If you are thinking (or dreaming!) about a Greek Island holiday away from the popular cyclades, why not travel to the other side of the mainland and visit the Ionians?
The Ionian Islands
Along the western coastline of Greece are a group of islands known as the Ionians. The Ionian islands are made up of 12 small and large islands, where the islands of Zakynthos, Ithaca, Corfu, Lefkada, Paxi and Kefalonia are among the largest.
What’s so enticing about the Ionian islands is they have a beautiful and temperate climate which makes them an ideal location for vacation or residence.
Coupled with crystal blue waters, towering mountains, a stunning coastline and gorgeous vegetation, the Ionian islands are the perfect place to go for a holiday if you are interested in resting and relaxing!
Zakynthos Island is the third largest of the Ionians and the perfect island getaway during the warmer months for beach hopping, coastal drives, eating amazing Greek cuisine and for just general exploring!
My husband and I spent five nights and four full days exploring the island with our hire car and thoroughly enjoyed our stay. Today, I am sharing with you my experiences of Zakynthos to hopefully inspire you to visit!
So, when is the best time to visit Zakynthos?
I think the best time of year to visit Zakynthos is in the warmer months during shoulder season such as late August, September and October.
My husband and I were there in September and we had perfect weather in the high 20s and low 30s (celsius) which was still quite warm; there were also less tourists on the island. I recall seeing many British and European tourists, but hardly any Australians were around!
If you decide to visit in June and July (peak season), you’ll find it to be a whole lot hotter, with a whole lot more tourists visiting for the Summer.
How do I get to Zakynthos island?
There are a few options for travellers to get to Zakynthos island which include:
- Fly: We flew to Zakynthos (Zante) one way from Athens and it is approximately a 1 hour flight. I recommend flying with Olympic Air or Aegean Airlines. Highly recommend booking your flights in advance as there aren’t many flights that fly out to Zakynthos per day.
- Ferry: We caught the ferry one way from Zakynthos (Zante) to Kyllini (mainland Greece) which took approximately 1 hour. We took the ferry as we were changing to another ferry at Kyllini to go to Kefalonia island. You can buy your ferry tickets at the ticket box at the ferry port or you can also book them in advance. Ferry companies to book with include Kefalonian Lines and Ionian Group, which are both amazing.
If you’re keen to explore more of the terrain, you can alternatively hire a car and drive from Athens to Kyllini and get your car on the ferry to Zakynthos, although this option would be a little more on the expensive side and a heck of a lot more travel time.
Where should I stay?
There are plenty of places available to stay on Zakynthos island during the warmer months, but make sure you do book in advance as many hotels will be booked out quite quickly. If you are after another alternative, why not book with Airbnb?
My husband and I booked a lovely airbnb (recommended by Carey from Carebearabroad) which was very centrally located! We stayed in the small town of Vasilikos, which was a short five minute drive from multiple amazing beaches on the island such as Banana Beach, Daphni Beach and Gerakas beach. Vasilikos was only a thirty minute drive to the airport and to the ferry terminal in Zante.
You can find the place we stayed at here: https://www.airbnb.com.au/rooms/2720160
For delicious Greek cuisine and fine dining, we drove twenty minutes to the town of Argassi. Argassi was a very busy town, with many hotels, tourists, tourist shops and restaurants; it was actually quite nice to stay in a town like Vasilikos which was away from all the hustle and bustle (and traffic!). I would not recommend to stay in Zakynthos town (Zante) as it is far too busy with tourists and traffic!
What’s the best way to get around the island?
The best way and the way that I highly recommend is that you HIRE A CAR! My husband and I booked our car through Budget, and they were great!
I recommend booking your hire car in advance, as it can get booked out quite quickly!; hiring a car in Zakynthos is very popular and the best way to get around the island. You can drive from the south end of the island, to the northern end of the island within an hour and a half!
After a week of driving all over the island, we only filled up with petrol on our last day when we returned the car!
Alternatively, there are public buses available to take you to many beautiful beaches of Zakynthos, but it is definitely much easier to beach hop and sightsee if you have your own car.
So, what is there to see and do in Zakynthos?
Within four days, my husband and I had covered most of the island. As I said above, it only takes an hour and a half to drive from the southern end of the island to the northern end.
Five days exploring included days where we would be relaxing on the beach, coastal driving, stopping to take photos and eating delicious Greek cuisine. It was a pretty relaxing road trip around the island and we didn’t feel like we had crammed everything in.
Here is a detailed itinerary of our four days on Zakynthos Island:
Visit Navajo Beach/Shipwreck Beach (top view)
Navagio Beach, also known as shipwreck beach is one of the most popular beaches on the island of Zakynthos.
