Naxos is one of my all-time favorite Greek islands and many who go there are long-time fans as well. It is a truly exceptional place with stunning beaches, interesting sites and some of Greece’s tastiest food. I have been to Naxos about seven times over the years, and, considering that I generally prefer to see new places when I travel, that says a lot!
In Pt. 1 of this post, I’ll take you to Naxos’ main town, the island’s historical sites and its jaw-droppingly gorgeous beaches.
Kastro (Castle) and Old Town (Hora)
At the very top of the hill of old town sits the Kastro (Castle) of Naxos, which dates back to medieval Venetian times and just oozes atmosphere and history. It is full of winding cobblestone paths and beautiful archways which beckon you into small tunnels that snake all around the area.
Give yourself time to look around and discover tiny old homes nestled right in the rock, breathtaking views of the blue seas and the nearby island of Paros and a few small boutiques and galleries scattered here and there. Look out for posters and flyers giving details about evening concerts that sometimes take place in gorgeous little courtyards within the castle walls.
I once heard a violin quartet in a Kastro courtyard filled with colorful flowers and overlooking the sea at sunset. That experience will remain forever etched in my memory!
Just below the castle area, you will find the newer part of town and lots of lovely shops and restaurants and a few museums. From there, you can walk out onto the small peninsula of Palatia to see, up close and personal, the very special monument of Portara. (See below.)
Archaeology and Mythology
This enormous and utterly beautiful and mysterious marble gate is said to be part of an unfinished ancient temple which was dedicated to the god of sunlight, knowledge, music and the arts, Apollo. Located on a tiny peninsula adjacent to Naxos Town, the enormous marble gate that leads to… nowhere?…everywhere? … is a breathtakingly unique sight.
Other sites of interest
• The Kouros of Apollo, Chimarros Tower, and the Ancient Sanctuary of Demeter and Apollo, among several others, are worth a visit. As one of the largest and most important islands of the region, Naxos has a rich ancient history which spans the whole way back to the Middle Paleolithic Era.
• Archaeological Museum of Naxos: Housed in a beautiful historical building of the Frankish period, this is an important museum for anyone interested in the ancient Cycladic period. Many of the finds from the numerous archaeological sites around the island are housed here and the Early Cycladic period is especially well represented.
(Please note that from November through March, the museum is only open on weekends and during the rest of the year (April-October), it is open every day except Tuesday.
Naxos is also known for its mythological connection to the king of gods, Zeus. Mount Zas (aka Mount Zeus) is said to be where young Zeus was raised. Also, the god of wine, festivities and primal energies, Dionysus, was the protector of Naxos.
Beaches (astoundingly beautiful beaches), kitesurfing and windsurfing
Agios Prokopios, Aghia Anna and Maragas are different spots on the same very long and justifiably famous beach on the west coast of the island and are all quite busy in the summer. However, the sea and sand are beautiful and there are lots of nice cafes and restaurants around if you prefer lively places.
• Plaka is the (much) quieter end of this same beach and has some small sand dunes and is perfect for viewing sunsets.
• Mikri Vigla is the beach to hit for windsurfing and kitesurfing. It is quite well-organized, quite busy and very windy, of course! It’s fun to stop by just to watch the action for a while, even if you aren’t a surfer.
Get yourself to the southwestern part of the island if you seek a quieter experience with fewer facilities. Kastraki. Alyko, Pirgaki and Agiassos are the beaches to go to for true rest and relaxation. With its soft white sands, cedar trees and views of the deep blue, this is a truly magical area which will knock your travelling socks off.
Pirgaki Beach is my personal favorite (not just in Naxos but perhaps in all of Greece!). It is the epitome of peace and beauty for me!
Summer on Naxos is lively, but the island never feels overrun with visitors, perhaps because it is quite large as compared to other islands in the region. It is also a tad less popular for some odd reason and honestly that is fine by me!
Spring and autumn are great times to visit as well if you prefer a quieter stay. The climate is warm in summer and mild in winter and there are enough permanent residents to make it more than just a summer spot.
You can see Pt. 2 here of the two-part Naxos series. Pt. 2 includes the island’s lovely mountain villages, Naxian hiking and its super-memorable cuisine.
About the author:
A Pittsburgher by birth, Christina T. Hudson is also half Greek and has – so far – spent most of her life in Athens, the chaotic but captivating capital city of Greece. She studied Language and Literature at Moravian College and has worked as a teacher, an editor, a writer and a photographer.
You can see more of her work here at A Pixel for Your Thoughts.
You can see more of her posts here.
See more about Greece in Dispatches’ archive here.