As many of you know, I’m half-Greek (hence the last name!) and although I didn’t grow up there I did spend most of my summers there with my family and speak the language, so being Greek is a big part of who I am. Over the years I had chance to visit a number of the islands in the Aegean, particularly the Cyclades Islands which are very easily accessible from where we live in Athens. I know many of you wish to travel to visit the Greek islands but don’t know which islands to visit and so, I decided to make a guide to the Cyclades Islands, a group of what I consider to be some of the most beautiful islands in Greece (though to be honest, all the Greek islands boast their own type of beauty one way or another!). I hope this guide helps give you an idea of what each of the Cyclades Islands has to offer and which would be best for you to travel to this year!
KEY INFORMATION ABOUT THE CYCLADES ISLANDS
What are the Cyclades Islands? The Cyclades are a group of islands south east of Athens in the map you can see above. They include some of the most famous islands recognised all over the world, known best for their iconic white-washed domed houses, windmills and rugged landscape.
How do I get there? The Cyclades are best reached by boat from the port of Pireaus (this port can be reached by train directly from Athens airport or the X96 bus, or taxi of course) since many of the islands do not have airports. And while some of them do have airports, they only receive flights from Athens or other places in Greece, not international flights. There is also another smaller port near the airport called Rafina, but this can only be reached by car or taxi. You can of course, fly into Athens and take a flight from there to one of the smaller islands.
Can I fly to the islands? You can fly into Mykonos or Santorini if you’re coming from abroad (UK etc), from there you can take boats to arrive at the other islands. Alternatively, you can fly into Athens and grab an internal flight to islands such as Paros or Naxos.
Do I need to book boat tickets in advance? It is advisable to buy your boat tickets in advance, however it is possible to buy them at the port before your boat. Obviously, popular journey such as Athens-Mykonos or Athens-Santorini will book up quicker (the faster boats are smaller and have seats similar to an aeroplane, while the slower boats are bigger and don’t get booked up as fast), so it is advisable to book your main boat trip to the island in advance. From there if you wish to island hop I would say just grab boat tickets at the port while you’re on the island, so you can choose when you want to head to the next island! There are plenty of boats that go each day and don’t get sold out as they are quite huge!
My closest port is Rafina, which is a smaller port than Pireaus but serves a number of the islands, particularly the Cyclades hence why I have visited so many! If you hop in a taxi from the airport it’s around 25 minutes so this port could be a great other option if you don’t want to go all the way to Pireaus.
Booking websites for boats: https://www.bluestarferries.com/en/ – http://www.greekferries.gr – https://www.ferriesingreece.com
What type of holiday can I expect in the islands? Regardless of the type of holiday you’re planning, you’re going to have the time of your LIFE. There is something special about the Greek islands, they are so free and fun. The weather is sensational and the food is out of this world. In general, people don’t eat out in Greece until late. The usual summer day would be waking up late, heading to the beach with a frappé to go (ice-coffee), relaxing in the sun, heading for a late seafood lunch around 3 or 4pm, retreating back to the hotel to have a summer siesta and heading out for a sunset drink. This would then be followed by dinner around 10 or 11pm and then if you’re in a party mood basically dancing the night away until sunrise…only to repeat this all over again! Don’t be surprised if the taverna is empty for dinner at 7pm, people in Greece don’t eat dinner until around 9 or 10pm!
Things to note about the Greek culture:
- Greeks are very warm and welcoming people
- It can be disorganised but the lack of rules means that things are far more free, so enjoy it!
- When “booking” stuff such as restaurants usually you can get tables if you give places a call in the morning or pop by. Many places in Greece won’t have a website to book from, unless you’re in an international island such as Mykonos.
- Don’t worry about having your itinerary all planned out before you get there, just go with the flow, ask locals for tips when you arrive, get chatting to other travellers, that’s what visiting the islands is all about!
S A N T O R I N I
The island of love
Everyone knows Santorini, it might be one of the most insta-famous destinations in the entire world, and let me tell you it does not disappoint. This island, which was once an active volcano (around 3600 years ago!) is truly spectacular. The Cyclades islands in general have a unique and distinct style with their white-domed villas and windmills, but Santorini stands out amongst them all. The cliff-edge views across the Caldera are like nothing you’ve ever seen before and the sunsets in Santorini are ones that you will remember for years to come. The island is rocky with black volcanic earth and
What type of trip will I have in Santorini? Santorini is the ideal destination for a romantic trip with your special person. It’s the place you splurge on a hotel and just switch off sipping on cocktails watching the most magical sunsets each evening.
