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Inside: Looking for a Greek island that has it all? Here’s why Naxos is a solid contender for Best. Greek. Island. Ever.
When it comes to choosing the perfect Greek island for your next vacation, the options are overwhelming. Beyond the more famous destinations like Santorini, Mykonos, and Crete, the Greek archipelago has nearly 2,000 islands of varying sizes and accessibility.
So how do you choose the best one?
After more than a dozen visits to the Greek islands over the years, I can certainly understand the dilemma. They’re all fabulous!
But if you had asked me a few weeks ago, “What’s the best Greek island to visit?“
I would have confidently answered, “Crete. Hands down.”
Crete has it all. Incredible beaches, charming seaside fishing villages, delicious food, and fascinating historical sites (like Knossos).
I mean, what more could you ask for? It’s the Greek Islands straight out of central casting.
And Crete is fabulous for sure. But it’s also HUGE.
The largest of the Greek islands, in fact. Which makes it a challenge to see all the best that Crete has to offer without spending hours in the car. And you’ll certainly need at least 5 days to try.
Which begs the question, “Is there a Greek island with all the fabulous qualities of Crete in a smaller package?”
The answer is yes.
What is Naxos known for?
While Naxos is best-known for its abundant beaches and beautiful scenery, the island is also home to plenty of fascinating ancient sites to explore. Not to mention fantastic food – much of it grown locally right here on the island.
Ready for adventure? Naxos has lots of options including scuba diving, windsurfing, cycling to different villages, or just finding a hidden beach to enjoy all to yourself. Of course, if you prefer a less adventurous holiday, there’s no better Greek island for relaxing at a gorgeous spa resort with a cocktail in hand.
But before I dive into all the wonders of Naxos, let’s talk about what it’s like to visit Greece right now.
Traveling to Greece right now
Following our recent trip, I wrote a comprehensive post about traveling in and around Greece right now during the Covid-19 pandemic: The Ultimate Guide to the Greek Islands
It’s every little thing you need to know. From pre-arrival testing and whether you’ll have to wear a mask to where you can get a Covid test if you need one to return home. It’s essential reading for anyone planning a trip to Greece right now.
But enough about the joys of world travel during a pandemic, let’s get back to the good stuff!
FAQs about the Greek Island of Naxos:
Is Naxos expensive?
If you exclude Santorini, overall, the Greek islands are not an expensive destination. And neither is Naxos. There are endless options for reasonably-priced hotels and restaurants around the island. If you’re on a budget, Naxos is a terrific option for an affordable getaway.
Tip: It’s also a great place to splurge on a fabulous villa for a lower rate than you’ll find on many other islands.
Is Naxos a party island?
You’ll have no trouble finding nightlife in Naxos Town (if you’re looking for it). But if you prefer to avoid the party scene, Naxos is a great choice. With plenty of serene beach resorts spread all over the island, it’s easy to escape to your own private corner of the island with no nightclubs within earshot.
Of course, if you are looking for a lively party island, Mykonos has everything you need and more.
Is Naxos too touristy?
Compared to other Greek islands, I don’t consider Naxos to be too touristy. Naxos Town certainly caters to tourists. There you’ll find all the ubiquitous excursion companies and souvenir stores.
But Naxos is FAR less touristy than neighboring islands like Santorini and Mykonos. Of course, to be fair, it’s definitely a bit more touristy than less-visited islands like Milos or Symi.
So you might say it’s the Goldilocks of Greek islands when it comes to “touristy,”
What’s the best time of year to visit Naxos?
The island’s mild winter climate means it can be visited all year round, But for the most sunshine and warmest weather, plan your trip to Naxos between early May and late October (most hotels are only open during these months anyway). Like the rest of the Greek Islands, July and August are the busiest (and most expensive) months to visit.
That’s why I prefer May/June and September/October for the best combination of great weather, moderate prices, and fewer crowds.
Which Greek island is better, Naxos or Paros?
It’s an impossible choice. They are so close together and similar in size that many people find themselves trying to decide between the two. We visited both Paros and Naxos on our recent trip and I loved them both!
Paros has a bit more nightlife and I found it to be a little more romantic than Naxos. So if you’re looking for nightlife or romance, I might lean toward Paros. Naxos is known for long, uncrowded beautiful beaches and is slightly more family-friendly. So if you’re traveling with the whole family, I’d recommend Naxos.
