Naxos vs Mykonos: Which Greek Island is Better to Visit?

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Ding, ding! Round One: Naxos vs Mykonos.

Two shimmering isles in the heart of the Greek Aegean. Both members of the much-loved Cyclades chain. Each with glinting sands and pebble coves and waters of perfect azure blue. But which one will win the day? We’re here to find out.

This guide pits the largest of the Cyclades (Naxos) against the party island of Greece (Mykonos). In it, we’ll run through a whole host of things that folk consider when they come to decide which of the iconic Greek isles they want to visit, from how much it costs to where has the better beaches. We hope you’ll be reaching for the sunscreen and readying the passport by the time we’re through…

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Is it cheaper in Naxos or Mykonos?

Naxos town
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This one’s easy: Naxos is the cheaper of the two islands.

Mykonos has a reputation for upscale living and a jet-setter edge, a little bit like Ibiza. It’s riddled with uber-chic villas and cool beachside homes that you’ll need to fork out for. Drinking in the high season comes at a price. You’re looking at up to 15 EUR ($17) a cocktail in some of the best sunset bars! Beers can set you back 7.50 EUR (nearly $9). Then you’ve got accommodation. Anyone looking to stay near the bumping strips of Mykonos Town is going to pay an average of between $150-200/night for a 4-star hotel.

It’s nowhere near that sort of level on Naxos, though rates will increase in the summertime. Because Naxos is more rustic and local, there are characterful B&Bs in whitewashed cottages that won’t break the bank – you’re probably looking at $60-120/night in the high season months. A domestic beer in this less-busy isle of the Cyclades usually costs around 3.5-4 EUR ($4.20). Meanwhile, a whole mezze of saganaki cheese and Greek salad will usually be about 16 EUR per head ($19).

Winner: Naxos – by a long shot!

Is the food better in Naxos or Mykonos?

A taverna in Naxos
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David Kaloczi/Unsplash

That really depends on what you’re after.

Naxos is probably better for the foodies who are pining after classic Greek cuisine. That’s really down to its geography. With higher mountains and more rainfall than the rest of the Cyclades chain, the ground here is fertile in the extreme. Naxos is famed for prodigal veg gardens and fruit orchards. It’s known as the premier place for olive production in the Cyclades, but also has fig forests and corn fields. The bounty of the land (and it is mainly the land because there are very few fishing ports on Naxos) shows in the restaurants. Be sure to try honeyed xinomyzithra cheese and braised kokoras (rooster) in rich red sauce.

Mykonos can offer something altogether more stylish. Establishments like Scorpios on happening Paraga Beach and M-Eating in Mykonos Town serve up meticulously crafted Greek dishes that have a twist of Mediterranean flair or the pizzazz of fusion cooking about them. There’s a whole area called Little Venice that is riddled with charming tavernas, too. The prices will go up there and the vibe is garishly tourist, but it’s still good for that fix of traditional Greece. Finally, seafood is generally superior on Mykonos thanks to the abundance of beaches and natural harbors.

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Winner: We’d say Naxos, where you eat what comes from the ground!

Are there a better selection of hotels in Naxos or Mykonos?

Mykonos hotels
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Booking.com lists around 845 individual properties on Naxos. Compare that to the whopping 1,045 that are on offer on Mykonos, bearing in mind that Naxos is more than five times the size! To put it simply: Mykonos has WAY more hotels than its Cycladean compadre.

There’s certainly a theme to the hotels in Mykonos. Anyone who’s holidayed in Ibiza will know it. We’re talking sleek, stylish, boutique establishments with stacks of class. Loads of them boast sweeping views of the Aegean Sea, infinity pools and sun-splashed patio areas, not to mention private spa facilities. You’ll find most of them stringing along the popular west coast from Mykonos Town to Elia Beach. Going east means trading them for more rustic Greek homestays, yoga camps, and family villas on the ruggeder half of the island.

Naxos does things differently. Its highest rated hotels are charming beach stays in whitewashed buildings, often within walking distance of popular sands like Plaka and Maragas. We’ve already mentioned how they’re more affordable. They’re also a tad more down to earth, offering less in the way of infinity pools and more in the way of leafy gardens and family suites with breakfast included.

Winner: Mykonos

Where has the better beaches: Naxos vs Mykonos?

Beaches on Naxos
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Frédéric Barriol/Unsplash

Ah, beaches. Soft sands and bath-warm seas are two of the main reasons people come to Greece in the first place. So, which of these islands comes up trumps? Let’s dive right in…

Mykonos isn’t short on famous bays. The cream of the crop string along the south and southwest shorelines, just past Mykonos Town. First, there’s Ornos, a fav with families because of its calm waters and proximity to the city. Then you get classy Psarou Beach, where the jet setters can often be seen hopping between the cocktail lounges and their yachts. Go further and you’ll come to Paradise Beach, which is where the Mykonos nightlife often gets cooking early on in the day. All these are pretty nice sands, framed by rugged hills. The downside? They’re often totally packed!

