This secret island is Greece’s best holiday destination

In the heart of the Cyclades islands, the under-the-radar coastal paradise of Naxos is the Greek archipelago’s best-kept secret.
A high angle view of Naxos, Cyclades, Greece.Photography: Getty Images

Braving the colossal tourist ferries that cut across the Aegean Sea at lightning speed is no easy task for those prone to sea sickness (ahem). But once the sea spray settles and your island destination materialises on the horizon, all is forgiven – especially when your first sight is an impressive marble doorway standing six metres high. Built during the 6th century BC for an unfinished temple dedicated to the Greek sun god Apollo, the landmark perfectly frames the whitewashed Chora (main town) that rises into view behind it, welcoming travellers to the best-kept secret in the Greek archipelago: Naxos.

An elevated white building overlooking hills and a pink flowering tree.
Naxos is known for its beachy idylls, though nestled throughout the island are 30 dreamy hillside villages to discover. (Photography: Kayla Wratten)

Where is Naxos?

Despite covering 430 square kilometres and being the largest island in the picturesque Cyclades group – which is made up of 220 islands in the southern part of the Aegean Sea – low-key Naxos is often excluded from the ‘European summer’ itinerary in favour of its neighbours, glamorous Santorini and party hub Mykonos. But at four times the size of these tourism-saturated isles, there’s so much more to explore: think uncrowded beaches, charming inland villages, artisanal boutiques, and traditional tavernas celebrating local produce and wine.

Two aperitifs on a table overlooking a sunset ocean view.
Unwind with a cool apéritif while the sun sets against a backdrop of the Cyclades islands. (Photography: Kayla Wratten)

Greener and more fertile than nearby islands due to its mountainous terrain, the agricultural scene is so vibrant here that mythology says Naxos is blessed by Dionysus, the Greek god of winemaking, vegetation, orchards and fruit. Sprawling vineyards and fruit-bearing trees colour the lush valleys, while 40,000 olive trees are said to produce the island’s supply of olive oil – a staple ingredient splashed in nearly every Greek dish from tzatziki to moussaka. You can soak in the scenic countryside on a tranquil drive (or cortisol-inducing, if you’re travelling via a quad bike) to some of the 30 idyllic villages scattered up and down the mountains.

Views of mountains and vineyards in Greece.
The island rises from the Aegean Sea to mountains wreathed with lush vineyards and orchards. (Courtesy of Adobe Stock)

Places to visit in Naxos

In Halki, time-worn marble-paved streets are the first sign that the sleepy village has preserved its natural beauty and centuries-old heritage, even before you come across the quaint Byzantine churches or Venetian towers (the latter were erected when Naxos was under Venetian rule for three centuries from 1207).

A Greek building with blue doors and a white facade.
Sip Kitron liqueur at the Vallindras Kitron distillery. (Courtesy of Vallindras Kitron Distillery)

Blooming bougainvillea, black cats lounging in sunspots and the peaceful attitude that permeates the village adds to the allure – as does the beautiful Vallindras Kitron distillery, where you can discover how Naxos’ iconic and tangy Kitron liqueur is produced from citron leaves.

A peach-coloured villa with steps to a balcony in Greece.
One of the island’s many tranquil postcard-perfect corners. (Photography: Kayla Wratten)

The hillside village Apeiranthos also bears the marks of the Venetian era. Curved archways and pretty, narrow alleyways lined with stores and potted flowers lead to shaded town squares, where you can unwind with a cup of Greek coffee. And Filoti village, known for its goat’s cheese called arseniko, is nestled at the base of the tallest mountain in the Cyclades, Mount Zeus. According to ancient Greek mythology, the king of the gods was born on the nearby island of Crete, but raised on Naxos in a cave on the mountain that’s now named in his honour, which you can discover on a hike to the summit.

A stone alleyway between two pink and white buildings in Greece.
Explore Naxos by bike or wander the crazy-paved alleyways on foot, many of which are clothed with old marble flagstones. (Photography: Kayla Wratten)

Then of course there’s the glittering coastline of Naxos, dotted with iconic architecture in crisp white. The phrase ‘beach hopping’ comes to life as time stills and you wander from the golden stretch of sand at Agios Prokopios to the bamboo umbrellas at Plaka Beach or Agios Georgios. Languid days spent beneath the sun, dining on delicious local produce and exploring the island paradise are bound to leave you feeling lighter – or perhaps that’s just the healing touch of Apollo.

A beach with a blue umbrella and striped chair.
Cerulean waters, azure umbrellas and white sandy beaches are signatures of this part of paradise. (Photography: Kayla Wratten)
  • Portara, the Temple of Apollo, Chora. Mikri Vigla beach, Mikri Vigla. Ideal for windsurfing and kitesurfing. Temple of Demeter, Sangri. Discover an ancient ruin from the 6th century BC. Visit Greeka for more.
  • Pocket Gallery, old market, Chora. Peruse Greek art, design and contemporary ceramics. Fleur D’or, old market, Chora. Fish and Olive, Halki. Visit Fish and Olive.
  • Nikos and Maria Restaurant, Plaka Beach. This taverna serves fresh seafood, traditional plates and Greek wine to your table right on the sand. Platanos Taverna Apeiranthos, Apeiranthos. Flamingo Restaurant, Chora. Doukato Restaurant, Chora.
What to do in Naxos
The exterior of white luxury villa and pool with the ocean in the distance.
Naxian Collection luxury villas and suites savour island views. Visit Naxian Collection. (Courtesy of Naxian Collection Luxury Villas and Suites)
An outdoor beach restaurant with blue chairs and a wooden walkway.
Nikos and Maria Restaurant sits on the sands of Plaka Beach. (Courtesy of Nikos and Maria Restaurant)

Fly into Naxos Airport from Athens, Greece; a one-way fare with Aegean Airlines starts at $115. Flight prices start from around $1740 for a one-way trip from Sydney to Athens with Etihad Airways. Expect at least one stopover. Chora (Naxos town) is a six-minute drive from Naxos Airport. There is also a ferry from Athens and many islands in the Aegean. The ferry from Athens takes three to five hours and costs start around $50*. Visit Flight Centre to help plan your trip and flights.

How to get to Naxos
A collection of blue and white sea-themed ceramic vases.
You can pick up one-of-a-kind contemporary ceramics from Fish and Olive. (Courtesy of Fish and Olive)

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