Summer in the Greek Islands
We love Greece in the summer. The islands are truly idyllic, with amazing food, beaches and cute towns and shops. The white houses with their blue shutters, and painted walkways through town, add to the vibe. Plus the islands are safe. We’ve felt comfortable letting our kids roam around by themselves from eight years old or so onward.
But…be careful which island you choose. The famous islands like Mykonos and Santorini are amazing, but they’re also visited by cruise ships – sometimes several a day. If you’re spending a week there and every day 8,000 people arrive to crowd the walkways and restaurants, it takes away from the experience. And they have a lot more hotels, so they’re more crowded to begin with. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the far smaller, quieter islands like Paxos, Anafi, Syros, Symi and Ios. You’ll get to know all of the beaches, restaurants and shops quickly, which can be good (you’ll feel more like a local) or bad (you may get bored).
We’ve found Naxos and Paros to be ideal in-between choices, small enough that there are no cruise ships docking, but large enough that we never get bored. Paros even has two reasonably-sized towns. We’ve now visited Naxos twice (my blog post is here) and Paros for a week or so recently, plus we’ve taken the ferry over from Naxos in prior summers.
Traveling to Paros Greece
We were coming from Bodrum, Turkey. We took a ferry from Bodrum to Kos, Greece, where we went through Greek/EU passport control and then took a van across the island to the airport (we had pre-booked a car and driver). From Kos we flew to Athens and connected to Paros. We left Bodrum at 9:30am and arrived in Paros at 4:40pm. Three hours of that was spent in the Athens airport.
Where We Stayed on Paros
If we’re on a Greek island we want to stay in a main town with a lot of restaurant choices, easy beach access and places for the kids to roam on their own. I prefer not to rent a car if we don’t have to – we’d rather walk everywhere than deal with a small rental car (maxed out by our family of five) and parking. I have several friends who love Naoussa, and it seemed to check off all the boxes, so it’s the only place in Paros we considered. In Naoussa we booked the Paliomylos Hotel based on its family setup. We were in one apartment, with a master bedroom, a kids room with two beds, a large living room with a couch converted to another bed, and a kitchen. It was a 2-minute walk to the beach and maybe 10 minutes to town. Breakfast was included every morning and was very good. And we loved the staff – always helpful with making restaurant reservations and advising us on bus stops and getting around. There’s a moderately sized pool that we used once or twice.
What We Did in Paros
We spent a lot of time at the beach near our hotel (Piperi Beach) and in Naoussa. We typically walked into town for lunch and again for dinner, spending several hours each time wandering around, shopping and eating. The kids and I also walked around the town and harbor one morning at sunrise.
Twice we took the bus to the other main town, Parikia, to shop and have lunch. We actually liked Parikia a little more than Naoussa if we were going to choose just one city to spend a day in. But Naoussa worked well as a base.
Note: we got on the bus to Parikia near our hotel and purchased tickets from the driver (1 Euro each). Coming back we had to purchase tickets at the ticket booth near the main bus stop in Parikia before boarding (90 cents each).
Where We Ate in Paros
We stumbled upon a few places, but in general we went by the recommendations of the staff at Paliomylos. Everywhere we ate was very good and, honestly, fairly similar. The fish, squid, zucchini balls/fritters, meatballs, tzatziki and pastitsio were always good.
The three restaurants that stood out a little were:
We had two lunches and a dinner at Taverna Glafkos. Loved the setting right on the beach/water, the food and the service. My kids highly recommend the ravioli. I loved the squid. But everything was excellent.
Soso seems to be the hardest reservation to get, and we finally got in our last night on Paros. It was worth it. The menu changes every day.
The one night we didn’t have a reservation we walked into Les Amis and got a table on their upstairs patio. It was a great setting and the kids loved the couch. Excellent food.
And for dessert most nights we got loukoumades (honey donuts) from To Paradosiako (Το Παραδοσιακό). It’s right in the middle of town – you can’t miss it. We also got ice cream a couple times from Nonna Crema – good, but annoying that they’re only open at night.
Departure from Paros Greece
Unfortunately the flights from the islands aren’t timed well to connect to North American flights. Some years we’ve opted to travel elsewhere in Europe after Greece, but this year we decided to fly from Paros to Athens around noon, spend the day in Athens and then fly home the next morning (Turkish Airlines to LA via Istanbul). In Athens there’s a metro from the airport to the center of town, but we opted to pay a little more and have George pick us up and take us straight to our hotel, and then he picked us up the next morning and took us back to the airport. We stayed at Home and Poetry, in the Plaka area near the Acropolis. The location was excellent and the boutique hotel was nice, although it was annoying that our two rooms were on different floors. Note: walking around Athens, it made us miss the islands! There were simply too many tourists and groups of tourists. But it’s always fun to visit the Acropolis and Parthenon, especially in the late afternoon when it’s not crowded.
Naxos vs Paros
A question I get a lot is: “If we’re only going to go to one Greek island this summer, should we choose Paros or Naxos?” So even through we love Naxos, it’s why we opted for Paros this summer instead. Maybe we were missing out by automatically booking Naxos every year and not giving Paros a chance.
Am I able to compare them and have a favorite after just a couple visits to each? Yes. We prefer Naxos. Is this a fair competition? Probably not. We’re a lot more familiar with Naxos, and even though we looked for similar hotels on both islands (near a beach and walkable to a main town), my opinion is based on the exact places we stayed.
But everything seems just a little easier on Naxos:
- The Naxos airport is close to town and our hotel (Nissaki Beach Hotel). On Paros it’s across the island, roughly 45 minutes from Naoussa.
- The ferry in Naxos is walkable from the hotel, even with luggage, and we’ve taken ferries from there to Paros, Santorini and Mykonos. On Paros the ferry drops you off in Parikia, and you need to take a bus to Naoussa.
- We preferred the beach in Naxos near the hotel and the calm, shallow water there – perfect for kids.
- The walk into Naoussa is along a fairly busy road and we weren’t comfortable with the kids walking between the hotel and town by themselves. It’s far more quiet in Naxos. If the kids want to head into Naxos Town by themselves at night to get ice cream, they can.
- We needed restaurant reservations several nights in Paros. In Naxos we’ve always been able to dine anywhere we want, whenever we want. And we like that there are several good restaurants just a minute or two from the hotel in Naxos. That wasn’t the case on Paros.
Plus the famous temple (portara) near Naxos Town adds to the feel, and we always enjoy walking up to the castle for drinks at sunset.
Going against Naxos: the Nissaki Beach Hotel is twice the price of the Paliomylos Hotel on Paros, for an equally good family setup (445 Euros a night compared to 225). That adds up quickly.
I should note that there are a lot more places to stay on both islands. On Naxos people like Agio Prokopios and Plaka Beach. On Paros, other than the two main towns, Aliki and Golden Beach are popular and, for hiking, Lefkes in the center of the island. However, that’s not us. We want to base in one place with everything walkable. If you’re fine with having a rental car and staying in a smaller beach town, you’ll have a totally different experience on both islands than we did.
The Paliomylos Hotel was 225 Euros a night, including breakfast. Lunches and dinners for the five of us were between 60 Euros and 100 Euros. Airport transfers to/from the hotel were 60 Euros each way (booked through our hotel). Flights for the five of us from Kos Greece to Paros Greece were $900 or so total, and Paros to Athens was a little under $500 total. George’s transfer service in Athens was 70 Euros each way. Two rooms at Home and Poetry were $403 total for one night.
Feel free to tell me that you like Paros better than Naxos! Just be specific on why.