To drive from where we were staying in Vasilikos, it only took us just over an hour to drive to the typical “picture perfect postcard” view I had heard so much about all over the internet. I think many inspired travellers see this photo and start to wonder whether that view is actually real, and how on earth are we supposed to get to it?
The truth is, yes the view is actually real, but in order to get that “perfect postcard” shot, you will have to be prepared to scale a cliff just to get to it.
There is a Navagio Beach viewing platform at the site, but it only really gives you a side view of Navagio Beach (and for a travel blogger, not such a great angle for that “perfect” shot). So, my husband and I decided to scale a cliff and walk for about 10-15 minutes to actually reach the perfect spot (photo above).
Along the way, you’ll get views like this:
until you reach this…
In my opinion, the journey to the view was just as spectacular (those cliff views right?!) as getting to the popular Navagio Beach view.
A few tips for your journey to the Navagio Beach top view:
- Make sure you go late afternoon (for a non-shadow view) or early morning (to avoid the masses of tourists): We went between 10-11am in the morning and the view we got was a whole lot of shadow, but on the bright side there were hardly any tourists around. It is up to you what you decide; we still captured some great photos in the morning, but if better photos is your preference, go in the afternoon when the shadow has gone.
- Wear comfortable shoes: On our journey towards the view we walked through some defined pathways, but a lot of the time we were climbing over big rocks, so make sure you wear some good shoes.
- Bring water and sunscreen: There is no shade when you’re scaling a cliff, so make sure you’re protected.
During your time on Zakynthos island it is well worth it to see Navagio Beach from the top and also from Shipwreck Beach itself.
Day Tour to Shipwreck Beach from Porto Vromi
There are many different tour companies that do day trips/day tours to Shipwreck Beach as it is only accessible by boat.
Now, you could do a big day trip from the southern end of the island, but who realistically wants to be on a boat for nearly a full day, to only spend an hour or two at the beach itself?
We were advised by our Airbnb host to drive to a small port called Porto Vromi.
From there you can either rent your own boat (if you’re keen and have lots of money to spend!) or you can get on a boat tour which only takes around 40 minutes to get to Shipwreck Beach and costs only 15 euros each (7 euros for children). The tour company that we went with is Porto Vromi Renata Boat. The tour lasts approximately 3 hours, and includes:
Transfers to and from Shipwreck Beach
1 hour to spend exploring (and swimming/relaxing) on Shipwreck beach
Gorgeous coastal/cliff views
A Visit to the Blue Caves on the way back
The boat to Shipwreck Beach departs regularly, so all you have to do is show up and book a ticket on the next available boat. We had to wait a maximum of 30-45 minutes for the next boat, and while you’re waiting, you can always take a dip in the beach at Porto Vromi.
Another alternative option is to take a boat from Saint Nicholas, which takes about an hour to get to Shipwreck Beach and passes from Blue Caves. Companies from Saint Nicholas include:
Porto Schiza Cliff View
If you type into Google maps “Porto Schiza attraction” you will come across these gorgeous cliff views. If you don’t mind driving about 30 minutes out of your way from the Shipwreck Beach view then, you will be lucky enough to lay eyes upon this beauty.
This is another gorgeous cliff view which is free to visit, and if you happen to arrive for dinner, you will be amazed by the beautiful sunset over the cliffs.
For the best sunset view, I highly recommend to dine at Sunset Michali’s Taverna.
Drive along the coast for views like this…
Stop at El sueno restaurant or Micro Nisi for lunch
About 30 minutes drive from the Shipwreck Beach view is El Sueno restaurant and Micro Nisi restaurant which are right next to each other so take your pick for a lunch stop! We chose to eat a late lunch at El Sueno restaurant and we were amazed by these views!
We stopped at Xigia Beach as we heard it was one of the best beaches in Zakynthos, but what we didn’t realise was how small it was! So we decided to take some photos from the top and admire the view. Xigia Beach is about a ten minute drive from El Sueno restaurant.
Alternatively before reaching Xigia Beach, you can always stop at Makris Gialos Beach which is also very popular.
Dine in Argassi
After a full day exploring the Northern parts of the island, enjoy some delicious Greek cuisine in Argassi upon returning to your accommodation. From Vasilikos where we were staying, it took around 20 minutes to drive, and there are many tourist shops, hotels and Greek restaurants to satisfy those taste buds!
Every restaurant along the main strip of Argassi is guaranteed to be filled with great service, great people and amazing Greek food.
We went to Syrtaki restaurant, where the owner dances every night and makes a ring of fire on the ground. He also breaks plates. Other recommendations in Agassi include Ethnic and Peppermint but make sure if you want to dine there that you make a booking well in advance as they are very popular!
Visit Keri cliffs
The Keri Cliffs are about an hours drive from Vasilikos to the South-West part of the island. If it takes you fancy and you have beautiful weather you can definitely beach hop on the way to Kalamaki Beach or head to the beach on the way back.
