A few days ago I found myself dreaming about island hopping in Greece, trekking in the Dolomites and chilling in beautiful Istria.
Now when the rainy and grey November is in a full swing I often daydream about summer destinations and post those ‘perfect turquoise water’ pictures from island hopping in Greece on my Instagram.
So I have come up with this superb guide to the best Greek islands to chase away the blues and to help you make some travel plans. Island hopping in Greece must be on your 2018 bucket list.
I have done so many trips to Greece in past years and I’m sure I will do even more in upcoming ones. And let’s be honest Greece is all about islands and Cyclades compromise some of the most beautiful islands in the world.
The Cycladic Islands (or simply the Cyclades) are an island group in the Aegean Sea between Athens and Crete. Prototypical “Greek islands” and they are everything you may expect from a perfect island in Greece.
Awfully picturesque white houses with old and super colourful window shutters and doorways. Old-fashioned white windmills standing proudly on the rocky hills above the narrow cobbled-stoned streets blooming with pink bougainvillaea vines.
Gorgeous sandy beaches, secretly hidden coves, isolated chapels with blue domes, volcanos and perfectly blue waters, not to mention hospitable and always happy people.
The name “Cyclades” refers to the islands forming a circle (in English it means: “circular islands”) around the sacred island of Delos. According to the Greek mythology, Poseidon, God of the sea, furious at the Cyclades nymphs, daughters of Oceanus and Tethys, turned them into islands.
So it is natural that each of them has its own vibe like each one of Cyclades had their own character.
Mykonos is well known for its sensational nightlife and see-and-be-seen beaches and Santorini is romantic and luxurious paradise for honeymooners.
Paros is home to beautiful Naoussa, Antiparos is where the jet-setters go to kick back and Amorgos is where ‘The Big Blue’ was filmed.
But let me go through them one by one so you have a chance to decide what your cup of tea or simply realize you need to see them all while island hopping in Greece :)
Famed for its insane nightlife and party beaches Mykonos is the most popular island in the whole archipelago.
Mykonos is an ultimate holiday place for all ages and preferences, having said that youths and hedonists looking for all day and night entertainment will enjoy the island the most. It is a must stop on your island hopping in Greece itinerary.
What to do in Mykonos?
Mykonos Town – stroll around narrow white streets and admire the traditional Cycladic architecture. Visit the church of Panayia Paraportiani, the Town Hall and the castle situated above the harbour.
Wonder around Little Venice and Matoyánni Street, lined with exclusive stores, charming cafés and stylish restaurants.
Enjoy the chilled atmosphere of the Waterfront where you can mee famous Pétros the Pelican and don’t miss the sunset from a hill above the harbour where the quaint windmills are standing.
Check out some traditional settlements of Mykonos such as Áno Merá, situated around the historic monastery of Panayia Tourliani and Fteliá in the North, an important Neolithic settlement with Mycenaean Tomb.
Mykonos is a real beach paradise whether you’re looking for beach parties, swimming, water sports or secluded spots just to yourself. Check out this little beach guide.
Psarrou - The most trendy and fancy beach on Mykonos, this is where the famous Nammos is located. Ornos - An idyllic beach with many restaurants and great services. The most family-friendly beach on the island so if the kids are not your thing simply choose another beach. Platys Gialos - A wide beautiful beach with many restaurants. This is where you catch the water-taxi to Super Paradise and other beaches. Paraga - Super crowded yet very beautiful beach. Paradise - A party-beach with numerous bars taking over every piece of sand possible. The real party begins when the sun goes down. Super Paradise - A small beach with plenty of activities and couple of bars. You need to take the water taxi to get here. The most LGBTQ friendly beach in Mykonos. Agia Anna - A quiet beach with a very good restaurant, for those who need a rest after a crazy night. Elia - The longest beach on the island. Agrari - Very quiet and secluded with no public transport options, you either walk here from Elia or you need a car to get here. Agios Ioannis - The most beautiful Mykonos beach, slightly secluded, for those who love to enjoy their beach day quietly and peacefully.
Mykonos is called ‘Island of the Winds’ no wonder surfers, wind and kite surfers are flocking here for some water fun.
Choose Kórfos, Fteliá, Meyáli Ámmos or Kalafátis if you looking for taking lessons and learning a new sport this summer.
There is some great diving to do but visibility is best in September.
Day trips from Mykonos
Rineia Island – Mykonians do not like to advertise this place and prefer to keep this unspoiled paradise to themselves, and I’m not surprised by that.
