Naxos Town: The Gorgeous Historic Heart of the Cyclades

In this destination guide, we will explore the sights, taverns and restaurants of Naxos Town.

Naxos

The island of Naxos is by far the biggest island of the Cyclades – and also the most diverse. It has some great beaches, packs a lot of history and culture, and even has some high mountains.

At 1,004 metres high (3,294 feet), Mount Zeus (called Mount Zas by the locals) is the highest peak of the island. When hiking in the island’s rugged interior it is even possible to completely forget that you are on an island altogether.

There is a lot to see and do on Naxos – you could easily fill a week on the island. Given that I’ve visited the island before and this time only added a day on the island as transit stop before taking the ferry to nearby Astypalaia, I would however focus all my attention to Naxos Town.

Naxos Town, or Chora Naxos in Greek, is the island’s capital and requires at least a full day to do it justice. It has the beauty of a typical Cycladic town, interesting historical sights and vibrant taverns and nightlife.

Harbour

Most visitors to Naxos Town will arrive at the port, located right in the centre of the old town. From here, all sights, shops and restaurants are just a short walk away.

Given that there are lots of parking places at the port and that the KTEL bus station is located just across the harbour square, it is also the location where most day trippers arrive in Naxos Town when coming from somewhere else on the island. It thus makes for a convenient point to start your sightseeing tour of Naxos Town.

harbour
Small boats in Naxos harbour. ©Paliparan
naxos town
From the harbour quay, there are some great views over Naxos Town. ©Paliparan

Portara

One of the most eye-catching sights of Naxos Town is the Portara, or Great Door. It is a huge marble gate from the year 500 BC which used to be part of a Temple of Apollo, although it was never finished.

The marble entrance gate is all that’s left nowadays and it stands solemnly on the small islet of Palatia, which is located right at the entrance of the Port of Naxos. The islet is connected to Naxos Town by a short causeway.

If it’s windy, do watch out for the waves when walking over to Palatia, unless you want to get wet that is!

naxos town greece
A causeway links Naxos Town and its port with the islet of Palatia. ©Paliparan
portara naxos
The causeway to the islet of Palatia, with the Portara gate already visible in the distance. ©Paliparan
waves causeway
Watch out for the waves when walking the path! ©Paliparan
portara naxos
The Portara used to be the entrance gate to an unfinished Temple of Apollo. ©Paliparan
palatia
A small path circles around the Portara gate and the islet of Palatia. ©Paliparan
naxos port
A breakwater at the islet of Palatia protects the entrance to the Port of Naxos. ©Paliparan
naxos view
From the islet there are sweeping views back over Naxos. ©Paliparan
causeway naxos
Looking back over the causeway which links the islet with Naxos proper. ©Paliparan
naxos harbour
Although the waters of the open sea on the left side were too wild to swim, there were some souls taking a dive in the calm waters of the harbour on the right. ©Paliparan


Waterfront

Back on Naxos, I was getting hungry as it was about time to have some lunch. Fortunately, there were plenty of taverns and restaurants to choose from.

Although there are quite some appealing taverns hidden in the backstreets of Naxos Town, most of the city’s pubs and restaurants are located right at the waterfront or in the streets shortly behind.

waterfront naxos
The waterfront of Chora Naxos. ©Paliparan
naxos tavern
There are plenty of cafes, pubs and taverns along the waterfront of Naxos Town. ©Paliparan
chora naxos
Cafes and taverns along the waterfront of Naxos Town. ©Paliparan

Sto Ladoxarto

Based on online reviews, I settled for a taverna called Sto Ladoxarto. It turned out to be an absolute home run and was certainly among the best restaurants during this entire summer holiday.

The tavern was beautifully decorated and had great views from its large windows over the waterfront and the marina. Despite it being lunchtime, the tavern was however completely empty – as were many of the other restaurants on the waterfront. You could clearly see that the amount of tourists in town was nothing compared to a normal Naxian summer due to the corona pandemic.

Sto Ladoxarto is well known for its delicious grilled meats. I therefore ordered the “kontosouvli” – or spit roasted BBQ pork. It was beautifully presented on a wooden board and was served with roasted tomatoes with yoghurt sauce, a pita bread and some chips.

