Updated on April 15th, 2021
Naxos in the Cyclades islands may not have the fame of its neighbours Santorini or Mykonos, but it doesn’t have the crowds, the cruise ships or the price tag either! What it is does offer is miles of white sand beaches, regarded by many as the most beautiful in the Aegean Sea. Add to that ancient monuments, fertile lands, mountains to hike & classic whitewashed Cyclades villages. Not convinced yet? Then read on for my list of best things to do in Naxos.”
Naxos is one of the lesser-known islands of the Cyclades in Greece but I am keen to share why I have included it in my perfect Greek island hopping itinerary. It may not have the fame of its neighbours Santorini or Mykonos, but it also doesn’t have the crowds, the cruise ships or the price tag!
Naxos has some of the best beaches of all the Greek islands, maybe even the best in the Aegean. The produce here is second to none as it is the largest & most fertile of all the Cyclades islands. This makes for some excellent traditional dining experiences. If you are a hiker, Naxos has many trails, including the highest peak in the archipelago.
Throw into the mix some breath-taking ancient monuments, classic whitewashed sugar cube villages & a maze of small alleyways to get lost in & you will be in for a treat!”
I have been Greek island-hopping 6 times in the Cyclades (4 to Naxos) & therefore consider myself somewhat of an expert. If you are planning a trip, then my First Timers Guide is not to be missed, along with my in-depth guides on Santorini, Paros & Milos.
1. Discover Portara
This is unmissable if you are arriving by ferry & a walk up to Portara (Apollos Temple) is a must on any visit to Naxos. The monument is the remains of a massive doorway, leading to the Ionic marble temple of Apollo, built in the 6th century. The temple was never finished & the structure dismantled to build the castle (or Kastro) in the old town. However, they left the frame behind on an islet, connected to the mainland by a causeway. The best time to visit is at dusk for the sunset, but don’t expect to be alone!
As with any of the islands, one of the best things to do on Naxos is to get lost in the maze of tiny alleyways in the old town of Chora. The narrow streets link rows of whitewashed sugar cube houses which contain shops, bars, cafes & tavernas to keep you entertained. It is easy to lose hours & your bearings just exploring all there is to offer here.
3. Head up to the Kastro
If you head up hill in Chora (& manage not to get too distracted), you will come to Kastro, the hilltop settlement where the Venetian Catholics once lived. Venture through the enormous wooden door & you enter a world of churches, monasteries & some of the oldest houses in Naxos. It is also the home of the Archeological Museum & if you’re lucky you may time your visit with a concert in the courtyard. Check out 1739 Terrasse Café for fantastic panoramic views of the island.
One of the best things to do in Naxos is just relax at your pick of pristine fine sandy beaches. In my experience they are the best in Greece.”
Agios Georgios is within an easy walking distance from the port & the town. The water is calm, shallow & protected from the wind, making it a popular choice for families. If you fancy partaking in some water sports, then head over to Flisvos at the far end of the beach. There are plenty of hotels & tavernas offering beach chairs along the sand & it is a great spot for watching the sunset in the evenings too.
Agios Prokopios sits in a sheltered bay further south. There are plenty of beach clubs & tavernas to choose from & a long stretch of golden sand with clear turquoise waters. It can easily be reached by bus from Chora. There is also a small dive centre located here if you fancy exploring a different aspect of Naxos life.
Agios Prokopios leads on to Agia Anna beach, a narrow strip of white sand. Head to this part of the beach if you are looking for something a little quieter. To walk the full stretch of both beaches only takes 30 minutes so you can enjoy two for the price of one bus fare!
7. Decide if Plaka Beach is the best in Greece…
Plaka is arguably the best beach in Naxos, maybe even in Greece itself. In total, Plaka beach offers you 4km of golden sand to choose your perfect spot to lay your towel down. It is easily reached by bus from Chora or just a 10-minute walk from Agia Anna. For a lively beach bar & traditional Naxian food, check out Yazoo.
The northern end is livelier with hotels, beach clubs & restaurants but a walk further south will allow you find a more secluded spot on the sand.”
8. Admire art & nature in Alyko
At Alyko you can find 800km2 of protected cedar forest & sand dunes backing a few small, secluded bays with pristine waters & soft white sand beaches. Close by are the ruins of an old hotel which has now been taken over by street art & graffiti.
9. Catch the wind at Mikri Vigla
If you like water sports, then head to Mikri Vigla. It used to be a lookout point for pirates but now is home to wind & kite surfers. For beginners, you can try your hand at both activities & take lessons here. The area is actually a headland. The north side offers the wind, the south is more secluded. If you get peckish, check out Kontos restaurant.
Naxos is more fertile than most of the other islands due to the influence of Mount Zas. If you venture inland you will discover fields of olives, grapes, figs, citrus fruit, corn & potatoes.”
If you’ve had enough beaches, then another of the best things to do in Naxos is to go hiking. Naxos is very well served with walking & hiking trails, so why not pull on your walking boots & go exploring? Potamia Village has some good trails, or there is the highest peak of Mount Zas.
11. Scale Mount Zas
Mount Zas (or Zeus) is the peak in the mountainous interior Tragaea region of the island & the highest point in the Cyclades. It stands at 1004 metres. You can also check out the Cave of Zas while you’re there which is said to be the childhood home of Zeus. The trails start from the village of Filoti. The easier one is a little longer & begins from Agia Maria church.
