Deriving their name from the word ‘kyklos,’ meaning ‘circle,’ as they surround the sacred island of Delos, the Cyclades are the most popular and visited group of islands in the Greek Isles. The Cyclades are best known for their beautiful white beaches, whitewashed clifftop villages with stunning views, winding cobblestone alleyways, blue-domed churches, and ancient hilltop windmills. Varying in character, Mykonos and Ios are well-established beach destinations, while more remote islands such as Milos and Amorgos have stunning stretches of sand. The Cyclades also offers ancient history, evident in the ruin of Delos. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
The northernmost island of the Cyclades with a rich naval tradition, Andros is lush and green in the south with fertile plains, lush vegetation, and abundantly flowing streams and scorched and barren in the north with mountain ranges and rocky coastlines lined with spectacular white sandy beaches. The capital of the island, Hóra and features an interesting combination of medieval, neoclassical and island-style architecture, narrow cobblestones streets, shady tree-lined squares, and quaint churches. Hóra is home to famous Greek captains and ship owners, and the island has long been the holiday haunt of wealthy Athenian shipping families.
Dramatically rugged, the small island of Amorgós is narrow and long with spectacular beaches, scenic bays, rugged caves, ideal spots for diving, and ancient footpaths leading through steep rocky terrain. Parts of the island soar high above sea level, boasting breathtaking views out over the Archipelago, and the island is famous for being the location where the famous freediving movie, The Big Blue, was shot in 1988. Inhabited from as early as 3,300 BC, Amorgós has a long cultural history and tradition and warm and welcoming locals that greet you with a smile.
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The remote island of Anáfi is the southernmost island of the Cyclades and is a paradise of spectacular natural beauty with footprint-free white sandy beaches, gin-clear waters, and a few ancient ruins. Visitors reach the island through the bay of Ayios Nikolaos, over which the picturesque village (Hóra) stands, built on the ruins of a Venetian castle as an amphitheater and featuring narrow stone-paved alleys and whitewashed dome-roofed houses and narrow stone-paved alleys. Greek Mythology has it that Anáfi gave shelter to the Argonauts.
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Lying southwest of Páros, the tiny islet of Antíparos is ideal for a relaxing escape from the bustling and busy island of Páros. Once connected to Páros by a causeway, the little island can now be reached from the west coast resort of Poúnda or Parikía by boat. Known as Oliaros in ancient times, Antíparos has several beautiful beaches and the massive Cave of Antíparos on Ayios Ioánnis Hill, which was discovered during the reign of Alexander the Great and boasts a breathtaking array of stalactites and stalagmites. The main town (Hóra) of Antíparos is built around a 15th century Venetian castle and features charming stone-paved streets, whitewashed houses decorated with blossoming pink and purple bougainvillea and an enchanting central square with shady eucalyptus trees.
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Surrounded by the crystal-clear waters of the Aegean Sea, just a few miles away from cosmopolitan Mykonos, the tiny, uninhabited Delos is one of the most important archeological sites in Greece and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Ionians arrived in 1,000 BC, and by 700 BC, Delos was a major religious center and later became a thriving commercial port, particularly in the third and second centuries BC. The ark of history is now an open-air archaeological museum with mosaics and marble ruins covered in blooming wildflowers in spring, offering visitors the chance to walk around the revival of the glory of the Greek civilization.
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Donoússa is the northernmost island of the Small Eastern Cyclades and is the perfect place to get away from it. The tiny island is just over eight square miles and boasts magnificent and empty sandy beaches, rugged landscapes crisscrossed with low stone walls, and spectacular caves like Spiliá Tíchou (Cave of the Wall) with its beautiful stalactite formations, and Fokospiliá (seal cave), on the eastern coast of the island. The island is also known for its unique Greek culinary delights such as soúvli, a cream made of barley, a type of pasta called aranistá, honey-dipped spiral pastries known as kserotíyana, prickly pear jam and rakí made of dried figs.
