Paros is a main ferry hub for the Cycladic group of islands it belongs to and other Aegean islands, which makes it often just a transition point of minutes for many rushing onward for connections. Other savvy travelers, however, have discovered this island is a great stopover in itself, with much to offer from pristine beaches, historical sites and churches, and still largely unspoilt towns with a distinct character and great selection of restaurants and nightlife.
The Cyclades are steeped in human history, inhabited some 2500 years or possibly more, followed by successive communities from the Minoan, Mycenean and Dorian cultures. Then of course there was the more extended period of the Byzantine rule, followed by a spell of rule from a distant Venetian ruler, then a long dark period of Ottoman rule before integration into the modern Greek state. So if history enroute is something that fascinates you, nowadays you can see remnants and artifacts from this turbulent past. While it’s something I personally had no time to do, there are definitely points of interest I would love to return just to see like the marble quarries at the island’s center from which so much of the famous Cycladic marble was mined to create wondrous statuary.
I arrived in Paros at its the hub port and main town of Parikia on a late October morning toward the end of the tourist season, but the crowds were still sizable at this location. My trip took about two hours on a high-speed craft of Blue Star Ferries (www.bluestarferries.com) from the port of Rafina. The ride itself on this modern boat is faster than the conventional ferry, although a bit more expensive, but well worth it and a really pleasant journey with every convenience—airplane-like seating, huge windows providing views of the passing islands, bars, shopping. Very modern, and not like the old ferries of 20 years ago that I traveled on in the Aegean. The alternative is to travel from more crowded Piraeus or fly for 30 minutes into Paros from Athens, but when you have to fly with Olympic at their prices and level of service, the choice is clear.
Some things to do around Paros? Visit the fishing village turned resort of Naoussa on the northern end of the island, even if you don’t stay over (which you can also do). Although it’s popular with many visitors, Naoussa has great little restaurants, access to some excellent beaches (Santa Maria seems to be the best known and admired), plus windsurfing and water sport and sailing facilities in the area. Take time to visit the small Byzantine museum, which you’ll find in the blue domed church a short distance uphill from the town’s center. There’s an interesting mix of local quaintness and cosmopolitan chic to Naoussa: you might just prefer to sit down at an outdoor table at a café and imbibe the character of it from your seat as everyone from Orthodox priests, fishermen, Scandinavian models and California windsurfers makes their way past you.
Somewhat more isolated but also becoming rapidly developed are the southern beach destinations of Golden Beach and New Golden Beach. Again, nowadays the original hardcore traveling segment of windsurfers has expanded to include visitors with chic villas and apartments, along with those who like the still prevalent peacefulness of the region. For entertainment or other needs, there are shops, restaurants and a little local nightlife in neighboring towns nearby like Piso Livadi and Marpissa to the north of these beaches or Dryos just to the south. On arrival in Paros, check with the small tourist office that’s located right on arrival jetties and find out about the buses that run around the island: it’s a great way to meet local islanders and take the pleasures of Paros at their own leisurely pace.