Here are some of my favourite things to do in Naxos, Greece. I fell in love with the island this year and had a good four days there, eating and exploring. I’ve put this together to give you some decent tips on how best to spend your time on this beautiful island in the Cyclades.
Naxos is often overshadowed by its more well-known and well-Instagrammed neighbours, Santorini and Mykonos. But having been to all three, it wasn’t hard to pick a favourite – that being Naxos, of course. Santorini and Mykonos are both thoroughly on the tourist trail. Both (especially Mykonos) are also eye-wateringly expensive. Naxos was much more unspoilt, peaceful and affordable but pretty much exactly the same scenery-wise. The only difference was you could actually get a good photograph of the classic Greek white, winding streets without it being ruined by crowds of tourists. Naxos is also the greenest of the Cyclades islands, so as well as all the beautiful towns, you’ve got lush mountainous backdrops. Lovely stuff. I’ve not even mentioned the incredible food yet either, but don’t worry. It never takes long on this blog to get back to the important topic of eating.
Anyway, imagine the sunshine and the cheese waiting for you, and read on for the best things to do in Naxos…
Things to do in Naxos, Greece
1. Wander the beautiful streets of the old town, Chora
Santorini and Mykonos seem to get all the attention over on Instagram, but like I said above, Naxos’s stunning old town far surpassed them both for me. I’ve never seen such pretty, winding streets with all the classic Greek tiled floors and blue doors, yet free from the annoying throngs of tourists trudging through them. It’s all entirely pedestrianised, too.
Naxos old town is a proper wonderland, typically Greek and endlessly intriguing. You think you’ve covered nearly all the flower-lined streets and then you turn a corner and find a whole new warren of them full of tavernas and shops.
You could actually get photos without other people in them in Naxos old town too, which would have been nigh on impossible in Santorini and Mykonos.
I should also note that wandering through Chora was lovely and sheltered, which was very handy because Naxos in September was windy AF. Apparently this is a thing (the dreaded ‘Meltemi wind’ is well known) so it’s no surprise that the ancient locals decided to build a sheltered maze of streets to get away from the horror. Me and my hair strongly dislike wind, so anywhere to escape it was seriously welcome.
2. Walk up to the Temple of Apollo (Portara)
As much as I like to recommend my readers the more off-the-beaten-path stuff, I’m going to echo the #1 recommended thing to do in Naxos on most websites and blogs. This is to walk up to the ruins of Portara, or the Temple of Apollo as it’s known. This is the main landmark of Naxos and the first thing that strikes you when you arrive.
The temple stands on top of the hill on the little islet of Palatia, which was once properly part of Naxos but is now only clinging on via a slim causeway. Palatia is tiny and you can walk round its circumference in a few minutes. This means that the Temple of Apollo is stunning from every angle, a marble doorway to frame either the island or the sea for your viewing pleasure. There are some other ruins around the main frame, too.
This is one of the things to do in Naxos that you can happily do more than once over the course of your stay, if you have time. Visiting Portara in full sunshine is great, but as the sun sets you’ll see it in a new light. Literally.
3. Do a bus tour of the island
If, like me, you don’t drive and/or don’t want to drive, then I recommend a tour so you can see bits of the island that local buses won’t easily get you to.
I did the ‘Naxos round day tour’ for €25 each with Naxos Island Tours (not sponsored, by the way). It’s a bus tour (a coach-style bus, not a minibus) so you do have to put up with other people but once you’re deposited somewhere, you can wander off on your own. It’s a good way to get a feel for the whole island.
It began at 9am (admittedly an early time that shouldn’t be allowed on holiday). The bus picked us up near our apartment and took us to the following.
- Demeter’s temple, Sangri – A ruined temple with optional museum. Really nice scenery around it.
- Damalas – A little village with a traditional olive press. You can feign interest in the olive press and then go and wander round the cute streets – LOADS of flower pots. Intense. Then there’s a pottery workshop, where you can buy a magical drinking cup (see #10 of this list). The workshop is the best bit and genuinely interesting to hear the workers talk about their craft.
- Chalki – Really, really gorgeous but tiny village. You get to visit the citron distillery and try a shot of it, citron being a local drink that I thought was beyond foul. It comes in three varieties: green – the sweetest and least alcoholic, yellow – the strongest and booziest, and clear – somewhere between the two. Having tried all three, it’s a no from me.
- Panagia Drosiani – A very old church. There’s a Greek flag outside that I took full advantage of for photo opportunities.
- Apiranthos – The marble village. Read more about it in #16 of this post. This is where you have lunch. We went to Samaradiko, which had a few veggie options and a great view.
