As a young girl I snuck into a movie theater to see a film that was set on a Greek Island. The story focused on a couple living on Santorini for the summer. Sunlight sparkled off the blue sea and white painted homes. As the young pair rode the island on their motorbike, you could feel the warm, dry air as it brushed against their skin. It was the first time I remember discovering a new place on film, and it made a deep imprint.
When I got a housesitting assignment outside of Athens, I knew I had to spend at least some time on one of the Greek Islands, even with my tight budget. After first overwhelming myself with choosing from among all the Greek Islands, I narrowed my search to the Cyclades, mostly to satisfy the visual I had carried from the film for so long. But Santorini’s crowds and Mykonos’ nightlife didn’t hold much appeal. Did they have a quieter cousin?
I scoured websites, asked friends with family in Greece, and finally settled on Naxos as my pick. Here’s what sold me on the largest and greenest of the Cyclades islands, along with some general travel tips:
- Naxos is known for its walking trails, which are considered to be among the best in the Cyclades. Many travelers I met came back year after year to trek the same or new trails. My time on the trails was among my favorite experiences on the island.
- Several people raved about Naxos’ beaches. I went to Agia Anna, Agia Prokopios, and Plaka. They were peaceful, but truth be told, I wasn’t in love. The most beautiful beaches I saw in Greece were on Koufonissi. I don’t think I would return to Naxos only for its beaches, but I would definitely return to Koufonissi’s golden sand and clear waters. In fairness, the wind gusted strongly most days I was on Naxos, so going in the water was less of a draw.
- The island has a year-round population of locals and was said to offer more of a taste of regular life than you might find elsewhere in the Cyclades. Tourism is high on Naxos, but it was not the sole focus. I passed countless farms. At a bus stop, I talked with a man waiting with the family dog for his son to arrive from a two-month trip to Athens. Friends and family shared meals in tavernas where they seemed to know the owners. It all offered a feel of everyday life I enjoyed.
- Naxos has an extensive bus system to take you to beaches and villages. I couldn’t afford to rent a car, so this was important to me.
- Naxos was said to have more boat connections than some of the other islands, which would help if I wanted to make day trips or go someplace else overnight. In the end, I made just one day trip (to Iraklia and Koufonissi), but I liked having the options.
- It was quiet, but not too quiet. When I was doing my initial research, Milos and Sifnos were the two islands that I most wanted to visit, but I read that those islands might be too empty in the off-season, when I would be visiting. I wanted to avoid big crowds, but I also hoped to meet people. Naxos seemed to bridge the extremes. I was able to spend the days mostly on my own on the trails, but I also met people in restaurants, on the buses, and around town. There were some activities in the main town, Hora, and one evening, I went to a performance of Greek music and dance in the Kastro area.
If I get back to the Greek Islands, Milos and Sifnos are still on my list, and I would enjoy exploring more of the trails on Naxos and possibly staying in one of the villages. Much farther away, I have heard good things about Lesvos. And I would definitely love to spend more time lounging on Koufonissi.
Naxos Travel Tips:
Getting Around: As I mentioned, you can use a simple bus system to get around the island. The fare varies depending on how far you are going. You will need to buy your tickets before boarding, and you can get them at the bus office at the port, as well as at several small grocers in town. Of course, if you can rent a car, that will give you greater flexibility.
Where I Stayed: I had a private room, bathroom, and kitchenette at Pension Irene. It was comfortable, quiet, clean, and had a sunrise view from a tiny balcony. The owner also offered a free pickup and drop-off at both the airport and the port. I paid 20€ ($24 USD)/night, which was an off-season price.
Getting To/From Athens: I flew to Naxos from Athens on the day I arrived in Greece. The Olympic Air flight (45 min.) was on sale and cost 44€ ($52 USD). To return, I took a ferry (six hours) that cost 36€ ($42 USD). Both ran on time without any issues.
Where to Eat: My favorite meal was at a family-run taverna in Koronos called I Platsa. The food was delicious, the atmosphere peaceful, and the restaurant was run by a lovely mother and daughter. In Hora, I enjoyed the fresh fish at Ommos. I also ate several meals at Maro’s, near the town square, which offered good food, friendly hosts, and a mix of locals and tourists as guests.