What time of year should I go? Santorini is a very touristy, thanks or no thanks to social media, pretty much all year round! When I visited there last, locals told me that they even have crowds on Christmas Day (the greek islands are usually deserted in winter)! I personally would avoid going during August when European tourism is at its peak and the weather is at its warmest. It’s ideal to visit during shoulder seasons such as May/June or September.
Where should I stay? My recommended area to stay would be Imerovigli or Firostefani. You still get the stunning views across the Caldera but don’t have to deal with the crowds of Oia. Unfortunately this is the place everyone (meaning thousands of people visiting on cruises too) congregates to watch THAT sunset, which you do have to do one night, but if you can avoid having to deal with the masses of crowds every night it will definitely improve how much you enjoy your stay!
Where to eat & drink?
- An unmissable spot of mine in Santorini would be the Sunset restaurant in Ammoudi Bay for delicious fish at sunset (definitely book in advance as it gets very busy).
- Remvi in Firostefani has gorgeous views of the sunset and great food!
- Red Bicycle, I haven’t been myself but it has been recommended as a great place for food in Oia
What other activities are there to do on the island? If you’ve had enough of laying in the sun sipping on your Cosmo, you can head to Santo Wineries for an afternoon of wine-tasting as the sun goes down. Alternatively, hop in a cab or rent a car and get discovering the unique beaches on the island. From black sand to beaches that look like they’re on the moon. If you’re craving those Greek island bougainvillea covered corners, head to Pyrgos the highest peak on the island. You can get lost in the windy streets of the town and have stunning views across the island.
M Y K O N O S
The island to splurge
Following on from Santorini, a close runner up in popularity is Mykonos. This island has always held a special place in my heart, I’ve headed there countless summers to have the time of my life and never been disappointed (in fact, my hen do is taking place there later this year!). What I love most about Mykonos as an island is its diversity. It’s classy and cool and has everything you might look for in a holiday. If you want to relax, you can. If you want to eat incredible food both Greek and international, you can. If you want to party, you can – but mind you, one thing Mykonos is not is tacky. Whatever you do on this island you do in style, which comes with a price tag so get ready to spend your ££££ if you’re visiting, especially in the peak summer months.
What type of trip will I have in Mykonos? Mykonos doesn’t have to be a party trip at all, but it’s there if you want it. I would say it’s the ideal place to have a splurge holiday with your girlfriends or a mixed group of friends. Of course, you don’t have to go crazy on budget, but I know in recent years it has become more expensive as an island!
What time of year should I go? I would say if you want a more relaxed, less crowded stay then aim for May/June or September. However, if you want to full-on summer party buzz then head in July and August. Definitely book hotels in advance though as some of the best spots go quickly!
Where should I stay? I would personally stay close to the town as I find it’s easier to get a bus or a taxi to the beach during the day, but in the evening it’s so much nicer to get glammed up and be able to walk into town. Of course, if you want to stay in a big villa then you will need to go out of town (everything in Mykonos is around a 15 minutes drive, it’s a tiny island). I would stay near Ornos beach or Paradise beach, stick to the south and south-east of the island, there is where all the best spots. Unless you’re ready to drop the big bucks, don’t bother with Nammos beach, it’s where celebrities go to pour champagne all over each other (I’ve personally never been and never felt that I missed out at all!)!
Where to eat & drink?
- Have a splurge dinner night at Interni.
- Enjoy a sun down dinner at Sea Satin. Book in advance.
- Grab dinner in cute courtyard taverna Paraportiani Taverna (no need to book unless you’re a massive group).
- Get off the beaten track and go for a beach side lunch at Fokos taverna.
- Sundown in little Venice, there are number of little bars to visit but a great one is Bar Semeli.
- Head for another amazing sunset drink at Bar 180.
- Splurge on a cocktail at Jackie ‘O.
What other activities are there to do on the island? You can rent a private boat for the day and have a boat party! If you are up for a trek for lunch, head to Kiki’s which is a taverna hidden away which has queues for lunch but serves some of the best pork chops you’ll ever taste in your life! Have a morning walk through the old town while it’s quiet, the town usually picks up buzz towards the late afternoon and into the evening. Do a sunset yoga class. Otherwise, I would say just enjoy yourself, Mykonos is an island to relax and go into full on party mode so just switch off and enjoy.
For a more in-depth guide to Mykonos, check out my guide right here.