- Apollonas – A seaside village where you can wander down the beach and have a drink. You then go up to see an unfinished, ruined statue of someone lying down. I forget who. More good views, then the journey back, which is scenic.
You get dropped where you began, or elsewhere if you want. It ends at 5pm. Considering how much it crams in, and how inaccessible some of these things are without a car, it felt like money well spent.
4. Walk up to the castle (kastro)
Looming above Naxos old town is the citadel, kastro, built in the 13th century by a Venetian duke and still partly surrounded by walls. It’s a maze of quiet squares and alleyways leading to various monasteries and museums. It’s also got real houses inside, still very much lived in, and bustling cafés. I found it hard to grasp where it began and ended, but it’s a lovely area to get lost in.
Because you’re at the highest point of the town, you get some excellent views.
5. Find the cute outdoor restaurant with lampshades
The lampshades of Naxos may well become the next most-photographed thing on Instagram. For the sake of preserving Naxos’s relatively untouristy feel, I hope not. And luckily no one ever pays attention to my blog so mentioning them here won’t exactly send tourists flocking. But they’re definitely incredibly picturesque and worth seeking out while you’re in the old town.
They hang over the outside eating area of the restaurant Taverna Apostolis (Google maps link here). There’s no need to eat there (reviews looked mixed TBH and I think because it’s so pretty, you’d definitely have to book). It’s enough just to wander past or to stop for a drink in the early evening. The lampshades then continue right down the alleyway it leads onto, and they’re nice to see in the day when they’re not lit up too.
6. Check out the abandoned hotel covered in street art and the cedar forest
You weren’t expecting that very specific activity were you?! Not often street art and cedar forest meet. Anyway, this involves a bus journey to Alyko on the south-west part of Naxos, but if you have enough time and good weather then it’s a nice afternoon out.
The hotel complex in Alyko was being built in the 60s/70s but they seemed to run out of money or something went wrong, and they never finished building it. There’s very little online to explain what exactly happened. But now it’s been turned into an open-air exhibition for street artist Wild Drawing, who is Balinese but based in Athens, and the decaying and eerie buildings provide an excellent backdrop to his work. It’s also right on a beach, so you can have a stroll along that too, backed by the cedar forest.
Just to warn you, Alyko was by far the windiest place on Naxos when we went and I was frozen the whole day because of it. Not to mention the state of my hair. That Meltemi wind is not my friend. That was in September, and apparently it isn’t normally that bad then. I just, typically, got unlucky.
How to get to Alkyo
Local bus is your friend. The timetable changes frequently, so in order for this blog post to stand the test of time, I won’t give you exact times here but will link you to the local bus website and their 90s-style PDF timetable. Enjoy.
7. Buy some handmade jewellery as a souvenir
There are lots of trinket shops around Naxos, some of them selling absolute tat and some selling really lovely things. It’s not hard to spot the difference – follow the usual principles. A blackboard outside is normally a good sign!
By far the nicest shop I found for presents (to myself, obvs) was Ventus Handmade Jewellery (that’s a Google maps link for you, but their actual website is here). They sell on-trend, delicate gold or silver costume jewellery. It’s the kind of stuff I’d buy if I saw it at home too, not just a holiday impulse purchase for the sake of it.
If you’re interested – and how could you not be – I got a necklace with a Greek ‘evil eye’ on it and a really nice pair of turquoise tassel earrings, because having over 30 pairs of tassel earrings is something I have no qualms about in life. Both things were around €15 each. They also sold gorgeous bags, but I sadly didn’t have enough room in my suitcase to buy anything bigger.
There are also plenty of independent shops further into the old town, selling other stuff too if you don’t want jewellery. The one photographed below had some really pretty ceramics.
8. Eat at Nissaki restaurant on the beach at sunset
Regular readers might get a shock at this recommendation, but bear with me. Nissaki is a hotel restaurant (gasp) but it’s really good and has the best location ever, right on the prettiest bit of beach with views across the bay from a lovely wooden structure full of palm trees. I would normally avoid any hotel restaurants like the plague, but this one is the exception that proves the rule.
Like most places on Naxos, Nissaki was veggie/pescatarian friendly. I really enjoyed the octopus, which was a really decent portion compared with the tiny amount you get at some places.
Everything was really good and made all the more memorable by:
- a) the lovely beach-front setting
- b) the elderly couple next to us having an absolutely humungous argument, complete with divorce threats, which they then immediately stopped to be all sweetness and light whenever the waiter spoke to them.
