Things to Do in Cyclades Islands
The “Santorini volcano” may refer to two different peaks: the first, Thira, exploded around 1600 BC and ended the thriving Minoan civilization and may have spawned the legend of Atlantis. Millennia of eruptions formed the second “Santorini volcano”—the island of Nea Kameni, drawing visitors eager to hike to the rim of its active crater.
Perched on the steep edge of the caldera, looking out over the glittering Mediterranean, Oia (pronounced “ee-yuh”) is famed for its dreamy sunsets. Oia is also one of the most picturesque villages in Santorini, with its striking white buildings, blue-domed churches, and atmospheric cave houses burrowing into the volcanic rock.
Situated in Chora Mykonos (aka Mykonos Town), the waterfront quarter of Little Venice is one of the island’s top sunset-viewing spots. Rows of whitewashed old fishermen’s houses—now occupied by bars, shops, and restaurants—back onto the seafront, their brightly painted red and blue balconies jutting out over the water.
Santorini’s Red Beach is not your average white-sand beauty. Rather, it’s a narrow, pebbly stretch hemmed in by high scarlet cliffs and scattered with large volcanic rocks. Together with the sapphire blue waters of the Aegean Sea, these volcanic features create a striking natural color palette that draws photographers to its shores.
Santorini’s hot springs are on the tiny, uninhabited islet of Palea Kameni. Continuous volcanic activity underground maintains the springs’ temperature between 86ºF and 95ºF (30°C and 35°C). The sulfuric, orange-tinged spring waters that bubble up into a shallow cove off the islet’s coast are said to be curative for the skin and joints.
Tucked away on the south coast of Santorini, White Beach (Aspri Paralia) is sheltered by chalk-grey cliffs. This minuscule strand is actually composed of coarse black—not white—sand, and liberally peppered with grey and white pebbles as well as massive white volcanic boulders.
Centered around a rugged volcanic crater, the small island of Nea Kameni offers a dramatic landscape, with dark cliffs sculpted from lava rock and orange-tinged natural thermal waters. The island’s striking landscape and natural hot springs make it a popular destination for day cruises from Santorini.
Akrotiri came to an abrupt end in approximately 1613 BC with a catastrophic volcanic eruption that buried the Bronze Age settlement in a carpet of ash. Beginning in 1967, excavations of the Minoan town revealed buildings, drainage systems, and pottery, but no human remains or gold valuables, indicating locals had time to flee before disaster hit.
The cruise port of Mykonos offers easy access to both the town itself, called Chora, as well as the rest of the island and its sun-drenched beaches. Take time to get a little lost in the town’s maze of charming streets and traditional buildings full of shops, cafés, and restaurants before heading back to the ship or hotel.
The whitewashed windmills lined up on a hill overlooking Mykonos Town are a signature island sight. Capped with wood and straw, the 3-story conical windmills were built in the 16th century to mill flour. Out of the 16 preserved windmills on the island, seven are found in the area of Kato Mili overlooking the Chora Mykonos harbor.
More Things to Do in Cyclades Islands
This picturesque hillside village is set on a volcanic crater at the highest point on Santorini, offering panoramic views over the island. With whitewashed Cycladic architecture, Byzantine churches, and small winding cobblestone lanes, Pyrgos (Pyrgos Kallistis offers the historic charm of the Greek islands without the tourist crowds.
The flower-bedecked Church of Panagia Paraportiani is a highlight of your walk through Mykonos’ picture-perfect Little Venice. Built between the 14th and 17th centuries, the island’s most photographed church is comprised of five whitewashed chapels across two floors that once guarded the entrance to the town’s castle.
Most visitors come to Ano Mera, in the interior of Mykonos, to see the Byzantine Panagia Tourliani Monastery, fronted by an ornate bell tower with triple bells. Its interior is perhaps even more impressive, with carved marble and wood, Byzantine frescoes, crystal chandeliers, a gilded pulpit, and a wooden altar screen with scenes from the New Testament.
Recognized with the prestigious Blue Flag award, sweeping, golden Kalafatis Beach (often written Kalafati Beach is Mykonos’ water sports epicenter. Choose between activities from scuba diving to windsurfing to stand-up paddleboarding and water skiing—or soak up the rays on one of Mykonos’ quieter stretches of sand.
With its stark white tower perched atop the Cape Armenistis cliffs and views stretching out over the sea, the Armenistis Lighthouse (Faros Armenistis feels a world away from the lively streets of nearby Mykonos town. Though the lighthouse is no longer in use, it remains an impressive landmark and a popular spot to admire the sunset.
The Monastery of Profitis Ilias (Moni Profitou Iliou is perched on the mountain of the same name, the highest point on the southern half of Santorini. Built in the early 18th century, the complex is now home to a fine collection of Greek Orthodox icons and religious items, and the resident monks hold demonstrations of artisan crafts.
Discover archaeological ruins and ancient Greek history during a trip to Delos, an island in the Cyclades, near Mykonos. Known as the mythological birthplace of Apollo, Delos was an important religious and cultural center in Ancient Greece. Visit to see the ruins, including a theater, temples, monuments, private homes, and markets.
By day, Paradise Beach is a water sports hot spot, with swimsuit-clad revelers enjoying banana boat rides, Jet Ski jaunts, and scuba diving excursions. Come late afternoon, its legendary party scene gets going as fun-seekers flock to the beach bars and clubs for music, dancing, drinking, and fun.
Winding through whitewashed villages and rugged Mediterranean landscapes, the clifftop Fira–Oia hike is one of Greece’s most beautiful walks. The trail links Fira (Santorini’s postcard-perfect capital) with Oia (a village known for its sunset views) and takes you along the rim of the sunken crater of the island’s dormant volcano.
Before a violent volcanic eruption in 1650 BC, Thirassia was part of Santorini’s mainland and now the pretty islet lies just off its western coast. With small pretty beaches, blue-domed churches, ancient stone villages and a population of only about 200, the little island is a perfectly serene spot to visit.
Tucked away from the buzzing nightlife of Mykonos Town, Ornos Beach is draped around a sheltered bay whose calm water makes it a popular family swimming spot. A generous selection of seafront restaurants, tavernas, and resorts offer plenty of amenities for a day in the sun or a longer stay on the island’s quieter side.
A deep expanse of black lava sand, Perivolos Beach (Paralia Perivolos runs along Santorini’s southeastern coast, merging into lively Perissa Beach to the north and quieter Agios Georgios Beach to the south. Buzzing beach bars, often with DJs, and coupled with sun loungers and a range of water sports, make the strip popular with a younger crowd.
Stretching for around 3 miles (5 kilometers), dark-sand Kamari Beach is sandwiched between the blue Aegean waters and the mountain peak of Mesa Vouno. With a bar- and restaurant-lined promenade behind it and lots of facilities nearby, it’s one of the best places to park yourself for a day of relaxation.
A rocky promontory jutting into the caldera, Skaros Rock soars 65 feet (20 meters into the sky, cutting a striking silhouette that can be seen as far as Fira and Oia. One of Santorini’s most memorable natural features, this black lava-rock cliff is an ideal vantage point for admiring the sunset over the Aegean Sea and Kameni islands.
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