How To Spend A Day Or Two In Naxos Chora (Naxos Town)
The first time I saw a photo of Naxos Chora, I was captivated by the cluster of whitewashed buildings piled atop a hill at the end of a narrow path, surrounded by sparkling blue water.
As I was trying to narrow down which islands to visit, I kept coming back to that image, and eventually decided it had to have a spot on my itinerary, paired with Santorini.
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Naxos is the biggest island in the Cyclades group, but is often overlooked in favor of the more-famous Santorini and Mykonos. And that makes it a hidden gem—less crowded and more affordable.
Chora (or Naxos Town) is the capital, main port, and largest town on Naxos (though still only about 6,500 people). It has beautiful beaches, rich history, a great food and cocktail scene, and makes a great base for exploring the rest of the island.
You’ll see the remains of millennia of history throughout Chora and beyond, because the island has been at the center of Cycladic life since 4000 BCE. From Thracians to Ionians, Romans to Venetians, Naxos is a melting pot of Mediterranean cultures and kingdoms.
Throughout this post I’ll talk about what to do in Naxos Town if you have a day or two to explore. And at the bottom of the post I share what it was like both taking the ferry to Naxos and also flying out of the tiny airport.
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What to pack for Naxos Town
I visited in late September and it was still quite hot, but can get chilly at night with the wind. My first two days on the island (when I was in Naxos Town) were SO WINDY.
I had worried that I brought too many pants on my trip since Santorini was SO hot, but my lightweight pants were perfect in windy Naxos.
- My go-to travel pants are from Athleta, and the exact style that works for me is their Brooklyn Ankle Pant, specifically these ones.
- These ones and these ones are two new favorites as well, super comfy and the fit is good on my body type.
I definitely wore sundresses once the wind died down, though. I’ve had excellent luck with StitchFix in the past few years, though prefer to pick my own out vs. use the personal shopper option.
- Amazon is a great option for all sorts of styles, and a really good return process (which is KEY!). Some good styles would be a t-shirt dress, a tank dress, or something flowy with fluttery cap sleeves.
- Flowy skirts (like this) or long flowy dresses (like this, this and this) are perfect as well.
I’m not sure a sun hat would do much good with this much wind, but if the wind isn’t as intense it could be helpful. While I didn’t feel as hot (due to the wind), I had to be more careful of the sun…good sunscreen was a must, as were polarized sunglasses!
You’ll want comfortable and stable shoes for walking up and down the slippery and often-uneven stones of Naxos Chora. My constant companions are these Rockport ones, which balance comfort/cushioning and cuteness (party in the front, biz in the back).
- Aerosoles are my #1 go-to for really cute but still comfy sandals if I don’t need massive cushioning (a style like this for instance). Other great brands I’ve found are Naturalizers (like these) and Vionics (like these or these), and these Aerothotics are a really good and very affordable option.
- I spent a ton of time in my Olukai sneakers on this trip as well, specifically these Pehuea Li ones!
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Where to stay in Naxos Chora
Nicoletta and her team were so enthusiastic and friendly in welcoming me to the hotel! Before even getting me checked in, she sat me down in the dining room with some chicken pie and house-made wine, with a few minutes to just chill.
Then I got to my room, which had a sea view from the little patio. The room was nice and clean, a normal size for European hotel rooms (though the bathroom was quite tiny). Very comfy overall!
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The #1 thing you’ll hear about Hotel Grotta is that their breakfast offering is INSANE. Every morning there was a veritable smorgasbord of Greek dishes, casseroles, phyllo, cakes, puddings, fruit, yogurt, and so much more.
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This was the view from the rooftop of Hotel Grotta. There are a few lounge chairs up here if you want to soak in the sun, and I’m willing to bet that the sunsets from up here are pretty epic.
But I wanted to maximize my time and explore Naxos Chora, so I set out on the short dirt path from the hotel to the town, which you can see below. And the second pic is looking back at where the hotel sits on the coast—such a picturesque location!
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As I mentioned above, my two-day stay in Naxos was SO WINDY. Like, insane. My hair looked like I’d been electrocuted constantly and I had to wear pants rather than the sundresses I’d planned.
But that didn’t affect the gorgeous views and turquoise waters…just meant I had to walk almost horizontal to keep from being bowled over and that the waves were extra crash-y. I was getting sprayed by seawater constantly.
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What to do in Naxos Chora
So let’s talk about your must-do’s. As you explore the town you’ll find ancient (Greek) temple ruins as well as Venetian castles that rise above the delightfully jumbled streets of old town (from when the Venetian empire controlled the island). And of course, shopping, food, views, and delicious cocktails. Let’s explore!
