greek island hopping Around the Cyclades and beyond

journey profile

Where: Athens, Naxos, Delos, Ios, Mykonos, Paros, Anti-Paros. Greece, Europe
When: August 2004
What: Delos Lions, Acropolis, Parthenon, Athens Amphitheatre, Greek Ferry System, Greek Parliament, Temple of Hephaestus, Windmills, Mykonos Pelican, Statue of Emperor Hadrian, Paros Caves, Iconic Blue Dome Churches.
How: Flight, Walk, Taxi, Greek Ferry System, Pick-up truck.
Counter: 1 country
Mishaps or illnesses: Develping a heat rash which was so bad it required a visit to a private medical clinic where I was injected with some unknown liquid after which I very nearly fainted. Also, sneaking into a private upstairsarea of Athens Airport to sleep until our flight the following morning - and being ejected by security!


Greece was fantastic - a real treat for photographers, especially in the digital age. My only regret is that I didn't manage to take better and more numerous photographs of the adventures we had. As is stands, the ones below represent the best of what I have. These photographs are the best my old-style 35mm camera could muster in 2004 of our fortnight-long hopping of the Greek islands in the central and north Cyclades. All things considered, they came out quite well. There was no plan and no advanced booking for hotels on these islands. This meant that as soon as we got itchy feet, we could hop to another island; by the same token, if we found an island we really liked, or were getting tired, we could hold up there for a few more days. It was the first holiday where there was a real sense of adventure: moving on from location to location and leaving the decision about when to move on to the last minute. There was a real sense of nomadism on this trip - nothing was booked in advance, including the accommodation!

Following the tradition, we'd arrive at the port and step off the ferry to be surrounded by a swarm local islanders hoping to rent us a spare room for the night. These were often intense moments, a veritable scrum of locals, tourists and bartering. If you are planning on running your trip like this, my advice is to take a pen and pad - handy to clarify prices and make sure an agreed price does not get translated into a higher one when you come to pay. Not having a bed for the night, and leaving it until we stepped off the ferry, was one of the most exciting aspects of our trip around the Cyclades. We had a top figure over which we would not cross for a night's stay: it was around 30 Euros. Room owners, a real mixed bunch who were trying to let anything from entire apartments to a renovated garage at the end of their garden, were keen to bag us for second and third nights, meaning we could often strike a deal over price - presumably because it meant they didn't have to make their way back down to the harbour the next day to bag their next hopper, giving them an afternoon off?

The Greek ferries also added an extra air of excitement to the whole trip, relying on ferries which would blatantly be condemned and withdrawn from service in Britain. The experience on-board, after the general scrum getting on and off, was reasonably restful. It was frequently possible to find a quiet spot on the ferry where no other passengers were and watch the departure island fade into the distance and the new island home into view. Not a bad way to spend a holiday. I would advise carrying some playing cards - a must when having to spend so much time waiting around for Greek ferries to arrive - some of these delays could be anything up to five hours, so cards definitely helped to pass the time. Phillip Pullman's trilogy was also a good time destroyer (I still haven't finished the third book though!) It was really striking just how different the islands felt; although looking similar in some ways, culturally each island was different and rather unique. Greece might also appreciate your visit bearing in mind its current difficulties.




The Ancient Capital of World Reknown

First stop was the capital city of Athens - the entry destination of our flight. I am always keen that a trip to a country should, in most cases, capture the capital city somewhere. We spent a three days exploring the ruins of ancient Greece including the Acropolis Parthenon and the stunning Athens Amphitheatre. All the time it was scorching hot making shorts and vests the order of the day. The vistas and almost 360 degree views of Athens from the top of the Acropolis hill were superb. It is just a shame that unfortunately my camera does none of these ancient sights and landscapes justice, looking grainy and out of focus. It was from the port of Athens where we set off on the Helas Flying Dolphins ferry service to our first and second islands: Paros and then on to Anti-paros. 


Athens' amphitheatre as seen from above (I'm the black speck in the middle).


A scorching hot Temple of Hephaestus. Imagine the sound of crickets, too and, right, Athens' Central Park with rather impressively tall palm trees, Statue of Emperor Hadrian of wall fame , the Parthenon on Acropolis Hill.


Parthenon on Acropolis Hill : Built six millennia before Christ. Christ!


Athens' Central Park with rather impressively tall palm trees, outside Athens International on the way home,  a stray dog sleeps in front of Greek parliament.


The view of Acropolis Hill and the Parthenon in the sun .


