The Cyclades are an ancient group of islands in the south Aegean sea of Greece. However they were formed, The Cyclades — which means the Sacred islands around Delos — their beauty and dazzling light can lend itself to a spot of spirituality. These groups of islands, made most famous by Santorini and Mykonos, are the most iconic sights of Greece. Their whitewashed houses and baby blue door window frames are as iconic Greek as it gets.
I spent a few months traveling through Greece and spent ample amounts of time in the Cyclades. If you’re planning a trip and feeling overwhelmed by all the choices, then this guide will help you choose which islands to visit. These are of course entirely my opinion and everyone has different tastes!
If you are planning to visit the Cyclades, make sure to read my travel guide for the Cyclades and Greek ferry guide to understand what you’re getting into. Once you’re ready to plan the trip, make sure to read my Cyclades island hopping itinerary where I discuss how to plan your trip and the routes I took!
Greece is my favorite country in Europe and I traveled extensively through the country. If you need inspiration for other parts of Greece, make sure to read my Ultimate Greece Travel Guide that details everything yo need to know about Greece and the places I’ve been to.
- 1 The best time to visit the Cyclades Islands
- 2 My list of best islands in the Cyclades
- 3 #1 – Amorgos
- 4 #2 – Sifnos
- 5 #3 – Folegandros
- 6 #4 – Milos
- 7 #5 – Paros
- 8 #6- Naxos
- 9 #7 – Ios
- 10 #8 – Santorini
- 11 #9 – Mykonos
The best time to visit the Cyclades Islands
Located in the south Mediterranean sea, the Cyclades enjoys good weather year round. However, there are certain times of year that you’ll want to avoid, and other times of year where nothing is open.
The islands are pretty much built off of tourism so it is very seasonal. I’ve been to the islands at all times of the year and there are definitely better times than others. You’ll want to avoid peak season as swarms of tourists from all over the world descend on the islands. If you must visit during this time, try and avoid the most touristic islands.
Peak Season in the Cyclades
The peak months are from the end of June to the end of August. These are the months where the islands can be extremely packed with tourists from all over the world coming in along with cruise ships.
The prices are also the most expensive during these months as much of the revenue generated in this period subsidize the lack of earnings in the other months. If you’re looking for a party and to be with lots of different people, then this is your period to visit. Restaurants will be packed, beaches will be busy, and there will be plenty of life here for you to enjoy.
If you are more into the idea of having a beach to yourself or exploring without the crowds, absolutely avoid coming in the summer months. Especially avoid coming during the middle of August around the holiday of the Virgin Mary. The entire mainland of Greece clears out and goes to the islands and these places become absolutely packed. This is the most expensive time to visit as well.
The best time to visit the Cyclades
I traveled around the Cyclades during the time of Coronavirus and in the peak summer months. For the most part, it was never overwhelming because international tourism outside of the EU is largely non-existent. It was still busy especially in August, but was never over the top for me. However, in future years, I think I would avoid coming to the islands in the summer months, especially ultra touristy places like Mykonos and Santorini.
It is simply way too much of a disaster during the months of July and August to even think about visiting. Not only do you pay 50% more, but you’re essentially going to a music festival for that extra money.
The best months for visiting the Cyclades
The best times to visit the islands in my opinion are mid September to early November, and the months of April and May. The weather is still very pleasant in the fall and spring but not overly hot. Swimming might be too cold for some in these times but that’s a small price for me to pay. The best beaches in Greece are in Lefkada and the Ionian islands anyhow so you’re not missing much. In summary, avoid visiting the Cyclades in the summer months like the plague.
My list of best islands in the Cyclades
I spent over two months traveling around the Cyclades and visited ten different islands. I spent 3-5 nights on each island which I think is enough to see the main sights.
Before coming to the Cyclades, my only knowledge of the islands were Mykonos and Santorini like 90% of the rest of the population. I wasn’t overly excited because I just thought it would be a bit fake and over-touristic. After spending two months, I am gravely mistaken. The charm and beauty of the islands is unlike anywhere else in Europe. It really is a special place and I can’t wait to go back.
Nevertheless, not all islands are created equal. These are in my opinion the best ones by ranking and the ones I would return to first. Of course, this is entirely based on my opinion and based on my experience while visiting!
#1 – Amorgos
Amorgos (the island of love? not sure) is at the top of my list of Cyclades Islands. It is visually the most stunning and dramatic because of its incredible mountain landscapes. The mountain peaks here reach almost 1km which is among the highest in the Cyclades. Driving around in a scooter or ATV will allow you to experience the amazing scenery of the island.
