Naxos is the largest of the Cycladic islands, and first settled in 300BC. Its landscape is fertile with citrus fruits, olives and other produce growing in abundance. According to legend, it was here that Theseus abandoned Adriane after she helped him to escape the labyrinth at Knossos on Crete . However, she soon joined up with Dionysus, the god of wine and ecstasy, and later married him and bore him two children. Dionysus is the islands favourite god and Naxian wine has always had a reputation to heal a broken heart. (So guys do not leave your girls on Naxos or you will know what will happen). The most famous landmark on the island is the unfinished temple of Apollo .
Naxos Town is a busy and agreeable town. The town has two parts the Bourgos and the Ventian Kastro. The Kastro is where the Ventian Catholics lived, it is a maze of lanes and small charming white washed houses. The Ventian Catholics built some fine houses, which have the coat of arms of the merchants who resided in them. The 13th century Catholic cathedral in the Kastro is worth visiting. The Bourgos is where the Greeks lived, is also a maze of streets where restaurants and shops stand side by side. The 18th century Greek Orthodox cathedral is also worth stopping for. Around the harbour are many more cafes and tavernas, many of the hotels are in the Agios Georgios area of the town.
Melanes Valley lies south of the town and leads to the village of Mili, nearby in the quarry is a unfinished statue (kouros), this statue depicting a man is roughly 6m in length and dating from the 7th century BC. There is another lying in a private garden.
The Tragaea Valley has many charming villages to visit, Chalki is very charming with its splendid villas and tower houses, these were built these as lookout towers and a place of refuge in case of attacks. Filoti is a traditional village on the slopes of Mt. Zas .
Apiranthos this small village is charming as it lies on the slopes of the Fanari Mountains , with its small houses lining the marbled paved streets. The village has retained much of its traditional way of life, despite the pressing modern society on their doorstep.
Apollonas this once peaceful fishing village is now a popular resort, here in the quarry is another giant statue about 10m in length lying unfinished.
There are many excellent beaches on the island, Plaka, Aliko, Mikri Vigland Kastraki amongst others.
If your ideal is a small Cycladic island with few sights to see, and with just a beach or two, then perhaps Naxos isn’t the right island for you. Naxos is an island designated for the adventure seeker, on a quest for historical enlightenment, featuring ancient sites dating back to the 2nd Millennium BC, Byzantine monuments and treasures, Venetian Castles and Towers and Greek Mythology, all this on a backdrop of magnificent landscapes. The island blessed by the divine powers of Dionysos in creating a fertile land, is rich in lush vegetation in the interior and with impressive long stretches of sandy beaches. With an area of over 400 sq klm – Naxos is ideal for hiking, cycling tours, off the beaten paths amongst breathtaking scenery.
With not an overly developed tourist infrastructure, mainly limited to the coastal areas, Naxos is a self sufficient island, with a well structured agricultural system- a true example of an island not willing to sacrifice its treasures for the sake of tourism.
With more than 20,000 permanent inhabitants, and the largest island of the Cyclades, Naxos is a perfect illustration of a well preserved Greek island in all its history, tradition and glory, from the past to the present. Its interior has remained timeless, blending the architecture of the Byzantine era with the Venetian rule, and the modern Cycladic. Its coastline has few 4 star hotels to choose from, although more simple, basic accommodation is what predominates here, in an unpretentious manner.
For those who wish to relax at the beach and nothing more, Naxos has a sparsely populated coastline, with more than 40 klm of sandy beach to choose from, although it is almost impossible, to miss the imposing Venetian Castle, and Portara in Chora –perfect examples of the historical intertwine with the old and new.
How To Get There
There are daily departures from Rafina and Piraeus, with either normal ferries [Blue Star ferries] or Fast catamaran [Hellenic seaways] to Naxos, and back to Athens throughout the whole year with more schedules programmed naturally for the tourist season. Normal ferry takes approximately 5.5 hours, and catamaran about 3.5 hours. There is also a schedule from the port of Lavrio [periphery of Athens] once a week, although the ferry journey takes much longer, as it makes more stops.Accordingly, Naxos has an airport located only 1 km from Chora, and accepts domestic and internationally chartered flights from within Europe. Olympic airways schedules at least one flight per day from Athens to Naxos and return in the tourist season, with less frequent flights during winter. Flight time from Athens is only 45 minutes.