Everything was absolutely delicious and tasted fresh, juicy and authentic. If you visit Naxos Town, I can highly recommend Sto Ladoxarto. If I would revisit Naxos in the future, I’d return to the restaurant in a heartbeat.

sto ladoxarto
The cosy interior of Sto Ladoxarto. ©Paliparan
sto ladoxarto
The tavern has large windows overlooking the harbour and waterfront. ©Paliparan
sto ladoxarto view
View from Sto Ladoxarto over the waterfront. ©Paliparan
sto ladoxarto
The meat from the skewer is plated at your table. ©Paliparan
sto ladoxarto naxos
From the succulent meat to the hand-cut chips and juicy grilled tomato with fresh yoghurt sauce, everything tasted absolutely perfect. ©Paliparan

Grotta Beach

After the excellent lunch I continued my tour of Naxos Town, first heading to the northern shore. The name of the beach is derived from the Italian word ‘grotta’, which means cave.

It was also the location where an ancient Mycenaean city once stood, which at the time was perhaps the most important town of all the Cyclades.

Today, Grotta beach feels delightfully derelict at some places, with abandoned buildings taking a battering from the fierce meltemi winds, the fierce northern winds which are dominant in the Aegean Sea in the summer months.

Because of the strong winds, Grotta Beach is not really suitable for a swim, although it does make for a highly picturesque walk.

chora naxos
Walking along the seaside road to Grotta Beach on the northern side of Naxos Town. ©Paliparan
grotta beach naxos
Grotta Beach. ©Paliparan
grotta beach
Grotta Beach is lined by abandoned buildings. ©Paliparan
grotta beach church
Derelict church at the edge of Grotta Beach. ©Paliparan
cafe grotta beach
There are also a few cafes and taverns around Grotta Beach. ©Paliparan
grotta beach
Grotta beach with the Portara being visible in the distance. ©Paliparan
grotta beach naxos
I loved the wild beauty and views of Grotta Beach. ©Paliparan

Orthodox Cathedral

If you walk away from Grotta Beach across the coastal road, you will find yourself in front of the Orthodox Cathedral of Naxos. This large whitewashed church, whose official name is the Metropolitan Church of Zoodochos Pigi, was built at the end of the 18th Century to replace a smaller church.

At the large square in front of the Cathedral you can find two other, smaller churches which are well worth a quick visit.

orthodox cathedral naxos
The Orthodox Cathedral of Naxos. ©Paliparan
cathedral church
The Orthodox Cathedral of Naxos. ©Paliparan
church naxos
There are several other, smaller churches on the Cathedral square. ©Paliparan

Kastro

In my opinion, the best of Naxos Town is not found at the waterfront but in the backstreets of the old town. The further you walk away from the sea, the narrower the streets become and the more delightful the town gets.

Naxos Town is at its absolute best when exploring these streets at random without a map to guide you. Just follow your eyes and nose and get lost in the maze-like streets running up to the hill.

The lower area of the old town is called Bourgos and is the place where the Greeks used to live in Medieval times. The highest point of the old town is called the Kastro (castle).

This “castle” is actually more like a walled, hilltop town on its own and was constructed by the Venetians. Led by Marco Sanudo, the Venetians had conquered the island from the Byzantine Empire in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade in 1207.

Sanudo established a duchy in the Aegean Sea and made Chora Naxos its capital. The Venetian rulers and the local Roman Catholic population lived together in the safety and shelter of the Kastro walls, divided from the Orthodox Greeks in the Bourgos area down below.

You can easily spot the old walls, entrance gates and small passages linking Bourgos with the Kastro.

The centrepiece of the Kastro is the Roman Catholic Cathedral which dates back to the 13th Century, although much of the present-day building is a 16th Century restoration paid for by the wealthy Catholic merchants and traders of Naxos.

kastro gate
One of the entrances to the Kastro. ©Paliparan
kastro naxos
The Kastro is the historic castle and residential area of the Venetian rules and Roman Catholic citizens of Naxos. ©Paliparan
old town street
All over the old town there are covered archways. ©Paliparan
kastro naxos
Into the Kastro. ©Paliparan
naxos kastro
Another covered passageway in the Kastro. ©Paliparan
catholic church naxos
The Roman Catholic church of Naxos Town. ©Paliparan
catholic church naxos
The Roman Catholic church is located in the heart of the Kastro. ©Paliparan
catholic church
Inside the church. ©Paliparan
kastro naxos
Exploring the streets of the Kastro. ©Paliparan
naxos town street
The streets of Naxos Town are just perfect to wander around aimlessly. ©Paliparan
gate
Another entrance gate of the Kastro. ©Paliparan

Coffee time

When in Greece, it is a must to make frequent coffee stops. The country has such an appealing coffee culture, and it is understandable why.