Be “wowed” by the Portara
My first stop HAD to be the Portara, the cool unfinished temple door that sits out on a tiny spit of land at the harbor. This is really the iconic view everyone thinks of when Naxos comes to mind.
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It’s the first thing you see when arriving by ferry, and is super easy to get to. There’s a walkway over from the town’s waterfront that only takes a few minutes to cross. In this wind, I was getting sprayed by the water like WHOA, so it was more of a mad dash than a relaxed stroll.
Before getting to the Portara itself, I was obsessed by the beautiful views back toward the town! You can see how it’s expanded over the centuries, mostly towards the south and around the beach of Agios Georgios. It’s a nice, very popular sandy beach with shallow waters that is great for kids.
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In this first pic, you can see Grotta Hotel over in that cluster of buildings on the left (just north of the town), and the path I walked from. That beach there is a pebble beach and I believe it’s called Grotta Beach.
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And now there’s the famous Portara itself. It is HUGE!!! The massive marble gate of the never-completed Temple of Apollo has been welcoming travelers to Naxos since 523 BCE (yes, over 2,500 years ago).
The gate is ringed by a protective boundary to keep people from getting too close, which is a bummer from a photography standpoint but totally understandable (because people are the worst). You can make a full 360-degree walk around it, though, to capture it from different angles.
It is a super popular spot for sunset as well, which we’ll cover in-depth later.
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Stop for a sip and a bite at The Naxos Apothecary
After my Portara visit, I was lured by a drink at The Naxos Apothecary. It was so adorable, right on the water, with delicious cocktails and a good looking food (sadly the kitchen was closed mid-afternoon when I was there). It was also really nice to be out of the crazy wind for a bit.
I sipped some kind of basil tropical fruit drink that was delicious. I also enjoyed sniffing through their fun perfumes, lotions, and face creams…it was tempting to pick up a few for myself! (I was saving luggage space for wine and olive oil, though.)
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Explore Naxos Old Market
From there, I wandered around the old town for a while, peering into shops and trying to get lost. It’s definitely picturesque, though it weirdly felt a bit too clean (almost new and shiny, which is strange since it’s quite old)…*too* ready for its Instagram closeup.
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There are tons of shops to browse, from the regular souvenirs you’d expect to clothing, art, local artisan foods, and more. And when your feet get tired, you’ll find plenty of cute cafes to sit and rest your feet with a coffee or drink.
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I knew I wanted to end up at the Kastro eventually and that it was at the pinnacle of town, so my only “direction” was to keep winding my way UP.
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Climb up to the Kastro
I continued my climb through the Kastro district, which is a historical neighborhood with the typical narrow Cycladic alleys. Keep your eyes peeled for a small Catholic church (vs. the Orthodox churches that are everywhere).
I finally found the Kastro (castle, second pic below), though I’m not sure I succeeded in actually getting inside? I ended up in a weird art exhibit instead. I wonder if it was closed because it was under renovations…or if I’m just bad at finding stuff, which is true.
The Kastro of Naxos Town was built in the 13th century during the Venetian domination of the island, and showcases that Venetian influence in the architectural style. It’s a great example of medieval architecture, with twelve towers, a watch tower, and three gates.
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Seek out a rooftop view for lunch (or sunset)
Because it rises constant to a high point, one of the best things to do in Naxos Chora is to find a rooftop bar. I chose Avaton 1739 for a late lunch (a reco from Nicoletta that had also been on my list).
They had a really interesting cocktail list…it was hard for me to choose my drink! I finally went with the Citron Cooler…a lot of herbal and citrus flavors. While enjoying the view out over the town and the water, I nibbled on traditional Naxos potato chips with cheese and herb truffle topping, a beetroot salad with local cheese (and some kind of fruity sorbet), and a deconstructed green pie with cheese.
There is SO much cheese in everything because Naxos is known for their cheese and potatoes. I mean, twist my arm… 🙂
There are tons of great rooftop cafes and bars with great views to consider, here are a few more:
- Toro Rooftop
- 520 Cocktail Bar
- Like Home
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Sunset at the Portara
One of the absolute MUST things to do in Naxos Town is to catch a sunset at the Portara. I had two nights to make this happen, and the weather wasn’t *completely* cooperating on either of them. I’ll show you both below, though, because it shows that you shouldn’t automatically give up!
Beyond being at the Portara for sunset (with all the crowds), some other great options are to find a rooftop bar with a view, or even the great rooftop terrace at Hotel Grotta.
