According to mythology the smallest Ionian Island came about when Poseidon plunged his trident into Corfu.
Paxos broke away from the bottom and became a love nest that Poseidon shared with his consort Amphitrite, and his trident remains the official emblem.
In reality Paxos is a peaceful island of olive groves, crystal clear waters and pocket-sized seaside villages.
The east side has gentle coves with pebble beaches, while the west is all vast limestone cliffs sculpted by the sea into caves, giant stacks and a natural arch.
You can hop on a water taxi from the main port of Gaios to get to beaches like the exotic bay of Vrika, maybe the most beautiful beach in all of the Ionian.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Paxos:
1. Vrika Beach, Antipaxos
The vine-covered island of Antipaxos is only ten minutes by water taxi from the harbour at Gaios.
A crossing will cost around €14, and the main goal is this Caribbean-style white sandy beach.
Vrika Beach is also a family favourite as it enters the sea on a smooth gradient and has lots of safe, shallow water.
This has the kind of shimmering turquoise tones you’d expect from a tropical paradise.
Remember to take photos and try to convince your friends that you haven’t used Photoshop! There are two tavernas on the beach, renting out sun loungers for free if you stay on the terrace under the pergola, or for €4 each if you’d prefer to be on the beach itself.
2. Voutoumi Beach, Antipaxos
In any other place the twinkling waters at Voutoumi would be full of sun-seekers, but as this beach is eclipsed by nearby Vrika you’ll never have to fight for space.
You can get there direct by water taxi from Gaios, or walk the trail from Vrika in 20 minutes.
The advantage of Voutoumi is that there’s only a single beach bar, and instead of rows of beds in expectation of crowds, the sun loungers are only set up one by one as people arrive.
Voutoumi is a horseshoe cove with white pebbles, contrasting with the deep green of the vegetation behind.
Up the trail a short way from the beach is a taverna with a lovely view of the beach and Paxos behind.
3. Tripitos Arch
Less than three kilometres south of Gaios is one of the island’s great natural landmarks.
The journey is tricky but brief, as you have to drive on an unpaved road through olive groves before parking up and descending a short, steep track.
The arch is the remnants of a collapsed sea cave, and at its highest point is 20 metres above the water.
On foot the bridge is broader than it might seem and you can cross it to a stack topped with bits of scrub.
The Tripitos Arch can also be viewed from the water on one of the tours to the Blue Caves, which we’ll cover next.
4. Blue Caves
The massive west coast of Paxos has limestone cliffs that in places have been hollowed out by the sea.
The Blue Caves can only be seen by boat, and are larger enough that many vessels can pass right through.
Tour boats will stop to let you dive into the transparent waters, swim through the caves and climb on a few of the smaller outcrops.
You can make the trip on a large boat with lots of other visitors, or keep it private by taking a skippered vessel or just hiring your own motorboat for the afternoon.
Make sure to set a course for Ortholithos, a monolithic outcrop near the entrance to the Pappanikoli Cave.
The main settlement on Paxos, Gaios has a harbour buffered from the sea by the small island of Agios Nikolaos.
The main point of departure for ferries and boat trips Gaois is also a working fishing port, and there’s a line of small wooden caïques tied to the quays.
In from the water is a small web of lanes with more cafes and tavernas than you can count.
You could pause at the main plaza, with a memorial to the Greek War of Independence and a looking across to the evergreen Slopes of Agios Nikolaos.
At entrance to the harbour is another small island, Agia Panagia, with a monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary that attracts throngs of worshippers for the Assumption on 15 August.
6. Agios Nikolaos Castle
If you have your own motorboat or yacht, allow a moment to go ashore at Agios Nikolaos, the small island that protects the natural harbour at Gaios.
The castle crowning the island was built in the first half of the 15th century by the Venetian lord Adam II San Ippolito, to deter pirate raids and guard against the rising threat from the Ottoman Empire.
The castle has been abandoned for centuries, but a surprising amount of its original architecture survives, like a cistern, watchtower, parcels of its walls armed by cannons and a gunpowder magazine.
If you have more time to explore, there are also two small churches on the island, to St Nicholas and St John.
7. Erimitis Beach
One of only two beaches on the west coast accessed by land, Erimitis (Hermit) Beach has only existed for a little over a decade.
It was born in 2007 when a chunk of the cliff collapsed, creating a small bay framed by vast white limestone bluffs.
At one point there’s an overhang in the cliffs, giving some needed shade to the pebbles below.
This part of the island can catch the wind and occasionally has strong currents, but people visit mainly for the drama of the cliffs.
At sunset the white rock takes on a beguiling orange hue.