History of Naxos
According to Greek Mythology, the God Zeus grew up in Naxos, where his son, Dionysos was born. Dionysos, the god of wine, enforced his power and made Naxos a rich and fertile land, ensuring a bountiful supple of wine.
There he met Ariadne, daughter of King Minos of Crete, who had been abandoned there by Theseus after fleeing from Crete, upon killing the Minotaur. He fell in love with her, and together had three children, or in reference to another version, devastated, she plunged off the cliff of palatia- the hill on Portara, to her death.
It is said that Naxos bears its name from Endymion’s son, leader of the Cares, and that evidence shows that the “Naxia” or “Axia” were used during the Venetian rule.
Historical finds on the island, and exhibited in the Archaeological museum of Naxos, emphasis that Naxos was an important centre during the Cycladic and Mycenaean periods.
During the Archaic period [-7th century BC], Naxos flourished with sea trade and excelled in art.
In 523 BC Lygdamis the tyrant took rule of the island. The island was devastated during the Persian war, in 490 BC. After the Macedonian, Egyptian and Roman occupations, Naxos entered the Byzantine empire from 362 -1207 AD. The Venetians conquered the island under the rule of Marco Sanudo in 1207. He founded the Duchy of the Cyclades, pronounced himself Duke, and established Naxos as the headquarters of the Duchy.
Naxos came under Turkish rule in 1564, but the Venetians still kept authority and paid taxes to the Turks. After the revolution in 1821, with the liberation of mainland Greece from the Turks, Naxos finally came under Greek rule.
Sightseeing – Regions and Villages to visit
With an area of over 400 sq kms, Naxos has a bountiful number of regions to visit, with much sightseeing to do, that it is wise to organize your sightseeing in terms of regions, best organized in routes covering the most important sites.
Chora- Galanado- Sagri –Chalki- Moni -Filoti-Apeirathos
Chora-Melanes- Milli-Koronos- Apollonas-Agia
How to Get Around
Naxos is such a large island offering a variety of scenery, that in order to really enjoy the island, apart from time, you also need wheels. Whether that be in the form of a bus, rental car [preferably a 4 x 4], moped or bicycle, it is better to have some means of transportation, because there are great distances involved and lots to see.
There are regular bus schedules to most of the island, and in particular departures approximately every 30 minutes to the main three beaches- Ag Prokopis, Ag. Anna and Plaka. The bus terminal is located near the Cine Astra open cinema [tel 22850-22291] and there are three other bus stops located within Naxos town.
There are eight different routes located the interior with the coastal, mostly from the centre of Naxos, to the western beaches, and again in north, and north-west directions.
Bus routes include Chora- Apollonas via Eggares and Agia and also via the route to Apeirathos via Chalki and Filoti
However, most schedules stop around 18.00h [apart from the main route to Plaka which continues until 23.00h].
If you are visiting Filoti located 20 kms away , Apeirathos [26 kms away] and especially Apollonas located approximately 50 kms away, you might not want to miss the last bus, because accessing a taxi may be difficult but it will certainly be costly. [taxi cost from Apeirathos to Chora -estimate 20 euros.]
Buses on infrequent schedules [to Filoti, Chalki etc.,]can be very crowded, so don’t expect to find a seat – and be prepared for long distances standing up.
Most recommended form of transport, if affordable, is to rent a car or ideally, a 4 x 4 is definitely the preference here. Not only can you accommodate the lengthy distances on windy mountain roads, but you can also discover off the beaten paths, not accessible by any other means, not even a moped.
The interior of the island has a well-paved network, most dirt roads being near coastal areas.
Perhaps hiring a moped is not the way to go here, unless you are prepared for long distances, and in some areas, high altitudes. The terrain varies, in some areas barren and flat, in others, mountainous and lush green landscapes.
Alternatively, mountain bikes are the trend here, and organized bike hikes, throughout the island.
There is a taxi stand by the main port area, easily found.
You can also book a taxi if required 22850 -22444. For short distances, taxis are relatively cheap and a reliable means of transport from Chora town
At a first glance, Naxos’ beaches seem reminiscent of most of the Cycladic island beaches nearby. Sandy, shallow, with blue turquoise water. Yet many may tell you that Naxos’ beaches have a distinction amongst other Cycladic beaches, notably Paros or Mykonos , located nearby. I have found this to be true, despite the fact that I prefer other island beach settings, whether more tranquil, or better organized than Naxos.
