With kids search for the «Eye of Naxos»…or the mermaid of the Cyclades…
Naxos is the number one island destination for those vacationing with kids. Tourists and Greeks alike, when considering where to spend their summer vacation in Greece, choose Naxos. And they have good reason to!
Why? Because, the beaches are sandy and shallow with crystal-clear waters… There are plenty of family-friendly accommodation choices… It is the perfect base for excursions and island-hopping to other Aegean islands, like Santorini, Mykonos, Delos and Paros… And, it offers visitors something more than just sun and sea: picturesque villages, shady-green hiking trails, good food, local traditional products, authentic people and the tranquility that each family needs to create their own raucous! So, if you’re wondering where to go in the Greek islands with kids, Naxos is the perfect choice!
“You have to get up early and walk south along the beach. There you will find the ‘eye of Naxos’… If someone else doesn’t gather them up first,” says our favorite hotelier, Athina, while my three daughters were staring enchanted at the three ‘gems’ of nature that look like fossilized snails. This was how our family adventure started, an adventure that reminded us parents of our childhoods and how lucky we felt to be able to have these again with our own children!
Using Plaka as our base
We woke up early, the kids ready with beach-buckets in hand before breakfast was even served! We walked about an hour south along Plaka beach until the sun was high in the sky. But nothing! We didn’t even find one small ‘eye’. But, instead we did find about a dozen very interesting stones, “like marble” as my youngest daughter described them, and reconnoitered information about the beach.
On the second day, the girls were again ready at the door before I even woke up! “Today we have to go north,” declared my oldest daughter with determination. “If they say that the ‘eyes’ are south, probably everybody has already gone south and gathered them all up. We will go north!” We reached as far north as the cedar forest that separates Plaka from Agia Anna beach. And still nothing! Instead of ‘eyes of Naxos’ we had gathered innumerable white snail shells from the beach under the cedars and we had trekked the whole area of Plaka, which undoubtedly has the nicest family-friendly beach in the whole island.
The soft sand and the crystal waters of Plaka are just heavenly. It is also protected from the meltemi wind (a northern wind that appears during the summer months in the Aegean) and boasts some of the best choices for accommodation and eating out, like: Yucca Beach Kitchen Bar, which offers a unique culinary experience that has its roots in the island’s traditional recipes while using creativity and imagination to embellish its dishes… like, serving us a flowerpot salad that used carob-flour breadcrumbs as the “dirt” and an oregano branch as its “plant”. Paradise Restaurant, on the north end operates from morning till night and has seafood, fish and their own livestock-sourced meat and also traditional cooked dishes. On the other side, the Three Brothers (“Tria Aderfia”) restaurant with tables on the beach and a small playground. And the best treat of all? Waffle House’s ice cream of course! Homemade ice cream in a delicious variety of flavors on big and small waffles that will enchant any young connoisseur!
Plaka also offers others treats, like watersport activities, including windsurfing lessons, at Plaka Watersports; a great supermarket at Maragas in front of the camping; a tourist information office where you can buy tickets for daily excursions from Agia Anna to the island’s southern beaches that are inaccessible by road, to Koufonisia, Mykonos, and Delos; and, magical horse-drawn carriage rides as you watch the sunset.
Truly a whole week can go by and you won’t need a car to go anywhere. In the highly unlikely case that you do get bored, you can take the bus – it leaves every half an hour – and in five minutes you will be at Agia Anna’s beach, where you can rent sea bicycles. If you continue on the bus for 10 minutes more you will reach Agios Prokopios and in 20 minutes the bus will bring you to Chora (or Hora is the main village of every Greek island), where you can walk to the Kastro (Castle) and Portara and Grotta, if weather allows.
Naxos on Foot
The Cycladic islands are known for their blue-turquoise waters and golden white landscapes yet in contrast to others Aegean islands, Naxos also offers in the heart of the island magical deep-shaded covered hiking trails cutting through thick vegetation and following alongside crystal-watered rivers. You can hike along these trails and visit along the way old Venetian-build towers, mills and white-washed villages and churches with a rich history.
An easy trail, even for preschoolers, is to hike from Ano towards Kato Potamia. The trail begins at the upper village’s spring, is circular and you can cut the trip by going back at Mesi Potamia (Middle Potamia). Along the trail you will find berries, raspberries, figs, grapes and plums ripe to eat, carnivorous plants that trap mosquitoes and shining almost transparent dragonflies.
