Welcome to Naxos
Perhaps the most underrated of Cycladic isles, Naxos is the Cinderella of the Greek isles. Formerly known as Dionysia for its green orchards and vineyards (in Greek mythology the hard-drinking god Dionysius resides on Naxos), the island lies at the heart of the Aegean. Largely unexplored, its interior of green groves and glens is the island’s real treasure.
Grapevines aside, Naxos’ charms are many. Here you'll discover ancient ruins, hilltop villages, waterfront cafés serving local delicacies, and dozens of crescent beaches melting into calm turquoise waters. Those travelers who like a little adventure can indulge in some kite-surfing or a hike into the mountains. Our specialists will help you craft the tailor-made trip of your dreams.
Getting There & Around
Three ferry companies serve Naxos from Piraeus (Athens’ port). The island is on the same ferry route as Santorini, and ferries depart two to six times daily (and up to 40 departures weekly mid-summer). In peak months, plus Easter, the ferries are usually full, so book early. You have two options: regular Blue Star ferries take 5-6 hours to reach Naxos, while faster catamarans operated by Hellenic Seaways and SeaJets take 3-4 hours. Plus, the Skopelitis Express links Naxos with other Cyclades isles. Maybe you'd like to add a visit to the island of Paros. If so, check out this combined Naxos and Paros itinerary.
Once you've arrived on Naxos it’s relatively easy to get around, with frequent bus services linking Chora (the main city) to towns and villages around the island. For more adventurous exploration along the little-inhabited east coast, consider renting a scooter or car.
Naxos’ beautiful main city of Chora (often called "Naxos Town," or "Hora") makes a great first impression. It may lack the voluptuous cupolas of Santorini, and the windmills of Mykonos are absent, yet the handsome waterfront is lined with welcoming bars and cafés. As you enter the harbor you’ll spy Portara, a square marble gate dominating a tiny island (Palatia) connected to Chora’s harborfront by a cobbled isthmus. The great portal looms over the meager ruins of the Temple of Apollo, built (but never finished) in 522 BCE.
Between the harbor and the craggy hillside backing Chora, you'll find narrow, cobbled alleys snaking between structures blending Byzantine, Venetian, and Cycladic architecture. Chora embodies the island's role as a cultural center dating back to the 8th century BCE. Back then it dominated commerce in the Cyclades and was the richest island, not least thanks to its excellent wines.
Rising above Chora's harborfront, Kastro is a labyrinthine historic quarter. This district dates back to the early 13th-century. Today cubist mansions lead up to the well-preserved Castle of Sanoudos, with its circular Krispi Tower, which houses a Byzantine Museum. The Della Rocca family hosts Bazoukia and orchestral concerts on the courtyard of their home in the Kastro; check the local calendar.
You can find the Archaeological Museum of Naxos at the top of the Kastro. It's housed in the former Palace of Sanudo, built in 1627, and incorporates two of the palace towers. The five-story structure displays archaeological finds dating back to Neolithic times. Particularly impressive is its collection of early marble figurines, Mycenaean vases, and Roman glassware.
While the Kastro was originally occupied by Venetian nobles, the Greeks lived below and to the north, in the medieval Bourgos district. It's a warren of narrow streets lined with bougainvillea, geraniums, and studded with chapels. Don’t miss the 18th-century Mitropoli Zoodochou Pigis Orthodox cathedral.
Temple of Dionysus
The Temple of Dionysus (located in Iria, about two miles south of Chora) was built of marble in the 6th century BCE in celebration of Dionysus, god of wine and celebration. Once the most important temple on the island, all that remains today are its foundations and the stubs of former columns. A small museum showcases archaeological finds from the site, including a statue of Dionysus.
Temple of Demeter
This Iconic 6th-century BCE temple, atop a hill surrounded by farmland six miles southeast of Chora, was dedicated to Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and fertility. The ruin you see today is a partial reconstruction (done in 1977) of the original, which was destroyed by Christians in the 6th century CE. It’s best seen viewed at sunset.
Kouros Melanes & Kouros Flerio
Drive into the hills due east of Chora and you’ll eventually pass marble quarries that supplied the raw materials for Naxos’ ancient temples. About half-a-mile east of the village of Melanes, and two miles before reaching the quarries, signs point the way to Kouros Flerio and Kouros Melanes, two 2,500-year-old marble statues (kouros) 16 feet in length and lying 400 yards apart. Interpretive signs in the parking lot include a map of the trail.
Kouros of Apollonas
More than 30 feet long and weighing more than 80 tons, this unfinished gray marble statue lies on the ground like a petrified tree. Carved in the 8th century CE, it was thought to represent Dionysus. It appears to have been abandoned at the quarry due to a fault in the marble. A roadside sign outside the seaside village of Apollonas, in northeast Naxos, directs you to it.
Naxos has some lovely white-sand beaches concentrated on the western shore south of Chora. They’re easily reached by bus, car or scooter. The majority of visitors stick to these options, some of which offer watersports (even scuba diving), plus bars and tavernas. If you have a sense of adventure, you can seek out more remote beaches tucked into coves along the eastern shore. Most are pebbly and getting to them may require some hiking, so you’ll need to be self-sufficient. The following are in order south of Chora.
This crescent beach is a 15-minute walk from downtown. It gets the lion’s share of visitors, as it gets spillover from the bars and restaurants in Chora. The northern section is sheltered, but the more exposed southern half receives strong Meltemi winds, so expect waves. Beyond the headland to the south is a good area for kiteboarding and windsurfing.
Two miles west of Chora, Agios Prokopios is among the most beautiful beaches on Naxos. Soft, cream-colored sands unfurl along half a mile of shoreline backed by sand dunes and pink lagoons. It’s sheltered from the breezes and has plenty of facilities near the south end.