So my first night looked like a total bust. This is what it looked like from my hotel room patio. I was debating whether to even try and go down to the Portara…it was super windy and a bit chilly, and I was tired. But at the last second I decided to get down there.
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And it was the right call. While we didn’t get a spectacular sunset, it was still very pretty and not as crowded due to the weather.
So first night’s sunset at Portara, not terrible but not epic.
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The second night started shaping up a bit better, but still not glorious. This is the view from the hotel, as I started walking down there.
But there were definitely glimpses of glory that made it worth it!!
And these two photos show how you definitely don’t have the place to yourself, and have to get creative with your photo angles to avoid tons of people in your pictures.
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If you’ve already captured your beautiful Portara sunset pics, you can enjoy a relaxed stroll along the Naxos harbor and squeeze the last minutes out of sunset. Now it’s time to find a cool cocktail bar or sit down for dinner!
Where to eat in Naxos Town
Naxos has the reputation as a foodie’s dream destination and I was excited to sample everything it had to offer. I found myself a little bit stymied and slightly disappointed though.
My first night I tried to go to Doukato, but they were full (FYI you need a reservation most of the time). I will say that finding it was tough, it’s kind of tucked away. Everyone says it’s amazing and I was sad to miss it!
So instead I ended up at Apostolis. It had also been on my short list, and I think I maybe didn’t order terribly well. They kindly fit me in despite being packed, tucking me into a tiny table under a tree. They brought me a little cup of lentil (I think?) soup and bread with feta and olives, and I had a white wine. Then I tried their quinoa and cauliflower salad with lime herb vinaigrette and saganaki (cheese) fried with nuts, plus and zucchini croquettes. Everything was fine, but nothing blew my mind.
On my last night there, I ate at Nissaki on Nicoletta’s recommendation. It’s a lovely spot on the beach, and nicely protected from the wind. They have a fascinating cocktail list…my first drink (a fresh basil smash) was amazing, but the umami Manhattan I had was not my fave (I knew it was a risk!).
I had a giant greens and arugula salad with a truffle dressing of some kind, then a potato millefeuille (okay, great texture just a little bland) and rooster tortellini with local cheese (again, quite bland, needed salt and more cheese). I was so tired and full that I decided against dessert. Again, maybe I ordered weirdly. It was fine but not amazing, but the service was great.
Here are some other spots that were on my short list:
- Nostimon Hellas, considered one of the top three restaurants in Naxos Town by many (along with Doukato)
- To Elliniko, also considered in the top-three (get the orange cake)
- Adamoma (modern Greek)
- Metaksi Mas in the old market has traditional Greek & seafood
- Funky Hops, with top-notch IPAs and ambers, and a great outdoors atmosphere
- Diogenes bar on the harbor is supposed to have a nice convivial atmosphere, for chatting with people
How to get to Naxos Town
Both ferries and flights arrive right in Naxos Town, so your Naxos adventure will start in the Chora no matter what. I took a fast ferry from Santorini to Naxos and it was super easy. It was about an hour and a half, and I boarded at the port in Santorini (which is not close to Oia, so you have to make sure to book a taxi and get there ahead of time).
You can also take the ferry from Athens, and it will take from 2 1/2 hours and 6 hours depending on which port and ship you choose. And there are regular ferry connections between Naxos and Paros, Amorgos, Ios, Mykonos, and Santorini.
I dropped my luggage on the racks (it was pure chaos) and then had an assigned seat on the boat, though you can move around as much as you want, go outside, grab some drinks and snacks, or do whatever.
When departing Naxos, I flew to Athens which is much simpler. The Naxos airport TINY and very informal. There are two ticket counters (one for each company) right when you walk in, so the line is out the door prior to departure times. You definitely don’t have to be here hours early.
They did weigh my checked bag and then I went through the single security line (I didn’t have to take anything out of my purse). But SIGH they did leave my bag in Naxos…which is crazy because you can literally see from the counter to the plane so like, where can you even leave it??
My #1 piece of advice—get AirTags! I had just bought one before my trip and it was in my checked bag, and this let me be able to prove to the people in Athens (who did not believe me) that my bag had been left in Naxos, and then help them find it when it arrived. LIFESAVER.
If you’re adding the island of Naxos to your Greek island-hopping itinerary, you should definitely make sure to spend a day or two in the Chora (or Naxos Town)!
Other historic small town adventures you’ll love:
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- Motovun: Croatia’s Quintessential Hill Town
- A “Cheesy” Morning In Gruyères, Switzerland
- Soaking In The Charms Of Tiny Cortona, Italy
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