The Cyclades archipelago shows Greek life at its best, with countless islands rising from the Aegean Sea and incredible architectural sites just metres from oceanfront restaurants.

The Cyclades archipelago shows Greek life at its best. Countless islands rise from the Aegean Sea, with incredible architectural sites just metres from oceanfront bars and excellent restaurants. The pace ranges from Mykonos’s manic partying to the timelessness of islets such as Folegandros or Delos.

See
The island of Delos, once a religious powerhouse of Ancient Greece, is one of the country’s most important archeological sites. Key remains include a theatre, colourful mosaics, and the Terrace of the Lions with its carved marble beasts. Boats depart daily from Hora on Mykonos (00 30 22890 22322; except Mon; returns £17).

Folegandros, on the southern edge of the archipelago, is a good option for escaping the crowds. The population of barely 700 live mainly in the hilltop village of Chora, its medieval streets, archways and wooden houses made for getting lost in. High-speed ferries leave from Piraeus (returns from £45).

There’s no denying that Mykonos is the fashion capital of the Cyclades, but the labyrinthine Mykonos Town has its own appeal. Its 16th-century Venetian windmills are reminders of the isle’s history, and the art galleries, boutiques and bars of Little Venice in Hora are a draw too.

The experience of watching the blood-orange Cycladian sun dip beneath the horizon from the multi-coloured cliffs of the volcanic island of Santorini is hard to beat .

The white-sand beaches of Naxos are the pick of the bunch. Stretch out and sip the local liqueur kitron while relaxing on the endless sands of Agia Anna, or explore isolated Mikri Vigla, where golden slabs of granite divide the beach into two.

Eat and drink
Mykonos’s Bolero Music Bar is a long-standing favourite and has been pulling in partygoers, plus celebrities including the likes of Keith Richards, for years (00 30 2289 024 877; Malamatenias 1; drinks from £3).

Enjoy Grecian classics at Pounta on Folegandros. It serves breakfasts of cheese, olives and bread and evening meals such as rabbit stew and artichoke casserole in an egg and lemon sauce (00 30 22860 41063; Plateia Pounta; open Jun–Sep; dishes from £4).

You might not expect the tiny island of Schinousa to be the home of one of the finest restaurants in the archipelago, but it’s true. The family-run Deli Restaurant and Sweet Bar 8 serves breads and cheeses made on its own farm, as well as mains such as fish carpaccio marinated in lemon juice (Mar–Oct; mains from £5.20).

Set in the heart of Paros’s port town Parikia, Levantis  is a favoured spot of locals and tourists. An inventive menu features starters such as fennel, pear and radish salad with chilli feta, and mains of codfish cakes, anchovy dressing and aubergine purée (1 May–31 Oct; mains from £9).

Tucked away in the Old Market area of Bourgos on Naxos, O Apostolis  is a family-run restaurant serving Greek dishes like kleftiko (lamb wrapped in filo pastry) and bekri mezes, a popular type of casseroled beef (00 30 22850 26777; 1 May–31 Oct; evening mains from £10).

Sleep
On a quiet cul-de-sac, Sofia Pension on Paros is a friendly guesthouse with immaculate, individually decorated rooms. The building is set in a serene garden and is close enough to the main town of Parikia for exploration, but far enough from it to allow for relaxation (from £45).

Aeolos Beach Hotel, on the island of Folegandros, offers splendid views across the bay of Karavostasi. It recently underwent a complete renovation, and its new rooms are well sized and maintained. There are also some good bakeries and fine seafood restaurants nearby (from £55).

The Carbonaki Hotel on the edge of Mykonos Town is a family-run boutique stay with a delightful ambience and an admirable policy on recycling. Its guestrooms are bright, white and comfortable, with public balconies dotted around its sunny central courtyard (23 Panahrantou; from £70).

Situated in the attractive village of Karterados, less than a mile Sleep from Santorini’s capital, Fira, Karterados Caveland Hotel is a village-like complex of ‘cave houses’ – small apartments with colourful, creative décor and good facilities. It was once also a tennis club, and its courts are still available for guests (from £100).

A recent opening on the island of the same name, Astir of Naxos is an expansive complex of classic whitewashed buildings surrounding a pool, with the beach close by. The rooms are delightful – some with coloured drapes above the bed, and others with chic four-poster beds (St George Beach; from £145).

When to go
Peak season is balmy June–August. In more serene April and May, you can catch the early-season sun and the first boats, and in September and October, the island air is filled with the scent of herbs.

Getting around
The ferry network covers every inhabited island. Prices vary, overnight trips being the most expensive. Single tickets can be purchased online, at local ferry company offices at main ports and from travel agents (tickets from £7–£50; Apr–Oct; danae.gr, gtp.gr).

Getting there
EasyJet
flies from Gatwick to Santorini (Thira) National airport (from £185) and Mykonos (from £130; Apr–Oct only). Thomson Airways flies there from Birmingham, Gatwick and Manchester (from £130). A number of international carriers fly to Athens – from here, catch the X96 bus to the port of Piraeus.

 

The article 'Mini guide to the Cyclades, Greece' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.