The Cyclades islands – which Greek islands should I visit?

Which Greek islands should I visit? 

This is probably the first of many questions you’ll ask when you think about an island hopping trip in Greece. Deciding which of its islands to visit, like the Cyclades islands, can actually be a hard choice. The more you start to look into them, the harder it will be to choose. I’m hoping to inspire you to go island hopping around Greece or if you’re already sold on that idea, help you narrow down which Greek islands to visit. 

The Cyclades

Located in the Southern part of the Aegean Sea, the Cyclades is a group of islands in Greece. Meaning ‘circular islands’ in English, the major and minor islands of the Cyclades surround Delos, which is an archaeological site and sacred place. You’ve probably heard of a few of the Cyclades islands already like Santorini and Mykonos.  Many of the Cyclades islands have become popular holiday destinations, whether you want to take in the culture, sample the Greek cuisine, party hard or simply relax. Each island is very unique with their own character and appeal.  

Santorini

The first island I have to write about is Santorini.  It was where my solo travel adventures began so how could I not start there. Santorini is stunning!  It boasts some of the most beautiful views of the sun setting from popular villages Oia and Fira.

Perissa Beach, Santorini
Perissa Beach, Santorini

Santorini’s capital is called Fira. From Fira you get amazing views out to the Caldera – the cauldron-like shape created thousands of years ago by multiple volcanic eruptions.   If you want to stay close to the beach, two of the most popular resorts on the island are Perissa and Kamari.  Both have black sand beaches and it was one of the reasons why I wanted to visit. I’d never been to a black sand beach before. When I visited Kamari, I noticed that it has slightly larger pebbles so our of the two, I preferred Perissa which was slightly finer.

By the beach

Both seaside villages are lovely. I found that Kamari seemed to be a little livelier at the time I visited in June compared to Perissa, but either way, both have a chilled atmosphere. I visited Santorini in June on two occasions and it was great both times. It wasn’t overrun with people so the trips I went on, like the Caldera boat tour or a trip to Ios, were not as busy. So what can you do in Santorini? Well you could….

  • Take a boat trip around the Caldera
  • Visit Ancient Thera
  • Relax on the red, white and black beaches
  • Watch the sunset in Oia
  • Go for a night out in Fira
  • Go wine tasting at Gaía Winery
  • Visit the lighthouse at Akrotiri
  • Take a day trip to nearby island Ios

Read my post on renting an ATV in Santorini if you want a different way to get around the island.

The Red Beach - Santorini - Greece
The Red Beach, Santorini - Greece

Milos

The island of Milos is beautifully peaceful. It’s a really lovely place to relax and unwind. If you’re looking for a slower pace then you must visit. It’s very close to the islands of Serifos and Sifnos. Milos is known as one of the most exotic Greek islands because of its association with the birthplace of Aphrodite. It’s also where Venus de Milo – the famous statue that now resides in the Louvre in France – was discovered.

True beauty

Boasting really unique beaches including one that’s out of this world – literally, Milos is perfect! Beautiful Sarakiniko has to be one of the most unusual beaches I’m sure you’ll see. It definitely was for me. You’ll feel like you’re walking on the moon because it’s been formed from large volcanic white smooth rocks.

Sarakiniko beach in Milos
Sarakiniko beach in Milos, Greece
Sarakiniko Beach peaks - Milos Greece
Sarakiniko Beach peaks - Milos Greece
Milos island boat tour
Milos island boat tour

If you want to experience an island with some of the most coolest formations that peak up from the Aegean Sea, then taking a boat tour is certainly the best way to do that.

With nearby islands Kimlos making for a nice day trip and bars down by the port, although quieter in comparison, Milos definitely has a variety of things to do that would appeal.

Here are a few things to do while you’re in Milos

  • Visit Milos’ beaches: Sarakiniko, Paleochori or Kleftiko.
  • Go underground and visit the catacombs
  • Stop for a stroll around fishing village Kimla
  • Relax on a boat trip around the island
  • Take a trip to nearby Kimlos
  • Go for a drive around the island and take it all in!

Naxos

With Portara, it’s landmark doorway facing Apollo’s birthplace in Delos as one of its most famous features, Naxos is another beautiful Greek island you should make time for.

