This guide to the showdown of Paros vs Naxos will whisk you away to the two largest isles in the Cyclades chain. Both are pretty big stars when it comes to Greek holidays. They should both tick the box for wave-lapped beaches on the shimmering Aegean and age-old tavernas in quaint whitewashed villages. But they’re also unique in their own way…
From soaring mountaintops woven boy hiking paths to long-lost ancient ruins, enthralling hill villages to salt-smelling harbors that bob with fishing boats, Naxos is a show-stealer for many. Paros, meanwhile, is often content to fly under the radar. It’s rarely as busy as other isles in the chain, especially Mykonos and Santorini! It also boasts empty beaches and blustery kite surfing spots.
We hope this guide will give you something to consider when you come to plan that fix of sun, sand, and sea at the southern end of Europe this year. It’ll look at a number of the main features of both islands and lay out the debate of Paros vs Naxos for all to see. Let’s go…
Naxos vs Paros – the general vibe
Paros and Naxos are next-door neighbors in the very heart of the Cyclades chain. There’s a mere five miles separating them across a narrow strait, so it’s hardly a surprise that they are pretty similar.
The one thing you’re sure to notice is that Paros is a major transport hub. It’s big port in Parikia serves as the first port of call for ferries heading in and out of Santorini and Mykonos. The upshot? There’s a big footfall of travelers in the main town during the high season months between May and August. We’d recommend staying in the quieter harbor of Naoussa to avoid that, or leaving Parikia for the daytime when the boats come in. Very few people choose to stay and venture beyond the ferry quays in Paros, which means it’s got a true off-the-beaten-path feel.
Naxos has positioned itself as the wild child of the Cyclades. It manages that thanks to the cloud-haloed peak of Mount Zas. It climbs to over 1,000 meters up and hosts a cave where the great god Zeus is said to have been born! That dramatic geography ensures Naxos gets extra rainfall than most, so it’s greener and more agricultural than its neighbors to boot.
Winner: Draw – this one’s all personal taste
Is it cheaper in Paros or Naxos?
It’s really a toss of a coin when it comes to picking the cheapest of the two islands – no pun intended! Both of these places come in easier on the travel budget that the great A-listers of the Cyclades. They are nowhere near as pricy as Santorini or Mykonos.
We’d estimate the cost of accommodation on Paros to range from around $25/night for the cheapest hostels to over $250 a night in those elegant boutique hotels. It’s the same story over on Naxos, but there’s probably a little more scope to score a bargain stay in the lower end of that spectrum.
Price comparison site BudgetYourTrip estimates the cost of a meal out in Paros to be around $14.40 a head. That’s just a touch below the average estimate for Naxos on TravelTables, which puts the cost of a meal at around $18.31 per person.
Having vacationed in both, we’d say there’s very little in it. Price shouldn’t be the major deciding factor here.
Winner: Paros, just, but there’s not enough in it to swing this decision
Is the food better in Paros or Naxos?
Here’s a tough one. We’ve rarely had a bad meal on either of these islands. They are both known for their olive production and citrus orchards, so the basics of the Greek kitchen – oil, lemon juice – are always done right. Where they differ is in a focus on the land and sea. Naxos is the larger and more mountainous of the two places, and it has fewer natural fishing harbors around its shores. That means the local cuisine makes use of more game meat, dairy, and fruit. Common dishes include hórta greens and kleftiko goat meatballs in a stew.
Seafood lovers will probably prefer Paros. It’s got the edge mainly for the huge fishing ports that are centered on the main towns of Naoussa and Parikia on the north and west coasts. You can settle in an al fresco taverna right by the ferry docks in those, gazing up at a Frankish castle, and tuck into seabream or red snapper or sardine fillets fresh-caught that very day. Generally speaking, the restaurants here tend to be a bit classier and more stylish than on Naxos, where rusticity and traditional cooking methods dominate.
Winner: Naxos – the fertile isle!
Are there a better selection of hotels in Paros or Naxos?
We’re never short of pretty awesome hotel options on either of these isles. You should find oodles of enticing B&Bs, guesthouses, and resort hotels on both – they are two of the top vacation spots in the Greek Aegean, after all!
The general difference is that Paros has a slightly more boutique edge. Yes, you can still find country escapes in the dusty hills behind the port, and those low-key family hotels with medium-sized pools near the beaches (especially around Santa Maria Beach). However, there are establishments like the Parilio. It’s a Design Hotels member with Scandi-cool furnishings, al fresco hot tubs, and an infinity pool worked into the natural Parian stone.
