Swathed in greenery, dotted with Venetian-era crenellated towers, Naxos stands out from its Cycladic-island cousins of Mykonos and Santorini. The pleasure of this place is the freedom it offers, along roads that twist through shady groves of olives and carob trees. If you like lazing, the beaches are a treat, but there’s plenty to keep you busy – here are the best things to see and do in Naxos, Greece.
Built like a quaint, sugar-cube Cycladic village among greenery, this petite water park is a hit with younger families. In the family-friendly resort of Stelida, near the huge, sandy Agios Prokopios Beach, it has a selection of spiral tube slides and bumpy flumes to shoot down, plus paddling pools with cute octopus-shaped kiddie slides. Great for a cooling day off the beach, with bargain entry prices and a compact layout that’s less intimidating than many water parks.
After exploring the island’s main town, Chora, head to this sandy Blue Flag beach, 10 minutes’ south of the port – its clean, shimmering shallows and steady breeze attract windsurfers to the southern end, but families, couples and young groups congregate near its ample umbrellas and other facilities. The water is paddling-shallow for several metres out, so it’s safe for toddlers and under-10s. A scattering of cafes and tavernas coax you to stay for lunch – and dinner.
History buffs and scholars of Christian art seek this little Byzantine church in the rugged interior, 50 minutes’ drive from Naxos Town. Its higgledy-piggledy exterior of porous rock may not look like much from the outside, but it’s the site of incredibly rare, carefully preserved frescoes from the 8th century BCE. Peek in to see the faded images of birds and plants. The island is home to some 140 Byzantine churches – if you’re a history fan, you could hire a car and make a day of it.
This sandy strand at the end of Agios Prokopios Beach is a hub of socialising, eating and drinking – comfy, cushioned beach clubs serve chilled beers while families peruse sun-lounger sections and rent pedalo boats. The views are quaint: petite fishing boats are moored at the mini harbour when not out fishing for the tavernas along the bay, and the only hotels and cafes that trim the sands are uniformly boxy and whitewashed in the traditional Cycladic style.
The fine sands and unspoiled slopes of this cedar-forested beach lure travellers in the know to the east of the island, near the fishing village of Moutsouna. This is an under-the-radar stretch of coast to lounge on, with hardly any facilities but maximum natural charm. With calm, shallow waters it’s a dream for keen swimmers and families, and often it’s completely deserted, so bring snacks, water and a beach umbrella if you can – though there is some natural shade from the cedars.
This mountain village is hugged by miles of forest-carpeted slopes in Naxos’ untrodden interior – many visit for the day to absorb its trapped-in-time feel and curious amphitheatrical layout. Potter about narrow alleys under canopies of leaves, spotting huge ceramic urns for sale and pausing at sleepy cafes. Known as the “marble village” for the hunks that make up its streets and houses, it’s a centre of embroidery: pick up loom-woven tablecloths before you leave.
This intimate 13-room hotel, close to St George beach and the main port, is one of the most beloved bases on the island. Simple whitewashed interiors are hipped-up with swinging basket chairs, powder-blue furniture and whirlpool tubs – young couples and design lovers sip aperitifs on its minimalist rooftop, with luminous views of the Aegean Sea. Hands-on owners greet you with complimentary wine and make every arrangement for you, from car rental to island tours.
Framed by grey, shrub-speckled cliffs on either side, this unspoiled, flat scoop of gleaming white sand is the most beautiful beach on Donoussa island: the largest of the Small Cyclades. It’s reached by ferry – from an hour to four hours’ journey, depending on the company. Disembark and it’s a 15-minute bus ride to this pin-up cove – reckon on a 20-minute walk from the drop-off point. Your reward? Silky sands and neon shallows, utterly unbothered by mass tourism.
Kato or “lower” Koufonisi is the smaller, uninhabited island of the twin Koufonisis, with staggeringly beautiful waters the colour of aquamarine gems, encircled by naked ochre cliffs. Photogenic is an understatement. You do have to bring everything you need in a backpack – bottled water, sun hats, sunscreen, a picnic – but it’s worth it for the untouched hiking trails branching off from the one tiny port, and impromptu dips in secret-feeling coves.
Venture outside of the Cyclades and explore your various hotel and boutique options in Athens, bookable with Culture Trip. Following a visit to the beach and some historic sites, mark your visit to the capital by eating at an authentic Greek restaurant.
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