Navigating the Cyclades – A Ferry Explorer’s Dream

The islands’ crystalline waters, quaint villages, and iconic blue-domed churches are renowned worldwide. But it’s the hidden coves, authentic gastronomy, and friendly local encounters that reveal the true beauty of the Cyclades.

Luckily, island hopping in the Greek islands is easy thanks to direct ferry routes that run frequently from Athens. So raise your sails and discover the Cyclades, one island at a time.

How to Get There

The islands of the Cyclades have become world-famous for a reason: picture-perfect villages, iconic whitewashed houses, and cobblestone streets lead to heavenly beaches, authentic gastronomy, and countless historical and archeological monuments. This renowned set of islands encircles the sacred island of Delos in the Aegean Sea and is a top destination for all types of travelers looking to enjoy sun, sea, and culture.

There are direct flights from the mainland to a few of the islands such as Mykonos and Paros but the majority require you to fly into Athens and take a ferry to reach your island of choice. Ferries are the most affordable way to travel in and out of the islands as well as provide you with a unique perspective on the water.

During the peak summer season, many of the popular islands such as Mykonos, Santorini, and Naxos have multiple connections daily to Piraeus port in Athens. Some smaller islands may only have one or two ferries per week during the peak months so be sure to plan accordingly and book in advance.

If you’re planning on taking a ferry to the Cyclades, be sure to pack a swimsuit and plenty of sun protection as most ferries do not have covered seating or amenities. Additionally, it is wise to pack a jacket for the evenings as the sea can get quite cool.

How to Get Around

In high season (June through August) ferries operate daily from Piraeus to most of the islands. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that there are many different ferry operators on each route and the frequency of services may vary. Also, ticket prices can differ widely, depending on the ferry operator. The Ferryscanner website is an excellent resource for comparing prices and itineraries.

If you’re visiting the Cyclades in the high season, it’s best to reserve accommodation and ferry tickets well in advance to avoid disappointment, particularly for the most popular islands such as Santorini and Mykonos. Some of the smaller islands such as Sifnos and Serifos tend to have less frequent services.

A week or a week and a half is the ideal amount of time to spend island-hopping in the Cyclades. This gives you plenty of time to experience 3 or 6 islands at a comfortable pace and see them at their very best. The only caveat is that you’ll need to allow for some ferry travel between each destination and this is why it’s worth packing a lightweight backpack so that your hands are free for cameras! For an even more hands-free experience, consider using a mobile app to check in for your ferry and get your tickets before you go to avoid any unnecessary queues at the port.

Where to Stay

When people picture a Greek island, it’s Santorini or Mykonos that spring to mind. But this vast archipelago features up to 20 marvelous islands, each with their own charms. On Naxos, delve into the island’s history in its medieval town and sample Naxian wine (it’s been said to cure a broken heart). In Milos, marvel at the incredible geological formations on the beach of Kleftiko. Then wander through the white villages inland on Paros and be seduced by its beauty. Alternatively, stay on the little-visited Kimolos and explore its pristine beaches.

There’s also the aristocratic island of Andros, where you’ll find elegant neoclassical mansions and rolling hills with natural streams. This is where the shipbuilding dynasties of the 1800s built their opulent homes and left behind an intense yet serene vibe.

There’s a good choice of hotels on each of the major islands, particularly on Santorini, where you can choose from luxury resorts, boutique and family-run options. On Paros, consider staying in the capital of Parikia for thriving nightlife and Piso Livadi or Lefkes for traditionally serene island life. On Sifnos, you’ll discover why it isn’t more popular – its lovely all-round qualities include cracking beaches and a quaint island centre with tiny alleyways. A great choice for foodies too as it’s renowned for its eateries.

What to Do

From the cosmopolitan to the rustic, the Cyclades are full of islands that are renowned for their beaches, food, and culture. The most famous include Santorini, Mykonos, and Naxos—but don’t miss lesser-known gems on this island-hopping itinerary. Hike the marble hills of Tinos, tour a distillery on Naxos, and take in the sunset over a beach on Ios. And don’t skip out on the one UNESCO World Heritage Site of the group—dedicated to Ancient Greece’s most sacred place, Delos.

See the best of the islands by boat on this island-hopping cruise that takes you past azure waters and sandy shores. Embark in Athens and make stops at Mykonos, Naxos, and Ios, before spending a day cruising to the secluded beaches of Delos.

Explore the pristine islands of the Cyclades on this active adventure, which includes hiking, biking, and sailing. Start off on Mykonos, a hedonistic haven for those looking to enjoy the finer things in life, before exploring Paros’ cliffside architecture and relaxing beaches. From there, you’ll ferry to Naxos and Ios for a taste of local life before watching the sun set over the volcanic peaks of Santorini. Then, get back to nature on the remote island of Amorgos, where a slower pace of life is just as charming as its beautiful landscape. This itinerary also adds in a few days of relaxation in Athens, where you’ll learn about the city’s history and mythology.