Most of the hotels in Naxos are centered around the Chora town on the west coast. There’s also a good bunch that fringe Plaka Beach and the popular west coast. The vibe is pretty relaxed and perfect for families. We love the traditional Cycladean look of the Anatoli Hotel, with its central pool and gardens, but also the more modern Lianos Village, which is also really near Naxos Airport.
Winner: Paros, for its luxury boutique hotels
Where has the better beaches: Paros vs Naxos?
Beaches are usually up there at the top of the list of priorities when it comes to finding the perfect Greek island. Thankfully, neither of these islands disappoints. They’re both hailed as two of the best beach destinations in the whole of the Med, mainly because they have the perfect topography for a wonderful coastline.
The best sands on Naxos thread along the west and south coastlines. Most people will aim straight for the uber-long run that is Plaka Beach. It’s got all the amenities you could need, from family hotels to seaside tavernas. We wouldn’t say it’s the best beach on Naxos, though. Not a chance. Keep exploring the western side and there some serious jewels to be found, like the shallow lagoon of Pyrgaki beneath the scented Alyko Cedar Forest, or remote Kalados Beach, where only the occasional yachter finds the way.
Paros comes at you with some jaw-dropping coastal spots. There aren’t as many long, open sweeps of glowing sand as on Naxos. But the isle makes up for that with unique and interesting coves, like the famous one at Kolymbithres, where massive granite stones glint white above the azure Aegean. There are a few family-friendly spots with that classic Greek holiday vibe – check out Santa Maria Beach. Oddly for the Cyclades, the best beaches on Paros are on the north coast, very near to the harbor and hotels of Naoussa.
Winner: Naxos, but only just!
Nightlife: Paros vs Naxos?
Everyone knows that if you want nightlife in the Cyclades, you gotta’ go to Mykonos. Failing that, either one of these islands will do, but don’t expect raucous all-nighters set to tunes spun by DJs worthy of Ibiza. That’s simply not going to happen.
All in all, Paros is probably the livelier of the two places. Most of the nightlife action is focused on the port of Parikia. That has bars aimed at the yachters and the ferry travelers that continually flow in off the boats between May and September. You can start the evening with an aperitif on the harborside and then move to one of the wilder clubs, like the Pirate Bar or Club Mill. There’s another scene up in Naoussa, but its toned-down stuff, with chilled bars and tavernas taking over.
ALL of the nightlife in Naxos is in the main town of Chora. It’s got a few great venues. We love the atmosphere of The Ocean Club on a sultry summer’s evening. It packs out with dancers fresh off the boats and the beaches, and it’s got some great cocktails without the price tag of Mykonos. Naxos On The Rocks Bar is a bit more off the hook, especially when folk start to dance on the bar!
Is it easier to get around in Paros or Naxos?
Paros is the easier island to travel around. That’s mainly because it’s smaller than Naxos, but also comes down to the fact that it’s far less mountainous and has a convenient ring road looping from coast to coast. Car rentals are pricy in the summer but still nowhere near as dear as on Mykonos. Alternatively, there’s a fairly reliable island bus circuit that connects Naoussa and Parikia to Golden Beach, Pounda Beach, and other minor ferry ports. Check locally for the schedules – they change all the time!
Naxos presents a different challenge. Rugged and scored by dusty mountain ridges, it’s not the most amenable place to lay roads. Renting a car is still a real experience but be ready for winding roads and sheer drops on the sides – not for the faint of heart! A good bus route links the major towns and beaches, with the most popular service going to places like Plaka from Chora. Sticking to that is a decent option if you just want to do a daytrip but will prevent you from getting stuck into enthralling villages and peaks on the eastern side of the island.
Paros vs Naxos: where is better to visit?
Decisions, decisions. We hope we’ve laid out a few truths in the Paros vs Naxos debate to help you decide which of these Aegean islands is the one for you.
The fact is that they’re both different but also share lots of similarities.
Naxos has stunning beaches that sweep into the horizon, while Paros has rocky coves framed by its famous white marble. Paros is a travel hub for the ferries going through the Aegean Sea in the summer, which helps it get lively at night, but Naxos remains well off the beaten path and remote, with rustic villages that few travelers ever get to see.
Whichever you choose, it’s bound to be a trip to remember!