Island hopping in the Cyclades – Travel tips and local insights

In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to know about how to island hop around the Cyclades in Greece. Includes descriptions of the islands, ferry routes and travel tips.

The Cyclades are a large group of popular islands in Greece, and it’s common to visit a few of them on the same trip. I’ve been to almost all of them now, some of them several times!

Here is everything you need to plan your Greek island hopping itinerary in the Cyclades. Whether this is your first time island hopping in the Cyclades or your twelfth, you’ll find some useful travel tips to make your vacation go more smoothly!

Introduction to the Cyclades islands in Greece

The Cyclades group of islands are located in the Aegean Sea, to the east of mainland Greece. The archipelago consists of 24 inhabited islands, and dozens of uninhabited ones.

The most famous Greek islands are Mykonos and Santorini

The most famous Cyclades are Mykonos and Santorini, both of which have an international airport. People who visit Greece for the first time often choose to go to these two islands.

It’s understandable as they are so well known, but keep in mind there are other equally beautiful places in the Cyclades Greece!

What are the Cyclades like?

Overall, the Cyclades are known for their dry, rocky landscapes. If you have visited other Greek island groups, like the Ionians or the Sporades, you will feel you are in a different country. Some of them, like Paros island and Naxos island, are greener than the others.

Amazing beaches in Milos island Greece

All the Greek islands in the Cyclades have truly beautiful beaches with crystal clear water. If you have only been to Santorini and thought the beaches were great, wait until you see Ios, Naxos or Donoussa!

Another common feature among all these islands is the quaint Cycladic architecture. You will see the famous white-washed houses and blue domed churches everywhere. The pretty fishing villages on the coast complete the picture.

The Cycladic islands have a very rich and long history. Many of them have archaeological sites and museums you can visit. You will also find a few excellent folk museums.

Finally, all the islands have lovely hiking paths. Spring and autumn are the best seasons to go hiking, as most people will find it too warm to hike in summer.

Each one of the Greek Cyclades islands is unique in their own way. While they are similar in many aspects, there are also lots of differences.

Which of these Greek islands in the Cyclades are best for me?

It all depends what you are looking for! After having travelled to most of the Cyclades Greece, here are my impressions:

Best sandy beaches: Naxos, Ios, Mykonos, Andros, Serifos, Sifnos, Kythnos, Koufonisia, Schinoussa, Donoussa

Nicest wild beaches: Naxos, Donoussa, Amorgos, Sikinos, Folegandros, Milos, Iraklia

Prettiest quaint towns and villages: Tinos, Naxos, Paros, Syros, Amorgos, Serifos, Sifnos, Sikinos, Kimolos, Folegandros

Most beautiful landscapes: Santorini, Milos, Kimolos, Amorgos, Naxos

Ideal for families: Paros, Sifnos, Andros, Syros

Best food: Naxos, Paros, Tinos, Sifnos, Milos

Most famous nightlife: Mykonos, Ios, Paros, Antiparos

Ideal for off the beaten path holidays: Iraklia, Schinoussa, Donoussa, Sikinos, Kimolos, Thirassia, Anafi

Great for hiking: Kythnos, Serifos, Andros, Amorgos, Iraklia, Donoussa, Kimolos, Folegandros, Milos, Ios

Food of Greece

All in all, most islands will offer a good mix of the above. However, don’t expect too much nightlife on the quieter / smaller islands. Some of them, like Anafi or Donoussa, don’t even have a pharmacy!

Similarly, you will need to drive a lot to find secluded beaches on the most popular islands, like Mykonos, Santorini or Paros.

And now, here is a quick introduction to all the Cycladic islands, one by one.

The famous Santorini – Sunsets, wineries and volcano views

If you have only heard of one Greek island, chances are that it is Santorini. Most people visit Santorini for its iconic volcano, sunset views, excellent wineries, hot springs and overall reputation as a romantic island.