In addition, the Monastery of Hozoviotissa is without a doubt the most impressive church in all of Greece. It’s carved into the mountain rocks on the side of a cliff overlooking the Aegean. It gives of Petra vibes to me which was unexpected but incredibly beautiful.
The Chora of Amorgos is located high up in the mountains half way between the two port towns of Katapola and Aegiali. It definitely ranks among the top of the old towns I saw in the Cyclades in terms of its charm. The buildings are much older here than on other islands but still somehow in immaculate condition. The restaurants and cafes somehow pick out the most perfect color and furniture combinations to bring out its charm.
Something about Amorgos just made it feel extra special and different compared to the other islands. I can’t pinpoint it exactly but if I had to choose an island to be at the top, this would be it.
Read my detailed post about visiting Amorgos!
#2 – Sifnos
Like Amorgos, Sifnos is a bit off the beaten path when compared to the other islands of the Cyclades. It definitely attracts more locals than tourists but that’s not a bad thing. Sifnos is also famous for having more than 350 churches and monasteries, the most you are likely to meet in any other Greek island. Many of them have been renowned as historical monuments, along with more than 70 ancient towers – altogether they comprise the majority of the island’s sights. Meanwhile, a number of beaches, mostly sandy, offer relaxation and fun, combined with satisfactory tourist amenities.
Sifnos also has the incredible mountain landscapes of Amorgos (although not as dramatic) and has three different old towns to choose from. From the port town of Kamares, you’ll want to rent a scooter and cruise up the mountains to the old towns of the island.
Apollonia and Artemonas are located up in the hills and offer endless walks through whitewashed houses, small alleys, belfries and flower pots. There are endless photo opportunities here at every turn.
A few km away, is the even older and more traditional town of Kastro (castle). Built along the side of a cliff, the still inhabited town has buildings from many centuries ago which gives it even more charm. I was the most impressed walking through Kastro’s narrow streets and the dramatic views over the Aegean.
#3 – Folegandros
Folegandros is one of the smaller islands in the Cyclades but packs in a lot for its size. It’s located in between Milos and Santorini and makes for a great day trip from either island. However, I stayed here for a few nights due to numerous recommendations from other Greeks.
They are not wrong. Folegandros is special. It’s another very mountains island with the peaks being in the center of the island. The main road runs through the center of the island which means you’re at the highest point wherever you drive. The views you’ll see of the ocean and surrounding islands is absolutely unreal.
The Chora is where most people will stay and the only place where there is much of anything to do. It’s not big but you can expect to find the typical charm of other island towns.
Make sure to walk up the windy trail to the Church of Virgin Mary where you’ll have one of the best sunsets in the Cyclades.
#4 – Milos
Milos, the island of Venus, has nothing to be jealous of Santorini, its other volcanic neighbor. The most valuable asset of Milos is its 70 or so beaches, some of which are among the most gorgeous of all Greek islands. Breathtaking, dramatic landscapes with colorful, bizarre rock formations and hot springs –all owed to its volcanic nature- are also a trademark.
Milos is known for its culinary prowess and the restaurants I went to in Milos cooked the best food I had in the Cyclades. The traditional town of Plaka is located up on the hills. While small, it offers all the beautiful white washed houses, stone streets, and baby blue window frames that you can ask for. The other towns of Tripiti, Klima, and Pollonia are all worth the visit.
Milos also has a huge selection of beautiful beaches with very dramatic rocky backdrops. Ultimately, I found the beaches in Ios to be nicer, but of course none compare to the ones in the Ionian Sea.
#5 – Paros
Paros, the second largest of the Cyclades, is also one of its most well known. Although I’d never heard of Paros before doing research on the Cyclades, I think it is probably the 3rd most visited island after Santorini and Mykonos.
The main town of Naoussa is much more commercialized than other Cyclades towns but still maintains a beautiful and charming old town feel. I came in August to Paros and it was very lively. Every day the waterfront was packed to the brim with people enjoying the beautiful sunset and the sea breeze.
Outside of Naoussa are much smaller and more quaint villages. Marpissa, Marmara, and Lefkes are must visit towns in Paros for their incredible beauty and charm.
Antiparos is a small satellite island next door to Paros. It was once a sleepy fishing island but in recent decades has turned into a hideout for the ultrawealthy building big resorts. Tom Hanks is probably its most famous resident among many others. Nevertheless, the main Chora of Antiparos is easily visited on a day trip from Paros and offers one of the most beautiful old towns in the Cyclades. It definitely oozes a bit of a posh upper class vibe but it is well worth the visit for a day.
Naxos is the biggest island in the Cyclades and also the “capital” in olden times. While other islands have their main town (Chora) up in the mountains as that made it harder for marauding pirates to attack, the Chora of Naxos was always the main port town.
