Greece is famous for its many gorgeous islands, which offer the promise of a picture-perfect beach vacation. Despite the literally thousands of islands to choose from, however, tourists tend to visit the same few: Santorini, Mykonos, and Corfu are among the most popular. However, a less-crowded destination that’s definitely worth a visit is Naxos, the largest of the islands in the Cyclades archipelago. Naxos has a rough, mountainous terrain dotted with a handful of small, charming villages—and more importantly, a wide range of different attractions and things to do. As the mythological home of Zeus, Naxos has also played an important role in the history of Greece. Visitors who spend some time on Naxos may want to build time in their schedule to:
Explore different mountain villages.
Naxos boasts more than 40 different villages, each of which has its own distinct features and charm. Visitors will find unique architecture and fascinating traditions dating to ancient times in each of these towns. One of the best villages to explore is Halki on the northern part of the island. Halki features Venetian towers and Byzantine churches that tell the story of its long and varied history. In addition, make time to see Koronos in the northeast part of the island. A gorgeous valley full of vineyards surrounds this village, which has become famous for its wine. Koronos has a number of different vantage points for enjoying the splendor of the valley while enjoying a glass of locally produced wine.
Play on the island’s many beaches.
Like many of the other islands in Greece, Naxos has a number of beaches perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and whiling away the afternoon. Visitors should hop around between beaches to figure out their favorites early on, but a few stand out as must-sees. One of these is Agia Anna on the southwest part of the island. Here, visitors can relax on sunbeds underneath wide umbrellas as they sip on a cocktail from a nearby bar. People who want a more active beach experience should check out Palaka, located along the southwest coast of the island. Windsurfing and kitesurfing are popular pastimes here. Perhaps the most famous beach on Naxos is Agios Prokopios on the western part of the island. In fact, Agios Prokopios has earned recognition as one of the top beaches in all of Europe, with its clear water and soft golden sand.
Learn about the archaeological sites.
Visitors in Greece will find exciting archaeological sites across the country, and Naxos is no exception. One of the sites that travelers should not miss is Portara, which has become a symbol of the island and sits near the entrance to the port. Portara is a large marble doorframe that was part of an unfinished temple honoring Apollo. Located on a small promontory, the doorframe overlooks Delos, the mythological birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, his sister. Another interesting site is the Temple of Demeter near the village of Sangri. Archaeologists think that the same people who were involved in the design and construction of this temple also built the Parthenon in Athens.
Find the marble giants hidden on the island.
Since ancient times, Naxos has been known for its marble. As visitors make their way to the interior of the island, they will undoubtedly see the large patches of marble embedded in the hillsides. Archaeologists know that marble was mined on the island even in the ancient world because of the kouros. These massive marble statues were abandoned in the countryside, presumably because they broke during transit. There are two kouros: one in Flerio and the other in Apollonas. While it may seem like these huge statues carved to resemble humans would be easy to find, they actually take a bit of work to locate, and perhaps some conversation with local residents or other visitors. The statues’ size and age, however, make them worth the effort.
Wander around Naxos Town.
The largest city on the island is known as Chora or Naxos Town. For most visitors, this town will serve as home base for trips around the island, but it’s important to take the time to explore its charming streets. Narrow paths wind by the characteristic whitewashed houses on the hillside, leading to restaurants and shops selling handmade goods. While wandering the streets, tourists will come across a number of beautiful gardens, napping cats, and friendly residents. Naxos Town also boasts several cute cafés and a handful of great restaurants for getting a true sense of what island Greek cuisine is like. Unlike some of the other islands, commercialization has yet to transform Naxos. While in Chora, definitely take time to explore Kastro, a Venetian castle constructed in the 1200s, and have some coffee in its cafeteria overlooking the port.
Climb to the top of Mount Zeus.
The highest peak in the Cyclades is Mount Zeus, found on Naxos. However, because the mountain is only about a kilometer high, it’s not very difficult to get to the top and enjoy a sweeping view of the island. However, even people who don’t reach the summit can spend some time in the Cave of Zeus, where the god purportedly hid from his father, Cronus, who wanted to eat him. Climbing up Mount Zeus is a great way to feel more connected to the rich mythology that underlies Greek history while taking in some amazing views in a spot that is often left off of tourist to-do lists.