9. Stay in style at Naxos Evilion Luxury Apartments
One of the best things about my stay in Naxos was the fact I’d found the perfect apartment. Just look at it! Would you believe it was only about £45 a night?! Travelodge needs to up its game if this bad boy is going to be in the same price bracket.
Our apartment was kind of like being in a beautiful white cave that had been made into a home. It had heating and air con, a little kitchen area for making your morning cuppa, and a really good shower/wetroom that didn’t have the gross ‘drainy’ smell a lot of Greek en-suites tended to have. I was very impressed. The people who ran it (it’s a little complex of apartments, some with terraces too for a bit more £) were really nice and picked us up from the ferry port when we arrived and took us back when we left. All part of the service with lovely Greek people.
Also, the central location meant that all the good places to eat were within a 10-minute walk so it was dead easy to get ‘home’ once you’d had a few drinks.
10. Buy a ‘magic’ Pythagorean cup made on Naxos
Ceramics are a big deal on Naxos. There are shops everywhere, and I also visited a real workshop in Damalas on Naxos to see them being made (see #3 of this list).
We have more than enough clutter in our house, but we couldn’t resist buying one of the Pythagorean wine cups made on Naxos, complete with ‘magic’ trick.
If you’re not familiar with the concept, a Pythagorean cup is a practical joke designed to teach any greedy drinkers who don’t know their limits (hi!) a lesson. Pythagorus – yes, he of the theorem that everyone learns in school and then forgets in real life – apparently also invented this cup. If you fill it up beyond a certain point, it creates a siphon effect and all the booze pours out of the bottom, ruining the drinker’s outfit and of course delivering much hilarity for all their mates. I’d rather have been taught about this at school.
11. Have the world’s best Greek salad at Lithos
Just look at this little beaut pictured below. It’s your classic Greek salad done to perfection and then with a crispy, sesame-embellished bagely delight on top for you to mop the oil up with. The dream.
All the other food we had at Lithos was brilliant too, but I really do love a Greek salad so it was very important to me to have a good one #wheninGreece. Lithos is a gorgeous little café/restaurant, set on one of the prettiest streets in the whole of the old town. When we were there, it was nice and quiet and the only company we had were local cats, who were draped over everywhere. Lithos is actually mildly cat-themed inside, or it certainly has a lot of cat-based art around the place.
I loved it so much that I wanted to go back to eat there one evening, but unfortunately ended up not having enough time. I’d much rather have had another night in Naxos so we could have gone here again, instead of wasting a day of my life in Mykonos, but such is the way of the world.
12. Enjoy a rooftop sunset from Oniro Wine Bar Restaurant
If you’re anything like me, you’ll spend a lot of time when researching a destination just Googling ‘best rooftop bars’ and ‘best sunset spots’ for that place. You can’t beat watching the sun go down with a drink in hand. Provided you’re somewhere nice and warm that is, otherwise it doesn’t have quite the same appeal.
Oniro Wine Bar Restaurant came up quite high in my myriad searches for the best rooftop spots in Naxos, but I still had to whittle away a few super touristy looking competitors before I decided on it. And let me tell you, it was a right treat.
I originally headed here just for a drink. But when we saw the menu was relatively veggie/pescatarian friendly, and all the food coming out looked good, we ended up eating here and it was really good. I didn’t take any photos of my meal because the sun had gone by the time we ordered, so you’ll just have to trust me there. But look at that sky! It got better too. Sunsets in the Cyclades: 11/10. Well done.
13. Visit the mountain village of Halki (Chalki)
I’ve briefly touched on this in #3 of this post, as part of the organised bus tour. But you can reach it by public bus too.
Chalki (or Halki) is a stunning tiny village, and was once the capital of Naxos as well as its main trade centre. This is where the aforementioned citron distillery is, so if you’ve not already done that on the tour then it’s worth going to. Let me know if you actually like citron, because I’m clearly missing something.
Halki was the once place I wish we’d had time to spend a bit longer in. Although it’s only a couple of roads, it’s full of stunning photo opportunities (not least the old VW Beetle parked under a matching tree). There are loads of cafés crammed in, all of which looked really good (some were serving traditional custard pastries, which I had my beadiest of eyes on). Oh and shops selling handmade jewellery. I spotted some watermelon-themed earrings that I still regret not going back for…
14. Buy a floppy straw hat
I know, I know. This is a strange activity to include in a list of things to do in Naxos. But it’s one of those ‘When in
Rome Naxos’ things. I kept seeing incredibly chic women wandering about with floppy straw hats on. And everywhere I looked in the old town, there were shops selling them in every style and colour imaginable, so you can imagine what had to happen. I have an abnormally massive head and even I managed to find one that fitted me, so normal humans will be spoilt for choice.
