For this insider guide article, we chatted with Donny from My Greece Travel Blog to discover his insider tips on visiting Naxos, one of the many islands he has explored and written about in his in-depth guides.
Donny has long held a passion for Greece and all things Greek – if you don’t believe us, check out any of the 25,000 photos he’s shared on his Flickr account. You’ll also find him regularly contributing to TripAdvisor’s Greece Travel Forum as an expert, in between updating his own blog, of course.
His love of Greece meant he had plenty of insider information to share with us on Naxos, which you can find below.
Firstly, I know Naxos is actually the largest of the Cyclades islands in Greece, yet is nowhere as popular with holidaymakers as islands like Santorini and Mykonos. Why would you say holidaymakers should visit Naxos over other major Greek islands?
To experience fabulous Greek island scenery, beaches, food and hospitality without having to battle big crowds or pay high prices!
Mykonos and Santorini are enormously popular, in large part, because they’re so easy to reach. They are top ports of call on many Mediterranean cruise itineraries, and both have international airports that receive dozens of flights daily.
Together, the cruises and flights bring thousands of passengers to Mykonos and Santorini every day during the summer – on some days, more than 10,000 people arrive at Santorini on cruise ships alone.
But Naxos doesn’t accept the mega-sized liners into its port, and it has just a tiny domestic airport where only propeller-driven planes can land. Since life moves at a gentler pace on Naxos, it has retained its traditional and authentic character, and has a more casual, laid-back atmosphere.
It’s also significantly less expensive to visit. Naxos offers a diverse range of attractions and activities at good value, particularly if you’re travelling on a budget.
You won’t feel like you are constantly being squeezed and gouged in a ‘tourist trap’ here – prices for just about everything are surprisingly reasonable and affordable. Many island-hopping travellers are shocked when they get to Naxos and see how cheap meals and accommodation are!
If a holidaymaker only has a few days on the island, what would you say is one thing he or she absolutely shouldn’t miss the chance to see and do in Naxos?
Since it’s so big, Naxos can easily keep visitors entertained for a week or fortnight or even longer. But if you don’t have that much time available, aim to spend at least three full days and nights on Naxos. This is sufficient to comfortably explore what I think are the island’s top three ‘must see/must do’ features.
First is the port town, Chora, better known as Naxos Town. It has a bustling harbour-front promenade lined with dozens of stores, cafes and restaurants. Not to mention an Old Market district with cozy bars, coffee shops, stores and galleries nestled in a warren of narrow lanes.
You can also expect an imposing castle which towers above the town. And St George’s beach, a long strand boasting soft brown sand and shallow clean waters – ideal for families with small children.
A short stroll from Chora’s harbour front is the Temple of Apollo monument. Also known as the Portara, this giant marble door frame is all that remains of a temple which was only partially constructed centuries ago.
Since it’s on a hilltop overlooking the sea, it’s one of the best places on Naxos to watch a sunset, and to enjoy terrific views of Naxos Town.
The second must-see is one or more of the beautiful sandy beaches that extend, like a long chain, down the island’s western coast. Some, like Agios Prokopios and Agia Anna, have organized sections with rental sunbeds and umbrellas, as well as tavernas and bars close by.
At others, like Plaka, you’ll find some spots with sunbeds and restaurants nearby, but also incredibly long stretches of wide-open space and big dunes topped with tall grasses.
All that space, and sand stretching for miles, are what draw many beachgoers to Naxos. St George’s and Mikri Vigla beaches also offer sailing, kayaking, windsurfing, kitesurfing and other watersports.
The third ‘must do’ is to visit one of the charming inland villages, including Chalki, and the picturesque mountain villages of Filoti, Apeiranthos and Koronos – no visit to the island would be complete without spending some time in at least one of them.
As a tourist, it’s hard to escape eating at all the obvious places, which lesser-known restaurants do the locals – or you – love in Naxos when it comes to dining out?
Two places I like to recommend off the main tourist track are at Mikri Vigla on the west coast. Kontos Taverna has views of the kitesurfing beach on the north side of Cape Mikri Vigla, and serves delicious dishes prepared from ingredients grown and raised on their own farms.
Mikri Vigla Taverna, which is situated on the less windy south side of the Cape, also serves excellent traditional Greek cuisine. If you don’t want to travel that far, Paradiso Taverna at Maragas is a great spot for delicious food and it has tables right on the beach.
