The Cyclades are a group of islands in the south Aegean , they get their name from the Greek word 'Kyklos' which means circle as all the islands seem to circle the sacred ancient island of Delos almost like a wheel on an axis. Out of the many islands in Greece the Cyclades are easily the most popular and most visited, both Santorini and Mykonos belong to the Cyclades as well as many smaller less known ones. The islands of the Cyclades are Andros, Tinos, Mykonos, Delos, Kea, Kynthnos, Serifos, Sifnos, Paros, Naxos, Amorgos, Ios, Sikinos, Folegandros, Milos , Anafi and Santorini. There are actually 54 islands in the Cyclades but on 24 of these are inhabited.
Nearly all the islands are rocky and barren and have that quintessential Greek island feel with the white washed cube buildings, blue domed churches and narrow cobbled streets and is where island hopping first became possible because of the relative closeness of the islands. The beaches of the Cyclades are very good and are what probably brought the original tourists to the islands. Some of the islands like Mykonos and Ios are famous for their night life and party atmosphere, whilst other islands like Santorini have stunning views from its Caldera and Skinos still has maintained a quiet traditional way of life. Although all the Cyclades are similar each one has its own distinct character and flavour.
The Cyclades were home to the Cycladic civilization between 3000 - 1000 BC who were famous for their tiny marble figurines which have influenced artist throughout the ages. The area was also colonized by the Minoans of Crete, the archaeological site of Akrotiri in Santorini was one of their most important trading towns until it was destroyed by a Volcano around 1600 BC.
The Cyclades history after this period is very similar to the rest of Greece - the island colonized by Dorians, becoming part of classical Greek civilization later Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and finally Turkish until the Greek independence.
The Venetians have left the biggest mark on the Cyclades culturally and physically with large Catholic communities still in the Cyclades and many castles (Kasto) and fortress' all over the island group. The Venetians ruled from 1204 to 1453 with the island of Naxos being the capital (Duchy of Naxos).
The most famous island of the Cyclades is Santorini with its jaw dropping views and very popular with cruise ships who flood the islands capital 'Fira ' with day trips. Mykonos is famous for it night life and beach parties which are on par with places like Ibiza. Mykonos town is a quintessential Cyclades town of white washed buildings, it even has an area called little Venice due to the similarities to the Italian city.
The islands of Andros and Tinos are much closer to Athens than the others and are a lot less touristy. Tinos is very popular with Greeks who come to the island for the famous church of Panagia Evangelistria where miracles can happen.
Delos in the centre of the Cyclades is uninhabited and the whole island is one very large archaeological site, it was a sacred religious island in ancient Greece. You can take day trips to Delos from the island of Mykonos.