We first visited Naxos in 2018, as a few hour stopover from our stay in Paros before heading back to Athens. We fell in love at first sight with it and vowed to return. And so we did, this time around we decided to stay for three weeks. The more I get to know this island, the more I fall in love with it.
Oh Naxos, why do I love thee so?! But then again, why not? A history-laden island that has existed since antiquity. The place of the mythical gods & goddesses. The land of verdant valleys producing some of the best agricultural products in Greece. The largest Cycladic Island with diverse landscape that holds a plethora of delightful surprises for every traveler. Honestly, I could go on and on. If that was not enough to convince you to include Naxos in your bucket list, then keep on reading for the variety of things to do and see in Naxos.
1.Check Out the Phenomenal Portara
37° 6’ 37.236” N 25° 22’ 19.962” E
24 Hours, Free Admission, Easily Accessible
(Best Deal in the Island, so you do need to visit asap before this all changes.)
Visitors coming from the port of Naxos is greeted by the sight of this magnificent gateway or Portara. It is the emblem and most iconic landmark of Naxos. The Portara stands on a tiny islet called Palatia. While to the uninformed it looks nothing more like than the National Geographic frame, its historical significance is unparalleled standing mightily since 530 BC as a remnant of what would have been the temple of Apollo.
If you are an instagrammers or photo enthusiast you will be thrilled to know that there's 101 ways to take photos with the portara. Be creative, apply different angles, play with composition and perspective. Come at different times of days (daytime or nighttime, sunrise or sunset, moonrise or moonset) and you will be surprised at the amount of photos that you can take. On a full moon, don't be so focused on the sunset, be sure to look at the moonrise, which is just as magical.
Furthermore, you will be happy to note that this area does not only offer you the portara to take photos of. You can take photo with the town as your backdrop, with the cliff and rolling waves against the massive rock.
TIP: Don't forget to check out the often overlooked site of the mythical Goddess Ariadne's bath. It is located on the right side of the Aegean Sea going up to the Portara.
2. Be Charmed by Chora
The ancient town of Chora is the capital of Naxos. At a glance Chora seems like any other quintessential Cycladic town but the Naxians would proudly tell you that their Chora is distinct from the others as its also a fortified town having a medieval citadel. This Naxian fortress is the sole castle in the cyclades that has always been inhabited since its construction.
Things to do:
Wander aimlessly in the labyrinth, a surprise awaits you not just at every corner but every few steps. Whether you have a penchant for pretty spots, a fan of antiquity or a history lover, something is guaranteed to elicit a 'wow' from you with everything that you will come across.
Have a espresso freddo in one of the instagrammable cafes. Buy trinkets at the souvenir shops. Check out the Venetian Castle and museums. Chill at the promenade. Sip a wine as you watch the sun go down. Whatever you chose to do, its certainly going to be easy, fun and utterly satisfying.
3. Be Hypnotized by Its Historical Sites
Naxos undoubtedly have soul in its history and spirit in its lands. Travel back in time and experience a piece of this history.
Temple of Demeter
37° 1’ 43.47” N 25° 25’ 52.446” E
10 km from Chora
Hours: 8:30 am -15:30 PM last entry at 1510 (Wed - Mon) Might vary for winter hours
Fee: 4 euro (cash basis only)
One of the earliest Ionic temple believed to have been built at around 530 BC. This marble temple is erected to honour and give glory to agriculture goddess, Demeter. As such it was only fitting to build it in the midst of the fertile valley of Gyroulas, Sangri. Demeter is the sister of Zeus.
Don't forget to check out the museum which houses various artifacts found during the excavation, plus a model of the Archaic temple and the roof reconstruction when it was converted into a church.
Tip: If you plan on going here on your own, save the location in your GPS, or have a handy map with you. There are not too many signs and at some point it does get confusing.
Archaeological Site of Yria
37° 4’ 39.072” N 25° 22’ 49.476” E
Hours: 8:30 am -15:30 PM last entry at 1510 (Wed - Mon)Might vary for winter hours
3 km. from Chora
A sanctuary dedicated to Dionysus. Initially built as a fertility cult. Its function has evolved over the years but primarily it is used for religious purposes. It has a millennium long history of destruction (natural & manmade) and restoration, modification, expansion. It has impressively functioned continuously without interruption since it was erected in 1300 B.C up to this time. This is said to be the first large scare temple of the cyclades.