One place I haven’t yet tried – but really want to – is Taverna Platsa Matina & Stavros in Koronos. Friends and regular Naxos visitors have been telling me for years that they consider it one of the best restaurants on the island.
Obviously places like Athens are packed with Grecian history, but what sites does Naxos offer that might appeal to holidaymakers?
Athens is blessed with a wealth of monuments, ancient ruins and historic buildings right in its city center, so visitors can see dozens of important sites and attractions within a relatively compact and walkable area.
On Naxos, the many noteworthy monuments include ancient towers, Byzantine churches, cave churches, temples, monasteries and three giant stone Kouros sculptures, but these are scattered around the island.
Some are accessible by bus, but many are awkward to reach if you don’t have your own transportation. But there are plenty to see if you don’t mind making the effort to get to them.
For visitors spending more than just a few days on Naxos, there’s always the option to take a day excursion to Delos island, which is one of the most important and extensive archaeological sites in Greece.
The tours are offered three days a week and include port time on Mykonos on the way back to Naxos.
Culturally, are there any places or events you’d recommend to really immerse yourself in the local culture?
From spring through early fall, music and dance presentations are held in an open-air performance venue at the castle in Naxos Town, while art exhibitions are frequently hosted in other parts of the castle.
Each summer since 2001, The Bazeos Tower has been hosting the Naxos Festival, an extensive cultural program featuring Greek and international artists and performers.
Scheduled events include art shows, music and dance recitals, literature readings and musical group performances. The tower is a former monastery dating to the 17th century, and is located about 12 kilometres from Naxos Town.
Closer to Chora is the Prokopios Festival, which was launched in 2016 at Agios Prokopios beach. It, too, offers a wide range of summer cultural events, including folk music, jazz, piano and guitar recitals, dance, and movies under the stars.
The main events for completely local culture take place in the off season.
There’s a vibrant winter Carnival that includes colourful costumes, parades, music, dancing and parties, while Greek Orthodox Easter is the biggest and most important celebration of the year with epitaph processions, church services, fireworks displays, and gatherings for special Easter meals.
Naxos is all about the natural scenery and beautiful beaches… are there any natural sightseeing options that you’d consider can’t-miss?
The mountain scenery is gorgeous, and one of the most impressive sightseeing opportunities is a drive from Chalki village all the way to the seaside resort of Apollonas near the northeastern tip of the island. The views of the mountain and valley landscapes are absolutely breathtaking.
If you hire a car you can stop at lookout points – or any of the villages – whenever you wish.
But if you take a local bus or one of the round-the-island bus tours instead, you’ll get even better views and won’t have to worry about driving off the highway if you get distracted by some of the amazing panoramic vistas!
What’s the best way to get around when travelling on the island?
On foot you can see so much, and Naxos is an excellent island for walkers and hikers since it has many well-established trekking routes, particularly between mountain villages. Group and private walking tours are available for those who’d rather have someone show them the way.
With a rental bicycle you can easily ride from Naxos Town to most of the top beaches along the western coast, including Agios Prokopios, Agia Anna, Plaka, Mikri Vigla and beyond.
With a car you can go virtually anywhere and see as much as time allows, but if you don’t drive or don’t want to hire a vehicle you can still access the major beaches and villages by local bus.
During the tourist season there is regular service from Naxos Town to major beaches and many of the mountain villages. Another option is to take one of the organized bus tours that do a circuit around the island, stopping in some of the villages along the way.
Information about prices and schedules for these tours are available from just about every travel agency and ferry ticket office on the island.
What cultural souvenir would you recommend taking home from Naxos that isn’t the standard t-shirt or postcard?
Local food and beverage products make unique – and tasty – souvenirs and gifts. Naxos is known for liquors that the M.G. Vallindras Kitron Distillery in Chalki village produces from the island’s kitron fuit.
Vallindras also distills a local ouzo, and tourists can visit their facility to see how it and the kitron liquors are made.
Naxos’ olive oils and olive oil products are another option, and these are available at the Eggares Olive Press in Eggares village. The facility includes a museum, a cafe and a shop, and is a fun place to visit, especially if you’re doing a driving tour around the island.
If you’d prefer something other than food or beverages, consider hand-made textiles. A weaver in Chalki village has a shop in which she creates pillow cases, blankets, comforter covers and many more items from a traditional loom, which she is happy to demonstrate to visitors.
If Donny has convinced you that a trip to Naxos needs to be your next holiday, you can find more inspiration on our Naxos travel guide.