If you’re interested, I bought mine in Izu Summer Boutique (Google maps link), which sells all Greek-made items, and all made from natural fibres. You also get a really good tote bag instead of a plastic or paper bag to take your hat away in, which I’m still using a lot for carrying my shopping.
15. Make friends with the local cats
Having heard horror stories about stray cats in Greece generally, I was quite worried about how they’d be on the Cyclades islands. I adore animals and it kills me seeing them suffering. Sadly that’s commonplace in some countries I visit regularly (Madeira being the main example). As already mentioned, we went to Santorini before Naxos and I’d managed to avoid the donkey cruelty there (I’ve also donated to the Donkey Sanctuary over the years and they run a great campaign for working donkeys that you can donate to if you’re upset by what you see in Santorini too). So I didn’t want to be confronted with the prospect of frantically Googling how to take home 50 rescued cats from Naxos!
But I needn’t have worried – all the cats we bumped into were the picture of health, really clean and friendly. They were clearly very well looked after and totally loving life on Naxos.
Some of them even had that candid not-looking-at-the-camera pose nailed…
16. Visit the ‘marble’ village of Apeiranthos
I’ve briefly touched on this in #3 of this post, as part of the organised bus tour. But you can reach it by public bus too.
Apiranthos, which means ‘plenty of flowers’ (how cute) is definitely worth seeing. It’s a bit bigger than the aforementioned Halki, but again both are very small.
Entering Apiranthos is like stepping back in time (if you ignore all the lovely modern cafés and bars), with its quaint squares and local craft shops. Old houses and churches line the marble-paved alleyways. It’s on the slopes of Mount Fanari, so has amazing views of the surrounding mountain ranges. Apparently, the Apiranthos locals have even kept their own distinct dialect. It’s also, for a village, a right old hotbed of culture. It has several museums – the Archaeological Museum being the most interesting, I thought. All of them are very small though, so you could easily do a few in one trip. And if you stay there over lunch, I highly recommend Samaradiko, for delicious food and views.
17. Eat in the courtyard of To Elliniko for atmosphere
I normally research a load of options for where we’re going to eat on holiday and then save them to Google maps and pick them based on where we end up each day and what’s near it. But I went completely off-plan when we walked past the restaurant To Elliniko one night. I think I’d disregarded it when researching thinking it looked too meaty and too popular.
But seeing it in real life lured me in. It’s set in a courtyard with flowerpots around the edges, and it had that typical outdoor-eating buzz, full of people enjoying themselves a bit too much. Once I’d scanned the menu, I saw that we could easily put together lots of starters and sides to make up a sort of veggie tapas platter. Sold! And I wasn’t disappointed. I’d definitely recommend this for your first night to get you into the holiday mood.
18. Try some local (ish!) craft beer
Okay it’s from neighbouring Santorini, but Donkey Beer by the Santorini Brewing Company is readily available on most of the islands in the Cyclades. It’s a welcome change from the generic Mythos beer that’s everywhere (Greece’s Carlsberg).
Unlike many places in Europe, there’s not much of a craft beer ‘scene’ in the Cyclades that I could find, other than Santorini’s brewery. It’s not quite succumbed to the hipster bars yet. Give it time…
19. Do some island-hopping day trips
It’s all about that island-hopping life, right? Well, sort of.
I actually found the Cyclades island hopping pretty stressful. I did a week covering Santorini > Naxos > Mykonos. It was disorganised, crowded and delayed at the ports, which isn’t what you need when you’re hot and dragging a suitcase and bag round. It also takes a good few hours to get anywhere. But you kind of have to suck it up and go with it.
One thing I’d really recommend though is not booking too far in advance if you’re just staying in Naxos and doing other islands as day trips. If you’re doing them as separate places to stay during your holiday and you’ve got hotels booked, then you kind of have to lock that down. In that case, you can use the public ferries website to plan, and avoid any private tours. It’s almost certain to be cheaper. But for day trips, then the freedom of being able to book depending on weather is best. The aforementioned Meltemi wind can really mess up the crossings. And who wants to waste their annual leave stood in a windy port (resembling a bus shelter) waiting for a delayed boat with a load of other people? No ta.
- Paros – This takes around 40 mins to get to from Naxos, depending on conditions and timing. You can do it on a normal public ferry rather than by private tour in good conditions. If we went back, I’d definitely do this one. Paros is more off the beaten path, and a bit more like Naxos (quiet and less touristy) than other islands around.
