If you’re heading to the sun-kissed isles of Greece this year and it’s all come down to Naxos vs Mykonos then we say this: That’s not a bad choice to have to make. These are two of the country’s most alluring destinations, with plenty to offer a whole host of travelers.
Mykonos, for its part, has a bit of a rep as a good-time isle. It’s a party hub from May to September, offering chic club destinations and luxury hotels. Naxos is more of an authentic Cycladic spot, touting long beaches, secluded coves, and a charming capital in Chora.
This guide will run through seven key categories to help you pick out where’s the best place for you this year. You’ll learn where we think wins on the beach front (very important), where has the best food (also very important), and which island is easier to travel to (not so important). Let’s begin…
Naxos vs Mykonos for ease of travel
Only Mykonos has its own international airport out of these two, so it’s certainly the easier to reach since you can simply book a flight and jet right in. You’ll be looking for connections into Mykonos International Airport. They come from all over these days but are largely seasonal (running only between April and October). Popular links include the ones on easyJet from Bristol and London, on Lufthansa from Munich, and on Wizz Air from Rome. Naturally, Mykonos also has excellent ferry connections throughout the whole Cyclades chain, but you’ll need to book them ahead of time for summer travel.
There is actually an airport on Naxos: The Naxos Airport Apollon. It’s tiny, though – like tin-shack tiny. There are only some links to Athens and one other island in Greece. The vast majority of travelers come here by boat. Thankfully, there are OODLES of those. A 5-6-hour link is available from the Piraeus port in Athens. There are also fast catamaran links from other Cyclades islands, including Paros, Santorini, and Mykonos. Again – book those ahead of time if you’re traveling in the peak season!
Winner: Mykonos, because it has an international airport.
Naxos vs Mykonos for beaches
You won’t lack for beaches on either Mykonos or Naxos, so don’t worry about that. The finest on the party isle of Mykonos tend to string along the southwest coast. They include the upscale hub of Psarrou (look out for the millionaire yachts in the water) and the S-bend of Paraga Beach (fantastic for snorkeling). Paradise Beach and Super Paradise are further along. They are worthy of their names but get hugely busy in the main season. More secluded sands are in the north at Agios Sostis and Fokos.
The star of the show in Naxos is probably Plaka. It’s one of the longest stretches of true white sand in the Cyclades region. Low rows of dunes wait behind and the sea, when the sun shines (as it almost always does between May and September), is a gleaming turquoise color. We also LOVE Aliko Beach, which fringes some strange rocks 12 miles south of the main town, and the secluded bay at Pyrgaki, which is a proper family favorite.
Winner: Naxos. It’s a bigger island and that means more beaches.
Naxos vs Mykonos for history
The main historical must-do in Mykonos isn’t actually on Mykonos itself. Cue Delos. An island that’s just over the strait to the southwest, it’s now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, famed for its role in the rise of the Athenian Empire and as a major gathering point for the city states of ancient Greece way back in the day. The best way to see it is to hop on a guided tour, which usually involve a whole morning on Delos, seeing the Lion Terrace and the old treasuries. Back on Mykonos proper, don’t miss the Venetian-era windmills above the capital.
Naxos doesn’t have a big-hitter history site a la Delos. However, this is the home of the much-photographed Marble Gate of Portara, a part of an ancient temple to Apollo that’s become an incredible reminder of how long humans have lived in these parts, not to mention a favorite sunset-viewing spot. Those willing to go a-hunting the history in Naxos might also stumble upon a ruined temple to Demeter and the remains of an ancient aqueduct.
Winner: Mykonos, mainly for the easy access to Delos.
Naxos vs Mykonos for families
Naxos really ticks the boxes for families if you ask us. It doesn’t have that party-pumping atmosphere that you get in many of the other islands in the Cyclades – Ios, Mykonos itself. It’s also large enough to offer something different each day, from history sites to gorgeous beaches. Plaka Beach is the center of the family holidaying action. It’s one, uninterrupted stretch of gleaming white sand that has more midrange hotels with pools and family suites to its back than you can shake your hummus at. The beach itself is also generally calm and great for swimming.
