The Cyclades are ancient, breathtaking, and in large part gloriously untouched by the modern hustle of city life. I once assumed they were also inaccessible to someone without lots of money to throw around (which was me, three weeks into a four-week journey across Italy and Greece, and about 99.9% into my budget). Luckily, my husband and I were there outside of “high season,” when prices and temperatures soar and the islands become overrun with tourists.
If you’re looking for a unique, inexpensive fall getaway (or are already planning ahead to the spring), then the Cyclades are a great choice. If you’re in Europe or Asia, getting to Athens on the cheap is no problem. From the US, splurge a little bit on the ticket (expensive, but cheaper than it would be at high season) and the rest will be worth it. On the islands, you can eat, walk, visit historic sites and museums, browse shops, enjoy the view, take in the culture, sunbathe, and just relax.
To get the maximum out of the experience (and your buck), travel during “low season” – March/April/ beginning of May and end of September/October. The further away from summer you are, the lower the prices. You’ll miss the hot weather, which is nice for lying on the beach and swimming, but you’ll also miss the high prices, the crowded restaurants and the loud hotels. And while it may be a bit cooler outside the summer months, make no mistake – it’s still crystal clear, gorgeous, and plenty warm enough for tank tops and shorts during the day. Some people (though never the locals) even venture a swim at this time of year.
After a stay in Piraeus, where cheap (if slightly seedy) hotels abound, my husband and I set out for Thira, as the Greeks call Santorini, and Naxos. Ferries to the closest islands start as low as €15 (US$20) one way. You can book online in advance, but the websites are notoriously unreliable, and it is oftentimes easier to purchase tickets from a vendor (found anywhere near the ferry docks) during business hours.