Boat trips around the Cyclades
Good to know when planning your Cyclades island hopping trip
Which islands to choose for your Cyclades island hopping?
First things first. For authentic Greek island hopping in the Cyclades I have one major tip for you: Skip the well-known islands such as Santorini and Mykonos. Instead, pick some islands of which you haven’t heard before.
So many Cycladic islands offer picturesque white-washed villages with tiny alleys and colorful splashes of flowers. They all kiss the same beautiful Aegean sea with their sandy, soft beaches. And all of them are home to some amazing family-run taverns where smiling locals serve you their favorite Greek delicacies.
The Cyclades are a group of over 200 islands. The choice isn’t easy. I feel you! But most of the smaller islands aren’t inhabited.
In general, the more western Cyclades are said to be the quieter Greek islands. That’s why I can recommend you to go west. Over here you can find a calm break from everyday life and still dive deep into Greek culture.
The major Cycladic islands are:
We decided on the islands Folegandros, Milos, and Paros – of two of them we had never heard of before. Yet, they exceeded all our expectations. Maybe because we barely had some.
That’s what I love so much about traveling off the beaten path.
Allow yourself to get lost and to get surprised. See a destination for the first time through your own eyes instead of ticking off what thousands of other Instagrammers have seen and posted before. And of course this way you can help destinations that are suffering from overtourism.
Ancient ruins on the Cycladic islands
Why you should avoid visiting one of the famous islands
The famous islands like Santorini or Mykonos will wait for you with hefty price tags, tourist crowds, and cruise ships.
We had a short stopover in Mykonos and were shocked by the amount of waste the huge crowds of tourists leave. Its main town has lost all its charm due to souvenir shops, masses of people, and tourist menus displayed in all languages. This is anything but an authentic, quiet Greek island.
In this concern, don’t forget that Mykonos is a dry island with no fresh water on the island. So all water has to be desalinated or transported there, consuming large amounts of energy. This kind of tourism can’t be sustainable.
Places suffering from overtourism not only have to grapple with water shortage and huge amounts of waste. It also leads to less living space and more disturbance for animals and for locals and an increase in prices that many inhabitants can’t live with anymore.
What is the best time to visit Greece?
I’m a huge fan of traveling off-season. And Greece is the perfect place to do so.
In early spring and late autumn, you can experience amazing temperatures that allow you to hang out by the beach (around 22-25°C) and still beautifully blooming alleys.
At the same time, it’s not as hot as during the summer months when the heat can make every movement too exhausting.
Besides, you can avoid the tourist crowds and enjoy more quiet Greek islands in the low season. Even when you choose lesser-known islands, Greece and the Cyclades are becoming more and more popular, so you won’t find any empty beaches during the summer months.
The beginning of October was the perfect time for our Cyclades island hopping trip, just before everything closed down for the winter break. Be aware that during the winter months (from mid-October) you won’t be able to visit some of these islands, as barely any ferries are running. And even if you get there, most accommodation and restaurants will be closed as well.
They only reopen in April/May. So check out the ferries and times first before you book any accommodation.
On the beach in October
How to get to the Cyclades?
There is a really good ferry connection in Greece. You can fly to Athens and easily reach most of the islands from Athens (Piraeus port) by ferry. So there’s no point in taking a domestic flight within Greece and unnecessarily puffing exhaust fumes into the air.
Piraeus port in Athens is huge and super busy, so make sure to arrive at least one hour before your ferry leaves, as it might take some time to reach your gate.
The ferry from Athens to most of the quiet Greek islands averages 4 hours. There is usually a speed ferry and a slower one. I’d always recommend taking the slower, bigger ferries, as it can be extremely windy which makes a ride with a speedboat very uncomfortable. Believe me, you want to avoid a boat full of seasick people on your holidays (we had a very unpleasant experience with a Seajet speedboat on a stormy day).
Besides flying to Athens, you can also fly to Mykonos from some other European countries (e.g. from Germany).
Also, there’s the option to arrive by ferry from Italy or to enter Greece by car overland.
How to get from one Cycladic island to the next?
Due to the great ferry connection, you can comfortably move between the islands by boat.
In between most of the Cycladic islands, the ferry takes only around 2-3 hours. During this time, you can relax in a large ferry’s lounge, have a coffee or snack in one of their restaurants and cafes, or soak up the sun on the deck.