Santorini, Greek Cyclades

Santorini has a series of unusual beaches with black sand, though there is also a red beach and a white beach. While they are really picturesque, they are far from the best beaches in the Cyclades. It’s probably best to visit them on a sunset sailing tour.

Accommodation in Santorini is plentiful, and ranges from budget rooms to hotel suites with infinity pool and hot tub.

People who want to enjoy the sunset views from their private terrace will look to stay in Fira, Imerovigli, Oia, or anywhere on the west coast. Budget-conscious travellers will prefer the coastal villages of Kamari, Perissa and Perivolos.

Here is a Santorini itinerary for 4 days, and what to avoid doing while in Santorini.

I personally loved visiting Santorini off-season. The weather was more pleasant, and I found it a lot nicer to walk around without the crowds. 

Mykonos island – Beaches and parties

Mykonos is known for its amazing beaches and wild nightlife. Chora, its pretty main town, was once a fishing village. Nowadays, it has partly kept its traditional colour, but is full of shops, cafes and bars.

Chora in Mykonos Greece

I was lucky to experience Mykonos without the crowds, and had a blast as the beaches are truly magnificent. I also went kayaking in Mykonos and saw an entirely different side to the famous party island.

Tip: accommodation in Mykonos can get very expensive, especially in July and August. Villas with spacious rooms and a swimming pool might even be out of reach. If you are on a budget, try visiting in shoulder season, when prices are lower.

Andros island – Maritime tradition, museums and beaches

Andros is best known for its lovely beaches, maritime tradition and excellent museums. It is a common destination for Greek families, and an easy weekend trip.

Grias to Pidima beach Andros island Greece

Given that Andros is only an hour from Athens on the fast ferry, it’s a mystery why it’s not too popular with foreign visitors.

Here is what to do in Andros Greece.

Tinos – Authentic culture and fantastic villages

Tinos is a beautiful island with a rich religious tradition. Its best known attraction is its iconic church, our Lady of Tinos. However, its beautiful villages, marble crafts and authentic culture will definitely amaze you.

Pyrgos village in Tinos, one of the best Greek islands

In fact, Tinos is one of my favorite islands in the Cyclades. Apart from the architectural and cultural interest, it has some fantastic beaches that never seem to get too crowded. 

Here is what to do in Tinos Greece. You can also check out our Andros and Tinos book, which is available on Amazon.

Syros – Brilliant neoclassical architecture

The Queen of the Cyclades, Syros boasts some stunning neoclassical architecture and a vibrant main town. It is the most populated Cycladic island, and this is where you will find all administrative services.

The capital of Syros island

If beaches are a top priority, allow for just a couple of days in Syros and move on somewhere else.

Paros island – Something for everyone

Paros is many people’s favorite island. It offers a good mix of sightseeing, nightlife and pretty villages. There are also many famous beaches, like Santa Maria beach, Golden beach and Lageri beach.

Visit Lefkes Village in Paros Greece

Its central location makes it for an ideal destination to include in a Cyclades island hopping itinerary.

If you are looking for quiet islands, Paros might not be your cup of tea. You can spend a couple of nights there, and go island hopping.

Antiparos – Cozy, small and upcoming

Antiparos is a relaxed island with a quaint port town, a few shallow, sandy beaches and an amazing cave. If you visit Antiparos, you can also catch a boat tour to the remote ancient site on Despotiko island.

The amazing cave of Antiparos

You can only get to Antiparos on a small ferry from Paros island. It is possible to visit on a day trip, but it’s worth spending a couple of nights to experience its very cool nightlife.

Naxos island – The Venetian castle, amazing beaches and glorious food

The largest of the Cyclades is a beautiful, mountainous island. Its impressive port town is dominated by the Venetian castle, which is one of the its most popular attractions.

Beautiful sandy Naxos beach

On the west coast of Naxos you will find a series of amazing sandy beaches. The first one is Agios Georgios beach, which is walking distance from the town. Agios Prokopios and Agia Anna, further down the coast, are popular coastal resorts.

