Naxos Greece: Our Favorite Island
Greece is our favorite country, so of course it was our first family destination post-Covid. We visited four islands total this trip, but spent the most time on Naxos. It remains our favorite island.
I wrote about our first two trips to Naxos in this post, but now that we’ve spent over 30 days on the island over the years, and given that things have changed since our last trip, I feel like a completely new post is in order.
Why Naxos is the Best Island in Greece
First, we’ve only visited ten Greek islands. We were supposed to visit two more this trip, but our sailing expedition was cancelled because of weather. We will keep exploring, and of course I’ll write about other islands we fall in love with, but for now Naxos remains our favorite. The reasons:
- No cruise ships. I’ve said this before, but cruise ships are terrible for small islands. Most destinations have a natural tourism balance based on the number of hotel rooms. Greek islands are wonderful even when all of those hotel rooms are filled. But when you add 8,000-15,000 people off cruise ships, it completely changes the balance and makes for a negative experience for locals, for normal tourists and for cruise visitors. Santorini and Mykonos used to be wonderful (I’ve been visiting Mykonos for 30 years and Santorini for 13 years), but the cruise ships in the summer lead to the main towns being overrun, and over the years we’ve seen smaller shops close up, only to be replaced by upscale clothing stores and international chains. Santorini and Mykonos aren’t charming anymore. The Greek islands without cruise ships still are.
- The locals. When we’re walking from our hotel into town, we’re passing apartments where people live year-round, and hearing a lot more Greek than English. Even in town we hear more Greek than on neighboring islands. That’s a much better feeling than when everything is based around tourism.
- The airport is very close to Naxos Town and the ferry port is in town. Every trip we walk to and from the port several times to take ferries to neighboring islands. Even with luggage it’s an easy walk. That’s not the case on Santorini and Mykonos, and even on islands like Paros and Kos the ferry and airport are far from each other, and not necessarily near where you want to stay.
- The island is large enough to have places to explore, and a lot of good restaurants, but small enough that we don’t need a rental car the majority of the time.
- Naxos is near a lot of other islands, so there are good day trip options.
How to Travel to Naxos Greece
To get to Naxos Greece, you can either fly or take the ferry. If you want to fly into Naxos, the only option is to go through Athens. Same with neighboring Paros. There are direct flights from other European cities to nearby Santorini and Mykonos however.
The ferry from Athens takes 3.5-6 hours and you would have to get from the airport to the ferry terminals. As a result we’ve always chosen to fly.
My goal in getting to the Greek islands is to have as few flights as possible – there’s less chance of missed connections and lost luggage. Also, Aegean Airlines never refunded any of our cancelled flights during Covid, so I’m in no hurry to give them more money. By avoiding Athens you can avoid Aegean.
We typically fly into Santorini or Mykonos and out from the other. Mykonos is a little easier – it’s a shorter ferry ride from Naxos, and in Mykonos the airport and port are just 5-10 minutes from the town/hotels. In Santorini the airport and ferry port are 20-30 minutes from Oia and Fira. This trip we flew Lufthansa into Santorini (Los Angeles-Frankfurt-Santorini), spent three nights, took the ferry direct to Naxos, and then after a week took a ferry to Mykonos, spent one night, and flew to Florence via Zurich on Swiss Air. The flights were perfect. Our hotels on Santorini and Mykonos arranged transportation for us to/from the airports and ferry ports.
Naxos Hotels: Where to Stay
We’ve stayed at the same Naxos hotel every time we’ve visited the island, and it’s become one of our favorite hotels in the world. Nissaki Beach Hotel is perfect. The past couple trips we stayed in a two-room suite with the kids in one room (three twin beds) and us in the master bedroom. Both rooms have balconies over the pool and look out to the sea.
We used to love the breakfast buffet, but it’s still closed, so instead you place your breakfast order the night before. The honey-cinnamon pancakes (basically loukoumades) with Greek yogurt are amazing! And the setting, at the beach with cats running around, is wonderful.
Speaking of the beach, St. George Beach in front of the hotel is one of the most kid-friendly beaches we’ve found anywhere. The water is shallow almost as far as you can see. We usually bring (or buy) a ball and frisbee and throw them around in the water. It’s also enjoyable to walk to the far end of the beach and back. In the past we’ve rented pedal boats with slides, but the rental place didn’t have them yet this year (we visited in early June).
Nissaki Beach Hotel is maybe a 4-minute walk from Naxos Town (the main town on the island) and 10 minutes or so to the ferry. We walk into town several times a day to eat, shop and get money from ATMs (see below). Almost every store is locally-owned, as far as I can tell, and I’m pretty sure Benetton is the only chain store. Walking around feels authentic. Don’t miss the narrow, meandering market area below the castle – that’s where a lot of the best stores are.
The Portara (Temple of Apollo) is a very large doorway/ruin dating back to the 6th century BC. You’ll see it from everywhere in Naxos Town – it’s maybe a 15-minute walk from the hotel but only a couple minutes from the ferry port. It’s best at sunrise and sunset, but is a fun walk any time of day.
Exploring Naxos Island
We usually rent a car twice every trip (€50-60 a day as of summer 2022) to explore the island. We’ve been told by locals that the towns and beaches down south aren’t worth the drive, so we always concentrate on the middle and north of the island. Worthwhile destinations:
The Villages of Halki, Apiranthos and Filoti
Well worth a trip. All three towns are small, but have good stores, markets and restaurants, and it’s nice to get out of Naxos Town for a meal or two. We like them in the order I listed them above, but really there’s no need to choose since it’s easy to visit all three in a short period of time.
