If you are looking for a Greek island escape that offers tradition, beauty, value for money, and amazing food, then the island of Naxos in the Cyclades should be on your list. Here’s a complete guide to getting around Naxos, what to eat and drink, where to stay, what to do, and how to island hop using Naxos as your base.
- Why visit Naxos?
- Things to do in Naxos
- Beaches of Naxos
- Ancient Sites of Naxos
- Villages of Naxos
- Day tours from Naxos
- Choosing where to stay in Naxos
- Where to eat and drink in Naxos
- Frequently Asked Questions
Why visit Naxos?
If you want to stay on a Greek island for a few weeks and maybe hop to a few others, Naxos is a great fit for this kind of itinerary.
It has a good measure of things to see, a diverse landscape, amazing food, and plenty of local Greek life to keep you well amused for a week or two.
And like me, you’ll come away having totally fallen for this island that is a perfect mix of old and new Greece.
Where is Naxos?
Naxos lies almost in the center of the Cyclades and is the biggest island in the group making it a good base to use while you explore some of the nearby islands.
The island is located:
There are daily services to these islands during peak season and very regular services out of season too. Along with these main places, there are also lots of day trips to the small islands surrounding Naxos.
How to get here
You can fly to Naxos from Athens if time is short. I use fast ferries to island-hop and then book a berth so I can have a snooze on the five-hour ride back to Athens.
It’s worth checking prices for cabins as it’s often only about $20 extra to have a private space to rest, your own bathroom, and somewhere to leave your stuff while you explore the boat.
When is the best time of year to visit Naxos?
The weather never gets too extreme here with winter temps rarely dropping below the mid-teens and summer sitting in the high 20’s (60-80F). Ideally, I would avoid winter when rainfalls are highest and the island is very quiet.
There is enough activity on the island year-round to make it a good choice if you are visiting out of the high season (June-Sept).
I’ve visited at different times of the year and in June, the traditional month that the high season begins, and it is lively without feeling busy.
It’s a nice change if you’ve been hemmed in by the crowds on Santorini or Mykonos for a few nights over the summer!
Getting around the island
Naxos has a good bus network so you don’t need to rent a car unless you want to get off the beaten track. Buses leave from the main street opposite the ferry port and cover key villages and beaches on the island.
Tickets, which cost just a couple of euros at most, must be purchased from the office or a machine outside. You can’t buy them on board the bus.
During summer buses to the southern beaches run twice an hour for most of the day with the last buses leaving in the early hours of the morning.
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Things to do in Naxos
One of the things I really like about the island is that while there is plenty to do if you want to be busy there are also plenty of beautiful beaches for you to spend the day relaxing and doing very little.
You could visit a different beach every day for a week quite easily.
“We left Naxos wishing we had a few more days which we believe is always the sign of a good holiday “
Beaches of Naxos
So far I’ve only made a small dent in the beaches on Naxos. I’ve visited just half a dozen of those on the south coast but I’ll be exploring the other side of the island this summer.
On my first day in town, I took a bus to Plaka out of town. I rode the bus to the last stop and walked back about 6km past several beaches until it got too hot to walk any further and then I rode the last couple of km back to town.
Also known as St Georges Beach in English, this is the closest beach to the port, under 2km on foot and it’s a good place to choose as a base. The water is calm and shallow for about the first 200m out.
It’s a lovely beach to cool off on and there are bars and restaurants lining the waterfront for at least 600m. From mid-morning till sunset the beach is quite busy but very quiet in the evenings.
A Blue Flag beach, which means it is rated among the best in Europe. It’s the busiest beach so may not be to your taste if you prefer something quieter. It’s well set up with beach bars and taverns and plenty of umbrellas.
This beach is a sun worshipper’s dream with a long stretch of white sand and crystal clear water as far as the eye can see and cafes that deliver directly to your sunchairs. Buses run every 30 mins from the port.
There is also a nude bathing area in a secluded spot just before the shark below.
Plaka Beach is probably what comes to mind when you picture a Greek beach. It’s just 9km from town and the last stop on the bus from the port.
With 4km of flat sandy beach and turquoise water, it is easy to see why the hotels that line the road opposite the beach are so popular.
The photo below is at 10 am in early June before the season had really kicked it so it was fairly quiet and due to its size manages to stay this way, even over summer.
Ancient Sites of Naxos
The Temple of Demeter
This temple is one of the most significant historical sites on the island.
Made of Naxian marble and built in 530, the Temple of Demeter is one of the earliest examples of Ionian columns and was built to worship Demeter the goddess of agriculture.
It’s a popular spot on island day tours but if you want to visit alone there is good signage that explains the site and its significance.
The Ancient Portara
It’s the first thing most people come across when they start considering a trip to Naxos, the most photographed spot on the island.
The Portera is a 6th-century BC marble gate that was to be the entrance to the Temple of Apollo that was never completed. Today it is the main landmark of Naxos and most visitors head up there for the fantastic view over the city.
The Kouroi of Naxos
At over 10 meters long and weighing about 80 tonnes, you would think it would be hard to miss the Kouri of Naxos, also known as the Colossus of Dionysus, but if you didn’t know he was here you could easily drive right past him.