Naxos island has tons of history. Among others, you can see the famous giant Kouros statues. There are also lovely mountain villages, friendly people and some of the best food in the Cyclades.

The Small Cyclades – Quiet and relaxed

Close to Naxos, you will find four small islands, called Koufonisia, Schinoussa, Donoussa and Iraklia.

These little islands are all great if all you want to do is swim, hike, eat and relax. If you visit outside peak season, you might even have your own private beach for a day.

Livadi beach in Donousa

You can easily visit the Small Cyclades on a sailing trip from Naxos island. Depending on ferry timetables, day trips might also be possible.

I personally love those islands, and suggest spending at least a couple of nights on each. If you are travelling in peak season, book your accommodation a few months in advance as some of these islands have very few rooms.

Amorgos – The Big Blue

Amorgos island became famous after the French movie “the Big Blue”. It’s one of these islands where French seems to be the most spoken language, other than Greek.

Shipwreck in Amorgos Greece

You will find some wild beaches, exceptionally dry landscapes, a beautiful main town and an interesting vibe. Walk up to the Monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa for some fantastic views of the Big Blue.

Anafi – Wild and remote

The most remote of the Cyclades, Anafi is a wild, secluded island, with a long free-camping tradition.

A church in the Cyclades - Greek island hopping itinerary

It is famous for the imposing Kalamos rock with the fantastic views to the Aegean, its lovely sunrises, and the relaxed nightlife.

Thirassia – Small and unspoiled

Thirassia is a small island where time seems to have stopped. It is possible to go on a day trip from Santorini, and you can walk around the entire island in a few hours.

Ios – Not just a party island

Ios (and not Los, as Googlemaps suggests) is known as a party island, and rightly so. However, there is so much more to it.

Visitors will find some incredible beaches. The most famous is Mylopotas beach, but you should rent a car or quad and explore all the others. My favourite one was Kalamos, right below, where we enjoyed a whole day of quiet beach life.

Kalamos in Ios island Greece - better than Mylopotas beach!

Moreover, Ios island has lots of archaeology, hundreds of churches of all shapes and sizes, and some of the best sunsets in the Cyclades.

Sikinos – A very special place 

Sikinos is a wild, remote island with just a handful of beaches and a couple of villages. It’s definitely not for everyone – but people who are after quiet, authentic places will love it.

Sunset over the Aegean in Sikinos Greece

Don’t miss Manalis winery with the fantastic sunset views, and a drive up the mountain on a moonless night, to see a billion stars.

Folegandros – Upcoming and wild

Another wild island, Folegandros is barren and remote, with the exception of its main town up on the mountain. Its remote beaches can be reached either on local boats, or through the island’s numerous hiking paths.

You can include Folegandros in your Greek island hopping itinerary

Climb all the way to the top of the church in Chora to enjoy the amazing views. If you prefer to have access to some nightlife, stay in Chora, and explore the numerous chilled bars.

Milos island – Incredible landscapes and interesting mining history

Like Santorini, Milos is another volcanic island, created after a strong eruption many years ago. Its soil is rich in minerals, which explains the island’s long mining history.

Milos island Greece

These days, Milos is one of the most upcoming destinations in the Cyclades. People love its incredible landscapes and diverse beaches like Sarakiniko and Kleftiko.

Moreover, Milos is a paradise for off-road driving. You can also take a sailing trip to explore its lovely coastline and the nearby Polyegos island.

Here is some more information on Milos Greece. Also, here is our Amazon book on Milos and Kimolos in Greece.

Kimolos – Laid-back and friendly

The laid-back Kimolos is often overshadowed by Milos, its bigger sister. However, it is worth much more than a day trip from Milos.

The unique Skiadi rock in Kimolos Greece

Kimolos is a fantastic option if all you want is to hike, swim and relax. The people are warm and friendly, and you will find yourself starting conversations in no time.

Chora, the capital, is one of the most impressive main towns in the Cyclades, and you will definitely love the Venetian castle and the relaxed nightlife.

