Crystal clear blue waters; cobblestone streets; sunshine, olive oil, wine, and feta cheese. It is hard to beat what the Greek Islands have to offer for a dream vacation. When looking at which island to visit, most of us jump to Santorini, the most famous option with its blue domes and breathtaking views; however, is this really the best option for a relaxing getaway?
When choosing a vacation spot, the island of Naxos is a better choice than Santorini. Everything you want in a Greek Island—sun, beaches, turquoise water—is available in abundance in Naxos. Plus, you can enjoy your vacation without the cruise ship crowds and high prices found in Santorini.
In the rest of this article, we will take a look at what each island has to offer. From ruins to beaches to remote villages, we will see the highlights from each of these idyllic Cyclades islands. We will also see the drawbacks of Santorini due to its fame and how Naxos is ultimately the better choice for a vacation spot.
The Allure of the Greek Islands
For many people, the Greek Islands live in their imagination as the ideal vacation destination. And for a good reason—with their high cliffs, perfectly clear water, and small streets meandering through whitewashed buildings, the Greek Islands are uniquely picturesque. Experiencing the endless baklava and Mediterranean cuisine among friendly locals is the dream for many travelers around the world.
All of this is available on a wide range of Greece’s beautiful islands, and not just the ones found in the Aegean. However, especially in recent years, with the explosion of Instagram and the popularity of cruises, Santorini has taken on the reputation as the Greek Island. And for a good reason: the views in Santorini are simply magical. Sunset in Santorini is pure bliss.
However, as Santorini has become increasingly famous, the tourism industry on the island developed accordingly. You can expect crowded streets and shops, especially when the cruise ships stop by to give their passengers some time on the island. Crowds and overpriced food and drink may take away from the relaxing vacation experience.
Naxos is a quieter and more relaxed island. It is geographically much bigger, the largest island in the Cyclades. The locals are friendly, and spending time here will give the visitors a more authentic feel of Greek life. Stunning views, beautiful beaches, and delicious Greek cuisine are everywhere you look on this island. All this is available without overcrowding and overpricing.
What to Do in Naxos
Since Naxos is quite large, it has a wide array of options for its visitors. Spend a day hiking up Mount Zas, known as the highest point in the Cyclades Islands. Its peak reaches 1000 m (3281 ft), and, according to Greek Mythology, it is the site where the god Zeus was born and raised.
There are two paths up the mountain, varying in length and difficulty. The easier hike (which is still rated as a difficult trek up a mountain) should take about one hour to reach the peak. The most difficult route will take about two hours. From the peak, you can expect stunning views of Naxos and beyond.
If you’re eager to explore the water, you can go sailing for the day. There are local guides that will take you out for a tour on a sailboat, stopping off at different locations for a swim, snorkeling, and other aquatic adventures.
Naxos is also known for its quarries of marble. Naxian marble is famous for being used all over Greece in its ancient statues and constructions. From famous antiquities to modern constructions, this marble has been used throughout history. You can visit some of the sites where this marble is found.
If you need a dose of ancient history while vacationing, be sure to take in the stunning view of the Temple of Apollo. Located right in the harbor of Naxos, this unfinished gate constructed of marble is one of the most iconic sights on the island. It is easily accessible on foot from the main town.
Be sure to check out the smaller villages spread around the island. On the way, you might spot donkeys, goats, and other staples of Greek island life. In the villages, you will find quaint streets, handicrafts, and delicious treats. Halki is particularly of interest to visitors. It can be reached by bus, and its old wealth is still evident from when it was the capital of the island. Here you can enjoy the car-free streets and taste its famous citron liquor.
The Reality of Santorini
There is a good reason Santorini is so famous: the views to behold on this island are truly spectacular. From its internet fame alone, you can probably already picture in your mind the white buildings, blue domes, and breathtaking sunsets. However, this fame hasn’t come without a cost.
The crowded streets of Santorini are filled with visitors seeking Instagram-worthy shots and professional photographers performing photoshoots. You will see anything from wedding parties to the women seeking the perfect flowing-dress shots made famous by Pinterest. If you can get around the crowds, you will find that many of the best viewpoints are restricted due to protecting the personal property of the local residents.
It is worth noting the island cruises here. Many cruise ship packages that bring tourists to the Greek Islands all typically stop at Santorini. This influx of tourists with money to spend has shaped the prices on the island as well as contributed to overcrowding.
Santorini’s Positive Side
However, there are some offerings on the island that cannot be found anywhere else. A prime example of this is the historical site of Akrotiri. This indoor archeological site holds the remains of an ancient city. The space is quite large at 20 hectares (239198 sq. yd) and allows visitors to walk right between the remains of its buildings. With artifacts and frescos from life before the volcanic eruption that buried the city, you can imagine what life would have been like back then.
Santorini also offers the unique opportunity to choose the sand of your choice when you’re ready to hit the beach. First up is Red Beach. This beach has a stunning backdrop of giant red volcanic rocks. With the bright red of the rocks and the clear blue of the water, you are in for a picturesque day at the beach.
There are a few black sand beaches to choose from where you can find the dark sand unique to volcanic areas. Additionally, White Beach gives another beautiful backdrop of white cliffs and beautiful blue water.
There is a local bus for tourists that is easy to navigate for your needs to move about on the island. However, depending on the season, lines can be quite long, and often tourists end up paying more for the convenience of a taxi or ATV to move around the island.
Moving Between the Two Islands
If you are resolved to spend most of your vacation in Naxos but still can’t let go of the dream of a sunset in Santorini, there’s good news. The islands are close to each other and are accessible by ferry, which only takes about an hour and a half. A bit of pre planning is required to match your travel plans with the ferry timetable, but this is an easy task if you would like to fit in a day or two in Santorini.
The offerings of the Greek Islands are sure to satisfy every vacation goer. However, instead of insisting that the most famous is the best, I encourage you to choose the more relaxed vacation choice to head to Naxos. You can enjoy all the best of the islands without the crowds and prices of Santorini.