M I L O S
The island of colour
Milos is one of the lesser known Cyclades islands but is slowly but surely making its mark on the map. One of the most unique aspects of Milos is how diverse the landscape is on the island. From white sand beaches, to bleached moon-like rock formations on Sarakiniko beach or geothermal beaches such as Paliochori. It’s the perfect island to visit if you’re after that authentic Greek island experience with great food and a holiday stay at a reasonable price. It’s also ideal if you love going out and exploring, finding secret beaches and just being a bit more adventurous. You can read my full Milos guide right here.
What type of trip will I have in Milos? Milos is a much more relaxed island than Mykonos, you will have a far more local Greek island experience there. The food is incredible and it’s the perfect if you’re looking for a chilled out holiday where you can also get off the beaten track and get discovering. It’s not a very crowded island and has a number of stunning beaches, coves, viewpoints restaurants and even catacombs to be experienced. Milos is also much more reasonably priced that Santorini and Mykonos too.
What time of year should I go? I would say anytime of the summer would be good to visit Milos. The shoulder seasons will be much quieter as it is generally not yet a super touristy island, but during July and August I’m sure would still be doable and not over-crowded at all!
Where should I stay? Two of the places I would stay in Milos would be the main port town, Adamas and Pollonia. In Adamas, we stayed in this simple hotel called Ostria – it was a basic, but nice hotel with a lovely terrace overlooking the port. In Pollonia, you can go a bit more luxe and stay at the Melian or at Salt.
Where to eat & drink?
- Tarantella: You have to hunt for this place but it is absolutely worth it. It’s a stunning, isolated taverna located off a dirt road with an undisturbed view of the sea. The food is out of this world and they even have a little terrace where they sometimes host weddings – I think getting married there would be truly unique!!!
- You can’t miss a good old seafood lunch in Greece and Medusa is where you want to head to in Milos. Next to it is a tiny, colourful port. The octopus here was excellent and the food in general was just so good!
- Located next to the colourful old port of Klima is a restaurant called Astakas. You must book because it gets full but it is the most magical place to have dinner as the sun sets!
- Have some authentic taverna food at Archontoula in Plaka.
- Grab the ultimate sunset drink at Utopia in the hilltop town of Plaka. Get there in good time before the sun set so you don’t miss out on a good spot!
- Get a cocktail at the Himalaya cocktail bar in the main port.
What other activities are there to do on the island? You MUST not miss out on the boat trip to Kleftiko beach. It is out of this world beautiful. There are a number of different excursions you can book from the port, many of the boats have signs outside showing their offers. We opted for a cheaper trip without lunch as we wanted to find our own places for to eat and didn’t want to be out on the boat the entire day (we only had a few days on the island), but most do include lunch and drinks on the boat. I would rent out a quad bike or a car and get discovering the whole island, there is so much to be seen. Ask locals for tips and they’ll tell you the best spots to go. Watch sunset from Klima beach where all the little fisherman boathouses are different colours. Don’t miss Sarakiniko beach.
For a more in-depth guide to Milos, check out my guide right here.
I O S
The island to party
I visited Ios island last summer and loved it. While it is super beautiful, another one of the wonderful Cyclades gems, the nightlife there does feel quite young and night-clubby. Most of the Greek islands have a great night life side to them, but in Ios town the night life is very in your face (I sound so old saying that but just wanted to give you guys warning!). HOWEVER, I wouldn’t let it put you off as I went to some of the coolest bars, each clubs and restaurants ever in Ios. And in all honesty, the night life doesn’t come alive until 2am so unless you’re in a party crew you’ll likely be heading for bed by then and won’t even notice the party people!
What type of trip will I have in Milos? Ios island is the place you go to for a great night out but also offers that typical Greek island experience. I would say a mixed group of friends would be great for this. I went with my boyfriend and we had a lovely time, although I can see it being loads of fun in a group as well! It’s not an over-crowded island and is priced more reasonably than Mykonos and Santorini.
What time of year should I go? I would say anytime of the summer would be good to visit Ios. I might avoid the first two weeks of August when the partying levels are as its highest!
Where should I stay? I would stay near the main Ios town. One hotel I can absolutely recommend would be Hotel Petradi. It has the most spectacular views, clean and simple rooms that do the job and an amazing breakfast spread you’ll never forget! If you want to go a bit more luxe you can stay Far Out Hotel & Spa or Ios Palace Hotel.
Where to eat & drink?
- For brunch go to Click cocktail bar.
- For authentic Greek food in the town head to Kabouris restaurant.
