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Mykonos + Santorini See And Do

Delos
Delos
Greece

The sacred isle—20 minutes by taxi boat from Mykonos—birthplace of Artemis and Apollo, is an essential day trip (you can't stay over). One of the world's largest archaeological sites, it contains some phenomenal structures, including the Agora of the Competialists, a theater with stunningly detailed floor mosaics, and temples dedicated to various deities and religions (Apollo, Isis, Dionysus, Syrian gods, even a synagogue) that attest to the city's cosmopolitan nature. There's a small museum with some terrific artifacts, and a climb to the highest hill is essential, if only for the views of the Aegean. Arrive as early as you can and bring water and a hat; it's hot and crowded, and the last boats leave around 3 pm.

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Folegandros
Folegandros
Greece

While the Phoenician translation, meaning dry, rocky place, certainly fits, those overly prosaic ancients appear to have missed the characteristics of Folegandros that modern visitors would consider more worth noting. There's a village, Chora, whose three linked squares are among the most pleasant in the Greek islands for wiling away a summer evening. And cliff-top views of the Aegean so grand, and so timeless, it is easy to imagine Odysseus and his cohorts appearing from over the horizon at any moment. The ferry schedule makes this island on the southern end of the Cyclades just hard enough to reach that only oneself and those others who are truly worthy will make the effort. Although a few cars, several rumored to be for rent, have come to Folegandros, along with the bus that connects the few places it is possible to get to by road (the port, the village of Ano Meria, the paths leading down to a handful of good beaches), walking is still often a necessity and—at least on the downhill legs—a delight.

Ios
Greece

Yes, summer can still be backpacker bedlam on this isle of crazed repute. But like many backpackers of summers past, Ios is growing up. Witness it best just out of the high season, in May and September, when voices around the pool at the 22-room Liostasi Ios Hotel & Spa are seldom raised higher than a glass. And even at the much bigger, and livelier, Ios Palace, which sits above the scene-by-the-sea at Mylopotas Beach, an hour on your balcony can be as much about contemplation as celebration. Excepting the bar-jammed port and the village that rises above it, the surprisingly bucolic island is inhabited mostly by goats and the ghost of Homer, who is purported to be buried here. Even among Odyssey-reading, feta cheese–appreciating grown-ups, though, Ios's primary appeal lies in beaches—some so secluded they are accessible only by boat—as pretty as any in the Aegean.—Bob Payne

The Little Cyclades
Greece

Only four of the Little Cyclades—Iraklia, Donousa, Schinousa, and Pano Koufonisi—are permanently inhabited, and those just barely. But make the effort to get there, preferably on the valiant but erratic little Express Skopelitis out of Naxos, and you'll discover a Greece most of us thought died sometime in the 1970s. The beaches are very good, especially on Pano Koufonisi; it's also the island with the most places to stay (Aeolos is a favorite, in part because of its friendly owners). If you are a walker, Iraklia is best: Try the trail leading to the Cave of St. John, one of the biggest in the Cyclades. Except in July and August, when even Odysseus himself would be unwise to arrive anywhere in the Greek islands without a reservation, count on having your walks, and your beaches, to yourself…for now.—Bob Payne

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Milos
Milos
Greece

A fertile volcanic island and the center (along with Naxos) of the Cyclades in ancient times, it's not clear exactly why Milos is not more popular with non-Greeks. It's neither too commercialized nor too sleepy; it has terrain reminiscent of Santorini, with similarly dramatic cliffs; it gave us that nice armless statue; and it boasts about 70 beaches, many of them excellent. It is, however, a working island—a mining island to be precise—and the port, Adamas, is no charmer, though there are several beaches and a saltwater lake nearby. Plaka, the capital, is cuter, and there are catacombs in the vicinity of Tripiti, as well as the site of the discovery of the Venus de Milo (the Archaeological Museum makes do with a copy). Apollonia has several sandy beaches nearby. There's another great beach, plus natural hot springs at Paleohori, a nudist beach on the south end of the island.