Having every single inch of Mykonos devoted to tourism it is not only smart and healthy but actually essential to keep this place untouched.
You can make an easy day trip to the island and explore by foot. Visit the ruins of the ancient Greek temples and Christian churches, check out some secluded Orthodox churches and enjoy perfect azure waters of the island.
There are organized tours to the island but as well there are a daily voidadiko-boats from Mykonos to Kasari.
Delos Island – Easy day trip from Mykonos, you can either take a ferry from Mykonos ton or go on the organised tour.
The island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the most important mythological, historical and archaeological sites in whole Greece.
Holds superb example of monumental antiquities from the Archaic, the Classical, and the Hellenistic periods.
As Greek people like to say Delos is not a museum, Delos is not there to tell a story, Delos is history itself. A must visit!
Located in the heart of the Cyclades, unrivalled natural beauty and some amazing attractions make Paros one of the most loved island in Greece, therefore Paros should be on your island hopping in Greece itinerary without a doubt.
What to do in Paros?
Naoussa – beautiful fishing village is located in a northern part of Paros 10km away from its capital Parikia. Considered to be one of the most beautiful villages of the Cyclades, manages to keep authenticity and traditional charm despite the number of tourists that comes every year. Get lost in labyrinth-like little streets with flowers blooming everywhere and cute window shutters.
Naoussa is built amphitheatrically around a tiny port where little traditional fishing boats await to take you on a great adventure.
The area of Naoussa is famous for its beautiful golden beaches, filling the natural bay such as Kolymbithres Beach, Agios Ioannis, Agioi Anargyroi, Monastiri and many more.
You need to check out Church of the Assumption of the Virgin the Church of Agios Nikolaos, which houses the Byzantine Museum with 13th-century icons.
You want to be in Naoussa on the 23rd of August, a great festivity is celebrated during which a representation of the pirates’ raids is performed by the young people of the village, and the feast takes place till the wee hours.
Parikia – a traditional Cycladic settlement clustered around the castle. Whitewashed houses with coloured windows, doors and balconies and old mansions, separated by narrow streets forming a maze.
Kastro – the 13th-century castle is worth checking out as it is standing at the highest point of the ton and offers superb views over Parikia. Only few wall remains from this once superb Venetian castle.
Don’t forget to check some of the best churches such as the Panagia Septemvriani, the Church of Agia Eleni and the most important the beautiful Byzantine church of Panagia Ekatontapiliani, which is one of the most important Byzantine monuments still standing in Greece.
Márpissa – a traditional village founded in the 15th century holds distinctive medieval character. The lush village of Psychopiana is worth a visit as well.
Day trips from Paros
Antiparos Island – an easy day excursion from Paros, known for its fantastic secluded beaches, relaxed atmosphere, charming Chora and an impressive Cave of Antiparos with stalactites and stalagmites.
Despotiko Island – can be easily reached by boats from Paros, charm with exotic beaches and calm ambience and is the best day trip activity for every history buff. It was a cult centre from the 7th century B.C. till the Roman times.
Following the historical course of Antiparos, Despotiko was conquered by the Venetians in 1207 and then by the Ottomans in the 16th century. In the 17th century, pirates used this tiny island as a shelter in the Aegean Sea. Due to its shaken history, the island remains uninhabited.
The largest and greenest island of the Cyclades. Naxos is an island of beautiful old churches, monasteries and Venetian castles, superb sandy beaches and picturesque mountainous villages to explore.
Naxos natural beauty and interesting sightseeing activities make its the most family-friendly island of all the Cyclades and a very pleasant stop while island hopping in Greece.
Summer is a time of Naxos Festival with some fascinating events taking place over those months. The famous Wine Festival and Fisherman’s Feast being held in September.
What to do in Naxos?
Portára – an ancient gate of a 6th century BC temple of Apollo located on the islet of Palatia. According to mythology, this is where the god Dionysus met Ariadni.
Chora – a unique blend of Cycladic and Medieval architecture, whitewashed alleys and typical white cubic houses next to Venitian castle and fortifications, Orthodox churches next to Catholic ones.
Towers – being the most fortified island of the Cyclades Naxos has some amazing structures from island’s glorious past. Some of the best ones are Bazeos Tower in Sagri, the Crispi-Glezos Tower, the Belonia Tower at Galanado and Della Rocca- Barozzi Tower.