Large ships are not only the better choice in case you’re in the Cyclades on windy days, but they’re usually also cheaper than the Speed boats. A good way to watch out for the bigger ferries is to choose one that can transport cars.
Ferry companies with large ships I can recommend for Cyclades island hopping are:
We compared prices and booked our tickets on ferryhopper.com
. In their app, you have all your ferry tickets in one place. That’s not only handy but also saves paper waste.
How to get around on the islands?
On the larger islands (such as Paros, Milos or Naxos) you can find a great public transport network with buses running regularly. You can reach the main towns and villages by bus, as well as many beaches. On smaller and quieter Greek islands, such as Folegandros, the bus network is poor.
In order to be flexible on your trip and explore some hidden gems, stop spontaneously and reach more beaches, I’d recommend renting a vehicle. When it’s warm and not as windy, renting a scooter or an ATV and letting the wind blow through your hair is huge fun. On windier days or unsteady weather conditions, you’re better off with a rental car.
Besides, parking is free almost everywhere. The Greeks are quite relaxed with parking as long as you don’t block the street.
Can you drink tap water in Greece?
Surprisingly, the tap water in many places in Greece is drinkable. This way, you can avoid buying unnecessary bottled water that cause huge amounts of waste.
How long do you need for relaxed island hopping on the Cyclades?
We spent two and a half weeks in Greece, combining three Cycladic islands with a few days in Athens. For us, this was the perfect mix having around 3 days in Folegandros, 5 days each in Milos and Paros, and 3 days in Athens.
Depending on how many and which islands you choose for your Cyclades island hopping trip, you should definitely plan enough time. In two weeks I’d recommend a maximum of three islands.
There’s so much to see. And even on a tiny, quiet Greek island like Folegandros, you can easily spend a few days to truly experience it.
So, let’s dig into it and find out which islands can be a good choice for island hopping on the Cyclades.
Three quiet Greek islands I can recommend for your Cyclades island hopping trip
Folegandros – a local and rugged island
Nothing but water in front of you. Your thoughts expanding. Salty air and a strong summer breeze dancing up your nose. What else do you need in this moment of bliss? Add white tiny villages along the hills, locally-run rural taverns, and extremely hospitable people. That’s what you can expect from Folegandros.
If you’re looking for a place far away from mass tourism and crowds, where you can experience the authentic island life of the Greek, then Folegandros is for you.
The island is super small – so small that there’s no need for street names. Isn’t that cute? Here, you can reach the other end of the island within a 15 minutes drive.
Despite being so small, Folegandros really surprised us. In my opinion, this island offers the perfect balance between remoteness but still enough authentic small restaurants and cafés and a few beautiful beaches with turquoise water.
Things to do in Folegandros
The main village, named Chora (like so many other villages on the Cyclades are called), is said to be among the prettiest villages in the Cyclades. It’s a very authentic village with tiny alleys and white cube-shaped houses.
You can walk up to the church above Chora for a stunning panoramic view across the island and the Aegean sea.
Being on a tiny island, you shouldn’t miss its natural beaches. There aren’t many, but all of them are natural gems. There won’t be any sunbeds or beach bars. Just you within nature. Also, most beaches can only be reached by boat or hiking. Here are some of my favorites:
Agios Nikolaos Beach – a natural beach that you can reach in 10 minutes by foot from Agkali beach
Livadaki Beach – it can be reached by hiking down a 30 minutes path but it’s well worth it and a beautiful spot for snorkeling
Katergo Beach – a gravel beach with crystal clear water in the south of the island
Crystal clear water in Folegandros
How to get around Folegandros
The bus network in Folegandros is poor. Buses only run around four times a day which is fine if you just want to head to one beach in the morning and come back in the afternoon.
But if you like to explore a bit more you should go hiking to some hidden beaches or rent a scooter or ATV.
Where to sleep in Folegandros
There are some small, family-run hotels in Chora or up the hill in the village Ano Mera. You can also find a few Airbnbs and guesthouses sprinkled across the island. As the Folegandros is so small but quite hilly, many of them have an amazing view across the sea, such as the lovely Anatoli Hotel.
I fell in love with the sea view on our little terrace at Anatoli Hotel
. This place got right into my heart and I can recommend it to anyone. Such a cute little, locally-owned hotel.
