Ultimate Travel Guide to the Island of Naxos

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Featured image taken by @triptailorsgr on Instagram

Despite being the largest of the Cycladic islands, Naxos has managed to fly largely under the radar of many tourists, overshadowed by its more famous sisters Santorini, Paros and Mykonos. For those in the know, however, Naxos is an affordable and scenic vacation destination that may well offer the best value of the Cyclades.

Historically, Naxos was a cultural hub under Greek and Byzantine rule, and its architecture and archaeology are also interwoven with strong Frankish and Venetian influences, visible in the ancient ruins and relics on display in the island’s museums.

Like the rest of the Cyclades, the landscape of Naxos is dominated by the deep-blue Aegean Sea surrounding it, but the island is also crowned with mountainous territory that draws in abundant rain. As a result, Naxos is lusher, greener and more fertile than the other islands, producing crops of olives, grapes, figs, citrus, corn and potatoes.

Visitors to Naxos will experience a wide range of cultures and scenery: the imposing peak of Mt. Zas; pristine beaches; quaint rural villages; beautiful old churches; Venetian mansions; and cobblestone streets—just to name a few. No matter your taste, there’s literally something for everyone on this extraordinary island.

Best Time To Visit Naxos

Due in part to its varied landscape, the weather in Naxos can be downright unpredictable. A day can start out sunny and warm, and then suddenly turn overcast with a stiff wind that chills to the bone. The microclimate tends to be a little less volatile during the summer months, when temperatures are more consistent than other times of the year, but visitors should still prepare for all conditions.

  • Spring (March through May): This season offers mild temperatures that grow steadily warmer as summer gets closer. Average daily highs range from 60 to 77°F, with moderate humidity and occasional showers. Spring is the second-busiest season for tourism, meaning many attractions and restaurants will be up and running, but prices are still moderate.
  • Summer (June through August): This tourism “high season” delivers excellent weather, with minimal rain and an abundance of warm, sunny days perfect for relaxing on the beach, exploring the island or indulging in water sports. All shops, restaurants and other tourist sites will be fully operational, but you may pay a premium on expenses like lodging and transportation.
  • Fall (September through November): Warm weather extends throughout much of the fall in Naxos, with average daily highs ranging from 65 to 80°F. Tourism begins to slow down a bit, but prices will remain high at least through September.
  • Winter (December through February): While not ideal for swimming or sunbathing, winter in Naxos is fairly comfortable, with high temperatures rarely dipping below 55°F. However, you are much more likely to experience rain or even snow during the winter. These are the slowest months for tourism, and some businesses will shut down during this “off season.”

Places to Stay in Naxos

Unlike pricey Mykonos, hotel prices in Naxos are shockingly affordable, with some four- and five-star accommodations available for well under $200 per night. If you’re looking to cut costs, lodging is an easy way to do it; downgrading to a basic (but still perfectly comfortable) budget hotel can easily shave several hundred dollars from your trip’s total cost.

Cheap Hotels in Naxos

  • Hotel Adriani: Located in the Grotta neighborhood in Naxos town, this modern hotel is within walking distance of major landmarks such as the Old Port, Venetian Castle, Apollo’s Temple and the Old Market. Rooms are equipped with free Wi-Fi, TV and refrigerator. All rooms have their own terrace, balcony or patio, and the upper-floor rooms provide incredible views of the castle.
  • Hotel Grotta: Just a stone’s throw from the Greek Orthodox Cathedral and Venetian Museum, Hotel Grotta provides memorable Mediterranean hospitality in a relaxing setting. Rooms include flat-screen TV, air conditioning, free Wi-Fi and fridge, and the rooftop terrace and sparkling pool provide additional space to take in the sea breezes and colorful sunsets.
  • Hotel Spiros: This family-run facility is steps from stunning St. George Beach and nearly as close to the shops, tavernas and restaurants of Naxos town’s main square. With a traditional Cycladic exterior and plush interior, in-suite amenities include air conditioning, balcony or veranda, kitchenette, refrigerator, coffee maker, satellite TV and luxury mattresses.
  • Camara Hotel: Less than a quarter-mile from the white sands of popular Agios Prokopios beach, the Camara Hotel offers a quiet setting in a convenient location. Guests enjoy a daily breakfast buffet with local produce, free Wi-Fi, on-site car and bike rentals and a dazzling rooftop terrace. The air-conditioned rooms feature luxurious amenities like duck-feather pillows, mini bar, fridge, balcony or veranda and satellite TV.
  • Anatoli Hotel: This family-friendly hotel in Naxos town is ideal for enjoying the mild climate and sunny skies of Naxos, with a picnic area, sun terrace and pool among its amenities. Rooms include a minibar, refrigerator and free Wi-Fi as well as access to the free daily breakfast. For sightseeing and exploratory outings, the Old Town, Kastro and Portara neighborhoods are less than a mile away.