Apérathos – a colourful mountain village with five museums, stone-built houses, beautiful squares and narrow alleys paved with marble, and a beautiful church of the Early Christian period.
Filoti – awfully picturesque, very Cycladic and gateway to the biggest Byzantine church of Nàxos, Panayia Protothroni.
The community of Sagri – five small villages: Ano Sagri, Kato Sagri, Kanakari, Kastraki and Mikri Vigla.
Cave of Zas – used to be dedicated to Milosios Zeus, holds some impressive stalactite formations.
Naxos is known for its perfect conditions for kitesurfing and windsurfing but offers something for all sports lovers, including great bike and hiking routes.
Hiking routes: Hora–Melane-Halki, Halki–Danakos-Apeiranthos, Skado-Apollonas with a hike from Apeíranthos to Moutsouna beach being the most beautiful and picturesque. Or trek Zas Mountain and Fanári Mountain for some amazing views over the archipelago.
Among the most beautiful beaches are Plaka, Agia Anna, Orkos, while Mikri Vigla is the best spot for kitesurfing and windsurfing, two sports that are particularly popular in Naxos.
It is called Little Mykonos mainly due to its intense nightlife, but wake up early and you can discover numerous historical landmarks and some wonderful beaches with soft sand and emerald waters. Another must stop while island hopping in Greece.
What to do in Ios?
Town of Ios – peaceful and charming winding streets, twelve windmills and beautiful churches with arched belfries and light blue domes create a unique town of Chora.
Panayia Gremiótissa – the most important of 365 churches in Ios is standing proudly on the edge of a cliff in the highest spot of Chora. On the 15th of August, a procession takes place followed by a traditional festival with singing and dancing till dawn!
Skárkos – an ancient Cycladic settlementarchaeologicalological site.
Homer’s Tomb – only 4,5 km from Chora the rocky ruins of the entrance to a tomb remain, as well as some graves.
To discover the pristine natural beauty of Ios tries some of its trekking routes, such as a very peaceful trek above the valley of the Mylopótamos or the hike on the side of the Profítis Ilías to the small monastery of Agios Prokópios.
Amorgos is one of the most beautiful Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, no wonder that a large part of the Luc Besson film ‘The Big Blue’ was shot in the beach of Agia Anna.
The virgin beauty of Nature, most picturesque in the Cyclades and breathtaking views of the rest of archipelago will charm you and will never let you go.
Many people overlooking this island while planning their island hopping in Greece, do not make this mistake.
What to do in Amorgos?
Town of Amorgós – super cute and super quaint Chora located in the middle of the island will impress you with traditional Cycladic houses with Bougainville trees in their backyards, whitewashed alleys, 13th-century castle and numerous monasteries.
Katápola – the main harbour of the island as well as a haven for boat enthusiasts.
Eyiáli – the second harbour of Amorgós offers plenty of cafes and restaurants. After checking out the port head to Tholária, Lagkáda and Potamós – 3 charming villages perched on the mountain behind the harbour. Great sunset opportunities.
Monastery of the Virgin Mary Hozoviótissa – most important attraction of Amorgos and one of the most important ecclesiastic monuments in Greece. 10th-century cliffside monastery is said to be fully carved in the rock, set high up on Mt. Profitis Elias.
Olympia Shipwreck – hiding in the cove near Kalotaritissa beach. It is an interesting site to check!
Amorgos is an island for people who love to be active on their holidays. Picturesque trekking paths, hidden coves with some superb azure waters for snorkelling, swimming and diving.
Here are few pathways that are a perfect way o discover this amazing Cyclade!
1. Paliá Stráta - 11.5 km. 4-hour-hike starts from Hóra, continues past the Monastery of Chozoviotissa, goes across the island to Potamós and on to at Eyiáli Bay. 2. Fotodótis. Hóra - Katápola. 1h hour walk along a cobblestone path with beautiful views of the sea. 3. Itonia - 10km. The 3-hour walk helps you to discover sites of cultural interest, such as the ancient Acropolis 4. The footpath of Melania - 4.5 km. Easy 2-hour route through traditional settlements and ancient Cycladic ruins. With some impressive views of the bay. 5. The footpath of Pan -6.5 km. The hard 2-hour route which goes past the Byzantine Monastery of Ioannis Theologos and Stavros Chapel and up to the highest point of the island, Mount Krikelos, 812 m. above sea level. The views will make up for an effort!