On the terrace of Anatoli hotel
Where to eat in Folegandros
In Chora, you can find many cute restaurants and cafes along its main square and scattered among the winding alleys:
– Authentic Greek cuisine and great wine, served in a beautiful courtyard next to Chora’s main square
– What a hidden gem! It looks so unremarkable from the outside but when you enter you reach an amazing garden where they serve great food and also breakfast
Restaurants in Chora, Folegandros
When we went at the beginning of October you could feel that the season on most quiet Greek islands was about to end. Many of the restaurants were getting ready to shut down but there was a relaxed mood in the air – restaurant owners and shop keepers tired but content about a satisfying season and looking forward to some calmer months.
Well, there’s no other place like Folegandros. It seems like time runs more slowly over here. Nowhere else you may encounter an old lady taking her dog for an afternoon walk and casually taking off her clothes to swim naked. That’s what I call freedom.
Milos – a volcanic island with surreal white cliffs among turquoise waters
When the waves smash against the lunar coast in Milos you feel like you’re on another planet. While rugged hills predominate the island’s inland, its cliffs frame amazing beaches and turquoise bays.
Milos is the kind of island where you can get lost on hiking routes along the coast. Here, you only stumble upon some locals strolling through winding alleys of old rusty villages in low-season. During this time, it seems like there are more cuddly cats on the streets than shops open. And when you’re lucky, you could find yourself as the only one at a beach.
Sarakiniko | Milos
The caves of Parafragas | Milos
What you shouldn’t miss in Milos
Although being among the rather quiet Greek islands, Milos offers a fantastic variety of activities and things to see. Therefore, I still wonder why this amazing island isn’t visited by more travelers during their Cyclades island hopping.
Here are some of the things you shouldn’t miss in Milos:
Walk across the moonlike white cliffs of Sarakiniko
Visit the stunning caves of Kleftiko and Sykia on a boat trip
Stroll around the colorful boathouses in one of Milos’ fishing villages, such as Klima or Mandrakia
Get lost in the old village Plaka with its whitewashed houses and blue-painted window shutters
Enjoy a sunset dinner in Trypiti or Mandrakia
Soak up ancient Greek culture in the old theater or one of Milos other archaeological sites
Klima fishing village | Milos
Ancient theater in Milos
And if you want to hang out by the best beaches in Milos, you should try to visit:
Tsigrado Beach – you have to climb down a few ladders to reach this tiny gem
Fyriplaka Beach – a large and wide sandy beach with a relaxed beach bar
Plathiena Beach – a shallow, natural bay where you can walk in really far
Recommended stay: At Halara Studios in Plaka you can soak up Greek flair every single day. Especially the view is breathtaking.
Check their availability right here!
Plathenia beach | Milos, Greece
Tsigrado Beach | Milos, Greece
Paros – an authentic island with beautiful villages
Paros is about getting lost in the labyrinthine alleys of its villages. Framed by Bougainvillea blossoms, the perfectly white-washed houses invite you to experience local Greek culture and awesome food.
The island is more popular with travelers than the rather quiet Greek islands Milos or Folegandros. So you may stumble upon a few more tourists. Yet, it’s still peaceful and authentic and no comparison to the touristy, crowded Mykonos or Santorini.
Lefkes | Paros
What you shouldn’t miss in Paros
Paros offers a nice blend of the cutest towns and villages but also wide, sandy beaches.
Here’s a selection of what you shouldn’t miss when you’re in Paros:
Stroll through the beautiful white alleys of the capital Parikia with its little boutiques, local restaurants, and cafes
Allow yourself to get lost in the stunning maze of Naoussa and explore the fishing village’s old port
Visit Lefkes, the most authentic Cycladic village on the island with a fantastic view
Relax by the shallow beaches with their fine sand and crystal clear water
Try some water activities, such as kitesurfing, sailing, or snorkeling
Go on a day trip to Antiparos which you can reach in only 10 minutes by ferry
Naoussa | Paros
A wide variety of beaches can be found in Paros and Antiparos. Here are some recommendations:
Santa Maria beach – my top recommendation during low-season for the finest sand on Paros
Kolympethres beach – in a bay near Naoussa this beach offers unique rock formations and shallow water
Kalogeros beach – for an unusual beach experience among rocks where beachgoers cover themselves in the supposedly healing mud
Soros beach, Antiparos – a wide and long golden beach on Paros’ neighboring island that invites you to relax all-day
Recommended stay: With its dreamy garden a stay at 9 Muses is a real highlight. Just a bit outside of Parikia, it’s the perfect location to explore the island and to walk into town in the evenings.