- Koufonisia – This takes just under 2 hours by private tour. Koufonisia is a small group of islands. You’re dropped on the island that’s inhabited, in a little fishing village. You get a whole day for relaxing and exploring. We were going to do this but couldn’t due to high winds, but again it’s one I’d look into for next time.
- Santorini – It takes at least 1 hour 30 mins to get to Santorini from Naxos, and you should do it by private tour (this one looks okay) rather than public ferry, due to timing/conditions (you don’t want to get stranded!). So it’s a long day in my opinion but people seem to do it anyway, I guess because Santorini is so iconic. It’s the one that everyone wants to do and the views are great (those blue rooftops!) but it’s a lot more expensive and crowded than Naxos, just to warn you. A day there, rather than staying over, is definitely kinder on the old bank balance.
- Mykonos – This is another long day by private tour, for the same reasons mentioned above. I’m including it here because I know Mykonos is one that readers will be interested in. But I honestly wouldn’t recommend it at all. You can read my summary of how much I didn’t like it in my yearly travel roundup.
20. Sit with a drink and watch the harbour action
One of my favourite memories from my time in Naxos was sitting on the harbour watching the ferries come in and out. There’s a lot going on and plenty of people-watching opportunities to be had.
I recommend going right down to the end of the main stretch so that you’re close enough to have an intense people watch, and pick a sunny but sheltered spot to settle in for a couple of hours…
Other things to do in Naxos
So that’s the end of a sizeable post. Props to you if you made it this far.
I’ve left quite a few things to do in Naxos off this list that some people may like – things that involve being able to swim and/or drive, mainly. Plus there will be millions I don’t know about. To be honest, places change so much and so quickly that it’s impossible to keep blog posts up to date unless you re-visit everywhere constantly. But I hope this has given you a good idea of what Naxos is like and why I enjoyed it so much.
So let me know in the comments if you do any of my suggestions and what your favourite things to do in Naxos are, and what other Greek islands you’ve enjoyed visiting. I like hearing about other people’s travel experiences. Just keep it to yourself if you’re having too good a time exploring the Greek islands while I’m stuck back in the office… Many thanks.
Things to do in Naxos, Greece – useful information for your trip
How to get to Naxos
There’s no international airport on Naxos, so you have to get there by ferry from another island. The nearest islands with international airports connecting to the UK are Mykonos and Santorini. This may seem like a bit of an inconvenience, but for the sake of having to get a ferry from one of them to Naxos, which is dead easy anyway, it’s honestly worth it. The lack of big airport keeps the throngs of tourists away, and I think massively contributes to Naxos being so much more authentic and lovely compared with some neighbours.
This paragraph is a gifted advert: For my trip to Naxos, I flew to Santorini from Manchester, and then back to Manchester from Mykonos. I was lucky enough to be gifted a visit to the 1903 Lounge at Manchester Airport on departure, which was lovely. It’s adults-only, which helps with my severe allergy to screaming children. Also, there’s free Wifi so I could work on the blog while taking advantage of the buffet. You can eat and drink as much as you like, so it actually works out pretty reasonable. If I’d had to buy it, it would have been £35 each. This was the second time Manchester Airport have kindly given me access to the lounge, but I genuinely do recommend it if you’re flying from there. It makes everything a lot calmer and the food/drinks are superb.
Where to stay in Naxos
See #9 on this list for a full explanation and photos, but to summarise: of the best things about my stay in Naxos was the fact I’d found the perfect apartment. And for about £45 a night. UNREAL. Honestly one of the swankiest but cheapest apartments I’ve ever found, anywhere. I highly recommend that bad boy.
How to get around Naxos
It’s walking and buses on Naxos. The local bus website and their 90s-style PDF timetable are er… interesting, but actually in reality the buses were always bang on time and pleasingly frequent. If you don’t drive, some Greek islands will be a waste of time. But Naxos is perfectly doable. Well done to it.
When to go to Naxos
Naxos has a mediterranean climate, so hot and dry summers and mild winters. If you want to be fried by the sun, the best time to visit Naxos is between July and August. If you want to be able to go for walks and not be burnt, try September. That’s when I visited and the temperature was just right. The other good thing with September is that there won’t be as many children about, which is mainly why I always avoid any travel in July/August.
The only downside to a summer trip to Naxos is the Meltemi wind. This can strike all the Cyclades islands at any time throughout summer and you can’t really do much about it. I despise wind, but I know some people don’t mind it and it does keep the Cyclades more temperate than the mainland, which some really value. I was unlucky and it was really windy for my entire stay in Naxos (and the other islands), which did spoil it a bit for me. But you can’t have it all. Just bear it in mind when you’re packing. It may look warm, but it won’t feel as warm as it should for the temperature.
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