According to ancient Greek mythology, Naxos is 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. Besides its vast historical and archaeological background of the island, Naxos offers a huge variety of diverse landscapes to the visitor. This is why we’ve prepared this guide with the best things to do in the island of Naxos.
Table of Contents
1. Explore 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!
2. Sweat the daylight away with a hike up Mount Zeus
The village of Halki - credits: Nicole Kwiatkowski/Shutterstock.com
It might sound scary, but this activity is not only made for fitness fans but for anyone looking to experience from up-close the magical landscape of Naxos and discover the beauty of its mountains, a beauty that often gets neglected. In the semi-mountainous village of central Naxos, Filoti, Mount Zeus stands tall, reaching the height of 1003 m -or 3290 ft-, which makes it the highest point in the Cyclades.
Mount Zeus is allegedly the place where Zeus was taken after its birth to be raised, and it couldn’t be anything short of breathtaking!
The hike up Mount Zeus -or Mount Zas as it is often referred to- is not too long, but it’s rather tedious. However, whoever chooses to make the effort will be rewarded with an unmatched view out to the island and the Agean Sea that will make it all worth it! There are two routes for the hike.
The easiest route is from Agia Marina that is a 7 km round trip, while the second route starts at Aria Spring. Do your research, take the necessary gear and equipment, and you’ll be able to conquer the challenge of hiking Mount Zeus like a pro!
3. Discover the village of Halki
Vintage house entrance in Halki - credits: Nicole Kwiatkowski/Shutterstock.com
If you have some extra days in the island and looking for what else to see in Naxos, then we've got you covered!
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!
4. 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'!
5. Explore the island from the back of a horse
Panoramic photo of Naxos - credits: saiko3p/Shutterstock.com
Being away from the city opens up the opportunity for you to become one with nature. How about you take this literally and join the fascinating activity of horse riding across Naxos? As Naxos combines an imposing mountainous landscape with beautiful sandy beaches, you will have the chance to enjoy a ride on the back of a horse across Naxos' smooth coast for a day to remember.
You can even schedule your horse-riding adventure to take place during sunset so you can rejoice in the ultimate Greek sunset experience; an experience no picture will be able to commemorate. If that sounds like a good idea and you are looking forward to meeting your new four-legged friend, you can rely on Naxos’ horse riding club to make your dream come true with all the information you can possibly need. Ye-Ha!
6. Taste the riches of the local cuisine
Local tavern in Naxos - credits: Socrates Baltagiannis/Shutterstock.com
One of our favorite things to do in Naxos is definitely tasting the local recipes! Although unique, Naxos is no different than any other part of Greece in regard to one thing: its heavenly cuisine. The island is famous for its local produce and especially for its cheese and potatoes, which local producers export with great success to the rest of Greece and the world; don’t you dare leave Naxos without tasting its gruyere.
Mouthwatering traditional local dishes are thankfully not hard to find at all, with the Chora of Naxos bustling with charming restaurants and tavernas. Patoudo, -lamb stuffed with rice, liver, and herds- Rosto, -pork with garlic and wine cooked in the pot- and Kalogeros, -braised beef with eggplants and cheese- are the tastiest and most popular authentic Naxian dishes.
If you happen to get overwhelmed by choice, our top picks for traditional taverns are Maro, Melimelon Naxou, Kozi, Mpoulamatsis, Nteountas, Amorginon Naxos, and Naxian Gastronomy. While visiting those taverns, don’t forget to try the local liqueur or Kitro, one of the most delicious and original Greek spirits and perfect as an aperitif.
7. 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!
8. 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.
9. 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!
10. 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!
11. Become a domestic god/goddess with a Naxos cooking class
Cooking lesson - credits: Dragon Images/Shutterstock.com
You are guaranteed to become enamored by Naxos cuisine, who wouldn’t? However, tasting Naxos’ mouthwatering flavors is not the only way you can get in touch with Greek gastronomy. Indulge in a Naxos Organic cooking class combined with a Greek family feast and get a full insight into the diet of Naxos’ locals.
Visit and take a picturesque walk across Kaloxylos Village, 20 minutes away from Naxos Town, before being taken to a traditional local home for your first taste of Greek hospitality. You will be welcomed with a cup of Greek coffee, fresh fruit, and homemade cookies, before kicking off your 2.5-hour cooking class, where you will prepare a luscious three-course Greek meal with the help of an expert cook.