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Named after the son of King Minos, Folégandros is one of the smallest inhabited islands in the Cyclades and captivates visitors with its stunning white sandy beaches, gin-clear waters, and beautiful architecture. Traditionally a place of exile, the remote and off-the-beaten-track island is popular with artists and photographers for its towering cliffs, terraced fields, wild, untamed landscapes, and charming towns. The capital town of the island (Hóra) features sugar-cube whitewashed houses showcasing traditional Cycladic architecture, balconies draped with beautiful bougainvillea, winding cobblestone streets, and high on a hill above the sea is the Venetian castle Kástro.
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Íos (meaning flower) or Niós, as the locals call it, is one of the most beautiful islands of the Cyclades. In ancient times, Íos was covered in oak woods, which were later used for shipbuilding. The Ionians built cities at the port of Gialós and Íos town, which were later used as Venetian strongholds. The island is also known as the burial place of Homer, and an annual festival celebrating Homer is held in May every year. Mountainous coastlines are lined with stunning white sandy beaches and over 400 quaint and blue-domed chapels, traditional villages have picturesque arcade-covered alleys, snow-white little houses, and ancient windmills, and the island is renowned for its nightlife.
Irakliá is a tiny island at the western edge of the Small Eastern Cyclades with just two villages Ayios Georgios (by the harbor) and Panayia, and only 115 residents. The island has rolling hills with dense vegetation, scenic bays with crystalline waters and caves boasting impressive stalactites and Cycladic remains. The waters around the island are home to the marine turtle Caretta caretta, and the Mediterranean seal Monachus monachus and the simplicity of Irakliá’s scenic nature makes it the perfect spot for an idyllic getaway from it all.
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Kéa, also called Tzia, is a favorite spot wealthy Athenians due to its proximity to Athens. The island boasts rugged mountains and fertile valleys, rolling fields and olive groves, patchwork vineyards, off-the-beaten-track beaches, and picturesque coves. Home to the largest oak forest in the Cyclades, the island is ideal for bird-watching and hiking, and geologists will delight in the many small caves in Áyios Timótheos and Kálamos. Nestled in the center of the island, the picturesque capital town of Ioulis is built on the ancient city-state by the same name and features charming ceramic-tile roofed houses, winding cobbled streets, arched passages, and lovely squares. Kéa has been known since ancient times for its wine, almonds, and honey.
Kimolos is a tiny and gorgeous island close to Milos in the western part of the Cyclades that is named after the chalk that was once mined here. The island is known for its stunning beaches, which range from white sand to small pebbles, volcanic soil, and lush landscapes of fig and myrtle trees, patchwork vineyards, and reeds. Ayioklima and Prassa beaches have thermal springs, while Kastro and Therma are renowned for their red stones. Kimolos has several interesting attractions, including the Medieval Castle of Kimolos, post-Byzantine churches, archeological and folklore museums, and several ancient windmills.
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Named for the enormous caves that made the islands look hollow from the sea, Koufonisia (meaning ‘hollow islands’) Koufonisia is a small island made up of two islets, namely Pano Koufonisi and Kato Koufonisi, which are separated by a narrow strait. Pano Koufonisi is the only populated island and a favorite holiday destination for those seeking golden sandy beaches, gin-clear waters, small natural swimming pools, fantastic windsurfing, and ocean-fresh seafood. Kato Koufonisi can be visited by boat and features many sea caves and islets that have been designated as areas of great natural beauty.
One of the less-visited islands of the Cyclades, Kýthnos, attracts more Greek visitors than foreign tourists, even though it is a popular anchorage for flotilla holidays. Locally known as Thermia because of its thermal springs, the island features dramatic, rugged landscapes and over 65 beautiful white sandy beaches, and the sparsity of visitors makes it an ideal location for walkers. The island’s bare Cycladic hills are crisscrossed low stone fences, quaint villages with narrow cobbled streets, whitewashed houses with blue doors, ancient windmills, and over 350 white country chapels. Kýthnos is also home to one of the biggest caves in Greece, Katafýki cave, which is full of beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.