Kouros of Apollonas
There are a few historic sites around the island. We tried to visit the Temple of Demeter but it was closed (on a Tuesday). That’s the only site with a fence, museum and admission booth. Otherwise you can drive, park and get up close to Greek history, likely with no one else around. The Apollonas Kouros (near the villages of Apollonas) is the best site we’ve found on Naxos – a 1,300-year-old statue that depicts either Apollo or Dionysus. Just a short walk from the road (park anywhere).
Apollonas and Lionas
I mentioned above that the southern beach villages aren’t supposed to be worth the drive. The same is probably true of the northern beach villages. We always want to aim somewhere though, so our last couple drives we went to the villages of Apollonas and Lionas. In Apollonas we relaxed and went swimming. In Lionas we had lunch at one of the top-rated places on the island. Neither stop was amazing, but if you have a full day with a rental car, you may as well check out coastal areas. And we really like the drive around the northern coast.
Here’s where we differ from a lot of visitors to Naxos Greece. We like basing in Naxos Town, and relaxing at St. George Beach. Others though choose to base at Agios Prokopios, 15 minutes south of town, and then drive or take the bus into Naxos Town. Agios Prokopios undoubtedly is a great beach, but it’s never worth it to us to pack up and head there for a day when basing out of our hotel is so much easier. It’s an easy stop on a loop around the island though.
A Day Trip to Paros
Paros is our second favorite island in Greece, and it’s only an hour away on the ferry. We always purchase ferry tickets far in advance since there are only a couple of good options for going over in the morning and coming back in the afternoon. The ferry drops you in Parikia, which has probably the best shopping of any island, and there are good restaurants for lunch. This trip we had lunch at Taverna Mouragio, and would return.
My blog post on our last long stay in Paros is here.
Best Naxos Restaurants
We’ve never had a bad meal on Naxos – and that’s a lot of meals. We typically have sit-down lunches in restaurants, although we’ll get take-away gyros periodically. And dinners are almost always in restaurants, unless we get pizza and bring it back to our room.
As opposed to Santorini and Mykonos, it’s rarely necessary to make reservations before you arrive on Naxos. Twice this trip we made reservations a day in advance, and every other meal we showed up and were seated – either with zero wait or after just a few minutes. Having said that, if you’re visiting during a busier time and it looks like restaurants are mostly full, figure out where you want to eat and stop by either the day before or that morning and make a reservation. It can’t hurt.
Our meals were anywhere between €60 and €110. We typically order four main courses for the five of us, since portions are large, along with tzatziki and another starter, several bottles of water, and maybe a half carafe of wine.
These are our favorite Naxos restaurants right now:
Probably the best restaurant on the island, and at our hotel which makes it really easy! We love dining on the beach. The food is always excellent. TripAdvisor.
This past trip Dal Professore is the only restaurant we ate at twice. We love the mix of Naxian and Italian, and the pizzas are amazing. TripAdvisor.
Everything that’s amazing about Greek food, a great setting and close to the hotel. The only place we were given complimentary ouzo this trip – it used to be far more common. TripAdvisor.
Of all of the places along the water in town, Naxian Capriccio usually impresses us the most. Normal seafood and Greek dishes. TripAdvisor.
Avaton 1739 (along with its earlier iterations) has always been our favorite place to go for pre-dinner drinks. It’s a hike to get up to the castle, but the view is worth it. We usually go for the homemade lemonade and the sangria (not currently on the menu, but they’ll make it for you if you request it). TripAdvisor.
Close to the hotel and very good pizza. An easy option when we don’t feel like committing to another restaurant meal. We always bring the pizzas back to our deck and dine on the balcony. TripAdvisor.
Excellent food and a really nice outdoor setting, on a street that we usually never walk down. We made a booking a day in advance since they tend to fill up. TripAdvisor.
Cash and ATMs in Greece
Stores, restaurants and hotels in Greece all prefer cash. We therefore make daily trips to ATMs. Always choose ATMs associated with Greek or international banks (don’t use the stand-alone bright-colored ones in front of stores), and always have the payment go through to your bank as Euros. If you choose US Dollars, you’re throwing money away – as much as 11% per transaction. Some of the ATMs get tricky, really wanting you to let them convert the transactions to dollars, so take each screen slowly and choose the correct prompts to keep everything in Euros. Do the same in stores and restaurants – always choose the local currency and not dollars.
Note: there’s a €2.50-3.00 charge every time you use an ATM. My US bank refunds those. If you have the choice of several banks / credit unions, try to find one that reimburses you for ATM fees. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have two debit cards from two banks so you have a backup in case of loss or fraud.
Is it possible to get by in Greece only using a credit card? Maybe, but the Greeks really like cash, so don’t be the ugly tourist that’s making a small market pay credit card fees for your €1 water. The flip-side: there’s often a cash discount at hotels and stores. But also, we visited a lot of places that said that their card machines were down and so they were only accepting cash transactions. Basically, carry cash at all times.
Travel Health Insurance
We were supposed to take this trip in 2020 and then again in 2021, but the world had other plans. We pushed forward our hotel deposits for both islands, and if anything had happened to make us cancel this trip, I’m sure we could have done the same again. But given that we never got any of our Aegean Airlines tickets refunded from 2020 or 2021, and would have had a hefty penalty if we cancelled our Mykonos hotel, I felt a lot more comfortable having a travel health insurance plan through G1G in place. It’s an annual family plan, so I never have to think about it as I’m booking or changing trips. Smartest thing I’ve done in the last year.
Naxos Greece – Your Turn
Have you been to Naxos? What did we miss? What’s your favorite Greek island?