Cyclades Islands vs. Ionian Islands: Where to Vacation in Greece

Which archipelago has the better beaches? What islands should you visit for the nightlife? We answer these questions and more.

A woman walking through Santorini

6min read

Published 8 December 2023

Flight Centre Author


Kaitlyn Funk



Which archipelago has the better beaches? What islands should you visit for the nightlife? We answer these questions and more.

Where can you go to learn about ancient legends and mythology, feast on gyros and fresh seafood, and snap photos of white and blue houses? The Greek isles, of course! Greece is actually comprised of 6,000 (!!!) islands, 200 of which are inhabited.

This includes the Dodecanese Islands, the Sporades Islands, the Saronic Islands and other islands. While we couldn’t possibly compare and contrast all of them, we can give you an honest breakdown of the differences between two of the most famous archipelagos: the Cyclades Islands and the Ionian Islands

Keep on reading to learn all about these amazing locales and what you can expect to experience in each spot. Spoiler alert: You can’t lose with either destination. 

The beautiful island of Kefalonia
The beautiful island of Kefalonia
The beautiful island of Kefalonia

Geography and climate

In terms of geography and climate, the Cyclades and Ionian Islands are actually quite similar. They’re both off the coast of Greece, meaning they have comparable climates and weather. During the peak season* (June, July and August), you can enjoy average temperatures of 28°C regardless of which archipelago you’re visiting. That said, the Cyclades tend to be a bit warmer and drier than the Ionian Islands. 

You should also know that these two island groups are surrounded by different bodies of water. The Cyclades Islands are on the Aegean Sea (on the east side of mainland Greece) while the Ionian Islands are on the — you guessed it! — Ionian Sea (on the west side of mainland Greece).

Other than that, the biggest difference between these two groups of Greek Islands is their size. The Cyclades Islands have a combined land area of 2,528 square kilometres and are comprised of more than 30 islands (24 of which are inhabitable). Some of the most popular islands are:

  • Milos
  • Mykonos
  • Naxos
  • Paros
  • Santorini
  • Syros

The Ionian Islands have a combined land area of 2,307 square kilometers and are comprised of seven main islands:

  • Corfu
  • Ithaca
  • Kefalonia
  • Kythera
  • Lefkada
  • Paxi (Paxos)
  • Zakynthos

However, just because the Cyclades technically cover more ground, doesn’t mean they’re larger. Each individual Ionian island is bigger than each individual Cyclades island. For example, the biggest island in the Cyclades (Naxos) is one-third the size of the largest island in the Ionian Islands (Kefalonia). 

*Try to visit during the shoulder seasons (May or mid-September to mid-October) for only slightly cooler temperatures and way fewer crowds.

A couple island hopping around the Ionian Islands
A couple island hopping around the Ionian Islands
A couple island hopping around the Ionian Islands


Travellers have a few options for getting to these Greek islands. Generally speaking, it’s easier to reach the Cyclades island group, as some of its top destinations (Mykonos, Santorini and Naxos) boast international airports. Some of the Ionian Islands (Corfu, Kefalonia and Zakynthos) have airports as well — but you can only catch a flight to them from other Greek terminals, such as those at Athens International Airport and Araxos Airport. 

You also have the option of ferrying to each island group from Athens and other archipelagos, such as the Dodecanese Islands and Sporades Islands. Speaking of ferries… once you arrive at a Cyclades or Ionian destination, you can easily travel between them via boat. Trust us when we say that nothing beats island hopping around the Aegean Sea or Ionian Sea — the waters are breathtaking and beyond blue. Just keep in mind that the high season generally has more options in terms of routes and itineraries (the same goes for flights!). 

Aside from that, some of these Greek islands have buses and car/scooter rentals to help you navigate a day trip with ease. 

One of the pools at Dreams Corfu Resort & Spa
One of the pools at Dreams Corfu Resort & Spa
One of the pools at Dreams Corfu Resort & Spa


Like any other destination, Greece has a variety of accommodations for travellers to choose from, including hotels, apartment rentals, private villas and all-inclusive resorts. Since the Ionian Islands are larger, you’re more likely to find bigger accommodations at cheaper prices (meaning these Greek islands are ideal for family vacations) — but you’ll have plenty of options, regardless of where you choose to stay.

Here are a few of our top picks:

Cyclades Islands

  • George Hotel Mykonos on Mykonos: Overlooking the white-sand Platis Gialos Beach, ocean views are basically guaranteed no matter which room you stay in. We recommend lounging at the freshwater swimming pool with a cocktail in hand.
  • Old Oia Houses on Santorini: “Cave houses”, unique residences carved into mountains, are one of the top attractions in Greece. Don’t miss your chance to stay in these self-catering apartments, which feature outdoor terraces and private plunge pools. 
  • On the Rocks Santorini on Santorini: Planning a honeymoon or anniversary trip? On the Rocks Santorini is the place for a romantic couples getaway. Stay in a beautiful room with caldera views, relax at the spa and then enjoy a meal at the on-site restaurant.

Ionian Islands

  • Dreams® Corfu Resort & Spa on Corfu: Families, take note! Dreams® Corfu Resort & Spa has everything you and your children need: comfortable rooms, three swimming pools, live entertainment, kids’ clubs and more.
  • Electra Kefalonia Hotel & Spa on Kefalonia: This stunning resort is centrally located in Svoronata — Kefalonia Airport, Ammes Beach and the island’s capital city, Argostoli, are all less than 10 kilometres away. In other words: you’re close to everything, but also far away from it all. Talk about a win-win situation.
  • Lesante Cape Resort & Villas on Zakynthos: If you prefer to travel like a celebrity, this resort is for you! Part of the Leading Hotels of the World group, it features a private beach, seven dining options and luxe rooms.
Red Beach on the island of Santorini
Red Beach on the island of Santorini
Red Beach on the island of Santorini


When we say that Greece was made for beach vacations, we mean it. Given that each archipelago is situated in an elongated embayment of the Mediterranean Sea, it should come as no surprise that these Greek islands are home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. Both the Aegean Sea and the Ionian Sea boast crystal-clear waters in gorgeous shades of turquoise and blue.  