But hey, they’re only 40-minutes apart by ferry, so why not do what we did and visit both? Three or four days on each island makes for a terrific stay in the Greek Islands!
How many days do you need on Naxos?
If you’re island-hopping, you can see Naxos’s best beaches and sights in as little as 2-3 days. But fair warning, if you come to Naxos for just a few days, you might not want to leave.
If you can spare the time, spend at least a week on Naxos. That’ll give you plenty of time to try out all of those fabulous beaches (more on that later!).
How to Get to Naxos– Flight vs. Ferry
There are two ways to get to Naxos:
- A flight or ferry from Athens.
- Or, a ferry from a neighboring island like Santorini, Mykonos, Milos, Ios, or Paros.
Flights from Athens to Naxos
Olympic Airlines operates up to 5 flights a day from Athens (ATH) to Naxos (JNX) during the peak summer season. Olympic is 100% owned by Aegean Airlines and you can book your flights on either website (schedules and pricing are the same).
Flight time is a quick and painless 40 minutes and flights are often priced well under EUR 100 one-way when booked far enough in advance. Tip: With Aegean and Olympic, the earlier you book the cheaper the flights.
Ferries from Athens to Naxos
Ferries to Naxos depart from two ports in Athens – Piraeus and Rafina:
- Piraeus – This is the largest port in Athens and offers the most ferry connections to the islands. It’s approximately 7 miles from downtown Athens (a 20-minute drive by taxi) and 31 miles from the airport (a 40-minute drive by taxi, cost EUR 50-70). There are also frequent bus connections from the airport (cost EUR 6, travel time is at least an hour). Piraeus is the best option if you’re already in the city.
- Rafina – The second largest port in Athens, Rafina is further from the city but only 10 miles from the airport. So it’s the most convenient port if you’re transferring directly from the airport to a ferry. A taxi from the airport costs EUR 25-35 and takes about 20 minutes. Or there’s a public bus (KTEL) that runs approximately every hour for EUR 3. The ride takes about 40 minutes.
The journey takes as little as 3h 15m on the Golden Star Ferries SuperExpress high-speed ferry from Rafina. Or it can take as long as 6 hours on the larger car ferries like Blue Star. There are also a few other options in between.
But before you depart Athens…
If this is your first trip to Greece, be sure to stop over for at least a few days to see the sights. If time is short, here’s a foolproof one-day itinerary: 24 Hours in Athens
Ferry connections to Naxos from other islands
Paros is well-connected to the rest of the Cyclades by ferry. So, if you’re island-hopping, you’ll find frequent connections from Santorini, Paxos, Milos, Ios, and Mykonos.
The best site for booking ferries in Greece is FerryHopper.com.
So why is Naxos the best Greek Island?
Now that we’ve covered all the logistics of getting to Naxos, let’s talk about why it’s the perfect island for your Greek Islands vacation!
While it’s true that Crete may well be the best overall Greek island, Naxos, has all the same wonderful assets in a smaller, easy to explore island package.
Let’s break it down in more detail. Starting with the one thing most people look for when choosing a Greek island:
1. Amazing Beaches
Naxos is the best Greek island for sandy, uncrowded beaches.
While almost all Greek islands have a few lovely beaches, Naxos is blessed with some real beauties. And most are actually sandy, not pebbly like many Greek beaches. The island’s location in the Aegean Sea also makes it an ideal place to enjoy water sports, like scuba diving or sailing.
Most of the best beaches on Naxos are located south of Naxos Town along the island’s western coast. Here are some of the island’s top beaches to spend a lazy afternoon:
Plaka Beach – There’s plenty of room to find a quiet spot to call your own on this 4km long beach. Parts of the beach are well-organized with sunbeds and tavernas and other parts are without facilities. This is the island’s most popular beach with good reason. My favorite hotel options nearby are Seaside Naxos Holiday Villas (more on that one below!) and if you’re traveling on a budget, it’s hard to beat the Amodari Studios on the Beach.
Agios Prokopios Beach – Located about an hour from Naxos Town, this is the island’s most famous beach. Agios Prokopios has white sand, crystal-clear calm water, and a long promenade that leads all the way to the Naxos port passing some of Naxos’s best restaurants along the way! Looking for a hotel splurge? Try the beachfront, impeccably designed Virtu Suites. For a more budget-friendly beachfront option, try the Liana Beach Hotel & Spa.
