If you’re questioning is Naxos worth visiting on your Greek island adventure this year, then be sure to read on. This guide will pinpoint a few of the top reasons it most certainly deserves to be considered as part of an isle-to-isle adventure or even for your full two-week vacation.
The largest of the uber-popular Cyclades islands is filled with things to do and things to see. It’s beset by craggy mountains of limestone that lurch above the Aegean Sea like petrified giants and comes writhed in fig orchards and olive farms. Where it hits the coast, you get all sorts of postcard-worthy beaches and coves, stretching out in long runs of gold-flecked powder before sparking shore waters.
We’ll also touch on the charming villages of old Naxos, where looming temples and crooked farmsteads meet tavernas serving the island’s famous mezze platters, all with the effort of answering is Naxos worth visiting for you this coming season. Let’s go…
Visit Naxos for the beaches
Is Naxos worth visiting for the beaches alone? The answer is probably yes. This is the largest of the Cyclades chain, remember? That means extra kilometer counts on the coastline and loads of beaches and hidden coves and sailing bays to go around. On top of that, the fact that Naxos isn’t anywhere near as popular as, say, Mykonos or Santorini, means that you often find that there will be fewer people crowding up each individual beach.
But what are the beaches like? They differ from coast to coast. The western side of the island is the best looking of the lot. It’s also the most popular, but still not as packed in the midsummer as other Cyclades isles. The best beach-hunting area there stretches south from the main town into a string of gorgeous bays with soft sand and clear water. They include:
- Agios Prokopios Beach – One of the best family beaches on the island, protected from summer winds and home to lots of tavernas.
- Plaka Beach – Naxos’s most famous beach, filled with sunbeds, topped with gold-shimmering sand, and with lovely clear waters that lend themselves to swimmers.
- Aliko Beach – Further south from the Hora town is this deserted cove by an ancient forest; very remote, very romantic.
We also love venturing out to see the western side of the island. There, the roads turn to narrow country lanes and the beaches become small scythes of pebbles with a lining of reefs. They tend to be wavier in the winter, a touch better for snorkeling in summer, but also often completely deserted.
Visit Naxos for the history and the myth
Naxos has a very prestigious place in the annals of ancient Greek history. Legend has it that this was where the great god Zeus was raised, in a cave somewhere on the highest peak inland (now called, appropriately, Mount Zeus). You can even visit the cleft in the mountain where the deity was brought up – it’s a big opening just south of the village of Filoti.
When myth ends and history begins on Naxos is a bit of a blurred boundary. That’s because the temples and the castles that also await look like something plucked from a fantasy novel. The most iconic is probably the Temple of Apollo in Hora. It’s actually on a tiny separate island but it’s connected to Naxos’s main town by a walking causeway. It dates from the 5th century BC and is thought to have been raised to honor the god of archery. Today, it’s a favorite place to go to watch the sunset.
Around the main peaks at the heart of the island is a ring of pretty impressive historic landmarks that can be visited if you have your own rental car (or even by foot). They include the muscular Apano Kastro, a hulking great big castle constructed by the Venetians in the 13th century, and the Faragi Kouros, a haunting ancient statue that now lies in ruins in the shade of a chestnut tree
Visit Naxos for the food
Naxos is known as one of the most fertile of the Aegean islands. The soaring highlands at its center act like something of a cloud magnet, which bring rainfall to the most altitudinous parts of the island even in the summer months. Don’t worry – that shouldn’t affect your beach lazing down at sea level, but it does help feed a varied range of farms and growing areas further up the ridges.
In fact, Naxos is famous around the region for its juicy figs and zingy citrus fruits. Olive trees also grow in abundance on the lower slopes, while the cooler parts of the inland are filled with corn and wheat fields, along with loads of potato and legume plantations. You could probably make a whole smorgasbord of Greek mezze from things grown on the earth here!
Talking of Greek mezze…Naxos offers plenty of that. Our favorite tavernas include Taverna H Mina on the hills just up from the western beaches, and Taverna Manolo in the heart of Naxos’s main Hora town. They’ve got menus of crispy dakos breads (a sort of feta-topped sandwich inspired by Crete), fried sprats fresh from the Med, and BBQ veg straight off the charcoal grill.
Visit Naxos for the nightlife
Is Naxos worth visiting for the nightlife on its own? Probably not. There are better Greek islands for that, and some of them are only a few hours’ ride away on a ferry – think Ios and Mykonos. However, that’s not to say Naxos has zero nightlife. The truth is it’s got a pretty vibrant after-dark scene, especially if you stick to Hora and visit between May and August when most of the crowds are around.
