Naxos is a mountainous Greek island, the largest of the Cyclades group.
Some of its main attractions are temples, hiking, beaches and fresh fish.
This guide will cover the following:
- How to get to Naxos
- What to see and do in Naxos
- Where to eat in Naxos
- How to get around Naxos
- BONUS: beautiful beach & abandoned hotel!
How to get to Naxos
Even as the largest of the Cyclades, Naxos doesn’t see as many tourists as Santorini and therefore doesn’t have as many arriving/departing flights. In fact, the only route is between Naxos and Athens.
There are daily flights all year round, with increased frequency over the summer months. Flight time is 40 minutes. Prices for a one-way ticket can be as low as €40 (£36/US$46) in winter, and €75 (£67/US$87) in summer.
This is the most popular – and in my opinion fun – method of getting around the Greek islands. Here are details for the routes from Athens and Santorini.
➲ From Athens: journey time ranges from 3.5-6 hours; cheapest prices €36 (£32/US$42); minimum 4 departures per day.
➲ From Santorini: journey time ranges from 1.5-4 hours; cheapest prices €13 (£12/US$15); minimum 3 departures per day.
What to see and do in Naxos
Temple of Apollon
If arriving by boat, this temple will be one of the first parts of Naxos that you set eyes on. Situated atop a small headland, it overlooks the town of Chora and its many marinas.
The temple has a simple structure that looks great and makes for some impressive looking pictures. Combine this with its dramatic location and free access, and you have a recipe for a tourist attraction. I’m not talking touristy as in tacky, I just mean it gets very busy – and understandably so!
The sunsets here are simply sumptuous; after capturing the obligatory silhouette picture, walk to the end of the rocky outcrop and sit down by the ocean, taking a moment to appreciate the wonder of nature.
Sometimes referred to as Mount Zas (not Zeus), this is the highest peak in not only Naxos but in the entire Cyclades group [of islands]. Climbing this 1004-metre mountain is achievable within half a day but I’d factor in longer to allow time for cave exploration and to enjoy the summit views. The nearby village of Filoti acts as a base for excited hikers.
There are two main walking routes to reach the top of Mount Zeus – both marked with red waypoints and the number 2.
The steeper and more exciting option is via the Cave of Zeus and Aria Spring. The start of this path can be accessed via the Church of Agia Irini, just south of Filoti village; keeping the church immediately to your left, follow the road to Aria Spring, where it turns into a hiking path and continues uphill. I’d recommend ascending using this route – it’s a rocky climb and certainly gets your heart pumping but never gets steep enough that you need to use your hands.
Alternatively, use the path that runs via the Church of Agia Marina. This route is shallower and slightly longer than the previous one so I’d certainly advise using it to descend (and feel free to ascend using it too if you’re not feeling up to the steeper cave path). For ascending, the start of the path can be accessed from the Church of Agia Marina; coming on the road from Filoti, turn right when you reach the church, keeping it on your left as you follow the path.
Want to ascend using the steep path and descend via the shallow path, but not sure how to access the shallower path from the summit? Begin by returning the way you came, but instead of turning left to take the route towards Zeus Cave, continue straight ahead along the main path.
Whichever route you pick, there’s awesome scenery all the way up – especially on a clear day. At the summit there are 360-degree views over the whole of Naxos; you’ll easily be able to see the coastline and even some of the surrounding islands. Look out for goats grazing on the slopes of the mountain and once at the top keep an eye out for soaring griffon vultures – they’re huge!
Start early if using the buses!
The last bus back from Filoti (village near Mt Zeus) to Chora is at 4:30pm. So if you’re planning on accessing the mountain by using the local bus service then I would recommend starting early in the morning. This way you’ll allow for sufficient time to make the climb and maybe even spare an hour for a spot of lunch!
Agia Anna Beach
Located on the west coast of Naxos, Agia Anna is a beach-holiday type of beach. It’s centured around tourism but has been developed in an aesthetically pleasing manner. If you’re after some waterfront sun beds with waiter service then this is the place to come.
A range of cafes, bars and tavernas offer everything from croissants and cocktails to fresh fish and frappes, meaning you’ll never have to walk far to find what you’re after. The beach is sandy and sea great for swimming.
Village of Vivlos
Biking around the hills of western Naxos, I stumbled upon the village of Vivlos. It’s a typical Greek settlement with white-washed walls, blue decoration and simplistic architecture. There isn’t an awful lot to see in Vivlos except some old windmills atop the hill, but I enjoyed just wandering along its narrow streets.
Eggares Olive Museum
Located in the village of Eggares, this free to enter museum is probably one of the smallest in the world! Consisting of just 1 room, this exhibition will provide you with a basic yet interesting run down of how olive oil production has progressed since the 19th century.