12. Taste Kitron in Halki
The historic village of Halki offers pretty neoclassic architecture & archetypal small alleyways, olive groves & gorgeous shops to explore. It is also the centre of the kitron production. Kitron is a liqueur distilled from the leaves of the citron trees. To learn more about its production, head to Vallindras Distillery in the main square for a taste.
13. Get high in Apiranthos
If you enjoy exploring the villages of Naxos, then don’t miss Apiranthos in the mountains with its marble-paved streets & alleyways. It is the highest village in Naxos with old stone mansions & a very traditional ambience. Nearby is the Rotonda restaurant with exceptional views & great food.
14. Admire the frescos at Panadia Drosiani Church
Head to the mountain village of Moni, to see this ancient Byzantine Church. It is one of the oldest churches in the whole of Greece & contains a warren of cave-like passages & chapels. Some of the frescos here date back to the 7thCentury.
15. Marvel at Kouros of Apollonas
You can find this 10-meter, 7th Century statue lying in an ancient marble quarry on the hillside above Apollonas village. It was abandoned here before being finished but is still an impressive sight if you’re in the area.
The statue is still attached to the marble but is free on three sides. It apparently weighs around 80 tonnes.”
16. Go back in time at the Temple of Demeter
If you are interested in the history & archaeology of the island, then aim for the village of Sangri where you can find the remains of this impressive temple. It is thought to date back to the 6th century BC & was built from the finest Naxos marble.
17. Enjoy the sunset
This is probably THE best thing to do in Naxos! Sunsets are stunning, wherever you decide to watch them from. To join the crowds, head to Portara & you will not be disappointed. Alternatively enjoy it from one of the bars after a hard day at the beach, or at a restaurant overlooking the harbour. To be honest, it doesn’t matter but try a few views & pick your favourite!
18. Shop ‘til you drop
While you are getting lost in the old town of Chora or Kastro, it’s hard to avoid a little retail therapy. The chaotic tiny alleyways are packed with shops selling souvenirs, antiques & handmade jewellery. Bear in mind that if you see anything you like, just buy it as there is a chance you will never find your way back there again! I love the local pottery shop Morfes Workshop & have bought some of their gorgeous, coloured creations on my last 2 visits.
The fertile lands of Naxos have provided the opportunity for a cuisine that can focus on local specialities.
Look out on the menus for Kefalotyri (a hard cheese made of sheep’s milk), honey, Kitron & good white wine.”
A restaurant that is highly recommended outside Chora is Axiotissa. If you are exploring the island then try O Vasilis in Melanes for one of the most authentic Naxian dining experiences. In Chora, my personal recommendation is the 520 Cocktail Bar & Restaurant for its amazing views & delicious food. The menu is limited but all dishes made with real care, attention & their own little ‘twists’. I also enjoyed Ippokampos overlooking Agios Georgios & Naxaki a little further along the beach.
20. Take a boat trip around the island
You can’t beat a day on the water to see more that this gorgeous island has to offer. For some top tips on what to look for on a Greek Island boat trip, check out my guide for Milos.
21. Check out another island…or two!
While you’re in Naxos, it could be the perfect place to base yourself for a day trip to one or two of the neighbouring islands. Check out these tours from Get Your Guide for some inspiration.
Where to stay in Naxos
Chora is the ideal spot to base yourself as this gives you access to the old town, Agios Georgios, Kastro, Portara & the ferry quay within easy walking distance. There are plenty of choices for food & drinks by the water to watch the sunset.”
If you would like to be in the main town, then try the Hotel Grotta or The Saint Vlassis. For a place closer to the beach but within an easy walk from Chora, I stayed at Iliovasilema which was the perfect location & with a nice pool. I would also recommend Pension Irene 1 & 2 as I have stayed there on previous visits too. For a treat, check out the Nissaki Beach Hotel or Kalergis Studios.
If you would prefer to stay away from the main town, then there are also plenty of options on the other beaches. For Agios Prokopios, try 18 Grapes or Naxos Island Hotel. A more budget option is the Agios Prokopios Hotel. In Agia Anna, there is Iria Beach Art Hotel & finally, in Plaka, you can opt for Naxos Island Escape Suites or Medusa Beach Resort.
Getting to & from Naxos
Naxos does not currently have an international airport, so you need to either fly to Athens or one of the other islands such as Santorini or Mykonos. Whichever you choose, the next step is to either get a small internal flight or preferably go by boat.
For a ferry to Naxos, it’s easy to book online but seats may be limited so I would advise doing this in advance. I recommend Paleologos. I have used other sites, but the process was not quite as straightforward. For all the information you need on using the ferry service, check out my First-Timers Guide to Greek Island Hopping.
Getting around Naxos
There are 3 main options for getting around the island:
Buses run between the main villages on the island & connect them with Chora. To catch the bus from there, head to the end of the ferry quay. Expect a flat rate per journey (€2 or less) & it’s much easier if you have change. Timetables are hard to come by but if you find one, my top tip is to photograph it which should set you up for your time on the island.
As with all of the islands, exploring at your own pace is highly rewarding & there is a myriad of vehicles available to hire, depending on your preference & budget. Chora will provide a number of options to check out the best deal for your budget.
So, have I convinced you? There is so much to set Naxos apart from its Cyclades islands neighbours. I hope that my best things to do in Naxos will make you consider adding this beautiful island to your next Greek Odyssey.
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