Sifnos – Local traditions and pretty villages

Among Greeks, Sifnos is best known for its incredible local cuisine and pottery tradition.

Apollonia, the capital, is a lovely Cycladic town to visit during the day. Go back in the evening, and you will see an entirely different face.

Sifnos in the Cyclades

Add on some nice beaches, beautiful villages, ancient history and traditional architecture, and you will find that Sifnos is a varied island, suitable for everyone.

Serifos – Amazing beaches and unique mining tradition

Serifos is another hidden gem in the Cyclades. It stands out for its particularly dry landscapes and mining tradition.

The capital, Chora, is built up on a hill, and offers impressive views of the whole island. If you visit on a windy day, you will feel that you can easily get swept away!

The stunning Chora in Serifos

The beaches in Serifos are some of the best in the Cyclades. Overall, they are very diverse – you will find long, sandy beaches, rocky coves and small, pebbly bays with crystal clear waters.

Kythnos – Ideal for hikers and nature lovers

Given its proximity to Athens, it is strange that Kythnos is not as well known as some other islands. It is ideal if you want to hike, relax at the hot springs, or visit its 99 beautiful beaches.

Sunset over the beach in Kythnos

Kythnos has two main villages, Chora and Dryopida. Visitors will enjoy the traditional architecture and simplicity of the unspoiled island.

Kea / Tzia – A stone’s throw from Athens

Kea, also known as Tzia, is only an hour on the ferry, from Lavrio port. It boasts some picturesque villages, lovely, unspoiled nature and a long history.

How to go island hopping in the Cyclades

Rent a car, and explore its many beaches, some of which are only accessible in a 4WD. In the evenings, check out the numerous cultural events that take place on the island.

Delos island – Great for ancient history

Last, but not least, the uninhabited Delos island is known for its incredible UNESCO ancient site. Overnight stays are prohibited, but you can get there on a quick boat trip from Mykonos. You can also take a private sailing tour.

How can I plan my Greek island hopping itinerary?

Many (but not all) of the Cyclades islands are directly connected with each other via the extensive Greek ferry network.

Ferries depart from Piraeus, Rafina and Lavrio ports near Athens. They stop at several islands, so it’s easy to island hop.

During high season, there will often be several ferries per day going to the same island. Ferry schedules change in the off season, and there may only be a few routes per week.

How to travel by ferry in Greece

In order to plan your Greek island hopping trip, you would first need to decide which islands you want to go to.

If there are no direct connections between some of them, check if you can visit them in a different order. Alternatively, you could swap one of your islands of choice for another one with better connections.

You can easily check ferry connections and book your tickets at Ferryscanner, a search engine for ferries in Greece.

Which ferry should I choose?

There are dozens of different ferries connecting the Cyclades. Visitors are often pushed for time, and prefer to take the faster ferries between the islands.

A ferry in Greece

If you never get seasick, just take any ferry that suits you. However, if seasickness is a concern, avoid taking the smaller and faster ferries that don’t take vehicles.

Those ferries behave badly when the strong meltemi winds blow around the Aegean Sea. This is typically during July and August, but you can get winds at any time of the year.

I’ve seen a ferry take over an hour and a half to dock on an exceptionally windy summer day, so no, I’m not exaggerating!

If you prefer to take a fast ferry, make sure it’s a bigger one that can carry vehicles. Also, bring along some dramamine or ginger tablets, just in case. 

What else should I know about the Greek ferries?

Winds aside, Greek ferries can be very enjoyable to travel on. You will find everything you need, like coffee bars and toilets. The bigger ferries have proper restaurants, and even shops.

On some ferries, you can book a deck option, which means you will have no designated seat. In peak season, it’s often better to get an airplane seat for 3-4 extra euros. This means that you will have your own space to sit for the duration of the journey.

