The 2020 Naxos Travel Guide
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Where Is Naxos?
Naxos is an island in Greece, part of the Cycladic group located in the Aegean Sea. Naxos lies about 40 km south of Mykonos, 180 km southeast of Athens, 85 km North of Santorini, and 200 km north of Crete. Flights to Naxos take 40 minutes from Athens; there are no direct flights to Naxos from any other cities. Ferries are most commonly used to get to and from Naxos, whether from Athens or any of the nearby islands.
How Big Is Naxos?
Naxos has a population of almost 21,000 and a land area of 430 sq. km (about one third the size of Kauai, Hawaii, and about 7.5 times the size of Manhattan). The length of the island is around 40 km, and it measures around 30 km at its widest point. It takes about 90 minutes to drive the longest way (north to south) from one end of the island to the other.
How to Get to Naxos
Both Sky Express and Olympic Air offer direct flights from Athens to Naxos, which take about 40 minutes. Note that flights will sell out much earlier than ferries – if you find a flight that works for you, book it as soon as possible. There are no direct flights to Naxos from any other cities.
Ferries from Athens will make a few stops and take anywhere from 3 to 6 hours, depending on the type of boat. Naxos is connected by direct ferry to Paros, about a 40-minute trip. Ferries connecting Naxos to the islands of Mykonos, Ios, Milos, Folegandros, Santorini, and Crete usually make a few stops and can take 30 minutes to 5 hours.
When Is the Best Time to Go to Naxos?
Naxos has a shorter travel window than its neighbors Santorini and Mykonos. Most hotels in Naxos open from early May to mid-October, though a handful open from March through November or longer. The best time to visit for warm weather, great swimming, sunbathing, and sailing is from late June through early September. If swimming and hot weather are not priorities, then April, May, and October are perfect for sightseeing, archaeology, history, dining, and enjoying the little bit of nightlife in Naxos Town.
A Brief History of Naxos
In Greek mythology, Naxos is the childhood home of Zeus, who was raised in a cave on what is now Mount Zas in order to hide from his father Cronos, who had already eaten his 5 siblings. Zeus’ son Dionysus was also raised on Naxos, where he later fell in love and married Ariadne, who had been abandoned there.
The Thracians were the first inhabitants of Naxos, dating back to 4000 B.C., and the island was named for there leader, Naxos. The island subsequently has been ruled by the Careans, Ionians, Athenians, Spartans, Macedonians, Egyptians, Rhodians, and Romans. Naxos boasts the oldest Byzantine churches in the Balkans – the 6th-century monastery Christ Photodotis and the 7th-century Panagia Drosiani church, dedicated to the Virgin. There are over 200 Byzantine churches in Naxos, many with original frescoes, as well as 500 pre and post-Byzantine churches, many linked by hiking trails through the mountains. The Venetians established the Duchy of the Aegean in the 13th century, made Naxos its capital, and built a castle in what is now Naxos Town. The Ottomans attempted to take the island in the 15th century but were unsuccessful. The Venetians managed to retain control over Naxos during the Ottoman rule over the rest of Greece. Naxos officially became part of the independent Greek state in 1832.
What Are the Main Towns in Naxos?
The main village on Naxos, where the vast majority of restaurants, bars, shops, and hotels are located, is called Naxos Town or the Chora. In the Chora, you’ll find the Castle (aka Kastro) of Naxos, the Apollo Temple ruins, some small museums, and a labyrinth of narrow lanes filled with local shops and tavernas. Agios Georgios (Saint George) Beach is a short walk from the heart of Naxos Town. The Chora is the transportation hub for ferries, taxis, and the few buses serving the island.
There are several small, traditional villages in the mountainous center of the island, the largest among them being Filoti, Apeiranthos, and Glynado, and the most picturesque being Chalki. Villages in central Naxos are surrounded by farms, vineyards, olive groves, and dairies. The greenest and most fertile Cycladic island, Naxos is known for its produce (especially potatoes), cheeses, cattle, and Kitron, a local citrus liqueur.
The more popular beaches of Agios Prokopios, Agia Anna, Plaka, and others have accumulated a number of restaurants, beach clubs, hotels, and mini-markets so that they feel like unofficial villages.
What Is the Best Place to Stay in Naxos?
For most travelers, the best places to stay in Naxos are in the village of Naxos Town or on the beaches of Agios Prokopios, Agia Anna, or Plaka for a good mix of relaxing, dining, sunning, and exploring. Naxos Town is incredibly walkable with plenty of restaurants, shops, sights, and the beach within just a few minutes on foot. Agios Prokopios, Agia Anna, and Plaka are all connected to Naxos Town by bus, with more frequent routes running in the peak of summer. Within the beach areas themselves, everything is within a short walk. Those interested in history, culture, hiking, and archaeology may prefer to stay in one of the traditional, mountain villages, such as Filoti, Moni, Sangri, or Glynado.
What to Do in Naxos?
The best things to do in Naxos include dining, shopping, and getting incredibly lost in Naxos Town, swimming and sunbathing at the endless, golden beaches, exploring the archaeological ruins of Apollo Temple and the Temple of Demeter, visiting traditional Chalki village (and its Kitron distillery), hiking some of the many mountain trails, gazing at the Byzantine frescoes in the ancient churches, and catching the sunset from a perch over the ferry port, from Apollo Temple, or from a mountaintop (Rotunda Cafe in Apeiranthos village has an especially great sunset terrace).
How Many Days in Naxos?
Stay a minimum of 2 nights and 1 full day. But there’s so much to see and do that it’s easy to fill 5 days. If possible, do a tour of the archaeological site at the Temple of Demeter, hike a mountain trail (from Moni to Chalki passing by the old churches or hike past Aria Spring up to Zas Cave, Zeus’ childhood home), take a boat trip to one of the many swimming spots on the east side of the island, take a day trip to cosmopolitan Paros island, and spend a day at one of Naxos’ sandy beaches, sunbathing and swimming.
Be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to get lost in the maze-like streets of Naxos Town: shop and dine in the Chora, stroll to Apollo Temple along the narrow pathway jutting into the sea, explore the Venetian castle ruins, and enjoy a sunset cocktail from one of the small bars above.
Saving Money in Naxos
Naxos is still largely off the tourism radar. Though you can spend hundreds on a room, most hotels in Naxos fall into the moderate or budget categories, including many beachfront properties. There are no all-inclusive resorts or vacation packages. All beaches are open to the public and free to visit. Most beach clubs offer free umbrellas and sunbeds to guests who purchase a drink or food; the ones that do charge, usually only cost €10 or so.