Naxos’s main beach is Plaka, which runs for more than a mile down the western shore of the isle south of Chora. It’s a hubbub of resorts and sunbeds; lovely, but nowhere near the best on the island. For those, you’ll need to venture out to the dune-backed reefs of Aliko Beach, where the waters are impossibly clear, or go to the turquoise lagoon at Pyrgaki Beach, where gnarled juniper bushes overlook a blinding white bay. These are the sands that, for us, put Naxos up there with the very best of the beach destinations in the Aegean.

Winner: Naxos

Nightlife: Naxos vs Mykonos?

Mykonos nightlife
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There’s only one winner here. Mykonos has risen to mythic status on the nightlife front. Up there with Ibiza and Aiya Napa as one of the Med’s top good-time getaways, it pumps with world-famous DJs and super clubs from May to August. The biggest parties happen in venues like the wild Skandinavian Bar and ASTRA, which pack into the heady maze that is Mykonos Town after dark. Don’t wait to start drinking in one of those, though. Before the clubs even open, there are sunset beers and cocktails on offer in places like Little Venice and Paradise Beach.

Naxos does have nightlife, but it’s not even in the same league as Mykonos. If you do want to hit the bars, make for the old town of Chora. That’s pretty much the only spot with anything going on. The summer months can be quite raucous in venues like The Ocean Club and Naxos on the Rocks, which can both go on until the early hours.

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Winner: Mykonos

Is it easier to get around in Naxos or Mykonos?

On a boat in Naxos
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It’s much easier to find your way around Mykonos. That’s as much down to the size as to the efficiency of the road and transport system. Mykonos is five times smaller than Naxos – five times! You can drive from the main town on the west coast to the cedar reserves on the east coast in as little as 30 minutes. However, we’d say steer clear of car rentals. They’re notoriously expensive on Mykonos and aren’t required if you’re going to be staying in one of the west coast resorts. Those are all linked by a pretty good bus network. Taxis can be pricy but are a great option for airport-to-hotel transfers. Uber isn’t available in Mykonos.

All 429 square kilometers of Naxos is pretty tricky to get around. The northern coast is beset by wild mountains and dramatic terrain, which means the roads love to wind and wiggle. Yes, you’ll be wanting to stop at every bend in the highway to take photos, but journeys can also take a whole load longer than you might expect. Thankfully, there are good bus links from the main town of Chora going south. That’s where the famous beaches – Plaka, Agiassos – await. However, we’d consider renting a car for your time in Naxos, if only to be able to explore the mountains and the remoter beaches out east.

Winner: Mykonos

Naxos vs Mykonos: where is better to retire?

Windmills of Mykonos
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Unless you want to spend your golden years partying until sunup in hedonistic cocktail bars, we’d say choose Naxos. Mykonos isn’t hailed as one of the party meccas of Greece for nothing. It’s got some pretty heavy nightlife that’s matched by a dedicated day-drinking scene in the beach clubs – revelers aren’t shy of starting around midday! The eastern half of the island has more space, nature, and quietude, but it’s still pricier and – at least in our opinion – less pretty than Naxos.

The great thing about Naxos is that it’s a lived-in Greek island. Unlike the resort isles of Mykonos and Santorini further west, there’s less of a seasonal vibe. The locals fill the cantinas and the tavernas in December just as much as in June, although a few places (mainly hotels) will close down for the winter. That’s key if you want to retire, because it means you’ll have a community and amenities throughout the whole year. Naxos is also cheaper for property and more relaxed overall.

Winner: Naxos

Naxos vs Mykonos: where is better to visit?

mykonos
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So, that’s it, Naxos vs Mykonos laid out for all to see. Simple.

Only…it’s not really that simple. Both of these islands are pretty darn spectacular. Mykonos has cobbled streets and pastel-painted tavernas jostling in its old town. Naxos soars to over 1,000 meters above the Aegean Sea in a symphony of olive groves and fig orchards and time-stood-still Greek villages. Both are awesome places to visit, there’s no doubt about that.

We’d say deciding where to go all depends on what sort of vacation you’re after. Mykonos is livelier, more hedonistic, and has a far better resort vibe. Head there to party throughout the night and kick back in a beach bar. Naxos is for adventurers who want to hike ancient donkey trails in the mountains, dine on Greek country food, and escape to beachfronts that rarely get packed, even in the midst of the summer season.