Things to see and do in Naxos

Mythologically, Naxos is legendary. Zeus grew up here and was given the gift of lightning by an eagle on magnificent Mount Zas, the highest peak in the Cyclades. Dionysus, the god of wine, was born here, blessing the island with rich vineyards. And he later married Ariadne here. On one of those commonly clear nights, you might spot the Corona Borealis constellation that Dionysus crowned her with.
Naxos is said to be where Zeus spent his formative years. And with its forested ruins, eagle mountains, time-warp villages and glassy bays, who can blame him?
But from a traveler’s point of view, Naxos is barely a blip on the radar. Cruise ships sometimes swing by, but people don’t often venture beyond the pretty white-gold heap of Naxos town. That means you can climb Mount Zas (1,004m) unmolested by crowds and seek out ruins secreted away in silent oak forests. Watch sunsets from your pick of viewpoints and eat in village kafeneios that pull out all the stops – and all the kitron liqueur – for visiting hikers.

What are vacations to Naxos like?

The best bits of Naxos stay out of view of most tourists. To find them, you’ll need to travel with a specialist tour operator that can match you up with a local guide to show you the way along unmarked trails or put you up in a guesthouse that grows its own breakfast ingredients. Most vacations spend two to three nights in Naxos as part of a seven to 10 day trip that includes a couple of other Cyclades islands or mainland Greece.

Small group vacations are for those who’d like the company of up to 16 (and often less) likeminded travelers and an expert guide or two. The guide’s hyper-local knowledge – from taking the best route for you up Mount Zas to where to pick up picnic ingredients – is invaluable. There’s usually plenty of free time to explore under your own steam, too. They run from April to October, although we recommend aiming for the cooler, quieter extremities of the season.
Go in April and May to see the wildflowers spritz the island. Orchidphiles can watch out for 18 species of orchids.
Tailor made vacations to Naxos are designed around your interests and needs. The tour operator will create a suggested itinerary, but you can, say, choose between a village guesthouse or a small hotel, or whether you’d like to spend three or seven days in Naxos. Self guided walking vacations are often tailor made, loading you with all the maps you’ll need. Tailor made vacations run year-round, giving 365-day support to the tourism-dependent Greek economy.

Whichever type of vacation you choose, accommodation, transfers and some activities are included. You’ll also be safe in the knowledge that you’re giving as much back to the community as it’ll give to you. The tour operators that we work with source Greek guides, use tiny, tasty restaurants and work in locally run hotels wherever possible.

What to do in Naxos

Explore Venetian villages

From the 13th to 16th centuries, Naxos was the HQ of the Duchy of the Archipelago – a maritime state created by the Venetians who wanted to rule the waves in the Cyclades. This stint as an arm of the Venetian Republic informs the look of almost every remaining town on Naxos, from the castello and chapels of Naxos Town (Chora) to the mansions, monuments and medieval alleyways of Kastro.
Apiranthos is another favourite on Naxos vacation itineraries. It’s a whitewashed village with Venetian towers and marble paved squares in the shadow of Mount Fanari. Or you might swing by the colourful courtyards of Kouronohori or flower-draped Kaloxylos. Many of these villages serve as a start or finishing point for the many hiking paths that swirl around the island. Which moves us on to…

Walk the old ways

Naxos has been inhabited since Neolithic times, so there’s no shortage of historic hiking paths. Mount Zas (or Zeus) is – surprise, surprise – the king of the hikes. Most guided walks wisely set off in the cooler mornings, so you can reach the peak before the island sizzles. At 1,004m, Mount Zas is the highest mountain in the Cyclades, so expect long range island views and the chance to see the lofty nests of the griffon vulture.
Walking uncovers solitary emery villages like Skado and Koronos, where lavender, oregano and thyme perfume the paths in summer.
You could also squeeze between the olive and citrus groves of the Tragea Valley, and along ancient paths through marble quarries. The waterfall-laden Melanes Valley is your entryway to Kouros, where giant fifth-century statues lie abandoned under the trees after having been damaged during transportation. You might also walk through the plane and oak forests to Chalki, where your guide will reveal the tiny liqueur distillers and organic restaurants that put the ‘terrace’ in ‘terrace to taverna’.
Heads up: these aren’t the most well-signposted footpaths in the world, so your best bet is to travel with a Naxos vacation specialist that’ll show you the way. Small group walking vacations will pair you up with other walkers and a guide who’ll time the walks to perfection and source the best beaches for a cool-down swim. Self guided walking vacations offer minimal environmental impact. A great vacation operator will give you maps and info sheets for spotting flora and fauna. You’ll probably wind up walking 7-10km a day – about five hours’ worth.

Boat the bays

Small ship cruises give you a skipper as your guide. And we mean small – you could end up boarding a yacht with no more than eight other travelers onboard. Drop anchor in Naxos Town (Chora) just in time for sunset on Palatia Islet, topped by the Portara marble gateway and the Temple of Apollo. Or go to the remote bay of Kalando in the south, where you’ll have a beach barbecue and swim with no one but your shipmates.

Sailing vacations can usually be as hands-on or hands-off as you like. You can lean back and leave it all to the skipper, or get stuck in helping with the lines and sails. Your time in Naxos will probably be part of a sailing vacation that explores the rest of the Cyclades archipelago.

Our top Greek islands Vacation

Greek Islands sailing vacation, Santorini to Mykonos

Greek Islands sailing vacation, Santorini to Mykonos

Sapphire waters, whitewashed villages & history laden ruins

From US $1588 to US $1693 8 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2020: 9 May, 23 May, 6 Jun, 20 Jun, 4 Jul, 1 Aug, 15 Aug, 29 Aug, 26 Sep
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Greek islands or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Naxos tips from our travelers

Susan Leeds really rates Naxos in her review of her Naxos and the Small Cyclades walking vacation. She shares her memories and tips:

Memories

“The jaw-dropping beauty of Naxos and the chance to be outdoors in perfect weather for a whole week. The sound of the goat bells in the mountains. The smell of growing herbs and wildflowers. The warmth and generosity of the Greek people. My delightful traveling companions. The delicious, fresh food – including the best goat cheese and tomatoes I've ever had.”

Watch your step

“There's a lot of mountain walking on uneven surfaces, so make sure to bring trekking poles and a good, broken-in pair of hiking boots. If you're not used to walking up and down hills, try to incorporate it into your exercise routine before you arrive. Sunscreen is a must.”

Kept on track

“Our wonderful guide Annie was an absolute pleasure to be with and whose thoughtfulness, attention to every detail, and knowledge and love of the natural world, made this an unforgettable experience. Try to learn a little Greek before you arrive…I found people truly appreciated the effort to speak their language.”
The most memorable moments of the vacation were the sound of the goat bells in the mountains, the smell of growing herbs and wildflowers and the warmth and generosity of the Greek people.
- Susan Leeds on her Naxos and the Small Cyclades walking vacation
Photo credits: [Top box: Zde] [Venetian villages: Graeme Churchard] [Walking: Jorge Lascar] [Review: Ben Ramirez]
Convert currencies