The Cyclades

For many, Greece’s Cyclades Islands are synonymous with vacations in the Aegean Sea and on the Greek coast. Located southeast of the Athenian port of Piraeus, due east of destinations in the Peloponnese such as Delphi and Olympia, and directly north of the vacation island of Crete, the Cyclades encapsulate all that is alluring in the region.

They take their name from the circle the 32 main islands form around uninhabited Delos, held sacred in ancient times as the birthplace of Apollo, god of the sun, prophecy, and poetry.

So impressive are this island’s archeological remains, including a harbor and sanctuary to Zeus, the easy to anger king of the gods, that it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990. It stands on Mount Cynthus, a low hill of just 500 feet high which nonetheless offers fine vistas across to the neighboring Cyclades islands of Mykonos, Paros, Naxos, Syros, and Rheneia.

Together, these islands and their 26 brethren, of which the most famous must be Santorini, provide an extraordinary array of possibilities. Their typical Mediterranean climate ensures a long vacation season stretching from early spring until late fall.

Visitors therefore have at least eight months of the year during which to enjoy the Cyclades’ many golden sand beaches, their warm azure waters, their rocky pine-scented landscapes, villages whose distinctive blue and white ‘sugar cube’ structures ooze charm, and village residents who maintain the long tradition of island hospitality.

Although Santorini and Mykonos are by far the most celebrated of the Cyclades, each of these islands, whether big or small, has a different reason to visit.

Take Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades. One of the most fertile, and therefore also the greenest, visitors arriving by ferry into its harbor will pass the majestic Portara, or ancient temple gateway framing the landscape perfectly. A medieval castle keeps watch over the coastline of sandy bays too, while heading inland will reveal ageless villages still dominated by fine church architecture as well as the seventeenth century Bazeos Tower in Sangri and two kouri, or giant statues of the male form still lying where they were cut millennia ago.

Meanwhile Syros, the ‘capital’ and most populated Cyclades Island, manages to successfully wear a series of different faces. It is both traditional in mentality, yet also cosmopolitan and up-to-date in its thinking, breezily attractive thanks to marble-clad squares edged by aristocratic homes, and rich in culture, boasting everything from the theaters of the grand main town of Ermoupoli, to ancient Greek graffiti at Grammata Bay.

One to watch, Tinos was once a major center of pilgrimage due to an icon of the Virgin Mary said to have miraculous properties. The result was 750 religious sites, or an average of ten for every square mile of area. Today, the island is considered a great option for vacationers looking to bask in the natural beauty of the island group. Rugged and at times windswept, walking is a popular way to explore, while windsurfers take advantage of the offshore breeze, and scuba divers delight in the visibility of its waters despite their proximity to Athens.

And then there’s Ios, known for beaches such as Mylopotas Beach, a long stretch of sand on a calm bay proudly flying a Blue Flag for cleanliness. Only 20 minutes down hill from the island’s main town (Chora – also the name given to main towns on most of the islands), its atmosphere changes significantly come nightfall when some of the best DJs in the world get out their vinyl. Further north, you’ll also find the Tomb of Homer, the epic Greek poet responsible for the Iliad and the Odyssey, together describing the Trojan War and its aftermath.

Nor are we forgetting the Cyclades’ most popular destinations. You can follow the links to our separate, more detailed, explorations of Santorini, Mykonos, and Paros.

Top Greece Travel Destinations

Athens / Crete / Delphi / The Peloponnese / Mykonos / Paros / Santorini

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