No matter which island group you happen to be visiting, you’re bound to find some incredible beaches. But there is one major difference between the two: beaches on the Ionian Islands tend to have soft white sand whereas beaches on the Cyclades Islands tend to be more pebbly. 

Here are a few of our favourite beaches on these Greek islands:

Cyclades Islands

  • Plaka Beach on Naxos: Plaka Beach is idyllic — and since it’s among the largest beaches in the Cyclades, one of the least crowded.
  • Red Beach on Santorini: This volcanic-sand beach is absolutely worth visiting and photographing. The red cliffs will look just as impressive on your Instagram grid as they do in real life. 
  • Super Paradise Beach on Mykonos: Super Paradise is one of best beaches (if not the best beach) on the beautiful island of Mykonos. It’s loaded with sunbeds and umbrellas, beach bars and taverns, and lots of opportunities to try watersports such as scuba diving and parasailing. 

Ionian Islands

  • Navagio Beach on Zakynthos: Located on the northern side of Zakynthos, travellers can only access Navagio Beach (aka Shipwreck Beach) by boat. Go here to explore the famous Blue Caves and the shipwreck that lies on its shores.
  • Myrtos Beach on Kefalonia: Surrounded by tall marble cliffs and covered with dazzling white pebbles, Myrtos Beach is one of the top places to soak up the sun — and Greece’s natural beauty.
  • Porto Katsiki on Lefkada: You have to descend (and climb back up) 80 steep steps to enjoy this slice of paradise. And believe us: it’s worth it!
The blue-domed houses on Santorini are iconic
The blue-domed houses on Santorini are iconic
The blue-domed houses on Santorini are iconic

Attractions and nightlife

The Cyclades and Ionian Islands vary in terms of tourist attractions — but that’s not a bad thing! You just need to know the types of activities you’re interested in doing and the types of experiences you’re interested in having before deciding which Greek islands you want to visit.

If you want to see the “classic” side of Greece that’s often depicted in movies and TV shows, the Cyclades are for you! This group of smaller islands is where you’ll find the iconic white houses with blue-domed roofs, especially on the beautiful islands of Mykonos and Santorini. (Who else is thinking about The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants right now?) You’ll also find plenty of cobblestone streets and trellis-covered tavernas here. Simply put, the Cyclades Islands look like a postcard.

You’ll also stumble upon some amazing cafés, wineries and restaurants in the main town (or “chora”) areas of the Cyclades Islands. Plus, the nightlife here far exceeds the scene in the Ionian Islands. Mykonos is renowned for its party atmosphere (think beach clubs and celebrity DJs), but you’ll get similar experiences on Ios and Paros.

Though you won’t find any white and blue houses on Corfu, Ithaca or Paxos, the Ionian Islands are just as special. Since most islands once belonged to the Venetian empire, the architecture here is entirely different. Terracotta tiled roofs, for example, are favoured over blue domes. You’ll also come across palaces, forts, castles, churches and other archaeological sites that are reminiscent of ancient times. Make sure to visit the Old Town of Corfu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Ionian Islands are also known for their natural beauty. Compared to the Cyclades, which are more arid and desert-like, the Ionian Islands have lush green landscapes peppered with olive trees. For those who want to immerse themselves in Greek history and culture and explore in a more relaxed environment, we recommend visiting this archipelago.

A group of friends enjoying a meal on the island of Corfu
A group of friends enjoying a meal on the island of Corfu
A group of friends enjoying a meal on the island of Corfu

Currency and affordability

There’s no difference when it comes to currency since the Cyclades Islands and Ionian Islands are part of Greece — and therefore both accept the euro. Greece is generally affordable, but keep in mind that prices will vary depending on which specific islands you travel to. For example, Mykonos and Santorini (which are both really popular with tourists) tend to be more expensive. 

Broadly speaking, it’s cheaper to visit the Ionian Islands than the Cyclades. That said, regardless of which archipelago you’ve set your sights on, Flight Centre’s travel consultants are prepared to work with your budget to plan an unforgettable vacation. Our experts have a fair share of experience under their belts and are keen to provide you with their money-saving tips and tricks.


As you can tell, there’s no easy way to solve the Cyclades vs. Ionian Islands debate. Each is special in its own way — and both are worthy of being on your travel bucket list. Need a little more help deciding which one to visit? Check out our current Greece travel deals or chat with a consultant today! 

Flight Centre

© Flight Centre Travel Group (Canada) Inc.

*Conditions apply. Prices are in CAD. All advertised prices include taxes & fees. Air travel in economy class unless otherwise stated. Package, cruise, tour, rail & hotel prices are per person, based on double occupancy for total length of stay unless otherwise stated. All-inclusive vacations include airfare on a per person basis. Prices are for select departure dates and are accurate and subject to availability at advertising deadline, errors and omissions excepted, and subject to change. Taxes & fees due in destination are additional and include, but not limited to, local car rental charges & taxes, one-way rental drop fees which are to be paid upon arrival, resort fees & charges, and airline baggage fees. Additional important conditions and supplier terms may apply. For full terms and conditions visit please speak with a Flight Centre Travel Consultant. CPBC#2790, TICO#4671384, OPC#702971.

Future Travel Credit Terms & Conditions | Green Policy | Anti-Spam Policy