Tip: Similarly, have your GPS or map ready. There is no ample signage.
37° 2’ 59.67” N 25° 31’ 16.626” E
Fotodotis is the oldest castle/monastery in the island built on the 6th century AD and preserved in exemplary manner. It is situated on a remote location but accessible by car. It is a lengthy and partly a rocky drive, with a mix of asphalt and dirt road. Reachable on foot as well where there is a path for hiking enthusiast. We did the later. We took the bus going to Apeiranthos and got off at Danako (inform the driver where you are going so they can drop you off there), then going back we walked all the way to Filoti. I must say, it was quite an adventure.
Grounds is open 24 hours, but inside schedule is a bit confusing so check prior to going and confirm by calling 2285022233, 2103218075 or 3251044.
Despite not being able to see the interior, it was still an awe inspiring experience. We have thoroughly enjoyed exploring the grounds of the castle. At an altitude of 500 meter expect a phenomenally sublime views of the Aegean Sea and even Donoussa Island.
During our hike, my handsome Greek tour guide (ehem, hello husband) let me in on the legend that this castle was built on the command of a princess who has been saved from a raging storm. She pledged to build a monastery on the spot where she would "see the light that would lead to her salvation". Thus, the name Fotodotis meaning "illuminator" or"he who gives light".
Venetian Castles / Towers
Apart from Fotodotis Monastery there are other Venetian castles and towers scattered around Naxos. An indelible mark left by three centuries of Venetian occupation. The most notable is the Venetian towers in the Castle of Chora. Other important towers are Kalamitsa Palace in Melanes, Zevgoli & Bardanis Tower in Apiranthos, Barozzi Tower in Filoti, Bazeos Tower in Sangri.
Panagia Tis Spilias (Virgin of the Cave)
37° 1’ 43.074” N 25° 27’ 36.474” E
24 Hours, Free Admission
Similar to other Cycladic island, there is no lacking of churches/chapels in Naxos but this one is truly special. Panagia in a Cave is one of the most unique as it is build (as the name suggests) into a cave. Of all the churches we have visited this is my favourite, the exterior is still very sturdy although I must admit it feels a bit eerie inside. Located near Damarionas and Damalas.
Oldest Olive Tree in Naxos
37° 1’ 13.338” N 25° 26’ 30.432” E
This olive tree is estimated to be around 5000-6000 years old, making it 'arguably' the oldest olive tree in world. (claimed to be older than that of the ancient olive tree found Crete). Around the area you will also find Brysi Adisárou, an ancient spring and the chapel of Agios Isidoros.
4. Venture through the Vibrant Villages
Naxos is comprised of more than 30 villages. So enjoy a scenic drive (or ride) and check out some of Naxos delightful villages.
16 km. from Naxos Town
Serviced by Bus
The charming semi mountainous village of Halki is filled with picturesque spots. Instead of whitewashed structures that typically lined a Cycladic town, Halki is dominated by neoclassical buildings.
With my excessive fondness for flowers, Chalki was the village I'm most excited to visit. And of course, it did not disappoint. For the few hours that we were there I took several hundreds of photos.
Things to do:
Have coffee in Cafe Greco, dine at Giannis Tavern,check out how Kitron (Naxian famous liqueur) is produced. Visit the bountiful Venetian towers and ecclesiastical monuments like the Panagia Damiotissa and St. George Diasoritis,
18 km. from Naxos Town
Serviced by bus
Filoti is the largest village in Naxos. Built in amphitheater style, at the foot of Mount Zas with an elevation of 400 m. Just like Halki it is semi-mountainous and dotted with olive groves.
Things to do:
Wander in the streets of Filoti that is loaded with narrow, colourful and flower filled houses and cafes. Check out Panagia Filotitissa, Aria Spring Barozzi Tower, the cute and instagrammable tavernas. Hike Mount Zas, and check out the cave where Zeus was born.
25 km. to 32km from Naxos Town
Serviced by bus
Lest you get confuse, let's begin enumerating the variations of the name of this traditional village - Aperathou, Apeiranthos, Apiranthos, Aperathos. It is the second largest village of Naxos perched on a mountain top with an elevation of 650 m. altitude. Apeiranthos is just a little bit more special and distinct from the other villages having a distinct "dialect/idioms" of their own, and customs reminiscent that of the Cretan.