- Have beachside lunch at Koubara (super cute, but if it is a windy day avoid this side of the island as it faces the open sea!)
- Enjoy the day at the beach at SALT (€10 per pair of beach chairs) and then grab lunch in their restaurant which is sooooo good!
- Don’t miss a late afternoon seafood lunch by the sea at Drakos Taverna (book if you’re a big group as this is a very popular place).
- If you’re not staying at Hotel Petradi have breakfast there. It is a hotel and don’t officially offer breakfast but if you go in and ask to have breakfast with them, they’ll have no problem and I think it was €10 pp.
- IOS CLUB: Our favourite spot on the island was Ios club. It’s where you need to go for sunset (we went twice in 3 days!) and I would book in advance if there is a big group of you, or even if you’re a couple and want tables at the front. You can stay for dinner as well, they do the most delicious cheese/nibbles boards. The music, the vibe, the drinks, the food – everything is amazing, we loved it. (PS: It’s also the most stunning venue for a wedding!!!)
- For the most insane sunset views head for a drink at Pathos bar. It’s a huge Gaudi-inspired club set on a cliff-edge playing the coolest music as you watch the sun go down. Don’t dress up though, most people go there have come from the beach and are still in swimsuits and beachwear (I made the mistake of dressing up, which is fine but there are only a handful of people who seem to be fully clothed lol)
What other activities are there to do on the island? Enjoy the beautiful beaches on Ios, our favourite was Mylopotas beach. The water is crystal clear and there are a number of beach clubs and restaurants dotted along to choose from, we loved SALT. Visit the church of Agia Irini on the main port – go at sunset for the most magical views. For a cultural afternoon take a drive to Kalamos monastery. Climb to the top of the town and watch the sunset from Panagia Gremiotissa church. Take a boat tour around the island!
P A R O S
The island with it all
Paros island is one of my favourite of the Cyclades Islands – (Mykonos is still hard to beat!) – I think mainly due to the fact that I think it has a perfect balance of everything the Greek islands have to offer. It has the beautiful colours, the quaint architecture, a touch of nightlife, the delicious Greek food, the beautiful beaches and everything else you might be expecting on your Greek island holiday. Paros island is perfect for couples, groups of friends and families.
What type of trip will I have in Paros? In Paros you’ll have a beautiful Greek island holiday, whoever you are. To me this island doesn’t have a distinct character in what it offers, it’s not too party, not too relaxed, not too expensive, just a great balance of everything!!
What time of year should I go? Any month of the summer would be good to visit Paros.
Where should I stay? When I stayed in Paros, we stayed in Naoussa and absolutely loved it! It’s a beautiful, colourful little port town on the other side of the island. When you arrive on the boat you can just hop in a taxi to get over there. It’s also possible to stay in the main town of Parikia as well and split up your time in Paros between the two places. In Naoussa, we stayed at Hotel Papadakis was with the most amazing views (but it did have quite a steep walk to get up there, but was worth it!!)
Where to eat & drink?
- For authentic Greek food in the town head to Yemeni.
- Don’t miss seafood on the port at Barbarossa or Mario’s.
- Try Restaurant Emmanuel for great Greek food in a cute courtyard.
- Sundown spot in Naoussa port called Panorama.
- Grab sunset drinks at Come Back
- If you want a night of partying head to Agosta
For a more in-depth guide to Paros, check out my guide right here.
N A X O S
The foodie island
Naxos is an island I visited to celebrating finishing school back when we were 18 (omg so long ago :o) so I don’t have as many recommendations as the other islands, however, what I can tell you is the kind of vibe you can expect on Naxos. Being the biggest island in all of the Cyclades, Naxos is famous for its rich earth and incredible food produce, it’s especially famous for its cheese. Most of the other Cyclades Islands have rocky and rugged earth so cannot grow or produce much, other than incredible seafood, while Naxos is an island that produces so much that a lot of what they create is sent over the mainland. In addition, with it being one of the biggest islands it has plenty of stretches of white-sand beaches and is the perfect island for family or couples holiday!
Where to stay? I would advise staying in the port town of Naxos, unless you want to stay in a resort which you will find further into the island. Try the Porto hotel in Naxos. Do not miss visiting the Portara when you are in Naxos, it’s the most magical spot to watch the sun set.
Where to eat & drink?
- Make sure to visit the town of Filoti and go for dinner there. It’s a very local little town and most restaurants offer great authentic Greek food.
- Delfinaki is a cute and local restaurant serving delicious Naxian food.