So where would I say lies this distinction? I would have to say it lies in the quality of the water – the temperature, the clarity, the vibrant colour
It is worth noting that the sun sets on the western part of the island, where most of the accessible beaches are located, creating an idyllic atmosphere, for sunset views, cocktails and relaxation.
St. George Beach
The nearest sandy beach to Chora or Naxos town is Agios Georgios beach. Most well known due to its proximity to Chora, it has developed into a busy seaside resort, offering accommodation in the form of small beach front hotels or rooms, cafes, taverns, an array of beach chairs, umbrellas and towards the furthest part of the beach, water sports.
If youre in search of peace and quiet, this is not the place to be.
Chosen more for its proximity than its beauty, Agios Georgios beach is an easy choice for those who prefer to stay nearer to town.[ walking distance from Chora is approximately 15-20 minutes]
However, for this reason, it is probably the most crowded beach, and thus not the cleanest, also considering that is located next to a very busy port.
Agios Prokopis beach
Past Cape Mourgi, immediately after Agios Georgios beach, the scenery changes, away from Chora, and busy Agios Georgios Beach, we come to the beginning of what is Naxos largest beach, approximately 8 kms of sandy beach, and wisely most peoples choice. Although it is separated by name, it is almost one long stretch of beach, the nearer to town, Agios Prokopis beach, located 4 kms away from Chora, and next to it, Agia Anna located 5.5 kms away. Here there is a cluster of small hotels and apartments, taverns and cafes, all sharing the stretch of beach which is approximately 2 kms long.
For those who want even more solitude, there are approximately two bus routes per day to Kastraki beach, located about 17 kms from Chora.
Mikri Vigla Beach
Mikri Vigla is located near Kastraki, although almost exclusively a wind-surfers beach, it is mostly windy and quite dangerous to swim amongst the wind-surfing.
Apollonas a vibrant seaside settlement located 50 kms from Chora, has a small enclosed sandy bay.
How To Get There: There are two bus routes servicing Apollonas: From Chora to Apollonas via Chalki, Filoti, Apeirathos,and Komiaki, and from Chora to Eggares, Faneromeni and Agia.
Agiassos, south of Pyrgaki, and located 23 kms from Chora, is an enclosed bay with an inviting sandy beach, reached by dirt road only
Places to Eat
It is correct to assume that most taverns and restaurants are concentrated in Chora or Naxos town. At a glance, the main coastal road in Chora seems congested and clustered with people, taverns, souvenir shops, travel agencies, port police, taxis making their way through to the port.
However, if you venture into one of the little paths from the main coastal road, and head into the interior of Chora, you will enter the old Medieval town – better known as Kastro, – a maze of narrow cobblestone paths which eventually lead to the Venetian Castle [ dated 1207] In this stunning labyrinth of paths, is a vibrant neighbourhood, full of small restaurants and taverns, bars and cafes.
- Vassilis tavern located at old market street is one of the most well established taverns, famous for its Naxos specialties. Tel 22850-23763
- Oniro located by the Castle, this rooftop tavern offers local dishes, with great views. Tel 22850-23846
- Kastro for good Greek food, located near the southern gate of the Castle, by Braduna square Tel 22850-22005
- East- West For international cuisine, try East-West located off the main square, on Komiaki Street for Thai food Tel 22850-24641
- El Mirador For Mexican tastes, located towards Grotta by Chora Tel 22850-22655
- Picasso For Mexican tastes next to Protodikiou square, Chora Tel 22850-25408
- Apolafsi for fresh fish, and local dishes, Chora Tel 22850-22178
- Trata café-retaurant located on Agios Georgios Beach is open from morning until very late at night, for a relaxing beach atmosphere, serving local simple dishes, or for drinks only Tel 22850-24034
- Gorgona located at Agia Anna beach, serve good local food by the beachfront Tel 22850-42634
- Paradiso located at Agia Anna beach, serve good local food by the beachfront Tel 22850 42026
Sampling of the local food and products is undoubtedly accentuated in the vibrant villages of Apeirathos, Filoti and Chalki. In particular, try to sample the local aperitif liquer, Kitron, in the village of Chalki, where the liquor is made and ouzo in the Valindraa distillery before your meal.