Mid-Range Hotels in Naxos

  • Galaxy Hotel: Conveniently located within walking distance of St. George Beach, the Galaxy Hotel was fully renovated earlier this year to offer a superior guest experience. Combining a classic Cycladic exterior with sleek, modern interior design, the hotel provides a quiet sanctuary that’s still quite close to Naxos town’s most popular attractions. Rooms offer a pool, garden or sea view and come with hydro-massage showers, fridges, free Wi-Fi and satellite TV.
  • Aeolos Villas and Suites: This tiny but lovely hillside complex is made of up two villas and a suite, so be sure to reserve your space well in advance. The grounds provide a tranquil area for relaxing, with a lush garden and tree-lined pond as well as a covered sitting area with traditional wood stove. Villas include private jacuzzi tubs, free Wi-Fi, daily housekeeping and a welcome gift of local organic wine and bottled water.
  • Naxos Resort: Each of the 88 rooms in the Naxos Resort Beach Hotel comes with garden, pool or sea views and a host of amenities, from free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TV to a refrigerator and private balcony or terrace. The property sits just off St. George Beach for an ideal location equally close to beachside activities and the sights of Naxos town.
  • Iria Beach Art Hotel: This sleek beachfront hotel features spectacular views of the brilliant blue Aegean Sea as well as an on-site restaurant, fitness center and hot tub. Breakfast is free, and guests will love the plush beds, modern bathrooms and elegant design in each room.
  • Alkyoni Beach Hotel: With splendid views of both the Aegean Sea and the nearby mountains, this comfortable hotel features an outdoor pool with bar, on-site restaurant and free breakfast for guests. With a broad range of room sizes and amenities, Alkyoni has accommodations to fit any group size and budget, all of which include a refrigerator, satellite TV and balcony or veranda.

Luxury Hotels in Naxos

  • Naxian Collection Luxury Villas and Suites: With a strong commitment to environmental responsibility, this contemporary luxury resort boasts pesticide-free gardens, energy-efficient lighting and appliances, solar water heaters and local, organic fare in its cafe. The property’s suites and villas offer indulgent amenities like private and semi-private pools, natural bath products, coffee machines and free Wi-Fi.
  • Kavos Boutique Hotel Naxos: Facing the beautiful shores of Agios Prokopios Beach, Kavos Boutique Hotel Naxos pairs comfortable luxury with impeccable service in a stylish setting. Take in the stunning poolside views while swinging in a hammock or reclining on an outdoor sofa before indulging in an excellent meal at the highly-rated Stelida Restaurant.
  • Virtu Suites: Also at Agios Prokopios Beach, the posh Virtu Suites delivers an exceptional direct view of the sea to each guest accommodation. On-site amenities include a sparkling pool, sauna, spa, café, beach bar and restaurant, while suites are outfitted with peaceful natural tones, sleek furniture and spacious, modern bathrooms.
  • Villa Marandi Luxury Suites: With 16 roomy suites just steps from the shore, Villa Marandi Luxury Suites is an excellent choice for couples and families. All rooms include shaded terraces or verandas, hydromassage showers, luxury toiletries, satellite TV, free Wi-Fi and minibar.
  • Nissaki Beach Hotel: With the distinction of being the only five-star hotel in Naxos town, the Nissaki Beach Hotel still manages to exceed expectations. Guests need not go far to enjoy a memorable meal thanks to the acclaimed seaside restaurant located on the property. High ceilings and blond-wood accents give the rooms a light-filled, airy feel, while the private terraces offer a lovely spot to enjoy the sea breezes and spectacular sunsets.

How Long to Stay in Naxos

As the largest island in the Cyclades, Naxos offers plenty for visitors to see and do. You can easily fill a week here with beach visits, tours, short road trips and sightseeing around Naxos town. Best of all, Naxos is one of the most affordable Greek islands, meaning you can extend your stay without spending a fortune. If you’d like to explore some of the other Cyclades, such as Mykonos and Santorini, you can hop a ferry for an easy day trip and then return to Naxos for the night.

Getting Around Naxos

Rent a Car

Given the size of the island, renting a car is the best option for maximum freedom and flexibility. Most hotels include free parking for their guests, and having access to your own vehicle will allow you to set your own schedule and itinerary. The villages of Naxos are also relatively spread out, so unless you plan to spend most of your time in Naxos town’s city center, walking to your destination isn’t an option.

The website RentalCars.com is an excellent resource for finding the best deals and the largest selection of vehicles. Economy cars rent for $30 per day on average, but prices fluctuate based on season and availability. If you require an automatic transmission, be sure to specify that when you reserve your vehicle, since they are often in short supply.