To top it all off, your Naxos cooking experience will also include a visit to Naxos’ folklore museum as well as a Greek feast, where you will be able to taste the fruits of your labor along with a Greek salad, a variety of Naxos’ cheeses and local wine!
Can you think of a more fun and delicious way to spend your time in Naxos?
12. Ready for a sailabration?
Catamaran sailing - credits: Milan Tomazin/Shutterstock.com
Who wouldn’t want to spend their Greek holidays living a luxurious lifestyle? Now you can do so by joining a Naxos sailing day-trip that will take you to the neighboring islands of Koufonissi, Iraklia, and Schoinoussa.
Starting from the port of Naxos and with the help of the friendly staff of the sailing boat, you will get to discover the breathtaking beauty of the less popular islands while stopping for swimming or snorkeling in the magnificent blue waters of the Aegean Sea. Of course, no day-trip would be complete without a variety of drinks and snacks and a delicious, traditional Greek lunch onboard.
Your journey back to Naxos will also include a light dinner of fresh fruit and an incredible view of the sunset that will elevate your sailing trip on a whole different level. Living the big life while getting wind of the impeccable whereabouts of Naxos is a winning combination; after all, we like big boats and we cannot lie!
13. Enjoy a sunset on a beach bar
Beach bar - credits: DisobeyArt/Shutterstock.com
As a typical Greek island, Naxos has a number of gorgeous beaches. Most -if not all- of the top beaches in Naxos have beautiful beach bars that serve the beachgoers all day long and turn into delightful bars at night, where you can sip delicious cocktails while letting the sea touch your toes on a walk along the smooth, sandy coast.
Watching the sun submerge into the sea will one of the top moments of your trip; even you’re not the romantic type, such a beautiful sight cannot leave you untouched.
What’s more, a drink by the beach at night, or even a night dive, is the ultimate Greek island experience and one you should delve into if given the chance. The best Greek summer stories start with ‘So the sun went down but still we stayed at the beach…’
14. The most romantic thing to do in Naxos: Portara sunset
Portara by night - credits: Christos Siatos/Shutterstock.com
One of the most popular attractions in Naxos and an important archaeological site of Greece is the huge marble gate of a temple that began to be built in the 6th century BC most likely in honor of the god Apollo, Portara, a location famous as one of the best places to catch the sunset in Greece. It is located on the islet ‘Palaces’, or ‘Island of Bacchus’, at the north end of Naxos port.
According to mythology, Theseus abandoned Ariadne on this islet, which was then abducted by Dionysus in his pursuit. A walk around this magical location at nightfall will give you the opportunity to catch a view of Naxos illuminated by the night lights and admire Greek history and mythology in a dreamlike setting.
Combine culture with pleasure and explore the island of Naxos in a Naxos Castle and Portara walking tour; who said archaeological sites are only for the daytime?
15. Enjoy Naxos nightlife
Greek-inspired cocktails - credits: Lisa Holmen Photography/Shutterstock.com
Looking for things to do in Naxos during the night? A good place to start would be one of the many cozy bars you can find downtown that serve delicious drinks and inspired cocktails while playing pick-me-up music. Our most favorite bar in Naxos, hands down, is the popular Swing Cocktail Bar.
Forget about the cocktail bars you’re used to and can stumble upon anywhere and everywhere; Swing Cocktail Bar is both uncommon and one-of-the-kind, using the science of chemistry to make mind-blowingly delicious concoctions.
Another great option is Like Home Bar, a bar that fulfills the promise of its name. Cozy and homey, with its mouthwatering drinks, laid-back vibe, and excellent music, it will lure you in and make you sway.
If a relaxed drink is too tame for you and you’ve set your mind on dancing till the early morning hours, it is time for you to hit the Naxian night clubs; and boy oh boy aren’t they lively and buoyant!
On most Greek Islands, both visitors and locals come together under the same roof to party and for Naxos, that roof is The Ocean Club, where the heart of Naxos by night beats. In the summertime, you can dance to the beat of mainstream dance music, while during the off-season the club hosts special events, such as concerts, unique DJ sets, and themed parties.
Put your hair down, grab a drink and clear your head; it is time to have a fun, carefree time and dance like you’ve never danced before!