Leftheris tavern at Aperaithos is an excellent tavern not to be missed, with delicious local cuisine Tel 22850-61333
Nightlife is centered around Chora and in the little streets leading to the
Castle. Here you can find small cafes which are turned into bars at night, some with views, others so inconspicuous you can easily walk past, without realizing. It’s an experience just to walk through the narrow streets at night, to feel the vitality of the area, amongst the numerous small bars and cafes, to escape to the small plateia by the Catholic church at the top of the Castle, or to join the vibrant beat, further towards the coastal road
Naxos-on the rocks café-bar located near the old town is a favourite. Fragile Bar in Chora is one of the oldest, most well known bars, featuring mainstream music.
Jazz and Blues bar located towards the old town offers a layback setting.
Cream Club, Ocean Club and Jam bar are located near the coastal road, towards the southern part of Chora. Super Island Club is located in the opposite direction, in the area of Grotta.
Agios Georgios beach also offers a small selection of night bars with more of a relaxed atmosphere, away from bustling Chora. Finikas, Tratas and Flisvos Beach Café [located in the Naxos Beach hotel] are a few good choices on the waterfront.
Agios Prokopis and Agia Anna also have a small selection with beachfront settings.
Where to Stay
Naxos, on the whole, does not have high rise complex hotels. Alternatively, the hotels built in Naxos are only two leveled buildings, built in the traditional Cycladic whitewashed style of architecture. Don’t expect a list of facilities and amenities reminiscent of 5 star hotels. Here you will find good basic hotels, many of which are located around Chora or Agios Georgios.
Naxos Palace and Astir of Naxos are 4 star hotels located around the periphery of Chora, yet not on the beach. For simple accommodation at the edge of Chora towards Agios Georgios beach, the Barbouni hotel is an option, or the Naxos Beach 1 directly on Agios Georgios beach or the new Hotel Aegeon [40 m from the beach] offers 9 comfortable apts and studios.
More choices further out include the Lagos Mare hotel on Agios Prokopis beach or the Plaza beach hotel located on Plaka beach.
Ideally, choosing to stay out of Naxos town, is more preferable. Naxos town is a very lively town and port, clustered, crowded, busy and noisy. During the day, there is little to remind you of the carefree manner you expect of a holiday, except if you choose to stay in the Venetian area -the old town or Kastro, where you can escape from the hustle and bustle of Chora.- Anixis , Bourgos hotel and Venetiko traditional apartments are good choices.
Alternatively, the beaches Agios Prokopis, Ag. Anna and especially Plaka offer a good selection of simple apartments or studios, located either directly or near the beach-
Some examples include Three Lakes rooms [10 m from the beach on Agios Prokopis], Agia Anna studios [20 m from the beach at Agia Anna] and Acti Plaka apts on Plaka beach.
Personally, I wouldn’t choose a 4 or 3 star hotel, in comparison to an apartment or studio belonging to a small complex directly on the beach near Plaka, for example. The serenity of the area and the long stretch of beach compensates for the lack of extra amenities. Regular bus routes also reinforce the argument of where to stay, connecting Plaka easily with Chora, as part of the regular bus route Chora-Agios Prokopis-Agia Anna.
For those who are in pursuit of more solitude, try Kastraki beach, a few kilometers further south. Bus routes here are not as regular however, so you may have to rely on your own transport.
What you need to know about the island
- That it is largest and most fertile of all the Cyclades, with long distances and lots to see.
- That you should organize some means of transport other than the bus to really appreciate the island.
- That jeep excursions, mountain bike tours, hiking tours, daily cruises to Amorgos, Koufounissia, Delos and Mykonos are available.
- That it has some of the best beaches of all the Cyclades, many will argue, the best.
- That most beaches are located on the western side of the island, in total view of the sunset.
- That most beaches situated on the other side are quite inaccessible.
- That it has the remains of the most remarkable Venetian fortress, where classical music concerts are staged regularly at night in one of the Venetian mansions.
- That it has been occupied since the end of the 4th Millennium BC and ancient sites, ruins, temples, and early Christian churches, Byzantine and Venetian monuments are evident throughout the island
- That it has an abundance of local agricultural products and is completely self-sufficient, not relying on tourism as its primary industry, as most of the Cycladic islands do.
