Paros and Naxos are 2 of my favorite islands in Greece. When people ask what island to visit in Greece my first answer is Santorini and my 2nd is usually Naxos or Paros (with Crete close behind – though Crete requires at least one to two weeks to fully explore). Both Paros and Naxos have better beaches than Santorini.
Both Naxos and Paros are a short ferry ride from Santorini. If you’re considering visiting another island after Santorini then Naxos and Paros should be at the top of your list. The following is an excerpt from a travel forum from a long-time resident of Greece that I’ve lightly edited (with permission, of course).
Paros or Naxos – Summary
- Both have great beaches but Naxos has slightly better ones.
- Both have amazing restaurants that serve wonderful local food.
- Paros has a better nightlife and feels a little trendier with more boutique hotels.
- Naxos is slightly more family-friendly.
Paros vs Naxos
This is not a question of which is the “better” island. But which is the most suitable? Suitable for your interests, requirements, and limitations on the particular trip. What is suitable for someone in one trip may not be suitable to the same person on another trip, and of course what is suitable to one person may not be suitable to someone else…
Paros and Naxos are very similar in some aspects, very different on others.
Size and characteristics
Naxos is the 2nd larger island on Cyclades, Paros the 3rd. Both are quite large. Naxos has a mountainous interior, Paros has a hilly interior. In both islands, there are great beaches to be found all around their periphery. Both islands are quite fertile comparing to other islands, but mostly Naxos keeps the agriculture tradition alive, while on Paros more and more people quit these occupations and rely on tourism. On both islands, there are people living from herding and fishing, not so many as they used to some years ago.
Orientation and Moving Around
On Paros center of activity for locals is the capital town, Parikia, but a huge part of economic life, trades and services is to be found in Naoussa too. On Naxos, the center of activity is Chora (Naxos Town). Parikia and Naoussa are port towns, but Parikia seems a bit more chaotic, because Paros is the ultimate ferry hub of the Cyclades and not only, and it gets a lot of ferry traffic. Furthermore, maybe due to altitude and local architecture characteristics, the “couleur local” is more obvious when approaching Naxos Town, while you have to explore more in-depth Parikia to discover its charm. Both towns have their old town part, with Cycladic architecture, narrow lanes, arcs, and a Castro area. Both towns have very decent sandy beach attached to them. Naoussa is a very scenic little port with a tiny Venetian “castle” ruin, backed up by the old Naoussa Town with its charming lanes and arcs etc, and an expanding surrounding area, highly commercialized.
Moving around on Public Transport is much easier in Paros than on Naxos. There are many buses per day, starting early morning departing Parikia and Naoussa towards most parts of the island, especially during high season, making life easier for visitors wanting to explore villages, beaches etc. On Naxos, bus schedules don’t take into consideration a visitor’s wishes. Buses are oriented towards serving the local population, so most early buses depart from other parts of Naxos towards the Chora, and later on afternoon there are buses from Chora to the villages, making life easier for locals, but difficult for visitors. Exception on this rule is the excellent bus route connecting Chora to Agios Prokopios, Agia Anna and Plaka, and sometimes even more southern beaches.
Car/moto hire is widely available in both islands. The road system is very decent too. Paros is flatter, and most of the inhabited parts of the island are to be found by the coast. It is easy to do an all around the island tour on a day. Naxos is much more mountainous and its town and villages are spread all around the place. There isn’t an all around the island circular route really. Road network is better on the west coast where most of the activity is located, while there are a lot of curves as you move inland. In order to reach the villages and beaches on the east, you have to climb up the mountain Zas and go down the other way. Roads on this side of the island are full of hairpin curves, while when on the east coast if you want to explore further than the actual towns, you have to use bumpy unsurfaced roads. The same applies of course to the very south of the island, and part of the very north of the island.
On Paros, boat “taxis” connect Parikia and Naoussa with near by beaches.
Most towns/villages on Paros are to be found on sea-side locations. Due to good travel network and exactly their particular location, most of them have some tourism involved, which is very basic and low-key in places such as Drios or Aliki, or a bit more evident as in Punda Beach and more recently Pounda Antiparou and Piso Livadi. There are some inland villages too, more notable been Lefkes of course. Lefkes is a very beautiful traditional village, well-kept and very developed recently in a good way- some high-quality shops and galleries around, taverns keeping the traditional ways, citizens coming back to renovate their old houses according to local architecture etc.