Immediately south of Agios Prokopios, this narrow beach has heaps of lounge chairs, umbrellas, and tavernas. It does get crowded—in high season you’ll feel like you’re elbowing your way through a rugby scrum.
For breathing space, head to Plaka, six miles south of Chora. Although narrow, its creamy sands extend south for almost two miles. It’s a favorite of nudists, who gravitate to the more remote southern end. Most services—many of them simple tavernas made of driftwood—are at the northern end.
Tucked into a cove, this little beach south of Plaka faces into the wind and is the top beach for kiteboarding and windsurfing. Summer offers the perfect combo of wind and warm waters; in spring and autumn, you’ll need a wetsuit. Early afternoon is usually prime time to hit the waves.
Seeking solitude? Then this gorgeous beach, 10 miles from Chora, is for you. Enjoy the golden sands and turquoise waters. Aside from a couple of kite-surfing centers and a sprinkling of villas, it’ll just be you and Mother Nature.
Villages of Naxos
A scenic drive around Naxos is rewarding, so rent a car or scooter and set out along the narrow roads out of Chora and into the tranquil interior. Highlights of Naxos' many little villages include:
A postcard-perfect village surrounded by olive and citrus groves, Chalki features several Venetian towers and Byzantine churches. The leaves of the citron tree have for centuries been used here to make kitron naxou, a liqueur produced by Vallindras Distillera, a distillery on Chalki’s tiny plaza. It offers guided tours and has a small museum. If you are into churches, then the 7th-century Byzantine Panagia Drosiani—two miles north of Chalki—is the most revered, not least for its fine frescoes.
Hugging the hillsides of a valley and capped with a blue-domed church, Koronos (located in the mountainous north) is a cubist’s delight. Comprising scores of flat-roofed homes, it has sensational views over the vineyards that produce its famed wines.
Komiaki, the highest village in Naxos, is reached by a tortuous mountain road—essentially, a series of hairpin bends—north from Koronos. It’s a good base for hikes.
With its marble alleys gleaming white in the mountain sun, Apeiranthos (about 15 miles east of Chora) is Instagram ready. Expect to see older locals still in traditional dress as they weave looms and lead donkeys down the cobbled streets. While the ambiance is pleasant, most visitors come for the Geological Museum displaying fossils, meteorites, and local dark emery marble.
Mountainous Naxos offers tremendous hiking and is laced with well-defined trails. The Apollonas region, in the northeast, has impressive scenery. If you're physically fit, you can tackle the steep, rocky trail from the village of Filoti to the summit of Mount Zeus (aka Mt Zas). At 3,290 feet, it is the Cyclades’ highest peak. Fun fact: ancient Greeks believed that Zeus was born in a cave on the northwest flank.
The route to the Arias Springs/Cave of Zas trail is signed roadside about 400 yards south of Filoti. The trail (four miles round-trip) is steep and fairly challenging. An easier option is to forego the cave visit and take the less steep but longer (five miles roundtrip) Aghia Marina trail that begins at the tiny eponymous chapel (from Filoti take the road to Apiranthos and after two miles turn right at the sign for Danakos; the chapel is half-a-mile along this hairpin road). Filoti is a good place to eat before setting out to the trail.
Naxos by Night
Chora has some cool cafés, hip lounge bars, and raging nightclubs (note that many operate only in summer). For mellow blues to compliment Naxos' tranquil atmosphere, visit Jazz and Blues Bar (located at the base of Kastro). It draws a mature crowd and has outdoor seating. A younger party crowd hits Prime Bar, which morphs from a morning beachfront café to a nighttime cocktail bar. For a drink with a view, head to the rooftop terrace of the Miami-style Like Home Bar. It serves quality mojitos and offers a dash of romance beneath the stars.
Cinephiles can go to Cine Naxos, on Papandreou Street at the south edge of town. They screen movies alfresco (May-September).
Where to Stay
Naxos has lodging options ranging from cozy guesthouses to beach resorts. The most atmospheric places are in or near the historic Kastro district. Here you'll find Hotel Grotta, a small family-run property with all-white décor. You’ll appreciate its jacuzzi, rooftop terrace, and buffet breakfasts. For historic ambiance try Castro Residence, a two-story Venetian mansion whose tasteful furnishings include antique brass beds. The owners also operate nearby Chateau Zevgoli, an adorable six-room example of Cycladic architecture.
A winner outside town is the Kouros Art Hotel, nestled beneath a cliff a five-minute walk from Agios Prokopios beach. With just 18 rooms it's intimate and has a killer rooftop swimming pool. Luxury is the name of the game at Nissaka Beach Hotel, a beachfront option at the north end of Agios Georgios beach and a 10-minute waterfront stroll to Kastro. With its minimalist furnishings and night-lit rooftop pool, this is a sleek place to hang out before hitting the bars.
Where to Eat
Many of the waterfront options long ago became tourist traps, and it's worth the extra effort to seek out authentic spaces. Tucked into a candlelit Kastro courtyard, Apostolis Taverna is the model of a Greek island restaurant. They serve hearty fusion cuisine—think salad with honey and gruyere flakes and fresh calamari with potatoes and veggies. Save room for the ice cream with pomegranate seeds and nuts. Opening onto Chora’s main plaza, Scirocco is a local family-run institution popular with locals. Here it's all about classics like hummus and moussaka.
Near Agios Prokopios beach, don’t miss Stelida Restaurant Bar, the poolside café at Kavos Boutique Hotel. Open to walk-ins, it serves a creative fusion menu. Maybe start with a prawn-and-peach salad followed by honey-glazed pork belly slices and pea purée. Try the chocolate soufflé with ice cream for dessert. The local wine list also impresses.