Largest of the Cyclades, picture-perfect Naxos is my favourite Greek island. Ok, I’ve only been to four, but hear me out.
Naxos has something for everyone, from the adventurous traveller to the sun seekers. Those who like long hikes and small mountain towns will adore Naxos, and beach bums will find it equally appealing.
Chora, Naxos’ main town, is everything you dreamed a Greek town would be, all trailing flowers and alleyways.
There’s a lot to do, and you could easily spend a week or more exploring. At a minimum, stay for three days; you’ll regret staying for any less. While undoubtedly on the tourist trail Naxos has somehow escaped the mass tourism of neighbouring Santorini and Mykonos, and while I honestly don’t know how, that’s all to the good.
Dive straight into this ultimate guide to Naxos to discover what to see, do, eat and how much to budget. Trust me, friend, I have a feeling you’re going to love it.
WHEN TO GO
The best time to visit Naxos is from late May to October, when temperatures are warmer, ferries are more frequent, and there’s less rain. June to August are best for swimming but are also the busiest, so if you like smaller crowds aim for the shoulder seasons of May or September-October. If you’re planning on travelling in the off season check before you go as ferry services may be reduced.
Sail the island with Captain Panos
Did you even go to Greece if you didn’t sail the Greek islands?
It’s just something you’ve got to do, right? Though you could easily spend a week (or more) sailing the islands we chose to do a day trip with Captain Panos, a mid-range company that offers a selection of small group tours.
Honestly, it was one of the best experiences of the entire trip.
Captain Panos and his crew took us around Naxos and over to Koufonisia, a tiny island with the most insane turquoise water I’ve seen in my life. We got to explore Rina Cave, were treated to raki and ouzo, and were even joined by dolphins. Magic. I can’t promise the dolphins, but if you decide to do a day sail with Captain Panos I can (almost) guarantee you’ll have a really great time.
Rent a Quad Bike
Naxos is a big island, and there’s a lot to explore. The best way to get around? By renting a quad bike.
We stayed in Agia Anna, a 15 minute drive from Chora, and our guesthouse recommended renting a bike from Motonaxos. Prices start from €15 and overall the bikes were great quality – a lot easier to drive than the ones we had hired on Santorini.
A quad bike will give you the freedom to explore and allow you access to Naxos’ highlights. Drive up into the mountain towns to Apiranthos, Filoti and Chalki, or across the island to Moutsouna Beach for lunch. Spend your day hopping from beach to beach, and enjoy the feel of the wind in your hair as you zip along the coastal roads.
Renting a quad bike on Naxos is pretty safe, but be sensible and always wear a helmet.
Wander the pretty streets of Chora
On any good Greek island you’ll find a Chora brimming with charm and trailing flowers, and Naxos is no exception.
Sure, get out and explore the island. Visit the mountain towns and spend your days lazing on the beaches, but make sure to leave time to explore Chora. Topped by an impressive Venetian Castle, Chora is characterised by it’s Venetian and Cycladic architecture and maze-like streets. Head down to the marina to find an array of restaurants, taverns and cafes, and some great souvenir shops.
Admire the Ancient Portara
The ancient Portara is Naxos’ most iconic site. Connected to Chora by a small strip of land, the Portara is essentially an unfinished temple dating back to 530 BC. Today the huge marble gate is the only part of the structure still standing, but it remains an impressive site.
Though there’s nowhere near the crowds you’ll find in Oia, the Portara can get a little crowded at sunset. For the best lighting and fewer crowds go early in the morning, and take your time framing your shot of Naxos through the marble pillars.
Lunch at Moutsouna Beach
Unlike other Greek islands, Naxos has a plethora of beaches. And we’re talking proper beaches here; golden sand rather than rocks and pebbles. Take that, Santorini.
Ok, Moutsouna Beach isn’t the prettiest you’ll stumble across in your Naxos explorations, but it is worth a visit. I mean the drive alone is incredible, all sweeping views and dramatic scenery. When you get there you’ll find a charming harbour and small beach crowded with friendly Greek locals. Stay for lunch; The Net offers fresh seafood and it’s position right on the beach is the perfect place to enjoy an afternoon ouzo. But not if you’re driving, kids.
Be a beach bum on Kastraki Beach & Pyrgaki Beach
What did I tell you, friend? Naxos really does have it all. For a real deal white sand beach head to Kastraki or Pyrgaki, or both.
Kastraki Beach is located on Naxos’ west coast, about a half an hour quad bike ride from Agia Anna. This may just be the best beach on the island. With a long stretch of white sand and clear, warm turquoise water, Kastraki Beach is the perfect place to spend an afternoon. Even in the middle of summer you’ll likely have it to yourself, but go prepared as there are no umbrellas or sunbeds.
Further down the west coast Pyrgaki Beach is also lovely. The waves are warm and inviting, and if you’d prefer there are loungers you can relax on.
Explore the Mountain towns of Apiranthos, Filoti and Chalki
One of the absolute best things to do on Naxos is explore the island’s pretty mountain towns. Seriously, this island is so diverse. From Meditteraean Beaches to temperate mountain villages, the bustling marina of Chora to the countryside you’ll see as you zip around, the scenery on Naxos is stunning.
While you could easily spend a day (or a week, really) traversing Naxos’ mountain towns, one you shouldn’t miss is Apiranthos. Located 600m above sea level and surrounded by mountain ranges, it’s hard to believe that you are in fact on an island. While the town has five museums you can check out, the highlight is exploring Apiranthos’ architecture. Featuring stone towers, old churches and paved alleyways, Apiranthos really is a photographers dream.
One of the most visited of Naxos’ mountain towns is charming Filoti. Larger than neighbouring Apiranthos and Chalki, Filoti is characterised by it’s stunning whitewashed buildings, Byzantine churches and olive groves. For a great viewpoint of the town head up the hill towards the Cave of Zeus, the cave where, according to mythology, Zeus was born.
Chalki (also known as Halki) was once the capital of Naxos and today is a lovely town to spend the afternoon wandering. There’s not really too much to do here, but do make time to see two of Naxos’ oldest churches, the Church of Panagia and Panagia Protothroni. Time your visit to Chalki with lunch and grab a bite at Gianni’s Tavern. The smell of rotisserie meat wafting from a spit is enticing and the shade from the vine leaves is a welcome respite from the sun.
Didn’t I tell ya? Naxos has absolutely everything you could want in a Greek island holiday. Whatever you’re into – hiking, sunbathing, eating or exploring – Naxos has something for you. Spend at least a few days here. Trust me, you won’t want to leave.
Stay: We stayed at Polemis Studio & Apartments in Agia Anna. The hotel was perfectly located a 15 minute drive from Chora and was literally right on the shores of the beach. The hostess was lovely and super accommodating, and there are an array of great restaurants near by. We spent €70 per night on a private room with ensuite.