On Naxos, maybe most villages are to be found inland rather than sea-side. There are seaside resorts such as Agios Prokopios and Agia Anna, which already charming have gone maybe a bit too commercial, but in general, most places on Naxos are untouched by tourism and preserve a strong local character and their own pace of life. There are some seaside towns such as Apollonas that get some amount of visitors, but places such as Lionas or Moutsouna, maybe because they are hard to reach, remain mainly the same as they used to be 20 years ago. Some inland villages such as Halki and Filoti or Apiranthos, take a fair amount of daily visitors, while others such as Potamia villages hardy see any tourist. Time seems to stand still in villages such as Koronos.
Both islands are famous for their nice beaches, mostly sandy ones. But there are any kind of beach one could favor in both islands. On Paros there are super-busy organized places such as Punda Beach or Santa Maria or the popular Golden Beach, while on Naxos there is St George Beach, Agios Prokopios, Agia Anna, Plaka… On Paros there is the (still) unorganized quaint Molos – with its neighborhood Kalogiros beach where one can cover oneself with a therapeutic mold – or Tripiti and Glyfa where one can often be alone, while on Naxos there are Kastraki, Pyrgaki, Mikri Vigli, Aliki or even Ayiassos. On Paros there is nudism at Laggeri while on Naxos at Plaka.
The difference on Paros is that most locals advertise even the smallest beach such as Farangas or Lolandonis, while on Naxos, if you want to go a bit off the beaten track you have to discover everything your self. Beaches such as Kalandos, Hilia Vrisi, Pinelo or Psili Ammos are rarely mentioned on Naxos, although they rate from very decent to excellent ones. On both islands you can discover your own favorite place, as there are small coves and beaches almost everywhere.
Archeological Museums and Ancient Sites
Both islands share a very common ancient history, and n both places important artifacts have been discovers. Both Parikia and Naxos have one small but very interesting archeological museum each. On both towns there is one ancient site, important but not hugely impressive (the one in Naxos covered, the one on Parikia just railed around.Both free). I may be wrong as I didn’t have time to explore to a huge extent this aspect on Paros, but although there are many ancient locations identified as such, there is not much left to see. For example you follow signs to ancient Akropolis Koukounaries above Kolybithres beach, towards Kamares village, and you see literally nothing. Naxos does not have a highly impressive site, but there is, of course, the charming Portara, and there are various sites all over the island, such as the various Kouros, ancient Iria, Temple of Demeter, and ancient aqueduct.
Churches and Monasteries
In terms of religious importance for Greek Orthodox, Paros wins hand down due to Panayia Ekantotapyliani church. Both islands have many monasteries around, like the scenic Moni tou Christou tou Dasous near the Petaloudes park with its friendly nuns, and the very rich Moni Logovardas where monks deny access to visitors. Naxos has its own monasteries such as Agios Ioannis Chrisostomos for example. As everywhere on Cyclades, everywhere you can see small churches, from 2-3 churches next to each other on a small village to one church standing alone at the top of a rock. Although I am not an expert on this field, I know there are very old churches especially on Marpissa, Prodromos, Marmara area. On Naxos there are various old churches, for example Panayia Drosiani dates back from the 6th century. Although churches are not my thing at all, I prefer Naxos because most of interesting churches are to be found on unique landscapes, and retain its original features, while in Paros they are mostly inside towns and they are heavily restored. Panayia Ekantodapyliani for example is supposed to be built by St Constantine following the wishes of his mother St Heleni, and this been true or not, it’s really dated back from the 3rd or 4th century. There are some very old frescos etc, but in general although impressive, it seems like a modern church to me nowadays.
Sports and Activities
Both islands are famous for their windsurfing which is mainly located on the west beaches on Paros, east beaches of Naxos, not only die to the winds, but also due to the stream between the two islands. Popular windsurfing centers are on Golden Beach and New golden beach on Paros and on St George beach and Plaka on Naxos, but in other beaches in both islands too. Waterski is to be found in both places too, mostly in St George in Naxos, maybe a bit more on Paros, mainly on Kolibithres and Santa Maria beaches. Kitesurfing in to be found too, mainly on Pounda on Paros and Mikri Vigla on Naxos. There are diving centers in both islands, Agios Prokopios, Plaka on Naxos, Golden Beach, Santa Maria on Paros. In both islands there is horseriding, mostly in Naousa on Paros and Agia Anna on Naxos. Paros a tennis club in Agia Irene area south of Parikia, while as far as I am aware of, there are tennis courts only in one or two hotels on Naxos. In both islands there is sailing, mostly in St George area on Naxos, Parikia on Paros. Kayaking, rings, bananas etc are to be found in the same areas and even some more. There is good hiking on both islands, I believe though that Naxos wins a bit on this aspect. On Paros there is the Vyzanine trail from Lefkes to Prodrommos which is well-signposted, then there are some routes such as Logaras to Drios, but not much more, while on Naxos, although less organized, there are many more hiking opportunities. Mountain Zas climb, Potamia area and so on.
