With its combination of characteristic island charm, colourful history, yet subtle modernity, Naxos will have you understanding exactly why it’s an underrated gem of the Greek islands.
It is about a 5 hour ferry ride from Athens, but is one of the Greek islands with an airport, so there is more than one way to get here should you prefer to fly rather than ferry.
Being the largest island in the Cyclades there are mountains to climb, ruins to visit (both ancient and more recent), and exquisite local dishes. There are wind sports for the adventurous, long stretches of golden sand beaches for couples and families and a rugged beauty that will captivate every traveler.
The best things to do in Naxos are listed here for your enjoyment, but even if it’s just a 2 day stop over the island has enough to enthrall all of its visitors, no matter how much (or little) they choose to do.
Explore The Old Town
As you jump off the ferry you will walk straight into Chora, the capital of the island. Even if all the time you have is spent here in Chora, you won’t be disappointed.
The village was by far a favourite of my travels, and you can see why exploring its alleyways is a popular thing to do in Naxos. There is an exciting variety of stores, some of which are surprisingly quirky, while others are modern and upmarket. There are eclectic second-hand bookstores, fabric stores and jewelry stores with precious handmade goods you’re unlikely to find anywhere else. The range encompasses every travelers desires.
Chora also has a lively nightlife, bustling waterfront tavernas and restaurants and, as with anywhere in Greece, there are friendly, welcoming people who make your time here all the more pleasant.
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Climb Mount Zeus
With 360 views of the island and the Aegean beyond, Mount Zeus is one of the best things to do in Naxos for nature lovers and hikers alike.
If you’re not fazed by a bit of a climb, the journey is a rewarding one. The loop is 5 km in length and will take you about 2-4 hours depending on your fitness level. But the steep incline is worth every minute once you get to the summit.
At a height of 1004 meters you can see why this mountain got its name from the Greek God, Zeus, you’re truly in among the clouds.
☞ Related: Maybe you want to climb something even bigger like Mount Olympus
Visit The Villages
After your climb up mount Zeus you will no doubt be in need of some lunch. Your descent will leave you in Filoti, a gorgeous village nestled in the mountains on the foothill of mount Zeus itself.
Filoti is surrounded by olive groves, grazing stock and picturesque churches and is the perfect place to stop, explore and grab a bite to eat. Only 18 km from Chora, Filoti is the second largest village on the island. It has a number of tavernas to choose from.
But Filoti isn’t the only village worth your time. Chalki, Apeirnathos and Koronos give you another taste of mountain life in Greece. The great thing about Naxos is its accessibility. So, if you hire a car you have endless opportunity to see these villages and more. Alternatively, you can catch the bus, as there are regular services that run frequently throughout summer.
☞ Related: The Most Enchanting Villages in Mainland Greece You Need To Visit
Temple of Apollo
This towering lonesome arch is a defining feature of the island and makes for a gorgeous sunset destination. One of the more obvious things to do in Naxos, yet one you will no doubt make a priority.
Also known as ‘Portara’ meaning door frame, this is all that is left of the unfinished temple.The Temple of Apollo was originally built in the 6th century BC under the order of Naxos ruler Lygdamis. However he was overthrown in 524 BC and the temple remained unfinished. The colossal arch that lies on the coast of the island is all that remains.
☞ Related: 5 Olympian ‘Gods’ And Their Greek Island
Try The Local Food
Of course you’re going to try the traditional food! But one of the amazing things about Greek cuisine is the subtle yet delicious differences there are from place to place.
Due the size and fertility of the land on Naxos it has some delicious local produce available such as olives, honey and seafood.
There is also a large amount of livestock farmed on the island making for a delicious variety of local cheeses on offer, not to mention lamb and goats meat.
So when you’re ordering be sure to keep this in mind and ask your waiter for something uniquely Naxian!
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Archaeological Museum of Naxos
A trip to Greece isn’t complete without a visit to a museum. The Archaeological Museum on the island is one of the best things to do in Naxos.
Excavations on the island have found numerous pieces of importance from everyday items to works of art that enable archaeologists to piece together life on the island throughout the ages.
This museum has the second best collection of Cycladic art in Greece, with the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens coming in first. But it also has collections that span the Archaic to the Roman period as well.
Visit The Kastro
This grand Venetian castle is a stark contrast to the whitewashed homes that sit on the hill as you look upon the main village of Naxos.
This castle (or Kastro as it is called) was built in the 13th century when Naxos was under Venetian rule. Duke Marco Sanudo conquered the island in 1207 and Naxos was under Venetian rule until 1537.
The castle today serves as a reminder of this time and is located in the center of Chora and is only a short walk up the hill.
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Go To The Beach
Greece has its fair share of bucket list beaches and Naxos is no exception. Agios Prokopios is widely considered one of the best beaches on the island. Being over a kilometer long and just a short distance from Chora, this organised beach offers plenty of places to choose from to settle in for the day. Here you can participate in some windsurfing or simply relax with a drink.
Mikri Vigla is another great beach for windsurfing. For family oriented travelers Agia Anna is a great beach for those with kids due to its shallow waters. Alternatively, if you’d prefer a quiet get away the Eastern side of the island can offer you exactly that.
☞ Related: 2 Greek Beaches That Consistently Rank Among Best Beaches Worldwide
Temple Of Demeter
Demeter was the Greek goddess of agriculture and harvest and fittingly the Temple of Demeter is located in one of Naxos’ fertile valleys. With the mountains as a backdrop and the wide open plains this archaeological site is one of the top things to do while in Naxos, if not for its history, then its idyllic setting.
The Temple was constructed in 530 BC, however in the Early Christian period the temple was destroyed, and a church was built in its place. What you will see here today is its reconstruction.
The site is located 15 km out of Chora and the Archaeological Museum of Gyroulas is just a short distance away and houses remains of both the church and temple.
Try Windsurfing Or Kitesurfing
Feeling adventurous? A popular thing to do in Naxos is try windsurfing or kitesurfing! The island is described as rugged for a reason, not only does it have mountainous terrain but also the perfect conditions for wind sports.
The Western side of the island and beaches such as Agios Prokopios and Mikri Vigla are where the wind and swell create the perfect waves for riding.
Laguna beach in Naxos, aptly named for its lagoon makes it the ideal place for beginners. If you haven’t tried either sport before this provides a shallow yet flat watered spot to perfect the technique before you try out the bigger waves! There are plenty of schools available for lessons and gear for hire.
We covered 10 of the best things to do in Naxos, but can you think of anymore?