Naxos Greece is the largest island in the Cyclades island group. She is part of the same group that includes Mykonos, Paros, Milos, Santorini and others. Naxos is a beautiful, lush island that offers great local cuisine, ample city life, culture, quaint villages and plenty of beautiful beaches. If you’re wondering what to do in Naxos Greece, there’s plenty to keep you busy and I was quite surprised.
This was actually my first time to Naxos, so I didn’t know what to expect. I flew into Mykonos, but only spent the night because I was keen to do some island hopping. I started with 3 nights on Naxos to get a feel. Plus I heard there were some amazing beaches on Naxos island. I’m a sucker for a beach off the beaten path! And this is definitely one of the best Greek islands to visit, in my opinion.
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In September, you get the Meltimi winds, which are a bizarre wind pattern that sweeps from the outside of the Greek islands and then straight up the center of the islands. When I landed, and I was lucky to land, the Meltimi was in full force. In fact there was a flight before us that decided to revert back to Athens because they simply couldn’t land.
This wasn’t necessarily a problem except that the Meltimi winds also affect the seas. Many of the ferries were cancelled and the ferry terminal in Mykonos was bedlam. Loads of travelers were stuck waiting to see if their boat, any boat, was going in the direction they’d hoped. Luckily, I had only one chance to get off Mykonos and I did. I was glad I did because they actually shut the ports for the next 2 days. Thank you, Greek Gods!
Greek Island Hopping
When I island hop, or when I travel, I usually use the 3-night rule. I arrive and get the lay of the land, then, the next day I take an organized tour of some sort. The following day I decide whether I’m going to move on, or stay a few extra days.
With Naxos, I planned 3 nights around the port area, but after one night, I knew it was an island I wanted to discover more. After all, I needed to see the amazing beaches everyone was raving about. I ended up booking another 2 nights at the beach, left to do more island hopping, then returned to Naxos to spend more time at the beach. This is one island I will definitely return to for a variety of reasons.
Explore Chora, Naxos Town
Some people scoff at the thought of staying near the port town. I enjoy the thought of getting off the boat and seeing what you can see. I had no intentions of renting a car, so I’m either on foot or via local transport.
I can strongly suggest Naxos’ port town, as well as Paros’, Rhodes’, Kos’ and many of them. The two port towns I didn’t like were Mytilene, Lesbos, which is quite industrial and isolated, and Milos’, which was just boring. Even Mykonos’ New Port isn’t anything to write home about. They created a new port further down from the old one to accommodate all the cruise ships the island receives.
Go ahead and situate yourself in Naxos town, or Chora, for a few days to explore the town and get your bearings. You can use Chora as a base to explore more of the island, or move along and stay in a different village for a different experience.
Check here for great hotel prices on Naxos Island Greece
Temple of Apollo
As soon as you arrive in the port of Naxos you are in Chora, the island’s port town. Just to the west of the ferry terminal, you’ll see the impressive Temple of Apollo, or the Portara – the grand gate. It was once the entrance of an unfinished temple from 530 BC. Now it’s a lovely ruin that you can admire upclose.
You can’t miss it because you see flocks of people heading there all day long. It gets particularly busy at night when tourists head up there to try and position their cameras just right to snap the sunset behind the pillars.
Stroll the seafront
Chora has a pleasant seafront to stroll, filled with lively cafes, bar and restaurants. You can get anything there to eat or drink, or just sit and watch the world go by listening to the sounds of the sea. Depending on the season, a few places had screens set up to watch a football or soccer match, but it was nothing like Milos was.
Sift through the shops just off the seafront
Just off the seafront, there are a number of small alleys heading away from the water. Head up there to discover the many shops intertwined in the unique Greek architecture. There are so many cute shops, restaurants and hidden nooks worth discovering. You can find some great authentic Greek gifts there.
Head up to Old town and admire the Venetian Castle
Naxos had its share of invaders and settlers, and testament are the ruins of the old town and the Venetian castle, or Kastor, high above the village.
The castle was built on the ruins of the old acropolis, and the old village was built on the ruins of the ancient town of Kallipolis. The Rocca-Barozzi family now owns the iconic castle and transformed it into a museum to share her history with folks.
Unfortunately, the museum is now closed due to a family feud, but you can certainly admire the exterior and the surrounding grounds. Originally there were 7 towers and all that remains is one. It’s a steep climb up, but well worth it.
During the month of September, the Domus Festival is held in the castle. However, this year it was in the courtyard of the adjacent Catholic church – until the family feud is settled…. There is live music, movies, and traditional dance and music nightly.
Catch a Greek-themed Film
Near to Chora you can see films at Cine Naxos, an open air and enclosed cinema showing worldwide premiers. The local bus stops there. You can also catch films at the Domus Festival.