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Mykonos
Mykonos
Greece

If a person can name only one Greek island, it's bound to be this one. Famous in the 1960s, when Jackie and Ari Onassis put it on the map, it soon became the gay capital of the vacation world. Now, while still very rainbow flag, Mykonos is having a second coming as the chic see-and-be-seen Eurotrash island (jostling for first place with Ibiza). It's as whitewashed and pretty as its trillion pictures would suggest, and it's distinguished by a couple of unusual features: Mykonos Town, with its windmills and mazelike, stone-paved streets, as well as the gallery-bar-club neighborhood known as Little Venice for its Venetian-style houses lining the water. The island's nightlife is infamous, particularly the dance-till-dawn nightclubs, including Cavo Paradiso, on a cliff overlooking Paradise Beach (30-228-902-7205; www.cavoparadiso.gr); Space, the largest club on Mykonos, near the bus station at the north end of town (30-228-902-4100; www.spacemykonos.gr); and Pierro's, the big gay spot (Matoyanni St.; 30-22890-22177; www.pierrosbar.gr). The other draw of this island is, of course, the beach. There are several famous golden-sand stretches: Psarou is close to town and attracts a glam crowd; Panormos, on the north coast, is quieter and more protected from the wind; Platis Gialos is lined with hotels and popular with families. The most renowned beaches in the Cyclades—perhaps even in all of Greece—are Paradise and Super Paradise, two bacchanalian strands on the south coast. They're fun for a day, but once you get tired of the blaring disco soundtrack and Girls Gone Wild vibe, head to more grown-up Elia, which brings in a nice mix of straight and gay, nudist and clothed (all beaches on Mykonos are clothing-optional to a certain extent), has a good taverna, and provides access to water sports if you're feeling active.

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Paros
Paros
Greece

Paros is by no means undiscovered by tourists—it's one of the most popular islands, though it's less frequented by Americans. It's big enough (the third biggest in the Cyclades) to harbor a bit of everything, from clubby towns to sleepy fishing villages, and it has a great beach. It's also famous for its white marble, from which the Venus de Milo was carved. Its little satellite, Antiparos, was absolutely unspoiled not too long ago, but sadly that's no longer the case. The main port, Parikia (a.k.a. Paros town), is pretty but touristy, which does have advantages in the taverna department. From here a few beaches are easily reached, though not the best ones on the island—and Paros beaches can be very good (Molos near Marmara; Santa Maria near Naoussa). Naoussa, the second port, was once cute but is now the other main tourist town. It pays to seek out-of-the-way spots if you're after some peace: Stay longer on the bus; charter a boat; ask around. Paros is one island that rewards such a strategy.

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Santorini
Santorini
Greece

No other island is like it. This Minoan capital was decimated by its volcano 3,500 years ago, which has led many archaeologists to suggest it may have been home to the lost civilization of Atlantis. Santorini owes its present peculiar, twin-peaked, arched shape—as well its famous black-sand beaches and the high, striated black-red-gray cliffs—to that cataclysm. The caldera, a seven-mile crater enclosed by the two arms of the crescent, is Santorini's defining feature and its harbor. Sunset over the caldera is the nightly big show, which is accompanied by a festive atmosphere wherever there's a west-facing cliff-side terrace (and there are a lot of them). If you're thinking of walking, the capital, Thira, is dramatically perched on a cliff, up nearly 600 steps (alternatively, catch a cab, a cable car, or a mule), and is very gorgeous but very spoiled by tourism. The center of gentrified, controlled tourism is breathtaking Oia (a.k.a. Ia), clinging to the cliffs on the northernmost edge of the caldera, its 19th-century merchants' villas and restored troglodytic peasant houses spread around the ruins of a 13th-century Venetian castle. This is where the posh, beautiful hotels and villas are, and it's likely to stay posh and beautiful thanks to zoning laws. Many beaches on Santorini, as mentioned, have black sand (you can imagine what this does to bare feet), and they are concentrated in the east and south. Kamari is the main one but not worth the journey—it's been touristed to death. Head north-east to Baxedes beach, just outside Oia, to avoid the crowds.

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Sifnos
Sifnos
Greece

One of the prettiest of the Cyclades, Sifnos is friendly, accessible, varied, and green in the center, with great beaches and great food (Greeks believe Sifniot chefs are the best). Also, there are 365 churches. The port, Kamares, could easily suffice for an entire vacation. It has an OK beach, but buses and boats make everywhere else accessible. Apollonia is the capital, high up and inland, throbbing (though more gently than the notorious party islands) at night, peaceful and pretty by day. The ancient village of Kastro on the east coast, dating back to 3000 B.C., is so unspoiled you can imagine the centuries rolling back. Platys Yialos is the big, big beach, which sucks up most of the mass tourism, and tiny Vathy, a beach with a fishing village attached, is heavenly and not (yet) ruined by its newly paved access road.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.