There is a part of Mykonos that’s well-suited to family visitors, but if you’re looking to go there and only there then we’d probably say you’re better off on Naxos anyhow. We’re talking about the quieter eastern end of the isle, where the body-packed beaches give way to more rugged coves and small fishing villages. A couple of luxury family villas beckon in those parts, along with affordable B&B stays.
Winner: Naxos is the one to go for if you’re coming as a family.
Naxos vs Mykonos for nightlife
There are two main nightlife options on Mykonos: The big and bumping beach parties or Mykonos Town. Or, you could mix it up with a bit of both – Hit Psarrou by day and then return to Mykonos Town to drink and dance until sunup in the venues of Little Venice, a strip of popular clubs and pubs right on the seafront. When it comes to the most popular beach venues, there’s the mega clubs in Super Paradise Beach and legendary Jackie O’ just across the bay. The nightlife scene on the island gets going sometime around May and then winds up with season-end parties in September.
Naxos does have some nightlife but it’s never going to come close to the no-holes-barred sort of partying that you’ll experience over in Mykonos. The best place to go for drinking has to be Chora Naxos. That’s the main town. It’s got a clutch of low-key Greek tavernas that give way to chilled but vibrant establishments like Swing Cocktail Bar and the Ocean Club. In other towns, you can expect something way more relaxed, in the form of family tavernas that offer cold Greek wines and ouzo for after-dinner caps.
Winner: Mykonos is the choice for nightlife lovers, no doubt.
Naxos vs Mykonos for food
To be quite honest, the food on these islands won’t be all that different. They are both a part of the same Cycladic island chain, you see. That means you’ll get to taste the classic Greek kitchen, from savory spinach pies to fresh tomato Greek salads to grilled cheese and fish catches cooked simply on BBQ coals.
You might notice a slight difference in the style of dining. Mykonos – chic, stylo Mykonos – is known for its edgy kitchens and boho bars. You’ll find very cool places dotting the island that serve Greek-European fusion food and even sushi. They’ll often have a price tag that matches the uniqueness of the menu, too, but more on that later.
If we had to pick a culinary winner here, it would be Naxos. The isle is often credit with being the center of rustic Cycladic cooking. The locals make mixed an uber-lovely cow and sheep cheese called graviera Naxou that has regional protection (PDO), plus there are crispy potato fritters (order the Naxian potatoes) and eggplant-meat stews.
Winner: Naxos, for its local cooking.
Naxos vs Mykonos for prices
There’s no question about the winner here, since Mykonos is up there with Santorini as one of the two most expensive Greek islands of all. It’s actually considered a bit of a jet-setter haunt. So, keep the eyes peeled for Leo DiCaprio when you’re lazing on Paradise Beach, but also be ready to drop a hefty sum on travel in these parts. Hotels are likely to be the biggest expense. It’s not unusual to pay in the region of $250 a night for a stay in one of the sleeker joints come the midsummer. Drinks usually cost $5-10 a pop, and meals out will be $25-30 a head, even in a local taverna.
Naxos won’t be that higher a toll on the wallet, but it’s still not down there with the cheapest places in Greece. You’re probably looking at something nearer $60-100 a night for a midrange hotel near the beach, $15-20 per person in a taverna, and $5 and under for drinks in a bar. Prices for both destinations will plummet outside of the main season, so be sure to seek those sweet spots for price in the shoulder months of May and September if you’re really chasing a bargain.
Naxos vs Mykonos – our conclusion
Overall, we’re going to plump for Naxos here. That’s nothing against Mykonos. It’s a top, top island. It’s just that Mykonos is a certain type of island. It’s extremely touristy and well-visited, known for its lively summer parties and chillout bars. It’s surely the place to go if you want hedonism and luxury. Naxos is a more rounded, more authentic Greek destination, showcasing traditional Cycladic architecture and culture, not to mention some of the very best beaches in the whole country!