The Chora of Naxos is like a more rustic version of neighboring Mykonos. While you’ll undoubtedly pass through the Chora, the surrounding towns are where Naxos really steals the show.
I would wager that some of the most picturesque and photogenic towns in the entire Cyclades are on Naxos. Filoti, Apeiranthos, and Koronos are my favorite towns to wander through and take photos. It’s not as over the top white as other islands but that gives it a more unique charm in my opinion.
Naxos is also home to numerous beaches perfect for lounging, kitesurfing, and even diving. There is plenty to do and eat here.
Read my detailed post about visiting Naxos!
#7 – Ios
Ios is known as the party island for Greeks. Mykonos steals the thunder normally because of how exclusive and done up it is, but those that want to party without breaking the bank come to Ios. The Chora is actually quite picturesque as it’s built alongside a hill but I found it to be better for pictures from afar (of the Chora) than walking within it.
Perhaps it’s because I had been to so many other islands before Ios but the inside of the Chora was not as impressive as others. Nevertheless, the island still boasts incredible mountain landscapes and perhaps the best beaches in the Cyclades.
Again, the Cyclades are not the top beach spots in Greece. That honor would go to the islands in the Ionian sea like Kefalonia, Zakynthos, and Lefkada. The beaches in the Cyclades do not compare to those islands. Ios is probably as close as it gets from the places I visited. There are long sandy stretches of beach with super clear blue waters.
#8 – Santorini
Santorini needs no introduction to anyone. It’s the most visited island in Greece and probably one of the most visited islands in the world (if not the most). Millions of people come here every year which automatically makes it a less desirable place for me.
It is simply too crowded and too touristy. Sure the views and pictures you can take from Oia, Santorini’s most famous town, are great, but you are essentially waiting in line with hundreds of other people to take the same photo. I know this because I had an Airbnb right in front of the famous three blue Domes. The line of people would start from 7am and wouldn’t abate until 11pm. This was also during COVID, where I was told the amount of tourists was at 20% of the capacity as normal times.
If you are planning to spend the big bucks and stay at a very exclusive resort overlooking the ocean, this could be better as you’ll have more privacy. However, I just think after spending so much time on the other islands, Santorini left me less than impressed. I know 99% of people will visit Santorini regardless and purely out of FOMO and that’s okay. I also wanted to visit out of FOMO. It’s still a very visually pleasing island and is worth seeing.
However, it’s just not a place I would go rush back to.
#9 – Mykonos
Mykonos is known as the party island of Greece. People flock here from all over the US, Canada, Australia, Europe, Cruise ships, and the like to see the Chora and experience the nightlife. Mykonos is probably most famous for its numerous beach clubs that are party by day, and party by night.
The Chora of Mykonos is located right at the port and is actually one of the most picturesque towns in the Cyclades. It satisfies everything you’d want in a Cyclades town with its beautiful windmills, whitewashed churches, stone streets. It’s also home to the famous Little Venice which are colorful houses located on the waterfront that is famous for its views.
Mykonos was my first island in the Cyclades purely because there are flights that go there from Greece and Europe. I visited in July 2020 as Greece was reopening to the world. There weren’t many people in Mykonos which made it much more of an enjoyable experience. I really liked the Chora and especially the sunset bars. However, July 2020 saw about 10-15% of normal capacity. There were no cruise ships at all. The Chora is not a big place after all, and I could only imagine how terrible it would be in normal times.
The price for food and alcohol are significantly more expensive on Mykonos and Santorini. I would factor in a 50% price increase from Mykonos versus the neighboring islands.
With that said, I think Mykonos is still worth a visit if not just to check off the FOMO checklist. However, I am purely ranking it at the bottom because it’s one of the last places I would re-visit after seeing so many other more charming and less frequented islands.
- Mykonos Vs Santorini: How To Decide Between Greece’s Most Popular Islands
- Why Santorini is my Least Favorite Greek Island
- The Perfect Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini Travel Itinerary
- The Perfect Cyclades Greek Island Hopping Itinerary
- The Ultimate Travel Guide For Amorgos: Greece’s Most Dramatic Island
- The Ultimate Guide To Island Hopping The Cyclades In Greece
- The Ultimate Folegandros Travel Guide – A Slice Of Greek Paradise
- The Perfect Travel Guide For Milos Island, Greece
- The Ultimate Naxos Island, Greece Travel Guide
- Visiting Ios: The Greek Party Island With So Much More
- The Perfect Travel Guide For Paros & Antiparos, Greece
- The Ultimate Travel Guide For Mykonos, Greece