Other activities – Museums – Galleries
On Naxos, there is Kitron distillery on Halki. On Paros, there is winery on Naoussa.
On both islands there are plenty of small museums on various subjects. Near Aliki on Paros, a local artist-Benetos Skadas- created a small museum with miniatures of fishing boats, well-known buildings etc, various old-time items etc. In Naoussa in Agios Athanasios exhibit hall, there are important byzantine icons. There is a small folklore museum with local dresses etc hidden in the back lanes of the same town. Attached to Panayia Ekatontapyliani in Parikia there is a small museum with a collection of ecclesiastical items.
On Naxos Town there is the Venetian Museum of course. In Apiranthos there are three interesting small museums, the archeological one, the geological one and the folk art one.
In both islands there are some art galleries, such as Apothiki in Parikia and Medousa in Naoussa, and the Petalouda Art on Naxos Town.
Both islands produce decent wines, olives, olive oil. Moraitis wine is a quite strong brand name locally on Paros. Paros produce a local spirit called Souma, similar to Raki/Tsipouro. Naxos produce Kitron and there are 3-4 flavors, and 2-3 brand names, Valindras been the most famous. In both islands local pastries and desserts such as spoon desserts, amygdalota, loukoumades, jams etc are widely available, Hamilothoris been a favorable brand name on Paros. Both island have an excellent dairy products. Naxos is famous for its cheeses: kefalotyri, anthotiro, graviera, feta and especially mizithra and xinomizithra. Although it is not known so widely, the same cheeses of high quality are produced on Paros too.
Naxos produce a large quantity of potatoes every year.
Paros produce a small but high quality amount of chick peas that are cooked in various ways all over the island.
In both islands there are some local workshops offering pieces of art, especially pottery. Yria Ceramics on Paros and Fish & Olive pottery on Naxos come immediately to mind.
Paros and Naxos marble and emery are very well-known all over the world, in both islands the marble quarries are accessible to public and on Naxos one can see remaining infrastructure of the emery industry in Moutsouna and Lionas.
Both islands share identical and common excursions to Delos/Mykonos, Santorini, Iraklia/Koufonisia. On Paros there is an island bus tour taking in Antiparos town too. On Naxos there is a bus tour as well, taking in all the important spots (minus the Antiparos of course). On Naxos there is boat trip taking in various beaches all around the island, while there is not such a tour on Paros – I guess because all beaches are easily accessible on a vehicle, which is not the case on Naxos. But on Paros there are boat trips taking in Antiparos and Despotiko.
Food – Local specialities
On both islands the food is absolutely fantastic! The fact there are so many ingredients produced on the islands themselves adds to the quality. For example, a favored dish on both islands is mizithropitakia – small mizithra pies – while in many places especially on Paros, Greek salad is served with local xinomizithra instead of feta cheese. Chick-peas dishes, especially the traditional slow-cooked in a clay oven, are a favorite dish on Paros, while gouna fish, dried in the sun is a favored in Naxos among other great seafood.
On both islands there are many different types of accommodation, from camp sites to rooms to let, to mid-ranged hotel to very expensive hotels. There are a couple of large all-inclusive hotels such as Naxos Imperial or Porto Paros, but in general there are not very large complexes, so be aware. Furthermore, no matter how some hotels advertise themselves, there are not super-luxurious hotels of American standards like the ones you may find on parts of Crete, Santorini or Mykonos. Accommodation in general is more down to earth on Cyclades. On Paros, some form of accommodation is to be found in most areas though, while on Naxos you will mainly find accommodation on the western part of the island. Upper-class accommodation on Paros is mostly located on Parasporos beach near Parikia and on Kolibithres/Monastiri beach near Naoussa. On Naxos upper-class accommodation is mainly located around St George beach, Stelida area and Agios Prokopios. Budget accommodation such as studios, rooms to let and small B&Bs are to be found in both islands, especially Parikia on Paros and St George beach on Naxos, but not only. My own very personal opinion is that Naxos is slightly more budget-friendly, with better value for money on those types of accommodation. Studios with a kitchenette are more common on Naxos too. Seasonal house rentals and villas rentals are more common on Paros, but they are the type of villas that are addressed to rich celebrities mostly. A private house rental in Myti near Farangas, can cost up to 25000 euros/week, with daily maid service and some champagne included of course.
