Delos, a tiny uninhabited island, near Mykonos lies in the sparkling Aegean Sea. It’s the stunning centrepiece of a circle of beautiful Greek islands called the Cyclades and makes a perfect day trip from Mykonos town which lies just across the water.
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The Cyclades group of islands number over 220 including some of the more well known ones like Santorini, Mykonos and Ios.
Delos island is tranquil and stunningly beautiful with a backdrop of cobalt blue Aegean Sea. With more excavations than any other site in the Mediterranean, stunning ruins and an incredible insight into ancient Greek civilisation, Delos is one of the most important historical, archaeological and mythological sites in Greece.
Today the entire island of Delos is a protected UNESCO World Heritage site and to visit Delos is like stepping back into ancient Greek history. The whole island is an archaeological site.
For more Greek island inspiration check out this Greek Island hopping itinerary
Delos ruins, Greece
Where is Delos island?
The island of Delos lies 3.5km south-west of Mykonos in the centre of the Cyclades archipelago in Greece. Delos is just 30-minutes by boat from Mykonos and makes a great day trip if you can tear yourself away from the island.
A visit to Delos is an excellent excursion from Mykonos should you spend a day there as part of a Mediterranean cruise.
Ruins at Delos, Greece
Delos Island History
For over a thousand years, Delos, also referred to as the Isle of Light, was a sacred island. The island was first inhabited by the Greeks from 3000 BC. Around 800 BC the island became a shrine to the god Apollo and eventually it became a multicultural trading centre.
Under Roman rule, Delos became an important duty-free port and slave market but by 300 AD, after the trade routes moved on, Delos was completely abandoned.
Collonade ruins at Delos, Greece
At one time, Delos was so sacred that people close to death or giving birth were shipped out to a neighbouring island. It seems things have gone full circle as the only inhabitants are now the team of archaeologists working on the ruins which makes it a peaceful contrast to busy Mykonos across the water.
Delos Greek Mythology
According to Greek mythology, Delos is the birthplace of Artemis and Apollo, the twin offspring of Zeus and Leto. When Hera discovered that Leto was pregnant by her husband Zeus she banished Leto in a jealous rage and decreed that she would never give birth anywhere on this earth.
Zeus pleaded with his brother Poseidon to find somewhere for her to give birth. Poseidon took pity on her and offered Delos as a safe haven. Artemis, goddess of the hunt and virginity was born first and then nine days later Apollo, god of light, truth and music made his appearance and thus begins our Delos mythology.
Delos Island near Mykonos, Greece
Delos, in ancient Greek, means brought to light which is apt as it’s Apollo’s birthplace. Delos is also known as the Isle of Light and it definitely seems to have a clarity and luminosity of light. This means it’s a dream to photograph. The pale golds of the stonework and Delos ruins compliment the blue skies and seas perfectly giving it a softer appearance than the pristine whites and crisp blues of Mykonos.
What to see in Delos, Greece
Delos Island makes a great day trip from Mykonos
You can pretty much roam as you please through the ruined streets, arcades and temples of Delos. The island is just 5k long and 1.3 wide and is easily explored in less than a day.
However, to get the most from your visit with fascinating insights into the importance of Delos I’d recommend visiting as part of a guided tour which we did. It really brings the island and its history to life.
The whole of the island of Delos is one big archaeological site and the following are the most important spots. If you have time I also recommend climbing to the top of Mount Kynthos (113m) for epic views over Delos, the ruins and nearby islands. It’s steep but worth the effort. Be sure to stop off at the Temple of Hera on the way up and the sanctuaries of Zeus and Athina.
The Theatre Quarter, Delos
Ruins of dwellings in Delos, Greece
The Theatre Quarter, was once home to the wealthiest inhabitants of Delos and you’ll find the remains of many mansions here. It was obviously ‘the place’ to live on the island.
The narrow, winding streets are paved with slate slabs and dwellings stand almost five meters high with at least one upper storey. Outside there are pillared courtyards and impressive mosaic floors.
The House of Dionysus
The House of Dionysus
The House of Dionysus is one of the larger houses and would have been one of the most lavish of dwellings. It would have had two storeys and the remains of a stone staircase can still be seen.
The central courtyard is lined by elegant columns and on the courtyard floor is a mosaic showing Dionysus riding a panther.
The House of Trident
This house probably belonged to a shipping merchant and features a courtyard with a superb mosaic floor featuring dolphins and anchors.
Theatre at Delos
Built between 296 and 240 BC the impressive marble theatre in Delos once held up to 5,500 spectators.
Nearby is an underground water cistern. There was no fresh-water on Delos so drinking water was captured from the rainfall and stored in the cistern.