It’s often fully booked long in advance, so directly check here for availability!
Beaches in Paros
The perfect enhancement of your Cyclades island hopping can be some days in Athens. If you enter Greece via Athens, you could either add a short stay at the beginning or end of your trip. After visiting a few quiet Greek islands, the bustling city tops off your trip. There’s so much history to see in Athens, that this city shouldn’t be missed when you’re in Greece.
You can easily get to Athens by ferry from any Cycladic island.
The vibe of Athens is an interesting blend of a historical place infused with modern influences and a mix of cultures. It’s a place for young and old with exciting culinary and arts, a well-known party scene, and old quarters sprinkled with historic sites. You may walk aimlessly through Athens and you will stumble upon numerous historic monuments and archaeological sites around any corner.
The Panthenon on the Acropolis of Athens
Things to do in Athens
What I really loved about Athens is that you can easily walk everywhere. Even up to the famous Acropolis it’s only around a 20-minute walk from Athens center. So hop into a pair of comfy shoes and let’s start exploring. There is so much to see and do in Athens.
Soak up the historic sites of Ancient Greece
On top of the list of things to do in Athens are definitely the city’s historic sites. You can’t be in Athens without seeing at least some of the most important places of Greek history:
The Acropolis and the Parthenon
– Probably the most famous monument in Athens. An Acropolis can be found in many Greek cities (it’s basically the highest part of an ancient city) but with the large Parthenon temple overlooking the city, the Acropolis of Athens is definitely a must-see.
To make the most out of your visit, I highly recommend booking a skip-the-line ticket with a self-guided tour
in advance (with an audioguide and the app). Because the queue in front of the Acropolis can get reeeeeally long!
The Theatre of Dionysos – Right next to the Acropolis, this old theatre is amazingly well-preserved and still used as a venue for events (e.g. concerts) nowadays.
Hadrian’s Library – Being a city of ancient philosophers and great thinkers, their library has always been a place of great interest. It’s mostly in ruins nowadays but walking through you can imagine how huge it used to be 2000 years ago.
The Ancient Agora – Meaning as much as “marketplace”, the Ancient Agora of Athens is an impressive example showcasing how life may have looked like in Ancient Greece. There are numerous ruins surrounding it which used to make up the historic center of Athens.
The Roman Agora – It’s not as big as the Ancient Agora but still worth seeing, as it used to be an Ancient public square built during Roman times.
To make the most out of your visit, I highly recommend booking a skip-the-line ticket in advance. Because the queues in front of Athens’ sights can get reeeeeally long! The best is getting a Skip-the-line Combo Ticket
(which costs only 22 Euros online instead of 30 Euros on-site).
With this ticket, you can enter all the above-mentioned historical sites without waiting in a queue, as well as three smaller sites: the Karameikos cemetery, the temple of Zeus and the National Archaological Museum.
Historic sites in Athens
Also, don’t miss the Panathenaic Stadium which is one of the most historic monuments for the Olympic Games. Every four years, the fire for the Olympic opening ceremony is lighted in the ruins in Olympia and then brought to Athens by a historic chain of runners. In the Panathenaic Stadium, a ceremony takes place during which the fire is handed over to the host country of the Olympic Games.
It’s only 5 Euros entry to the stadium including an Audio guide and it’s well worth it. Plus: There’s a spectacular view of the Acropolis
Panathenaic Stadium, Athens
What else you shouldn’t miss in Athens
Stroll through beautiful Plaka – the oldest still inhabited quarter, with its many restaurants and alleys along the hill
Cross Monastiraki square and its adjoining flea market
Walk through the funky neighborhood Psyrri
Eat some Loukoumades (the Greece version of donuts) at a local bakery
Visit Athens markets (the Central Municipal Athens Market and the Varvakios Central Municipal Market) and buy some delicious olives there (be aware that they’re closed on Sundays)
Join a walking tour to dive deeper into the history and life of locals in Athens
Alleys in Plaka, Athens
Where to eat in Athens
Athens has an awesome food scene that offers many options for all tastes. Of course, there are Greek restaurants at almost any corner (the Greeks love to eat). In the Plaka neighborhood, there are numerous great restaurants. Another good area to head to is around Mitropoleos. Even though you wouldn’t expect it in this central location, the restaurants here are full of locals.
