The Greek Cyclades – Naxos, Iraklia and Koufonissi

On the ferry to Naxos island

Stop number 3 on our 16-day vacation to Greece was the island of Naxos in the popular Cyclades island group. It was an island I hadn’t even heard of before starting to plan this trip but one I was looking forward to visiting after reading lots of positive things about it.

Our lovely guesthouse in Naxos

Having started our Greek adventure in the Sporades Islands, we were currently in Athens and after a long daytrip sailing to three of the Saronic Islands yesterday, we were now on our way to another marina, or rather, the city’s main ferry port, Piraeus to board the first of three passenger ferries we’d be taking this trip.

Church in old Naxos town

The journey to the ferry port was pretty straight forward, taking just one metro line from near our hotel all the way to the Piraeus stop. Arriving in plenty of time, we grabbed breakfast from a cafe near the station before setting off to find our ferry.

This was a little less straightforward, the information on our ticket not being enough to identify our boat from all of those docked nearby. Eventually, we found someone to ask who pointed us in the right direction and find that point forward, we boarded without problems, a staff member helping us to load our luggage in the correct compartment for our port of call.

The remains of a Venetian Castle in Naxos town

Finding our seats – like on a plane, we’d all been allocated seat numbers! – we settled down ready for the journey only to find ourselves in the middle of chaotic scenes as other couples, groups of friends and even families with young children found they hadn’t been allocated seats together.

What ensued was like a game of musical chairs crossed with a jigsaw puzzle as we all tried to move around to accommodate those that had been separated. Realising it was a bit of an impossible task, we at were at least able to make sure that the young children were as close to their parents as possible.

The ferry ride was not what I had expected. I thought we’d be able to freely road the boat and that there’d be an outside deck we could maybe stand on if we wanted similar to when I’d used the ferries between the Scottish islands. Instead, we were encouraged to mainly stay in our seats – at one point told not to move around the boat at all as we hit rough seas – and while we could walk from one end of the boat to the other to visit the shop or cafes on board, many areas were out of bounds.

The sun starts to set with the Temple of Apollo on the hill in the distance

Naxos was the second stop after the island of Poros. The rough seas had delayed our arrival time by about an hour but upon arrival, we were still met by the owner of the guesthouse we’d be staying at who had offered us free transfers from the port.

We were actually staying within walking distance from the port but with it being on a slight uphill gradient to the guesthouse and as we were armed with our luggage, we appreciated being transported the short journey.

Walking back to town after watching the sunset

Once settled in and armed with the maps and information given to us by the guesthouse owners, we set out to start exploring. We followed the instructions given us to walk to the elevator which would take us up the hill to the old Venetian Castle at the top of Naxos old town.

The elevator actually led to the Archaeological Museum of Naxos – which was unfortunately closed during our visit – or to a rooftop cafe bar with pretty views over the island. Despite us not purchasing anything from the bar, no one seemed to mind us and other visitors stopping to take a few photos before we made our way out via the museum shop to the narrow paths old the old town.

Artefacts in the small museum for the Temple of Demeter

Unsure exactly where we were, we wandered through the pretty, winding streets, up and down steps and along narrow alleyways passing churches, guesthouses and galleries along the way. Being high up, we could often see views of the sea or the port so just kept turning in that direction and going downhill until we eventually reached the main street running along the sea front.

After stopping for an ice cream from one of the many cafes and restaurants lining the front, we decided to walk away from the main port following the coast path and we eventually found ourselves at the busy Agios Georgios beach. Stopping to rest for a while, we then retraced our steps back into town and followed the road from the port around the hilly old town back to our guesthouse to cool down in the air con for a bit.

That evening, we walked back into town choosing one of the many restaurants along the front for dinner and both ordering a delicious chicken souvlaki meal. Then we took a walk up to the Temple of Apollo, ancient ruins stood on a hill along the coast and a popular spot for seeing the sunset. While it was already busy when we arrived, we managed to find a spot to sit just before more crowds of people made their way up there. It really was a beautiful sunset and a beautiful spot to watch it from!

The next day, we had booked a rather reasonable day tour of the highlights of Naxos island. Meeting our coach by the ferry port, we set off for our first stop, the Temple of Demeter where we had a bit of free time to see the ruins and explore the small museum.

Next stop was out in the countryside in the small town of Damalas where we visited a small pottery store to see a traditional Naxos ceramic wine decanter being made and then stopped by a small museum to see a traditional olive press as our guide explained the process that would have been used to make olive oil.

Above, Monastery Panagia Drossiani, and below, exploring the marble town of Apeiranthos

After stopping at the beautiful church of the Monastery Panagia Drossiani, we were taken to the pretty town of Chalkio where we visited a distillery and had the opportunity to try citron liquor.