Self Catering – Eating Out
Both islands have a large year around population. So there are brunches of large chain supermarkets on both, which in general are cheaper than the local ones. DIA and Atlantic are to be found on both islands, on Paros there is Carrefour Marinopoulos too. On Naxos, local chain Koutelieris offer decent prices and very decent variety of products too.
In terms of quality, of course it worth to purchase cheese, wine, meat, fish, fruits and vegetables from the local stores.
For breakfast, most hotels will welcome non-residents, but there are many places in both islands offering breakfast, especially in seafront locations – I’ll just mention the great Rendez-Vous Cafe on Naxos Town.
Restaurant and Taverns serving food of very high quality is to be found everywhere on both islands, even the smaller village will have at least one tavern. On my personal experience, on Naxos, portions seem to be huge and bill seem to be small, while on Paros usually it is the other way around. Of course there are some hidden gems on Paros, and some not so decent places on Naxos, so… My opinion is that Paros is a bit more pricey island in general.
On both islands there are the ever-present souvlaki/gyros places, some creperies, pizzerias, places offering sandwiches etc. In Parikia town there is a Goody’s eatery too. For those who don’t know what I am talking about, Goody’s is the strongest Greek fast food brand name, something like a Greek McDonalds, just a bit healthier. I hear there was a Goody’s on Naxos Town a few years ago, but it closed down. It must be the only Goody’s ever that opened somewhere but didn’t make it!
On both islands there are other cuisines to be found. Except for the popular pizzeria/trattoria places that are to be found almost everywhere in Greece anyway, there is a Mexican and an Asian restaurant on Naxos, while there is a very good TAI on Paros.
Last but not least, when talking about food, lets not forget the popular bakery/pastry shops in both islands for a quick snack. And for desserts, I strongly suggest a visit to Waffle House on Naxos Town and a visit to Hamilothoris Zaharoplastio on Naoussa or some honey puffs-loukoumades from “Paradosiako” in Naoussa’s back lanes again.
Both islands have a very decent nightlife. Naxos is more low-key with most of bars, a few nightclubs and a bouzoukia place located in Naxos Town. Parikia in Paros is considered the most lively spot of the island all year, with Naoussa a close second. Actually, although foreign visitors consider Parikia the center of the night activity, Greeks consider Naoussa the hot spot of the island! Punda Beach – a complex of shopping, restaurants, beach bars and swimming pool, often hosts various DJ sets and events. There are a few bars staying open until late especially in high season in most places, eg Piso Livadi, Druos, Aliki, even Lefkes. On Naxos the same applies to Agios Prokopios, Agia Anna, Plaka, Apollonas. Both islands get very busy after middle July till 20th of August and although there are some party goers on both islands, Naxos is more oriented to families and couples, while Paros welcomes a large amount of young people. So things on Paros get a bit wilder.
Both islands enjoy a variety of cultural venues. In Chora, the privately owned Venetian Castle organizes concerts, recitals and traditional Greek night. In the countryside, in Bazeos Tower there are many exhibitions all summer, and often concerts are taking place there too. Of course there are many festivals with live greek music and dance all around the island on various dates, such as the 17th July Agia Marina festival in Koronos or the Agios Ioannis 29th August festival on Apiranthos. Usually, around the end of June, a Beach Volleyball Tournament takes place on St George beach.
On Paros, there are many many events and local festivities organized by the local authorities all summer. For example the Fish & Wine Fair the first Sunday of July in Naoussa, the 15th August Panayia Ekatodapyliani celebrations and the famous pirate night on 23rd August in Naousa. There are various events and recitals organized at the Paros Cultural Park Ai Giannis Detis too. The Aegean Sailing Rally passes Paros. Both islands are often visited by famous Greek and foreign artists, maybe Paros slightly more. Both islands are well-known for their local musicians, especially Naxos with its great violin players.