The Cyclades are what many people think of when they imagine the Greek islands. They are the archetypal picture-postcard view of dazzling white houses, deep blue skies and seas, windmills, and pretty churches with pale blue domes. But it is only in the Cyclades group of islands where you get all these features together, and even here not every island has them, though they are certainly among the most appealing islands in the Aegean.
If you see a photograph of the Greek islands in the press there is a strong chance that it will have been taken on one of the Cyclades. This is the archetypal picture of a Greek island in many people’s minds, and the way Greece likes to promote itself both overseas and at home. It will show a jumble of dazzlingly white houses set higgledy-piggledy against a hillside, with somewhere a blue-domed church, and with an ink-blue sky behind. It doesn’t reflect the look of all the island groups, but it is certainly what the Cyclades look like for most of the summer and is likely to be your first glimpse if you arrive by boat.
The name Cyclades comes from kyklos, a circle, and a glance at the map will indicate part of the reason for this, but the other factor was that roughly in the centre of this circle was the sacred island of Dilos. The Cyclades are probably the most significant group of islands from a historical point of view, as during the years 3000-1000 BC they produced the Cycladic civilisation which was one of the most cultured in Greece and is the only Greek civilisation to have its own museum dedicated to it in Athens. It produced art work that has had a lasting impact on the world.
Naxos is the largest island and is more truly in the geographical centre of the group along with its neighbour, Paros, and despite them being at the hub of the transport network in the Cyclades, neither has been spoilt by tourism. The same cannot be said of nearby Ios and Mykonos, which both almost sink under the weight of incoming fun-seekers in summer. It is easy to get away from all that, though, if you wish, as there are some 24 inhabited islands in the Cyclades, some of them with very small populations and totally unaffected by the mass of visitors elsewhere.
The administrative capital of the Cyclades is Syros, another island you are sure to visit if you travel around the group, and this too is not as affected by tourism as you might think, given its status. However, if only visiting one island in the group most travellers stop off at Santorini (Thira), whose volcanic crater and black sand beaches are a contrasting but equally potent picture of the Cyclades.
But there are quieter islands too, usually because it takes slightly longer to get to them. These include Kythnos, Serifos, Kimolos, Schinoussa and Iraklia, where you can really get away from it all. To find out what there is to do on each of the islands, where to stay and where to eat, click on the links below.