There is some great quality (iced) coffee and frappe available, and many of the cafes so highly appealing that you just want to linger around for a while, taking a sip at a time while having a chat, reading a book, or simply absorbing the surroundings.

One of my favourite places in Naxos for a drink is Honey & Cinnamon (Meli Kanela in Greek). Located just south of the Kastro, it has outdoor seating on a garden-like square.

The café doubles as a lively cocktail bar at night and has a great vibe and cosy setting no matter the time of the day you visit.

honey cinnamon meli kanela
Honey & Cinnamon Cocktail Bar. ©Paliparan
honey cinnamon naxos
Honey & Cinnamon Cocktail Bar. ©Paliparan
naxos cafe
Honey & Cinnamon Cocktail Bar. ©Paliparan
cat
Cute cat at the café. ©Paliparan
frappe freddo espresso greek coffee
My iced coffee came with a complimentary piece of cake. ©Paliparan

Backstreets

After the coffee it was time to explore more of Naxos Town. The small streets and steps leading down from the Kastro to the harbour make for some scenic views over Naxos Town and the deep blue waters of the Aegean.

The area is dotted with small Orthodox churches and chapels as well as gorgeous bougainvillea planted next to the whitewashed houses.

Even though the area might not have any blockbuster sights, these old town backstreets do make for an appealing area to wander around. Especially the streets to the north of Kastro towards Bourgos are highly scenic.

naxos town
Looking down the hill towards the west over the sea. ©Paliparan
naxos town
Naxos Town, with the Portara visible in the far distance. ©Paliparan
backstreets church
Exploring the backstreets of Naxos Town. ©Paliparan
backstreets
Exploring the backstreets of Naxos Town. ©Paliparan
naxos house
Whitewashed house in Naxos Town. ©Paliparan
bougainvillea naxos
I just adore the sight of bougainvillea to the backdrop of whitewashed Greek houses. ©Paliparan
bougainvillea greece
Bougainvillea. ©Paliparan
bourgos
Small church somewhere in the Bourgos neighbourhood. ©Paliparan
naxos town
Naxos Town. ©Paliparan

Bourgos

The area to the north and north-west of the hilltop Kastro is called Bourgos and was the place where the Greeks used to live in Medieval times.

Nowadays, the streets in these northern and north-western part of Naxos Town are full of appealing bars and taverns. Compared to those on the waterfront, the restaurants here are a bit more small-scale and intimate, with seats spread out through the narrow streets.

Although there are quite a few boutique stores and souvenir shops in the streets of Bourgos, they are not door-to-door which means the neighbourhood still has retained its authentic character.

Closer to the waterfront, there is even a small grocery store and bookshop which seemed to cater mostly towards locals.

That said, if you have a self-catering apartment or simply look for the usual high street shops, services and large supermarkets, you should head to the area directly south of the old town. Most shops you need are located on Sokratous Papavasiliou street – the main artery leading to the south-east out of Naxos Town.

naxos supermarket
Locals having a lively discussion in front of a small supermarket. ©Paliparan
bookstore street old town
A small book store in one of the old town streets. ©Paliparan
bourgos naxos
The colourful streets of the Bourgos neighbourhood. ©Paliparan
bourgos
Throughout Bourgos there are plenty of taverns and restaurant, most of them being relatively empty during the day but teeming with activity in the evening hours. ©Paliparan
bourgos naxos
A small tavern in the Bourgos neighbourhood. ©Paliparan
bourgos naxos
Some of the Bourgos streets are passageways underneath houses. Watch your head! ©Paliparan
passageway
Some passageways are rather narrow! ©Paliparan
bourgos naxos
The colourful streets of the Bourgos neighbourhood. ©Paliparan
boutique store naxos
In the old town of Naxos there are plenty of cute boutique stores selling clothes and jewellery and the like. ©Paliparan
clothing shop
An old town clothes shop. ©Paliparan
cat
Cute cat napping in front of a local shop. ©Paliparan
cat
Purr.. ©Paliparan
shops naxos
Shops in the old town of Naxos. ©Paliparan

Cats and flowers

After wandering around for a while I ended up in a Bourgos backstreet which was one of the most picturesque streets I’ve ever encountered in Greece (and I’ve seen quite a lot of the country).

