Cycling in the Cyclades

Be prepared for hills. There is no flat in the Cyclades.
Elpida Tsabouraki of our partner Gnosis Active Travel wants to make sure people know what to expect from cycling in these idyllic Aegean islands, but don’t let the thought of a few steep bits put you off for a moment. This is a wonderfully immersive and relaxing way to admire the Cyclades, their landscapes and the distinctive culture of each island. You just might need a bit of puff every now and again.

And cycling is also the most environmentally friendly way to explore these islands, whose coastal resorts and beaches are threatened by sea level rise caused by climate change. Using public ferries or small sailboats to get between islands reduces carbon emissions still further. Add the fact that you’ll be enjoying plenty of locally grown food along the way, and even though you need to fly to Greece these can actually be very low-carbon vacations.

Cyclades highlights: food & drink

What is the biggest highlight of cycling in the Cyclades? “It’s the food and drink, the local cheeses and the wine. Always the food and drink,” says Elpida. There are over 200 islands in the Cyclades group (Greece has more than 6,000 in total) and each has its own individual charm.

“My favourites are Paros and Naxos,” continues Elpida Tsabouraki. “They are well-connected with ferries throughout the year which makes organising things a lot easier. They have nice hotels, the food is good, the traffic is light and there are lots of villages so you’re not cycling through deserted areas for long. Amorgos, while beautiful, is very steep and the roads are very exposed to the wind. And Santorini and Mykonos are just too busy. If you want to cycle there you have to go in the low season, April to May, or October.”

But back to the food. Greek cuisine is a very long way from just cycling fuel. Jams and preserves are a speciality on Kea, while Kythnos is known for its cheese and honey. “The potatoes and the meat are famously good on Naxos,” advises Elpida; Aegina, the closest island to Athens (under an hour by ferry) is renowned for the quality of its pistachio nuts, and on Syros look out for the sweet, Turkish Delight-like dessert known as loukoumi.

Cyclades highlights: island landscapes

As you’d expect from these hilly islands, the Cyclades are dotted with pretty windmills – Mykonos alone has about 20. Their sails make for attractive photo backdrops, as do the traditional whitewashed houses you’ll pass and of course those constant sea views, a blanket of blue threaded with white-tipped waves. Cycling on these islands is the stuff of classic Greek vacations, all sunshine and sparkling seas, picturesque locations and historic sites full of tradition and legend.

Coastal cycling routes in the Cyclades take you from small fishing villages with cobbled streets to quiet, white sand coves where you’ll be glad you popped a swimsuit in your pannier before setting out. You might head inland too, to notable archaeological sites such as the ancient marble quarries of Marathi on Paros, or Apollo’s Temple on Naxos. Poke your head into an ancient cave on Kythnos, where villagers hid from Ottoman invaders and pirates in centuries past, or rest your legs for a while at a roadside taverna where the owner has a special bottle of retsina that he keeps handy behind the bar for when thirsty cyclists pitch up.

Guided small group trips, cycling and sailing your way around, are a pleasantly sociable way to roam this beautiful scenery, with plenty of motivation getting you up those hills (and no judgement whatsoever if you want to get off and walk for a bit!) Opt for a tailor made, self-guided tour instead, and you’re free to take any detour that takes your fancy, stopping off for a break whenever you want. You follow your own tempo so you can make an early start each day, or have a nice lie-in, if the landlord was a bit too generous with the wine the day before...
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Greece cycling or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

What does cycling in Cyclades involve?


A typical cycling vacation is around eight days, during which you can expect to cover about 30km a day on mostly low-traffic roads, so it’s nice and relaxed – though remember the Cyclades are definitely not flat. On some islands there will be a choice of routes open to you, so you can make the day’s ride a bit longer, or more challenging if you wish. If you’re riding as part of a small group there’s nothing to say you can’t split into two and reconvene at a taverna or the port.

Since you almost certainly won’t want to take your own bike with you, cycling vacations include the hire of suitable, high-quality road bikes with panniers and locks. E-bikes are available too and worth considering if you want to zip up those hilly sections. But while you’ll encounter the odd calf-stretching incline here and there, routes are carefully chosen so that anyone in reasonable fitness should be able to ride them with little difficulty. You ought to be familiar with basic bike maintenance such as how to fix a flat tyre, but if not then full training, as well as spare inner tubes, can be provided.

Small group cycling tours (which can be either guided or self-guided) will often use private sail boats to get from island to island, so the skipper can wait for a while if you’re stopping for a quick refresher before the final downhill to the port. On tailor made trips you will usually be taking public ferries between islands. As well as sailing schedules and tickets you’ll be provided with route notes, GPS maps, and 24-hour support should you need it. You’ll be encouraged to stick to marked trails throughout, as heading off-road can potentially damage delicate environmental habitats.

At the end of every afternoon a small, often family-run hotel will be waiting to welcome you for the night. Your hosts will have copious recommendations for restaurants to dive into Greek cuisine. Meaning that, between sleeps and eats, your cycling vacation spreads tourism income across the islands like hummus spread on pita bread.

What are the ferries like in the Cyclades?

The Cyclades are served by a handful of ferry companies and the schedules, though subject to weather and the occasional strike, are generally reliable. During spring (March to May) and autumn (October and November) you should expect ferry services to be reduced, while they get very busy over Greek Orthodox Easter when many Greeks return for family celebrations. Boats are comfortable, with plenty of seating available and larger vessels, such as modern catamarans, will have food and drink for sale too.

If you’ll be getting around by ferry then our partners ensure you have an up-to-date schedule of sailings to ensure you get to each port on time. There are a few hubs, such as Syros, Paros and Naxos, while the mainland port Piraeus, near Athens, serves most of the Cyclades.

The Aegean Sea is generally quite calm, and of course the distances between islands are quite short. But keep in mind that rough crossings do happen occasionally – the Meltemi winds blow throughout the summer, peaking in July and August, and can create choppy waves in the open sea.

Sailing and cycling in the Cyclades

When you’re cycling the Cyclades as part of a small group then you’ll likely be traveling between islands on a private boat with a local skipper. Often a group of family or friends will hire the boat for themselves in which case itineraries can be tailored to their abilities and interests.

You’ll sleep in double cabins (solo travelers will be accommodated with someone of the same sex, but single supplements may be available). Typically a boat will have just eight berths but there are also larger vessels where you’ll have private bathrooms, the option of an above deck cabin, and a crew of four including a cycling guide.

Expect to be sailing for around four hours a day, during which you can sunbathe on deck, admire the scenery (look out for dolphins) or even help the skipper out with the sailing if you fancy learning the ropes.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Raimond Klavins] [Intro: Despina Galani] [Practicalities: Frederic Barriol]