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Volcanic Mílos is the most dramatic of the Cyclades islands with its extraordinary rock formations, hot springs, and charming little white villages perched atop multicolored cliffs. Years of volcanic activity on the island has endowed it with a spectacular range of breathtaking rocky landscapes bordered by footprint-free white sandy beaches. Visitors can enjoy a variety of outdoor activities such as swimming, kayaking, hiking, and sailing, and while tourism continues to grow, the primary source of the island’s wealth is mining for minerals, particularly obsidian, which is excavated here. Mílos is home to one of the Mediterranean’s oldest mines.
Glamour meets simplicity on this whitewashed paradise in the heart of the Cyclades. Although Mykonos is dry and barren, its beautiful white sandy beaches and dynamic nightlife make this island one of the most popular in the Cyclades. Named after the grandson of Apollo, Mykonos, it is believed that Mykonos was formed from the petrified bodies of giants killed by Hercules. The capital town (Hóra) of the island boasts quintessential winding narrow marble streets lined with whitewashed houses with colorful doors and window frames, purple and pink bougainvillea trees, and hidden churches. The vibrant waterfront is lined with bustling restaurants and cafés where you can relax over fresh seafood and soak up the picturesque scenes of fishing boats casting colorful reflections in the azure waters.
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The largest and greenest island in the Cyclades, Naxos has lush, fertile valleys and green gorges, high rugged mountains, spectacular seascapes, and quaint traditional villages perched high on mountain tops where villagers still wear traditional clothing and live off the land. A major center of the Cycladic civilization, Naxos was one of the first islands to use marble and boasts beautiful Cycladic architecture that co-exists harmoniously with beautiful old churches, monasteries and Venetian castles. The island’s landscapes are comprised of citrus orchards and olive groves, and according to myth, it is famous for being the place where Theseus abandoned the Cretan princess Ariadne.
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Located at the heart of the Cyclades, the fertile, thyme-scented Paros is the third-largest island in the Cyclades and boasts unrivalled natural beauty with pristine sandy beaches with crystal clear waters, winding Byzantine footpaths connecting traditional villages and breathtaking vistas. In ancient times, the island’s prosperity came from its white marble, creating a wealthy society from early Cycladic through to Roman times. Battered by strong winds in July and August, Paros is a windsurfer’s paradise, and even though there are several large holiday resorts, it retains its picturesque charm with hill-villages, vineyards and olive groves.
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Crescent-shaped Santorini, also known as Thíra, is the jewel in the crown of the Aegean. Colonized by the Minoans in 3,000 BC, this volcanic island erupted in 1,450 BC, forming the island’s crescent shape. Named Thíra by the Dorians when they settled there in the 8th century BC, it was renamed Santorini after St Irene by the Venetians who conquered the island in the 13th century. Santorini is a group of islands that include Thíra, Asproníssi, Palea, Thirassiá, and Nea Kaméni and is still an active volcano. Despite heaving with tourists throughout the year, the island remains a stunning escape with whitewashed villages and domed churches clinging to towering volcanic cliffs above black volcanic sand beaches.
Known as one of the ‘Back Islands,’ along with Donoússa, Koufoníssi, and Irakliá, Schinoússa lies north-east of Irakliá and is a tiny island with three villages, namely Hóra, Messaria, and Mersini. Named after the bushy plant called lentisk (Schino in Greek) that flourishes on the island, Schinoússa has a charming little port called Mersini, which is a haven for small boats and a popular mooring spot for sailing enthusiasts. The island offers excellent hiking, unspoiled natural landscapes, blooming gardens, exotic palm trees, golden sandy beaches, and a charming little town with cobblestone streets, blue-doored houses, and an award-winning restaurant with breathtaking views.
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Once abundant in copper and iron mines, Sérifos Island has bare hills with small fertile valleys, and long, sandy beaches. Greek mythology claims that the infant Perseus and his mother Danae were washed up on the shores of rocky Sérifos, known as ‘the barren one.’ Despite its arid and rugged characteristics, the island boasts some magnificent beaches lapped by the deep blue colors of the Aegean Sea and exudes a calm and relaxing atmosphere that speaks to the senses. Ferries dock at the quaint town of Livadi on the southeast coast of the island, which is situated on a sandy, tree-fringed bay backed by hotels and tavernas.
