Naxos is an island in the popular Cyclades that has commonly been referred to as Greece's most underrated island. It isn't often that you hear traveller's talking about this hidden gem, which is so surprising because this island has so much to offer.
I'm not kidding, Naxos really does offer it all: the friendliest people, diverse landscapes, delicious food [the famous Naxos potatoes!], deep-rooted mythological history, and beautiful beaches. Simply put, this island is so authentically Greek and I couldn't have loved my time here more.
Are you planning a trip to Naxos? Curious about Naxos in May? I'm here to dish all the details with my '3-Days in Naxos' island guide.
See also: A 4-day guide to Milos, Greece.
Why is May the Perfect Time to Visit Naxos?
May is a great month to visit Naxos [and Greece in general]. Characterized as the shoulder season, the islands are still relatively quiet in May. With that being said, Naxos never gets that busy compared to many other islands in the Cyclades, so there really is no bad time to visit.
Here's what we loved most about Naxos in May:
Weather: We visited Naxos in mid-May and the weather was perfect. Sunny and around 25 degrees Celsius [75 degrees Fahrenheit]. The mornings and evenings did get a bit chilly so if you are going to Naxos to soak up the sun on the beach, this may not be the best time to go, as the water is also still a bit cold [although that didn't stop me from going for a swim]. However, if you're going to hike and sight see, the temperatures at this time of year are perfect! I couldn't imagine hiking in temperatures any higher than the ones we experienced.
Lack of Crowds: We felt like we had the whole island to ourselves! We were able to drive around, visit touristy locations, and go on hikes, while only running into a few other travellers. The beaches were also very quiet and we didn't have to make any dinner reservations, even at the most popular spots on the island.
Where to Stay
We loved our stay here! This family-run hotel is very clean and features huge apartment-style rooms, complete with a small kitchen, a well-kept patio and pool surrounded by beautiful gardens and views of the mountains, and personal balconies. And to top it all off, it is a short 10 minute walk to the city centre.
The owner Nikos and his family could not be more hospitable. They provided us with some fantastic recommendations and helped us arrange our rental car. Nikos picked us up and dropped us off at the ferry terminal, and really went above and beyond to make sure we had the best stay on the island.
I wouldn't hesitate to stay here again next time we visit Naxos!
Getting To & Around Naxos
We arrived to Naxos by ferry. We took one of the Blue Star Ferries, which took about five hours from Athens. However, Naxos does have an airport with direct flights from Athens.
To get around Naxos, we rented a car. Naxos is a large island, so a car is definitely the most efficient way to see the island. I've also heard the public transportation system can be unreliable and that it doesn't run to all locations. Therefore, I cannot guarantee that you'll be able to reach all locations in this itinerary by public transportation.
The roads in Naxos are most well-paved, with the exception of a few [which I'll elaborate on further in the island guide]. However, the island has a lot winding roads up and down the sides of mountains, which may be a bit nerve-wracking for some drivers. Just drive cautiously, and you'll be able to navigate this island with no issues.
Day 1: Explore Naxos Town [Chora]
The main town on Naxos, affectionately referred to as 'Naxos Town,' has so much to do. Spend your first day wandering around the town centre, popping into the many local shops, and checking out some of our favourite attractions.
Portara: The Portara, also known as 'The Great Door' sits atop a hill overlooking Naxos Town and is a look back in time at Naxos' ancient history. It also offers beautiful views of the island.
Kastro: The Kastro (or Castle) is a fortress in the middle of the town that I would highly recommend stopping in to explore.
Chora Waterfront: I would definitely recommend walking around the beautiful waterfront, watching the locals on their boats, and taking in views of the Portara. There are also a lot of restaurants along the waterfront, however per the recommendation of our hotel owner, we chose not to dine here as they were overpriced and the food was sub-par [take a look at the 'Food & Drinks' list below for recommendations on where you should dine instead].
Shopping: There are so many local shops, cafes, museums, and art galleries in the winding maze-like streets surrounding the Kastro. The shop-a-holic in me got lost in here for hours. I even took home some locally handmade jewelry from 'Fleur D'or' and hand-painted postcards from a small local shop.
Take Pictures: There are so many awesome spots to take pictures in Old Town. Every corner we turned, I felt compelled to stop and snap a shot. This town really is quintessential Greece.
Day 2: Hike to the Cave of Zas and Zas Mountain
We spent our second day in Naxos doing the most popular hikes on the island. If you're an adventure-seeker in Naxos, you must do these hikes. However, there are a couple tips you must have before you take off on this adventure.
There are two ways to hike to the top of Mount Zas - the "easy" way and the "difficult" way. We chose the easier route. The more challenging route involves hiking past Zas' cave, and up a very steep, rocky incline to the top. This route is not well marked, and involves literally climbing up piles of rocks. I would only recommend doing this hike if you are an experienced hiker.
Since we are not avid hikers, we decided to take the "easy" route and split up our day into two hikes.
Zas Cave Hike
Zas Cave is famously known as the birthplace of Zeus.
To get to the hike, we were told it was an easy drive, with the last 100 metres being a narrow cliff-side road, but easy to navigate. Well, let me tell you that 100 metres [i swear it was more than that] was the scariest drive of our lives. It involved driving around a curved road, filled with blindspots, on the side of the mountain - with no guard rail. It was a single lane road with room for only one car, so if another car were to come we would have had to reverse down the mountainside. Needless to say, I would recommend parking at the beginning of this stretch of road, and walking up to the start of the hike to avoid panic.
