Naxos, The Hidden Gem of the Cyclades
Without a single doubt, Greece was one of the most beautiful destinations I have visited thus far. My mom and I travelled there together for about 10 days in September 2022. The weather was great the whole time – warm and sunny with a slight breeze and mildly cool in the evenings. We had such a great time exploring several cities in the mainland and the beautiful island of Naxos in the Cyclades that we have already planned to return in the near future! Greece is definitely one of those touristy destinations that we see all over social media. We wanted to avoid the big crowds and overpriced food and accommodation, so we opted for some more subtle places! We definitely didn’t regret our choice of Naxos over Santorini and Mykonos. I even kind of hesitated to post about it, because I don’t want it to turn into the next tourist destination! But, it’s too good to gate keep! Here are my top reasons why Naxos is truly the hidden gem of the cyclades, plus some added info about the other cities we visited!
Pro tip: If (unlike me) you can stay 2 or more weeks in Greece, I highly recommend it! Often times I see people popping in and out of countries on a Euro-trip, but it really is a shame to be in a rush, especially in a country with so many landscapes, so much history and some of the best food I’ve ever had!
1. SAME VIEWS, NO CROWDS
Naxos is one of the less-touristy islands of the Cyclades. Unlike Mykonos or Santorini, Naxos has all of the Greek island beauty and charm without the tons of tourists, crazy lines and crowded beaches everywhere you turn. Not to mention the exorbitant prices due to the tourist population on the more “market islands”.
Our first few days on the island were about exploring Chora, the downtown area of Naxos, relaxing on the nearby beach and wandering through small streets lined with beautiful, white buildings. Here are some of my favorite places to check out for the amazing sights!
- The ruins at Saint Georges Beach. While this wasn’t necessarily our favorite beach in Naxos, the beautiful view from the ruins was amazing. You take a short hike up to the top to have an amazing view of the city’s white buildings and the sparkling sea waters.
- The pristine, winding streets of Chora. You can get lost in the wonderful white buildings and flower-lined streets around the downtown area. You’ll find the most peaceful and picturesque spots wandering through alleyways and won’t have to worry about crowds of tourists blocking your pristine views!
- Chora, downtown Naxos! Golden hour on the boardwalk in downtown Naxos took my breath away. You can stop and gaze at the boats on the port or sit at a bar or restaurant and watch the sunset. You can walk through the streets and literally get lost in a labyrinth of egg-shelled shops, selling handmade goods and traditional treats.
- The Temple of Apollo. These extremely well-preserved ruins will lure you up the steps located on the Naxos harbour. Once you’re at the top, you’ll have a 360 view of the downtown and its blue coastal waters, speckled with colorful fishing boats.
2. AFFORDABLE ACCOMODATION
Before arriving in the Cyclades, I had heard a lot of talk about how expensive it was to stay there. Friends and colleagues had mentioned the overpriced hotels, food and drinks in the ever-popular islands of Santorini and Mykonos. This was not AT ALL our experience in Naxos. Here’s what I suggest for an affordable stay.
- Choose Naxos, Milos or Paros. While we didn’t get a chance to go to Milos or Paros, I found similar pricing for the islands during my research. We actually chose Naxos because it was a cheaper ferry ride from the mainland, but both islands were really affordable and had beautiful beaches, sites and towns.
- Use Airbnb or Booking.com! I found a ton of really nice apartments on Airbnb and hotels on Booking.com, listed for under 50€/night. We actually ended up booking a cute boutique hotel called Galazia Studios that was right on the beach and only 86€/night for a room with two beds and an amazing balcony/terrace.
- Stay close to the port! The one place where the island was lacking was in public transportation. Taxis can get a bit pricey, so I recommend finding a place near the port, for an easier arrival and departure. Chora, the main port city of Naxos was beautiful and had a lot to offer. At the same time, you could wander peacefully into the winding streets without any traffic or crowds. In Naxos, you can stay close to the beach and to a lot of activities for an affordable price and, at the same time, escape the noise of the downtown area. It’s a win-win-win!
- Don’t be afraid to eat at the local restaurants! Surprisingly, they are all super affordable! We were able to order appetizers, main courses, desserts and even wine for under 30€ each for most dinners. Some were even cheaper, if we decided to forgo the appetizer or dessert. We also found some really good and affordable pizza spots for when a full, sit-down meal just seems like too much and some simple Greek yogurt and OJ breakfasts for less than 5€ each.
3. EASY DAY TRIPS (by bike or car!)
Hiking through the mountains was a great experience! We swam in a waterfall, played with elephants at the Elephant sanctuary and met some really cool people. Our tour guide was a local who spoke English well and told us stories about the forest. It was definitely an unforgettable hike, for several reasons.
- Pack lightly! Even as an avid runner and yoga/pilates instructor, I found some of the trek to be challenging, especially with the heat in June. I recommend only bringing a SMALL backpack, like this one, with essentials for the hike.
