If you don’t feel like walking through the crowded streets of Santorini and have enough of paparazzi in Mykonos, but still dream of a true atmosphere of Cyclades, Naxos is a great choice. Spectacular mountain views, white-washed houses, tiny streets, some of Europe’s most beautiful beaches… Sounds like a perfect holiday, right? What are the best things to do in Naxos then?
Let’s talk about Mykonos and Santorini…
Just a bit of explanation. We have nothing against Santorini and Mykonos, both islands are beautiful. However, I have the impression that they have become somehow the victims of their own success. Maybe because of the social media? Thousands of tourists travel across the world to add a pic on Instagram with the famous sunset in Oia. Mykonos has become a place where “you just must be” if you’re famous (or pretending to be). Both islands are also flooded with tourists from big cruise ships. They disembark for a few hours, don’t spend much money on the island (I’m not talking about the port charges), they just take the bus from one place to another to “tick off” the most famous landmarks and come back. I have the impression that especially these small islands just got “clogged”.
When I first visited Mykonos 7 years ago, it was the island of young party people, mostly students. This year we have been there for the third time, just for one day, due to ferry transfers. And if you are a Russian oligarch, aspiring celebrity, trying to be the insta-famous or an Arabian sheik, you will feel like home. But if you plan to visit Mykonos to feel the real Greek atmosphere, you will be disappointed.
Why should you visit Naxos instead?
What is happening now in Mykonos is simply ridiculous… Camels on the beach brought especially for the sheik from the Middle East, who was missing these animals. Another sheik, who ordered to light a huge fire in the middle of the beach, so his wives could sit around it like traditionally in the desert. People walking on the roofs of churches to make a better picture for Instagram. Frappe for 6 EUR in a regular, not fancy at all, cafe (normally max 2.5 EUR, usually less…). A piece of baklava in a bakery for 9 EUR (normally max EUR 3). As you can see, the island has become very touristy and is focused on attracting rich and famous mostly or these pretending to be. Fortunately, there is Naxos!
|Tip: How to get to Naxos? The island has its own airport, but only very small Olympic Air planes fly directly from and to Athens. However, there are frequent ferries, both from Athens and other Cycladic islands, so you may be more flexible. If you are looking for the perfect accommodation, be sure to check out our post about Naxos Rock Villas.|
Naxos is the largest island of the Cyclades archipelago, located roughly halfway between Mykonos and Santorini. It is very mountainous, so if you want to explore, I recommend to rent a car instead of a scooter. We fell in love with this place at first sight. Small, traditional marble villages in the mountains, gorgeous handicrafts, golden sand beaches, spectacular mountain panorama… You should definitely check all these amazing things to do in Naxos.
|Tip: Naxos is famous for marble, wine and… potatoes – especially fried ones. This year the islanders set a Guinness World Record during a potato feast – they ate 544 kilos of French fries 🙂 You must definitely try them (not exactly to beat the record, though!).|
10 absolutely fabulous things to do in Naxos
1. Hora – the main city of Naxos
We fell in love with Hora (also called Naxos town) at first sight, and in fact, we spent at least a few hours every day exploring. It has everything for what hundreds of tourists love Greece besides… tourists. It is the main city of the island, with a port, where ferries arrive. Narrow paths lead between white-washed houses on the hillside, where you will find local handicraft shops, mostly with unique artistic jewelry. Charming spots, lazy cats, pink bougainvillea flowers, blue doors, and Greeks slowly drinking coffee in numerous cafes and restaurants. It seems that the island resisted commercialism in the form of Gucci boutiques and preserved its true character.
If you are tired of wandering in the streets, go to the waterfront and sit in one of the cafes at the port. Definitely, take a look around the 13th-century Venetian castle Kastro, and visit the 1739 cafeteria on the terrace. Strong coffee and a unique sunset view guaranteed!
|Tip: In Hora, we also went to… the summer outdoor cinema under the stars. Movies are in English with Greek subtitles. There is even a toilet break during the show! Beware of cats running in front of the screen 😉 Definitely check out Cinenaxos!|
2. Portara – the symbol of Naxos
Portara is the symbol of the island and visiting this archeological site is one of the most spectacular things to do in Naxos. If you come to Naxos by ferry, you will see it at the entrance to the port. The marble door frame is, in fact, an unfinished Apollo temple. It is located on a small promontory, overlooking the island of Delos, the mythological birthplace of Apollo and his sister Artemis. I especially recommended visiting Portara for sunrise or sunset.
