What To Expect When Renting A Car & Driving In Naxos, Greece
If you’re adding the island of Naxos to your Greek isles itinerary—which, CONGRATS on your good life decisions!—some of the first questions you’ll run into are around renting a car in Naxos and what the driving is like.
And that’s because, while Naxos Town is amazing, it would be a shame to visit the island and only see that town, versus really exploring the island’s beaches and mountain villages on a roadtrip. So this post is focused entirely on questions about cars and driving, to help you plan your trip.
Here are other posts to help you plan your trip to Naxos!
Do I need a car in Naxos?
Yes! If you’re planning on a Naxos roadtrip, you definitely need a car! The only way you wouldn’t is if you’re only briefly visiting Naxos Town (in which case you can either walk around or grab taxis as needed).
Not only did having a rental car allow me to truly explore every nook and cranny of this beautiful island, and on my own terms, but it also enabled me to stay at the totally unique ELaiolithos hotel, the only hotel in the mountain villages.
What if I don’t want to rent a car?? Well, then your other main option is to take a half-day or full-day tour of Naxos…you can see options here, including private tours (compare here and here as well). I prefer private tours as you can fully shape the itinerary and skip things you don’t care about.
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What you need to know about renting a car in Naxos
While Naxos is a fairly large island relative to its Cycladic neighbors, it’s still got that pretty casual island vibe thing happening, and renting a car is fairly straightforward (and occasionally more informal than I’d prefer).
Be aware that the majority of cars will be manual transmission (stick shift), so you’ll have to work a little harder to find an automatic and they’ll get booked up earlier. Book ahead!
I always recommend searching on multiple rental car aggregators, including DiscoverCars and RentalCars.com, and usually also check AutoEurope. The first two are my go-to’s for booking international rental cars.
There are also a handful of local car rental companies, and your hotel may be able to recommend one they have a relationship with.
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I had trouble finding an automatic when booking about 6 weeks out, and ended up going with Joyride Naxos, a recommendation from my hotel owner. Overall it went fine but I did have some hiccups. Just make sure to have everything in writing and be patient!
I had trouble finding the rental car people at the port when I showed up, I had to call them and figure it out where they were (and wandered around for a while).
Then they tried to give me a manual car because they didn’t have an automatic available, but we eventually got it figured out. I truly don’t drive stick shift, so it wasn’t even an option. I had to wait an hour or two for someone to return an automatic but they took me to my hotel so I could get settled, and then brought me the car.
When I dropped off the car at airport they were supposed to meet me at 9:30 but no one had showed up by 9:45 and my flight boarded at 10:05 so I had to call, they said they’d come in 10 minutes. In the future I would maybe call the night before or that morning to confirm the time…again, a bit more casual than I tend to prefer.
I always use my Chase Sapphire credit card’s rental car insurance, so decline any CDWs that are offered by the rental company. I have a deeper post on things you might not know about your travel credit card, which includes this and other types of insurance or reimbursement.
Naxos airport is the only place my luggage has been lost…check out these tips for managing air travel woes!
Driving on Naxos Island
For the most part, driving in Naxos is completely fine (if quite hilly and winding). You drive on the right-hand side of the road, like in most of the world. And I had the roads to myself most of the time, so you’re not fighting traffic in tight squeezes much.
Road quality is really all over the place…the highways are in great shape and easy to navigate. If you’re really exploring the island, you’ll also likely do a lot of driving on rock and dirt roads. Some of them are washboard rock, others fairly rutted-out gravel.
Most of the dirt or rock roads were totally manageable. I will say that there were a couple that were fairly terrifying and I wasn’t positive I would get out of there without popping a tire, or that my tiny, light car could get up a loose gravel steep hill. BUT I DID IT!
Go slowly on those types of roads and be super careful with your tires. I grew up on gravel roads so am familiar with the driving and how to react if you start to fishtail, but if you’ve never driven that just make sure you’re a confident and knowledgeable driver (especially if you’re rusty with driving a manual car).
It’s a good idea when picking up your car to make sure you have a spare tire in the back (with the tools to change it) and also the number for the company. Did I do this? No. Do I recommend it?? Yesssss.
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Navigating the island
One thing to remember is that you don’t have a gas station on every corner, so make sure you don’t get really low on gas. And make sure you know which type of gasoline your rental car takes.
Gas stations were full-service (meaning someone comes to pump your gas for you)…I always tipped a little, but that’s not common there and not expected.
Navigating the island is pretty easy overall, but often the road signs are only in Greek and don’t tell you how far away you are from the destination. Having Google Maps is a helpful backup. I recommend downloading offline maps for Naxos so you don’t end up running into cell service issues.
Google Maps worked on Naxos for me overall, with some caveats. The biggest issue I had was that Google Maps doesn’t seem to necessarily differentiate between the good highways or the somewhat-harrowing narrow gravel roads with hairpin turns.
You may have to backtrack on occasion if you don’t like a particular road you’re on. Or, if like me, you’ve actually managed to conquer the terrifying narrow road with a sheer dropoff, but there’s a locked gate keeping you from making a left onto the highway at the end. But I’m not still bitter…
One important thing to know is that you can’t trust driving times on Google Maps. It will almost always take longer to reach your destination, particularly if you end up on gravel roads. Be patient!
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And lastly, watch out for livestock on the road! Naxos has a lot of cows and goats in particular, and they sometimes graze right on the side of the road, so it’s not uncommon for them to wander across.
That’s especially true at night, and one of the reasons I didn’t do a ton of nighttime driving…it’s totally doable, but I was really tired at the end of the day, and then you combine steep and winding roads with pitch darkness, it just didn’t seem like the best idea.
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So that’s the rundown on renting a car in Naxos and driving around the island. Hopefully that helps clear up any questions you might have, but let me know if I’ve missed anything in the comments!
Other roadtrip ideas you’ll love:
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- A Perfect Northern Croatia Road Trip Itinerary
- Tips For Driving In Costa Rica & Adobe Rental Car Review
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