Take the Bus

The public bus system in Naxos is fairly robust, with routes running between Naxos town and major villages and beaches several times daily. If you’re visiting during the summer, buses run more frequently, making this a good transportation option for popular destinations. It’s also extremely affordable at $3 to $5 one way, and you won’t have to worry about fighting traffic or getting lost.

Catch a Taxi

Taxis are in abundant supply on Naxos, especially near the port, airport and Naxos town center. However, this mode of transport can be expensive, with one-way fares between the port and nearby beaches averaging $15 or more.

Things to Do in Naxos

Stroll the streets of Naxos town

The town center is likely close to wherever you are staying, so exploring this charming capital city should be at the top of your to-do list. Browse through artisan-crafted goods in the local shops, discover tiny tavernas and bars and marvel at the classic whitewashed Cycladian architecture accented by bright blue trim and colorful flowers.

Explore the villages

Make time to venture beyond the main city to the unique small villages throughout the island. In Melanes, you’ll see one of the island’s oldest settlements, with staircases and homes built right into the mountain slopes. Chalki, the former capital of Naxos, juxtaposes neoclassical structures with more traditional, rustic buildings; it’s also home to the former Vallindras Distillery, where the island’s signature liqueur, Kitron, was previously produced. In the center of Naxos, you’ll find the mountain village Apeiranthos, featuring five museums and imposing marble houses.

Hike Mount Zas

Mount Zas is the tallest peak in the Cyclades at nearly 3,300 feet (1,004 meters). Set your alarm early to tackle this challenging but very doable hike and you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of Naxos and several neighboring islands.

Go back in time

Naxos is rich in ancient history, with dozens of ruins and landmarks dating back as far as the 6th century BC. Must-see attractions include Portara, a towering marble gate that scholars theorize was once the entrance to the temple of Apollo; the remarkably well-preserved Venetian Castle in Old Town Naxos; the marble Temple of Demeter near the village of Sangri; the Byzantine Monastery of Fotodotis in the village of Filoti; and the toppled statues of Kouros in the villages of Melanes and Apollonas.

Get sporty on the water

The summer meltemi winds that make sister island Paros the wind sport capital of the world also blow through Naxos, making it one of the most popular windsurfing and kitesurfing spots in Greece. For wind surfing adventures, visit the beaches of Agios Georgios, Agios Prokopios and Plaka, where equipment rentals and instructors are plentiful. To try your luck at kitesurfing, visit the Flisvos surf center in Mikri Vigla, the best kitesurfing spot in Naxos.

Sail away on a guided tour

Multiple companies, including Xanemo Sailing and Naxos Sailing Tours, offer group and private sailing excursions to Paros, Delos and the Small Cyclades, making for a memorable day trip spent gliding along the turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea.

Take a dive

Naxos is a prime diving destination due to its proximity to fertile reefs, small islets and fascinating shipwrecks as well as the rocky formations and caves found beneath the surface of the crystal-clear Aegean. Most diving centers are located on the western coast and offer equipment rental, instruction for all skill levels and group trips to nearby destinations.

Saddle up

Horseback riding in Naxos has surged in popularity in recent years, with sunset rides and tours of the countryside offering a different perspective of the island. Group and private rides take riders past ancient ruins, Venetian mansions, rolling hills and pristine beaches.

Attend a festival

Naxos hosts several major festivals throughout the course of the year; if your trip happens to coincide with one, don’t miss it! The mid-August Axia Music Festival in Halki features live classical music and poetry readings; the Dionysia Festival celebrates the Greek god Dionysus with concerts, theatrical performances, art exhibits and a wine feast in September; the Naxos Summer Festival at Bazeos Tower has brought Greek and global artists to Naxos town for more than 20 years; and the Rakee Distillery Festival in September honors rakee and kitron, the island’s traditional beverages.

Catch a movie under the stars

Open-air cinemas are popular throughout the Cyclades, and the experience at Cine Naxos is one you won’t soon forget. Every evening, the theater opens to show recent releases and classic movies under the stars. Enjoy a cold beer or glass of wine alongside your popcorn as you take in the fresh sea air and the latest blockbuster.

Best Locations for Sunset in Naxos

The sunset is spectacular from nearly any location on Naxos, but a few places provide an especially extraordinary viewing experience. Consider visiting one of the locations below, but be sure to get there early to stake out your spot ahead of the crowds:

  • Portara, just outside Naxos town
  • Rotonda restaurant in Apiranthos
  • Windmills in Vivlos
  • Venetian Castle in Naxos town
  • Mikri Vigla Beach

Places to Eat in Naxos

Most dining establishments in Naxos have a Mediterranean flair with a heavy focus on locally-grown produce and fresh seafood.