3. Agios Prokopios – the best beach in Naxos
Relaxing on the beach is definitely one of the top things to do in Naxos and you Agios Prokopios should be your first choice. Not only is the island’s most beautiful beach, but is also considered as one of the nicest in Europe. When we visited it for the first time, we instantly felt as if relaxing by the Caribbean Sea. Turquoise, extremely clear water, golden sand… however, no palm trees. This is by far the most beautiful beach in Greece I have ever seen. Perfect for spending all day here – there are lots of taverns and cafes nearby.
|Tip: Lovers of horseback riding and windsurfing should visit the closest beach to Hora – Agios Georgios. The southern part is very shallow and suitable for beginners in water sports. It’s also popular spot to ride a horse.|
4. Melanes, Halki, Apiranthos, Filoti – a lovely inland
What else to see in Naxos? Small, traditional Cycladic villages, hidden in the middle of the island. If you don’t want to go to the beach, go to inland, in the region called Tragarea. It has a green landscape, very unique to the Cyclades, with scattered clusters of white houses. These are traditional villages, which are worth paying a visit though.
Melanes is a place where time stopped – with houses located on the slopes of the mountain and streets with countless steps. Look out for the famous restaurant O Vasilis, which only serves what owners bred in the garden and in the field. Halki is a former capital of the island, where you can still see the traces of old glory. Apiranthos is a traditional village, famous for its ubiquitous marble look – buildings, stairs, sidewalks… As Zina, the owner of Naxos Rock Villas, told us, the inhabitants of this village are former immigrants from Crete, still very proud, decisive people, very conservative. Filoti is an ideal starting point to see…
5. Cave & Mount of Zeus – for outdoor lovers
In Naxos, you’ll find the highest peak of Cyclades, Mount Zeus (here called Zas), with a not very impressive height of 1004 m. We didn’t get to the top, but we visited the cave on the slopes… The cave of Zeus, of course. It’s here where the little Zeus hid from the wrath of his father Cronus, who would willingly eat him. At least, according to mythology. Sounds familiar? Yes, exactly the same story is linked with one of the caves in Crete we also visited. Differences? The one in Naxos is definitely more difficult to access and is also much more modest. But the views from above are breathtaking.
6. Rotonda – a unique restaurant
Although I’m planning another post with restaurant recommendations, Rotonda cafe & restaurant itself is an attraction. It’s situated next to the road leading to Apiranthos and you simply can’t miss it. You may adore such views straight from the terrace… On the left, there is also a small church and the goats and sheep run freely up and down the hill nearby. Couldn’t be more Greek!
7. Kouros – marble giants
Naxos is famous for its marble. If you visit the interior, on some hills you may notice the characteristic large patches of this stone – this is where marble is mined. The mountains look like someone cut them with a knife! Marble was mined on the island in ancient times as well, the kouros, large marble statues being the proof. You may find one of them in Flerio and the other in Apollonas, in the north. The archeologists suppose that these giants were broken during transport, so were just left in the middle of nothing. We saw only the one in Flerio and, contrary to appearances, it’s actually quite difficult to find. Kouros just lies underneath the trees.
8. Temple of Demeter – an archeological site
A bit off the beaten track, near the village of Sangri, you will find the Temple of Demeter. Why should you go here? Archeologists believe that the temple was built with the same hands as the famous Parthenon in the Acropolis in Athens. A fascinating place for history lovers.
9. Aliko – a juniper forest
Juniper is protected in Naxos, not only because this tree has been considered sacred by the locals since ancient times. You can usually see small bushes by the beaches but the largest juniper forest is located in the south of the island, near Aliko. We went there in search of the forest but ended up relaxing on the nearby beach. The tiny bays without names hide true gems. There are no sun loungers or taverns, but the water is perhaps even more beautiful than in Agios Prokopios beach. Stop here for a minute to enjoy the awe-inspiring view of the Aegean Sea from the cliff. You will also easily notice the so-called small Cyclades – Donousa, Koufonisi, Iraklia and Schinousa islands.
10. Rina Cave – a sea cave
Available only by boat. Rina Cave is considered as the most beautiful sea cave on the island. If you aren’t afraid of bats that also like this place, you can boldly swim inside Rina cave. Usually, tours here are combined either with trips to one of the small Cyclades islands or to the Kalados Bay, famous for its turquoise waters. We really wanted to go on a cruise, unfortunately, throughout our stay, it was too windy and all trips were canceled. Maybe you’ll have more luck? 🙂
Any other recommendation about things to do in Naxos?