The rugged island of Naxos is the largest in the Cyclades group. With its flocks of sheep and goats and numerous market gardens contrasting with its golden sandy beaches and whitewashed buildings, it is a beautiful island to choose for a memorable holiday and what better choice than the capital and main town of the island?
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A Guide to Naxos Town (Chora)
Situated high on a hilltop and guarded by its Venetian castle stands the capital of Naxos – one of the prettiest in the Aegean Islands. It has a rich history coupled with beautiful architecture, narrow winding streets and plenty of character.
There are several parts to Naxos town. The old town is known as Kastro and situated by the castle within the Kastro’s old Venetian walls. The Kastro was home to the ruler of the Duchy of Naxos. The steep narrow lanes in Kastro are so pretty with cerise coloured bougainvillea tumbling over whitewashed walls and elegant Venetian mansions and numerous churches. This part of town is car free too which makes a leisurely wander easy.
The lanes from Kastro lead downhill to Bourgos to the west, which is where the Greeks lived during the years of Venetian occupation. Neo Chorio (New Town) is situated to the south and is where the island’s main port is located and many of the towns restaurants, bars and cafés.
When to visit Naxos
Naxos is at its most beautiful in late spring when the landscape is still lovely and green and sprinkled with numerous wildflowers. During the summer months, the island is hot and very popular, but by early autumn it is quiet and relaxing once again, with amazingly warm sea temperatures. It is important to remember that the summer season ends during the first weeks of October and many places close around the island, but the main town remains open all year round.
How to get to Naxos
During the summer season, there are several daily ferries from Piraeus. The standard ferry takes 6.5 hours and the high-speed ferry, 3.5 hours. There are many others that arrive at the main port in Naxos town from other islands in the Cycladic group.
There are flights from Elefterios Venizelos Airport in Athens to Apollon Airport in Naxos, which is situated just three kilometres from the main town. The flight takes just 45 minutes.
How to get around the island
Walking around the main town is not a problem and is particularly pleasant as the old town within the castle walls is a car free area and the coastal promenade is closed to traffic every afternoon.
The bus and taxi terminals are situated at the end of the port pier and all the car hire offices are located there too. The island bus service is good and reliable.
Short History of Naxos
The island has been inhabited since ancient times. It is said that it is where Dionysus (the god of wine) met and married Ariadne. The first Dionysus Festival was held on the island. The island later became famous for its beautiful marble which brought it wealth and has always been almost self sufficient as it produces a variety of foods.
Marko Sanoudo II the Venetian emperor invaded and conquered Naxos in 1207 century and built the Kastro on the top of the hill and the Kastro was the seat of power for the Cyclades islands for 300 years.
Things to do in Naxos Town
Be impressed by the Portara
The very first sight visitors have of the sizeable Portara is as they arrive at the port. ‘Portara’ means ‘Big Door’ in Greek and this magnificent archway was built in 522BC as the entrance gateway to the unfinished Roman Temple dedicated to Apollo.
The temple was being built by the tyrant Lygdamis who wanted it to be the largest and finest temple in Greece. The Portara measures six metres in height and 3.5 metres wide. It was built facing the island of Delos, which was known as Apollo’s island. It was never completed and much of the stone was later used to build the Kastro and its surrounding Venetian mansions.
Local tradition tells that if you stand in the Portara gateway and make a wish all of the energy from Apollo will make that wish come true.
The Portara stands on a rocky peninsula, known locally as ‘Palatia’ (meaning temple) and is reached via a causeway. This is the perfect place to watch the sunset.
Admire the Kastro (castle)
Often referred to locally as ‘Crispi’ or ‘Glezos Tower’, the Kastro was built in the Venetian style by the Venetian emperor Marco Sanudo II in 1207 when he created the Duchy of the Aegean. The Kastro remained the ‘seat of power’ for 300 years and has always been lived in. The castle is pentagon-shaped and surrounded by mansions, several schools and churches in narrow paved streets. Its tower – the Glezos Tower- was restored in 1968.
During the summer months, a number of music festivals are held in the remarkable setting of the Kastro including performances by international stars. Painters and sculptors regularly hold exhibitions in the castle too.
Explore the Archaeological Museum
Housed in the old Jesuit School of Commerce, the museum has a fascinating collection of old Cycladic art. One of the students who attended the school was Nikos Kazantzakis, the greatest modern writer once lived and it is where he penned ‘Zorba the Greek’. The museum has an interesting display of white marble monuments and local ceramics.
The Venetian Museum
With interesting artefacts, recording a period in the island’s history, the Venetian Museum stands within the old walls and is actually better known for the classical music and violin concerts that it regularly hosts.
Discover the beautiful churches
The oldest of the island’s churches is Panayia Vlacherniotissa which has a beautiful carved wooden iconostasis (altar screen). Panayia Myrtidiotissa is a fascinating church as it stands on a tiny islet in the port of Naxos and Theologaki is a tiny chapel situated in a cave.