Fun fact: there are more than 500,000 olive trees on the island of Naxos alone! These mainly consist of the Koroneiki variety – a small bitter olive (too bitter to eat) that’s turned into olive oil using the 5 industrial presses on the island.
After having a complimentary guided tour by staff, you can sample some of the products that are made using olives – including some rather unusual ones! Examples include: the olives themselves; different flavours of extra virgin olive oil; orange and olive oil cake; olive pate and olive jam. Then, if you particularly like something, you can make a purchase from the shop or enjoy a snack and drink in the peaceful setting of the museum cafe.
Another great beach on the west coast of Naxos is Plaka. It’s less developed than Agia Anna and is therefore far less crowded. The long sandy beach – perfect for kicking or throwing a ball around – gives way to a slightly choppy sea; all in all geared more towards activities than relaxing! (Albeit your own activities as there are no water sports to be seen here – for wind & kite surfing, head south to Mikri Vigla).
Fancy watching a movie? Located just south of Chora town (the main port area of Naxos) is an outdoor cinema called Cine Naxos. Most screenings will be in English with Greek subtitles. For an up-to-date list of movies on offer, visit www.cinenaxos.com.
Village of Apollonas
Tucked away in the far north of Naxos is the village of Apollonas. It has a small sandy beach, some waterfront restaurants and a pier for its fishing boats.
Without sounding like there’s much to do, you can easily spend a day in Apollonas and not get bored. It’s the place to come to escape civilisation. The place to come for a relaxing swim and an even more laid back lunch. For a walk and a sunbathe. To read a book. Or just to do nothing at all (except maybe enjoy the views).
Another place outside of the main Chora town is Bazeos tower. It originally served as a monastery but is now a cultural centre. Entrance is €5 (£4.5/US$5.8) and it’s open daily from 10am-5pm. If you’re passing by then it’s worth taking a look (even if you don’t go inside), but I wouldn’t change plans or go out of your way just to visit.
Where to eat in Naxos
➲ Sitari Bakery – a great bakery for breakfast
➲ Maro’s – gigantic portions of hearty Greek dishes
➲ Avli – seaside taverna with delicious fresh fish
➲ Kalimera – beach views at Apollonas
➲ Kozi – the best moussaka in Naxos
➲ To Souvlaki Tou Maki – biggest gyros in town
➲ Pi & Fi – cheap and tasty crepes
For all the delicious details, read my Eating in Naxos guide here.
How to get around Naxos
Being one of the larger Greek islands, Naxos isn’t exactly ideally suited to cycling – not like some of the smaller islands such as Antiparos. What I mean by that is, even professional cyclists would have a hard time getting round the entire island in a single day. However, if your intentions are just to explore the local beaches and maybe the odd village, then renting a bike on Naxos is an affordable and fun way to get around the island.
You can hire a decent quality mountain or hybrid bike for as little as €10 (£9/US$12) per day, with cheaper rates for rentals of longer than a single day. I had no problems with a company called Naxos Moto Rent (Ioannou Paparigopoulou, Naxos 843 00). They provided me with a high quality (at least compared to other rental bikes in Greece) bicycle and I paid €16 (£14/US$19) for 2 days.
Don’t fancy hiring a bicycle? Fear not! It’s possible to navigate the entire island using the public buses. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it certainly is possible. You see, the bus routes are all out-and-back style routes to a single destination rather than linking up multiple villages in a loop style route. Therefore, visiting multiple places in a single day is not particularly easy. The frequency of the buses varies by route, with some being as frequent as every 30mins while others only have 1 departure per day.
One place where the buses come in especially handy is if you’re thinking of climbing Mount Zeus. Single tickets to the nearby village of Feloti cost €2.6 (£2.3/US$3), avoiding the need to fork out for a taxi or make a mammoth bike ride!
By Vehicle Hire
For the ultimate freedom and ease of use, consider hiring a vehicle whilst in Naxos. The distances to some of the lesser known areas are quite long, and relying on buses can be annoying at the best of times. Organise one ready for your arrival or ask at a travel agents in Chora town for up-to-date quotes.
BONUS – beautiful beach & abandoned hotel!
Hiding away down on the southwest coast of Naxos is potentially one of the best beaches on the island. Far from any main roads and houses, its seclusion is a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of Chora town. The rolling sand dunes and mountainous landscape combine with the deep blue of the ocean to create some simply stunning scenery; painting a picture of tranquillity and inviting you to relax.
Welcome to Aliko beach – probably the most beautiful in all of Naxos. Apart from lapping up the sun and enjoying the setting, swimming is the name of the game here; with the wonderfully clear water and no boating activities, it’s perfect for some snorkelling.
If I’m being fussy, the sand is in truth a little stony, so beach games are probably not a great idea at Aliko. However, there is one last cool thing to check out – the abandoned hotel! Once you’re done with sunning and swimming, get your shoes on and go for an explore (if you dare)!