Things tend to start early with a sunset beer around six or seven pm. The main street behind Naxos dock has a string of cocktail bars that spill out onto the sidewalks, and even some with rooftop terraces to maximize the west-facing view of the Aegean Sea. There are also some great beer spots at the north end of Plaka Beach, close to fantastic tavernas for when it’s time to turn that tipple into food.
If you’re keen to keep partying, delve into Hora’s heart. There’s a mix of buzzy venues there that includes the chic longball establishment of Sante Cocktail Bar and the trumpet-blowing Jazz & Blues – guaranteed to get your foot stomping. You’ve also got one or two more stylo, electro clubs that will draw a younger crowd, like Babylonia.
Visit Naxos for its quaint towns
Naxos isn’t only about casing out the west-coast beaches and dipping local breads in local olive oils. It’s got some pretty charming towns and villages to get through on top of that. In fact, it’s the authenticity and rawness of those that give this island its indelibly honest side, setting it apart from the more touristic haunts of the greater Cyclades – Mykonos, Ios, even Milos.
You’ll almost certainly start in Hora. Also known as Naxos Town, it’s the main settlement on the island and the place that most of the boats come in. But it’s not just a ferry terminal. It’s been settled since ancient times, as testified by the looming ruins of a great temple to Apollo over the far side of the harbor. From there, you can wander into the maze that is the old center and get lost (seriously, don’t bother with a map!) in a montage of cobbled lanes and squat white cottages strewn with bougainvillea.
There are a few other charming stopovers, both along the coastline and up in the mountains, that we’d say you should add to the map if you’re keen to unravel the rich character of Naxos:
- Apollonas – A sleepy fishing village with tavernas along its shoreline over on the east coast.
- Apiranthos – Drive the wiggling roads up Mount Zeus to find this uber-charming village of old workshops and tree-shaded squares. It’s not for nothing that this one’s often considered to be the jewel in Naxos’s crown.
- Halki – Charge the camera ready for that visit to Halki. Once the island’s capital long ago, it’s now a pint-sized settlement of crooked cottages and donkey-stalked alleys.
Visit Naxos because of where you can go next
Naxos isn’t just one of the largest of the Cyclades islands. It also sits smack dab in the heart of the chain, and smack dab in the heart of the Aegean Sea to boot. That makes it a pretty obvious place to add to your island-hopping itinerary if you’re planning a bucket-list sailing or ferry adventure across this much-loved part of Greece.
There’s no shortage of places to consider going to next, and there are lots of ferry connections from Chora port to nearby islands to make it easy if you’re not lucky enough to have your own yacht. Our top choices would include:
- Paros – A bustling hub of the Cyclades, this one is served by lots of ferries and gets super charming in the whitewashed port town of Naousa on its north coast.
- Santorini – Do not miss Santorini if you haven’t yet been. It’s an island on the top of an old volcano that’s one of Europe’s bucket-list draws.
- Iraklia – Escape the crowds by hopping a smaller ferry to Iraklia, an island of very chilled port towns with some truly empty coves.
- Ios – Party all night on this hedonistic Greek island.
Visit Naxos because it’s pretty chilled
Capping off our list of reasons why Naxos most certainly is worth visiting is the basic fact that it’s not as busy or developed as many other members of the Cyclades islands. While Santorini and Mykonos can often seem like one long stream of hotels, bars, cafés, and spas, this one’s not like that at all. It retains its authentic Greek character and offers lots of places where you can go to get away from the buzz of life.
R&R happens easily in the east-coast villages, for example. There, you’ll watch as the fishing boats come in each morning, have long Greek lunches, and sunbathe the whole day away. In shoulder seasons like October and in May, you can often do all that without meeting another tourist once, too. Nice, eh?
Even the more built-up areas of Naxos – largely to the south of Hora and around the capital – aren’t that built-up. Most of the hotels are low-key Greek guesthouses or boutique hotels with just a handful of rooms. It’s not common to find massive, multi-story resorts looming over the sands, and there aren’t many colossal millionaire yachts clogging up the bays, either.
So, is Naxos worth visiting?
Is Naxos worth visiting? You bet it is! We’d list Naxos as one of the quintessential isles of the Cyclades. It’s very much at the heart of Greece, offering a great balance of pretty much everything you want from an R&R trip to these isles. It’s got the beaches – especially on the west coast. It’s got the rustic charm – in lovely highland hamlets like old Apiranthos. There’s also plenty of ancient history to go around, along with tavernas that serve food grown and cooked right there on Naxos itself.