On the return flight from Athens we'd sneaked up into the first floor of Athens Airport to find a place to sleep - instead of which we ended up playing cards for several hours! We were evicted by security guards. Can you believe we helped ourselves to one of their upstairs rooms?



paros & anti-paros

tourist trap islands

Arriving at each port was a veritable scrum, with desperate islanders hoping to let their rooms, sheds, basements and bedrooms to tourists looking for a bed for the night. We arrived at the island and hooked up with one of the many locals vying for our stay. At Paros, I was bundled onto the back of a truck, Ben on the back of a motorcycle - scarily we were both split up for a minute as we were whisked to our first place to stay. It was pleasant enough - whitewashed walls, clean linen, and, more importantly - an electric fan! We then stayed for one night on Anti-Paros, which was not unlike its sister island. 


Arriving at the busy Naoussa port in Paros: ferries arrive, tourists disembark and locals swarm around you to rent their spare rooms, outhouses and apartments.


Our first stay place in Paros - we had bartered effectively for a super cheap night and, right, me being whisked to our first stay place on the back of a local's truck. I was bouncing around all over the place. Exciting!


Overlooking the hills outside the Paros Caves in Paros.


Picturesque skyline of Paros complete with an iconic blue-domed church.




the nightlife island

Next stop was the island of Mykonos. We popped in for a drink in what was, quite possibly, the most expensive bar in Europe. Also of note are the pink pelicans on the island. In the 1950s a wounded pelican was found by a fisherman off the Mykonos coast. It was taken in-land and nursed back to health and stayed on the island until 1985. It was given the name Petros - a word which translates as Grumpy. Since then, three other pelicans have made the island their home.


The view known as 'Little Venice'. It is rather stunning - but old-style photography fails to do it justice.


Arriving in Mykonos town heavy-laden with backpack and, right, a touch of light shopping along the island's cobbled shopping street.


Mykonos' line windmills are as iconic as they are evocative. 


Island creatures: stroking a donkey on Gold Market Street and, right, a famous Mykonos pelican.


The hyperbolically-named, but rather beautiful, Super Paradise beach.




home to the beguiling delos lions

A very short ferry journey from Mykonos to Delos (around thirty minutes) brings you to the miniature island of Delos - an island with no inhabitants - apart from the evocative and wonderful Delos lions, which date from 550 BC. They were a gift from the people of Naxos island to Delos as stone guards for the Sanctuary of Apollo. They were wonderful to see and well worth the time commitment. Bear in mind that your time on Delos is dictated by the return ferry times - miss the last ferry and spend the night on an uninhabited island!


The delightful Delos Lions on Delos Terrace - a gift from Naxos people to Delos to guard the Sanctuary of Apollo.


Some of the other ruins on the Delos Terrace.




the largest of the cyclades islands

The huge arch of Naxos, a far more fishier island - with smells to match - was our next port of call. Octopuses and squids hung from all manner of street stalls and al-fresco terraces and restaurants. We were lucky to find a place which sold more western fayre - pizza, and clung to that restaurant for dear life. I don't go in for this 'you must try the local cuisine when travelling' notion - it's utter nonsense, especially when you know in your heart of hearts that it will taste awful. Naxos was an island slightly off the beaten track and, according to Greeks, more typical of Greek islands than Mykonos and Paros. Naxos was also the island where I came out in a large red rash all over my hands and face - the sun was making it worse. I nearly fainted following an injection from a private doctor on the island, who charged me forty Euros for the privilege.


The huge arch of Naxos: the entrance to Apollo's Temple and the undisputed landmark of the island.


Waiting for the early morning ferry at Naxos harbour. It was delayed - and our pack of cards were a shrewd backpacker move.




The Home of the Epic Poet Homer

Ios was our last island before heading back to Athens which took in beautiful views of Greek orthodox churches and a restored amphitheatre. By this time my rash had cleared up but I still had to limit my time in the sun - not at all easy in Greece in August. I did, however, manage to stay on the beach but just had to make sure I used one of those tacky parasols. Annoying, but a good compromise.


An iconic blue-domed Greek Orthodox church: simple purity. 


The Odysseas amphitheatre near the village of Chora.


Ios sunset viewed from our rented room.


A Greek orthodox church with characteristic blue dome and, right, a wooden ship which doubles as a bar lures tourists at Ios harbour.


Manganari Beach on the south coast of Ios.



travel tips

  • Have a set price in mind for your island accommodation. Islanders are keen to let their rooms and it is worth bearing in mind that they are limited by the number of arrivals: if you the last ferry of the day, you can potentially bag a deal.
  • It's the perfect time to visit Greece in one sense - your tourist dollar will never have been more welcome.
  • Try to spread your hops amongst famous, but also the lesser-known, islands - particularly if you want to avoid crowded beaches and high prices.
  • Take a pack of cards if you're going to be using the ferries often. They are notoriously unpunctual. Cards will help you while away the time.


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