A ‘coffee stop’ in the village of Apeiranthos was next. Apeiranthos is known as the ‘marble village’ as most of the buildings and roads here were built out of marble. We spent the free time we had here wandering through the narrow streets and stopping for ice cream to keep us going until lunch.

The seaside resort of Apollon

The final two stops of the day were in Apollon, a seaside resort on the North-East coast of the island. First we stopped in the town itself where we chose one of the seafront cafes to sit and have lunch before taking a stroll through the town and along the popular beach.

Apollon Kouros

Then we stopped up the hill just outside the of the town to visit Apollonas Kouros, a huge, ancient statue which still lies flat on the ground having never been moved to where it may have been intended to end up!

Our tour ended with a drive along the scenic coast road back to Naxos town and after dinner at another of the seafront restaurants, we walked back to our guesthouse exhausted.

Arriving on the island of Iraklia

For our final full day on Naxos island, we had actually booked a trip to the nearby islands of Delos and Mykonos, Delos because it was home of another archaeological site we wanted to visit and Mykonos because while we felt we shouldn’t come to the Cyclades without visiting, an afternoon there would be more than long enough.

Above, and below, a blue-domes church on the island of Iraklia

Making our way down to the pier where our boat would depart from, we were confused to see it about to depart 45 minutes before the time we had been told. Racing down the jetty, we spoke with the crew who told us the trip we had been booked on had been cancelled ‘weeks ago’.

As we had had confirmation from the tour company with instructions on how to find the boat within the last 24 hours, this seemed strange to us but the crew told us it was nothing to do with them and we’d need to speak to the operator to sort it out.

Above, and below, on the beach at Iraklia

Googling the tour company’s name, we found it had a branch along the seafront in Naxos so walked the short distance there to explain to the assistant what had happened. It turned out the boat to Delos had been cancelled the day before and we just hadn’t been informed. The assistant looked into other options for us but it was impossible to get to Delos or Mykonos that day and back and still have enough time there.

Seeing we were at a bit of a loss with how to spend our day, instead, she suggested a boat trip out to the islands of Iraklia and Koufonissi.

Above, arriving on the island of Koufonissi, and below, lunch with a view

While many of the day trips had already left for the day, this one was yet to depart and we’d still have time to make the boat. So, unsure where we were really going or what there was to do there but needing something to do, we exchanged our tickets and made our way back to the jetty to board our new boat!

Above, the clear sea of Koufonissi, and below, walking along the coast

With everyone on board the boat in their swimwear, we had a feeling there wouldn’t be a huge amount to do to keep us occupied at either island and we were completely unprepared for a beach day ourselves having expected to be exploring the ruins of Delos that morning.

Arriving onto the island of Iraklia, we decided to walk up a rather steep hill to a viewpoint that was marked on google maps then returned back into the small town and wandered towards a blue-domed church we had spotted before returning towards the sea front, stopping to buy a drink to cool us down. We spent the last half hour of our time there sat in the shade at the back of the pretty beach until it was time to make our way back to board the boat. Iraklia seemed a lovely quiet spot to spend a relaxing holiday away from it all or a few hours on the beach and we wished we’d been more prepared to enjoy it a bit more.

Beautiful Koufinissi

Pulling up at the larger island of Koufonissi, we could see the large sandy beach in front of us but were hopeful that there’d be more to do in the town here to occupy us, starting with finding a spot of lunch.

Heading inland, we soon settled on a pretty cafe-restaurant sat up on a hill with a patio offering beautiful views over the bay and ordered sandwiches and drinks before wandering through the quiet streets past shops, galleries and more pretty blue-domed churches.

View of the marina

Leaving the town behind, we then walked down to the beach and followed the coast path past some rocky coves where we sat paddling our feet before continuing on to another beach further along the coast. The walk offered some really pretty views.

Returning back to the town, we had another walk around and up to another viewpoint before it was time to return to board the boat back to Naxos. Koufonissi was another really beautiful island and another place you could spend a really relaxing holiday getting away from it all.

Arriving back in Naxos late evening, we again ate dinner at one of the restaurants along the front before returning to our accommodation ready to pack to leave the next day.

With our ferry being early afternoon, we had the morning to spend in Naxos town. The owners of the guesthouse we were staying in very generously offered to look after our luggage and to meet us down at the ferry port with it later meaning that we could stay in town all morning and walk straight to the port without having to return to our accommodation to pick anything up. We spent the morning again wandering through the old town, getting lost in its narrow alleyways knowing that eventually all roads lead back to either the old Venetian castle walls or the seafront. Then after lunch at a cafe overlooking the seafront, we made our way to the main port to pick up our luggage and board our ferry to Santorini.

I’d really loved Naxos Island with its relaxed vibe, friendly locals and authentic feel and would definitely like to return there one day in the future.