The journey isn’t easy, as you’ll need to shimmy down a steep track with loose rocks, but that will be forgotten once you witness the grand seascape.
8. Paxos Museum
On the waterfront in Gaois, the Paxos Museum is housed in the former school building, dating to 1906. The exhibits offer a small but engaging timeline of human habitation on Paxos: The first room has Palaeolithic flint tools, pottery from Classical Greece and guns swords and everyday utensils from the Venetian period.
The kitchen has Ottoman and British scales, oil lamps, traditional ceramics and cooking implements, while the largest room has a 17th-century bed, along with beauty products, accessories and clothing from the turn of the 20th century.
Out in the courtyard are grindstones from olive presses and ceramic vessels once used to measure oil.
9. Kipiadi Beach
The longest beach on Paxos is also one of the most far-flung.
Alone on the east coast, Kipiadi Beach is a 300-metre sweep of large white pebbles in front of uninhabited coniferous woodland.
To get there you have to take an unpaved road down from Longos, and then walk a little way down a track.
There are headlands at either end of the beach, keeping the wind out, so there will be lots of yachts anchored in the bay.
The absence of a taverna or beach bar means you should bring a parasol and anything else you could need.
As it deepens, the crystalline water has mesmerising bands of colour from light turquoise to dark blue.
10. Mongonissi Beach
Tucked inside a natural harbour between Paxos and Mongonissi Island, this beach is the only one with sand on Paxos.
The sand may be artificial, but it makes a nice change if you prefer a softer surface to the usual pebbles.
The sheltered water meanwhile is always clean and transparent.
As Mongonissi is on a harbour there’s a constant flow of water taxis and private yachts, some of which can be extremely posh.
You can rent a pair of sun loungers for €5 for a day, or for free if you dine at the Mongonissi Beach taverna.
Come by car, or catch a water taxi from Gaios.
11. Monodendri Beach
The north coast has the only other “organised” beach on Paxos.
Monodendri Beach is a pebbly bay, traced by two beach bars and a taverna.
The two beach bars, Bastas and Ben’s Bar, provide sun loungers, which are a necessity on the pebbles.
These are included with drinks or a meal, and there’s full waiter service if you want to be really indulgent.
Watching the glimmering light blue waters you won’t be able resist going for a dip, although swim shoes might be useful to cross the pebbles.
The beach does drop off quite quickly from the shore, but isn’t such a problem as the surf is light and the sea is a comfortable temperature in July and August.
At around 13 kilometres long and five kilometres wide, Paxos is an island large enough for adventure on foot, but not so large that you can get hopelessly lost.
Linking adorable villages like Ozias and Boikatika are tracks, flanked by drystone walls and trodden for centuries by mules and villagers.
These are usually colour-coded or marked with signposts and cairns, and it’s also possible to download a map to keep you on course.
Most of the island’s interior, from the little harbour village of Lakka in the far north down Gaois, is taken up by olive groves in scenery littered with old mills and chapels.
If it’s too hot for a walk the drive between these two settlements is a treat.
Lakka is the home of the island’s diving centre, Oasi Sub.
People intent on getting PADI certified can bone up with an e-learning course at home to get most of the paperwork out of the way.
After that you’ll need four or five days of training to be fully qualified to dive anywhere on Earth to a depth of 18 metres.
Kids can take part in “Bubblemaker” excursions, in which they’ll get used to wearing the equipment in safe, shallow water in the company of an instructor.
Oasi Sub also offers snorkelling safaris, which are worthwhile given the high underwater visibility in the Ionian.
And if you’re already an experienced diver there are drop-offs, reefs and a wreck waiting for you.
Non-divers can join you in the boat and swim in the tranquil waiting for you to resurface.
14. Stone Carved Cisterns of Sarakinos
In the village of Boikatika there are signs leading to this special site in a system of ashlar drystone walls.
You’ll get to this tree-shaded place in under five minutes, to be met by covered stone-built cisterns.
These water reservoirs have been hewn from the bedrock and then covered with little shelters in different shapes and sizes.
They look like small dwellings until you peer inside and see the cavities for storing water.
15. Paxos Music Festival
Arrive on Paxos in the summer and you’ll coincide with the Paxos Music Festival, which has run every summer for more than 30 years.
The festival, devoted to jazz, folk and classical music, has grown with each edition, from performances in the founder’s garden to a programme of concerts at the old schoolhouse in the village of Longos.
The festival is a platform for upcoming international and Greek musicians, and welcomed more than 30 performers in 2017. Some of the more famous guests included the pianist Valeria Vetruccio, folk guitarist Andy Irvine and composer Edoardo Bruni.