Greece's 1,400 islands -- 230 of them inhabited -- are one of the Mediterranean's most beautiful assets.
From the Ionians, up by Albania in the northwest, to the Dodecanese, near Turkey in the southeast, they offer vacations you can't get many other places.
Each of the island groups has its unique allure, plus some of the most picturesque seascapes on Earth.
But for sheer variety in a small radius, proximity to Athens' ferry port at Piraeus and the best inter-island boat connections, none compete with the Cyclades.
We present the top nine islands in and around the Cyclades, each with its marquee attraction (for ferry schedules, check www.gtp.gr or www.greekferries.gr).
Best scenery: Santorini
The story behind this island is the stuff of legends -- in 1600 BC after a volcano erupted and its center collapsed into the sea, it left behind parts of its caldera that today form the island Santorini.
The views from pretty much anywhere on this crescent-shaped outcrop are superb.
Sheer rock faces are striated in multitudinous shades, villages and towns cling to the tops of cliffs, the caldera is filled with clear deep turquoise water home to the occasional cruise liner.
The whitewashed buildings in the main town Fira resemble a fresh blanket of snow atop a mountain.
On the northern tip, at Oia, where the sunsets are outstanding, houses, hotels and churches tumble down the rock walls. Every evening bus loads of tourists descend to watch the sun sink into the Aegean.
The scenery is as just impressive at sea level. Red Beach, as the name suggest, has a rust-colored backdrop and Mars-esque boulders, Eros Beach's eerie hoodoo-like walls would fit right in at a national park in Utah, and Caldera Beach, the only one that faces in toward the caldera, gives visitors a discernible sense of the volcano's immensity.
Where to stay: Vedema, in the village of Megalochori, doesn't have a caldera view, but its setting in a small village feels authentic (the town square and village church are a one-minute walk away).
The 40 rooms have views of the village homes or the surrounding rolling vineyards.
If a vista of the caldera is key, check in to sister property Mystique. Set in Oia, it has a secret wine cellar, and its 22 cave-style rooms are terraced into the cliff face, providing that classic Santorini experience.
Vedema, Megalochori, 84700, Santorini; +30 22860 81796; doubles from $320
Mystique, Oia, 84702, Santorini; +30 22860 71114; doubles from $470
Best nightlife: Mykonos
Mykonos is Greece's answer to Ibiza, but without the attitude and posturing.
Either side of the summer season Mykonos resembles another low-key beach destination but come July and August, night owls arrive in droves, and the main streets of Mykonos Town are packed with revelers -- even revelers with babies strapped into carriers.
At times the narrow alleys are so jammed with bodies the only way to move is en masse with the crowd as it sways through the streets in a singular motion.
In true Greek style, nothing here starts until late, though you can party in the daytime with 20-something Italians at Super Paradise beach.
A popular start is to have drinks at sunset at the Sea Breeze Cocktail Bar in Little Venice, snagging a table up the steps for the best views.
Across the island at Kalo Livadi you can find an unfussy beach where the new Nice and Easy bio-restaurant has fantastic organic fare at reasonably prices (the pasta with sharp kopanisti cheese is excellent).
Back in town, Jackie O' is a lively waterfront bar that draws the gay crowd, Agyra Bar has attractive, hard-bodied staff from Athens and at the always packed Rock 'n' Roll, where local and tourists are evenly split, the bartender blows a whistle before doling out oxygen shots.
My personal favorite is the bar/club Caprice, where all are united in their mission to just have fun, no judgments, no agenda; the barmen are as much into the music and dancing as the customers (they'll readily pour free shots of jelly liqueur).
Tip: At Caprice, many a first-timer falls into the area where the bar stools are, set one step down from the rest of the floor, so tread carefully.
Where to stay: Hotel Kivotos, on Ornos Bay, is removed from the hubbub, set on a hill with steps down to a peaceful rocky beach, and is an ideal refuge to refuel and recharge.
The cool rooms have clear Lucite chairs, LED lights in the floors (sounds tacky, but looks appropriately festive), a pool with a small circular bar, and most importantly, an energetic, attractive young staff that will give you the scoop on the best night spots.
Hotel Kivotos, Ornos Bay, 84600, Mykonos; +30 22890 24094; doubles from $590
Best traditional village life: Naxos
The largest island in the Cyclades has a string of swoon-worthy beaches on its west coast, a Venetian castle in its main town, some interesting ruins and great local produce and dairy.
But what sets it apart from the other islands are its traditional villages.
When you leave Chora, where the ferries berth, the pull of village life is evident -- note the sign at the outskirts of town that simply reads "Villages."
There are 46 of them on Naxos, some miniscule, but all a window into traditional life. Each has a bakery or cafe, a village square where old men with sun-creased faces sit around on tables drinking coffee and trading stories and an immaculately preserved church or two.
The hamlets are tucked among the hills and the switchback road that crisscrosses the island.
Kinidaros is famous for its bakery (the best on the island, the oven fired by wood) and musicians; Chalki has the excellent artisanal jam shop Era; locals come to the cobble-stoned street Apeiranthos to eat the crepes at Samardako; Keramoti sits in a valley, seemingly cut off from civilization, but it's also the base for hikes to Routsouna waterfall.
Since most tourists don't venture inland, the villages haven't succumbed to money-grabbing gimmicks.
Where to stay: Set away from the coast, Naxian Collection has good views of Chora, a handful of typical Cycladic white cubist villas with private pools, an on-site organic garden with fresh strawberries and breakfasts large enough to keep you going all day.
The likeable owner Ioannis Margaritis was born and raised on the island, so he knows everything about, and everyone on, Naxos -- literally. If you're lucky, he'll take you to a barbecue at his friend's house in one of the villages.