With bougainvillea hanging overhead, colourful flowers placed in pots on the walls, cute cats walking around and old men just sitting in front of their front door doing nothing, it was about the most perfect image of Greece you could ever imagine.

greece flowers bougainvillea naxos town
Talk about beautiful old town streets! This one rates 10 out of 10. ©Paliparan
old man cat naxos
The old man and the cat. ©Paliparan
house cat naxos
Cat lazing in front of a house. ©Paliparan
naxos street
Another colourful Naxos street. ©Paliparan
street contrast
The whitewashed buildings form such a lovely contrast with the deep red or blue doors and windows. ©Paliparan
flowers
Some more bougainvillea love. ©Paliparan

Rest

As I was getting a bit tired from all the walking (and my pale Western European skin a bit reddish from the first bit of holiday sun) I decided it was time to head back to my lovely studio where I was staying for the night.

On the way back, I stopped again for a much-needed freddo espresso and some water, which fortunately in Greece is always served complimentary with your coffee.

Just like the coffee I had before at Honey & Cinnamon, I was again served a small piece of cake from the house. Although this can be common in Greece and I have no idea if both cafés normally do this, so far the service has been amazing at all places I visited on Naxos.

Although hospitality levels are generally high in Greece and café and taverna owners are usually very welcoming, I couldn’t help but think that people went the extra mile this year, given how dire the summer season looked like due to the complete absence of crowds.

When I visited Naxos before in the shoulder season a few years back, the crowds were much bigger than they were now in July, which normally is prime holiday season.

Nick, the host of my accommodation, even said the bookings for this month were only around 15 percent of what they are in a normal year, with August only looking slightly better. His estimate would turn out to be shockingly correct, as Greek tourist numbers indeed ended up being down by 85 percent in the month of July.

Although I was tremendously enjoying my time in the country, I certainly felt sorry for all those hardworking people trying to do the best they can in this miserably year.

street naxos
Walking back to my studio for a short siesta. ©Paliparan
church dome
Church dome. ©Paliparan
church naxos
Passing by another small church. ©Paliparan
naxos view
View over Naxos Town. ©Paliparan
street
Naxos street. ©Paliparan
road
My studio was located a short 10-15 minute walk from the old town along the main commercial road where most of the shops and services are located. ©Paliparan
freddo espresso
Stopping for some cake and coffee. ©Paliparan

Sunset

After a short rest I headed back to the old town with the goal of finding a good spot to watch the sunset. I’m a sunset junkie and whenever I am on an island, I always try to find out what the best spot is for sunset watching.

I was contemplating just watching it from the harbour quay or Portara, which would be the safest option given that those spots directly face the open sea towards the west.

In the end I however decided to try to find a spot high up in the Kastro to see whether I could get an unobstructed shot of both Naxos Town and the sea below. Although I managed to find an OK-ish place in the yard of an abandoned, derelict house, the spot wasn’t as good as I hoped for.

In the end, I still ended up walking downhill towards the sea, being just in time to catch the last glimpses of the setting sun.

view sea
Climbing up to the Kastro to find a spot to watch the sunset. Unfortunately this spot facing south wouldn’t do. ©Paliparan
naxos town sunset
Naxos Town sunset. ©Paliparan
naxos town sunset
Naxos Town sunset. ©Paliparan
sunset
Sunset as seen from the port. ©Paliparan

Dinner

For dinner, I went to the Bourgos area to find a nice spot. It was quite surprising to see people out again on the streets again, as during the day Chora Naxos at times felt like a ghost town.

I found an empty table at an appealing taverna called Metaxi Mas, which was bustling with French tourists.

To eat, I ordered some goat, which is a traditional Naxian dish. It was served with chips and came with a complimentary appetizer of bread and black olive tapenade. Together with a Mamos beer, it made for a simple yet very tasty meal.

mamos beer
Mamos beer – a historical beer brand from the city of Patra in the Peloponnese which has recently been revived by Athenian Brewery. ©Paliparan
goat tavern
Appetizer of bread with black olive tapenade and main of goat and chips. ©Paliparan

Evening walk

If you visit Naxos Town, you should definitely also take a walk through the old town centre after darkness and not only during daylight hours.