Mikri Vigla Beach – A haven for wind and kite surfers, this beach is a great choice for water sports. But with golden sands lapped by clear waters, it’s also the perfect quiet spot to relax and unwind. And luckily, if you want to stay awhile, you’ll find a number of great accommodations nearby like the Oasis Studios and Crystal Naxos Studios.
Aliko Beach – Aliko is actually a cluster of 4 separate beaches fringed by a cedar forest on the southwest coast of Naxos. Nearby, there’s an old abandoned hotel that was never finished and it’s become a bit of a graffiti gallery. And honestly, it’s worth the trip alone! But the beaches are pretty stunning, too. There are no hotels directly on Aliko beach (which is part of its charm) but the best options close by are Faros Villa and Romanzza Studios.
Agia Anna – This spectacular beach on the west coast of Naxos is the perfect place to take a dip in calm, clear turquoise waters. If you’re feeling daring, explore the sea caves that line one side of the beach. If not, there’s no shortage of lively tavernas and lovely resorts nearby to unwind after a day at the beach. Two of my favorites are Manios Suites and Kalia Studios.
2. Charming Towns
Naxos is the best Greek Island for beautiful white-washed towns.
Like on Crete, the towns of Naxos don’t shut down during the winter months. Naxos Town (Chora) is the commercial center of the island so it’s not entirely dependent on tourism. Here are the best towns to visit on Naxos:
Naxos Town (Chora) – It’s the first town you’ll see from the ferry as you arrive and it’s one of the best port towns in all the Greek Islands. Naxos Town is a lively island capital with oodles to see and do. Explore the Naxos Archaeological Museum, the catholic cathedral, and Naxos Castle (Kastro) for panoramic views of the town.
Chalki (Halki) – Just 10 miles from Naxos Town, a visit to the village of Chalki (also written as Halki) is a must. Once the island’s capital as well as its main trade center, it was the center of wealth and power on Naxos. Today, well-preserved Neoclassical homes and Venetian-style towers offer a glimpse into the grandeur of Chalki’s past. Don’t miss a stop by the Vallindra Kitron Distillery in the heart of the village. Entry is free and includes a tour of the site where the famous local Kitron liqueur is made and (most importantly) free samples at the end.
Koronos – This traditional Naxian village is located less than 20 miles from Naxos Town. The village’s dramatic mountaintop setting and delightfully shabby steep narrow streets offer a peek into traditional Naxian life. Don’t miss a visit to the Church of Panagia Agrokiliotissa. The locals are friendly and welcoming but expect English speakers to be sparse. If you’re looking for an authentic village experience away from hotels and tourists, Koronos is a perfect choice.
3. Fabulous (Affordable!) Hotels
Naxos is the best Greek Island for affordable luxury hotels and villas.
Splurge on a room with a view at Naxos Rock Villas. Each villa here has a full kitchen and a huge terrace with a generous-sized private pool. For a real treat (or if you’re traveling with the whole family), book the 2-bedroom Supreme Sea View Villa. The only downside to staying here is you may find it difficult to leave your gorgeous villa to explore the island.
Seaside Naxos Holiday Villas – Located a short walk from Plaka Beach, this is a complex of 4 holiday villas with 3 or 4 bedrooms each. Two have their own private pools and are perfect for a large family or two families traveling together.
If you’re on a tight budget, Naxos Cave Suites is a beautiful property located near several of the island’s best beaches. The hotel offers free pickup from the port or airport and a wonderful breakfast each morning.
If you want to enjoy close proximity to the restaurants and shops of Naxos Town, the Grotta Signore Apartment is a fabulous choice. With a postcard-perfect view of the Portara and the sea from an enormous terrace (and every window), this 2-bedroom apartment is roomy and well-equipped.
Located just outside Naxos Town but still within walking distance of many restaurants, The Saint Vlassis hotel is one of the island’s best budget-friendly boutique hotels. Even the Penthouse Suite with its huge terrace and private outdoor jacuzzi is an affordable splurge.
Paros is another fantastic place to book Santorini-like hotels for half the price of actual Santorini hotels. We fell in love with this one on our recent trip.