You can also visit the Kouri and Apollonas by bus from Naxos town.
Villages of Naxos
There are more than 35 villages in Naxos and I only manage to visit about 4 of them each time here, which of course leaves me plenty of reasons to return.
Buses service the larger villages several times a day (less in winter) and there are some good walking trails if you like to hike.
Halki / Chalki
Halki was once the capital of Naxos which explains the gorgeous neoclassical mansions you will come across here. This has to be one of the prettiest towns in the Greek islands.
The colorful bougainvillea dressed the town beautifully and made me glad I didn’t visit in winter.
The small town features several galleries and lovely shops. It is also home to the Vallindra Kitron Distillery where you can take a tour to learn how the local liquor is produced and taste the three strengths on offer.
This food tour of Halki and Apeiranthos tours the Distillery.
You can come here on an all-day island tour but you can easily reach the town, which is 16km from the port, by bus. If you are coming by bus, I would arrive close to lunchtime so you can visit one of the many restaurants in town.
I was here quite early but could already smell the lamb roasting over coals, but lunch was not yet on offer. Instead, I stopped for my favorite Greek dessert, gelakto boureko, a custard pastry at Galani Cafe. I highly recommend you do this too!
There are several good trails nearby and you can hike to Fioti by following the trail by the river bed. This is definitely on our list for next time. If you want to try it you can find instructions here.
I’ve enjoyed Halki (Chalki) so much, and it really does deserve at least a full day, so I’ve written a detailed guide: Halki Naxos (Chalkio): Self-Guided Day Trip
The next village on my list was Apíranthos (or Apeiranthos ), known as the “marble village.”
Sitting high on the slopes of Mount Fanari, the village has 5 museums, countless restaurants, and the Church of Panagia Apeirathitissa which gives you more than enough reason to take the time to visit.
I really wished I’d had more time here as there was so much to see. If you rent a car or scooter, allow yourself plenty of time here as I’m planning on doing this summer.
Apollonas is a small village 35 km north of Naxos town.
I visited for lunch and had a delicious meal at a BBQ restaurant just as you arrive in the main street.
There are many restaurants lining the waterfront and a long beach just around the corner of the village that is perfect for swimming.
But being a history nerd, I wanted to be in Apollonos because it’s home to the Kouros statue.
Day tours from Naxos
If you do get a bit stir-crazy staying in one spot then there are lots of day tours leaving Naxos town each morning.
Full island bus tour
If you don’t want to rent a car or would like to learn more about the island then these bus tours are great. I’ve done one of these and really enjoyed the time I spent with our guide and the day covered lots of ground.
You can find out more about the island tour here.
Visit Mykonos and Delos for the day
If you’ve decided to visit rather than stay in magical Mykonos, then Naxos is well-placed for a day tour. You can choose to include Delos on a tour or just book a ferry and spend the day there.
Visit Paros for the day
A trip to Paros can be arranged without booking a tour. Just pop into one of the ticket sellers at the port and buy a return ticket to the island. It’s a very short trip and I think I paid 25 euros return.
You can rent a car on arrival if you remember to take your driver’s license or get a good deal by booking in advance online.
Take a tour to Santorini
If you are not staying in Santorini and don’t expect to return to Greece then a day in Santorini is probably something you should consider. I think it is something you should see if you are this close.
The best you can do if you don’t want to stay overnight is a 12-hour day tour. It’s a 3-hour ride each way, so you only end up for 6 hours in Santorini. I personally would prefer at least an overnight visit but if this is your only chance this tour is a great option.
Sailing around Naxos
There is no better way to spend a day in Greece than sailing around the islands. (Actually, seeing the Acropolis would be at least as good).
When you walk around the harbor in the late afternoon boats line the dock, their tour itineraries are displayed and the staff is ready to answer any questions you may have.
In the high season, it is better to book at least a few days in advance.
I really like this tour that explores a bunch of small Cyclades islands and Rina Cave which you can only get to from the sea.
Choosing where to stay in Naxos
If you don’t want to rent a car, I’d recommend staying in Agios Georgios which is the closest beach to the port. This will allow you to be within walking distance to dozens of restaurants and bars and have a lovely spot to swim or relax at the start and end of each day.
The beach is a bay really with a very long walk out to waist-high water making it very popular with families and local elderly people. Apart from July and August, there’s a good mix of locals and visitors here.
St George Hotel
If you travel a lot and occasionally need a budget-friendly option, a beach location like Agios Georgios is ideal. A perfect option is the St George Hotel, for its location and for value for money.
It is a small family-run hotel with a very helpful and friendly team. They present you with a lovely plate of homemade goodies on arrival and again during your stay.
The rooms are of course small, but they are very clean and comfortable.
Hotel Spiros – St Georges Beach
This 40-room family-owned hotel is right on the beach and offers recently renovated rooms, a deep swimming pool, and a small gym.
Both rooms and suites with a small kitchen area are available. This is a great property if you’re in Naxos for a few days and want to prepare a few easy meals yourself.
