WHEN TO GO
Unless you find some appeal in traveling with masses of Europeans, avoid the Cyclades in July and, especially, August, when every hotel will be full, every ferry crowded, every flight overbooked, and every waiter wishing he were somewhere else. Late July through August is also the season of the meltémi, a howling wind that can seriously interfere with ferry schedules and make some beaches unusable. The best time to go is September through the middle of October, when the crowds drop off considerably, but there's still plenty of warmth and sunshine. Another good time to visit is May through early June. The weather is not as predictably ideal as in September, and the sea temperature is still cool, but the wildflowers are in bloom, and locals are not too overwhelmed (as in July and August) or too worn out (as in September) to talk with you. Between October and May, ferry schedules are cut way back and many places close for the season.
HOW TO GET THERE
After Athens, the most popular destination for visitors to Greece is the Cyclades. There are airports on Santorini, Mykonos, Syros, Paros, and Milos, but during the summer, flights are routinely overbooked, and flying is not often a practical way to get from one island to another—you almost always have to first fly back to Athens. The two main carriers are Olympic Airlines, whose choice of names for its frequent-flyer program, Icarus, is reason enough to give one pause (800-223-1226; www.olympicairlines.com), and the newer, more dependable Aegean Airlines (30-21062-61000; www.aegeanair.com).
Nowadays, the fast ferries are taking over on many of the popular runs. They are nearly as quick as flying, and nearly as comfortable, and they'll get you there at a fraction of the cost. If you have the time, though, occasionally hop on one of the older ferries, which are the classic way to arrive in the Greek islands. So what if Mykonos is up to five hours from Athens's main port, Piraeus, Santorini as many as nine, and Rhodes (sleeping cabins available) a sometimes forever-seeming 18? You're sailing the Aegean or Ionian seas in history's wake, maybe catching sight of a school of dolphins, and definitely getting at least a glimpse of the port town of several other islands along the way. Although still something of a dark art, figuring out Greek ferry schedules in advance has been made immeasurably easier by the Internet. Go to www.gtp.gr, www.openseas.gr, and www.ferries.gr, which post schedules and let you book online. Or you can purchase tickets directly through a number of the ferry companies, including GA Ferries (www.gaferries.gr, Hellenic Seaways (www.hellenicseaways.gr), Aegean Speed Lines (www.aegeanspeedlines.gr), NEL Lines (www.nel.gr), Seajets (www.seajets.gr), and Anes Ferries (www.anes.gr). The caveat is that schedules are often not posted until shortly before they take effect, and you are still usually required to pick up the tickets at a travel agency or ferry office in Greece. Regardless, those are lesser hurdles to overcome than a hungry Cyclops or the songs of Sirens.
Greek National Tourism Organization (abroad)
Tel: 212 421 5777