Naxos has established itself as an affluent island in terms of agricultural production, serving not only the locals, but also mainland Greece.
Firstly, Naxos has an array of local dairy products. These include fresh pasteurized milk, fresh cream, butter, and a selection of cheeses.
Specifically, the Naxian Graviera, Mizithra [a hard cheese used for pasta], Manouri [soft cheese], Xynotyri [sour cheese], Anthotyro [a soft cheese] and Naxian Kefalotyri [a hard salty cheese]
Needless to say Naxos has a ripe beef production industry, so don’t be surprised if you see occasional cow or two.
Vineyards are seen all over Naxos, local wine is ample, and can be sampled all over Naxos in local taverns, so long as you ask for it, particulary in the wine growing areas near Filoti, Koronos and Koronida
Possibly Naxos’ most well known local product is Kitro, a famous aperitif liquor made from the fruit bearing its name. The first distillery producing Kitro was established in 1896 in Chalki – at the Vallindra distillery in Chalki. [tel 22850-31220], worth a visit and a tour during your visit to Chalki.
More local products include potatoes, tomatoes, onions, olives, olive oil, honey and herbs.
Naxian marble is also considered to be one of the finest in the world.
Local products are sold everywhere in Naxos
In Chora, you may purchase local products at the following stores-
- Tsimplakis [22850 code] tel 22230
- Promponas tel 22258
- Naxos Dairy Products tel 26018
There are 15 official listings of accommodation providing disabled accessibility in Naxos. Most of them are located by the coastal areas, where the terrain is flat and sparsely occupied. All hotels are two leveled only, with a ground and first level floor.
As such, most hotels may offer accessibility to the disabled, without officially having facilities to do so.
Some of the official listings include-
Tel code 22850
Agios Georgios Beach
Naxos Royal, tel 26650
Porto Naxos tel 23790
Aeolis hotel apts tel 22321
Katerina hotel tel 42537
Agia Anna hotel tel 42576
Folia hotel tel 22210
Low Season Visits
During winter, the tourist infrastructure basically shuts down in Naxos. Some hotels do remain open, such as Hotel Nissaki Beach, Hotel Barbouni, Hotel Kymata, and Naxos Royal, all located near Chora and Agios Georgios. In addition, Sofi Pension, located in Chora with a view to the Castle is a good choice.
As Naxos has a large population of more than 20,000 permanent residents, with an abundance of agricultural products and activities, it still remains a vibrant island in winter in Chora, and particularly within the interior of the island, in the mountain villages of Apeirathos, Chalki, Filoti.
Connections with other islands
You will never get stranded on Naxos due to the lack of ferry connections. Naxos is probably the best connected island in terms of ferry connections after Syros, which is the capital and so called “centre” of the Cyclades.
With a permanent population of more than 20,000, Naxos has daily connections from Piraeus, and Rafina, even in the winter season, with either normal ferries [www.bluestarferries.gr] the duration being approx 5-6 hrs, or 3.5 hours with fast ferries [www.hellenicseaways.gr] and thus connecting Naxos with Paros, Ios and Santorini on a daily basis.
Naxos also connects daily, even with the Northern Aegean islands, Ikaria and Samos during winter.
There are also ferry connections with Mykonos Astypalea,Sikinos, Folgeandros, Milos, Amorgos, the small Cyclades [Donoussa, Koufounissia etc] and Kalymnos during the winter with regular daily schedules during the tourist season.
In particular, the route Naxos-Dounoussa-Amorgos-Astypalea-Kalymnos operates twice weekly with the route Naxos-Sikinos-Folegandros-Milos once a week until 15.3- which is considered the end of the winter season.
With its proximity to Syros, Paros and Santorini, almost all nearby islands are easily accessible from Naxos, even Crete from Santorini for example via fast ferry, in less then 4 hours.
Throughout the whole year, there are regular connections with the smaller Cyclades islands – Heraklia, Schinousa, Koufounissia and Donoussa with the Skopelitis ferry, who is now called the “Express Skopelitis”, and it departs from Chora and no longer from Moutsouna.
Naxos telephone code: 22850
- Police Station Chora: 22100
- Police Station Chalki: 31224
- Health Centre: 23333/23556
- Bus Station: 22291
- Taxi Station: 22444
- Olympic Airways: 23830
- Airport: 23292
- Tourist information centre: 2520
- Port Authority: 22300