It is safe to say that after Acropolis, the picture perfect Santorini is the most photographed place in Greece. Gifted with a unique natural beauty and a wild scenery created by the volcanic eruptions it is a bucket list item and a must visit while island hopping in Greece.
Santorini is a precious gem in the Cycladic crown and it is actually a group of islands consisting of Thíra, Thirassiá, Asproníssi, Palea and Nea Kaméni.
What to do in Santorini?
Fira – the capital of the island, perched high up on the edge of the Caldera, it looks like a marvellous painting. Fira together with Oia, Imerovígli and Firostefáni make up the so-called balcony of Santorini, which offers the best views of the volcano.
You can take a 9km hike from Fira to Oia, the views are spectacular!
Oia – the most famous Cycladic settlement in a whole archipelago, yes this is this famous spot you see on every single Instagram page from Greece, situated on top of an impressive cliff and offers a spectacular view over the volcano of Palia and Nea Kameni and the island of Thirassia.
Amoudi Bay – check out the beautiful port 300 steps down from Oia.
Akrotiri – visit this over 3,500 years old town that was persevered in volcanic ash, it is currently an archaeological site.
Akrotiri Lighthouse – the lighthouse itself is not the most impressive building you have ever seen but a view from there is.
Day trips from Santorini
Nea Kameni Island – is a small uninhabited island of volcanic origin located within the flooded Santorini caldera. After climbing the still active volcano you can check out the therapeutic hot springs.
Thirassia Island – there are daily boats from Santorini to Thirassia in the summer season. The island is still untouched by tourism and modern lifestyle. Manolas village is the capital town.
The main attractions of Thirassia are virgin beaches and pure nature, next to picturesque villages and Monastery of the Assumption of the Virgin.
Anafi Island – A small Greek island situated close to Santorini. It can be a long day trip or a quick overnight trip. It is a rather secluded island with only one town – Chora.
Because it is untouched by mass tourism it is a very genuine Cycladic island with unspoiled beaches and beautiful coastline.
Getting Around the Greek Islands
You can fly to few of main islands from Athens, but those are rather expansive and you can’t really fly between the island without returning to Athens unless you have a private jet. In that case please take me with you haha
Boats and ferries are the best way to proceed when you want to do some island hopping in Greece. Making it quick yet not as easy as you can imagine. Gathering all needed information, timetables and routes take some work.
Many of the ferry companies won’t have schedules online and it is best to gather information at the spot. But that is an option only if you have plenty of time and are comfortable with the unplanned journey. I know many people don’t therefore, I have a great solution.
A company called Hostelbay.com teamed up with Hellenic Seaways, the largest Hellenic maritime company that connects the Greek Island since 1999 to create a fabulous product tailormade for island hopping in Greece on a budget.
Yes, you heard me, it won’t be expensive anymore to travel between the Cyclades and Crete.They offer two kinds of passes.
Visit 4 islands pay for 1 ferry ticket. Make 5 routes inevery combination for 20 days a the price of 69EUR. Including islands of Paros, Naxos, Ios and Santorini.
Visit 7 islands pay for 1 ferry ticket. Make 8 routes inevery combination for 20 days for a price of 99EUR. Including island of Mykonos, Paros, Naxos, Ios, Amorgos,Santorini and Crete!
Isn’t it like the best thing you have heard? It is to me! And the best is that all those saved money you save can go towards hotel upgrades, excursions and those delicious octopus salads that are to die for!
Best time to travel to Greek Islands
In my humble opinion, the best months for island hopping in Greece are June and September, for various reasons: nicer weather and lesser crowds. Although more remote islands will only operate fully in August.
In high season, which runs from mid-June to mid-September there are more ferries, more open restaurant, beach bars but as well more visitors and higher prices to pay.
Each island group has its own weather condition to look into. The Cyclades have a Mediterranean climate, with mild and moderately rainy winters, and warm and sunny summers. But it can get chilly at night due to heavy winds so pack a cardigan.
The average temperatures of January and February hover around 11 °C (52 °F), those of July and August around 25 °C (77 °F). During heat waves in other areas of Greece the temperatures can touch 40 °C (104 °F), in the Cyclades they remain lower, around 34/35 °C (93/95 °F).
Culturally speaking, Orthodox Easter can be a fascinating time to do island hopping in Greece. Each island, town, and the village will celebrate it’s in own style with religious parades, firecrackers, and revelry.
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More than happy to chat!