I can’t even remember when I first heard of the Greek island of Naxos. It was possibly one of those “Don’t visit A, Visit B” listicles, where A was probably Santorini and B was probably Naxos. I popped it on my A Brummie Home and Abroad’s Travel Wishlist (Part Two). And then coincidentally I kept finding loads of blog posts about Naxos. And when one of my favourite travel bloggers Tiffany at A Girl And Her Passport started raving about the island, I knew it would be the perfect destination for a relaxing September sunshine break.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. This means that should you click on certain links, and then subsequently purchase a product, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you!
Naxos is one of the Cyclades islands, located in the south Aegean Sea. In fact, it’s the largest of the 220 Cyclades islands, a group which includes Mykonos, Ios, Paros and Santorini. Boring or interesting fact: Cyclades means circular, and indeed all of the islands circle around the uninhabited Delos. It also has the highest point in the Cyclades, Mount Zas, where according to Greek mythology, Zeus himself was raised in a cave. Naxos is indeed a mountainous island, and it’s surprisingly lush and fertile, meaning lots of agriculture. At the moment it’s less hectic – and less expensive – than neighbouring Santorini and Mykonos, but the tourists are definitely starting to find Naxos, so put it on your travel wishlist now before it’s no longer a hidden gem!
You can travel to Naxos by plane or by ferry. There are a handful of flights each day direct from Athens airport for about £80 return, but we chose to travel by ferry from Piraeus in Athens. This was not without its issues, and ferries can be affected by strikes or bad weather meaning plans can be changed at the last minute.
We booked our ferries through Greeka.com and you can use their site to check ferry schedules and book tickets online. You will need to exchange your email confirmation for physical tickets at the port before you travel. In the summer there are four ferries a day, three in the morning and one in the evening. We chose the Blue Star Ferries 07:30 departure which takes around 5 hours to reach Naxos. There are quicker options but these are more costly. For an economy ticket we paid 37.50 Euro each way per person.
In high season make sure you get to the port at least an hour before departure, preferably two. Our September ferry was particularly busy but this may have been due to the cancellation the day before. There are a number of coffee shops and a restaurant on board if you don’t get chance to pick up supplies before you embark. There’s also a place to store your luggage, although it’s a bit of a rugby scrum the other end retrieving your suitcase.
Once you get to Naxos, there will be plenty of taxis at the port, or there is the bus service which goes to the main tourist areas. Many hotels and accommodations will offer a pick-up; for us it was worth 25 Euro to be delivered to our door with a nice chilled bottle of water in hand.
The best way to explore the island of Naxos is on two or four wheels. In Naxos Town (Chora), and in Agios Prokiopos where we stayed, every other storefront is a rental company so you’ll have no problem organising this during your stay. We asked our hotel for recommendations and they contacted the rental company who came and dropped a rental car off to us, did the paperwork in reception and collected the car the next morning. Car rental is generally around 35 Euro a day, however ours was 25 Euro a day as the price slipped from high season to low on that very day. Result. There’s more about driving in Naxos below.
There’s a regular bus which runs between Chora and the beaches. It’s 1.80 Euro per journey; purchase your tickets from a local vendor before boarding the bus. I found the online bus schedule confusing so relied on the timetable taped to the bus stop. From the port the bus seemed to run on the hour and 30 minutes past the hour. From Agios Prokopios to Chora, the bus was ten past the hour and twenty to the hour, but generally ran a little late. Apart from on the final morning when it was annoyingly punctual. Buses do run to the inland villages, and I’d suggest popping into the bus office at the port for a schedule.
There’s no shortage of accommodation on Naxos, although most are centred around Chora or the beaches on the south-west facing coast of the island. Even if you do choose to stay in the Old Town, the beach of Agios Georgios is just a ten minute stroll away so you really do get the best of both worlds.
We chose to stay at the Liana Hotel and Spa, right on Agios Prokopios beach. It’s a great choice, basic but clean rooms with a stylish classic whitewashed exterior. Breakfast is served on the grassy lawn overlooking the beach, and there is a small snack bar menu offered at lunchtime. The big draw thought is the proximity to the beach. You can also order food and drinks right from your sunbed! And Agios Prokopos is a great location; we were spoilt for choice when it came to eating options. I highly recommend the gyros at Leftos.
As always, we booked via Booking.com which gave us flexibility, and an ease of communication with the property – a big bonus when you’re going to be arriving a day late. If you’re planning to book accommodation soon, how about using this link? You’ll get £15 back after your stay, and I’ll get £15 too!
Our stay was disappointingly short. Another day and we could have made an early start and hiked to the summit of Mount Zas. One more day and we could have visited the inland villages that we missed. Yet another day and we could have taken a day cruise, taking in the small Cyclades islands. But instead we chose to spend most of our four and a half days relaxing on the beach, soaking up the sunshine and enjoying a Mythos or Aperol Spritz or two. Yes, I can now add Greece to this list.
However, we did spend two enjoyable evenings in Chora, winding our way through the picturesque narrow back streets of the old town, with never-ending staircases and whitewashed buildings. You emerge at the top from a Venetian castle, with wonderful views over the rooftops looking out to the port. And it truly is a labyrinth of cute shops, galleries, museums and restaurants. You can’t visit Chora without at least one sunset at the Temple of Apollo (Portara) – the marble gate of an unfinished temple dating back to 530BC.
The Naxos beaches are stunning, pale sand fringing a sparkling Aegean sea. Punctuated by headland and rocky outcrops, Agios Prokopios down to the southern cape of Naxos is essentially one long beach. “Organised beaches” are those with ample sunbeds, sunshades and beach bars. These naturally come with a small cost involved. Others are a little more primitive, where you can happily commune with nature. Some beaches are also clothes-optional. If you’re hiring a car, scooter or quad bike, you should be able to find a relatively quiet spot.
Take a trip inland to explore traditional Greece. Little villages dot the island, and it’s here you’ll find some of the finest hospitality and fresh local produce. The local cheese, olives and liqueur kitron should definitely be sampled. We visited Chalki, Filoti, Apiranthos and Apollonas.
The designated driver is Mr Fletche. I am by default the designated navigator. Which generally works out OK. Although I do almost get us wedged in a narrow lane in Eggares. Definitely follow signs rather than GPS where possible. Roads are generally good on Naxos and signposts to the main villages and points of interest are surprisingly frequent. Malta could learn a thing or two.
Once you get inland though, nice straight roads are a thing of the past. You hug mountainsides, with nothing but a few trees to stop you plunging down into the valley below. Roads switchback at an alarming rate, with hairpin bends creating a snaking route back down to the sea. It reminds me very much of driving on Tenerife. Mostly the road is wide enough for two cars but occasionally it’s a little more of a squeeze. Although we barely passed two dozen cars once we were out of the villages.
The Greek island of Naxos gets a big thumbs up from A Brummie Home and Abroad. Yes, it can be a bit of a faff to get over there as you’re probably relying on the ferries. But even with our delays it was totally worth the effort. Whilst I’d love to visit Naxos again it’s also given me a thirst for exploring more of the Greek islands in future. So, where to explore next? Let me know in the comments!