The Cyclades are awash with blue domed Byzantine churches rounding off white villages that look they have been painted by cubist architects then decorated with boganvillea and cats. These towns tumble down rugged, multicoloured hills to golden, sandy beaches and crescent bays lining up against azure seas, and all coated in warm sunshine. The Cyclades islands have it all, not just the scenery. It's an understatement to say the islands have a rich history, and another to say the islanders have a nice lifestyle and know how to have a good time.
There are around 200 Cyclades Islands so don't expect to be able to tick them all off in one island hopping go. Most people want to see Santorini, for the volcanic harbour and the famous whitewashed cubist architecture and blue domed roofs , Naxos for the wide, sandy beaches and the Archaeological Museum, and visit Mykonos for more beaches and the dancing in the cafes. These three islands are amongst the busiest in the group, so a good itinerary will mix them up with some of the smaller, less touristy islands, though all the guide books say there's not really a bad Cyclades Island Hopping itinerary, and some people just recommend packing your bags and playing it by ear depending on which ferry comes first.
This example itinerary allows for a full two weeks island hopping but can be broken up or sped up to fit.
Popular Mykonos is one of the easiest islands to arrive on, after which its time to hit Mykonos Town's maze of streets, cafes and bars, or hit the beach. From Mykonos, it's a short day trip to Delos for the historic Hellenistic ruins and excavations.
Set off to Naxos in the morning and arrive in time for a swim and a stroll around town, visiting the Portara and the castle. Wake up early and take a drive into the interior to see the 7th Century frescos in the church of Panayia Drosiani, and the pretty town of Apeiranthos then spend the afternoon in the Archaeological Museum.
After a morning swim at one of the many beaches, ferry yourself over to Paros for a stroll along the coast and dinner in one of the pretty port towns, Naousa is particularly nice. Paros has a mountainous interior with little scenic outposts of civilisation, so this is a good island on which to rent a scooter and go for a drive. Head to the Hundred Doors Church and drive into the mountains then back along the coast before packing up to literally sleep on the beach at one of the campsites on small and quiet Antiparos.
From Paros sail to Milos: a lower key version of Santorini, where the Venus de Milo was found, and a good place to try sea kayaking, then spend a night on another of the quieter islands, Kythnos; for the traditional villages and sandy crescent shaped bays which attract mainly Greek holidaymakers.
Santorini is the place of a million Greek Travel brochure photos: the volcano caldera with the picturesque towns clinging to its slopes, anchored in the deep blue, deep blue harbour. Once you've settled in take some time to appreciate the view on a whitewashed cubist terrace. On the days that follow visit the Prehistoric Museum of Thera and swim off the black sandy beaches at Kamari and Perissa.
Crete, with all its archaeology and mythology is included in this island group, but Crete still has the kind of coastlines you'll be coming to expect by the end of your Cycladic fortnight. The Palace of Knossos is a highlight for the frescos and stories of the Minotaur, the archaeological dig at Phaistos is a must-see for the layers of history it uncovers, then spend some time on the beach: Elafonissi, Val Beach and Preveli Beach are recommended by World Reviewer users.
Fly out of Heraklion to Athens and home.
The western Cyclades islands are close enough so that each ferry hop will only take a couple of hours, and in summer the timetable allows for four or five ferries a day. The western Cyclades also less popular with tourists.
For a western Cyclades hop start from Paros, pop to Antiparos for the day, or else camp here right near the beach -- Milos -- Sifnos -- Serifos, which has particularly dramatic dark rocky cliffs -- Kythnos.
The best time to visit the Cyclades is May through June or September, at the beginning and end of the season when it's not too hot, not too busy and the accommodation is cheaper.
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