Things to Do:
Meander in this marble village of Naxos that has managed to preserve its traditional architecture and kept customs intact, thus never losing its authenticity . Check out the Zevgoli Tower. Visit its 5 museums: Archeological Museum, Folkloric Museum, Geological Museum, Museum of Natural History and Visual Arts Museum. And like the other villages, sightseeing in Apeiranthos includes Venetian towers, Byzantine Churches.
As for me, my favourite thing to do here is hang out at the cutest, most charming shop, To Yperwon. This is my absolute favourite place in Apeiranthos. It's quaint, instagrammable, and they have the cutest stuff.
I have no expectations for Apiranthos, and to be honest I didn't expect to love it as much as I did. The locals have so much warmth in them that of all the villages we have visited, it's my favourite that we came back twice.
35 km from Naxos Town
Serviced by Bus
Apollonas is a quaint seaside village northeast of Naxos. This far flung village might seem secluded but through the years it has evolved into a tourist resort. You will come across tavernas, beaches, and full facilities catering to tourists
Apollonas is home to ancient quarries producing the famous Naxian marbles. These marbles has been used since ancient times and the material used for the colossal statue locally known as kouros of Apollonas. This kouros is 10.7 meters long, weighing a whopping 88 tons and dates back around 6th - 7th century. There has been a long standing contentions as to whether the statue is a depiction of Apollo or Dionysus.
5. Beach Hopping
Naxos have over 30 beaches. You will find fully organized, partly organized and unorganized beaches. There are hyped-up crowd favorites but also quiet secluded ones. From sprawling sandy shores, peebled ones to forested and rocky coast, there is one to suit ever beach goers preference
You don't have to go far from Chora to find a beach, just 2 km. away is Agios Georgios. Its proximity to town makes its a very popular beach, as everything you need is within reach. This is actually our most frequented beach as it is located just behind our Airbnb. Its a long sandy fully organized beach with facilities close at hand.
Another highly favoured beach is Agios Prokopios. Said to be the third most beautiful beach in Greece, and in Europe's top ten beach. Part of the beach is organized with plenty of sunbeams and umbrellas. Other well organized and popular choices are Agia Anna and Plaka Beach.If you want to veer away from the crowd, try going to Alyko and the beaches by it (Hawaii, Kedros, Mikro Alyko). While in Alyko you can visit the Cedar Forest in a sand dune, with some of the trees as old as 200 years. Also nearby is an abandoned hotel, are incredible 3D murals by famous artist WD or Wild Drawing
For water sports enthusiast, you will be delighted to know that various water adventure is offered in most beaches here. From kite surfing, windsurfing, catamaran sailing, diving. Water skiing and wake boarding are offered in Agios Georgios and Plaka Beach. Windsurfing and kitesurfing are available in several beaches but Mikri Vigla is most prominent beach for this water sport.
Agiassos Beach is the farthest beach from Chora of the eastern side of the island. Of all the beach we've been this is my favourite despite its distance. I love the quiet and serenity of this area especially the little cove that we found which is ideal for privacy. Don't hesitate to travel 23 km. from Chora because this place is definitely worth the ride.
If you want to escape the hubbub of the centre, go further and check out the beaches in villages. Go to Lionas Beach in Koronos, Moutsouna Beach in Apeiranthos or Apollonas Beach in Apollonas.
6. Taste the Flavours of Naxos
As the most fertile Cycladic island, Naxos boasts (and rightfully so) of excellent local agricultural products. Naxian cheese, liqueur and potatoes are all nationally recognized.
Naxos is widely known for its potatoes. Trust the housewives to buy only Naxian potatoes from the Laiki. I am not really big potato eater, but I must say that while in Naxos, I certainly had my fill. (Not an exaggeration)
Naxos is also famous for its cheese production of which the Gruyere is the most popular. It is a PDO product (Protected Designation of Origin)
Naxian prominent liqueur Kitron is another PDO certified product. A liqueur made from (yes, you guessed it!) citron leaves & fruit. It has 3 varieties, green, yellow and clear. My personal preference the green type is sweeter and have lower alcohol content. Its opposite is the yellow which have stronger alcohol content and less sugar. The clear Kitron is the the middle type.
Simply Put, NAXOS, HAVE IT ALL!!!
PIN FOR LATER, LOVES!