Naxos is the largest island of the Cyclades, the group of islands located roughly at the center of the Aegean Sea. If you plan on visiting Naxos for the first time and you want to start your journey with some representative attractions of the island, join us on this imaginative trip that will scratch more than the surface of what the island has to offer!
According to ancient Greek mythology, Naxos the land where the Nymphs decided to raise young Zeus, the king of men and gods. By having such an important role in mythology, Naxos inevitably came to be one of the most important island-centers of the ancient Greek world. Its cultural heritage covers a huge span of time, from prehistoric times with the Cycladic civilization to the Venetian occupation of the island or the role it played during the Greek Independence War. Besides its vast historical and archaeological background, Naxos offers a huge variety of diverse landscapes to the visitor, from small whitewashed fishing villages by the seaside, to snowy mountainous regions with stone-built houses and castles or even cedar forests that meet the deep blue Aegean Sea. For the first-time visitor though, it may be too much. This is why we’ve chosen some not-to-miss spots for you to start your journey on the island!
Portara, the symbol of Naxos
Portara Naxos - credits: Stamatios Manousis/Shutterstock.com
Nowadays, the most-photographed monument and the symbol of the island, the visitor can walk through the narrow dock and reach the small island of Palatia where Portara stands for more than 2500 years! Originally built by tyrant Lygdamis in 530 BC as the entrance of a huge marble temple dedicated to Apollo, Portara is all that has survived from this temple after centuries. Interestingly, in 524 BC, Lygdamis was overthrown by the Spartans and his temple to Apollo was never completed. After the conversion of the unfinished temple to a Christian church, most of the ancient materials were re-used for the construction of the Venetian castle of Naxos. Walk around the small island and enjoy the view of Chora and the open sea. Do not miss the chance to visit it during the evening and catch one of the breathtaking sunsets!
Explore the medieval castle of Naxos
Medieval Castle of Naxos - credits: saiko3p/Shutterstock.com
Do you want to visit a castle in the heart of Naxos' Chora and learn everything about the knights and the crusaders that once used to occupy the island? The castle, or Kastron, of Naxos, is the right place for you! Built by Marco Sanudo, the nephew of the Doge of Venice, right after the Fourth Crusade in the 13th century, the castle operated not just as a military and administrative center but also as a religious, educational and residential hub. As the seat of the Duchy of the Archipelago, the kastron of Naxos experienced a huge political, economic and cultural development. Wander around its narrow alleys and admire its medieval architecture! Do not miss the opportunity to visit the Venetian Museum of Naxos and learn all about the orders of Catholic monks that flooded the island, as well as stories about noble families and knights that lived in the castle!
Visit the Roman Cathedral of Naxos
Catholic Cathedral of Naxos - credits: kantam.gr
Located inside the Castle’s walls, you’ll have to pass through its gates to visit the Catholic Cathedral of Naxos. Built during the 13th century, this old church was and still is the center of worship for the Catholic Christian community of the island. Except for its wonderful architecture with visible ancient material used for the construction of the building, the visitors can see the coats of arms (even the one of Marco Sanudo!) of the noble families that benefited the church. The central altar hosts a huge Byzantine icon of Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus, which dates back to the 11th century and has been attributed to workshops of Nicomedia. The other side of the icon hosts the figure of John the Baptist. Don't forget to ask for someone to show you the unique icon of Saint Rocco and his dog, found in the church! If you plan to visit the Cathedral, make sure to check its opening hours in advance.
Archaeological Museum of Naxos
Part of the Archaeological museum of Naxos - credits: www.gtp.gr
Some steps away from the Cathedral, you’ll face the imposing School of the Jesuits, where Nikos Kazantzakis spend a year of his life, nowadays hosting the Archaeological Museum of Naxos. Spend some time in the numerous chambers of the museum and check the exhibitions that showcase the history of Naxos and the islands nearby from the late Neolithic until the late Roman times. Don't forget to see the Cycladic figurines dated in the 3rd millennium BC, the archaic kores, and kouroi, or the statue of the Roman General, Antonius!
Discover the village of Halki
Vintage house entrance in Halki - credits: Nicole Kwiatkowski/Shutterstock.com
Fifteen kilometers inland from the Town of Naxos, lies the beautiful traditional village of Halki on the plateau of Tragea. An important commercial center of the past decades, due to its strategic position, Halki faced a substantial economic development that allowed the inhabitants to build wonderful towers and neoclassical houses. Nowadays, Halki knows a different kind of development, with art galleries, boutique guesthouses, restaurants and coffee shops. If you visit Halki, follow the paths that lead you to exquisite Byzantine churches, visit the 17th century-tower of Barozzi and do not forget to try kítro, the local Greek spirit made out of citrus tree leaves!
Visit the Temple of Demeter and Apollo in Sangri
Archaeological site of Sangri - credits: www.gtp.gr
Half an hour away from Chora, is the area of Sangri. On the top of a small hill, there is the Temple of Demeter and Apollo, built in the 6th century BC, probably part of the construction program of tyrant Lygdamis. An extremely important site, this temple is dedicated to the worship of Demeter, goddess of agriculture, and her daughter, Persephone. There are also indications of an Apollo cult alongside those two fertility deities. Built almost a century before the Parthenon in Athens, this marble temple is one of the oldest examples of the Ionic order. The unusual shape of the building, in combination with other findings, suggest that the temple was a telesterion, where initiation rituals and other mysteries were held. Do not miss the chance to visit the small museum located at the site, which was awarded the '2008 European Cultural Heritage Prize'!
Spend a day at Apeiranthos
The village of Apeiranthos, Naxos - credits: mapio.net
One of the most mountainous villages of Naxos but surely a special one, Apeiranthos is located almost 30 km away from Chora, roughly at the center of the island. The particular dialect of the people of Apeiranthos, alongside with their unique customs, suggest that probably Cretans inhabited the region during the 10th century. This small village is where Manolis Glezos, the hero of Greek resistance and politician originates from. Apeiranthos is definitely a must-visit destination during your trip to Naxos and offers numerous activities: from visiting picturesque museums of Natural History and Folk Arts or trying local delicacies in some of the traditional restaurants of the village, to hiking on the surrounding mountains!
Naxos is the largest and one of the most beautiful Cycladic islands you can choose as your summer destination. With its endless options, the famous island of Naxos offers you the chance to dig into its vast history and dive into its clear waters on a budget! Plan your visit on Naxos or check out one of our Greece's tours!