Our certified and knowledgeable guide Yiota, who is also a geologist and loves hiking, will be able to tell you all kinds of interesting stories with fascinating tidbits, like…who owns the Gryli watermill today?…Why did a duchess from the Barocci family decide to end a family vendetta by marrying the duke of the rival family?…Why do the Venetian mansions have small openings on the ground floor, while airy and sunny on the upper floors?…What are the architectural features which declare what social status the owners had?…How did they wash their clothes in the river?… Where did the villagers sit to gossip? …And, which Venetian towers became the first ‘real estate’ after Naxos became part of the modern Greek republic? Check out availability to go on the most child-friendly hike with our friendly and expert guide here!
Explorations by car
You can’t see all of Naxos in a week. There are so many villages to walk through, so many incredible beaches to swim in, and so many unique and delicious foods to taste. But, you don’t need more than a week to already be welcomed in the lives of the people there especially if you like mingling with locals, and you will be the poorer for not having traveled inland or to the more remote fishing villages.
From Plaka to Alyko and to Sagri
“I found the most beautiful blue sea at Alyko,” said my middle daughter when we reviewed our trip. That day we set out from Plaka and headed south. We passed the most wind-blown beaches of western Naxos, where watersport schools are based in Mikri Vigla and in Kastraki and continued on in order to swim in the waters of Alyko. Nestled amongst the biggest cedar forest of the island, Alyko’s sand is filled with seashells while the sea is clear turquoise.
As the sun set, we continued inland toward the Temple of Demeter which is surrounded by fields of golden wheat and hay bales – what better setting for the goddess of farming and cereals! And we also visited the Bazeos Tower, one of the best-preserved Venetian towers of Naxos that hosts diverse cultural events, from jazz concerts to ancient plays.
Inland Naxos with Kids
Traveling inland in Naxos offers a journey into ancient times and Cycladic civilization! Visiting the Cyclades with kids offers these unique culturally enriching opportunities and this inland Naxos route is packed with them! Whether it is the marble quarries, where they made the ‘divine’ sculptures of Delos, to the rare unique Byzantine Monasteries, or the intriguing Venetian towers there is a lot to enchant young minds.
Leaving Chora towards Melanes, the road will take you to Myli and Flerio with its orchards and plentiful spring waters. Its exceptional location and its marble-rich land made it ideal for the development of quarries from the 6th century BC. Walking a little bit along a shaded trail with the almost deafening cicada singing in the summer heat you will get to one of the three ‘injured’ Kouros, sculptures of nude male youth from ancient times. The second of that area, which is found in Faragga, needs a lot more walking to get to. This Kouros lies in an overgrown orchard and its beauty is a testimony for the work that went into these impressive sculptures that can be found all over Greek archeological sites and museums of the western world. You can walk to the Kouros from Myli with our expert guide who will enrich the experience with fascinating insights. Check out our guides’ availability here.
Next stop Kynidaros, where you will be greeted by the aroma of freshly wood-oven baked bread and grilled fresh meat! Try out all the varieties of meats at Vasilarakiou, especially the lamb ribs, veal roasted in slices, beef sausage and all types of meat that are roasted for over 30 days. And you can’t be in the Greek islands with kids and not all of you experiencing the pleasure of rolling, kneading and baking traditional small pies in the wood oven, booking your place here.
The village of Moni is named after the oldest Byzantine Monastery in the Balkans, Panagia Drosiani, which is located a little outside of the village on the road towards Halki. You can walk through oak forests and olive groves to reach the Monastery with the help of one of our expert guides. Check out availability and book here.
At Kaloxilos, Katerina Andrielou, a Naxian philologist, using the art she has inherited from her island and from her mother, invites you in her home so she can take you on a culinary journey to learn how to cook traditional island dishes — tasting all of Naxos yummy delights in one table! You can learn how to cook traditional Naxos dishes at Katerina’s home, take a food tasting tour and learn how to create colorful mosaic art!
