The trip notes given to me at the beginning of my Intrepid tour through the Greek Islands referred to the island of Naxos as “the largest and most fertile of the Cycladic Islands.” It told me that I could expect to find “picturesque villages, Byzantine churches, lush valleys, ancient citrus groves, and wonderful beaches.” It all sounded a bit embellished to me, to be honest.
So I went to Naxos feeling slightly skeptical, unsure of what I would actually find. What does the “most fertile” island in the Cyclades mean, anyway? All the others I had seen had been brown, brown, brown. I could hardly picture a “lush” one.
In the end, the description WAS a bit embellished. There were no jungles overflowing with greenery, and I didn't visit any beaches in Naxos that were any more beautiful than those I visited on other islands. But you know what? It WAS greener. And it DID have picturesque old villages and ancient citrus (and olive) groves.
Overall, Naxos took me by surprise. Was it my favorite island in Greece? Probably not. But it IS one worth adding to your itinerary.
Things to do
As the largest island in the Cyclades, there's actually quite a bit to do on Naxos. But, since Naxos relies on agriculture just as much (if not moreso) than tourism, not all of these things to do are super touristy.
Climb to the Venetian castle in Naxos town
Yes, the Venetians once built castles and fortresses all over Greece — and many of them are still standing. The castle in Naxos is at the top of town; an easy walk from the waterfront and kind of cool to see. There's a museum up there, too, though it wasn't open when I visited. Another thing you can do at the castle (and probably the most popular thing to do) is to see a bouzouki concert — a show of live traditional Greek music and dancing. I highly recommend doing this on Naxos!
Watch the sun set at the Unfinished Temple of Apollo
Another popular thing to do in Naxos town is to watch the sun set behind the Portara — the ancient entrance to an unfinished temple dedicated to the god Apollo. The “gate” faces directly toward Delos, Apollo's birthplace, and is basically the only remnant of the temple still standing from the 6th century. The temple sits on a little island connected to Naxos by a causeway and is by far the most popular spot to catch a sunset from.
Visit villages like Halki and Apiranthos
Naxos is much bigger than the other Greek Islands that I visited. And it has mountains! Mountains topped with tiny white churches that I could not imagine reaching on foot in the searing Greek sun. I got to see these mountains up close as I rode various buses through them to visit some of the island's mountain villages. I chose to visit both Apiranthos and Halki. Halki is much more tourist-friendly (and has a kitron distillery), while Apiranthos is clearly an aging village, full of many abandoned and crumbling buildings. Both are interesting and worth a visit, though.
Check out the Temple of Dimitra
Naxos has a few other ancient things on it, including the ruins of Dimitra's Temple. I would recommend perhaps seeing this site on a larger tour of notable sites on Naxos, however, as it's a bit difficult to get to if you don't have a rental car.
Naxos is known for its pretty beaches — and, being a larger island, it has no dearth of sandy spots.
Popular beaches on Naxos include Agia Anna Beach (a long, sandy beach great for windsurfing), Plaka Beach (a sandy and relaxing beach where nudity is allowed), Agios Prokopis Beach (the most popular on the island, known for its dunes), and Agios Georgios Beach (the shallow, family-friendly beach right in Naxos town).
What makes Naxos special
The fact that Naxos doesn't focus solely on tourism means that you can get away from all of that quite easily. Heading up to the villages in the mountains was something very unique — and the part of Naxos I think I will always remember best.
The practical stuff
WHERE TO STAY — I stayed in a hotel within a 2-minute walk from Agios Georgios (Saint George) Beach. There are a ton of hotels in this part of Naxos town, all within walking distance of the beach in one direction and shopping and restaurants in the other.
WHERE TO EAT — Head to any of the tavernas along the waterfront if it's fresh seafood that you're after. You'll find fresh octopus drying on lines during the daylight hours, and decent deals at dinnertime.
GETTING AROUND — If you want to visit any of the villages up in the mountains (which I highly recommend!), you'll either need a car or a bus ticket. Buses to each village leave throughout the day from the main bus station in Naxos town, where you can also go to pick up a schedule. Ticket prices depend on where you're going (a round-trip ticket to Apiranthos, for example, will cost you 3.10 Euro).
Is Naxos an island that YOU would like to visit?
*Note: I visited Ios as part of a complimentary Greek Islands tour from Intrepid Travel through my partnership with them. As always, though, opinions are entirely my own.