We were told that the hike to the cave should be about 20 minutes, however it was not clearly marked and therefore it took a bit longer for us to find it. We were following spray-painted X's up piles of rocks and it was often difficult to spot the next X.
Once we got to the cave, we took a look inside and climbed back down. Quite frankly, the cave was a bit anticlimactic. However, I would still recommend the experience, as it only takes about an hour of your time and the cave has a really cool backstory.
Mount Zas [Zeus] Hike
We drove to the start of the Mount Zas hike. The start of the hike was not clearly marked, so I would recommend talking to your accommodation staff for directions to the starting point [where you park at a church].
This hike was moderate in difficulty, mostly due to the sun and heat, and took us just shy of two hours to get to the top. This hike was more clearly marked than the first one, and required you to follow piles of rocks that guided you to the top. On the way up you're surrounded by breathtaking sights - and lots of adorable goat companions.
Once at the top of the mountain, which is the highest point in the Cyclades, you'll be rewarded with the most spectacular 360-degree views of Naxos that you truly have to see to believe.
After a long day of hiking, head into the nearby village of Tripiti for a cold beer and local food at one of the many tavernas.
Day 3: Exploring the Villages of Naxos
There are so many quaint mountain villages in Naxos that must be visited. On day three, we hopped back into our rental car and set out to explore some of these local treasures.
First stop was small village of Melanes, set perfectly into the side of a mountain. We stopped into this town in the morning to grab breakfast; however, we were unable to find a restaurant that was open. We were about to hop back into our car, which we parked near the entrance to the village, when this local man came out of his door, motioned us over, and gestured to us to come inside for coffee. We sat out on the patio and without taking our order, he brought us the best freshly squeezed orange juice I have ever had, and iced coffees. There we sat, with the most beautiful mountain views, and experienced this extra special moment of genuine Greek hospitality in its rawest form.
We left Melanes and drove through the mountains to see the fallen Kouros statues. These statues are located in a quarry in the middle of nowhere, and can be accessed by a short walk. These fallen statues reach up to an impressive 10 metres in height, and were carved in the 7th Century B.C.
Next we headed to the popular Panagia Drosiani, a small mountainside church. This church is beautiful, and extremely old dating back at the end of 6th century A.D. Inside, they have a variety of artwork that you can view. But perhaps the most heartwarming part of this experience is the two local village women who sit outside the church selling homemade olive oil and crocheted towels and cloths. I bought some beautiful local handmade souvenirs here.
From the church, we headed to arguably the most picturesque village on Naxos: Chalki (Chalkio or Halkio) for lunch. We sat out on the patio at Giannis Taverna, next to rotissarie lamb cooking over wood-burning fire alongside the restaurant. After lunch, we walked around the small village, browsed in a few shops, and took pictures under the popular pink tree.
After a busy day driving around the island, we were craving some R&R - cue beach time. So, we hopped back in the car and drove to Agios Prokopios Beach. There, we laid our towels out in the sand, grabbed some ice cream, and took a dip in the water. In May, the water was a bit chilly, but so refreshing after a long hot day driving around the island.
Naxos has some beautiful beaches that are definitely worth checking out while you're visiting. I wish we had more time to spend at the beach, because one afternoon was just not enough. Thankfully, we were off to two more islands where I was able to get my beach fix.
Food & Drinks
In case you haven't realized it yet - I am the biggest foodie. I love trying new restaurants, and I LOVE Greek food. With that being said, I was so in the moment on this leg of our trip that I didn't write down all the places we ate. I've done my best to retrace my steps, and give you a list of a few places we went.
Naxos has fantastic food! Make sure you try their delicious local cheese [you're often given a choice between this and traditional feta], and the famous Naxos potatoes. I'm telling you, you'll never look at any other potato the same way again after tasting the pure heaven that is Naxos potatoes.
To Elliniko: Located just outside the city centre of Naxos Town, this restaurant offers a great, high quality dinner. The also have a beautiful, romantically lit patio [with space heaters for chillier nights] that is truly inviting. As a Canadian, the cherry on top was the fact that this restaurant was owned by a Greek Canadian man who has retired in Naxos and opened a restaurant.
Nostimon Hellas: This was our favourite dinner in Naxos. They offer high quality, locally sourced food that is worth the price point. I wouldn't call this restaurant expensive per se, because nothing in Naxos is very expensive, however it is a bit more premium than some of these other options.
Scirocco: This traditional taverna offers a good meal at an affordable price. It is the perfect spot for lunch if you're spending the day exploring Naxos Town.
Naxos Grill: This local hotspot was recommended by our hotel. I've always been told that if the locals are eating there, it must be good - and Naxos Grill proved that point to be correct. The food was excellent and offered outstanding value for your money. This is the place go if you're craving a gyro plate, and other Greek classics.
Giannis Taverna: Located in the village of Chalki, this taverna has good food and is located in the picturesque town centre. It is the perfect spot to stop for lunch while you're out exploring the villages of Naxos.
Tip: You should avoid the restaurants along the waterfront in Naxos Town. They are overpriced, touristy, and according the the locals, low quality. Keep in mind that food in Naxos should be cheap. So more often than not if something seems a bit expensive, it is likely a tourist trap and I would recommend looking elsewhere.
So, that's it for Naxos! I hope you enjoyed my '3 Days in Naxos' guide to this wildly underrated island. I really didn't know what to expect when we chose to visit this island, and it blew me away. If you weren't already considering it for your Greece itinerary, I sure hope you are now!
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