- Bring lots of bug spray! This goes without saying when you’re visiting Thailand, especially in the summer months. I recommend buying spray at a store when you arrive.
- Bring an appropriate bathing suit. Since you’ll be swimming in a waterfall and a muddy lake, I don’t recommend bringing your favorite suit! Also, I made the mistake of bringing one that was a bit too revealing. I recommend something affordable and comfortable, like this one!
- Day 3: We arrived and checked into our cute boutique hotel called Galazia Studios. The room was spacious, with two beds and a lovely balcony/ terrace area. The beach, downtown area and several restaurants were a short walk away!
Before our trip, we were told by numerous friends, blogs and social media accounts to spend as little time in Athens as possible. Despite the cautionary tales about the lack of things to do and see, etc., we were excited to check out the city and see for ourselves. We hadn’t booked out next destination yet, but knew we only had a limited amount of time to visit the country. Once we got there, we didn’t understand why so many people had been quite critical of the city. Long story short, we absolutely loved Athens and were sad that we couldn’t spend more time there. The people were extremely kind, the monuments were breathtaking and the food and overall restaurant scene was amazing. Here are our favorites:
- The Monuments & Architecture
- We purchased a €30 pass online for the Monuments and Museums of Greece, which gave us access to a bunch of different historical and archaeological sites for 4 days. When we were there, the pass was available directly at the Acropolis, via a qr code scanner. We visited the Acropolis, Ancient Agora, Hadrian’s Library and more.
- Favorite monument: Hadrian’s Library! The architecture is beautiful and there are tons of art pieces and models to check out.
- The Food
- We wandered around the town a bit, grabbed some breakfast at Gregory’s (Γρηγόρης) and headed over to the famous Acropolis.
- We had dinner at a restaurant called Pantheon, which was located in a really cute and lively corner of the city. We listened to live music, ate gyros and had some great Greek wine on the terrace.
- The Vendors
- We got some ice cream and walked through some local art shops and booths. I bought a handmade, crochet necklace and bag.
- Pro tip: Stop and chat with the artists and vendors around the Acropolis. They are usually really nice and have really interesting stories!
- Pro tip: Stay at least 3 days in Athens, no matter what people tell you! Because we didn’t have much time in Greece, we left early on day 2 to catch our train from Athens to Meteora!
I came across the town of Meteora on a travel website during my trip research and knew I had to see it for myself! The large rock formations and history about the monasteries perched on the tops of these meteor-looking cliffs was too intriguing to miss. Even though we only stopped there for one night, it was one of the most memorable parts of our trip. Here’s what we did in our 36 hours there…
- The train ride
- We took the train from Athens. I think it took us about 4 hours to get to Meteora. We grabbed some Greek iced coffee and a few pastries and hopped on our train at 8 am.The train ride through the Greek countryside was beautiful.
- We booked a cute Airbnb with an amazing view during the train ride. When we arrived, we grabbed a €5 cab to get there are drop our bags.
- There just happened to be an amazing restaurant situated at 5 minutes walking from the Airbnb. We ordered olives, Greek salads and some flaming cheese with honey. You really can’t beat a traditional Greek lunch with a spectacular view!
- After the bike tour (see below), we walked around town, had dinner at another great restaurant and stopped for some handmade ice cream and pastries before heading back to the Airbnb.
- Hiking & Biking
- We hiked to the nearest Monastery, which took us about 45 minutes by foot. I recommend wearing good shoes and bringing water! We took the hundreds of stairs all the way up to the top! The entrance fee is €2 and shoulders and knees must be covered to enter!
- Favorite activity: We had also booked an electric bike tour of the monasteries, so we headed home to change and meet downtown Meteora at 5pm. The bike tour was our favorite part of the trip! We had some amazing sunset views, chatted with our knowledgeable (& rather handsome) guide and got some fresh air and exercise, all at the same time!
- Back to Athens: We were up bright and early for some fresh donuts and coffee before our train back to Athens!
PORTO RAFTI & ARTEMIS DAYS 8-10
While the experience was definitely beautiful and exhilarating, it’s never an easy task to sleep on a floor, in a room full of snoring strangers and, of course, the dreaded mosquitos and spiders! It’s especially important if you have to wake up bright and early for another 6 hours of hiking! I saved the day (so to speak) by coming prepared with melatonin for everyone!
- Choose something natural! You might already have your favorite sleep remedies, but I recommend getting something natural, yet effective so you don’t feel drowsy the next day! I buy mine from the pharmacy here in Nantes, but I actually found the exact ones here on Amazon!
- Bring your essential skin care There’s nothing worse than having to go to bed with dirty, sweaty skin. Because the water isn’t necessarily the purest, I brought my favorite mini micellar water to feel a bit more at home!
I’m living the “broké”-bitch-life (abroad). A twenty something-year-old optimistic cynic, lover of new cultures and self-care addict, I’m here to teach you that “doing it all” (and then some) really is possible!
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