The Keri cliffs are absolutely stunning and must see during your stay on Zakynthos island.
Marathias and Marathonisi Island (turtle island)
About a 15 minute drive from the Cliffs of Keri is Marathias, situated in the Laganas Bay. Marathias is very well known for small island by the name of Marathonisi where you can take small organised boat trips or hire your own boat to go for a little turtle spotting! By boat from the bay it takes around 5-10 minutes.
On the front of the island itself there is a large, white sand beach with crystal turquoise waters. Around the side of the island there is also a smaller bay with a few caves waiting to be explored. It is also a great spot for snorkelling.
My husband and I ran out of time to do any turtle spotting or snorkelling, so we just stopped for a quick visit and had a nice lunch at on of the seaside restaurants. The food tastes great and is at affordable prices; we paid around ten euros for lunch!
We had a bit of a storm (and a mini earthquake) in the late afternoon on our last day in Zakynthos, so we spent time at Kalamaki beach, and came back to our accommodation to escape the storm for the evening!
Being on our honeymoon we made sure we had the perfect balance of exploring/sightseeing time and relaxing time.
Below is the gorgeous view from our Airbnb on a lovely day!
Beach hopping day
There are a multitude of beaches on the island of Zakynthos, and we stuck with near where we were staying; turns out we were staying in the prime spot for beach hopping as most of the beaches were only a ten minute drive away!
Some of the beaches you may want to visit include:
Gerakas beach I thought had some of the most beautiful views.
You should also keep in mind that one half of the beach is fully clothed, and the other half of the beach (towards those cliffs you see pictured below) is a nudist beach!
While in my opinion the sand was to be desired (when you’re from Australia you tend to be picky about beaches!), it was still a really nice beach and the best thing about it, was that it is a turtle nesting ground and they are well protected!
Dafni beach was one of those beaches which was quite secluded and took about 10 minutes of driving down the mountain to get to. Along the way down the views were lovely, and once we got to the beach we discovered there were all of these people there! Turns out we weren’t the only ones who were going off the beaten track!
Dafni beach is also a turtle nest protected beach, and there is a strip of really amazing local restaurants around where you can have a bite to eat. In addition, you can get a sunbed for a whole day and only pay approximately five euros for two people, and if you ask you can have free access to the wifi! We thought this was a pretty sweet beach day!
Kalamaki beach ended up being the favourite of all the beaches we went to on Zakynthos (apart from Shipwreck Beach). The sand was absolutely beautiful, the main restaurant at the beach was very affordable (and with free wifi I might add!), free parking close to the beach and of course our favourite, there were aeroplanes flying really low over the beach on the way into Zakynthos airport!
Some of the other beaches nearby that you might want to check out include:
- Banana Beach: 10 minute drive from Vasilikos and has a pretty nice beach bar with great food! Down at the beach you have the option of enjoying some watersports!
- Saint Nikolaos Beach: Sandy beach with shallow waters. The beach is located a 5 minute drive from Vasilikos and a 30 minute drive from the town centre (Zante).
- Porto Limnionas: A rocky beach with no sand, but there is now grass and some new sunbeds on an area above the sea. The restaurant there has great food and a beautiful view of the sea!
Additional beaches and bays on the island of Zakynthos can be found on this helpful map!
Evening: Go to a local restaurant for dinner. My husband and I went to a restaurant in Vasilikos directly opposite the main road, and we were the first customers of the evening! I believe it’s so important to sow into local businesses, especially when the food and the service are top notch!
Other useful information on Zakynthos:
This list include guides and blog posts from other travel bloggers and websites about Zakynthos.
Initially when I was researching for itineraries for Zakynthos Island, there wasn’t a lot out there, but I did stumble upon these cool guides that I found helpful, and that I think will also help you!
- Greeka.com: Greeka.com provide comprehensive guides, tips and information about the Greek Islands. You can find their page on Zakynthos here: http://www.greeka.com/ionian/zakynthos/
- The Well Travelled Man: I got inspired to travel Zakynthos when I first read his guide 5 days in a Greek paradise- Zakynthos. The information, travel tips and advice is very comprehensive and one of the best blog posts I found that was helpful in planning my trip to Zakynthos!
- Pause the moment: Another great guide about Zakynthos! 48-Hour Guide to the Greek Island of Zakynthos!
So, what are you waiting for?
Start booking those tickets to Zakynthos! It is a truly beautiful Greek island which is not to be missed on your trip to Greece.
Have you been to Zakynthos before? What were your highlights/thoughts/recommendations?
If you haven’t been to Zakynthos, have you been inspired to go?
Leave a comment below with your thoughts! (also would appreciate feedback on my first travel guide!)
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