The theatre at Delos
Terrace of the Lions
Terrace of the Lions, Delos
The iconic Terrace of the Lions is probably the most famous Delos sight. The lions on the outside terrace are actually replicas of a possible nine to twelve lions that once guarded the wealthy trading port.
The remaining five original lions are now housed in the island’s museum. The lions were a gift from the people of Naxos in the seventh century BC – an imposing sight intended to guard the ‘sacred way’.
The Sanctuary of Apollo
The torso of the statue of Apollo is to the right of the right-hand column
The Sanctuary of Apollo lies at the heart of the ancient remains at the end of The Sacred Way. The remains of a massive statue of Apollo rest here although only the torso is left – probably because it was too heavy to loot.
One of the hands rests in the Delos museum and a foot from the Delos Apollo resides in the British Museum.
The torso of the statue is to the right of the right-hand column
The Archaeological Museum of Delos
Delos Archaeological Museum
Leopard Mosaic in Delos Archaeological Museum
Most of the significant finds from Delos are now housed safely in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens but there are still some interesting and beautiful pieces in the museum at Delos so it’s worth taking a look inside at the statues, pottery and mosaics to get an insight into life in ancient Greece.
Many of the statues you’ll find in Delos have been moved inside to protect them from the weather and replicas now stand in their original positions.
How to get to Delos island from Mykonos:
Boats leave for Delos from the Old Port of Mykonos daily, weather permitting. The pleasant crossing takes about 30 minutes.
Buy your tickets from the kiosk at the southern end of Mykonos Town harbour – I recommend purchasing them in advance. Be sure to ask which return boats they’re valid for. Tickets for the boat are €20 for a return trip. They do not include the entrance fee to Delos Island, which costs €12.
You can pre-book your return ferry tickets online for €23 with free cancellation (up to 24-hours) from Get Your Guide. They also have a number of tour options available. Click here to book a return ferry ticket from Mykonos to Delos.
Delos – Mykonos – Delos ferry timetable
Mondays – there is a ferry from Mykonos to Delos at 10:00 hrs from 02 May to 31 October with the return ferry at 13:30 hrs.
The Monday afternoon tour varies depending on the sunset time. From 02 May to 15 September, the ferry departs at 17:00 hrs and returns at 19:30 hrs. From 15 September to 30 September, the ferry leaves at 16:30 hrs and returns at 19:00 hrs.
From 01 October to 14 October, the ferry departs at 16:00 hrs and returns from Delos at 18:30 hrs. From 15 October to 31 October, the ferry leaves at 15:30 hrs and returns at 18:00 hrs.
Tuesday to Sunday there are more options for morning tours between 02 May and 31 October. Morning departures are at 09:00, 10:00, and 11:30 hrs, with returns at noon, 13:30 and 15:00 hrs respectively.
The evening tours are staggered and follow the same timeline as the Monday afternoon tours listed above.
Delos Entrance Fee
Unless you’ve booked a guided tour of Delos which includes the entry fee you will need to pay to enter the site once you get off the ferry. The entrance fee to Delos island is €12 per adult and you’ll need to queue at the ticket office.
This can take up to half an hour as boats from three islands often arrive around the same time. There’s no shelter so be sure you’ve applied your sun screen and wear a hat.
To avoid this you could book a guided Delos tour in advance which would include your entry fee to the island. It will also ensure that you see all the Delos highlights during your visit.
Can you stay on Delos island?
It is not possible to stay overnight in Delos as it is strictly an archaeological site. The only way to visit is by day trip from Mykonos, Naxos or Paros.
Tips for your day trip to Delos
There are toilet facilities in the museum and a small museum shop.
The island can be very hot and there’s little shelter so I’d advise taking plenty of water, a hat and a reef-safe sunscreen. There’s no cafe on the island to buy drinks and snacks.
Wear comfortable walking shoes – there are a lot of loose rocks, gravel and the ground is uneven.
Many thanks to Celebrity Cruises for hosting me on this visit.
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Tuesday 21st of October 2014
I'd never even heard of Delos till reading this! It all looks so beautiful - I especially love those pillars and mosaics at the house of Dionysus. I haven't been to Greece for nearing 10 years but seeing all your recent pictures really makes me want to go back!!
Wednesday 22nd of October 2014
I'd never heard of Delos either and it is beautiful and such an important cultural and architectural site in Greece. The mosaics were especially beautiful.
Monday 20th of October 2014
My memories of Delos are pretty hazy, Suze. Heat and the lions are about it! But it was so many years ago, you wouldn't believe! (I know- you would!) You've done it full justice here.
Tuesday 21st of October 2014
Thank you Jo. I enjoyed my time there and the colour of that sea was unbelievably blue!
Sunday 19th of October 2014
I've been to Crete & Santorini but that's the extent of my Greek travels - I'd love to get back there and see more of the islands.
Sunday 19th of October 2014
Santorini's on my wishlist too :)