Best Breakfast in Naxos

  • Melimilon: This cute café offers outdoor seating in a lovely garden along with simple farm-to-table fare. Try the omelet with locally-sourced cheese and meat, stuffed challah bread and homemade jams and marmalades.
  • Padelis Coffee Shop: Don’t miss the traditional loukoumades (Greek doughnuts) topped with cinnamon, sugar and honey. The waffles, smoothies and sweet and savory crepes are also top-notch, as is the friendly service.

Best Lunch in Naxos

  • Kontos: For more than three decades, Kontos restaurant and bar has been a mainstay of the Naxos dining scene. Located at Mikri Vigla beach, the restaurant serves up incredible waterfront views alongside fresh local fare. Most of the produce served at the restaurant—along with the chicken, rabbit and lamb—are raised in the owner’s private fields nearby. Lamb chops, moussaka and grilled octopus are just a few of the menu’s highlights.
  • To Spitiko: This humble storefront is known for serving the best gyros in Naxos town, as well as tender, juicy grilled meats and fresh sides.

Best Dinner in Naxos

  • Flamingo: With its panoramic view of the harbor, Flamingo is a family-operated restaurant offering breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. The menu focuses on traditional Greek dishes as well as local and international wines. A robust kids’ menu and multiple vegetarian options ensure that every diner leaves full and happy.
  • Barozzi Restaurant & Cocktail Bar: This high-end restaurant is a relative newcomer to the Naxos culinary scene, having opened its doors in July 2017, but it has already made a splash with both visitors and locals. Its creative take on Aegean and Mediterranean cuisine includes dishes like sea bass marinated in watermelon and lime juice; risotto with whipped feta cream, roasted cherry tomatoes, peppers and spearmint chips; and slow-cooked pork collar with Naxos sweet potatoes, peaches and green olives.

Best Dessert in Naxos

  • Dolce Vita: This charming café is located in Halki, a village in the mountains of central Naxos. It’s a perfect spot to reinvigorate yourself after a morning of hiking or sightseeing, with freshly-brewed coffee and espresso drinks and decadent pastries. Perfectly flaky baklava, fudgy brownies and cool orange pie are just a few of the standouts on the dessert lineup.
  • Gelateria Milkato: For a cold, creamy treat, plan a stop at Gelateria Milkato, where visitors can watch the ice cream being churned from fresh Naxian milk. Flavors range from the classic (chocolate and vanilla) to the creative (“Lila Pause,” which combines strawberries, chunks of milk and white chocolate and cereal bits). Other offerings include waffles (a delicious foundation for ice cream) as well as sorbets, smoothies and juices.

Top Photo Spots in Naxos

  • Portara: This 26-foot-high marble “doorway to nowhere” is thought to have been the entry to an unfinished temple dating back more than 2,500 years; now, it’s the island’s most famous landmark.
  • Venetian Castle: Rising over Old Town Naxos is this 13th-century citadel built by a Venetian Duke.
  • Agios Prokopios Beach: Deep blue waters and soft golden sands make this one of the island’s most photogenic (and crowded) beaches.
  • The Kouros of Apollonas: This unfinished 80-ton marble statue of a nude male is believed to have been abandoned around 600 B.C.; it now lies in an ancient quarry near Apollanas.
  • Old Town: The Kastro neighborhood in Old Town Naxos is an enchanting maze of narrow alleys, stone stairways and classic Cycladic homes with whitewashed walls and deep blue trim.
  • Apeiranthos: This quaint, hilly village in central Naxos is surrounded by mountainous peaks, including the imposing Mount Zas. The tree-lined cobblestone streets are too narrow for cars, so visitors get to park just outside the village and explore it on foot.
  • Halki: This lush agricultural village is known for its abundant crops, including olives, vegetables and the island’s signature fruit, the citron.
  • Filoti: This highly-populated village has largely maintained its traditional appearance and culture, and its large churches and classic Cycladian homes provide wonderful photo opportunities for architecture and design buffs.
  • Alyko Beach: This relatively isolated peninsula has escaped nearly all commercial development, creating a natural refuge for natives and visitors alike. The rocky cape and sandy dunes are surrounded by thick cedar forests.
  • Panagia Drosiani Church: This ancient Byzantine church is stunning inside and out, with its three apses, dome and classic Italian campanile surrounding intricately-painted interior walls featuring scenes from the New Testament.

Final Thoughts

While it’s often overlooked in favor of the glitz and glamour of Mykonos and Santorini, Naxos is an incredible Aegean destination in its own right. Visitors will experience the same gorgeous sunsets, beautiful beaches, distinctive architecture and rich history as they would on the other Cycladic islands, but Naxos also delivers top-notch hiking and diverse local cultures—all at an affordable price point that’s hard to beat.

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