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Famous for its pottery, famous poets, and award-winning chefs, Sífnos has become the most popular destination in the western Cyclades. Lured by its charming villages, terraced countryside, Venetian dovecotes and ancient towers, and long, white sandy beaches, visitors in their thousands flock to the island in summer for a relaxing escape. Once renowned for its gold mines, which were ruined in floods, Sífnos is the center pottery in the Cyclades today with samples dating back to the Early Cycladic period being found on the island. The island is home to many pottery workshops selling decorative items, utensils, and ceramics for domestic use.
Síkinos is quiet, very Greek, and one of the most ruggedly beautiful islands in the Cyclades. Known in Classical Greece as Oinoe (wine island), it has remained a traditional backwater throughout history. Located between Folégandros and Íos, Síkinos is a quintessential Cycladic island with low stone fences, terraced fields, and dome-roofed, white-washed chapels set against a picturesque background of lush vegetation and azure blue waters. Fishing and farming are the main occupations of the approximately 300 islanders, and although there are a few holiday homes, there is little mass tourism.
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Greek tradition and western influence harmoniously blend on rocky Syros, also known as Syra, which is the administrative, commercial, and cultural center of the Cyclades. The island’s capital town, Ermoúpoli was the first important trade and industrial center of the country in the 19th century, making the island one of the wealthiest and powerful ports in the eastern Mediterranean. Beautiful public buildings like the City Hall, the Customs Office, the Apollo theatre, and neoclassical houses lining the city squares are evidence of this glorious past, and although Syros does not live off tourism, more visitors arrive each year to soak up its traditional charm.
The craggy, yet green island of Tínos boasts beautiful beaches, 40 traditional villages, and over 800 chapels. It is the most important Orthodox center of worship in Greece, attracting Greek pilgrims who travel to the island on March 25 and August 15, to visit the church of Panagia Megalochari (the Blessed Virgin Mary) to fulfill their vows and to seek comfort. The island is also a vital Catholic center, and this rare mix of religions gives the island a unique character. First settled by the Ionians in Archaic times and known for its Sanctuary of Poseidon and Amphitrite, Tínos is the homeland of great renowned artists of marble carving, such as Chalepas, Filippotis, and Gyzis. It is also famous for its many dovecotes scattered around the landscape.
25 Best Things to Do in Cyclades Islands
- Andros, Photo: aerial-drone/stock.adobe.com
- Amorgos, Photo: Freesurf/stock.adobe.com
- Anafi, Photo: Daniel Sousa/stock.adobe.com
- Antiparos, Photo: djama/stock.adobe.com
- Delos, Photo: Jill Clardy/stock.adobe.com
- Donoussa, Photo: JOHN/stock.adobe.com
- Folegandros, Photo: Vasilis/stock.adobe.com
- Ios, Photo: r_andrei/stock.adobe.com
- Iraklia, Photo: photyo/stock.adobe.com
- Kea, Photo: korpithas/stock.adobe.com
- Kimolos, Photo: Sashinax/stock.adobe.com
- Koufonisia, Photo: costas1962/stock.adobe.com
- Kythnos, Photo: Mike/stock.adobe.com
- Milos, Photo: Haris Andronos/stock.adobe.com
- Mykonos, Photo: pkazmierczak/stock.adobe.com
- Naxos, Photo: Pavle/stock.adobe.com
- Paros, Photo: Alex Green/stock.adobe.com
- Santorini, Photo: imagIN photography/stock.adobe.com
- Schinoussa, Photo: tella0303/stock.adobe.com
- Serifos, Photo: constantinosa/stock.adobe.com
- Sifnos, Photo: pink candy/stock.adobe.com
- Sikinos, Photo: gatsi/stock.adobe.com
- Syros, Photo: napa74/stock.adobe.com
- Tinos, Photo: saiko3p/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Roman Sigaev/stock.adobe.com
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