And of course, there’s always the opportunity to grab a pita bread with gyros – most places also offer veggie versions. We had some really authentic, yummy pitas in Psyrri.
Here are some of the places we headed to and were not disappointed:
– For lunch with Meze, or a coffee break with homemade cake in the bustling Plaka neighborhood. Check out their rooftop!
– An artistic courtyard for a relaxing break during the afternoon with yummy homemade lemonade
– Amazing vegetarian and vegan options
– A juice shop with many different kinds of fresh fruit juice, in case you need a vitamin boost or a cool-down
Recommended stays: If you feel like a treat after your Cyclades island hopping trip, take a look at the sustainable Coco-Mat Hotel. But The Frogs Guesthouse is also a great option in a perfect location, so you can easily reach all places to see in Athens by foot.
In front of Yiasemi, Athens
What to eat on your Cyclades island hopping trip
Speaking of food – food is culture. Without trying lots of local food you will never truly experience a place or a country. So let’s take a look into some typical options for your holiday in Greece.
As a vegetarian, at first, you may think it’s not always easy in Greek restaurants, especially on less touristy, quiet Greek islands. Well, many main dishes are indeed heavy on meat or fish. But there’s this amazing way of eating in Greece that will make your veggie tummy fall in love: Meze. It’s like the Greek version of tapas – you share many small plates with plenty of yummy veggie options.
Here are some of my favorite Meze options:
Besides, don’t miss out on these popular Greek dishes:
Gemista – tomatoes and yellow peppers filled with rice
Melitzanes Papoutsakia / Boulouka – stuffed aubergine with tomatoes (and often feta cheese on top)
Horiatiki – classic Greek salad
Moussaka – an eggplant casserole (usually with minced meat but sometimes you can find a vegetarian/vegan version)
Pastitsio – like a Greek version of lasagne (pasta with tomato sauce baked in the oven – also usually with minced meat but look out for a vegetarian/vegan version)
All kinds of seafood (obviously, since we’re by the sea)
Also, I can recommend trying Loukoumades (sweet fried dough balls, just like donuts) and of course Greek wine and Mastiha (a typical Greek liquor made from the mastic tree)
Lunch at O! Hamos! | Milos, Greece
How to travel more sustainably during Cyclades island hopping?
Traveling more sustainably starts with the right planning. Especially when visiting a place by the beach, it’s important to protect the ocean.
Here are some basic tips on how to visit Greece in a more sustainable way:
Start with choosing the right destination(s): Avoid islands suffering from overtourism and choose some more quiet Greek islands.
Keep your carbon footprint as low as possible: Take the ferry instead of the plane in between islands.
Bring a reusable water bottle and drink tap water wherever it’s drinkable, or bring a bottle with a filter
. Wherever there are water refill stations, use them to avoid plastic bottles.
Eat less meat or opt for meat-free dishes.
Support organizations helping stray cats and dogs and treat these cuties with some snacks.
Cyclades island hopping – a wrap-up
The Cyclades in three words: cats | shades of blue | feta everywhere
Did you know?
At last, I also give you two juicy history facts:
In the 18th century, the Cyclades were regularly invaded by pirates. To seek shelter, the inhabitants moved further up the hills, creating those tiny villages. And many of the caves along the islands’ coast were used by the pirates as a shelter.
The Cycladic islands got their name, (“circular islands”) as they form a circle around Delos (according to the Greek myth a sacred island and the birthplace of the god Apollo)
Favorite photo spot: The colorful boathouses of Mandrakia, Milos before sunset dinner and the lunar landscapes of Sarakiniko, Milos
Favorite food: For me definitely any kind of stuffed aubergine (Melitzanes Papoutsakia / Melitzana Boulouka)
Can’t miss: Staying in a white-sugar-cube Cycladic house as the perfect authentic accommodation
Greek words worth knowing:
Hello – γεια σας (pronounced “Ya sas” if you greet two or more people, but “Ya su” if you greet only one person)
Good morning – Καλημέρα (pronounced “Kalimera”)
Thank you – ευχαριστώ (pronounced “Efkaristo”)
You’re welcome – Παρακαλώ (pronounced “Parakalo”)
Beach – παραλία (pronounced “Paralia”)
Are you curious about more insights on the Cyclades? Or have you visited the Cycladic islands before and your highlight isn’t mentioned yet? Let me know in the comments below!
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