In the evening, there is a lot more buzz in town and all the lights shining on the whitewashed buildings and white-and-grey street stone patterns does create a special atmosphere.

Although there were definitely more people around in the evening than during the day, it did however still feel enormously quiet compared to normal times.

Given that most of the bars and pubs were still completely empty, I just decided to walk back home to my studio. In the residential area of town where my studio is located, there was however a bit more life, so I decided to join some of the Naxians at a local kafenio (traditional Greek café/bar) for a beer, before returning home for an early night in.

old town street
Old town streets at night. ©Paliparan
naxos street
The whitewashed buildings and those typical Cycladic street patterns look especially beautiful in the evening spotlights. ©Paliparan
naxos town cafe
Café in Naxos Town. ©Paliparan
cute cat
Another cute cat. ©Paliparan
evening streets
Evening streets. ©Paliparan
church
Church towering high above the steps. ©Paliparan
kafenio greece
Joining some local Naxians for a beer at a traditional kafenio. ©Paliparan

In short

Naxos Town is one of the most beautiful and lively urban centres of all the Cyclades. The city packs a lot of history and beauty in its cute streets and you can easily find remnants of some of Greece’s main historic eras, whether it’s ancient Greek, Byzantine or Venetian.

Especially when navigating the maze-like streets of the Bourgos and Kastro neighbourhoods you’ll find tons of highly picturesque spots and viewpoints which could easily fit on the brochure of any Greek tourist guide.

Given the size of Naxos Town and the entire island itself, it’s no surprise that you can find a lot of excellent cafés and restaurants. While other islands in the Cyclades are dominated by tourists, Naxos still manages to combine its local roots with being a beloved tourist destination and thus definitely has a lot of local flavour too.

If you have the time, by all means, stay a week on Naxos and explore all the delights of the island (there are many!).

That said, even if you are short on time or might just pass through Naxos Town having to change ferries, you should definitely try to allocate at least a full day to this lovely city.

Trip report index

This article is part of the ‘A Dodecanese Dream: Summer Island Hopping in Greece‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:

1. Back in the Skies – My First International Flight in the Age of Corona
2. Review: Kimon Hotel, Athens, Greece
3. Exploring Plaka: Through the Winding Streets of the Old Town of Athens
4. Climbing up the Acropolis: Visiting Athens’ Most Famous Sight
5. Review: Skyserv Melina Merkouri Lounge Athens Airport
6. Review: Sky Express (ATR 42) Athens to Naxos
7. Review: Studios Zafiri, Naxos Town, Greece
8. Naxos Town: The Gorgeous Historic Heart of the Cyclades (current chapter)
9. Review: Blue Star Ferries Naxos to Astypalaia
10. Review: Belvedere Studios, Astypalaia Town, Greece

** rest of the chapters to follow soon **

Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

2 thoughts on “Naxos Town: The Gorgeous Historic Heart of the Cyclades

  • January 3, 2021 at 10:58 am
    Permalink

    Yet another great review, thank you Koen.

    You keep visiting places where I mis-spent my youth many years ago! The only problem with this is you make me want to go back and then there’s competition with all the places I still haven’t been!

    Greece is definitely on my travel list for this year but not until October when hopefully things will be somewhere like normal again, I already have a LHR-ATH booking and who knows what will happen when I get there!

    Reply
    • January 3, 2021 at 4:48 pm
      Permalink

      Thanks again lhrpete for the nice comment! I don’t know what the other countries are on your travel list, but Greece should be great in October!

      I went on a shorter Greek trip last October to Sifnos and Milos and it was fantastic. On Sifnos there wasn’t that much a difference from normal Octobers I’d say – some towns were even quite lively with visiting French tourists! It had just the right trade-off – in the day you have sights and beaches for yourself, in the evening it’s lively enough with a nice vibe to actually enjoy the good taverna life or a glass of wine/beer at the pub.

      Milos felt more quiet, but that is because tourism is normally on a much larger scale there. That said, some villages and remote taverns were still full of locals and tourists alike even in October!

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.