospitality, and here it is the perfect Cycladic destination for lazy holidays.

Who is Kimolos best for?
Couples, hikers, backpackers, foodies.

What is Kimolos best known for?
The Kastro of Chorio Kimolou, the rock formation Skiadi.

Which are the best things to see and do in Kimolos?
Chorio Kimolou with its instagrammable alleys and Kastro, the boat garages of Goupa, Prassa beach, boat cruise to the sea caves and the rock formations Stou Geronikola Ta Psila.

Which are the local specialties of Kimolos?
Ladenia (flat bread with tomatoes), tirenia (version of cheese pie), kolokithenia (zucchini pie).

Folegandros

The fresh alternative of Santorini for honeymooners

If we could describe Folegandros in three words, they would be quiet, picturesque and captivating. Its predominantly pebbled beaches are not much attractive to most travelers but the magical atmosphere is perfect for young couples and honeymooners, and there is also a good selection of boutique hotels and suites.

The Chora of Folegandros reminds of Santorini caldera, with houses perched on the rim of high rocks and pure Cycladic style. Here you can also see one of the most beautiful fortified settlements (kastro) in Greece.

Who is Folegandros best for?
Couples, honeymooners, hikers.

What is Folegandros best known for?
The Kastro of Folegandros, the church of Virgin Mary.

Which are the best things to see and do in Folegandros?
Folegandros Chora with Kastro and the church of Virgin Mary, the beaches of Agali, Katergo and Latinaki, the church of Agios Nikolaos at the homonimous beach.

Which are the local dishes of Folegandros?
Matsata (local handmade pasta), kalasouna (cheese and onion pie), souroto cheese.

Sikinos

What off-the-beaten-path in the Cyclades means

Chora

If you are looking for a real escape somewhere in the Cyclades, then Sikinos is one of your two options. The island has only two villages, a few pebbled beaches and rocky hills dotted with small white chapels. Sikinos lacks the glamor and commercial feel of the more popular Cycladic destinations, and in addition there are no daily ferries to neighbor islands.

Who is Sikinos best for?
Middle-aged couples, hikers.

What is Sikinos best known for?
The laid-back atmosphere, Chora village.

Which are the best things to see and do in Sikinos?
Sikinos Chora with its Kastro neighborhood, the church of Panagia Pantochara, the Monastery of Zoodohos Pygi.

Which are the local dishes of Sikinos?
Melitinia (sweet pies with local cheese).

Anafi

An island for adventurers and hikers

View from the top of Chora

If you wonder how a Cycladic island would look like without tourists, check out Anafi. Its remote location, scarce population and the very limited choice of accommodation still attach it to undiscovered destinations. Anafi is suitable for hikers and naturists but be aware that you cannot leave Anafi any time you wish - in some days it is just off the ferry route.

Who is Anafi best for?
Hikers, travelers in search for isolation.

What is Anafi best known for?
Panagia Kalamiotissa monastery and its view.

Which are the best things to see and do in Anafi?
Anafi Chora and the church atop, the monastery of Zoodochos Pigi, the church of Panagia Kalamiotissa.

Which are the local dishes of Anafi?
Ballothia (local homemade pasta), melitera (small honey and cheese pies), saffron and cheese pie.

Kythnos

Low-key destination with hot springs

Kolona beach

Although Kythnos is one of the closest Cyclades to mainland Greece, it has unduly stayed under the radar. One of the reasons is that its more traditional and attractive villages are located inland and you will not see much of the island if you just pass by it on a ferry. The second is that Kythnos is better connected to Kea and both are a bit aside from the rest ferry routes to the Cyclades. If you come across photos of Kythnos on the web, they are usually from Kolona, the most famous beach of the island.

Who is Kythnos best for?
Middle age couples, hikers, families with small kids.

What is Kythnos best known for?
Kolona beach, the thermal sea baths in Loutra.

Which are the best things to see and do in Kythnos?
The villages of Kythnos Chora and Dryopida, Kolona beach, the cave of Katafiki, the church of Agios Ioannis Eleimonas, the ruins of Oria castle.

Which are the local dishes of Kythnos?
Kolopi (pie with spinach, green onion and dill), sfougato (local cheese fritters), stuffed squid, strapatsada (scrambled eggs with vegetables and/or meat).

Kea

The divergent of the Cyclades

The main village

Kea distinguishes mainly with its individuality and the lack of similarity to the rest of the group. The landscapes, the colors and the architecture are quite different from the Cycladic, with red roof-tile buildings, green hills and olive forests. Kea is best connected to the port of Lavrio (Attiki) and Kythnos, though there are a few ferries per week which link it to the rest of the Cyclades.

Who is Kea best for?
Hikers, couples looking for laid-back holidays, families with kids, foodies.

What is Kea best known for?
Ioulida village and the hiking trails.

Which are the best things to see and do in Kea?
The capital of Ioulida, Ancient Karthea, Panagia Kastriani monastery.

Which are the local specialties of Kea?
Tsigaropita (pie with local meat), paspalas (scrambled eggs with tomatoes and pork meat), melitzanorizo (aubergines with rice dish), tsagalo (green almonds spoon sweet).

Thirasia

Traveling back in time

Many years ago Thirasia was part of Santorini but the volcanic eruption resulted in their separation. They are very close to each other and yet completely different - Thirasia has not developed for mass tourism, the hotels are just a few in number and most travelers prefer to watch it from Santorini. The only village, called Manolas, seems locked back in the time when the Cyclades were still undiscovered for a holiday.

Who is Thirasia best for?
Travelers in search of isolation.

What is Thirasia best known for?
The authentic atmosphere and the view to Santorini caldera.

Which are the best things to see and do in Thirasia?
Take the multiple steps leading from Ormos Korfou (the boat harbor) to the village of Manolas - the view is worth the effort.

Lesser Cyclades

Beaches to blow your mind

Extreme blue

Small Cyclades (or Lesser Cyclades) is a common name for a group of 4 inhabited islets between Naxos and Amorgos. These are Irakleia, Donoussa, Schinoussa and Ano Koufonissi. They are also united by the extremely vivid blue color of the sea around them, making the archipelago a popular one-day destination for swimming and snorkeling, especially Koufonissia where beaches feel like the Caribbean.

Who are the Small Cyclades best for?
Couples looking for laid-back holidays.

What are the Small Cyclades best known for?
The transparent blue water and sandy beaches.

Which are the best things to see and do in the Small Cyclades?
The Devil`s eye rock pool and Gala beach in Ano Koufonissi, boat trip around Glaronissi island and Kato Koufonissi.

Warning

Please be prepared that your visit to the Cyclades may result in serious addiction and multiple returns :) Since these islands are both similar and different at the same time, it would be hard to decide if you should return to the same island or try a new one. Sometimes even a dozen of summers may not be enough to explore as many as you want.

Read more about the Cyclades

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