Inside the Sea Jet

Ferries can sometimes get delayed by 1-2 hours or more. My suggestion is to avoid booking your flight back home on the same day with your ferry trip back to Piraeus. It’s best to spend one or two days in Athens, rather than miss your flight!

Last tip: Some ferries have very strong air-condition. You might want to bring a jacket or something to cover yourself with.

Can I island hop around the Cyclades by plane?

While it is possible to use flights for some of the islands, it is neither time nor cost effective. In addition, only a handful of islands have airports. It will be much simpler and quicker to take the ferry. 

Santorini and Mykonos have international airports, whereas Paros, Naxos, Milos and Syros have smaller domestic airports. If you wanted to use flights between any of these islands, you would always have to connect through Athens. 

Greek island itinerary in the Cyclades

As there are 24 islands, checking which ones are directly connected can take you some time, especially if you haven’t been to the Cyclades before.

Map of Cyclades Greece

Map taken from Wikimedia Commons

Looking at a map of the Cyclades is a good idea. Generally speaking, islands which are geographically close to each other are connected by direct ferries.

Here are a few examples of popular ferry routes:

  • Piraeus – Paros – Naxos – Iraklia – Schinoussa – Koufonisia – Amorgos
  • Piraeus – Sifnos – Milos – Kimolos – Folegandros – Santorini – Amorgos
  • Piraeus – Serifos – Sifnos – Κimolos – Folegandros – Sikinos – Ios – Santorini
  • Piraeus – Paros – Naxos – Ios – Santorini – Anafi
  • Piraeus – Kythnos – Serifos – Sifnos – Kimolos – Milos
  • Piraeus – Syros – Mykonos – Naxos – Ios – Santorini
  • Rafina – Andros – Tinos – Mykonos – Naxos
  • Rafina – Tinos – Mykonos – Naxos – Paros – Ios – Santorini

Apart from these routes, there are dozens more. You will easily find a Greek islands itinerary to suit your needs. Use Ferryscanner to check all routes and book your tickets.

Sailing tours around the Cyclades

If booking numerous ferries sounds like too much work, you could look into sailing tours of the Cyclades. There are dozens of different options, usually including stops at some uninhabited islands.

Before you decide to book a sailing tour, make sure you are happy with the conditions of your travel. Cabins are typically small, and you will be sharing all common areas with a few other people. It’s a lot of fun, but perhaps not for everyone!

Budget for island hopping in Greece

Your budget for an island hopping trip in the Cyclades can vary a lot. It will depend on the type of accommodation you choose, type of ferries you travel on, where you eat, any tours you take, and how long you will be travelling for.

One thing you should keep in mind is that Greece isn’t necessarily expensive. Here is a breakdown of our costs for island hopping in the Cyclades for a month.

Our total costs came to 40 euro per person per day. No, Greece is not expensive!

Frequently asked questions about Cyclades island hopping

Here are a few more questions often asked by visitors:

How do you travel around the Cyclades?

You can easily travel around the Cyclades on the numerous ferries that connect the islands. Alternatively, you can take a sailing tour.

Is island hopping in Greece expensive?

Island hopping in Greece doesn’t need to be expensive. Based on two people travelling together, our average budget for most of our trips has been 40-50 euro per person per day.

How long do you need for Greek island hopping?

You can easily spend a few months travelling around the Cyclades. If, like most people, you only have one or two weeks, you will need to select just a few of the islands to visit.

What are the best Cyclades Islands?

It depends on what you are looking for. As an example, Naxos and Ios are two of the best Cyclades for beaches, whereas Iraklia and Sikinos are best for quiet vacations.

Is Paros or Naxos better?

Both islands appeal to most people. In my opinion, Naxos is more authentic and has better beaches, whereas Paros is more developed and has more choices for nightlife.

Vanessa from AthensHi! I’m Vanessa from Athens and I love island hopping around the Cyclades in Greece. I hope this article has helped you with all the details you need to plan your trip. If you have any questions, just leave a comment below. Also, follow my FB page and FB group for more info about Greece.

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