If you happen to be staying in the beach area of Agios Prokopios, head to the Art Cafe for the Prokopios Arts Festival where you can hear live music, see Greek-themed films, like Mamma Mia, Zorba the Greek, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Films are in English with Greek subtitles. I loved this place and saw a couple of films while I was there.
It’s a great place just on the outskirts of town. A ticket costs €10/$11 and it gets you a movie and a free drink, plus some snacks. They also have live music. It’s a great place to go after dinner. Movies start at 8 and music nights are at 9pm.
Take a Bus Tour of the Inner Island
At the Naxos bus station by the port, you can book two tours to see the inner landscape of Naxos. There is the Blue Route and the Green Route. I did the Blue route because of the day I wanted to go. It was a great tour that took the entire day.
We stopped first at the Ancient temple of Demeter, near the village of Sangri, which is a sanctuary to the goddess of grain and agriculture. It’s from the 6th century BC. Naxos is a fertile island and they grow lots of crops there, particularly in the center. The potato is one of the most known!
A Stop in the Village of Halki
We then stopped at the village of Halki, which used to be a sizable village of about 1400 people before folks emigrated. Now there’s a rough permanent population of about 700. They had the most amazing smells from the grilled meats wafting through the air! There are a few places to stay and it’s a great place for an overnight stay to get the feel of Greek village life.
The Village of Apiranthos
Then we went to Apiranthos – the Marble Village and stopped for coffee and a snoop around. The buildings are made of marble, the streets are made of marble. Marble is everywhere.
Apollanas Bay for Lunch
Then off to the northern part of Naxos to Apollonas Bay for a lunch break. This is not a large village and I was happy to stop for lunch, but it’s not a place I’d want to stay. It’s great if you are going as a couple and you want quiet and to chill by the beach areas, but it felt a bit stranded. Plus being in the north, the winds are quite strong.
Just beyond Apollonas, you find the sculpture of Colossus of Dionysus, who was a God of Wine. Just my kind of God. He lays where he was found and is from the 8th century BC.
Eggares Olive Factory
Our last stop was at the Eggares Olive press to learn about the ancient olive oil process and to sample and buy varieties of olives. www.olivemuseum.com.
The other bus route takes you to the Temple of Demitras, a stop in Filoti, which is the largest village on the island and in the Cyclades, a stop at a different Olive oil factory and pottery workshop. Then there’s a stop at Pyrgaki for a swim before heading back to Chora along the western sea side.
Their tours are super and their bus drivers even more amazing because some of the routes are nail biting. Highly recommend these tours. One tour is $26 and if you book a second, you get 10% off the second one. Well worth it. Here’s the route I took for the day.
Tour the island on your own
Whether you go by tour bus, local bus or car, the little villages are well worth a visit. The local buses go every couple of hours, but keep an eye on the bus schedule. The schedule is easy to follow, but they can be busy or the bus can be completely full when you want to return. We left a group of people standing at the stop in Halki at 5pm, so I’m not sure if they send another bus up, or what happens to those folks.
I took the bus to Filoti on my own because I wanted to see it, and it’s worth snooping around for a few hours. While it’s the largest village in the Cyclades, it’s not that big to wander around. It’s steep in parts, but lovely.
Most people dined in the main square which is leafy and cool, and it’s where the bus drops you off. It’s really beautiful there, but I was freaked out by the bees. I know they are not a problem and I love the honey they produce, but they really wanted to sniff around my meal, which was annoying. Any one who knows me knows how I react around bees.
One thing the restaurant did was put coffee grounds in a cup and set them on fire. Not sure how they did it, but it creates a smoldering natural repellant for the bees and we were all happy.
Best Beaches on Naxos
You will find some of the best beaches in Greece on Naxos. For a few days I stayed in the Agios Prokopios area, and while that beach is lovely, you have Agios Anna, Maragas Beach and Plaka Beach all within the same area.
I took the day to walk all of them and they are amazing beaches with fine sand, clear waters and slight inclines so they are great beaches if you want to linger in the water.
The beaches in that area are clothing optional and this was a bit weird for me. To each their own, but these are amazing stretches of organized beaches where you can spend the entire day with beach restaurants who will cater to you just above you on the side road.
Where I stayed on Naxos Island
I found some great hotels on Naxos and one I even came back and booked again.
I had a great studio at Hotel Francesca in the Agios Prokopios area that I highly recommend. Francesca is the owner and she’s there every day.
The room is a full studio so you have cooking facilities, there’s a good sized bath, living area and you have a private terrace. Plus the hotel offers breakfast if you want, and they have a nice pool if you prefer that. I paid around $47 a night the first booking and $40 for the second booking. Steal of a deal. You can book Hotel Francesca here.
It’s a couple blocks from the beach, restaurants, bars, but it’s quiet at night. Great place to stay.
Naxos is a great island to spend a few days or a few weeks. There are plenty of things to do on Naxos Greece for those who want history, culture, cuisine, art, film – you name it. It’s a gem in the Cyclades of Greece and I will definitely be back for more.