The Cyclades represent what the world considers a Greek island.
Most of them are barren rocks, ravaged by the sun and the winds, dotted with whitewashed one-story houses and thousands of small churches, and surrounded by crystal-clear blue waters. The group of 17 islands is named after the Greek word for "circle" (cyclos) because they look as if they circle around Delos.
The island of Delos, just off the coast of Mykonos, was one of ancient Greece's sacred sites, with its own oracle, on a par with Delphi. The Athenians, always shrewd politicians and masters of symbolism, founded the Athenian Alliance, after the final defeat of the Persians in 479 BC, and installed its treasure on Delos, to make the condition of an annual fee in return for security more palatable to their "allies". Of course, later, when Athens decided to build the Acropolis and the Alliance treasure was used to pay for the construction, Pericles notified the peeved Allies that their security was Athens' obligation, therefore how the city used the Alliance funds was none of their (i.e. the Allies') business...
The islands, and especially Mykonos, became a tourism destination in the 1930s, when trendy Athenian society, including shipping magnates and artists, "discovered" their unspoilt landscapes and incredible beaches. In the 1950s the interest was revived, and the 1960s put Mykonos and Santorini on the international jet set circuit. Today, most of the Cyclades are developed tourist magnets and they attract millions of visitors every summer.
The Cyclades have everything. The cosmopolitan luxury of Mykonos. The natural wonder that is the Santorini volcano. The elegant and peaceful landscapes of Naxos, Syros, Tinos, and Sifnos that are favored mainly by families. The rugged and wild beauties of Milos and Serifos. The hip party scenes of Paros and Ios. The apocryphal wilderness of Amorgos.
The islands are all close together and near Athens. Their proximity makes them ideal for an island hopping vacation; it is never more than an hour by boat from one to the next and connections are very frequent during the summer months. Furthermore, the new, fast catamaran boats that run from Pireaus and Rafina make the trip to the relatively distant Mykonos and Santorini a short 2 and 4 hours, respectively, compared to more than twice as long a few years ago