After Halki with its beautiful central square, you will come to Filoti, the village with the most famous tsambounades of Greece. Tsambouna is a type of bagpipe and is usually played by Greek shepherds, as is the case in Filoti. With women who became the most respected nannies in upper class Athenian home, the people of Filoti don’t leave their birthplace as is evidenced by the fact that this is the most populated village of the island. Upon arrival to the central square you can enjoy the sounds of traditional shepherd music while sampling the variety of Naxos cheeses and local sausage accompanied by a cold beer or ouzo.
Visit the nearby Photodotis Monastery. It has some unique sculptured colorful marbles and aniconic frescoes. You can climb carefully up to the upper cells to see the dome from high up and possibly a newly hatched owlet. If you go by car you might find your way barred by an iron gate – don’t worry! Just open it to pass through and then close it behind you! If you want to walk, you can hike the Danakos canyon if your children are of school age, but it would be good to be taken by our expert guide who knows the area well and this fortified monastery, which is the oldest on Naxos. Check out our guides’ availability here.
Apeiranthos and Northern Naxos with Kids
After Halki and Filoti, we reached Apeiranthos, one of the most well-known villages in the Cyclades, with whitewashed stone houses and narrow pathways and cultural ties to the mountain villages of Crete. On the outskirts of the village is the interesting and recently renovated Byzantine church of Agia Kyriaki. This is a rare example to testify to the Byzantine iconoclastic disputes, where within the church factions fought over whether to allow the worship of icons. Instead of icons, Agia Kyriaki is decorated with geometric designs, birds, flowers and crosses. The church’s restoration was so well done that it was distinguished by the Europa Nostra honor. To find out when you can visit the church inquire at the Apeiranthos Archeological Museum and if you wish to find out all the interesting facts and byways of Apeiranthos you can book one of our guides here.
Heading north from Apeiranthos and after travelling through mountains and villages you will end up at one of the most beautiful and authentic villages of the Aegean. Komiaki or Koronida is the highest village of Naxos, with whitewashed alleyways and plenty of traditional cafes that are not at all touristy. They might offer you ‘rose’ tomatoes, fry some potatoes or squid and octopus if a fisherman has brought up any, together with a glass of ouzo, beer and hearty sincere atmosphere. The nearest beach is Apollonas, sandy and shallow, the only such kiddie-friendly one in the island’s north and you can climb from here to Apollonas’ Kouros that appears to have made a stop here thousands of years ago on the way to the port from the quarry!
From Moutsouna to the South of Naxos with Kids
“You will find the best fish to eat in Moutsouna, while the best untouched beaches in southern Naxos you can reach with Captain Giannis’ fishing boat,” told me a friend who is from Naxos and who knows how we like inaccessible and hidden-away treasure spots. If you travel east from Apeiranthos you will be following the aerial railroad that used to transport emery from mines to Moutsouna, a picturesque fishing village today but that used to serve as an export shipping port then. Two tavernas with traditionally cooked food, fresh fish and locally produced meats (as in all of Naxos), a coffee with ice cream and sweets and a sandy beach all tranquilly escaping the buzzing crowds found on the western coast of the island.
Travelling on towards Panormos (or Panermos), you will find the wonderful sandy beach of Psili Ammos, which has no commercial establishments. We only encountered a windblown cloth stretched out on four tall bamboos and an elderly gentleman sitting underneath with silver-hair waving in the wind. A priceless picture of solitary joy in a Greek summer.
At the island’s southern most point, accessible by car, is Panormos and from where Captain Gianni’s fishing boats, ‘Gialitsa’ and ‘Agios Nikolaos’, will take you to the virgin beaches of southeastern Naxos. From June to September, the boats leave at 1pm, 3pm and 5pm while the tickets cost 10 euros for adults and 5 euros for kids up to 7 years old.
Returning at dusk, we watched the sun set behind the islands of Small Cyclades, Koufonisia and Keros that looked so small in comparison to Naxos. Behind Portara, at the beach of Grotta, they say lives a mermaid, Kymothoi, who loves to muddle the waters in order to protect a lost kingdom hidden by the sea…we wonder, is it true or a myth? When thinking about what to do with kids in Greece … searching for an elusive mermaid will definitely enchant all young explorers!
See all the kid-friendly activities that MAMAKITA recommends on Naxos with kids here and download the MAMAKITA tried and tested 6-day family friendly itinerary on Naxos here and discover independently and safely this rich in traditions and wondrous in beauty Greek island in Cyclades.