Portara - Naxos
Portara - Naxos
Milos port
Milos port, Greece

Nestled between sister island Paros and the small island of Koufonisia, Naxos is one of the biggest of the Cyclades. It’s great for families and couples alike and also solo travellers wanting a good size island to explore that’s one of the quietest out of the likes of Santorini, Mykonos, Paris and Ios.

Aside from Portara, the first ancient ruin to welcome you as you arrive into the port, Naxos boasts other ancient places to visit such as the Temple of Demeter, Panagia Drosiani – a stone church; and Kastro, the castle of Naxos. You’ll enjoy it’s long sandy beaches, lush green mountains and leisurely walks around it’s maze-like cobbles streets.

A few things to do while in Naxos
  • Visit Kastro – the castle on the island
  • Have a cocktail down by the port
  • Take a trip to Paros or Mykonos for the day
  • Wander the cobbled streets
  • Visit Delos for half a day

Paros

Known as the “poor man’s Mykonos”, Paros is Naxos’ sister island.  You may need to choose between visiting Paros or Naxos since they’re so close. I had to do the same although in the end I went to both islands, and I’ve heard from other people they had to I’ve met other people that had the same decision to make.  Out of the two islands, Paros has a younger atmosphere and vibe, whereas Naxos is more family friendly with a relaxed environment.

Punda Beach - Paros
Punda Beach - Paros
Lefkes - Paros
Lefkes - Paros

Paros I thought has more of a hidden beauty to it. It’s not obvious when you arrive what you’re getting. There’s a whole side full of beautiful beaches like and authentic mountainous villages like Lefkés – which was the original capital of Paros. You can hire a car or ATV to get there.

When you’re in Paros, you can visit the fishing town of Naoussa. At night Naoussa comes alive with bars and clubs right on the dock. I went one evening and it was so packed you could just about walk the through the crowd.

Naousa - Paros
Naousa - Paros

In Paros you could

  • Take a day trip to the fishing town of Naousa
  • Drive round the beaches of Paros in a day – Kolymbithres, Punda party beach, Santa Maria or Livadia
  • Hire an ATV (quad bike) and visit the traditional village of Lefkes.
  • Check out the nightlife in Naousa
  • Visit Butterflies Valley, the islands butterfly sanctuary
  • Do a spot of shopping in the Chora

Ios

In comparison to the likes of Milos, Santorini or Naxos, Ios has a different sort of pace – a party one! If Mykonos is too expensive for your budget, you should definitely head to Ios. Its Chora (the main town) is where you’ll find many bars and clubs neatly tucked away on its winding back streets.

Party hard!

It’s an easy place to do bar crawls as everything is so close by. Usually the party starts near the beach and one of the main places to party is Far Out – the beach club at the end of Mylopotas beach.

Far Out Beach Club 2017 - solo travel
Far Out Beach Club

Ios is where the well-known Swedish Midsummer Party one of the largest that takes place in June.  I was visiting the island at the time and it was certainly lively.

Swedish Midsummer Ios
Swedish Midsummer Ios
Swedish Midsummer Ios 2017
In the town at Swedish Midsummer Ios 2017

The Swedish Midsummer event kicks off before midday at some of the clubs in the town. During the afternoon, the party continues at Mylopotas Beach where revellers descend on Far Out until the early hours of the morning.   It was a great atmosphere!

 

Aside from the parties, the island of Ios is one of the cool Cyclades islands.  

Ios Chora
Blue domed church - Ios Chora

It has lots of beautiful churches, long sandy beaches, great food and is great for a drive to take in the spectacular views from high up in its hills. Here’s a few things you can do on Ios

  • Spend time on Mylopotas beach
  • Attend the Swedish Midsummer festival
  • Check out the shops in the Chora
  • Have lunch at Drakos Tavern on Mylopotas beach
  • Take a trip to the other side and Magganari beach
  • Try paddle boarding

Best time to visit the Greek islands

The months of May and June (classed as ‘low season’) in my opinion are the best times to visit the Greek islands. Other quiet months to plan a trip would be September or early October (‘post season’). May and June and September and October tend to be the quietest months to visit Greece. It can be very hot!  July and August (high season) are the busiest times of the year – and the hottest! I visited Greece in June at two different points in the month – the start and toward the end. At both times, Santorini was already crowded. 

So, if you’re thinking about which Greek island to visit,  I hope this gives you a little insight into a few of the Cyclades islands to look at.

Let me know if you’ve been to any of these islands and what you enjoyed most! Leave a comment below.

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