Nissaki Beach Hotel – St Georges Beach
If you are looking for something a little more glamorous, Nissaki Beach is the best option in St Georges Beach.
This 4-star hotel has a lovely pool, an onsite restaurant, room service, and Nespresso machines. So no more grumpy me in the mornings because I can be caffeinated as soon as I open my eyes!
Naxian on the Beach
If you dream of drinking cocktails on long white stretches of sand then this is probably going to make your dreams come true. The deluxe rooms have a view of the beach and a hot tub.
This is honeymoon or special occasion material (and my go-to ‘splurge’)
Where to eat and drink in Naxos
I’m yet to have a bad meal on Naxos. Agriculture is the island’s biggest industry and most of the food you eat is grown locally.
The local potatoes are supposed to be especially good, but really, just how amazing can a potato be?
Well, you’ll have to try them to believe me, but I take the opportunity to eat Naxos potatoes every day! They are soooooo good.
Potatoes and tomatoes are stand out sensational here.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Naxos Greece known for?
Naxos is known for its many sandy beaches, archaeological sites, and mountain villages. Naxos also has a farm-to-fork industry producing quality Naxos products, and since together with its walking and hiking trails, Naxos is an outdoor destination that is not overcrowded but known for its beauty.
Is Naxos very touristy?
Naxos tourism numbers have jumped significantly, much higher now than its pandemic numbers. Luckily, Naxos is too spread out to feel like other overcrowded Greek islands like Santorini and Mykonos in peak season. And while it doesn’t feel very touristy but there’s still enough going on for a lively nightlife scene.
Is Naxos better than Mykonos?
That depends entirely on the kind of holiday you’re looking for. If it’s a romantic or partying beach trip with luxury accommodations, and fantastic nightlife shopping opportunities, then Mykonos is perfect. If you’d prefer a week to explore an island, check out historical sites, hike, explore villages, and take day trips to other islands, Naxos is a fantastic option.
Is Naxos worth going to?
Absolutely, in fact, you can’t really know the Greek Cyclades islands without visiting Naxos. It is very different from the tourist gems of Santorini and Mykonos and it is possible here to feel what these other islands must have been like before being overdeveloped with tourism infrastructure. Naxos is an authentic Greek island, and as far as stunning Greek beaches go, Naxos is the real deal with its long stretches of golden sand.
How many days is enough for Naxos?
3 to 5 days
If your time is short on Naxos, it’s possible to take one day you hit the beaches like Plaka Beach and to explore Nachos Chora and the Portara, and another to tour the island, by car or on a full-day island bus tour. This is the bare minimum and another two days exploring the island’s historical sites and villages would be perfect. A fifth day would allow you to get out on the water and tour some of the nearby lesser Cyclades islands or Paros.
Is Naxos cheaper than Santorini?
Whilst almost all Greek islands are cheaper than the Cycladic superstar island of Santorini, Naxos is a cheaper island to visit than Santorini. It is in the heart of the Cycladic chain of islands and so it is an ideal base to hop to islands such as Santorini, Mykonos, Paros, and Milos on more affordable day trips. Accommodation on Santorini must be booked several months ahead and is considerably more expensive than Naxos, especially outside the main town of Chora.
Is Naxos a party island?
As night falls across the Cyclades islands, even in the quietest islands there is a good party scene with live music, nightclubs, and alfresco dining. Naxos is not a party island on the scale of Mykonos, but its size means that it has a good range of nightclubs in Chora that will keep you partying until 5 am in the morning!
How long is the ferry ride from Athens to Naxos?
There are two kinds of ferries plying the route between Athens and Naxos and so travel time depends upon the speed of the ferry. Direct high-speed ferries can take as little as 80 minutes from Rafina Port in Athens to Naxos Port. Conventional ferries can take an extra hour or two and all ferries are affected by bad sea conditions and high winds that can make the journey longer.
Can you get around Naxos without a car?
Public Buses (KTEL)
Like many of the Greek islands, the KTEL public transportation system is a great way to reach small and out-of-the-way villages, except in the height of the tourist season, when there may not be enough buses on the most popular routes. The public bus system in Naxos is cheap and Chora is the central bus terminal for the island.
Is Naxos or Paros more touristy?
Paros is a much smaller island than Naxos and is a popular day trip destination and so it feels more touristy and crowded than the much large Naxos with villages scattered along the coastline and in the mountains. Paros has a high standard of accommodation and restaurants and nightlife and so its prices are higher than those on Naxos island. Naxos island actually has more tourists and in the summer of 2022 was completely booked out.
Can you do a day trip from Santorini to Naxos?
In the summer months there are several return ferry crossings from Santorini to Naxos and so day trips are possible. Try to book a high-speed ferry to maximize your time on Naxos island. Ferries leave Santorini from Athinios Port beginning at 06.45 am and take about 90 minutes to speed you to Naxos Port. The number of ferry crossings depends on the month.
How far is Naxos from Athens by plane?
The distance between Athens and the major island of Naxos, situated at the heart of the Cyclades, is approximately 109 miles (176 km), and you can make the journey by ferry or by plane. The ferry is fun but the quickest way to get between Athens and Naxos is to fly.