4. Historic Sites
Naxos is the best Greek island for fascinating historic sites.
Naxos has been inhabited since prehistoric times. As a result, there are many archaeological sites on the island that tell its historical tale from ancient times to the present day. Here are a few to add to your exploration itinerary:
The Portara – If you arrive in Naxos by ferry, you can’t miss this one. The island’s most iconic historic site, the Portara, will literally greet you in the harbor. Constructed in 530 BC, the Portara is a giant doorway to the never-finished Temple of Apollo. It’s easy to explore the site via a manmade walkway from Naxos Town. It’s free to visit 24 hours a day and is also one of the island’s most popular spots to watch the sunset.
The Temple of Demeter – Dating back to the 6th century BC, this once magnificent marble temple is dedicated to Demeter, the ancient goddess of grain. Note: This temple is closed on Tuesdays.
Naxos Kastro (Castle) – Perched above the whitewashed houses of Naxos Town, the “Kastro” was the seat of power in the Cyclades for 300 years. Originally, the castle had several towers but today only the Glexos Tower remains (it was restored in 1968). Don’t miss the Venetian Museum of Naxos.
The Statues of Kouros – These ancient sculptures dating back to the seventh century BC can be found in the villages of Apollonas and Melanes. The general consensus is that these statues were carved to hold a temple roof but were abandoned by ancient sculptors due to faults in the marble. Remains of ancient temples surround both statues. Today, the Statues of Kouros are a popular tourist attraction and a must-see on any visit to Naxos.
5. Delicious Food
Naxos is the best Greek island for delicious, locally produced food.
Naxos is known for its delicious food! Mouth-watering meats, vegetables (especially potatoes), and cheeses are some of the island’s best homegrown products. Naxos boasts a fertile interior and lush valleys making it the agricultural capital of the Greek Islands.
To sample all those locally produced delicacies, there are tons of restaurants to choose from. But if you’re looking for a true Naxian experience, head to one of the many family-run tavernas like To Elliniko in Naxos Town.
Like many Greek islands, Naxos is also known for some pretty awesome wines. Be sure to sample xinomavro and moschofilero, to name just two. And, of course, as I mentioned earlier don’t miss the island-favorite Kitron liqueur.
In Naxos Town, you’ll find lots of shops selling specialty Naxian food items and Kitron for sampling.
Tip: Don’t make the same mistake I did, buy some Kitron liqueur to take home with you. I thought it would be available on other islands, it wasn’t!
Naxos is the best Greek island for an affordable holiday.
Naxos is a part of the Cyclades archipelago – which includes other popular destinations like Santorini and Mykonos. Compared to those two islands, Naxos is a far more affordable Greek Island for tourists because it’s not as touristy or built up yet.
Naxos is, in fact, one of the most affordable Greek islands to visit. From affordable luxury hotels to inexpensive restaurants and tavernas, your vacation budget will stretch further on Naxos than on many other Greek islands.
Naxos is the best Greek island for families.
Naxos is one of the most family-friendly islands in Greece. In Naxos Town, there are lots of cafés with outdoor seating perfect for little ones. And just outside the Naxos port, you’ll find lots of family-friendly shops to explore as well. In Naxos town, head uphill to the Naxos Archeological Museum for kid-friendly, hands-on exhibits about Naxian history and culture,
The best beaches for families with calm waters for swimming and good facilities are Agios Georgios (St. George Beach), Agios Prokopios, and Plaka.
Want to learn a new sport as a family? The calm waters and low waves on Naxos make it the perfect family-friendly, safe place to try your hand at windsurfing. On the island’s west side, Laguna Beach Park is Naxos’s top windsurfing school. In fact, they claim the park is the safest spot in the whole world for learning to windsurf. So what better place to give it a go?
The Bottom Line?
It can be an impossible dilemma to choose the perfect Greek island for your next vacation. There are just too many incredible choices!
But if you have to settle for one (you don’t BTW, island-hopping is a thing!), Naxos tops my list as the most well-rounded island showcasing all of the best that Greece has to offer.
From incredible beaches and historical sites to gourmet restaurants and beautiful landscapes, Naxos truly has it all.
Best of all? It all comes in an affordable, easy-to-explore, compact package.
So start planning your Greek island escape to Naxos today!