The town’s closest beach
Ayios Yeoryios (St George) is the town’s closest beach and easy to reach as it lies on the northern side of the town – just beyond the Palatia peninsula. Ayios Yeoryios is one of the most popular beaches on the island and one of the best.
The golden sandy beach is ideal for families as the depth of the water remains shallow for several hundred metres before it gently shelves, making it good for swimmers of all ages. There are tavernas built on the sand and there is a water sports club giving windsurfing lessons and there is often a game of beach volleyball taking place. This beach is the first of a string of really excellent beaches along the west coast.
Take a boat trip
There are a number of boat trips to enjoy during your stay on Naxos and all leave from the port in the main town.
You can hop on a large luxurious catamaran and find the island’s secluded beaches or sail to some of the small Cyclades. The boat trip to the island of Koufonisia takes just under two hours but is great fun as the island has some really good fish tavernas to enjoy and some secluded naturist beaches.
Flavours of Naxos
Although it is a small island, Naxos has an amazing array of local dishes to try. They can be divided broadly into three groups: the fish and seafood dishes of the coastal area, the vegetable and beef dishes popular on the plains and usually made with home-made butter and the goat and lamb delicacies of the mountainous area- always cooked with plenty of local olive oil.
Amongst the ‘must try’ dishes are:
Pig Rosto which is a leg of pork, stuffed with garlic and braised in wine.
Pork Fricasse which is pieces of pork cooked with amarando – the leaves of sea lavender.
Zovla is braised goats meat with macaroni
Zamboni is the island’s excellent cured pork.
Naxos is also known for its tasty cheeses including Graviera of Naxos, Arseniko and Xynotyro.
The island cake Melachrino is a delicious walnut cake, made with Kitron, drenched in syrup and served with mastic ice cream (kaimaki)
There are vineyards on the north of the island and some of the island wines are really good, but it is Kitron that is really popular! This is the island’s liqueur which is made from the fruit and leaves of the citron tree.
Where to eat in Naxos Town
Naxos has a great selection of restaurants including family run tavernas, grill restaurants and beachside fish tavernas. In the main town there are some lovely places to discover serving traditional island cuisine. There are also international restaurants serving Mexican, Italian and French cuisine too to be found in the main town and various tavernas strung along the edge of all the popular beaches.
If you would like an amazing view then head for Café 1739 which is situated on top of the Kastro and has a large terrace with panoramic views over the whitewashed buildings to the azure water beyond and the mountains inland. The coffee here is seriously good – especially the cappuccino – or if you prefer, there are cold drinks and beers too.
A really good family-run restaurant worth discovering is Nikos Taverna. Run by a mother and her daughters, this taverna has homemade food at its best! The Moussaka is particularly good and all portions are generously sized – a small dessert is given to each diner as a gift from the family.
Oasis is situated down a small road leading to Agios Georgios beach and is again family run. The taverna has a huge shady terrace as the wooden canopy is attached to numerous tree branches. The menu is full of island classics including a particularly delicious lamb in lemon sauce. The house wine is good too.
Down on the main seafront, you will find Antamoma and this is a popular restaurant as it has views across to the island of Paros. Amongst its specialities are delicious pitakia – pastry turnovers stuffed with really tasty bacon. On the sands of Agios Georgios stands one of the island’’s oldest tavernas – Kavouri, which opened in 1955 and has been a firm favourite with locals and visitors ever since
Where to stay in Naxos Town
There are all types of accommodation available on the island of Naxos and many are in and around the main town. Our favourite three are situated close to the island’s best beach at Ayios Yeoryios and all are ideal for a perfect and relaxing holiday.
You might want to check out: The best Airbnbs in Naxos.
Alkyoni Beach Hotel – Styled in traditional Cycladic architecture, this lovely hotel is named after the beautiful kingfisher. The hotel has airy guest rooms – each with a private balcony or terrace- and the hotel has a popular Mediterranean restaurant. Close to the beautiful beach of Ayios Yeoryios, it is only 15 minutes walk into the island’s main town. Check here for more information and to book your stay.
Spiros- Naxos – This gorgeous hotel is definitely the place to relax as it has a beautiful free-form swimming pool that is floodlit in different colours at night. There is a beautiful spa with sauna, hammam, hot tub and well-equipped fitness centre. The sandy beach of Ayios Yeoryios is conveniently close by. Click here for more information and to check the latest prices.
Ippokampos Beachfront – With wonderful sea views to enjoy, the Ippokampos offers its guests a relaxing stay in comfortable guest rooms and apartments that are fitted with a kitchenette and each has a private balcony. The beach is just minutes away and so is the bus stop, if you feel like exploring further afield. Check here for more information and to book your stay.